Social media and the spotlight: Advice for new authors

Social media is a necessary evil.

As an author, I rely heavily on social media to reach out to readers. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are my preferred sites, but there are others that occasionally visit. Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook will know that my page is open all day, hovering in the background, distracting me from writing. Publishers suggest that authors, particularly debut authors, set up social media accounts so that we can interact with the public, and put ourselves in the spotlight. They also strongly suggest that you use a Facebook page rather than an account, so that your account can remain personal. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work like that.

Once you put yourself in the public eye, your life is under scrutiny. I’m not a best-selling author (yet), and I am by no means famous or have celebrity-status of any kind, but I still have to be careful about what I post on my personal pages, because it can come back and bite me in the backside. And that’s exactly what happened yesterday. Not to me, but to another author.

This particular author made some hateful comments regarding the LGBT+ community, saying she’d “beat the gay” out of her sons. She bragged about how she was raised by a racist, homophobic member of the biker community, and that’s how she’d raised her sons – to think that it’s wrong to be in love with someone of the same gender, or a different race. This is a woman who also calls herself Wiccan with Native American blood. She made all of these comments on her personal page.

I’m not friends with this woman, in fact I blocked her as soon as her name came into the light because I have no time for hate like that. The only reason I found out about it is because someone who was friends with her took a screen shot of the comments and posted them publicly.

This woman, an author, has now lost numerous “friends”, contacts in the industry, and readers due to comments she made on a private account.

I have no sympathy with her. We must all pay the price of our actions. However, it made me think…

My publishers have said use a page to connect with readers, keep your account private. Do not make statements on your page that could deter readers, keep it on your private account. Yet, there is nothing private about social media. This woman made those comments on her private account, and readers still saw them.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. I’ve blocked other authors who have made similar comments. I know of other authors who have had their careers destroyed because of one status update. I know of authors who have lost traditional publishing contracts because of rants on social media.

So, my advice to any debut author is this: Make those accounts. But don’t for one second think that your private account is private. Be mindful of the comments you make. Anyone can take a screenshot and share it. We all have bad days. We all have days where we need to rant. But, it will only take one inappropriate status update to label you as a “badly behaving author” and ruin your career.

Why being a writer is like motherhood

Whoa! What did she say? Being a writer is like being a mum? She probably doesn’t have kids…

Actually I do. Two gorgeous little sproglings who drive me crazy. Which is why I can honestly say that being a writer is exactly like venturing into parenting – because I’ve done both.

Before having babies we had an idea of how it should be. I am probably the worst person for saying things like “I won’t let my kids watch TV for 8 hours a day.” It’s the summer holidays, I still have to work, it was raining, so I stuck the TV on and let them watch it all day the other. “I won’t let my kids have tablets in their bedrooms.” Guess where they are right now… It was the same pre-writing. “I won’t change who I am once I’ve written a novel.” I’ve created two personas – mum-me and writer-me.

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A naive, 20-year old me. Pre-child.

Every pregnancy is different. I know women who walked through 9 months, pop out a baby, and voila! Parent. I know women who struggled to get pregnant, and went down every avenue to have their precious child. Personally, I had a horrendous time throughout the process. Getting pregnant? Took me 3 years. The pregnancy? Well I’ve lost 4 babies, my daughter was born by emergency c-section at 32 weeks, and with my son I was hospitalised from 27 weeks onwards and then his labour was 36 hours long.

Writing is no different. I know writers who sat down, tapped on a keyboard, threw up a great novel, got published and now have writing as a full-time career. I know writers who have an amazing amount of talent but struggle to finish anything. I’ve been rejected numerous times – I kept my very first rejection letter to keep me grounded for when I hit the big time. I went the long route as well. I wrote fiction, but started working as a freelance writer and through that made connections in the publishing industry, which most definitely helped with getting that coveted contract (of which I now have two!)

Pregnancy is a time to nurture. You’re growing a child – a tiny little miracle that begins as an egg and develops into a living, breathing, human being that you can hold in your arms. You’re given a load of advice, lists of Dos and Don’ts, and you don’t know what to believe. Mums who have been there, done that, tell you what it should be like. “Oh I ate blue cheese throughout my pregnancy with little Zak.” Doctors who haven’t ever given birth tell you “Braxton Hicks don’t hurt” (trust me they do). You buy book after book, scour the internet, write a birthing plan… And then that goes out the window the moment your first contraction kicks in.

Writing is the same. You have this seed of an idea that you want to grow into a fruitful career. You care for it, nurture it, develop it. Other writers try to intervene with contradicting advice. “An adverb is telling now showing.” “Adverbs are fine.” “Don’t say she said, he said, tell us how they’re saying it.” “Don’t describe dialogue, it should be obvious.” So you buy book after book, scour the internet, write a plotline… And then the characters take you in a completely different direction.

Giving birth. Oh. My. God. Some women brag how they birthed their children without painkillers, at home, in a car, up a tree… Okay, maybe not up a tree, but you get the picture. Me? Well, an emergency c-section at 32 weeks was not on the birthing plan, and because of the complications I’d had with my son, I wasn’t even allowed to make a plan!

Producing a book? It can be just as painful as labour. There are writers out there who don’t bother editing or getting a Beta-reader, they just through it at an agent and poof! A book appears. They are rare though. Most writers, including myself, finish a novel and then spending longer going through edits than they did writing the original story. I have three trusted Beta-readers, 2 are my highly critical best-friends and 1 is a fellow writer. 2 women and a man. Exactly like in the labour suite – 2 midwives and a very confused husband. I also pay someone to read it and give me an honest critique – she’s a bit like the health visitor. The woman who you trust to give you good advice, because it’s her job.

There you have it. Your new baby. And writers do tend to consider their books as children. But it doesn’t stop there. You don’t give birth and throw it out into the wide world alone. We’re not sharks! Well, not all of us.

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Pregnant me

Your book goes through the same stages as a growing child. You need to teach it the way of the world, get it out into the open, and show it off. You need to choose appropriate clothing in the form of a book jacket. You need to work with your editor to make it as perfect as possible, teaching it right from wrong. You let other people read it for their critiques.

Parents will ask, “What age should you stop breast feeding?” “When should you potty train?” “Does this look like chicken pox?”

Writers will ask, “Is this a good first chapter?” “Is there a different way I can say this?” “Is this chapter necessary at all?”

If you’re going down the traditional publishing route, it’s a bit like sending your baby off to school. You have to trust that the publisher knows what they’re doing, but if you’re not happy you have every right to ask questions and make suggestions. “What’s that? A bigger title is bullying my book off the shelf?” That’s because that title has an entourage of reviewers behind it. That’s because that title went viral. Sometimes this happens, and there is nothing you can do. You can protect your book, hide it away from the public eye, and hope the big book goes away. Or you can tell your book to stand its ground and prove that they are the better story. Tell your publisher that you’re not happy with the sales and they will give you some advice with regards to marketing and publicity.

Some parents hire a home tutor for their children. Writers should most definitely do some home tutoring themselves – social media, blog tours, media interviews, release blitzes, reviews… It all helps to mould and improve your book’s chances of getting higher up the ladder.

Home-schooling is an option, as is self-publishing. I don’t know much about either of these options. I trust our education system since I work at the local primary school. However, I have ventured into the realm of self-publishing. My first novella was self-published. Like a new parent, I had no clue what I was doing and it was all guess work. It didn’t go so well. But like with a first child, I learned from my mistakes (yeah, us first-borns are always practice kids according to my Mum!) and when Seven Dirty Words was finished, it was a marked improvement. But if you get the advice and do the research, you can be just as good as an established education department or publisher.

Your child has flown the nest. Off to uni, got married and had kids of their own… But they’re still your child. I still ring or text my mum every day for advice or a moan, especially when it comes to parenting and cooking. Yup, you guessed it… Just because your book is published and on the shelf, doesn’t mean you can ignore it.

All those interviews? Connections with your readers? They still need to continue. You still need to be the proud parent, showing it off whenever you can.

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My other children

A-Z of Romance: T is for Time after Time

Romance once in a while is nice, especially when it’s spontaneous and surprising, but romance time after time is better. I’m not talking about smothering your partner in cuddles and kisses, I’m talking about romantic meals out, nights on the sofa, talking openly, and just generally showing each other how much you care.

You don’t have to shower them in expensive gifts, but a cup of tea in bed, a home-cooked meal, and a child-free night can all  be seen as romantic. All you need to do is remind each other of why you got together in the first place, remind each other of why you’re still together, and you’ve hit romance on the metaphorical head.

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Make once a month “Date Night”. This is quite common amongst couples, although we often forget to put that night aside. How many times have you said to your other half: “Let’s go out on payday?” And then payday comes around, and so does something else. Date Night gets cancelled. Again. Make a point of planning it – okay so there’s nothing spontaneous or exciting about that, but at least then you know you have one day or evening a month when you can do something as a couple.

Make Date Night different every month as well – go to the cinema one month, then out for a meal the next. Go for a walk in the local park, and then change it up to a takeaway in front of the telly. Keep it interesting, keep it fresh, and keep it alive.

A-Z of Romance: R is for Romance

Well of course it is.

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What is Romance?

If you want the dictionary definition, romance is the feeling of excitement and mystery that comes with love, or a short and brief affair (i.e. a holiday romance). In the movies and books, romance is hearts and flowers. Chocolates, champagne, being swept off you feet… And I suppose to a certain extent that’s true – romance is all about emotions. But I don’t think it has to be excitement, mystery, or a fling. I don’t think you need to surprise your loved one to be romantic. Plus, let’s face it, if you’re trying to romance someone into a relationship, constantly springing up with bouquets of roses and bottles of plonk, serenading them at the door, could become a little bit… Well… Stalkery.

So what is romance? To me, romance is just showing someone that you love them by doing something they enjoy. It doesn’t have to be candlelit dinners under the moon, or nightly walks across a golden beach. In my case, romance is making me a curry and then snuggling on the sofa to watch an action or thriller movie, and bringing me a cup of tea.

Romance is as individual as fingerprints. Everyone is different, so what works on one person, may not work on the someone else. Romance could be dinner and a dance, a rom-com movie with popcorn, a holiday alone in the Bahamas. Or it could be a walking holiday in Yorkshire, visiting a local museum, a takeaway in front of the telly.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – the most romantic thing any couple can do is talk openly about how they feel, and what they want from the relationship.

Ask Charlotte: Sexting

“Dear Charlotte,

I know I shouldn’t have done it but I looked through my boyfriends phone the other day. I saw a lot of messages from another girl – the sexting kind if you know what I mean. There were also naked pictures of her. He’d replied to the messages with pictures of him. I went onto Facebook and saw several pms from different women and they were all like the texting messages. I don’t know what to do. I love him so much. I don’t know if I can live without him.

Help,

Useless”

Dear Useless,

First of all – you’re not useless. But your man is a cheating scumbag. I’m sorry to put it so bluntly, but it’s the truth. I try to avoid telling people to just dump their other halves, and always try to find a way to help couples work around their problems, but in your case I say, get rid of his sorry ass and find yourself a man who will love and respect you, the way you deserve. You can live without him. Staying with him is going to pull you apart and destroy any trust you have.

It would only be natural for you to feel down and low, or even depressed, over this entire situation. I would urge you to kick his backside out of your life, and talk to your friends. You need to shout this out, and nobody is better at offering a shoulder to cry on than friends. If that doesn’t help, then please, please, go and speak to your GP. If you have been together for a long time then a little bit of talking therapy may help you to regain your trust in men. I promise you, they’re not all worthless pigs.

Whatever you decide, please do not let this man (who clearly thinks with his small brain), make you feel that you can’t move on. Because you can. We’ve all been cheated on (well, most of us), and for the most part, we’ve all come out the other side. Your Prince Charming is somewhere, but right now, you’re kissing a toad not a frog.

Charlotte

xoxoxo