Monday 31 August 2009

Bank Holiday Blog Thoughts and Questions

I’m currently working on the synopsis for my next book. An exciting experience. Domestic issues and the day job have kept me away from fiction writing for a while, and I’m champing at the bit, really keen to get back to it.

Meanwhile, I was fascinated by the extensive response to my question ‘Why so gruesome?’ The comments certainly did make me think, and illustrated how much a blogger can gain from those who are kind enough to reply to questions (similarly, my essay about Oxford murder stories would have been incomplete, had comments not alerted me to the work of Adam Broome and Victoria Blake.) I’m most grateful. Incidentally, sometimes there are occasions when I can’t publish or reply to comments for a few hours. This is almost invariably because of work demands!

Here’s a question that’s bugging me at the moment. Do you prefer an author to get right into the main story without delay? Or do ‘prologues’ and similar devices help to set the scene. Prologues rather suit the Lake District Mysteries, I think, but although I’ve used them previously, I did without them in The Serpent Pool.

And while I’m at it, if there is anyone expert in Blogger out there, perhaps you could help me to understand how to restore to the sidebar the icons of this blog’s followers. They appear on my Blogger Dashboard, and on preview – but then they disappear. Very mysterious…..

Finally - several people have told me that Facebook is a good idea for writers who want to communicate with readers. So far I've registered with Facebook, but done nothing with it. Any views and/or advice would be very welcome.


seana graham said...

I don't mind at all if the writer doesn't get into the main story right away. But I need to feel as though the author knows what they are doing, and that in retrospect, I will understand the choices they made.

Also, I suppose it goes without saying that the opening must be interesting and pull me in, regardless of its relevance to the main plot!

No tech support help from this corner at all, I'm afraid. Good luck.

Maxine Clarke said...

Prologues. Most of the crime novels I read have a prologue. Almost invariably, this describes either a death or an "exciting, mysterious event" that isn't immediately connected to what is described at the start of the novel proper, so the reader can try to work out how the two threads are going to be connected. Although this certainly can and often does work, I do find that it can be a cliche, as there seems to be a standard forumula in the way that many books do it. I have no idea about writing a book, so would just think that "whatever seems to come naturally" is the best way for the reader. As a reader, I am not particularly looking out for a certain type of structure of a novel - variety is the spice of life. You can have your Agatha Christies in the same universe as your David Peaces.

Sorry, that probably wasn't much use. Can't help with the Blogger settings either I am afraid - I have had Blogger blogs but they pre-date this "following" service. I would guess that you have to go into "settings" and either check or uncheck a box to display the images.

Facebook. I personally find it useless, but then I am not trying to gain more readers for or sell books. The younger generation seem to use it constantly though - setting up private groups to arrange parties/get-togethers, and instant-messaging each other. One big advantage for them is that it is free compared with phoning each other. Whether that is a likely potential readership, who knows? FB does seem to be full of people who want a presence but not so full of people who want to buy things, so far as I can tell. You can use it to log events - we've done this for some scientific meetings, but I don't think we've had people signing up from FB, unlike other online services. Also, someone does have a crime-fiction reading group there which I and some other regulars joined - but it is dead. Everyone I know says FB groups are useless (may have lots of people signing up to them, but they don't "do" anything.)

With all these online two-way services (blog, twitter, friend feed, facebook etc) I think that there are advantages to maintaining a presence, but the advantages are fairly limited. You aren't going to pick up tons of new readers from any of them unless you are prepared to put in a lot of time and effort (and even then perhaps not). My suggestion is to continue with your blog, which is unlike virtually all other author blogs I have come across, in that you write well about what interests you - which is often books and reading - so this attracts the "internet readosphere" - which is quite large. (You probably have 10 or more times as many readers of your blog than you do commenters.) Your blog will gradually pick up more readers the longer you keep it going and the more word gets round about it. You can set up FB, FF, Twitter etc so that you blog posts export to it, hence maintaining a "presence" there without you having to spend much (or any!) time on it.

For example, on Facebook there is an application called Blog Network - you can import your blog into that and network with other blogs doing the same. I set that up a year or so ago, but I am not aware that it has bought me any new readers - I'm connected up to the same blogs that I already read and who read mine there - but it is easy to do and no harm I suppose. (There is an icon for it on Petrona, right hand sidebar, if you want to take a look at Blog Network).

As mentioned, I suggest that the one thing you could do to increase your publicity is to add links into your blog posts. For example in one of your interesting posts about one of your books, you could link to the info about that particular book on your website so that interested blog readers can go straight to the book (or other bit of your website you want to highlight). It is very easy to do automatically in "Blogger" - there are instructions in the dashboard.

Hope you don't mind this long ramble - will try to be briefer next time!

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks very much, Seana. I agree. Some people are totally against prologues, but not me.

Martin Edwards said...

Maxine, this is extremely helpful and I will give your ideas more thought, including links.
I do appreciate your enthusiasm for my blog, and it is reaction of this kind that has enthused me so much over the last (almost) 700 posts.

Mat said...

Martin, I really loathe prologues! Especially those which present a brief, highly dramatic scene of high violence (usually in italics, just to add to the irritation), and then chapter one is labelled something like “Six months earlier ...”

To me, this can only mean that the writer (or, perhaps, the editor) has no confidence in the first chapter; doesn’t think it’s gripping enough to pull in the reader. In which case, my advice would be ... re-write it until it is.

I think prologues are a bad habit picked up from US cinema and TV (most current novelists seem determined to learn their trade solely by watching the telly). I daresay there are occasions when they are useful, necessary, and justifiable - but as a general rule, and since they became ubiquitous, the presence of a prologue is one thing that almost guarantees my review copy goes, unread, straight into the Oxfam box.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Maxine about blogs and Facebook. I don't think you'll find masses of fans or new readers on Fb. What you might find is a group of likeminded people, and if they blog or do other things in the world of books, they can promote your books to their circle of contacts. I mostly enjoy meeting people who I have more in common with than I do my neighbours or old friends from school. Or rather, that I can share book/writing type things with. We all have groups of friends with different backgrounds.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Mat. I know at least one editor who shares your view. So the synopsis I'm writing at present has no prologue! (Though I don't mind them, if they fit the story.)

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Bookwitch, and by the way, I'm still hoping our paths will cross one of these days.

crimeficreader said...

Martin, on prologues, I don’t care one way or the other really, as long as it seems relevant to what I’ve read on the cover synopsis. I have noted lately that Scandinavian authors tend to favour them, which ties in with something Maxine has said. This doesn’t surprise me as she reads a lot of Scandinavian crime fiction.

Facebook. I have reached the stage of considering deletion of my account. It’s slow to load and the lack of real time aspect you find on twitter, e.g., makes it come across as clunky. I really don’t find it useful at all. I also find it sill with the “poking” and really silly stuff that’s spread around on there. Although it does prove useful for campaigns.

As an author reaching out to readers, I think you have to think of the demographics of your existing and potential readership when it comes to these tools. Recent media reports have indicated that, as Maxine has said, the young tend to favour sites such as Facebook. It has also been reported that the middle-aged favour twitter.

Since I’ve been on twitter I have found it of excellent value (not least because I’ve won a few competitions on there). But the benefits I observe come from:

(1) You can search for a topic of your choice using the prefix #. This brings followers if you tweet the right stuff for you.
(2) As soon as you get on there you’ll be welcomed with others noting your arrival.
(3) Linkages in the book world between authors, publishers, PR people, journalists, book sites, book bloggers etc. can be very swift to develop.
(4) The re-tweet, “RT” that your followers give you on a tweet (no more than 140 characters) means a viral spread of the info you put on there.
(5) You can make announcements of blog posts (including automatically), events, book news, anything you like.

One of the other powers of twitter was evidenced this afternoon. After the announcement of Disney taking over Marvel comics, Jeff Abbott did a series of funny tweets such as “After Disney buys Marvel: Pinocchio becomes unexpected sidekick. Iron Man, meet Wood Boy.” At one point he noted that in half an hour he’d had 20+ more followers. Some will therefore look him up, liking his humour and they might try his books as a result.

It’s also good for receiving breaking news and news from publishing trade journals. (I have discovered some news items on there that would have passed me by down the usual routes.)

Downsides include:

(1) It can be a major distraction for the user.
(2) You can miss tweets by being away from it for a while.
(3) You are inevitably followed by prostitutes at some point. But you can “block” these so they disappear from your followers list and often, by the time you look them up to get rid of them, twitter has already closed their account.
(4) You will also get followers who know of ways to make you money or who want to recruit you to their cause (spiritual or similar) but you are not obliged to follow back anyway.

One specific twitter downside for you Martin would be the time you have available, as most activity to do with publishing appears to take place in the day, although not exclusively.

I hope this is useful.

crimeficreader said...

And here's something I just found via twitter on twitter and facebook and teenagers:

Dorte H said...

If the main story does not offer a serious crime or murder quite soon, I think a prologue is a fine bait. With series I know and love already it is less important, but when I try out a new author, I want to be certain that I get a nice corpse before or later.

With regard to Facebook I agree with Maxine that the younger generation use it all the time. Recently Elizabeth Spann Craig left a comment on my blog, and my 19-year-old daughter checked her out on facebook. She told me to buy Elizabeth´s second novel, because the cover was so charming. So it is quite normal for the young to use facebook when I would use e.g. google.

Martin Edwards said...

Rhian and Dorte - thanks very muc to both of you for your extremely helpful remarks. I am going to dabble in Facebook first, I think, as I'm not sure I can cope just at the moment with the 'instant' nature and demands of Twitter. (And I was a bit startled to read about the prostitutes..)