Should Writers be on Twitter?

Yes, Writers should be on Twitter:

  • With 140 characters, you have to keep tweets to the point
  • Keeping in touch with other writers
  • Keep up to date with submission call-outs
  • Keep up to date with publication news
  • Useful for quick questions and links to help shorten research
  • Useful for others to contact you
  • Potential to pick up writing/reviewing commissions
  • Holds reader engagement between publications
  • If you are social and retweet others, the favour is returned

No Writers should not be on Twitter:

  • If unmanaged, can become a procrastination tool/time suck
  • Tweets are momentary and easily lost in the noise
  • It doesn’t necessarily translate into sales
  • It’s not a great tool to show off writing skills
  • It encourages readers to interrupt your writing
  • Writers should broadcast literature, not offer social/political comments
  • It feeds a writer’s ego

No writer should be on twitter or any other social media outlet either. All writers should be free to decide which social media outlets (if any) work for them. For some of you that will be twitter, for others it won’t. And that’s absolutely fine.

If you’re enthusiastic about twitter, it will work for you. If you lack enthusiasm, it will show and could lose you readers.

What’s not fine is publicly criticising other writers for their choices. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to marketing and reader engagement.

BTW I’m @Emma_Lee1


Andrew Bannister reading at Leicester's Central Library on 17 May from 6.30pm

Advertisements

Self-Published Books – to review or not to review?

I do consider self-published books for review (see my review guidelines), but some bloggers and magazines don’t. I treat self-published books the same as traditionally published books: what I’m looking for in a review is quality of writing, poetic craft and whether the book would appeal to readers. Generally I can satisfy myself as to whether the book under review meets those criteria before opening the book.

Why Reviewers Don’t Review Self-Published Books

  • Concerns about the Quality of the Book
  • Concerns about the Quality of the Writing
  • Concerns about Vanity Publishing
  • Concerns about Authors’ Reactions

I’ll look at each in turn:

Concerns about the Quality of the Book

These concerns apply equally to self- and traditionally-published books. A printed book should cope with repeated opening and closings, the cover shouldn’t curl, the pages should be numbered and the text should be readable. An e-book should be page numbered, navigable and the text should be readable.

Generally there’s very little difference between self- and traditionally-published books in terms of print quality. However, some self-publishers omit to consider:

  • Cover image – if one is used it needs to be quality, uncluttered, relevant to the book without spoilers, and not render the cover text illegible.
  • Pagination – the easiest way for a reviewer to find that section they wanted to quote is by page number. When the pages aren’t numbered its harder for a reader to keep their place and few readers read a book in one sitting.
  • Table of Contents – you’ve gone to all the trouble of giving your poems hook-worthy titles so don’t waste it by not including contents.
  • Acknowledgements/Publishing Credits – a list of where the poems within have been published before or placed in competitions is a quality mark, i.e. a sign to the reviewer that the poet has submitted work to editors who have decided it worthy of publishing. A book with no acknowledgements has no quality mark and the reviewer may suspect the writer has rushed into print.
  • Author Biography – a writer with a track record will reassure reviewers over the quality of writing. No information about the author is a red flag. Even if the writer is using a pseudonym, there should be a way of conveying what qualifications the author has to write this book.

Concerns about the Quality of the Writing

From experience, this is a non-concern. Both self- and traditionally-published authors are in the business of selling books and it’s fair to say that some traditionally-published books have been published because the publisher knows the topic or author will sell the book even if the writing quality is uneven.

Self-publishers can allay these fears by including publishing credits and an about the author section that demonstrates their track record.

Concerns about Vanity Publishing

Vanity publishing has long plateaued and is actually dying out. With printers and publishers advertising self-publication services and plenty of advice about the pitfalls of self-publishing, vanity publishers are finding it harder to hoodwink naive writers into paying over the odds to see their book in print.

Concerns about Author Reactions

This is a tricky one and a valid concern. A self-published author has more at stake and is more likely to view themselves as needing a positive review. A traditionally-published author at least has the publisher to remind them that reviews aren’t particularly influential, the reviewer wasn’t part of their target market, the important thing is sales and one person’s opinion is just that.

Unfortunately social media makes it easier for authors to contact the reviewer and/or comment on the review publicly.

My experience is that for every negative comment, I’ve had at least three positive ones. I also know that I wouldn’t have the track record I do in reviewing if I wasn’t any good at it. Every negative comment I have received has reinforced the opinion I formed in my review. I’m not going to be derailed by comments from one author and/or their supporters so I will continue to consider reviewing self-published books.


Jazz-inspired poetry at Leicester Central Library to celebrate what would have been Ella Fitzgeralds 100th birthday

Social Media Bullies

Would you

a) Tag a writer in a public Facebook status to ask them to read your manuscript whilst pointing out that they ought to help struggling or beginner writers
or
b) Approach a professional service to review and critique your manuscript because you’re aware that writers will charge a fee, may not have the time and acknowledge that just because a writer has had a book published, it doesn’t make them experts in how to get your book published because writers aren’t publishers?

Would you

a) Tweet a writer publicly to ask them to review your book with a link to where the book is for sale (effectively implying the writer should buy a copy and then review it)
or
b) Check if the writer has a reviews policy and follow it or find a contact address and email them privately to ask?

Would you

a) Tag a writer in a public status to ask about an event the writer is not taking part in and has no connection with
or
b) Sensibly realise the organisers might be better placed to answer your question?

Would you

a) Use a public Facebook comment to ask a writer for help with a school project saying you will lose marks or get a lower grade if the writer doesn’t help
or
b) Acknowledge that a writer is not obliged to help with your school project and make a polite request by private email without the blackmail?

Would you

a) leave a public comment after a blog post to ask a writer to review a blog site on the basis that the writer should be interested in the blog topic
or
b) Accept that a writer’s job is to write, not to review your site and certainly not for free and in any case a private request might be better?

Would you

a) Publicly tag a writer to ask them to recommend magazines or publishers to submit work to.
or
b) Acknowledge that there are no short cuts to doing your own research and targeting the right markets for your work and that another writer may be able to tell you where they got published, but would not be able to tell you which publishers would accept your work?

Did you answer mainly a) or mainly b)? Discuss.

Questions and Answers from “Ghosts in the Desert” Launch

These were some of the questions (which may be paraphrased – I wasn’t taking notes when being asked) I was asked after my book launch for “Ghosts in the Desert” on 4 July. I have expanded on some of the answers below.

How do you know when a poem is finished or is there always another edit?

I think a poem is finished when the edits I’m making are not beneficial to the poem. For instance if I change a word and end up going back to the word I had previously or take out a comma only to put it back in again, when I feel as if I’m tinkering rather than achieving anything. It’s always possible to edit further but there’s also a point when editing looks suspiciously like procrastination.

How do you collect poems around a theme and does that theme inform new work?

Putting a collection together, for me, is a retrospective act. When I can collect together around 80 poems, I start to look for a common theme or anything that suggests the poems are interlinked and can form a body of work. If I can find sufficient poems I will start thinking of them as a collection rather than individual poems. If I can find a substantial number of poems but not enough for a collection, then I simply don’t have a collection. I don’t set myself the task of writing new poems on the theme because I find such new poems are often derivative or repetitive, saying what I’ve already said in a different format.

It’s fair to say, though, that common themes do tend to emerge in writing poems. So, whilst I wouldn’t consciously decide I’m going to write poems on theme x, I may well find that of the last dozen poems I’ve written, eight will be about theme x.

How did you start writing or have you always been writing?

I have always told stories. Even before I could pick up a pen, I used to build houses from play bricks and create stories for the people who might have lived there. At some point stories gave way to poems.

Which poets influenced you or got you into writing?

At school, we only studied male poets. I didn’t believe that female poets didn’t write poems that weren’t worth studying, but figured out I wasn’t going to find them through school or in book stores that seemed to concentrate on dead, white, male poets or anthologies. A friend sent me a copy of the Ted Hughes poem “You Hated Spain” and I identified with the “you” of the poem. That “you” was Sylvia Plath and through her, and her contemporaries such as Anne Sexton and Anne Stevenson, I found female poets worth reading and studying.

More recently I’ve enjoyed reading: Carrie Etter – I loved “Imagined Sons”, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Helen Ivory, D A Prince, Kei Miller, Daniel Sluman, Sheenagh Pugh, Ros Barber’s “The Marlowe Papers”, and I’m looking forward to the publication of Lydia Towsey’s “The Venus Papers” due from Hearing Eye. I enjoyed reviewing Mandy Kahn’s debut.

How do you define your style or poetic voice?

That’s a tricky question to answer without dropping into vague phrases or sounding horribly pretentious. Defining a poet’s style is often best done by others. A voice emerges when you’ve tried writing like other poets or tried writing on themes other poets have written about and you’ve found an approach and vocabulary you’ve comfort with and confident in. Voice comes when others read a poem and identify it as yours or conclude that no one else could have written that particular poem.

Do you find reviews of your work useful?

Yes. Sometimes you know instinctively that something is working but you don’t always analyse why and a review can provide that analysis. Reviews can also confirm that you were communicating what you wanted to communicate with the reader because the reviewer has interpreted the poem the way you intended it to be. Bad reviews can be helpful too: they either suggest the interpretation you intended wasn’t communicated fully so the poem needs another edit or a lazy reviewer’s interpretation is so far off the mark that it reinforces the intention of the poem.

Ghosts in the Desert is available from Indigo Dreams Publishing

Ghosts in the Desert book launch

Supreme Court lifts injunction on Autobiography

Legal matters normally fall outside the scope of this blog, except for a brief guide to copyright, however, this particular case is of interest to writers, particularly those who base their poems on personal experience, autobiography or memoir.

In the case [2015] UKSC 32 concerning James Rhodes v OPO and another, the Supreme Court had to consider an appeal against an injunction which prevented the publication of an autobiography in the form it had been written. The full judgement and press summary are here.

A father had written his autobiography which graphically detailed extensive abuse (including rape) he’d been subjected to as a child. Knowledge of this abuse was already in the public domain because the father, a concert pianist, author and film maker, had referred to it in interviews which were widely available and could be easily found through internet searches. The autobiography was dedicated to his son and would be available as an ebook and printed book in the father’s resident country. The son lived with his mother in a different country and the father didn’t intend the son to read it until he was old enough to understand it. The son has diagnosed disabilities in processing information and a consultant child psychologist concluded he would suffer psychological harm and emotional distress if he saw the content of the book. An interim injunction was granted so that the claim that publication of the book in its current form would intentionally cause harm to the son.

The Supreme Court allowed the injunction to be lifted. The essential grounds for this were that the father had the right to tell his story in his own words so publication of the book was justified providing it complied with laws concerning for example confidentiality. However, there was no law preventing the publication of factual material, even if it was graphic and distressing. The book was intended for a general audience, not just the son. Consideration was also given to the wording of the injunction which was found not to be specific enough. It is worth reading the judgement for the full conclusion. I’ve only mentioned the aspects that are of wider interest.

This is a welcome judgement. It acknowledges that where a writer seeks to publish a poem, story or memoir based on autobiographical facts, the writer is free to do so providing laws on confidentiality and non-provocation of hatred are respected. Another party will not succeed in obtaining an injunction to prevent publication on the basis that someone who is not the intended audience could suffer psychological harm or severe emotional distress (here that means a recognised psychological illness resulting from emotional distress; not just a one-off emotive reaction).

Reviewing what gets Reviewed: why it matters

Recently someone asked me why a poet who’d published most of her poetry collections during the 1930s had been largely forgotten. I reflexively gave the answer: despite her poems being widely published and anthologised, despite her collections being published by a reputable publisher, she was not widely reviewed or studied so dropped off the literary radar. I thought this was obvious, but the questioner did not. Getting published is a foot in the door, if writers want to keep that door open, they need to be reviewed.

 

This is why the VIDA count is so important. It reports on the number of reviews by male reviewers and female reviewers and the number of reviews of books by female writers and books by male writers and the most recent count audits reviews by and of books by women of colour. In a world where more women buy and read books than men, statistically it would seem logical that more books by women get reviewed and more women write those reviews. Actually, in most cases, the opposite is true: there are more male reviewers and books written by men get more reviews. This means that the writers who don’t drop off the literary radar are more likely to be male.

 

Progress is being made, generally in newer magazines who don’t have a history of using male reviewers to review books by men to overcome. But there’s still work to be done. I’m not arguing that books for review should be selected by who wrote them rather than the merit of the writing or that reviewers should be selected on who they are rather than how well they review, but that editors should be aware of lingering bias and accept the challenge of finding new reviewers rather than relying on a stable of existing reviewers.

 

Previous counts have shocked editors, who were working on the assumption of gender-neutrality, into realising that there was a bias. Some editors have found that publishers and agents tend to send more books by men for review and have countered this by asking publishers for lists of forthcoming publications and requesting specific books for review rather than relying on unsolicited submissions. Similarly, some editors have found that men tend to volunteer to review and put forward ideas more than women so they’ve relied less on unsolicited submissions and approached reviewers (and potential reviewers) directly. Some editors found that if they return an idea with a note “This idea isn’t quite right, please try us again,” male writers would try again but female writers were less likely to try again. It’s easy to say women should volunteer more but when you see a magazine full of male names, you get the impression it’s not open to you. You decide to try anyway and your first submission comes back with a “not quite right for us”, it tends to reinforce the impression the magazine doesn’t want you so you’re less likely to try again: it becomes a vicious circle. The door looks closed when it’s actually ajar, although doorbell’s broken and the ‘welcome’ mat appears to be missing.

 

Writers can only get so far by making review copies available and contacting reviewers and/or editors to get their book reviewed. Readers can assist by writing and posting their own reviews or suggesting books they’d like to see reviewed. If you want to keep your favourite poet in print, post your recommendations and reviews, nominate and vote in the Saboteur Awards.

 

One commenter on VIDA’s statistics argued that there was no bias towards male writers in the literary establishment because publishers employed more women than men. The commenter thought that VIDA’s count was too narrow and seemed to be looking at the reviews rather than books published. The commenter spectacularly misses the point: VIDA’s remit is purely about reviews because what gets reviewed matters.

Responding to Reviews

A writer’s job is to communicate. That communication is likely to be with a target market simply because writing a poem that will please everyone is impossible. Trying to accommodate everyone’s tastes and views on what a poem should be is likely to result in something rhyming and bland, that is something that looks like a poem but isn’t a poem. You may think you’re writing for the general poetry reader, someone reasonably intelligent, well-read and up to date on current affairs but then be surprised because someone who looks and behaves like a general poetry reader did not understand the metaphor you used in stanza three. Or took the opposite view to the one you intended. Or thought you were being patronising or an autodidact.

Sending a book out for review always carries the risk that the reviewer simply isn’t a member of your target market. A reviewer’s job is to give the review’s readers enough information to decide whether or not they want to buy the book under review. It is not a reviewer’s job to offer an in-depth critique of every poem in the book.

Whenever I comment on a poem, in a review or at a workshop or because I’ve agreed to do a critique, I don’t expect the poet to immediately and unquestioningly re-write their poem according to my comments. It’s not my poem. I do not have the right to re-write it the way I would have written it if it had been my poem. I do expect the poet to read my review or comments before deciding whether to consider them or not.

When someone comments on a review and I receive that comment via the editor before I’ve even seen my copy of the magazine where the review appeared, I’m suspicious of the amount of time the commenter spent reading my review.

The comment thanked me for my review, but made the point that I’d only commented on a small number of poems from the collection, expressed a regret that I’d come to the conclusion I did and hoped I’d found something in the poems I’d hadn’t commented on to like.

There are some classic mistakes here:

  • That regret is not a regret. It’s phrased in such a way as to imply I’m the one that should have regrets in my apparent failure to appreciate the poetic talent within the collection.
  • In a review, I don’t have space to comment on every poem individually so I select a representative sample. How I feel about the representative sample is how I feel about the collection as a whole. If I do like one poem in particular but dislike the rest, I will say so (although I’ve yet to read a collection where I only liked one individual poem). The reference to only commenting on a small number of poems suggests that either the commenter doesn’t understand how reviews work or is implying I haven’t read the other poems properly. Insulting your reviewer is not a good idea.
  • I have read the poems I didn’t comment on so sending me back to read them in hope I find something to like is guaranteed to put me off them altogether, and potentially put me off reviewing any subsequent collections.
  • The comment doesn’t ask for or give space for a response: it’s intended to be the final say on the matter and naturally the poet wants the final word.
  • The speed at which it was sent implies the commenter didn’t spend long reading my review, probably didn’t read any of the other reviews I’d written for that particular issue of the magazine and didn’t try to put my review in context of whether I was the target market or not.
  • I’m not the target market: that’s not my problem. That’s not necessarily the poet’s problem either: it depends on whom he was writing for.
  • The commenter should have pressed ‘delete’ rather than ‘send’.

What the comment does tell me is that if I’m sent another book by this particular author to review, I can write whatever I want as he won’t bother to take any notice of my comments anyway.

I don’t think that was his intention. But that’s the tricky thing with communication: what you meant to say may not be how the reader interprets your work. If you are not prepared for a reader to interpret your work in a different way from your intention, think very carefully about putting your work in the public arena and publishing it.

By