An Arts Festival Is No Time To Get Creative logo has published an article I wrote about the fiasco that was my attempt to get writing last week, whilst out west for the Galway International Arts Festival. Go on. You know you want to read it. Go on. Seriously. Your week would be incomplete without it.

If you don’t, you might never know why, ever since, I suffer from tinnitus, and walk with a pronounced limp. Or why the book I was working on, although set in the west of Ireland, is suffused with a pronounced sense of ennui, and really doesn’t care what you think about it.

Link to article here.

Through the Looking-Glass: Power. Money. Baldness

Tark and Mara who? I did warn you. Explanation hereWindow on the rich and, well , just rich

In a universe not far from here, but somehow very like here, Tark was busy writing.

“Darling, what are you doing?” asked Mara, newly transplanted eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement and distrust. Her husband’s industrious expression was severely out of place in their six-bedroomed chrome-and-mirror penthouse.

Tark never did any work at home. Tark didn’t do any work at work. He had meetings with excitable people who usually opened nightclubs – eventually – and she knew their joint earnings had something vaguely to do with turning up at parties. Then she had her book deal, for pin money; that said, the last monthly royalty cheque for her most recent erotic gardener crime novel had been a paltry €70,000.

“I have taken on my own writing project,” said Tark, the tip of his tongue protruding from the corner of his oddly tiny mouth. Combined with the exceptional shininess of his bald head, he made a perfect emoticon. “Remember that blogger I mentioned –”

Mara, reclining artfully on the chaise longue last pictured beneath Oscar Wilde before all that unfortunate business, jerked her head out of its usual swooning position. She had made a career out of Understanding Her Man, and a change in creative divide in their relationship spelled trouble. She was the writer; Tark was supposed to be the bank.

“Who’s that, my love?” she asked with trepidation. “That person with the ridiculous name? Sparkling, or some such?”

“That common Irish person, yes,” said Tark. “She’s asked me to do a guest post on her blog. Apparently she’s caught up with some work thing. Imagine being a writer who has to have a day job!”

Mara reeled back in horror. “How terribly bourgeois! She must come from a very bad family.”

“I believe they’re from the country,” said Tark, wiping a fleck of disgust from his cheek.

Tark & Mara's penthouse bedroom
“But blogging, darling? Is that not, well – beneath you?”

Tark looked up at his wife with interest. “Why shouldn’t I blog, my precious stick insect? I have opinions. Everyone should hear them.”

“I know, my love, but there are some dreadful people out there who may not appreciate your genius, and besides, you were supposed to take me out; it’s Tuesday, and you know I always eat on a Tuesday,” said Mara sulkily. She didn’t like the idea of Tark moving in on her territory. Besides, she hated having a husband who was broadening his horizons. She was having a hard enough time keeping their spending up with their income as it was.

“Don’t be worried, my little sugar substitute,” said Tark, sonorously. “I’ll still have time for us. Blogging, after all, is the refuge of the untalented. 2,000 words should only take me 19 minutes.”

“I could have blogged, if you wanted,” said Mara, a plaintive note creeping into her erstwhile monotone. “I mean, I did read that article on results-driven trolling.”

“And you would have done it so much better than I could even dream of, mon petit boom-time relic,” said Tark, standing up to swoop a mollified Mara, feather-weight since puberty, into his arms.  “But I would never ask you to stoop so low, darling. The day you find yourself blogging, is the day that our bank account dips below seven zeros.”

“Oh, Tark,” said Mara with a sigh. “You crack me up, really. If I were ever to laugh, I do believe you would be the only one to give me cause.”


[P.S. Happy birthday Tark. May you have lots to smile about today. x]

What Makes Me Buy A Self-Published Book?

It’s summer holiday season. Therefore it’s self-published e-book time. I’m currently loading up to my Kindle. But what makes me choose one non-traditionally published book over someone else’s?

It’s tough to know which marketing works, and which doesn’t; as a reader, I have to say that I find a lot of book marketing intensely annoying, and at best unprofessional.

There are many excellent bloggers out there who give excellent advice, based on their own experience, on marketing for self-published books (not least David Gaughran here), so I’m not going to pretend to know anything about that. Book marketing is extremely tough, and I don’t have the answers. But from what I’ve seen, many successful novelists seem to rely most on painstakingly grown mailing lists, for marketing purposes. I’m not on any of those, though. So I wondered, how is it that I buy lots of self-published stuff?

With this in mind, I thought I’d do a little study of my own, based on an extensive sample of a self-published novel reader – myself. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, here we have a scientific study of the most pure and unassailable proportions: a survey of just 1 person. You can thank me later.

The factors which influence my book-buying decision... (and 1 which DEFINITELY DOESN'T...)

The factors which influence my book-buying decision… (and 1 which DEFINITELY DOESN’T…)

As you can see from these comprehensive and incontrovertible figures, the majority of my self-published book buying is influenced by book reviews, which I will only get to read having already looked up a title – which will result from a search by genre. So that’s not probably not much help. (However, if self-published authors do want to take any action from the fact that asking me on Twitter to buy your book will most certainly result in me NOT buying your book, feel free.)

It’s because I’m looking

Because I tend to buy most of the self-published stuff I read when I’m already browsing (apart from the 20% I buy after hearing about them on blogs), this means attracting my attention when I’m looking, not when I’m not looking. So it strikes me that if I was marketing something to me, the most important factor to get right is genre, followed by the blurb telling me what exactly it’s about, followed by an indication of what book or author your work is like. I know that this doesn’t help the very authors I sympathised with in this rant against lazy genre stereotyping - sorry. But if I’ve never heard of you, how else am I going to hear of you?

Finally, kudos to the book bloggers. They’re doing readers like myself a service, in an industry where neither publishers nor authors know their arses from their elbows at the moment. It’s a jungle out there, and most of us don’t want to have to kiss the frogs. If you’ll excuse the mixed metaphors.

Over to you – how did you hear about the self-published novels you’ve read?

What influenced your decision to buy them?

And lastly - has anything ever turned you off buying a self-published book in particular? Why?

This Summer I’ll Be Reading My Ego: The Farce of Holiday Reading Lists

Sun Reading in the SunAll the newspapers are doing their “Recommended Holiday Reads” for 2014. Of the ones I’ve seen, only the one in the Sunday Times wasn’t hilarious. The Sunday Times listed books by genre, giving their picks of the best romance, crime, thrillers, non-fiction etc this year. So far, so sensible. However, every other paper I read went and interviewed somebody famous and asked them what they’ll be reading on the beach this year.

The answers are completely predictable, and the literary equivalent of a selfie in your underwear. You couldn’t imagine more self-puffery than the crap people spout when they say what’s on their reading list, rather than tell you what’s really going to be in their suitcase. People’s public reading choices are as honest as a teenager on Facebook, and just as annoying.

“Oh, this summer I will be re-reading some classics, like War and Peace and The Female Eunuch. I just LOVE having the time to lazily go through my old faves again on the beach! And as my guilty pleasure, I will be going through this book that my friend wrote – she said if I gave her a plug, she’d plug mine in the Irish Times.”

Everyone lies about what they’re reading. It’s 99% of the reason that traditional book lovers, who would get the DTs from not being able to handle a paperback at least once a week, also own e-Readers. We all read stuff we’re afraid makes us look less of what we want to look like – be that intelligent or informed, trendsetting or fashionable, analytical or interesting.

The Holiday Read farce reached perfectly preposterous proportions in the Guardian, which opened with choices from John Banville, who says without any apparent trace of irony “I’m afraid I don’t go in much for holidays”, before droning on about yet another history of the Irish civil war (because we need more of those); an oft-read translation of Nietzsche (he needs to read it in translation? My God, the barbarian), and a plug for Colm Tóibín’s new novel which, because he has the MS even though it’s not published yet, makes Banville somehow sound like a One Direction fan who got an exclusive preview for a band-endorsed line of artificial chest hair.

just a book and her imagination at work, aaahThis sort of journalism is pointless. Do the lies that people tell you about what they’re reading tell you anything you want to know, let alone anything helpful? If I read an article about reading recommendations, I want it to list some books I would like to read. None of the articles bar the one in the Sunday Times did so. (It’s behind a paywall and I read it in print, I’m afraid, so I can’t link it here.)

Anyway, I am interested in hearing what people are REALLY reading when they’re off work. I don’t care if you’re going on holidays or if you only have 1 day off to attend the wedding of a cousin you haven’t seen since 1987. Be honest with me. What’s going to be bringing you on a psychological holiday this summer?

The Cynic’s Guide To Blogging

Tomorrow is my 1st bloggerversary bloggaversary Blogiversary! (Pause. Wait for silence).

It is, though. On 9 July 2013 I started blogging about book sales, writing for money in an environment where there is no pay for writing, and other things generally in the book and writing worlds I felt like poking fun at.

Anyway, I thought I’d celebrate the last day of this blogging year with an episodic “I learned something today”.

There are many blog posts out there telling people about blogging. It might sound like an awful waste of time, but I have found these posts extremely helpful in the past, even invaluable in many “what the hell just happened??” moments. I had no idea what to expect, last July, when I started out, but in the offchance that some of the things I’ve learned might be useful to others, here is:

9 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I started This Lark

1.  Know why you’re here, or go away.

Before you start blogging, figure out what your purpose is. Do you want to engage with people with similar interests in stone walls, cow whispering and old calendars? Fine. Do you want to promote your business, your art, or your appreciation of overpriced food and drink? Grand.

But if you feel like you should blog just because you’ve got some cool opinions, that’s a tough battle. If you don’t give readers a consistent, thematic reason to come back, you’ll never see them again. And if you’re not interested enough in your main theme, you won’t be back either.

2.  Blog statistics are pointless. They will wreck your head, and ruin your creativity.

Some bloggers apparently manage to ramp up 20,000 followers and 100,000 hits within 6 months of starting. They will release multiple blog posts telling you of this fact. You will be tempted to use them as a benchmark. Don’t. Looking at these blogs will only make you doubt yourself, so don’t do it. A few of these bloggers are truly popular. More of them are not, in that only a very tiny percentage of so-called followers will ever actually read anything they write, particularly if they’re posting more than 1 captioned photograph per day.

I’m not for 1 minute suggesting that all such blogs are faking statistics; but there are ways of artificially increasing your follower count. For instance, you could purchase 10,000 fake followers on Twitter and link the count to your blog instantly. You could also spend 17 hours a day throwing around likes and follows on other people’s blogs in a scatter-gun approach, even without reading them (er, especially without reading them), in the hopes they will do the same for yours. But really, I can think of 20 better ways to waste my time, than creating meaningless statistics.

3.  The only respectable way to increase traffic is to blog more often.

I don’t always practice this because sometimes it’s just bloody impossible. But if you’re going to blog, do it at least twice a week. And those who blog more often than this will get even more hits. It’s just logical.

4.  Notice what generates the most interest, then write more of it.

I had the most fun doing jokey stuff, like Book Title Generators and How To Know If You’re In A Literary Fiction Novel, but what most regular visitors to this blog appear to want is stuff about writing and book sales – i.e. the stuff I promise at the top of the page.

Yay, celebration time, woo-hoo, go me, etc, yawn, whatevs

Yay, celebration time, woo-hoo, go me, etc, yawn, whatevs

5.   Link back to related previous posts in your new posts.

Make it easy for your readers to get more of your stuff - if they want. It’s the best non-pushy way to push.

6.  For the love of Blog, use other social media wisely.

Facebook frames posts in a very attractive way, but generates little in the way of traffic. Most people on Facebook aren’t interested in your blog: they’re interested in what you looked like last night and how wonderful you’re saying you are. Only about 10 of your Facebook friends will use your appearance in their news feed to look at your blog. You fell out of everyone else’s news feed a year ago.

Use Google+ to share posts, and use hashtags while you’re at it, but not because anyone’s going to click through from there either – rather, it will improve your rankings in search results, which can mean hits to your blog from such vague queries as “how to stop a family member from writing a misery memoir” (ooh-er) and “service to find Amazon reviews unhelpful” (I kid you not. These search terms actually brought people here).

Use Twitter – or to be specific, get other, more popular users, to share your stuff on Twitter. I’ve had sporadically good traffic from Twitter, but never from my own tweets, only other people’s. I can’t explain Twitter to you any more than I can explain why I end up thinking about Shrödinger’s cat at least once a week. But a tweet’s strike rate is tiny, so don’t rely on it. And also, I do NOT mean tweet 60 times a day, or even 20, because that’ll exclude you from any of the Twitter lists people actually look at. Permanently.

Join Linkedin groups related to your particular field, and start discussions in them by asking questions around the topic you’re blogging about, using your post as a springboard for debate. It will deliver you directly to a huge audience who would never otherwise have known you existed. Linkedin is where I’ve met some of the wisest, funniest and most helpful readers and writers around, and I’ll be eternally grateful for the fact that we were introduced there. Linkedin is also where I’ve encountered many people with about as much of a sense of humour as an ingrown toenail, but they never went near this blog before tearing into any discussions I started, so I can say what I want about them here.

7.  Don’t be afraid of a little rabble rousing…

My most popular posts to date have been the ones that got some people awfully upset: sometimes from the mere title of a blog post. But awfully upset people are outweighed 100-1 by people who will completely get what you’re doing. There are other blogs out there deliberately making contentious statements to stir trouble, but this isn’t one of them. The readers you actually want will get the point.

8.  …but blogging is a slow burn. Give it time, and make friends slowly.

Unless you’re famous, of course. Then just do whatever the hell you want, because 97% of people are just going to tell you what you want to hear anyway.

But – and I don’t have exact stats on this but I may compile them in future for emphasis – 95% of people who visit your blog for the big explosions won’t be back, no matter what you do. Concentrate on the 5% who will, because they are the audience you wanted all along.


Are you having fake fun? Yes, I’m having fake fun too! Hoo-yay!

9.  Have fun.

If you’re having fun, people can tell. If blogging is a chore, people can also tell.

It’s supposed to be fun, remember! The kindest name for this activity is ‘unpaid content generation’ – and whilst that might give you some kudos in a coffee shop if you’re 22 years old, most of us are here for other reasons. Per # 1: figure out what your reason is, and smile.


So, that’s what I’ve learned in the past year. Except for all the things I’ve forgotten. Which is the other 92% of pretty much Everything. Now you out there – what tips do you have for me?

10 Reasons Why Being A Writer Is Like Working In Middle Management

1.  Both the people at the level below you and the people at the level above you suspect there is no need for you at all.

2.  You’d rather not be at your desk most days, but if you didn’t have a desk to go to, you’d probably die.

3.  You do all the work, but get little credit, and only a tenth of the pay you think you deserve.

4.  You’ve come a long way to get where you are, which is great for about 5 seconds until you realise that you’ve got such a long way to go yet that you may as well have never started at all.

5.  Most of the suggestions thrown your way are not suggestions at all, but in fact direct orders which are almost impossible to comply with.

6.  You are forced to say things you don’t believe regarding things you don’t care about.

7.  You think you have a fair amount of autonomy, until you try to get creative and deviate from the status quo, at which point you find out that you have no say in anything whatsoever.

8.  You often despair of what you’re doing, but you don’t mind too much having to say what you do when meeting new people.

9.  Every now and then, just when you’re about to throw in the towel, you will receive some unexpected praise, or be treated to a lovely lunch. This will keep you going indefinitely. You’re fickle like that.

10.  There’s always someone you’d like to be, and someone else you’re glad you’re not.

Business people jumping, I mean really

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad I’m not these people


There could be a ton of these:  “Why Being A Writer Is Like Being A Zookeeper”   “Why Being A Writer Is Like Shopping for Underpants”   or even “Why Being A Writer Is Like Eating Raw Sea Anemones”…. the prospects are endless! All we need are some weak comparisons, a five-minute window of procrastination, and an uncritical audience! What do you think being a writer is like?

On Blogging, And Memories Of Those Who Never Were

Anonymous Public Figures

Anonymous Public Figures

Following on from my last post, in which we discussed online personas, factual or ridiculous, I’ve been thinking about a couple of characters I dearly miss from blogging misadventures past. One very talented writer whose blog I love (thank you, Elaine Canham) suggested that whatever personal stuff writers say about themselves online could just be made up. This made me think even more. (Doesn’t happen too often. But I have paracetamol.)

A few years back, a competition got me blogging for the first time. The competition aimed to find a couple who would road-test honeymoons for six months.

I can’t imagine why anyone might want to enter a competition which would enable them to travel to the most paradisiacal spots of the planet for half a year with the person they’re mad about, and get paid to boot for the pleasure, but still, myself and the man who now lets me call him my husband made the supreme sacrifice of entering. To our horror, we ended up reaching the final.

All ten finalists in the competition had to blog every day for the two weeks leading up to the final weekend. It was supposed to be a way of introducing finalists and their writing styles to both the competition judges and the general public. It gave me both a thirst and a taste for blogging, even though it would take another 3 years before I would actually do so in earnest.

But only a day or so into the 2-week run, I ran into problems. I didn’t like blogging about myself. It just felt weird, talking about myself to a bunch of strangers. Why the hell would anyone care what I did or thought? And was it right to talk about the people in my life, even if one of them was my equal partner in the competition, responsible for 50% of our entry in the first place?

I started off by referring to said husband by a nickname, even though both our names had already been made public by the competition organisers, because I just felt more comfortable writing that way.

It snowballed from there. By the end of the 2 weeks, rather than blogging about ourselves, I was blogging about 2 invented characters called Tark and Mara, who were supposed to be more or less the opposite of ourselves. And unlike reality, they were bloody great fun to write about.

Mara The TerrifyingThey still come to mind often: Tark, a tiny bald-headed man with demonic eyebrows who never smiled; and Mara, an underweight clothes hanger who lived in horror of speaking to anyone in possession of a home with less than 3 external doorways and 12,000 square feet of living space.

Tark and Mara led rich and fabulous lives; scorned ordinary people; made a handsome living out of turning up to parties, and found much to deride in the sweetest of circumstances. I miss them. In particular, I miss the writer Mara would have turned out to be. Notwithstanding the three million in royalties Mara would have garnered within sixty-nine days of writing her first erotic gardening crime novel, I would have loved to see what she would have done with the fame.

It’s rare that characters can seem so crystal clear almost immediately, the very moment they’re thought of. In fact, I can still hear them calling to me. Begging to be let out of their box. To live again.

One of these days, they just might.