Sunday, 10 August 2008

Shouting it from the rooftops

Writers, by and large, tend to be fairly reclusive characters, not given to bragging and self-assurance.

For years, if someone discovered I was writing a book and asked me about it, there would follow feet-shuffling to shame Michael Flatley and a series of grunts that only Darwin could have translated.

I wanted to be a writer, and I wanted people to know I was writing – but at the same time I was so embarrassed about it (or rather, petrified that what I was writing was no bloody good) that the thought of actively promoting my work, or, God forbid, letting people read and critique it, was unthinkable.

That attitude changed over the years. With age comes experience, and with experience comes the knowledge that you’re getting better at what you do.

When I set out to write The Manx Connection four years ago, I knew I had to try and build word-of-mouth before the book came out. It was only ever going to be a short print run of a book that was very much in a niche market, so early publicity was a must. I set up a website dedicated to the book, which didn’t betray my reluctance to self-promote too much, as it was about the book more so than about me.

A few months ago, with the Manx Connection in the shops, work underway on book two – The Manx Giant – and the web hosts looking for more cash, I ran an idea past Ady, a writing friend who knows a bit about this here internet malarkey: ‘How about scrapping the Manx Connection site,” I suggested,’ and creating a new one about me, my books and future projects?’ A little internet shop window to help get my name known. After choosing a template, Ady got to work, and a few weeks later the site was launched kicking and screaming onto an oblivious world.

There was much inner conflict as to whether I should have bothered. I doubted that anyone – close friends and family excepted, and they probably just to keep me off their backs – would give a rat’s arse about my low-key publishing credits and aspirations to break through in fiction.
I guess I didn’t want to come across as pretentious. I also didn’t fancy checking the number of visitors to my site and blog and finding tumbleweeds clogging up the system.

But then I had an epiphany. And I thought: ‘Bugger it. Why not.’

I researched other writers’ websites and blogs, both published and unpublished, and I realised that writers without a web presence, particularly those aiming for a breakthrough, are putting themselves at an immediate disadvantage. The internet is so fundamental to writing and publishing that my only regret is not having started the site and blog sooner.

A recent thread on litopia.com posed the question - authors as bloggers? – and asked how essential is it for writers to blog or have a website, indeed, would the time spent blogging be put to better use on a work-in-progress.

I devour the musings of other writers, published and unpublished, and publishers and agents in equal measure. It’s partly for inspiration (not, I hasten to add, for ideas), but also to continue learning about the industry, about the genres in which I write. A large part of it is to learn how not to do something. Publishers and agents are swamped with submissions, and some of the tales you read leave you wondering whether you, by association as a writer, are also a complete half-wit.

The amount of advice, information and experience to be garnered from such sites is quite staggering, which is why I was a touch bamboozled by one contributor to the thread, who said they don’t read writers’ blogs or look at sites because they have no interest in what a writer has to say about writing, or anything for that matter, nor do they have the time to read them, even if they wanted to. Each to their own, of course, but I can’t help but feel that those with such an outlook are missing out on so much.

Finally, and a little off track, our Bump finally landed on Wednesday afternoon, hence the delay in updating the blog. Little Gypsy-Mae weighed in at 9lbs and 1oz and I’m still at the stage where I can’t stop staring at her, although I’m not sure whether that is out of pride, or bewilderment that I could be responsible, albeit partly, for something so beautiful.

What’s that? A deadline looming in mid-September? That ain’t looking so clever...


Keeping John company during sleepless nights this week:

The Joshua Files: Invisible City, M.G. Harris

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