Category: Writing

Art history

It’s incredibly frustrating that so many people seemingly fail to recognize the connection between arts and broader societal shifts.

Arts is often seen as an easy way out, a lazy career path. ‘Oh, you want to paint pictures and write stories – go get a real job’. And I get it, I understand the practical perspective that creative arts don’t directly impact anything of ‘real world’ significance. But that perspective is wrong, and that viewpoint fails to connect the dots between the messaging people consume and how that impacts their thinking – and how that then translates into more widespread social movements, enabling change.

I’ll give you some examples:

  • In 1906, after reading Upton Sinclair’s novel ‘The Jungle’, which explored the horrendous working conditions or primarily immigrant labourers in Chicago’s meat-packing industry, US President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned an investigation into the sector. That initial action paved the way for the current Food and Drug Administration, upholding standards in the industry.
  • In a more modern example – in 2014, researchers found that adults who’d read the Harry Potter series as kids were significantly less likely to be prejudiced toward minority groups
  • An even more modern example – just this week, Oklahoma leaders announced that the state will embed the story of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre into the curriculum of all Oklahoma schools, following the inclusion of the real-life event in the recent TV expansion of Watchmen.

These are works of fiction that have inspired real change – real-world impacts as a result of creative arts. It’s not always obvious, but the art that people consume, that people connect with, it can change their perspective. And on a broad enough scale, that can literally change the world.

That’s why it’s so disappointing to see the current Australian government reduce the focus on arts and cut arts funding, why it’s so disheartening to see literature getting less and less focus at our major writers’ festivals and events. Those shifts, in large part, are driven by commercial realities, which govern priority based on financial return. And I get that, I understand the business logic – but what we’re potentially losing by reducing the focus on arts is likely more significant than any spreadsheet would suggest.

That’s why we need more arts funding, why we need to support art where we can, and encourage exploration of creative elements. Because that’s how we grow, how we advance. Maybe you don’t see it, initially, but arts provide perspective, like nothing else can.

That doesn’t mean that every book has to have an overt political meaning, but what we need is perspective. From all different people, in different art forms. The capacity to see things through someone else’s eyes is world-changing, and nothing facilitates this like art.

That’s why arts funding is important, and supporting local arts groups is key.

Think about this when you see a local event on, or a new book from a local author. Think about it, too, when you go to vote.

Your support is key to maintaining our cultural foundations, which is what so much of what we now take for granted is built upon.

Social media for authors

So, there seems to be quite a few questions from authors around how to best utilize social media for book marketing. And there’s a lot to it – to provide some extra help on this front, I’ve expanded on my recent posts on Facebook and Twitter tips and put them into a downloadable PDF, if anyone needs.

Through my day job as content and social media marketing manager for leading social media news website Social Media Today, I’ve provided insights, training and consulting to a range of companies in order to help them formulate more effective social media marketing strategies, while I also regularly appear on ABC local and Radio National programs to discuss the latest social media updates and shifts.

And while the presentation here is fairly basic (I’m no designer), the notes provided will put you on the right track to maximizing Facebook and Twitter for book promotion.

Feel free to share with anyone who needs:

Social Media for Authors

Writing for kids

I began an interesting project recently in writing a book series for my 9 year-old son.

So, for context – my son is at the age where he’s just starting to get into reading, and the books he’s into are the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ books, the Minecraft-themed variation of the same (‘Diary of a Minecraft Zombie’), and things like the ‘Treehouse’ series by Andy Griffiths.

I read through a few of these books and… well, I wasn’t overly impressed.

A page from Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Of course, my opinion is largely irrelevant here – I’m clearly not the target market, and all of these books have sold millions of copies. The fact that I don’t think they’re that great is neither here nor there, but I do feel like we have more responsibility, as writers, to give our kids a bit more than one-liner jokes and random sequences of events which seem to be unplanned and directionless, and not indicative of literary structure in any way.

A sample from one of the Treehouse books

But, so the counter-argument goes, that’s what kids read. You need to spark their interest in books somehow, and if that means a few books worth of diary entries as narrative, then so be it. Publishers love it, readers love it, authors get paid, all good. Right?

Well, kind of.

My view here is that while this might get kids reading, it’s still maybe not the best approach.

I mean, my kids will eat McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner if I let them, but it’s my responsibility to teach them healthy eating habits. Kids might read crude jokes, but it’s not really demonstrating what literature can provide.

And while I do realize that there are better options out there for kids, which do address such concerns, I wondered whether I could do it – could I create an engaging, immersive narrative for my son, which would also showcase more literary sensibilities, along with ties to real-world concerns?

It’s pretty ambitious, but here’s how I approached it.

First, I leaned on my understanding of the Disney story structure. Having two young kids, I’ve obviously got pretty recent memory of all the latest kids movies, and I know, from reading Christopher Vogler, a former story consultant at Disney, how Disney, in particular, applies the principles of The Hero’s Journey to its films. Having that basic understanding is fairly informative, as the same basic elements apply to every screenplay aimed at younger audiences. So I understand the progression, and the emphasis on pace that’s required to hook and hold younger audiences. Applying it is another thing, but seems like a reasonable starting point.

Next, I read a heap of kids’ books. Some just in sections to get the voice and pace, some in full, to understand the whole scope. It’s a crash course, I wouldn’t claim to be an expert in kids lit by any stretch, but again, it’s just to get an idea, a flow. A sense of the presentation style that appeals.

I then mapped out a story over three books. Most kids’ book series go for longer, but I felt like three was a good starting point. 20k words per book, three parts, that’ll test my capacity to hold his interest.

Then I set out to write.

The story – which I think probably reads better than I’ll describe it – is about a young boy who discovers that his mother and absent father are shapeshifters, which is actually part of human evolution that humans have moved away from over time. The concept is that humans evolved from fish, then settled into human form – but actually, we were supposed to keep evolving and develop the capacity to shapeshift as required, which would then better connect us to the wider world and everything within it. Some humans retained this capacity, but they’ve had to hide it due to fear of being targeted, captured, experimented on, etc. The main character’s mother didn’t want those concerns for her son, so she left his father and ran away, and she never told her son about it. But now the boy’s father has tracked them down, which is where the story begins.

It’s been interesting to note my son’s reception to the story. The first book seemed to go pretty well – he was excited to have a story written just for him, and he was engaged, and able to reiterate the scenes and key elements back to me. So it was a success, at least in early implementation.

The second book didn’t go as well. With the next one, I tried to add a bit more complexity, utilizing abstract thought and character self-reflection. I think I might have tried to be a bit too clever, because when I asked if he’d read it, he started avoiding an answer, before eventually admitting that he got bored with it and stopped. Which is annoying, and cutting, even from a child, but as I say, I think I tried to get a bit more in-depth and slowed the pace down a little too much.

The third book introduces internal reflection by the characters, integrated directly into the narrative, but I’ve tried to maintain the pace, and focus on movement more specifically. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m confident that this one will hold his attention.

But who knows? I guess this is one of the challenges of writing for a younger audience, no one knows for sure what will work – which, by extension, probably means that when you do figure out what engages them, it’s best to keep doing that

Maybe that’s why we have so many snackable books for kids, and maybe the ends do justify the means, in the sense that they’re at least getting kids reading.

It’s interesting to consider, and I wonder what the longer-term reading habits are for kids who start on these types of books.

But, essentially, what I’m saying is kids are tough, and writing for them is a skill within itself. Also, they’re mean – they’ll tell you what they think straight up.

If you’re interested, here’s the first book in the series (below) which you can download and read for yourself. Yeah, I’m not sure about the title either – you’ll note that all my novels have one-word titles. It’s not my strong suit.

Hopefully, the third book will hit the mark with my son.

The Next Evolution – Part I

How to Use Facebook for Book Promotion

Given that my day job is head of content for Social Media Today, meaning that I essentially get paid to analyze and write about social media and digital marketing trends, I often get asked by fellow authors about the best ways to use social media for promotion.

And the answer is that it’s not easy – social media is not a quick-fix that will suddenly get you millions of fans overnight. But it can be hugely valuable, and increasingly so, given the rising use of social platforms, particularly in terms of product recommendations and discovery.

No matter how you look at it, you kind of have to do it, at least in some form. Realistically, most of us are still working to establish a fan base, and we need all the help we can get – and social media can definitely be a help in this respect.

So, in a previous post, I went over how authors can utilise Twitter for book promotion – and that seems like a lot of work, right?

But you don’t need to bother with Twitter, it’s only got a fraction of the users that Facebook has – everyone and their dog (literally in some cases) has a Facebook profile.

Facebook is where it’s at, where authors should really focus their promotional efforts. Right?

Well, kind of, depending on how you look at it – and really, what works best for your audience.

And that’s an important distinction – it doesn’t matter which platforms you might like more or less, it’s where your audience is at that you need to be.

So how can authors make best use of Facebook? Here are some pointers.

1. Create a Facebook business profile

First off, you can’t be using your personal profile for book promo.

Your personal profile is where you share updates with your family and friends, where your personal connections can link up with you. You don’t want to mix up your book fans and personal connections.

You also need a business profile to run Facebook ads, which, as we’ll cover, you’ll probably want to do at some stage.

Facebook business profiles are where you can showcase yourself as a writer, and if you’re seriously looking to promote your work on the platform, you need one, bottom line.

You can set up a set up a Facebook business Page by heading to this link:

fb biz page set up

Select ‘Community or Public Figure’, then enter your name and your category (‘Author’) and you’ll be on your way.

fb biz page set up2

Note: You’ll also need to set a Facebook Page URL name at some stage (i.e. https://www.facebook.com/andrewhutchinsonauthor/), or Facebook will just give you a generic one. This is not a huge deal, but it can make your Page easier to find – and it looks better.

You can edit your Page name in the ‘About’ section at the left of your Page screen.

fb biz page set up3

2. Share updates that relate to your writing life

What I mean by this is, don’t share the same updates on your business page as you would on your personal profile.

Your readers, and target readers, don’t care about your cute cat or your holiday snaps – unless, of course, they directly relate to your work. Keep it confined to your book-related news, and create specific posts for your Facebook Page. Don’t cross-post. Each platform is very different. Create unique updates, related to writing, for your Facebook Page.

Tim Winton is a good example of this.

winton

Tim shares content related to his work, articles he’s written, publishing news – basically, nothing’s off-topic, and that’s important, because it will ensure that those who do follow your writing page get updates about your writing, which is what they’re following you for.

3. Don’t overpost

One of the key rules to stick to on Facebook is ‘don’t overpost’.

Your fans are following your Page to keep in touch with your latest news, but they don’t need ten updates a day cluttering their feeds.

As noted earlier, people generally use Facebook to stay in touch with friends and family – along with some brands and celebrities in between. Go overboard, and you’ll run the risk of them unfollowing – and what’s more, you really don’t need to post too much.

Sure, you want to maintain activity, and ensure that you stay front of mind with potential readers. But you’re not releasing a new book every day, there’s no urgent need to keep them informed of every single thing in order to guide them towards the local book store.

For most authors, Facebook is about maintaining connection with your readers, as opposed to hard selling. Keep them updated with a consistent stream of news, but don’t overdo it.

Matthew Reilly is a good example of this.

reilly

Reilly has over 61k Facebook followers, and he regularly sees high engagement on his posts. Of course, Matt benefits from his established fan base, which you likely don’t have, but his approach to Facebook is consistent, measured and about right for maintaining connection with his fans (note too that he also recently launched a new YouTube channel, showing that even the big players need to maintain activity, and move with the times. If you are going to record video content, however, it’s better to upload it to each platform direct for optimal performance, as opposed to linking off to another platform, as Matt has done here).

Matt posts to his Facebook Page once per week, in general, ramping that up around book launch dates/events. That’s a pretty solid guideline to follow – and that’ll still give you plenty of time to, you know, write stuff, as opposed to spending your days maintaining your social streams.

Also, a few notes here on Facebook’s mysterious algorithm.

Whenever you’re talking about Facebook posting practices, someone always arcs up with their sudden advanced PhD in machine learning, and starts talking about how Facebook’s algorithm works and defines reach.

There are a lot of misconceptions here, but the key pointers you probably need are:

  • While you shouldn’t overpost, every one of your followers won’t see every one of your posts anyway. Facebook’s algorithm will show your posts to a selection of people who follow your Page, and then, if they engage with it, it’ll show more. The system is built to maximize engagement, so if your posts are generating likes and comments, more people will see them. This means that sparking engagement with your updates is important, but not more important than maintaining connection to your author brand (i.e. posting relevant stuff).
  • This also means that, theoretically, you can post more often, as it’s not like you’re going to flood your audience anyway. I would advise against this, but you could post several times a day and it wouldn’t necessarily be a major problem – though it probably won’t help much either.
  • The performance of your past posts does relate to your future updates – so if you have a post that goes viral, your next post after that will subsequently also see a reach boost. Some try to utilise this by posting trending memes and inspirational quotes that will generate likes, even if they aren’t related to their broader branding goals. Facebook knows that people do this, and its system will correct for it if detected. It also clutters up your Page, turns off real fans, and even if it does expand your reach, it likely won’t help you connect with people who will actually purchase your books. So, you can try this, but a longer-term, consistent approach will, eventually, lead to better results.
  • There’s a rumour that Facebook’s algorithm gives a reach boost to posts which include words like ‘engagement’, ‘married’, ‘new job’, ‘big news’, ‘baby’ and various others. This is – or at least was – true, but it’s also not likely to be a major help (Facebook reportedly implemented this after CEO Mark Zuckerberg complained that he missed a post from a friend who’d had a baby).
  • Hashtags don’t really work on Facebook, which is another reason why you shouldn’t cross-post from other platforms.
  • Recency is an algorithm consideration, so it’s worth keeping an eye on your analytics and checking when your audience is active. Post when more people are online, and theoretically, more of them will see it – but it is also worth noting that many brands have also seen good results when they post in quieter times, as there are fewer updates in the stream vying for attention

fb biz page set up4

Basically, Facebook wants to keep people on-site as long as possible, and it does so by showing people more of the content that they’re interested in. Post what people want to see and you’ll be on the right track – but even more than that, post what people who buy your books want to see and you’ll work towards establishing a stronger platform for promotion.

4. Use Audience Insights

Not everyone knows about Facebook’s Audience Insights, which is terrible because Facebook can connect you with so much helpful info, if you know where to look.

If you have a Facebook Page, and you go to this link, you’ll be able to access Audience Insights, which will show you who the fans of your Page are – where they live, how old they are, and other demographic insights.

fb biz page set up5

That’s helpful, but if you’re just starting out, you’re likely looking at an audience of your friends and family, not necessarily your target, book-buying audience.

But here’s where it gets interesting – along with your own page, you can also look up other interests on Facebook, including other authors. And along with demographic insights, it’ll also show you what other things their fans are interested in.

So if I look up an author who I like, whose readers I think might also like my stuff, I can check out what interests them, giving me a better profile of my target book market.

fb biz page set up6

As you can see here, I’ve created a new audience of fans of American author Chuck Palahniuk, limited to those within Australia. Now I can see what other Pages Palahniuk fans like, and based on this, I could post more content that ties into these interest areas in order to boost my potential appeal, or I could use them in my ad targeting, which, given Facebook’s advanced targeting options, I’m probably going to use around launch time.

Which is the next point:

5. Use Facebook ads

I know. I know you don’t want to spend a heap.

I get it – we’re authors, and the majority of us are not raking in the cash from out fat royalty checks and movie deals.

I know you don’t have a heap to spend on promo, but given the advanced audience targeting options available, and unmatched potential reach, Facebook ads can be a great option.

As noted in the previous point, you can target your ads to fans of authors whose work is similar to yours, or around common interests that you find among their fans.

fb biz page set up7

As you can see here, for this (mock) campaign, I’m targeting an audience of people who are interested in movies and TV shows which I think are kind of similar to the themes of my novel ONE. You’ll also note that I’ve also excluded people who are interested in book genres that are not related to what I write.

You should opt for in-feed ads – no one checks those right-rail updates – and if you have a visual ad, you can also include Instagram Stories placement (though I would advise that you create specific campaigns for each platform).

It’s not an exact science, and you should probably run a couple of ad variations to see what works best. You can then stop the ones that don’t produce (after, say, a week) and re-allocate your budget to those that are gaining traction.

You should also optimize for awareness where possible, as you want to make as many people as possible aware of your book, as opposed to driving viewers back to a landing page, as such.

Use a page on your website, or your publishers’, and see what results you get. It may be hard to accurately measure, as you won’t know whether seeing your ad results in a subsequent book store visit. But with fewer bookshops, and fewer festivals and media opportunities, awareness is key.

Facebook ads can be great for this.

6. Get More Page Fans

But hang on, I hear you say, all of these tips relate to functionally operating a Facebook Page, but if you don’t have any followers, you’re talking to no one.

So how do you build your audience in order to maximize engagement?

Getting more people to Like your Page takes work, but here are a couple of options you could consider, depending on how hard you want to push your promotions.

  • First, you’re going to get your family and friends to Like your Page, which will give you a starting point. This is not always ideal, because your family and friends are likely not your ideal target, book-buying audience (which can skew your Page data), but you can prompt them to share with friends, which will give you a base to work from. And either way, they’re going to Like your Page anyway. Best to try and use it to advantage
  • If you have an email list, send out a link to your Facebook Page, or if you’re in any writers’ groups, clubs, organizations and they have an email newsletter, maybe query them to see if they might be able to include a link
  • Share the link to your Facebook Page on your other social media profiles if you have them
  • Make a list of Facebook book groups that might be interested in your book, then contact the admins offering to do a Q and A or similar event. You won’t hear back from all of them, but it may be another avenue to boost promotion, particularly around launch date (note that around half of all Facebook users are active in at least one Facebook group)
  • You could consider running a giveaway to help promote your book. There are specific rules around Facebook giveaways, but you are allowed to ask people to Like your Page to enter a competition, which could be another way to boost your following.
  • Blogging and guest-blogging are additional ways in which you can help get the word out, and make more people aware of your broader online presence.
  • It’s worth leaning on writer friends to ask them to Like or share your Facebook Page, particularly if they’re established, as that will help get your name in front of more readers.
  • Add social media buttons to your website, so people can easily find your related profiles.
  • If you post a picture from an event, make sure you tag the host and any other authors in the image, which can lead to re-shares and more exposure.

Other notes

  • Visuals are important. Still image posts perform better than basic text updates on Facebook, while videos can generate a heap of engagement. As such, a video preview of some kind could be worth the investment, while Facebook Live Q and A sessions are another thing to consider
  • Quizzes and polls also generate engagement and can be tied into the key themes of your book
  • Tara Moss shares some great visual posts, if you were looking for examples, while she also uses the slideshow option for her Facebook Page background image, enabling her to showcase more of her work. This is a good option – but if/when you do update your profile images, keep your phone handy so you can ensure that it looks good on mobile and desktop devices
  • Also, ensure all your profile details are filled out, and that you have the ‘Author’ Page category selected (this will help interested people find your Page)

That’s the basics of an effective author presence on Facebook. There are, of course, other elements you could consider – like Facebook Stories – but as a jumping-off point, this outline should position you to help build an engaging, effective presence to help you maintain connection with more readers.

How to Use Twitter for Book Promotion

I came across this tweet recently, which captures a common frustration for authors on Twitter:

I actually get asked about this quite a lot – my day job is head of content for Social Media Today, so I essentially get paid to analyze and write about social media and digital marketing trends. Combine that with the fact that I’m an author and logically, I should know how to make best use of Twitter for authors and book promotion, right?

And I do, but what I normally add to this when I do respond to such questions is ‘but you’re not gonna’ want to hear it.’

Why is that? Because it takes time, it takes effort – time and effort that writers would generally rather be expending on, you know, their actual writing projects.

The truth is, if you want to utilize Twitter as a promotional tool for your books, then you have to first build your platform, and earn the right to pitch your latest work to a receptive Twitter audience.

How do you do that? Here’s an overview of a few options you could consider.

1. Build a Platform Around an Issue

Now, to clarify, building a ‘platform’ in this context relates to establishing a following of people who are interested in what you do – and ideally, what you write about. If you can establish yourself as an authority or leading voice within a certain niche, then people will seek more information on that topic from you, and in that way, you can utilize Twitter as a promotional tool because your audience is interested in the topic and what you have to say about it.

To do this, you need to get involved in the conversation. Let’s say you write about climate change in your work – you would start by following the relevant leaders in that field and engaging with them, and within the replies on their tweets, wherever was relevant. That, over time, will get your name in front of other people who are interested in the same – so you’re gaining exposure to a group of Twitter users who are interested in that topic.

The more you can get involved and build your profile – through tweet engagement, sharing your own posts, sharing others’ relevant content, etc. – the more you’ll become known in that niche, so when you do publish your book, which relates to climate change, the audience that you’ve established will now be more likely to engage with it.

Author Clementine Ford is a good example of this – Clem writes about gender equality and feminism, and sees a lot of engagement on her tweets as a result, including her book announcements.

Clem has built a Twitter audience of more than 132k followers, and while not every single one of her tweets is about her focus subjects, more than 90% of them are, and combined with her newspaper articles and media appearances discussing the same, Clem has built an audience which knows what they’ll get, and will therefore be a likely market for her books.

But this approach does get a little murky for fiction authors, whose body of work is likely not dedicated to a few key subject areas.

As an example, author Alice Bishop released a collection of short stories last year which looks at the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria – Bishop lived in one of the bushfire hit regions, so has first-hand insight on the destruction.

Alice hadn’t established herself as an authority on bushfires beforehand (which, as a fiction author, wasn’t her aim), but over time, she has been able to build more of an audience on Twitter based on bushfire coverage – sharing articles about the most recent fires, engaging with people from impacted communities via tweet, gaining a following as a someone who writes about fires and their aftermath.

Focusing on a subject has arguably helped Alice build a more engaged audience on Twitter, but that same audience likely won’t be as beneficial if Alice’s next book isn’t related to the same.

In this sense, topicality can help in your promotion efforts, but it’s also likely too confining for fiction authors, who switch topics significantly from one publication to the next. If you dedicate yourself to one key area, it will definitely bring promotional value on Twitter over time, through establishing yourself as an expert in that arena. But this may not be an effective approach for novelists.

Consequently, this is also a problem I see with modern publishing approach to the same, where they seek a topical angle on your work, as opposed to focusing on the story and writing itself. For one, it feels like, over time, literature is merging too much into activism, which can alienate a large audience subset (people are already inundated with politics in their social media feeds every day – the last thing they want is to be preached to in their recreational reading habits). For another, and as noted, it pigeonholes writers into certain topic streams.

But then again, in order to get press coverage, and maximize promotional value, maybe they need a topical angle to pique the interest of relevant editors.

Regardless, if your writing regularly covers a specific focus area like this, this is one way in which you can use Twitter to establish yourself. And once you’ve built an audience of people engaged in the subject, they’ll also likely be interested in your books.

2. Build a Platform within the Writing Community

But what if you don’t write about a specific topic? Another approach you could take is to build a platform within the Twitter writing community, which can connect you to other people who are interested in writing – and by extension, readers who are interested in their work.

To clarify, this doesn’t mean that you should connect to every writer you can and blindly re-tweet each others’ latest book news. Doing this will likely see you end up talking amongst yourselves, and promoting your latest books to no one other than other writers, who are not your target audience. It can be great, and beneficial, to connect with other writers on Twitter for advice, support, etc. But in a promotional sense, it likely won’t help you a heap.

This is where you need to differentiate your purpose for Twitter use, and consider the audience that you ultimately need to reach.

Building a platform within the writing community for promotion more relates to connecting with other authors, with a broader view to utilizing those connections in order to reach more potential readers – i.e. their audience of readers who are already following them.

But this takes a lot of time and effort – Angela Meyer is a good example of this.

Angela has spent literally decades building her profile within the literary sector, first starting as a book blogger, then as a publisher, before finally becoming an author herself. Through all of this, Angela has established connection with a heap of authors and publishing types, who themselves have their own followings of interested readers. When Angela does tweet about a book launch, many of the people who re-tweet it are established authors and publishing folk.

That gives Angela not only reach to writers, but importantly, reach to more readers – but again, Angela has built that platform through years of work, establishing a network on Twitter of people who are now willing to advocate on her behalf.

Angela does also share content around gender identification, which is an element explored in her work, so she also uses topicality to broaden her platform. But an argument can be made that by establishing stronger ties within the literary community, you’ll stand a better chance of utilizing Twitter for promotion.

See also podcasters like Kate Mildenhall and Katherine Collette, who both see higher engagement on their tweets as a result of their established identities within the writing community, and subsequent connection to high profile authors who will be more likely to help them with re-shares and distribution on their announcements.

‘But isn’t that just authors sharing with each other, which you just said isn’t effective?’

Kind of, but in this way, you’re utilizing bigger name authors, those who already have established followings of willing readers. Now, you’re not only getting exposure to other authors, but importantly, the book-buying public.

It’s also worth noting here that with Twitter working to show more users tweets that they may be interested in, even Likes can have the same effect as re-tweets. Twitter’s algorithm will display a selection of tweets liked by people you follow in you in your feed – so even if you can get a prominent person in your field to simply like one of your tweets, there’s a greater chance of exposure to a reading audience.

3. Build a Platform Within Your Niche

Focusing on a single topic area can be restrictive, and building momentum for a podcast or similar in order to establish a place within the mainstream lit community takes time.

So what are your other options?

Establishing an audience within a specific niche, related to your work, is another way to maximize Twitter for promotion – though again, it doesn’t come easy.

In this way, you could tweet about things that interest you in, say, the horror genre in order to establish connection with like-minded users. You could share Hollywood news, posts about the horror writing process, engage with the community around the latest content. And through this, ideally, you can build your profile among people who will eventually also be interested in your stuff.

Author Maria Lewis is a good example of this:

Through her tweets, Lewis shares her interests in film, literature and the arts more broadly, which largely relate to the themes of her own books. Really, Lewis uses a combination of all three of these approaches – her books touch on topical issues, she hosts a podcast (and has previously been a host on SBS TV), and she shares a consistent tweet stream of the things that she’s interested in, further connecting her with like-minded Twitter users.

But again, this didn’t happen overnight. Lewis has also worked for years to establish herself as a commentator, through her work as a journalist and presenter, and she’s now earned an audience of like-minded fans who engage with her tweets.

But it is another approach – if you write in a specific genre, you can use your tweets to connect with readers who are interested in the same.

And the more you can build your brand, tweet-by-tweet, the more you’ll be able to connect with an audience that will be increasingly receptive to your own content.

4. Just Don’t Worry About it

So, all of these approaches take a lot of work – but it also worth noting that you don’t have to use Twitter as a promotional vehicle.

Many successful authors don’t even have a Twitter presence – or some, like American author Jesse Ball, just share random images or cryptic messages for fans.

Many authors also just share what they like, regardless of themes or ideas, and still do fine. While you can use Twitter as a means to promote your work, it’s not essential – but if you are getting frustrated, as with the example at the top of this post, with the lack of traction for your book tweets, it’s worth considering how those who do see significant engagement on their book tweets have worked to establish their presence.

‘So why don’t you do this?’

Yeah, I don’t personally tweet along thematic lines, or even along book-specific lines more broadly. That, in my case, is due to conflicting professional interests – I’m the head writer for Social Media Today, which is where the vast majority of my Twitter followers have come from, so if I share more fiction-related content, it likely won’t get a heap of traction. As outlined in the examples above, I haven’t established a platform for book promotion specifically, and because I’m in between these two worlds, I don’t personally make Twitter a huge focus – though I do use it to connect with other authors, which I find hugely beneficial.

In terms of other pointers, I would add these tips, based on examples I’ve seen:

  • Don’t just re-tweet – ever – Well, maybe not ever, but if you’re looking to establish yourself in a specific area, you need to be including your opinion when you share things. Blank re-tweets likely won’t help improve your tweet engagement (as your followers will be getting these in their feed with no context) and won’t further establish you as a person of interest in that field. Better to share with your own thoughts included. A notable exception to this is if the tweet is about you/your work – if a high profile person says your book is great, then you re-tweet that for sure, as this does work to further underline your brand through external endorsement.
  • Follow-for-follow is outdated – Yes, you want to have lots of followers, but followers who are just doing so in order to boost their own audience counts won’t engage with your tweets – and won’t buy your books.
  • Don’t follow trends – Sure, tweeting a cute cat picture or an inspirational quote might inflate your tweet metrics, but will it help connect you with people who are actually going to buy your book? Making a funny video might get more engagement – but if it’s not actively working towards building your presence in your key area of interest, and linking you through to that audience, it’s probably not really helping. Sharing insights into your personal life is fine, but keep in mind your broader strategic focus – if indeed you are aiming to use Twitter for max promotional value.
  • It’s not the algorithm – Some have suggested that it may be worth sharing some high-engagement tweets, even if they’re off-topic, in order to ingratiate yourself with Twitter’s algorithm. That way, the theory goes, when you share your subsequent promo tweets, you’ll get more reach. That’s not really a relevant consideration on Twitter – on Facebook it is, to a degree, but Twitter’s algorithm is more aligned to each individual tweet, and any reach boost you might achieve is likely not worth the effort (worth noting, too, that Twitter is working to better align itself around topics, further lessening any such impact).

As always, some will read this and respond with ambivalence. ‘But I like re-tweeting book launch info and connecting with fellow authors, and that works for me’. And that’s fine, if you’re happy doing what you do, then all good. But let’s face it, if you were truly satisfied with the results you’re seeing, you wouldn’t be reading this.

The bottom line is that there are ways to utilize Twitter to promote your work, but the pathway to true success is not easy. If you’re looking for a quick fix, a quick-hitting way to get the message out about your latest work, Twitter probably isn’t the best option.

Twitter is a brand-building platform, and as such, you need to take the time to build the right audience, those who will eventually be receptive to your promotional messaging.

Overusing adverbs

 

One of the more common indicators of lazy writing, which many are not aware of, is an over-reliance on adverbs – saying someone ran quickly, someone sang sadly, somebody waited eagerly.

The conflicting approach here is that, in non-fiction, the use of adverbs like this makes sense, as it’s unemotional, it’s a form that’s designed to provide straight-forward information, as fast as you can. So it makes sense to say ‘he listening intently‘ as it’s a quicker way to provide the basic overview you’re seeking.

But in fiction, that’s not enough.

In fiction writing, you’re looking for the best ways to convey the emotion of a scene, to condense the feelings of each character within each moment, and distill that down in order to recreate that same sensation within your reader. That’s both the challenge and triumph of great writing, and it is absolutely not easy to do. But in this, over-reliance on adverbs is an absolute killer.

Next time you come across an adverb in your work, consider whether the same could be said differently, giving you a chance to add a more inventive, engaging flair to the sentences, and helping to build each scene.

Instead of saying ‘he ran quickly’, you might try: ‘he ran like an animal freed from a cage, faster than you would expect.’

Instead of ‘someone sang sadly’, you could say: ‘someone sang, and it sounded as if her heart had separated in two, right in there in the moment.’

There won’t always be an ideal replacement, but as you can see, by taking the time to consider the actual scene, and the actual movement or happening within it, you can likely come up with a more active, alive description, which enhances the feeling you’re trying to express.

And if you find that works, try also replacing specific details, like measurements, kilometres, years-old, etc.

Here’s an example from a piece by Amy Hempel:

“The year I began to say vahz instead of vase, a man I barely knew nearly accidentally killed me.”

You don’t need to be so specific, so clinical and flat in your explanations – and in re-considering your descriptions, you may actually come up with more descriptive, enhancing prose.

 

 

 

The trend away from literature at festivals

After the recent releases of the programs for the 2019 Melbourne Writers’ and Canberra Writers’ Festivals respectively, I tweeted out these stats:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

That raised a few questions over what this means, whether such matters, and what, exactly, my point might be.

There are a couple of things. For one, as someone who’s interested in literature and writers, I look forward to the release of these programs to see if there’s anyone worth heading along to hear. I was disappointed with the line-ups of both events, largely because of the low representation of any authors I might be interested in – though many others, it’s worth noting, have praised the programs. Worth noting, too: MWF director Marieke Hardy, now in her second year, lead a significant increase in revenue for the event in 2018.

As a literary fan, I dislike the trend away from fiction authors, given there are seemingly fewer and fewer opportunities to hear them speak, but I do also get the financial perspective, the business side of such planning.

But the other issue I have is more pressing – with fewer outlets for fiction writers to generate exposure for their work, I feel like we’re losing a significant opportunity, which could have a much larger cultural impact over time, as our next generation of authors miss out on connection with writers and work that may help them find their own voice.

Of course, literary ‘voice’ is a bit of a fluffy concept – finding your voice is never really a clearly defined process. But I’ll give you an example within this context – as much as I was good at English and literature when I was in school, I was never taken by the assigned books on the curriculum, and I never really found stories and/or authors that I truly connected with till after I started reading for pleasure more consistently, after I’d left the school system.

Through the authors I found – many via events, festivals, bookshops – I was able to discover writing styles that I connected with, that I wanted to write like myself, which then inspired me to try my hand at creating my own works.

A significant part of this comes down to basic exposure – and as noted, there are many authors I’ve come across because they’ve been speaking at events, broadening my literary input and helping me find more of what I like. It’s important to also note that I didn’t go to see every one of these authors speak, but simply having them featured on the bill, seeing them interviewed as part of the lead-up – all of the periphery exposure that comes in addition to being part of a writing festival, particularly one of the majors, helps to connect more people to more authors, and as more and more bookshops close down, and the opportunities for such reduce, authors, arguably more than ever, need that extra push wherever possible.

Excluding fiction authors from a writers festival is a major blow – and again, I do understand the commercial obligations, and the festivals that do receive government funding, and, you would assume, have more of an obligation to promote the arts do feature more fiction writers.

But it feels like a lost opportunity. In some cases, some of the festival events feature whole sessions where none of the speakers or hosts are primarily known for their writing – which, to me, misses the entire point of a writers festival (call it a ‘festival of ideas’ or something if you’re no longer going to focus on actual writing).

Festival directors need to make money. But then again, authors do too. The less opportunity for exposure, the less they’re able to do so, which is another component to the whole chain in lessening cultural impact. In essence, as the balance of power in the Australian book marketplace shifts towards commercial content – and away from literary expression – we also run increased risk of failing to help our next generation of authors find their voice.

Who’s the next Christos Tsiolkas? The Next Richard Flanagan? Right now, I’d say we don’t clearly have another shining literary light coming through – and the way we’re going, maybe we won’t see such anymore at all, and definitely not at the same rate we have in the past.

It’s only one indicator, and there are other signs of positive activity within the fiction space overall. But it’s a concern that writers festivals are increasingly moving away from actual writers, and therefore, the sharing of discussion and exposure around the same.

Advice for aspiring writers…

“Clearness is the most important quality of writing but it’s the most overlooked. People think being complicated or ambitious is the most important part of writing, but the mind is so raw and complicated itself that being clearer will always create a greater depth of complexity. It never leads to reductiveness.”

Jesse Ball

Short Story: ‘Stay High’

car in rain

Dear old Katriece. Stupid ol’ Katriece. Always falling for the next scheme, the next shining lure and swindle.

She knew what they said about her. Dopey ol’, no hope Katriece. She knew what they said. She’d heard them say it, not to her face, of course, but behind her back, when they didn’t know she was listening. She’d heard them at dinner parties and at family gatherings. ‘Oh, Katriece,’ they’d say. ‘When’s she gonna’ twig? When’s the other shoe gonna’ drop? When’s she gonna’ realize?’

She did realize. She wasn’t stupid. Sometimes things just don’t work out. Sometimes people don’t go as you expect.

Stupid ol’ Katriece. She was pretty, once. She could have had any boy in high school, don’t you know? She could have married up, bought a house. It didn’t have to be this way. She just made the wrong choices, fumbled down the wrong paths.

She’ll be fine. She’ll work it out. She just needs to get back on her feet. You’ll see.

She’ll work it out.

She’d heard them say it. It’s not like they were discreet about it. But what did they know anyway? Oh, your life’s so perfect, Melissa? Your husband messages me, saying ‘hey, what you up to?’ Late at night when he’s drunk. You don’t know that. You’ve got it all worked out, haven’t you? You don’t even know.

Here’s what happened this time: Stupid ol’ Katriece invited all of her stupid friends over for a dumb showcase party for her dopey new business. This was selling make-up, lipstick mostly. You sign-up for a franchise and you work for yourself, and Katriece signed right on up, took it on. She promoted it to all her friends and her followers online, and they turned up, and they listened. And they smiled their fucking asses off, drinking her wine and eating biscuits and fucking cheese. They nodded and smeared lipsticks across their skin, and then when Katriece left the room, just for a second, just for a minute, that’s when it started. She could hear what they were saying. She wasn’t fucking deaf.

In the next room, Katriece leaned up against the wall and listened to them. As they tore her apart. Stupid ol’ Katriece.

She means well. At least she’s trying.

Is she still living with her Mum?

She listened, to every word of it. She’d heard it all before. She knew what those smiling faced held in, their masks slipping away to reveal the worms infesting their swollen bodies. She knew it. Katriece listened in.

At least she’s got something going on now. Remember when she had that breakdown? Remember that?

Remember?

Katriece listened to it all, every syllable vibrating through her soft bones.

So what does she do? She smiles. She stands tall. She feels the stiffened make-up covering over that pimple on her left cheek. She stands tall and walks upright and Katriece re-enters the room and looks across all of their worm-filled faces. Their synthetic smiles staring back, the colours painted over their pores.

Katriece smiles at them, then she shows them her products. Her own boss. In control of her own destiny. Reporting to no one. Bossbabe. Stupid ol’ Katriece, she swallows it all, gulps it all down into the depths, where it gathers together in her stomach, congeals into a mass, a tumor that’s going to eventually choke her to death. She swallows it, and she stands tall and she holds herself upright before them. A real life voodoo doll, pierced by their stares. She knows them. She knows what they think.

Katriece thanks them for coming, shakes their hands. Hugs, kisses. Because what else is there? What the fuck else do you do here?

She shuts the door behind the last of them – her Mum’s house, not hers – and she holds the cold metal of the handle as she leans forward and touches her head onto the painted wood. As she feels her joints coming apart beneath her skin.

Oh my God. You wouldn’t believe the shit they said.

Language, Katriece’s Mum says.

Oh my God, Katriece tells her. I’m a fucking joke to them.

Calm down.

No, you don’t get it. They tore me apart, they trashed me completely. Nothing’s ever good enough, is it?

Calm.

I can’t.

Take a Valium.

I don’t want to take a pill, Mum.

You might need it.

They think I’m a joke, Mum. I’m a joke to them.

You’re not a joke.

Katriece sits down at the table. She’s huffing, staring at the patterns in the wood surface. She shakes her head.

I’m just trying to make something of myself.

I know.

Katriece shifts her gaze to her Mum.

You think it too, don’t you?

Oh, Katriece.

No, you think it too. I can tell by your voice.

Please.

I’ve always been a disappointment, haven’t I Mum? I’ve always been a failure. You wish I’d gone to uni and become a doctor or something.

No I don’t.

Why not? Am I too stupid for that? Is that what you think?

You can be anything you want.

No I can’t, Mum.

Katriece taps at the table. Her fresh painted pink nails drumming on the wood.

I can’t, Mum.

The tears build up, catch in Katriece’s long lashes.

I’m a failure, Mum.

No.

Yes, Mum.

No. You just haven’t found your thing yet.

Katriece looks around the kitchen. The house is fairly new, still smells of paint and varnish. The sunlight heats in through the window above the sink.

I’m sorry, Mum.

What for?

I’m sorry for failing you.

No. Please don’t.

Katriece looks out to the sky, the clouds against the blue.

I’m gonna’ go.

Where?

I’m gonna’ go.

Katriece stands from the table and leaves the room. Her mother watches her, her hands and fingers wrapped round the curve of her tea cup. She hears the front door slam, then she waits.

She looks to the floor. Her daughters’ shoe prints marked across the polished wood.

There’s this bar, this dirty bar that they all used to go to when they were in high school, where everyone went. She hadn’t been there for years, but fuck it, why not?

Why not? Katriece thinks as she drives along with no destination in mind. Funny Ol’ Katriece, still hanging out in the same bars as she used to.

It was different now, the bar. It was quieter for one, and empty. It was early, of course, a lot earlier than when they used to come here. But it was dead. It was dead quiet.

Katriece sits on a bar stool alongside the bar and she looks all around, remembering things that once were. The colours of the bottles, the thump of the music. Forceful kisses with too much tongue and cigarette aftertaste. She remembers this place. Katriece runs her hand along the smooth wood surface.

What can I get for you? The bartender asks.

Oh, sorry, Katriece says. Was totally zoning out. Um, can I just get a beer?

Yep. On tap or from the selection?

Oh, just the tap, the normal.

Okay. Did you want the Lionheart or the Mountain Range?

Katriece narrows her eyes as she ponders the question.

I don’t really know. Whatever you think?

She smiles to the bartender, a young man with a thick, dark beard, wearing a dark coloured apron over a buttoned up white shirt. The bartender smiles back, then he takes a glass and fills it from the tap.

My God. My God. Katriece runs her hand over her tied back hair, stiff with hair spray. My God.

The bartender places her drink in front of her. She hands a ten dollar note across to him.

Keep the change.

My God.

Katriece rests her hand onto the bar, then she looks down at her skin. The knuckles sunken in, the tendons flexing. The little lines all across. This is me, she thinks. This is me now.

She takes a sip of her beer from the chilled glass.

It’s only later that she notices.

Two beers in, sunlight reaching through the wall of windows at the front. It’s only then that she realizes she knows him. The man across the way, sitting alone at a booth over in the corner. She knows him.

Given any other time, she’d make a mental note of it and move on, but two beers in, Katriece knows this man, and she decides to go tell him, to go talk to this person. To see how he’s been. She hasn’t seen him in years.

Derek?

The man looks up, startled by the sound. He squints up at Katriece from beneath the dim light directly above the table.

Yes?

Derek, it’s me, Katriece. Do you remember me? From school.

The man shuts his eyes tight, moves through his memory.

Katriece?

Yeah. From school. Do you remember?

Katriece stumbles back on her heels slightly.

Yes, the man says. Yes. Katriece.

Katriece slides into the opposite side of the booth, falls into the seat.

Oop- little clumsy.

The man watches her, his eyes narrowed. She straightens herself and her drink and its cardboard coaster beneath it, then she looks across the table to the man.

Derek? She asks.

Yes.

You remember me right?

No.

Stupid ol’ Katriece. She’s made a fool of herself again. The room feels as if it’s expanding all around.

Oh, she says. I’m sorry.

Katriece goes to move.

Wait, Derek says. Just wait. He closes his eyes.

Katriece, he says.

He nods, then he opens his eyes.

I remember now.

 

The first thing is, Derek smells. She can smell him in detail, the notes of alcohol and body odour, the hint of damp clothes. The years have been harsh for Derek, already wrinkled in. Scars from acne healed into craters, pores gleaming with sweat. Dark hair, grey along the roots. Cheeks weighed down with sadness. The years have been harsh for Derek.

So what have you been up to? Katriece asks.

When?

Like, since school, what have you been doing?

Mostly this.

Katriece laughs. Derek takes a sip of whatever he has in the cloudy glass in front of him.

It’s weird seeing you here, she tells him. What are the chances?

Pretty good odds, Derek says. Pretty good.

He leans back into his seat, slouches down against it.

I’d take that bet, you know? He tells her.

Katriece sips at her beer. She looks over Derek’s worn hands, the dirt clogged beneath the thick slivers along the edges of his fingernails.

Do you still see anyone from school? She asks him.

Derek smiles.

Why are you asking me about school? That was a lifetime ago.

Katriece smiles.

I know, right? It feels like so…

Then Derek sits up and leans forward onto the table.

Fucking school. Fuck those fuckers at school. They don’t know shit.

Katriece looks around, checks if anyone is looking at them. She smooths her hand over her stiffened hair.

Okay, she says to him. Hey, are you okay?

Derek smiles.

Katriece from school, he says. Thank you for stopping by.

Katriece looks around again, then she goes to slide out from the booth, grabs her drink.

Do you know? He says. That all that shit they talk about isn’t true?

Katriece pauses. The chill of the glass inside her hand.

What?

The things, the pictures they put up, where they’re all smiling and happy and they look so successful. All of that’s not true.

Who?

Katriece rests her glass onto the wood again, settles back into the seat.

The people from school, where we used to go. They’re not what they say.

Really? Katriece asks. She angles further back into the booth.

Really, Derek says.

What do you mean?

I mean, the things they say. They always show these pictures and talk about their holidays and all the money they have, their perfect fucking kids.

Derek shakes his head.

It’s not true.

What do you mean?

It’s not true is what I mean, Derek says, getting louder. They just pull those things out from the mess, they pluck them out of the shit and then they wash them all off and they send them out. Derek fans a hand up through the air.

Katriece runs through the images of friends, former classmates in her head.

Why do you say that? Katriece asks.

Because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen them for myself. I know.

Derek shakes his head again.

I know that shit.

He takes a drink.

Those bitches, Katriece thinks. Those worm-faced mask women sitting on her couch. Those liars. What makes them so special?

I can show you, Derek says.

He leans back from the table. The light from above highlights the gaps in his thinning hair.

I can prove what I’m saying.

How?

Dog drunk, driving in the wet night is not a good prospect, but fuck it. Fuck it all. Derek’s car out in the car park is scratched up and clapped out and Katriece notices two child seats strapped in behind the back windows.

Hey, Katriece says. Have you got kids?

What?

The seats. Katriece points to them.

Derek waves her off.

Don’t worry about that, let’s just get going.

They shut the doors and move to pull the seatbelts across, and for a moment, their faces are right up close to each other. She stares him in the eye.

None of that, Derek says.

What?

I don’t have any need for that.

Katriece clips in her seatbelt and sits up in her seat. She flips down the visor to check herself in the mirror as Derek starts the car.

Now, he says. Before we go into this, I need to know that you’re committed to the task.

Katriece looks to him, then the world takes a moment to re-frame itself, catch-up in her view.

First, you need to take this.

Derek opens his hand to her. There are two yellow ovals of pills stranded in the centre of his palm.

What’s this?

Don’t ask, just take it.

Well I need to know what I’m taking.

It doesn’t matter, the important thing is that we stay high. We come down and we’ll realize what the hell we’re doing and where the hell we are, then everything falls apart. We stay high, you got that?

Fucking Katriece, stupid Katriece. Of course, she takes the pills. She swills up spit to soften their journey down her throat.

Derek watches her, smiling. His glossy eyes glint in the streetlight.

Now let’s go, he says.

The car bumps too hard over the curb side, and out into traffic.

You wouldn’t believe it, you’d think they would never make it. The car stumbling along through evening traffic, switching across lanes, flashing beneath traffic lights. They should have never made it.

Their destination is a house in the suburbs, a quiet street in a new housing estate. It’s dark out, and the lights are on above the streets and inside the houses, and they drive along and pull into a driveway, behind another car already parked. Derek turns the engine off and then the headlights and Katriece lets go of her seatbelt, the pattern of it indented into her palm.

Derek leans forward. He twists his head to fit over the steering wheel, peek out.

Here we are, he says. Let’s go pay a visit.

Who’s house is this?

Come see.

Derek opens the car door.

Come on.

 

They knock on the front door, both of them wavering like reeds in the darkness. The outside light isn’t on. The house is not expecting visitors.

A light flicks on above them, squinting them away, then the door opens up. A man with red hair and a red beard looks out at them through a screen door.

Derek?

Pete. Derek raises his arms. It’s me, come to visit.

The man looks to Katriece, who’s standing just behind Derek.

Katriece?

Head churning like rocks being dragged over concrete, muscles melting away beneath the thickness of her skin. She looks at the man inside the house again. She re-focuses on his features.

Peter? She says.

Katriece, I haven’t seen you in years.

Pete looks to Derek, who’s smiling, eyes closed beneath the bug-clustered light.

What are you doing here?

Do you live here? She asks.

Yes he lives here, Derek says. Let us in, Pete, come on.

Peter opens the screen door, nostrils twitching from the tang of alcohol. He holds the door for the two of them to come through.

 

Peter’s house is polished wood floors and white everywhere, and he leads them through into the lounge. A large, cream-colored couch sits bent before a huge TV screen.

Take a seat, Pete says. Can I get you anything to drink?

No, no, Derek tells him. But something to eat. We haven’t had any dinner, you know.

Oh, Pete says. I’m not sure we…

Ah, I’m kidding, Derek laughs.

Katriece sits down onto the couch and it feels like the room is moving. It feels like a memory of the sea, the waves nudging by. The couch fabric feels kind, rolling across her palm.

A woman comes in, looks over the two of them. The woman has short, bleached white hair, tied back, so that the dark roots are showing. She has big, dark eyes and she’s wearing a tank top. Katriece notices the outline of her nipples pushing onto the fabric. The woman smiles with her mouth closed, holds up a hand.

Oh, Katriece, this is my wife Louise, Peter says. Katriece and I went to school together.

The woman looks at Peter.

Pete, you need to keep it down, I just got them to sleep.

Yes, yes, Peter nods.

We’ll be quiet, Derek whispers. Derek puts a finger to his lips. Louise throws Derek a glance, then Peter. Then she leaves the room.

Peter sits down onto the end of the couch, the opposite end to Katriece. Derek’s sitting in a beanbag now, up beside the TV.

Peter nods, then laughs.

Louise comes back into the room and hands Peter a bottle of beer, holds a glass of water for herself. She sits down beside Peter on the couch.

This is your house, Katriece says.

Yep, yeah, Peter responds. We’ve got a few things to do to finish it, but it’s coming along.

It’s lovely, Katriece says.

Thank you, Louise replies. We were very lucky to get a place in this area.

Then silence. Derek watches, reclined into the beanbag.

So, Katriece, what have you been doing with yourself? Peter asks.

Oh, she replies, and then the instinct kicks in, flicks into presentation mode.

Well, I run my own business, selling make-up. I have my own line that I promote.

Louise raises her eyebrows, nods politely.

I’m looking to hire some new people next year. Just building slowly.

Katriece can feel herself sitting up straighter, her face constricting into a smile. She knows this. This is what she does. Then she stops. Katriece drops her head. She looks at her hand, the veins and lines and tendons in the light.

Actually, Katriece says. That’s not true.

She looks up, looks across to Peter and Louise.

Actually, I don’t make any money. I might. I have a lot to sell. Some people are interested. But I don’t sell anything much yet. It’s really hard to get started, you know?

Katriece stares at the couple, sitting together on their couch. Till they blur into shapes in her view. An abstract form beneath the downlights.

Actually, I live with my Mum. I still live at home and I’m not doing anything and not going anywhere. Katriece’s stare fades, drifts across. But if I don’t do it, if I don’t try something, then what do I have, you know? Then what am I?

Katriece stares into the blur, the void of shapes. Into nothing.

You’re still pretty, Derek says, and Katriece looks to him.

But that’s not why we’re here, Derek says. Pete, he says, tell Katriece about your life.

What do you mean? Peter asks.

Louise is now holding his hand, her fingers wrapped over his.

Tell Katriece about how all this, this house, this life, tell her how its bullshit.

What?

You know what I mean. You told me.

Louise looks to Peter.

Told you what, Derek? Peter asks.

You said how… Derek takes in a deep breath, leans his head back onto the bean bag.

You said how you hate your life sometimes. Your wife, your kids. You said how you feel trapped.

Louise is staring at Peter now. Staring through his skull.

I didn’t say that.

Yes you did. When you came out with us.

Did you say that? Louise asks.

No, Peter shakes his head. No. Why would I say that?

I knew it. Louise sits up from the couch. I fucking knew it.

Then Louise slaps Peter’s face, and when she does it, you can see that she’s pushing her teeth together inside her mouth, that she’s trying all she can. The sound claps off the white walls, then Louise stands up from the couch and leaves the room, her head up, her footsteps thumping.

Peter stands up just after. He touches at his red cheek.

Fuck you, Derek, he says. Just cause your life is fucked, just cause you can’t stand to go home and face your wife and kids, you don’t need to drag everyone else down with you.

A door slams further back inside the house. A child starts crying.

Fuck, Peter yells. Get out Derek.

Derek leans forward, then falls back into the beanbag, then he leans forward again. Peter pulls him up.

Fucking get up, get out.

Katriece stands up too, steps forward. She keeps her eyes away from Peter as she moves by.

Katriece and Derek stumble out onto the front porch and the front door slams behind them. The crying inside, the yelling, muffled behind the brick walls.

Then the outside light switches off, dropping them into darkness, and the cold of the night chills through. The wind rushing along the street.

The two of them drop back into Derek’s car and Derek sits behind the wheel. Watching the house. Watching. His face is stalled in a drunken stupor.

Behind the blinds, someone, something is moving inside. The shadows flashing across. Katriece watches them, then she watches Derek. Smiling. Eyes reflecting the glimpse of moonlight.

Is that true what he said? Katriece asks. About you being afraid to go face your family?

Derek’s eyes drop and he looks away. He looks down at his legs, feels at his pocket for his keys.

Now, I don’t see what the fuck that matters, Derek says.

He starts the car. The dashboard lights shadow his features like a campfire.

I don’t see what difference that makes, Derek says.

 

Main image via Pexels

Building awareness is key for literary authors

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One of the biggest key challenges in modern publishing is raising awareness of your book – which basically boils down to simply getting people to know that it even exists.

It seems like this shouldn’t be such a hurdle, but publishing industry stats indicate that awareness is a critical factor in selling your work, and that it’s also an element which is becoming increasingly more challenging over time.

For example, over the past decade, many smaller, independent bookstores have been forced to close due to pressure from online providers, and larger retail chains forcing them out of the market.

Indeed, according to stats from Macquarie University’s Australian book industry study (published in 2016), large chain stores like Big W, Dymocks and QBD dominate the Australian bookselling landscape, with independent booksellers now only making up around 27% of total book sales.

That makes logical sense, given their scale and presence, but larger chains stores are also more driven by market factors – i.e. commercial fiction gets priority, and other literary works lose out.

The summary outcome is that it’s now harder than ever to even build that initial awareness of a book by a new author or a literary fiction work – if it doesn’t fit into the genres preferred by the large chains, you’re already starting on the back foot, as your outlets for potential stockists, and their subsequent influence on word of mouth, is simply less than what it used to be.

That’s likely contributing to the decline in sales of lit fic. The same Macquarie University study mentioned above also found that literary fiction is now the least popular book category in Australia.

As reported by The Australian:

“The most popular genre is crime, mystery and thriller novels, followed by biography and memoir, cookbooks and historical fiction. A minority of readers, 48%, say they are interested in literary fiction, but here’s the knockout number: only 15% actually read it.”

There are various arguments around why this is, exactly, but it may well come down to the exposure, and the lack of available opportunities to get your work in front of potential readers.

That also influences larger reading trends over time. If readers are only being exposed to certain types of work, that will be reflected in the subsequent content they create, which will lead to a new wave of authors coming through being funneled into genre fiction.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s not necessarily a bad thing – getting people to read at all is good, and rewarding genre writers for their efforts is also a net positive, both for the authors themselves and the wider industry. But it may also be impacting the diversity of our literary landscape over time, leaving us with a lesser reflection of modern Australian society through our art, and fewer great Australian authors being discovered or getting their ‘big break’ because the financials simply don’t add up.

It’s logical, of course, there’s no argument against this, but the declining interest in literary fiction does pose longer-term challenges, which will have impacts stemming into future generations. That doesn’t mean that publishers should be just throwing money at ideas in the hope that some stick either (though, essentially, that’s often what literary publishing boils down to), but it does beg the question of what can be done to preserve our cultural identity through the literary arts, in order to maintain and build upon our broader cultural landscape.

There’s a place for all kinds of fiction, and while commercial realities will dictate the outcomes in every market sector, in the arts, there’s also a need for balance. And that balance, given the reduced opportunities of exposure, is seemingly being shifted too far into one direction.

There are no easy answers on how to fix this, but it remains a salient point – if you want to maximize your opportunities as an author, you need to be thinking about how you can spread the word, how you can raise awareness, and how to build your profile to reach the largest amount of potential readers.

Traditional marketing and outreach programs simply don’t have the same reach and impact they once did – it’s become an obligation for all authors to think about how they, personally, can expand their messaging and build interest in their work. Because fewer people are going to simply come across your work in bookstores, fewer readers are going to hear about your work from a friend – your exposure potential is not what it used to be.

So your outreach planning and strategy also needs to evolve in-step.

Main image via Max Pixel