Why an unpublished author needs an online presence

Do you need an online presence if you’re an unpublished author? Yes. Oh yes. Here’s why.

Social media wordle


4 reasons to start engaging with social media before you’re published:

  1. These days writers have to do their own marketing. An agent/publisher who likes your writing is likely to Google your name, just to see what presence you have online.
  2. You never know who might be listening/reading. If an agent/publisher has heard your name mentioned on social media, they might give your submission a little bit of extra attention.
  3. Readers are hard to find. If you can interact with a particular group as a fellow reader, they will have already hear of you when you make the move from reader to writer.
  4. If you make friends with other writers, you’ll probably pick up tips and bits of useful gossip. At the very least, you’ll see pictures of some nice shoes.

It’s a good idea to have a vague plan. I didn’t have a plan (or a clue?) when I started and I wish I had. My engagement with social media goes something like : Check Email every hour or so, check FB once a day. Sometimes go on Twitter (and inevitably get sucked in by something and waste time). Fail to do any writing. Eat chocolate. Feel fat. This is not a good plan. A better plan would be:

4 step action plan to start out with social media:

  1.  Get a gmail address for all your non personal stuff. (I love Gmail. Google Docs is awesome).
  2. Join one or two forums on Goodreads. Post on there often. Get to know people. Review books that you read.
  3. Set up a website with blog (see here for instructions). You don’t have to update the blog much until you feel you have something to say. You can get your Goodreads reviews to automatically post to the blog so that it gets populated without you having to do much.
  4. Start commenting on other people’s blogs in your genre. If you have to login to post comments, use your website as the login account so that people can track back to your site if they like what you say.

This way you only need to update Goodreads and/or comment on some blogs for a few days and eventually things will add up. 20 minutes each day (or most days), do one thing per day. Only do it at the end of your writing time or you’ll end up wasting all evening. Don’t be scared. You just have to dive in and hope for the best.   Are you terrified of social media? Or have you taken the plunge? How do you do it? Let me know in the comments.

Film review: Snow White and the Huntsman

Snow White and the Huntsman

I haven’t written a movie review since I was at student and wrote reviews for @DailyInfoOxford. In a rare trip to the cinema, I went to see Snow White and the Huntsman last week. It bothered me so much that I thought I’d write something up. So, anyway, my take on the film was… basically… Huh?

Visually, the film in stunning. The special effects are wonderful. Kristen Stewart (the pallid girl from Twilight) does a good job of being a pallid princess. Charlize Theron is AMAZING  – scary, evil, power hungry, beautiful,  what more could you ask for in a wicked queen? Her sidekick/brother is suitably creepy too. The men are hunky. The fairies are cute. The Dwarves are gruff and ribald. All good. The problem is the story.

First of all, they changed the story of Snow White a bit. Fair enough. I’m happy to take it as a new twist on an old tale.

William, Snow White’s childhood friend, is guilt ridden for abandoning her as a child. When he finds out that she’s still alive he sets out to find her. When the wicked queen tricks Snow White into eating the apple and tells her that love is her undoing, it is William she uses as bait. For the first part of the film he is, apparently, the romantic hero.

The huntsman is your traditional gruff bloke who softens to the heroine. He’s about twice her age and still grieving his dead wife. Here we have another type of romantic hero.

So which one is the one she’s supposed to fall in love with? Clearly, William loves her, but she doesn’t love him. So, it must be the Huntsman. It’s his kiss that brings her alive again. But he’s still in love with his wife. So… what happened there? [Oh, and she can’t smile until he’s given her a nod to say ‘well done’ – a bit like the farmer in Babe saying ‘that’ll do Pig, that’ll do’].

Then there are little things that niggle, like the village full of women and girls. The men are all away fighting. If that’s the case, where did the babies come from? And what did they do with the boy children?

Why did the troll skulk away from Snow White instead of eating her? If Sanctuary is a safe place how did the baddies get in there? How did Snow White regenerate the Queen’s victims? Did she take on some of the Queen’s powers? If she had these powers, how come she didn’t use them before to help her mates?

All in all, it’s a beautifully shot film. I wish they’d paid as much attention to tying up the storylines.

Women of Science

Copyright Jorge Cham

I don’t have a title for my latest book yet, but I know it’s about a woman who is doing a science PhD and wondering whether or not to stay. It was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend about why women leave science.

Every year there are hundreds of women with PhDs who hang up their lab coats and go do something else. It could be something science related (science teachers, lab technicians, that sort of thing) or something totally unrelated – there a lot of accountants and actuaries and lawyers who have science degrees or PhDs.

There are a lot of reasons why women leave science. It’s hard to fit it in with raising a family for a start. A lot of places now have flexible working hours, part time working etc etc etc. But it doesn’t change the fact that you’re expected to do the equivalent of a full time job in the hours you have. If not (or even if you do manage it) you’ll be treated as someone for whom work is hobby. Besides all that, what happens to your experiment if you have to suddenly disappear to pick up a sick child? You’d have to repeat the whole thing when you get back, or ask someone to look after it for you. For women who care about their career, that sucks.

I left science well before I had children. What made me leave? I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’m not sure I know, even now. I could say it’s a man’s world. But my PhD supervisor was female and she was very very good.

One thing I noticed is the difference in the level of confidence between men and women. The guys would stand up with results that they weren’t 100% confident in and talk as though it was conclusive. They believed in themselves enough that when challenged, they would face the challenger down and confidently predict what was going to happen. Me, if someone challenged by work, my first reaction was to doubt myself. HAD I made a mistake in my calculations? HAD I misread something? I would always falter in my responses. Invariably, when I went back and checked, I was right all along. But by then, it’s too late. I’ve already shown weakness. Somehow that diminished my integrity as a scientist.

So much of what happens in scientific circles is down to ego. What my friend calls ‘Willie waggling’ (which would be, by definition, something men are better suited to…). What you’re saying seemed less important than who was saying it and how confidently they said it.. I’ve worked in industry and it happens there too, but not as often.

So, there you have it, my reason for leaving science was a lack of confidence in my abilities. And I think I’m fairly easily bored (useful for a writer, not so much for a scientist). If you left science after a PhD (be you male or female!), what was your reason for leaving?

In praise of librarians

Books 7 by Brenda Starr
Information overload. (Photo by Brenda Starr)

Another day, another article about how librarians are becoming extinct. I wonder if that’s really true. Libraries, yes.  But librarians? Really?

I used to know a trainee librarian. We used to joke that she had to spend an hour a day practising saying “Shhh” and glaring at people over her glasses.  I suspect that’s what a lot of people think librarians do. Not true. They do a lot more than that.

Information has value and librarians are good with information. If you want to know anything about anything, your first port of call (after wikipedia), should be a librarian. They won’t know the answer immediately (well, they might, I suppose, depending on the question), but they will know where to find the information. If it’s something particularly tricky to find – they will at least know who has the tools to dig it up.

When I needed to know which worming pills were used in the 1960s (my life is so glamourous), I phoned up the science desk at the British Library  and spoke to a librarian who found me the right journals to look in. There are librarians who specialise in local history, those who specialise in medicine, those who specialise in chemistry, in engineering, politics, digital archiving, patents, you name it. They can search databases, rummage through archives, find contacts for experts, source copies of rare documents. If that weren’t enough, they can recommend an author that writes like that author you already like.

I suggest that librarians are not going to go extinct. In an age where there is more and more (and more) information available, we need people with the skills to sift the nuggets from the noise. Librarians will probably need to rebrand themselves. They will be managers of information, searchers for fact. I’ve put some time into coming up with more fun names and my favourite so far is Information Ninja. Discrete, silent and (mostly) dead on target.