Sunday, 23 September 2012

An Idiot's Guide to Building an Online Author Platform

Please do not read this if you use Facebook, Twitter, Blogging and with confidence.

Do read it if you want to learn a little more about any one of these type of accounts.

I was helping a friend start to build an online presence today and realised that I should write down what we were doing so that it would be easy to explain to somebody again. So here goes…


Think of this as a big noticeboard describing all the things that you do to anyone in the world who wants to find out.

·         Click on Create a Page

·         Click on Artist, Band or Public Figure and work through the clearly explained steps

·         Start with a simple description of yourself and a good picture, keeping in mind you can change anything that you have said and any pictures that you have uploaded at ANY time.

·         Don’t be afraid to click on any of the sections and see what happens. It won’t break anything.

·         Only put on words and pictures that you would want the whole world to see about your work.

Think of this as a room full of people that you have invited to a party to talk about common interests. Whatever you say can be passed on. This creates excellent advertising by word of mouth (aka tweet) but equally can create bad press. Speak wisely.

·         Click on sign up and follow the steps

·         You can click on ‘skip this step’ at the bottom of the screen when it keeps asking you to follow others

·         My advice though is to do a search for a topical keyword eg. YA Author  to start off otherwise there is no-one at your party to talk to!

·         Keep your picture on all your accounts the same. After all this is your brand.


A blog is like a diary. You can chose to write about your writing, your book or anything else of pertinent interest. Ideally, you would like as many people as possible to read your blog so that you build up your presence online.

There are many different ways of doing a blog. You may have the facility on your website or you may have to use one of the numerous blogging sites available on the web. I find an easy one to start with. Just as with Facebook and Twitter, once you sign up, they lead you through the start-up step by step.

Once again, you have to ‘bite the bullet’ and experiment. You can always take off whatever you have put on. This is also a public document so only post what you want everyone in the world to see.

This is an ideal forum to showcase your writing. Everything you write in your blog should be broadcast on Facebook and Twitter. The website below will do this for you automatically. does exactly that. It delivers your blog as soon as you have posted it to various platforms that you have chosen. It is very easy to set-up and it takes all the hard work away from you. As soon as you click POST on your blog, your Twitter and Facebook accounts will show a link straight back to the blog.

It is also possible to link to Tumblr, LinkedIn, Statusnet, RSS feed and Delicious. However, I would wait to link up to these until you are confident with your blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Good luck. This is a journey worth travelling. You are about to embark on a worldwide conversation.



Sunday, 6 May 2012

A sudden audience

Imagine the frustration you would feel if you loved knowledge and you knew that the book with the beautiful pictures in front of you contained new information that you just couldn't decode.  This is the curse of having a reading ability that is lower than your knowledge and interest base. Then picture the delight of being able to create a book of your own that you could read and it linked to more advanced information that someone could read to you. And, to make it even better, almost 3000 people around the world have wanted to read the book that you made, too.

Freddie has been obsessed by dinosaurs and fossils. He has an exceptional knowledge of these for an eight year old. When I taught him last year he found reading very tricky yet his general knowledge exceeded that of some children twice his age. His frustration was palpable.

It was the day that he bought three more dinosaur books at the 'bring and buy' sale and accidentally missed his football activity because he was so absorbed in them, that made me even more determined to find a way to unlock the key for reading for his particular learning style. We read some of those books together and he told me so much more than those pages held.

Freddie is an excellent artist too and he brought in a series of pictures that he had drawn. He told me all about the creatures and I had to learn quickly. What was a meganeura and when was the palaeozoic era? He knew! I asked him if he would let me write some words to match his pictures.

Freddie was enjoying some of Dr Seuss' stories at the time and the combination of the rhyme, rhythm and repetition was both comforting and enjoyable. I decided to use this approach. As Freddie is a visual learner, he remembers words more easily by looking at their shape. He knows most of the basic phonemes but he is too impatient to spend time applying these and decoding words one by one. He wants to recognise words instantly. This means that he needs to see those words many, many times until they become subconsciously familiar.

I had to keep the vocabulary simple and repeat it often. His target sound at the time was e as in ee and ea hence the emergence of the 'pea green sea'. I came to admire the sheer creative talent of Dr Seuss and his clever manipulation of words and crazy ideas. Oh to be able to do that with such flair. Never mind, the book was written and Freddie loved it. He didn't find it easy to read and he needed a lot of help but it was his book. He had ownership and he wanted to read it

I used to upload How It All Began and, with a bit of tweaking, the result was very pleasing. Freddie showed all his friends; we put it on the school blog and he read it several times to Grannies and relatives. He felt proud.

That was it. Except, it wasn't. Freddie is writing another book now. I am not allowed to do the words this time so it is taking a lot longer but he isn't giving up. The other day, I wanted to check something in How It All Began and we were truly delighted to find that 2932 people have viewed it and 52 have chosen to download it. Not bad for a book created by a young boy who claims to hate the act of reading!

Freddie's latest obsession is tanks. I'm off to learn more about the Vickers and the Herman. What rhymes with Panzer?

Read Freddie's book here.

Anne Haas

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Chip Lit

The day dawned, dull and drizzly, on the Chipping Norton Literary Festival last weekend. Armed with a brolly and and brand new, untouched notepad, I drove up to the beautiful Oxfordshire town to see what all the fuss was about.

I began my day with a panel discussion, chaired by Jane Wenham-Jones, on Contemporary Women's Fiction. Katie Fforde, Jill Mansell, Veronica Henry and Fiona Walker made up the table, and shared their thoughts, suggestions and tricks on how to make it as a writer in Contemporary Women's Fiction.

From there, I was 'thrust' into another world with the incomparable Julie Cohen's workshop on writing sex scenes, which (I'm very glad to tell you) actually covered writing sex scenes. You might think this is unsurprising, but after trekking down to the Bath Literature Festival while heavily pregnant only to discover that their workshop on writing sex scenes included only those authors unwilling to speak about sex (and some of whom don't even include it in their novels), I was pleasantly surprised. Julie didn't hold back, and I can definitely see why her other workshops are held in high regard. She was fab. My favourite bit was probably when she read two excerpts from her work - one from an erotica book about a woman sharing a special moment with a blue robot and the other from a women's fiction book that was slightly more intense and emotional. It's fantastic to see someone work succesfully in more than one genre.

Saturday ended with Emma Lee Potter's Freelance Writing session, which gave some good, solid advice for becoming a freelance writer. All you need is a great hook, a compelling subject, a convincing pitch, and a well-written article, preferably with photographs. Right. Good then.

On Sunday, I awoke a little reluctant to make the hour-long drive north, so I convinced my husband to drive up there and partake in a rather delicious bagel from Number 24 Cafe on the Chipping Norton High Street while I learnt about short story writing and unconventional novels.

Angela Huth- most famously the writer of Land Girls - gave a very interesting talk on writing short stories. Her career has spanned decades, hundreds of stories and dozens of publications, and she spoke persuasively about letting one's imagination go and writing about absolutely anything at all. Her key rules were to be concise, show character through behaviour, avoid adverbs, and stick to one mood. As she is someone who has been published by the New Yorker, I'm inclined to listen.

And finally, on to one of my favourite authors of all time, the one and only Jasper Fforde. His talk covered the strangeness of all his ideas leading to his wonderful books such as the Thursday Next series and the Nursery Crime Division series, and how to set yourself narrative challenges (eg, a man looks out the window in Surrey and sees a gorilla up his tree. Explain it all away). Loved it.

Chipping Norton, you've done yourself proud. For a first ever literary festival it was beautifully put together. The authors were fantastic, the volunteers helpful and the town simply lovely.

Where can I book my tickets for next year?


Wednesday, 11 April 2012

two down....

Back in January I posted a blog setting out my writing resolutions for the year, now seems like a good time to review how I'm doing.

I have entered both the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger Award and the Good Housekeeping "Get Your Novel Published" competition!  For the Debut Dagger I submitted the first chapter from "Death Penalty", a novel I have been working on since last October.  The opening scene was inspired by a workshop I did at the Cheltenham Literature Festival with Laura Wilson, who passed round photos of the food people had chosen for their last meal before facing the death penalty.  It got me thinking about the circumstances in which someone might choose a tub of Ben and Jerry's Phish Food for their last meal, and suddenly in my head was Emily, one of my main characters, with her tragic backstory....

For the Good Housekeeping competition I submitted the first chapter from "Crime and Prejudice", a rewriting of Pride and Prejudice with Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy as the detectives investigating the death of Mr Wickham!  I first started writing this some time ago and entered it for the Debut Dagger Award in 2011, but with different characters.  I then rewrote it bringing back the main characters from P&P, and submitted it to a couple of agents last year, but it was rejected.  Re-reading it, I decided I had tried to be too clever and make it read like a Jane Austen novel, which meant it was rather slow-paced for modern tastes.  So for GH, I rewrote it with a much faster pace and introducing not only the death of Wickham but a "locked room" mystery, and a jewel destined to be stolen....

So - two major resolutions achieved already!  Which makes me feel better about the fact that I haven't kept to my resolution to write every day.  I still think its the best way of keeping my writing at the forefront of my life, and I feel as if I am writing more often, so there is some progress. 

One thing I didn't really think about when I set my resolutions was focussing.  I'm now juggling 3 different crime novels, all of which have the potential to become a series.  and on holiday in Tunisia recently I got very excited about the idea of a novel looking at a group of holidaymakers, and the impact being on holiday has on relationships.  But there is a real danger I'll get to the end of the year having made some progress on lots of things but not a lot of progress on any one thing!  So I think my Tunisian idea has to be left on the shelf for now.  I'm pitching "Death Penalty" to some agents at the Bristol CrimeFest in May this year so I think I need to focus on getting a reasonable draft of that completed by then....

yes, that was one of my other resolutions!  I've booked the Bristol CrimeFest including the Pitch and Agent slots.  I still need to book for the Harrogate Crime Festival, though. 

and yes - not only have I made a breakthrough in now telling people that I am a writer, I'm beginning to feel more like a "proper" writer too!

till next time

Wendy x


Sunday, 5 February 2012

Maybe I don't want to be a writer, maybe I want to be a dictator!

For Christmas last year my lovely husband gave me the rather practical gift of some software. Not the most romantic present, you might think, but as an IT consultant I spend my days working at a computer. Even on a good day, by the time I get the kids into bed and have some dinner the last thing I want to do is start typing again and my mouse clicking arm is beginning to show the worrying first signs of RSI. I had started scribbling the notes for my burgeoning novel into a book with a pencil, to avoid the dreaded computer, but the fact remains that at some point I'll have to find a way to share my work. Enter the Dragon…

The software he bought me recognises speech and converts it into electronic text. My first attempts produced some amusing results, for example:

Nicole this half a left-handed and there are and blinked hard.

 which was supposed to say:

Nicole gripped the edge of her chair and blinked hard.

Dragon Dictate builds up a profile of your voice, so the more you use it, the more accurate it gets. There are several training modules, set pieces of text that you read which it then uses as a benchmark to recognise your own text when you read it. It's not great at context, for example I write in the past tense so nearly all my verbs end in ED but it quite often writes "walk" when I said "walked". I'm getting better at speaking more clearly, and voicing my punctuation! 

One of the most useful features is that you can upload files of your existing writing, to help it recognise the vocabulary you use. This helps it to make more accurate guesses about what you're saying. For example, one of my characters is called Beth. The program repeatedly failed to recognise this word, however clearly I thought I was saying it. As soon as I had uploaded a couple of chapters about Beth the problem went away. 

Reading in the chapters I had hand written was really quick, but composing the story as I speak obviously takes longer. It's still quicker than typing for me though. In a typical one hour writing session I would get about 500 words done when typing. Now I'm dictating, the same hour seems to yield around 800 words. Maybe it's because I fuss less about how each paragraph hangs together, or spend less time cutting and pasting words around within a sentence. 

I will certainly have to spend more time proofreading the completed chapters, checking for the numerous small errors in recognition that the software still makes. For now, I'm happy to live with those as the improvement so far has been rapid. I may end up using it for everything, even tweets and e-mails (I am dictating this now)  though one disadvantage is that it's difficult to eat or drink at the same time. Even this could be interpreted as a good selling point,  as it will cut my tea and biscuit consumption dramatically!

Sara Boltman

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

And a year's perspiration......

Or three guesses for this years resolution!

It's not quite a month on from my Arvon foundation crime-writing course, but it feels a lot longer!  Somehow the intervention of Christmas and the new year has drained some of the inspiration I felt.  Maybe other people are good at making and keeping new year's resolutions but I find January a depressing month.  How can I change my life for the better when it's so cold and wet outside?!

I'd like to resolve this year that I'll finally get a novel published, but it's not something I can guarantee.  What I can do, though, is to maximise my chances.  So here are my own personal resolutions for making 2012 the year I become a published author. 

- I resolve to tell people that I am a writer.  For so many years I've used words such as "I'd like to be a writer...." But I do believe that my subconscious listens to what I say.  And I am much more likely to keep writing, keep submitting, keep smiling at the rejection letters when I know that I am already a writer.  I don't need permission from anyone to describe myself in this way!

- I resolve to write something every day.  Too often I'm tempted to wait until I have a decent chunk of time to write something, but even if it's only a few minutes, writing every day will keep my plot and characters at the forefront of my mind.  I know I'm much more likely to have that "eureka" moment when I'm washing up if I've been thinking about my characters that day.

- I resolve to enter at least three competitions this year: Debut Dagger (for unpublished crime writers), the Good Housekeeping competition which is open to all unpublished writers, and a short story competition.  And I will read the winning entries with a keen eye to see what I can learn from them.  I've entered the Debut Dagger the last couple of years and the winners all have something that makes them stand out.  Just need to translate that into my own work now.....

- I resolve to attend the two major crimewriting festivals in the UK, the Bristol CrimeFest in May and the Festival in Harrogate in July.  I honestly believe that to get published, I can't just sit at home crafting the perfect novel - I've got to get out and meet writers, readers - and hopefully agents.  And I'll have a perfectly prepared 30 second pitch for any agents I happen to meet - but no more than that.  And I'll try not to go too puppy-like and bouncy when talking to them.....

So that's my resolutions for becoming a published author in 2012.  I'd love to hear from others what steps you'll be taking towards your writing goals this year!      


A week's inspiration.....

Written in early December from a remote farmhouse on Dartmoor....

It's 6 am and I'm sitting drinking tea from a mug with "The Big Sleep" on it, and writing this instead of following it's very sensible instructions.  But I'm so inspired I feel as if a dozen novels - or at least a dozen scenes from my current novel - will come pouring from my fingertips with ease.  There must be something in the water in this place, for after a few days I can feel that the quality of my writing has changed.  Those key scenes which I haven't previously even attempted to write don't seem so daunting, and while not perfect, what I'm writing has an integrity and authenticity and I know it's good.  Does that sound arrogant?  I hope not - don't all writers instinctively know when something we have produced is working?

"This place" is Totleigh Barton, the Arvon Foundation house on Dartmoor.  The house is fab - nooks and crannies for writing, wood-burning stove and long table for the evening meals, and a huge (and now lovely and warm!) barn where all aspects of writing are hotly debated.  We are immensely privileged to two amazing tutors this week: Frances Fyfield and Dreda Say Mitchell.  Both are enormously generous, to the group and on an individual level.  In the mornings we share writing exercises and talk about different aspects of writing a novel.  In the afternoons the tutors provided individual feedback.  To have someone of the stature of Frances Fyfield saying they enjoyed my writing leaves me walking on air for days!  And Dreda gave wonderful feedback on plotting that was like a light going on in the brain.

It's also fab to listen to what other people are writing.  I'm constantly amazed by the huge talent of unpublished writers, some of whom have been working away for years and may be on their fifth or sixth novel.  Some of the writers here have agents, one is self-published - and nearly everyone is producing work that I want to hear more of.  So far we've been sharing first pages and writing exercises: we've had kinky sex in Surrey, prostitutes in Milan and dead bodies everywhere from Trinidad to the Scottish mountains.  Friday night we all get to read something from our current work.  I can't wait.

So - yes, of course I'd recommend an Arvon course.  The opportunity to spend an entire week immersed in writing is in itself rare and valuable.  To do it in the company of supportive and insightful tutors and serious writers happy to debate plot problems over the washing up is possible unique.  The only problem with the course it it's length - if I could stay for six more weeks, I'm confident I'd have a stonking novel at the end of it!