Pay to Play comes of age.

Ot why you won’t be finding ME on Twitbook any time soon! 

In the past I’ve annoyed all kinds of indie writers by using the phrase ‘pay to play’ in connection with publishing.  People seem to get all upset when I mention that behind all the ‘helpful’ social media offered to us by the big conglomorates, there is something deeper (I don’t say darker, I don’t say more sinister, I’m not talking conspiracy theory here) going on.  It’s about the money folks.

And after fending off one too many sponsored links on Facebook (FB), I’ve cracked. I now suggest that like any ‘dealer’ we are being led by the nose.  Love social media right? Yeah, of course. Something for nothing right? Wrong.  That dealer who would give you the first hit for free does so knowing you’ll be back for more. And when you are fully addicted you’ll part with loads of cash to get ‘the good stuff’. And the more addicted you are the more you’ll pay because you need to pay more to get the same ‘hit.’  Well, not that I’m calling any of the big conglomorates ‘dealers’ and not that I’m suggesting we’re all in danger of becoming ‘junkies’ but I’d just like to point out something that’s come to my attention.

Recently I’ve been getting deluged by sponsored links on FB. None of which I’m interested in and all of which clog up my newsfeed so that I’m less and less likely to visit at all. I just get bored scrolling through what is in essence FB SPAM.

It got me wondering why/how all this has now started. I mean, I’m as good as anyone at avoiding the right hand side of the screen on anything these days (the advertising slots) but I went to my ‘page’ and the machinery was hanging out (as it sometimes does) and I found a promotions thingy.  So I clicked, just to see what would happen.

I’d just written a review and it offered me the opportunity to promote it. It said my reach was 54 (presumably the number of people who subscribe to my page who haven’t switched off getting things from me) Paid reach was EMPTY and then I clicked on the PROMOTION button.

It told me that for a mere £7 I could get 3 days promotion reaching an estimated 1900 – 3000 people.

Then I looked at the maximum budget.  Okay, if I paid $50 or £34 I could get a ‘reach’ of 6,600 -12,000 people.

Okay, I’m not suggesting there’s anything WRONG in this. But it does rather reveal what FB is all about doesn’t it? It’s not just about friends making friends, talking to friends, sharing with friends now really is it? It’s about people SELLING to other people. Paying to promote their product/work/self  to other people.  Ah well, at least there’s no confusion about that any more.  And I understand why it is that I’m getting bombarded by stuff I have no interest in. Other people with more of a ‘commercial’ bent think that by paying FB to promote their stuff they’ll find more other people who will buy their stuff.

Look, I know people think I’m stupid and cutting my nose off to spite my face by my ‘non commercial’ attitude to all this. But seriously folks, I’m not. In a past life I worked both in financial services AND in advertising so I do know something about marketing and ‘reach.’ And I am reasonably firmly convinced that (at least for myself) even if my post is promoted to 12,000 people who FB algorithms think would be interested, I will not make enough sales to pay for the advertising.  What I have to ‘sell’ is not that kind of a ‘product’.  My posts are about my thoughts and beliefs and things that interest me. I’m not turning these into a commercial transaction. It would be objectifying my very self. My books are similar. They are not just ‘product’, they are something which requires a ‘thinking’ mind to make a ‘choice’ because the kind of reader who is incapable of making these decisions for themselves generally do not ‘get’ my writing (either in blog or ebook format!)

So  I object to FB’s latest version of  subliminal marketing on an ethical level sure (and I know that’s quite unfashionable in our caring consumer capitalist world) but I also challenge the hard financial figures.  Believe me, if I thought I’d get even 1000 sales from ‘reaching’ 12,000 people I’d consider it.  The figures I think are more interesting though is how many people with FB pages will ‘try’ this just once. That’s a lot of £7’s or £30’s isn’t it!  That’s the bottom line.  FB isn’t working for you, you are working for FB.  Sorry to be the one to burst the happy bubble.

So this is just a little warning for all of you who now think that promoting your work and/or yourself this way is going to get you sales. (or even more sadly, new ‘friends’) This is all throwing mud at walls. Ask yourself: How many ‘flyers’ do people print for Edinburgh festival/pizza delivery and how good a return do they get on them?  A real return. Not just ‘reach’ figures. When was the last time YOU bought something off FB recommendation?  When was the last time you bought something OF MINE off a post I wrote or a FB recommendation?  That’s the figure that really interests ME. I think I sell from posts maybe, from word of mouth more and I sell sporadically at best.  People don’t ‘click on’ in my experience.  It may be just me and yes, when it comes to the money coming out of my pocket it’s me I’m thinking of.  You may be different. You may be ‘selling’ something different, you may have ‘friends’ who don’t object to being sold to in this way.  You may have hundreds of ‘pseudo’ friends who will buy whatever comes with your name attached.  If so, great. That means that you are part of the water cooler movement. It’s ‘cool’ to be connected with you and people are happy to let others know that they ‘like’ you.  I’m not that kind of person. I’m clearly a more acquired taste. And so for me, paying money to get people to SEE me isn’t going to work.  There’s no point me employing mainstream marketing tactics (which is what this is) for a niche product.

I’m sorry but I think FB has persuaded us (like all good dealers) that we can ‘all’ be part of the mainstream. Or that FB is ‘niche’ friendly.  Wake up folks. It’s not.  It’s the same hierarchical pyramid I first encountered when studying the causes of the Russian Revolution.  There are a few at the top and a mass working really hard at the bottom. I have always known I’m a peasant not a monarch or oligarch.  I just fear for all my ‘friends’ who from time to time seem to believe that ‘anyone can be president’ that ‘you’ve got to be in it to win it’ and sundry other modern myths.  I’m just pointing out that FB is another of these.  Your ‘friends’ are not really your ‘friends’ nor are they are a beautifully targeted marketplace who will suck up anything you care to advertise.  Well, mine aren’t anyway. And I’m certainly not.  I buy books on the recommendation of people I respect, these days often through comments or reviews or email conversations or blogposts.  But I never buy a book without  doing a fair amount of research  – including the ‘search inside’ and where possible checking out the writers blog/web page.  I click around.  So sure, I may check something out if I see it on FB. I ‘click on’ but I wouldn’t say I ‘buy’ based on that alone. It’s the start of a personal journey of discovery – which, yes, takes me far away from FB.  For me FB and Twitter offer a fast (junk) food version of the world. I may find ingredients from there and work towards finding the ‘slow’ ‘organic’ version but I seem to be in the minority there. Twitterfeed seems to have a shelf life of 15 minutes – throw mud and it’s fallen off the wall in 15. FB is getting nearly as bad.  How far down do you scroll? You throw the mud at a newsfeed and it lasts as long as a scroll down 2 pages? And if people have many friends and all those sponsored links, I reckon it’s coming close to the Twitter 15 minutes – is this what was really meant by 15 minutes of fame?

For me, these days as soon as I see SPONSORED LINK I just get pissed off. I haven’t yet had one that had anything  I am actually likely to be interested in (and so that proves to me that at least for me the algorithms aren’t working. And if they don’t work for me as consumer why should they work for me as seller?) What’s more annoying is that I’m finding it hard to find anything other than sponsored links or pontificating comments or trivial day to day chat on FB.  Some of it is amusing, some of it entertaining but ALL of it is time consuming and VERY LITTLE of it works for me either as a consumer or creator of fiction.  There are maybe five people whose lives I’m interested in enough to actually want to follow them on FB. Others whom I’d like information about their work etc, but I find that this tends to get lost within the mass of stuff I’m not interested in and it’s better to check out their blogs.  I believe we are now all drowning in information overload. We can’t find what we want because there’s so much out there in our faces we don’t want. And for me, the answer isn’t to SHOUT LOUDER or PAY TO PLAY.  If I’m going to have to pay to get even my ‘friends’ to see what I’m up to – I’m out.

I wrote a book which deals (in a non specific way) about the impact of social media on communication and society in general. It’s called Brand Loyalty. In 3 years I reckon I’ve sold about 300 in paper and e format.  And some people have even read it! When I gave it away on Kindle it rose to #1 in Amazon political bestseller (free) list within 6 hours. Oh the irony. I promoted it quite hard.  In ways that you can only do when you are giving it away for free. I didn’t pay to promote it. I mean, I was giving it away for free already. How much of my money do they want? I pulled the ‘free’ plug when about 500 had been given away.  It felt like it had stopped being a book and was becoming a ‘flyer’. I didn’t (and don’t) believe all these people bought it, read it and loved it so much they recommended it to their friends – if so my ‘free promo’ would have worked and I’d have sold more copies since.  Instead if I do ‘the math’ really all that happened was I gave away at least £500 of ‘profit’ and if you take the cost of the whole ebook that’s about £1500 down the drain. For what?  To be worldwide #1 for a day or so.  My ego’s not that big for me to be impressed by that.  The spectre of ‘vanity’ publishing still does loom large. But somewhere between vanity and pay to play marketing, I have this bad feeling that I’m being manipulated if I engage with the process.

It turns out that until and unless I spend money promoting Brand Loyalty (and my other work), it will never ‘hit the big time’. That’s fine, I don’t object if I know what the game is, but it’s NOT an open and equal playing field for all now is it? Money is still the over-riding way that you can get people to think your work is ‘good’.  I totally object to that.  At the moment I’m lucky that it’s still free to blog so that I can restate my position (to the few who aren’t fast food information junkies) that we live in a ‘pay to play’ world and that if we don’t start paying attention we will find that we are in a big shiny version of 1984 before very long.  Looking at FB Promotions, I’m beginning to think we already are.

This isn’t sour grapes. It isn’t being naïve.  I’m simply suggesting that social media and large distribution companies are NOT the way for niche marketing to work. We are the cannon fodder which keeps their operations going. If you’re happy with that fine. If you’re part of the ‘cool’ mainstream crowd, fine. But don’t be fooled into thinking that the future of niche creativity is going to aided to any great degree by mainstream social/marketing media. That’s my advice anyway. Save your money.

Now, of course I’d like you to buy Brand Loyalty. If you are interested in the ‘issues’ above and like fiction. Or want to learn something more about me as a writer and my vision of the world. Otherwise, what’s the point of you buying it?  I’m not trying to ‘alienate’ the potential  reader. But I’m not going to spend money promoting it.  Informed choice is important to me. I’ve never wanted to buy anything that has been thrust in my face by a sponsored link from FB and I wouldn’t expect you to either. I don’t believe that ‘telling’ you about myself is ‘promoting’ myself. You may disagree. I don’t know how to make it any clearer. I refuse to engage in a consumer capitalist model every time I open my mouth. I’m just saying what I think, expressing my views on the world. And as a writer, I write about them. And you can read what I write, some for free, some for money.  But it’s your choice. I’m not bullying you or begging you or subliminally targeting you in any way. I’m just telling you I EXIST and THIS IS WHAT I THINK and THIS IS WHO I AM.

There was one brief shining Camelot moment when I thought that it might be possible for people to use social media to pass on things that might really be of interest to each other  – so that people who might like to read my books would find out about them – but that hasn’t happened. People don’t seem to like to use social media for that.  It’s a virtual water cooler. People want to share jokes, or prove that they are following fashion the same as everyone else.  Most people don’t seem to think that it could be a place for ‘voices’ which are otherwise silenced because they are not commercial could be heard.  In fact the backlash has been that if you do tell people about such things you are ‘self promoting.’ Once again I say, oh the irony. Because what people seem to fail to notice is that FB is doing massive promotion all the time and that we’ve now come to the point where social media is using us far more than we are using it.  I can’t understand how people who get arsey when I tell them of my work (or that of other people I know which I rate) – much in the same way I would if I had a conversation with them in person ‘I’ve read/written this book I think you’d be interested in) don’t mind when FB is doing it to them.  Maybe I’m missing some important point.  But for me, I thought that if people were ‘my friends’ it was because they were interested in me and that includes an interest in my writing (since I am a writer!) and reading habits.  That’s the sort of thing I want to talk about. But it seems to be frowned upon. That’s not the function of social media apparently. It’s for sharing trivia or paying to sell things to people.  Call me old fashioned but that’s not the way I live my life. And the way things are going, less and less people actually have me ‘switched on’ in their FB thus it becomes less and less likely that they will keep abreast of my work through this channel. And so it’s less and less worth me posting there.  The law of diminishing returns has kicked in bigtime.

My conclusion. I need to step away from FB.  I have already stepped away from Twitter.  For Twitter I think you need to be at it every 15 minutes throughout the day and it really is throwing a wee bit of mud at the biggest wall in the world.  I’m not that ‘chatty’ a person. I don’t do small talk. I do big talk. I talk of what’s important to me and I don’t feel comfortable talking to people who don’t want to listen.  So tweeting is not for me.  And FB now, the same.  I’m going to change my personal ‘strategy’ back to blogland. Where at least for the moment speech is still free. You know where to find me. I’m here. I shall say what I think via my own site and people who are interested will come and find me here.  Then it’s up to them to tell other people who might be interested.  I’m not committing FB suicide. I’m not engaging in FB death.  I shall still link my posts through FB (and Twitter) so that anyone who is out there can find them if they want. But I’m under no illusion that this is much more than SETI combing the universe for signs of intelligent life.  The conversations will happen here.  Where no one has to ‘pay to play.’  I will not pay for your attention. I will not pay money to bug or harass you or make sure I’m the first and last thing you see when you log onto FB.  I’ll just stay in ‘my house’ and you can come visit whenever you like. And I’m happy to come to ‘your house’ and chat virtually too.

 

If you’re interested in Brand Loyalty (or any of my work) the links are there at the top of the blog. Brand Loyalty is in the FICTION section. Go on, click on… I dare you. 

Advertisements

The last word on ‘pay to play’ – Room/Post 101

Pay to play comes of age.

Warning. This post is long and has no pictures.  It also contains ideas that may be upsetting! 

In the past I’ve annoyed all kinds of indie writers by using the phrase ‘pay to play’ in connection with publishing.  People seem to get all upset when I mention that behind all the ‘helpful’ social media offered to us by the big conglomorates, there is something deeper (I don’t say darker, I don’t say more sinister, I’m not talking conspiracy theory here) going on.  It’s about the money folks.

And after fending off one too many sponsored links on Facebook (FB), I’ve cracked. I now suggest that like any ‘dealer’ we are being led by the nose.  Love social media right? Yeah, of course. Something for nothing right? Wrong.  That dealer who would give you the first hit for free does so knowing you’ll be back for more. And when you are fully addicted you’ll part with loads of cash to get ‘the good stuff’. And the more addicted you are the more you’ll pay because you need to pay more to get the same ‘hit.’  Well, not that I’m calling any of the big conglomorates ‘dealers’ and not that I’m suggesting we’re all in danger of becoming ‘junkies’ but I’d just like to point out something that’s come to my attention.

Recently I’ve been getting deluged by sponsored links on FB. None of which I’m interested in and all of which clog up my newsfeed so that I’m less and less likely to visit at all. I just get bored scrolling through what is in essence FB SPAM.

It got me wondering why/how all this has now started. I mean, I’m as good as anyone at avoiding the right hand side of the screen on anything these days (the advertising slots) but I went to my ‘page’ and the machinery was hanging out (as it sometimes does) and I found a promotions thingy.  So I clicked, just to see what would happen.

I’d just written a review and it offered me the opportunity to promote it. It said my reach was 54 (presumably the number of people who subscribe to my page who haven’t switched off getting things from me) Paid reach was EMPTY and then I clicked on the PROMOTION button.

It told me that for a mere £7 I could get 3 days promotion reaching an estimated 1900 – 3000 people.

Then I looked at the maximum budget.  Okay, if I paid $50 or £34 I could get a ‘reach’ of 6,600 -12,000 people.

Okay, I’m not suggesting there’s anything WRONG in this. But it does rather reveal what FB is all about doesn’t it? It’s not just about friends making friends, talking to friends, sharing with friends now really is it? It’s about people SELLING to other people. Paying to promote their product/work/self  to other people.  Ah well, at least there’s no confusion about that any more.  And I understand why it is that I’m getting bombarded by stuff I have no interest in. Other people with more of a ‘commercial’ bent think that by paying FB to promote their stuff they’ll find more other people who will buy their stuff.

Look, I know people think I’m stupid and cutting my nose off to spite my face by my ‘non commercial’ attitude to all this. But seriously folks, I’m not. In a past life I worked both in financial services AND in advertising so I do know something about marketing and ‘reach.’ And I am reasonably firmly convinced that (at least for myself) even if my post is promoted to 12,000 people who FB algorithms think would be interested, I will not make enough sales to pay for the advertising.  What I have to ‘sell’ is not that kind of a ‘product’.  My posts are about my thoughts and beliefs and things that interest me. I’m not turning these into a commercial transaction. It would be objectifying my very self. My books are similar. They are not just ‘product’, they are something which requires a ‘thinking’ mind to make a ‘choice’ because the kind of reader who is incapable of making these decisions for themselves generally do not ‘get’ my writing (either in blog or ebook format!)

So  I object to FB’s latest version of  subliminal marketing on an ethical level sure (and I know that’s quite unfashionable in our caring consumer capitalist world) but I also challenge the hard financial figures.  Believe me, if I thought I’d get even 1000 sales from ‘reaching’ 12,000 people I’d consider it.  The figures I think are more interesting though is how many people with FB pages will ‘try’ this just once. That’s a lot of £7’s or £30’s isn’t it!  That’s the bottom line.  FB isn’t working for you, you are working for FB.  Sorry to be the one to burst the happy bubble.

So this is just a little warning for all of you who now think that promoting your work and/or yourself this way is going to get you sales. (or even more sadly, new ‘friends’) This is all throwing mud at walls. Ask yourself: How many ‘flyers’ do people print for Edinburgh festival/pizza delivery and how good a return do they get on them?  A real return. Not just ‘reach’ figures. When was the last time YOU bought something off FB recommendation?  When was the last time you bought something OF MINE off a post I wrote or a FB recommendation?  That’s the figure that really interests ME. I think I sell from posts maybe, from word of mouth more and I sell sporadically at best.  People don’t ‘click on’ in my experience.  It may be just me and yes, when it comes to the money coming out of my pocket it’s me I’m thinking of.  You may be different. You may be ‘selling’ something different, you may have ‘friends’ who don’t object to being sold to in this way.  You may have hundreds of ‘pseudo’ friends who will buy whatever comes with your name attached.  If so, great. That means that you are part of the water cooler movement. It’s ‘cool’ to be connected with you and people are happy to let others know that they ‘like’ you.  I’m not that kind of person. I’m clearly a more acquired taste. And so for me, paying money to get people to SEE me isn’t going to work.  There’s no point me employing mainstream marketing tactics (which is what this is) for a niche product.

I’m sorry but I think FB has persuaded us (like all good dealers) that we can ‘all’ be part of the mainstream. Or that FB is ‘niche’ friendly.  Wake up folks. It’s not.  It’s the same hierarchical pyramid I first encountered when studying the causes of the Russian Revolution.  There are a few at the top and a mass working really hard at the bottom. I have always known I’m a peasant not a monarch or oligarch.  I just fear for all my ‘friends’ who from time to time seem to believe that ‘anyone can be president’ that ‘you’ve got to be in it to win it’ and sundry other modern myths.  I’m just pointing out that FB is another of these.  Your ‘friends’ are not really your ‘friends’ nor are they are a beautifully targeted marketplace who will suck up anything you care to advertise.  Well, mine aren’t anyway. And I’m certainly not.  I buy books on the recommendation of people I respect, these days often through comments or reviews or email conversations or blogposts.  But I never buy a book without  doing a fair amount of research  – including the ‘search inside’ and where possible checking out the writers blog/web page.  I click around.  So sure, I may check something out if I see it on FB. I ‘click on’ but I wouldn’t say I ‘buy’ based on that alone. It’s the start of a personal journey of discovery – which, yes, takes me far away from FB.  For me FB and Twitter offer a fast (junk) food version of the world. I may find ingredients from there and work towards finding the ‘slow’ ‘organic’ version but I seem to be in the minority there. Twitterfeed seems to have a shelf life of 15 minutes – throw mud and it’s fallen off the wall in 15. FB is getting nearly as bad.  How far down do you scroll? You throw the mud at a newsfeed and it lasts as long as a scroll down 2 pages? And if people have many friends and all those sponsored links, I reckon it’s coming close to the Twitter 15 minutes – is this what was really meant by 15 minutes of fame?

For me, these days as soon as I see SPONSORED LINK I just get pissed off. I haven’t yet had one that had anything  I am actually likely to be interested in (and so that proves to me that at least for me the algorithms aren’t working. And if they don’t work for me as consumer why should they work for me as seller?) What’s more annoying is that I’m finding it hard to find anything other than sponsored links or pontificating comments or trivial day to day chat on FB.  Some of it is amusing, some of it entertaining but ALL of it is time consuming and VERY LITTLE of it works for me either as a consumer or creator of fiction.  There are maybe five people whose lives I’m interested in enough to actually want to follow them on FB. Others whom I’d like information about their work etc, but I find that this tends to get lost within the mass of stuff I’m not interested in and it’s better to check out their blogs.  I believe we are now all drowning in information overload. We can’t find what we want because there’s so much out there in our faces we don’t want. And for me, the answer isn’t to SHOUT LOUDER or PAY TO PLAY.  If I’m going to have to pay to get even my ‘friends’ to see what I’m up to – I’m out.

I wrote a book which deals (in a non specific way) about the impact of social media on communication and society in general. It’s called Brand Loyalty. In 3 years I reckon I’ve sold about 300 in paper and e format.  And some people have even read it! When I gave it away on Kindle it rose to #1 in Amazon political bestseller (free) list within 6 hours. Oh the irony. I promoted it quite hard.  In ways that you can only do when you are giving it away for free. I didn’t pay to promote it. I mean, I was giving it away for free already. How much of my money do they want? I pulled the ‘free’ plug when about 500 had been given away.  It felt like it had stopped being a book and was becoming a ‘flyer’. I didn’t (and don’t) believe all these people bought it, read it and loved it so much they recommended it to their friends – if so my ‘free promo’ would have worked and I’d have sold more copies since.  Instead if I do ‘the math’ really all that happened was I gave away at least £500 of ‘profit’ and if you take the cost of the whole ebook that’s about £1500 down the drain. For what?  To be worldwide #1 for a day or so.  My ego’s not that big for me to be impressed by that.  The spectre of ‘vanity’ publishing still does loom large. But somewhere between vanity and pay to play marketing, I have this bad feeling that I’m being manipulated if I engage with the process.

It turns out that until and unless I spend money promoting Brand Loyalty (and my other work), it will never ‘hit the big time’. That’s fine, I don’t object if I know what the game is, but it’s NOT an open and equal playing field for all now is it? Money is still the over-riding way that you can get people to think your work is ‘good’.  I totally object to that.  At the moment I’m lucky that it’s still free to blog so that I can restate my position (to the few who aren’t fast food information junkies) that we live in a ‘pay to play’ world and that if we don’t start paying attention we will find that we are in a big shiny version of 1984 before very long.  Looking at FB Promotions, I’m beginning to think we already are.

This isn’t sour grapes. It isn’t being naïve.  I’m simply suggesting that social media and large distribution companies are NOT the way for niche marketing to work. We are the cannon fodder which keeps their operations going. If you’re happy with that fine. If you’re part of the ‘cool’ mainstream crowd, fine. But don’t be fooled into thinking that the future of niche creativity is going to aided to any great degree by mainstream social/marketing media. That’s my advice anyway. Save your money.

Now, of course I’d like you to buy Brand Loyalty. If you are interested in the ‘issues’ above and like fiction. Or want to learn something more about me as a writer and my vision of the world. Otherwise, what’s the point of you buying it?  I’m not trying to ‘alienate’ the potential  reader. But I’m not going to spend money promoting it.  Informed choice is important to me. I’ve never wanted to buy anything that has been thrust in my face by a sponsored link from FB and I wouldn’t expect you to either. I don’t believe that ‘telling’ you about myself is ‘promoting’ myself. You may disagree. I don’t know how to make it any clearer. I refuse to engage in a consumer capitalist model every time I open my mouth. I’m just saying what I think, expressing my views on the world. And as a writer, I write about them. And you can read what I write, some for free, some for money.  But it’s your choice. I’m not bullying you or begging you or subliminally targeting you in any way. I’m just telling you I EXIST and THIS IS WHAT I THINK and THIS IS WHO I AM.

There was one brief shining Camelot moment when I thought that it might be possible for people to use social media to pass on things that might really be of interest to each other  – so that people who might like to read my books would find out about them – but that hasn’t happened. People don’t seem to like to use social media for that.  It’s a virtual water cooler. People want to share jokes, or prove that they are following fashion the same as everyone else.  Most people don’t seem to think that it could be a place for ‘voices’ which are otherwise silenced because they are not commercial could be heard.  In fact the backlash has been that if you do tell people about such things you are ‘self promoting.’ Once again I say, oh the irony. Because what people seem to fail to notice is that FB is doing massive promotion all the time and that we’ve now come to the point where social media is using us far more than we are using it.  I can’t understand how people who get arsey when I tell them of my work (or that of other people I know which I rate) – much in the same way I would if I had a conversation with them in person ‘I’ve read/written this book I think you’d be interested in) don’t mind when FB is doing it to them.  Maybe I’m missing some important point.  But for me, I thought that if people were ‘my friends’ it was because they were interested in me and that includes an interest in my writing (since I am a writer!) and reading habits.  That’s the sort of thing I want to talk about. But it seems to be frowned upon. That’s not the function of social media apparently. It’s for sharing trivia or paying to sell things to people.  Call me old fashioned but that’s not the way I live my life. And the way things are going, less and less people actually have me ‘switched on’ in their FB thus it becomes less and less likely that they will keep abreast of my work through this channel. And so it’s less and less worth me posting there.  The law of diminishing returns has kicked in bigtime.

My conclusion. I need to step away from FB.  I have already stepped away from Twitter.  For Twitter I think you need to be at it every 15 minutes throughout the day and it really is throwing a wee bit of mud at the biggest wall in the world.  I’m not that ‘chatty’ a person. I don’t do small talk. I do big talk. I talk of what’s important to me and I don’t feel comfortable talking to people who don’t want to listen.  So tweeting is not for me.  And FB now, the same.  I’m going to change my personal ‘strategy’ back to blogland. Where at least for the moment speech is still free. You know where to find me. I’m here. I shall say what I think via my own site and people who are interested will come and find me here.  Then it’s up to them to tell other people who might be interested.  I’m not committing FB suicide. I’m not engaging in FB death.  I shall still link my posts through FB (and Twitter) so that anyone who is out there can find them if they want. But I’m under no illusion that this is much more than SETI combing the universe for signs of intelligent life.  The conversations will happen here.  Where no one has to ‘pay to play.’  I will not pay for your attention. I will not pay money to bug or harass you or make sure I’m the first and last thing you see when you log onto FB.  I’ll just stay in ‘my house’ and you can come visit whenever you like. And I’m happy to come to ‘your house’ and chat virtually too.

And if you are interested in Brand Loyalty or any of my other works its not hard.  Publish links are everywhere on this site – you just have to have the will  to ‘click on’. 

Now we are 100.

The beady eyed amongst you will see that the ‘logline’ for my blog is ‘writing the e-revolution.’  That’s what I’ve been doing for the past year or so. And as things fall, it turns out that this is my 100th post. So it should be marked in some way, right? 50 years old. 100 posts. Nice bit of numerical symmetry.   Now I could quite easily have compiled a list of 100 things I’ve learned from the e-revolution but I thought I’d give you all a break and stick with the top 10.

So – here are the Top 10 things I’ve learned so far as relates to the e-revolution.

  1. If you can dream it you can do it. You can do what you like. You can make up your own rules. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I first learned this in the world of drama where for 6 years people kept telling me I couldn’t do what I was doing. I just kept on doing it.  100s of performances resulted. Many lives were influenced. Some even changed.  It’s the same with publishing. I can write and publish whatever I want. Whatever length, whatever subject matter, and no one can stop me any more.  As long as you are prepared to make the sacrifices, you can do what you like.  You just have to realise that if you don’t ‘play’ by the mainstream rules you won’t get mainstream acceptance. And equally, if you don’t play by the emerging ‘indie’ rules you won’t get indie acceptance. But you can still follow your own path. You can make a niche for yourself. Other writers/publishers/groups may not like it but you can still find readers out there if you don’t let mediators (open or hidden) take control of your life.  And NEVER listen to people telling you ‘you can’t do that.’  You can.  You just have to be fully prepared to pay whatever price is necessary. Of course you cannot achieve a logical impossibility. You CANNOT eat your cake and have it. (Though you can have your cake and eat it). But you can’t sit on the fence or try to join both camps or play on both teams.  Not if you really want to do YOUR OWN thing.  You just have to accept that lots of people will have lots of reasons not to WANT your own thing. Avoid them. Look for the people who DO want your thing and don’t let the others divert you. Because they will. It’s in their best interests that you ‘fail.’ But if you don’t pay attention to their criteria of ‘success’ and instead make up your own definitions of it, you can succeed. On your own terms.
  2. Leopards don’t change their spots. For most people the e-revolution is like everything else. So they use it either as a marketing tool or a means to an end. The end being fame/fortune and mainstream acceptance. The reality is they are pissing in the wind. All the good lives are already gone. Most of us are cannon fodder in the publishing war.  We are simply here to make up the numbers.  We are being sold some second rate version of ‘The American Dream.’ For me the e-revolution says ‘wake up.’ Unless you step away from the trenches you’re going to get hurt.  Sure there are nice supportive people out there but people are people and promote self, use others is as much a mantra in indie publishing as it is everywhere else in life.  The ‘enemy’ is not just the mainstream. There is an ‘enemy’ within as well. Every writer who sees you as a competitor. Every publisher who knocks you is trying to jockey for their own position.  For me, co-operative collaboration is the key.  It’s not a ‘business model’ that many find appealing but it’s mine.  I stick by my belief that fundamentally creativity is not an industry.
  3. Mainstream rules apply. The elite will always find their way to the front. (See above) So if you don’t want to be cannon fodder and want to live a free life you have to let go of your preconceived ideas and turn your back on ‘the system’ wholeheartedly. Open your mind to other ways.  I’ve lost count of the amazing writing I’ve ‘discovered’ once I stopped following the ‘rules’ for ‘good literature.’  I have learned  so much more about writing and people and the world this way.  I learned how I’ve been cheated all my life by believing party line about ‘literature’ and ‘quality.’  Here’s my top tip. For the really good stuff you need to visit the smaller rivers and byways. Amazon is not the only river. There are other books than FACE. It’s a big world. There’s something for everyone.  But if you restrict yourself to what you’re told to like, only you will suffer. Yes, when you go off piste people may ridicule you. But when they do, consider their agenda. Why is it important that they put this or that down? Find the reasons. Read the small print. And be brave.
  4. Warning – this revolution may change the way you see the world.  How this has impacted on me is quite significant. In the past two years I’ve had the history and myths of publishing exposed and I’ve gained a much greater understanding of the question why literature?  Other world views are available. But that’s my journey.  I read differently now and more importantly I write differently now because of what I’ve learned through the e-revolution.
  5. Mind the gap – between literature and fiction. What is literary fiction? I’ve realised that truly ‘name is the thief of identity.’ When people fix something into a genre or a ‘quality’ they are in fact just reinforcing the dominant world view, or that of the cultural elite. It’s a power issue.  As writer and reader we don’t need to worry about that. We just need to write honestly and as well as we can as writers, and as readers we have to be open to forming a communicative relationship with the writer. The author is NOT dead.  Sometimes he or she is hiding behind the narrator, but I know there are plenty of authors for whom ‘intentionality’ is their watchword.  As F.Scott Fitzgerald said,  ‘write because you have something to say, not because you want to say something.’ Writing and publishing a book is a communicative act. A two way street.  Don’t think that you have to only drive on motorways because the ‘map’ doesn’t show the unclassified roads. Explore. Freely.
  6. Words that do not match deeds are unimportant.  Awesome is as awesome does.  And a man may be judged by the company he keeps. Frankly, some people tell lies. Some tell half truths, some believe that it’s okay to do dodgy things in order to get a sale or visibility.  My natural state has always been to take everything on face value.  The e-revolution has cured me of that naïve optimism. I approach everything with caution now. I don’t take any claim on face value. Caveat emptor! For me integrity and honesty is more important than a sale. Every time. I work on the three strikes rule.  Once I’ve been gulled three times I completely disengage.  I like to think I’m still open, but I’ve learned to look deeper into surface ‘truths.’
  7. Unto thine own self be true versus Follow the bouncing ball.  Ethics is not something that many people like to apply to their everyday lives.  People are happy to pontificate about ethics and get very upset when ‘their’ world view is disturbed.  Particularly on issues of ‘quality’ and ‘professionalism’ but few people are happy to go the Calvinist route and follow something to its logical conclusion.  Sock puppets bad? Don’t be one. Trolls bad? Don’t be one.  Back scratching reviews bad? Don’t write them. Many people who shout loudly about something being unfair when it’s coming their way, don’t seem to shout at all when the same thing is benefitting them.  It’s a two way street.  But I’ve found too many people rush off after ‘the next big thing’ and are prepared to ignore the real ethical issues when they don’t suit them. The ‘right’ thing isn’t a choice from a menu. It’s the ‘right’ thing.  Consistency is important to retain integrity.
  8. A dream come true. You can talk to REAL writers. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Imagine you could talk to Dickens, or Orwell. Well, with the e-revolution, if you like a writer chances are you can ‘talk’ to them. Intelligently about their work I mean, not just chatting nonsense.  The possibility is there. To communicate directly between writer and reader. Surely this is the dream of any reader – to go beyond the text and actually engage with the writer – sharing our experience of the world.  In a world dominated by trivia this is a much under explored area.  The chance to talk about writing with the writer – okay, not something the postmodernists (or even modernists) are probably too keen on, but for the rest of us, for those who know that writers are people too, it’s an amazing concept and can be an incredible reality.  I’ve made some great ‘friends’ that way in the last year or so.
  9. Be the change you want to see. The relationship between writer and publisher can be different.  But you have to do it.  For me one of the main delights of the e-revolution is how much I’ve come to enjoy being a publisher as well as being a writer.  But that’s because I’m a publisher MY WAY not according to the standard ‘rules.’
  10. 10.   In my fathers house there are many rooms.  In the e-revolution there’s a place for everyone. Cyberspace is huge. Can be daunting of course, but you just have to find your niche. You’ll have to work at it.  But there’s no point wasting time in the kitchen if you are after a bath. No point complaining that Irn Bru doesn’t taste like whisky. You need to learn to avoid wasting time in places that are not to your tastes and find the places where ‘likeminded’ people hang out.  I’ve found that most people are NOT like me (many don’t even like me!) but that some people do. So I spend my time with the folks I like, not trying to justify or ingratiate myself with people with whom I have nothing in common. It’s the only sensible way to be in a world where there are not enough hours in the day to engage with ‘everything.’  Find your place. Be happy there.
  11. The way that can be named is not the way.  I’ve learned the importance of tolerance –Prior to the e-revolution I’d already learned that it was pointless to be an ‘anti-capitalist.’ I became a ‘non capitalist’.  I live in a capitalist world. That doesn’t mean to say I have to actively play by the rules, or waste my life railing against the rules. The rules are the rules. What I can do, by being a non-capitalist (same as by being an ‘indie’) is make up my own rules.  And play by them with consistency and integrity.  Other people can do what they like. Their path is different. All I can do is stick to my way as honestly as I can.

Of course that’s 11.  My rules. I can break them if I want.  You can read or not. That’s your choice.  You might stop at 10 saying ‘but you said it was 10.’  If so, you miss out, don’t you? And probably won’t have understood a thing I was saying. Which is fine. Some people ‘get it’.  I’m not trying to convert or convince, I’m just saying what I’ve learned – which is what I said I was going to do. Job done. Move on.  Happy to engage in dialogue because of course true communication is more than a monologue.

And who the hell am I? Well, last count I’ve e-published 20 ebooks since October 2011, blogged, had short stories published online.  I’ve run an ebook peer review site with integrity, I’ve set up an online ebook festival and I’m about to turn publisher for a large catalogue of ‘forgotten’ classic works.  I’ve made some friends, I’ve made some enemies. I’ve tried to deal openly and honestly with everyone I’ve come across.  I anticipate that by 5 years into this ‘revolution’ I will have published maybe 100 works.  Even if I remain invisible to ‘them’ I will still have done it. At this point of the 100th post I’m reasonably happy with my contribution to writing the e-revolution.  I may have done no more than write ‘I wos here’ in the virtual pages of history, but I AM here and that’s good enough for me.  And you know where to find me. If you’re reading this you HAVE found me.  So if you know someone else who might like to know me, tell them. How else will they know? And if I’m not to your taste – you never have to come back here again. It’s your choice.  That’s the beauty of the e-revolution. Choice abounds.  It’s for each individual to make an informed one. That’s the responsibility of the individual. If you don’t make a choice, someone else makes it for you.  Be free. Make your own choices. Choose what you like.  And choose when to explore beyond your comfort zone. But most of all make your OWN choices.

And here’s something I’m ‘sharing’ which for me encapsulates some of the above.  I like this. If you do, explore further.

Review of The Burrymen War by Brendan Gisby

burrymenThe latest from the pen of Brendan Gisby does not disappoint.  I loved his ‘The Bookie’s Runner’ which was a sort of fact meets fiction biography of his father.  Reading it broke my heart just a little and I really wanted to read more.  Gisby writes in many different styles, and is impossible to categorise (one reason he may not have found mainstream success) and so despite have read many more of his works – from short story collections to novels – nothing quite hit the spot reached by ‘The Bookie’s Runner’ (which is not to say that I ever finish reading a Gisby work without having enjoyed them. Just in different ways). With ‘The Burrymen War’ I found the ‘missing link’ from ‘The Bookie’s Runner.’  While The Burrymen is more obviously fictionalised (the central character is half Asian half Catholic) it still carries the trademark honesty of Brendan Gisby’s strongest work.  You feel the heart in it.  But this is altogether a darker story than ‘The Bookie’s Runner.’

Let me put it this way. When I was a student in Fife, there was one (and only one) pub I wouldn’t go into in town.  Having read ‘The Burrymen War’, I’m glad I never did. Because this pub was the hang out of the kind of men that populate ‘The Burrymen War’. Not a place for a philosophy student to casually drop into expecting a high level debate. Not a place student life in all its unreality would be appreciated. A place where real life is lived.  The setting of ‘The Burrymen War’ is a hard-edged, gritty place. Small town prejudice abounds but Brendan Gisby paints this with the authenticity and dare one say love, that only one who had grown up in such surroundings could. Love may be a strange word to use when there is so much hatred in the book, but if you read it you’ll understand what I mean.  You can’t write honestly without imparting emotion and you can’t write emotionally (even about hatred) without love being a part of it.  We are not talking romantic love here. We are talking something much deeper. Love as a sense of self in community and despair as an isolation from and loss of community.

I don’t know of the history of the ‘real’ Burryman, so I can’t speculate on where fact and fiction diverge, but I can tell you that this is a totally convincing fiction.  Set in The Ferry (where so much of Gisby’s work is set) it is reminiscent of the ‘real’ life 1980’s Glasgow Ice Cream Wars. But with an East Coast flavour.

Don’t let me give you the idea it’s unrelentingly grim. There are many moments of humour within it. You feel at times that the central characters are like a latter day Guy Fawkes gang, hapless and doomed to failure – and yet, in one sense they succeed. The ‘plot’ is cleverly constructed and keeps the story running along. You care what happens to the characters and however alien their world is, they draw you into it. Not just as a voyeur but as an accessory.  But the dark side is always there.

Gisby is an accomplished storyteller who uses structure and ‘voice’ in interesting ways throughout his work.  In ‘The Burrymen War’ the retrospective narrator is Gisby at his absolute best – looking at a past with the benefit of hindsight – and the insight this brings constructs the meaning of that past and contexualises it for the reader while keeping both time frames vividly alive.

‘The Bookie’s Runner’ was a great wee story. Like a Chinese meal it left me wanting more, and ‘The Burrymen War’ completed the meal.  The meal analogy is too tame. It was more like a love affair ended too soon.  After which you cast around for something to make you feel the same way again. ‘The Burrymen War’ made me feel everything I felt in ‘The Bookie’s Runner’ but in a more ‘grown up’ way.  It’s too simplistic to say that ‘The Burrymen War’ completes the space left by ‘The Bookie’s Runner’ because it’s quite a different story but underneath  I still feel strongly that it’s part of the same thing. Part of Gisby’s explanation of the world he’s lived in.  His narrative stance/s in all his works provide a fascinating insight into the man as author and the world as he sees it.  And he times the stories to perfection. Each book is precisely the length they should be and together they seem to provide a completeness.  To fully understand what I mean you’d have to read both of them. I hope you do.

You can get hold of The Burrymen War as an ebook or as a paperback.

I guess you could read it first then read The Bookie’s Runner. But since Brendan prices his work FAR FAR too cheaply you could pick up an ebook copy of both for less than a Starbucks coffee.  And experience a much fuller flavoured taste.  And the ‘aftertaste’ will stay with you a lot longer.  So go on. Give yourself a feast of reading. Coffee for the mind not just for the brain.

51S+7KOV8jL._AA115_The Bookie’s Runner ebook and paperback 

For more reviews from Reading between the lines 

smallREADINGAlso, note this is blog post 99, so the next one will be a special 100th POST! Coming Soon!

 

The Valley of Granite and Steel by Mike Maggio

The Valley of Granite and StteelI can categorically say I’ve never read anything like this before. In a good way.  That may just be a statement of my ignorance of a whole genre, sub genre or whatever and I’d love to think that there are many, many more American writers out there writing this kind of stuff. Because it certainly bucks the trend of what I expect from contemporary American fiction. Although I think the last piece of American fiction I read was This Book Does not Exist Which also isn’t exactly representative of American fiction (I think) but was also like nothing I’d ever read before. So maybe I am the stoopid one here, maybe I should get my hiney out on the internet and check out many more American novels on the indie ebook circuit.

But enough of my ignorance.  If I were to categorise (simply in an attempt to explain) this book I’d call it ‘magic realism meets political satire’ and sit back thinking I was smart. Except I’m still not really sure I know what magic realism is.  So I may be wrong on that score.  But when folk start flying through the air and presidents lose their mouth and black guys get two mouths and the like, I’m realising that I’m not in the average, downtown world of political satire where I feel a bit more at home.

The story is told through three main sets of characters. The President of the United States (a loosely disguised G.W.Bushalike), a downtrodden African American called Larry White and a Pakistani immigrant called Choudry and his extensive family.  The central narrative explores what it means to have a voice. This is told through mouths. Too many and too few of them with hilarious, but quite serious results.  It deals with the role of politics, religion and racist stigmatising and stereotyping – and yet is much funnier than this could possibly suggest.  It’s not laugh out loud knockabout humour; rather, you buy into the whole ridiculous world in the same way that you have to for something like Gullivers Travels. But it’s political and social satire of that ilk in a modern setting.

What I liked about this book was how remarkably ordinary the description was. This completely absurd story was told in straightforward, simple, often quite elegant language which urged you to ingest it like the whole thing could be real. Which of course it couldn’t. Could it? – Well, that’s the whole crux of political satire isn’t it? And so one big fat tick on that score.

Having spent what seems like an interminable lifetime (10 years) being an unsuccessful screenwriter, I rarely indulge in the ‘this would make a good film’ line – because it’s such a fruitless comment to make. But in this case I say it because while reading I could actually see this film in the style of a Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze film. Mike Maggio fills Charlie Kaufman’s role of course. Which is saying something as I have the utmost respect for Charlie Kaufman.  For me (and I stress only for me – I suspect there are many more apposite analogies from modern film – a culture I have abandoned in the last 10 years) it had shades of Being John Malkovich meets Eternal Sunshine meets Inception – but this is a stylistic comment not one on the narrative per se. What I’m saying is there are guys who would make the most fantastic film version of this story using in camera effects and all kind of narrative ‘tricks’ But of course it would never get funded any more than it would get a mainstream publisher. Because it’s not telling the sort of story that attracts funding. The voice is too ‘out there’, too challenging to put big bucks behind, or even indie bucks behind I’m guessing. So it wouldn’t make a good film where a good film is determined by box office return. In a parallel universe where creativity counts for more than money it would make a great indie film and gain a great cult following – and I guess it should do the same in ebook form. It is a great read.  But its visuality just cries out to be seen.  We should, though, consider ourselves lucky that while we can’t see it on any kind of a screen, because of the digital revolution we can imagine it for ourselves. We don’t have to feed only on McMainstream fodder.

You can’t buy this book on Amazon or through the ‘usual’ sources. You have to go to http://www.thewritedeal.org/ to purchase it. Which in itself may be significant. There is much more to explore in American publishing than you might imagine. The Write Deal is a different kind of publishing model – a bookstore which you can become a member of, selling ebooks which I’ll lay odds wouldn’t get out there in the mainstream market any other way. Yes, they might languish in the depths of Amazon’s store, but this is a more proactive way of creating a niche. Here you can browse and download right from the publisher. I predict we’ll see many more of these endeavours in the coming years.

Find out more about Mike Maggio

 Find more reviews  from Reading Between the LinessmallREADING

 

Calling all narrators…

The first time I paid attention to the narrator in fiction consciously it was in Wuthering Heights where you get two for the price of one. But neither of them are reliable. I can debate the relative merits of Nelly Dean and Mr Lockwood as narrators (but don’t worry, only in private not here in cyberspace!) for hours. Some time after this first encounter with ‘the narrator’ as something ‘different’ I was moved by the ‘narrator’  in The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway. His ‘second hand’ one step removed ‘positioning’  in the novel was a source of much fascination to me.

Move on some years and I got really hacked off with Barthes and his whole Death of the Author thing. I’m a writer (maybe even an author) and I’m definitely not dead. I stand firmly in the author intentionality camp. If a writer doesn’t have a clue what they are doing when they write, I can’t help but ask myself why they are doing it. I like a sense of purpose. I like to feel something was written because it meant something to the writer, not just because it was thrown together to make a bit of money and serve a market (niche or otherwise). Or because one likes the sound of finger on keypad. Or just likes the sound of one’s own written ‘voice’.  It was F.Scott Fitzgerald who said ‘write because you have something to say, not because you want to say something. And this message is engraved on my writing heart!

But this is all by way of introduction. Over the years I’ve encountered many narrative voices and most recently I’ve come to see a certain ‘positioning’ of narrator in the text that I find particularly interesting.  In 2007 I wrote a serial novel Another World is Possible in which not only is there an unreliable narrator, but it’s quite unclear who the narrator actually is.  I had my reasons for this.  One of them was an exploration, in fiction, of the ideas of narrative psychology itself.  The text itself explains most, if not all, and there is plenty more I can say about it. Not here. Later.

Over the years I’ve  found several other interesting examples of ‘narrator’ lurking around in contemporary fiction which interest me. Dennis Potter and B.S.Johnson are ‘well known’ examples but I’d like to find more ‘indie’ writers who are ploughing this particular furrow. I’m going to be ‘hosting’ an event at the online Edinburgh eBook Festival in August, which aims to debate and explore why the narrator may be stepping in for, or on behalf of, or somehow hiding the author in our post-post modernist world of contemporary fiction.

At present the works under consideration are Dan Holloway’s ‘The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes’ and Brendan Gisby’s ‘The Preservation of the Olive Branch’ as well as my own ‘Another World is Possible’ But there’s room for more.  So if you’ve written a novel in which the line between narrator and author is either finely drawn or interestingly connected then please do get in touch with me.  If I can get it read in time and if you as author are happy to be ‘interviewed’ regarding your ‘intentions’ then your work could be included in this event. You have to be prepared to ‘open up’ about your authorial intention and the relationship between author and narrator and character. You have been warned.

And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry. No one died. No narrator. No author. But if this is double Dutch please DON’T send me a book simply because it has a narrator in it! Normally I’m not elitist but I’m only looking for ‘a certain kind of narrator’ in this instance. It’s not equal opportunities for all narrators day today. Sorry.

More about the three works currently under scrutiny can be found by following the links below

‘The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes’    Dan Holloway

The Preservation of the Olive Branch’          Brendan Gisby

Another World is Possible’                           Cally Phillips

And of course all are available for purchase through a variety of outlets. 

How Fifty years in a fiction factory can change lives.

fictionfactoryNot so long ago while browsing the web I came across a site asking people to post on ‘the book that changed my life.’ Nice idea I thought before I moved on, as you do, forgot which site it was but held onto the idea as one I might write about myself.  But that’s going to have to wait, because today I want to write about ‘the book that changed the direction of my life.’ It is Fifty Years in the Fiction Factory by Julia Jones and word has it on the world wide web – and indeed in that fictional place called reality – that today is Julia’s birthday.  So this seemed like the right day to post on this subject.

Julia is a sailor type woman and so I cannot help but bring out the sailing clichés. This book and the ideas in it helped me change tack and showed me how to set a new course. The waters will likely be choppy at times and who knows, if I’m a duffer I may still drown, but at the moment, some months ahead of being able to tell you what all this is about, I remain cryptically optimistic that I may sail off into the sunset feeling fulfilled with my life – and in no small part because of Fifty Years in the Fiction Factory.

How so? Well, Fifty Years helped me with a problem. I had this jigsaw puzzle called ‘something I believe in and what to do about it.’  I first found this jigsaw in 1996 and started trying to do something about it in 1997 but that attempt was aborted. I was sailing up the wrong tree (to mix my metaphors).  I didn’t know what to do. The jigsaw pieces went back in the box. I didn’t have the right picture you see. I just had all these pieces I believed in and now a feeling that I would never be able to create the finished jigsaw.

I had started thinking about it again in 2012. I pulled the box out. I still ‘believed in it’ but I still didn’t know what to do. Bur I once again felt the need to try to do something about this ‘thing that I believed in but didn’t know what to do about.’ (Note how the title grows like ivy over the years!) I began to tentatively put the pieces together, to test them out, to see what pictures I might make, but I still didn’t have a cover picture to guide me. Then I read Fifty Years in the Fiction Factory. And the scales fell from my eyes.  I learned a lot. A lot about human nature and publishing history and tenacity of spirit and how the world is and it all tied up with the missing pieces in the ‘something I believe in and what to do about it’ jigsaw.  It helped me recognise what the ‘something I believed in’ was but it also gave me some really clear ideas about ‘what to do about it’ – and ‘how to do it’ which was perhaps even the missing piece of jigsaw that had hampered my efforts previously.

So now, thanks to this book I am embarking on a voyage. I’m at the stage of making my craft sea worthy and I’m looking for an autumn launch this year, maybe not till next spring if I get distracted this summer. And with every bit of spit and polish I thank Julia and Herbert Allingham and the Fiction Factory for helping me resolve my life’s jigsaw puzzle. I hope one day you’ll all be thanking them too.  Julia will be holding the virtual champagne bottle when I launch. She, like you, has no idea what I’m talking about yet.  Her navigational skills may give her something of an advantage to pondering the mystery but I want to surprise everyone with the completed picture. So like all good mystery writers, I haven’t given you enough clues to make a really informed guess. You’ll just have to wait and see.

The way I’ve been influenced by Fifty Years in the Fiction Factory is surely unique, and not in any part an intention of either Julia or indeed Allingham, but this is a testament to the significance of the work of both of them.  Publish and you create a new life and infinite possibilities for other people.

So let’s all splice the mainbrace and all those things that sailor type people do and charge our glasses to Julia Jones, Herbert Allingham and Fifty Years in the Fiction Factory. I certainly thank her on a daily basis for the leading light she showed me when I was way, way off course and needing to find my way through the shipping lanes at night.

You can find my original review of Fifty Years in the Fiction Factory just by clicking. Also one by fellow writer Kathleen Jones (no relation)

You can buy this book as an ebook or a paperback. Available in Kindle format and epub format and from any good bookseller.

Find out more about Julia Jones and  her publishing company www.golden-duck.co.uk or access her PhD Thesis on Herbert Allingham if you want even more information! 

Happy Birthday Julia. And many more of them.

 

 

 

Review of Evie and Guy by Dan Holloway

This is neither snakeoil nor pretension, it’s a genuine attempt to open the door on questions of narrative, meaning, and the functions of language and communication. It’s also about creating one’s own meaning through a narrative of numbers. It’s a thinking person’s book.  The author gives an explanation of his intention at the beginning  and the rest is up to you, the reader.  You choose the journey you take and how deeply you engage with the work.

Why only numbers? For me the power of the numbers was primarily because it makes the reader CREATE their own narrative out of the text. It’s a way of showing the ‘space’ in a text and allowing the reader to create their own meaning.  You have to think, you have to be creative or it will remain meaningless to you.

Being numerosceptical at first I was a bit overwhelmed. I also questioned reducing the ‘relationship’ / human experience/emotion to masturbatory moments – but actually the longer I thought about that the more answers I came up with. And that is the power of this book. It makes you think.  I’m not sure it was the numbers themselves that made me think, but it was what they represented. But isn’t this like words?  It’s not the words themselves, it’s the meanings behind the words, the way they combine together, the subtext, which makes a novel a valuable experience for the mind. Same here. But the numbers are a different language. Several different languages with several layers of meaning attributable.

Obviously you have to buy into the idea that this is doing something – and doing something different – and not sneer at it.  This is a thinking person’s book. It’s not going to be for everyone, but then it’s not on the shelves at Tesco is it? It’s not trying to be something it’s not, it is offering the reader an insight into the creative narrative process – offering them the chance to be a writer if you like, to create their own meaning, to find their own story.

I think it’s about multiplicity of meaning and infinite choices.  It’s not about numbers at all. For me. But then I don’t like numbers.  I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of ‘conceptual’ writing actually but the more I think about the author’s intention the better I like the whole thing.

Shall I say I thought it was ‘better than Moby Dick.’  Well, I’ve never read Moby Dick, my eyes glaze over on page 10.  But Evie and Guy got me thinking, got me being creative, got me engaging and finding new and innovative ways to find a journey through the numbers.

I decided to find my own route. Experiment. Here’s how I did it.  I got a Kobo and an ipad. I put them side by side. On one I had Evie and on the other Guy. And I worked through the years to see where the points of connection were – when things ‘happened’ and when they didn’t. When numbers collided and when they didn’t.  And what did I find from this? Well, that I could build up a picture for myself of what the patterns might be, draw my own conclusions or inferences. Think about times when they might have been in a relationship, out of relationships and of course I found out when both of them died. Or I believe I did.  I only found one moment of complete ‘union’ as such but I have already confessed to being a bit numerophobic and I didn’t look as deeply into the ‘patterns’ as I might. But you could. You could spend a long time pondering each year, working things into the dates. The author gives you licence and opportunity to spend as much or as little time on the actual text as you like – for me, I used it simply as a springboard into my own creative thoughts about these two characters – others might use the numbers themselves as more central to the creation.  It’s completely the reader’s choice. And it’s quite interesting how you can build a huge narrative out of something so seemingly incomprehensible. If you want to.

In one sense it’s akin to looking at a potshard and building a civilisation, but for me, more than anything it’s the bravery and innovativeness of the thought process that even wants to try and offer a reader a new kind of experience which is this novel’s winning feature. It’s not a partnership as such but gives the reader an active role in the process of narrative creation. That’s quite a gift from a writer to a reader. And for me it is the real strength of this book.  You know what – this book may on one level be ‘about’ masturbation but it isn’t just wanking! Anyone who thinks it is has seriously missed the point.

 

Cally Phillips reviews for Reading Between the Lines smallREADING

Backstage Pass.

Warning. This post contains explicit Scottish Material.

Welcome Authors Electric

If you have come on over here from Authors Electric site, welcome. If not, you’re also welcome.  This (long) post is a reflection on some of my recent experiences of blogging, especially with Authors Electric, but it also wanders into some other interesting observational byways regarding indie publishing and Scottish writers in general.

Firstly I’ll address those Authors Electric readers. I’m guessing most of you just visit the blog, read the posts and go back to your lives.  Maybe you derive some humour (humor if you’re American) or edification from our musings or find something new to read. Maybe it just fills a gap in your day or displaces you from other activities. All as it should be. That’s the service on offer. A loose collection of independent writers sharing their experiences. Does what it says on the tin.

But organisations have rules. Or don’t have rules. By which people play, abide or generally kick against. Sue Price’s recent post gave you something of an insight into another writer organisation and the impact ‘rules’ can have on writers. Well, brace yourselves, dear readers. Even in Authors Electric, things go on under the surface. There is a ‘backstage’ to all that you read.  Sometimes the two environments clash in a quantum explosion. And it’s the backstage that I’m going to write about first.

I’ve been happily going along my way in the slipstream of life, sharing my thoughts, beliefs and experiences on the blog and behind the scenes without (as I thought) upsetting anyone. Certainly with no intention of causing offence.  But – I have to report that through the infinity of virtuality, a storm has arisen.  Authors Electric has been accused of being too Scottish influenced.  Does that surprise you? It surprised me because when you do a tally of group membership, as far as I know there is only one 100% born and bred Scot in the group.  Stand up and be counted Mr John A.A. Logan of Invernesshire. You are famous at last.  I’m not sure that many readers of the AE blog would be aware of the domicile even less the ethnicity of our member writers (or care) but my rough reckoning suggests that there are 5 Scottish domiciled AE members: Chris Longmuir and myself (born England brought up Scots of mixed parentage) Bill Kirton (English, Scottish domiciled), Catherine Czerkawsaka (can you guess she has some Polish parentage? Also domiciled in Scotland).  And the aforementioned Mr J.A.A.Logan.  The single malt to our distillery blends.  However, I suggest our ethnic label is not strictly relevant. Any more than the fact that some members of the group are women, some are of retirement age, some have health issues. If I dare speak for the group, I think the majority opinion is that the group reflects a fairly standard diversity.  (We don’t have a ‘token’ ‘person of colour’ and only ¼ of one of our members has Asian background (to my knowledge) but we’re not exactly over-run with Scottish ‘members.’ And yet, backstage, the accusation was levelled that ‘the Scots have too much influence in the group’ and ‘a certain person is a bully.’  As a writer I pride myself on getting subtext and it seems to me that most likely the ‘Scots influence’ comment is actually a veiled barb suggesting that I may be a ‘gobshite’ whereas I thought I was just a hard working group member who has ideas (above my station?) about how group dynamics might work most efficiently.  So a ‘gobshite’ I may be.

Does it take one to know one? (Na, na, na, na, na)

However, I am also a social advocate and as such committed to speaking up for people who have been excluded or undermined, so that being accused of bullying is something that cannot just be ‘taken on the chin.’  Assuming I am the ‘certain person’ since the cap doesn’t any more obviously fit any of the other ‘Scots’ in the group, I felt it couldn’t be ignored.  Said in public it might be construed as libellous, or defamation of character so it’s lucky it was said in private.  Bullying, dear reader, is a word that’s bandied about too freely in common parlance but to call a social advocate a bully is akin to accusing a writer of plagiarism. It’s not just a wee gripe which one should ignore. It becomes a serious accusation.

The dictionary definition:   bul·ly  /ˈbo͝olē/

Noun: A person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.

Corned beef.

Verb: Use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.

Adjective: Very good; first-rate.

Exclamation: An expression of admiration or approval: “he got away—bully for him”.

Synonyms: splendid – dandy

Silly me, maybe the ‘critic’ was suggesting I was ‘very good’ and ‘first rate’ or ‘splendid’ and I’ve missed the point entirely. I think not. If I considered in any way I was a bully, my whole reputation would be undermined and I would cease being a social advocate. And if it’s not true, it is a potential instance of bullying in and of itself surely and something that should be stood up against  – whether it was directed at me or one of my fellow Scots.  Get real – I know it was directed at me (I have evidence!!) And I know it’s not a well founded comment.  I may be a gobshite. I am not and never have been a bully.  In any sensible use of the word.  Thus I am able to refute the accusation in the strongest terms.  Should anyone have ever felt bullied by me I would be most happy to discuss the matter with them personally and put straight any misunderstanding.  But sometimes, dear reader, people bandy about such phrases, without thinking of the implications, just, dare I say, to cause trouble.

Personally I try to avoid trouble, but it seems to have found me even when I wasn’t looking for it, so with my advocacy hat on I felt I should face it head on. With my writers hat on I’m just somewhat bemused.  Because at the same time as this wee ‘spat’ has been running in private (unknown to our ‘dear readers’ and thankfully sensibly sidestepped by most AE members except in terms of a humour (or humor)ous response, ) we’ve seen another example of something one can only suggest might seem exclusionary.  And at the very least is ‘a bit odd.’

The ‘offending’ article.

An article recently came out in a Scottish Literary Magazine giving (at least that’s how I read it) an overview of  contemporary Northern Scots epublishing ‘talent.’  The now famous John A.A.Logan once more got a mention (way to go John) as did former member Linda Gillard (proudly English, domiciled in the Highlands.) I agree they are both well worthy of the ‘titles’ accorded them in the article. However, the article’s ‘North’ focus then slipped somewhat and mentioned several other writers who (while they may all have Highland connections I don’t know about) are scattered all across Scotland and in one case now (I believe) domiciled in Spain. That’s fine. I’m sure they are all great writers and doing great work for the furtherance of indie epublishing. I have no beef (bully or otherwise) with any of them. I’m just confused as to the aim of the article. Because it failed to mention other North of Scotland based writers who, in my opinion, had as much right to be brought to the reading public’s attention as the aforementioned. Bill Kirton, for example. Both he and I live in Grampian which is North enough for some companies to put additions on postal charges on grounds of ‘Highlands and Islands.’  And if we open the net to include all of Scotland (as the article did) Chris Longmuir and Catherine Czerkawska (familiar names to you here!) might also have been mentioned.  As might Mark Frankland (21 ebooks and counting!?) And doubtless many others who I am not aware of.  I’m sure these people weren’t excluded because they are not Scottish enough!  I’m just pointing this out as a concerned gobshite, you understand.  When  talking of short stories (as the article did)  how Brendan Gisby could have been missed out I cannot imagine.  Scratch Mr McStoryteller and you’ll find a whole cacophony of ebook publishing by Scots from all over the country.  One even in Greece. So it begs the question why were all these writers overlooked?  I’m not a conspiracy theorist and it may just be oversight (quite an oversight) but the only commonality I could find between those NOT mentioned that I know (obviously there are more) is that they are not members of Alli.  I have no idea if all those mentioned are members of Alli or even if it’s a valid link.  I have no axe to grind with Alli as a group. It’s just that readers were directed towards Alli as the place to find out more about indie epublishing/authors at the end of the article.  So that is where people will go, isn’t it?  But many independent professional authors choose not to be members of Alli.  Writers who have won awards, held fellowships and residencies and yes, published award winning and ‘bestselling’ books. Some such writers have spent years in the ‘business’ and don’t feel they need membership of Alli.  Which is fair enough isn’t it?  Some are members of Society of Authors, some members of nothing at all. That’s the democracy of being an indie publishing writer isn’t it? You don’t have to ally yourself with any organisation to prove your worth. Or that’s what I thought?  Gobshite I am, I’m simply trying to understand what the criteria for selection in this article were, and why it is that many readers may now have a somewhat inaccurate picture of the Scottish epublishing  ‘scene.’  Perhaps I am being a ‘bully’ by mentioning my feelings about the article? I see it more as standing up for those whose voice hasn’t been heard by it. Who I firmly believe should have been included in any such article.

Returning to my original point, the article shows that some Scots writers clearly have more influence than others but I don’t think any AE Scots writers have enough, never mind too much influence, in or out of the group.  And many of them clearly have little or no influence with certain sectors outside AE.

Whose side am I on?

All of this got me reflecting. My USP seems to be that I am an invisible gobshite.  Which felt like a strange concept. Then I realised I’m not the first Scottish writer to be seen as too influential while being too invisible.  And I expect I won’t be the last.  The answer (as always) was staring me in my invisible gobshitey face.  Dear reader, (to use Jane Austenesque ironic style which surely can offend no one) I am currently engaged in publishing the work of ‘forgotten’ popular Scottish authors.  The kind of authors that I think pretty much all of the writers mentioned in this post (apart from Jane Austen) will be 100 years from now. Sorry if that’s burst anyone’s bubble but my research suggests that far more ‘successful’ writers than hang around AE go out of fashion and disappear – Julia Jones’ Fifty Years in the Fiction Factory about Herbert Allingham is a case in point. Even Dennis Hamley’s recent George Gissing post suggests the same ugly truth. We are not formed for longevity folks. We will be forgotten. Better men (and women) than we are have trodden the same path. But why does this happen?

There is a bigger picture of course. Changing fashions, changing publishing mediums etc. But there is also, I suggest, a closer to home answer. It’s that there is too much of the factionalised, competitive spirit amongst too many people who could actually achieve more if they worked happily together (as AE at best strives to do).  Ironically, it is this very factionalism which is likely to speed the ‘forgetting’ because the strength of the ‘indie’ lies in working together for a common goal not in competing each other off the stage.

It seems, dear reader, (dear patient reader!) that the ways of the mainstream are seeping into the nice clean river of independence. Our freedoms are being threatened. We are, to put it prosaically (this is for you Jan Needle, as requested) shitting on our own doorstep when we don’t support each other as best we can.  Being part of an ‘exclusive’ group is surely against the whole democratic ethos of the ‘indie’.  We should be big enough to accept and acknowledge that there are people with diverse ethnicities, goals, writing styles, concerns and points of view and be prepared to champion ALL of them.  We shouldn’t be drawing the wagons into a circle and shooting arrows out at the ‘Indians.’ None of us should be doing this.  If we are in groups we should be supportive of our fellows but never forget that we are more than members of any particular group – we are fundamentally independent and so share commonality with all other independents.

What would J.M.Barrie do?

Like I said, I don’t court trouble or controversy, but it seems to like me at the moment.  Therefore  I turn once more to precedent. Another Scots playwright turned novelist with whom I would be happy to be associated. J.M.Barrie is famous for having said ‘there are few more impressive sights in the world than a Scotsman on the make.’  I bet once he’d said it he felt like I feel now.  He has been roundly abused and vilified and misunderstood ever since partly because of this remark. He’s been accused of everything from parochialism to paedophilia!  My discursive reading of his ‘line’ from his early feminist play ‘What Every Woman Knows’ is that he was being IRONIC.  J.M.B was big on irony. As was Jane Austen of course, but she got away with it.  In his own time J.M.B was variously accused of being twee and parochial Scots, and of being (in our modern parlance) ‘a gobshite’ upstart who defected to England where he continued to either ‘bang the Scots drum’ or sell a cheap and inaccurate picture of Scotland.  That a line from a play should give so many people so many angles to attack is rather sobering, I think. But makes me feel in good company. As I understand it, J.M.B wrote honestly (and with humour) about his own personal experience of growing up in a small weavers’ town. He wrote about his family, he was ‘political’ in so far as he stood up for the rural ‘worker’ against the rich landowner/capitalists and he was an early adopter of women’s rights. He did not so much ‘follow the money’ to England as go where the opportunities arose.  But any and all of these attributes made him in his own time, but more importantly, in history, subject to some of the most overblown and ridiculous antipathy I’ve ever encountered.  He was variously vilified: because he was Scots. Because he didn’t write what the mainstream expected. Because he ‘cracked’ the mainstream. Because he was popular with ‘the masses’ but not the elite.  Because he was part of a ‘group’ who dared to stand against modernism and intellectualism.  He was probably accused of being a bully somewhere along the line. So, right now, I ask myself – what would J.M.Barrie do?

And my answer is – he’d write a story about it. And he’d go fishing. So that’s what I’ve done.  I’ve gone fishing with my friend Jack MacRoary (also known to some as the Bard of DrumTumshie and currently Scotland’s leading cultural satirist, despite being only eleven years old – and I may add a published ebook writer) and I got Jack to write the story because he’s on his Easter holidays now and I’m busy publishing other forgotten dead writers and dodging the bullets from the live ones who find me too Scottish, or too verbose, or too independent or just too flipping annoying.  Jack and the story are filling in my Authors Electric slot this month.  And if he’s popular, into the foreseeable future. Although he may be another too influential gobshitey Scot and cause even more trouble.  Who can say?

For you, dear reader, I believe Authors Electric does what it says on the tin. I take my hat off to all the members who remain truly independent and yet committed to group harmony.    Many of them I’m sure I’d class as friends if I met them in real life.  And that’s one reason why I decided to go on ‘fishing’ leave from AE.  We don’t all need to be in the choppy waters all the time. I’ve gone fishing so that the stooshie can die down while people reflect on what it means to be an independent author.  And where our futures, joint and several lie.

(I offer no apologies for the Scottish words such as gobshite and stooshie especially here on my own site where I can write freely.  I don’t even really apologise for the length of this post. I’d kept my gob shut long enough and I had rather a lot to say.  And as reader, if you didn’t like it you had the choice and the right to stop reading at any point along the way.) I didn’t bully you to keep going to the end did I? Nor have I forced you into buying any of my ebooks. But of course I’d be more than happy if you felt the inclination. There are plenty to choose from (Jack’s even written 2!) 

%d bloggers like this: