Social Media, Distraction and Guilt

Me and social media have had a bumpy ride to date. There was the initial stand off, followed by sluggish efforts, which were then followed by a relationship that can only be described as love/hate. In this day and age, social media is essential for indie authors who want to connect with more readers and build a following. I accepted this early on, but I didn’t have to like it. It felt really odd in the beginning. I needed to be active on as many sites as possible, but didn’t really want to be on any. The whole networking thing was a complete mystery to me and I didn’t know where to start. And then when I did make the brave move of starting this blog, joining Twitter and setting up a Facebook author page, I found I had two main problems. I didn’t know what to post and when I did post, I was just talking to myself!

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These days things are very different. I’m happy to report I now have a far more positive and realistic relationship with social media. I have my little following, for which I am extremely grateful. I have learned what to post and when to post, and hopefully, I maintain likes, follows and engagement, by posting interesting things!

The problem I have these days is a little different, and it might be one you are familiar with. Social media, now that I have fully embraced it, is one major distraction, for which I feel endless amounts of guilt. Know the feeling?

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As a new author, I started with this blog, Facebook and Twitter, but I obviously wanted to spread the word far and wide, so I collected a few more here and there. Goodreads, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Wattpad. And just last week, I added a shiny new one to the social media collection, Instagram.

I thought it would kick me up the bum a bit to try a new one. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and all that. And as I already mentioned, the problem I have these days is rather different to the one I had in the beginning, where I viewed promoting via social media as a kind of cold sell out that somehow devalued what I was trying to do. These days, the problem is it is too tempting to be on as many as possible and for as long as possible!

It’s great that I genuinely enjoy social media these days, but it can be incredibly addictive and it can be hard to strike the right balance.

A while back I deleted Facebook from my phone as I was scrolling through my feed and posting things all through the day, and this was making me feel constantly depressed and angry about the state of the world, as well as terribly guilty for being on my phone whilst I have a beautiful little boy to care for.

I felt much better after it was gone. I limited myself to social media in the evenings only, a bit before writing and a bit after.

But now I’ve got Instagram on the phone. And…um, Facebook is back too.

I have to be strong though, and keep reminding myself that I am on both of them for business, ie book promoting reasons, only. I don’t have the time to go scrolling through feeds all day and missing time with my child. If I only have a few minutes here and there in the evening, then that’s all I’m going to get. Of course, I would love to spend hours and hours on social media, finding interesting articles on Twitter and Medium to share to my pages. I would love to be pinning all day and adding to my boards, and I won’t even go into how joining Instagram has had me viewing everything in hashtags since last week. It’s just weird!

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So, how to you avoid getting totally distracted by social media and then feeling guilty as a result? My advice is to set yourself rules and stick to them!

You don’t need to post on all of them, all of the time. I posted on Instagram for the first time a few days ago. I decided to start off I would post a series of photos in the style of a ‘day in the life’ type thing, I took pictures of things that happen in my life every day, ie walking dogs, baking, gardening, parenting, and at the and of the busy day, writing followed by reading. This was really fun to do. But now I intend to leave it alone until I next think of something worth posting, for example, scenes that inspire or are in my books, front covers, extracts of work, events and so on. I don’t want to get addicted to it as a site.

The same applies to Pinterest. It is very addictive and a lot of fun to play around with, but I only dip in and out when I need to. This is the sort of site you can totally ignore until you need to make use of it. I update the boards when I have a reason to, and will be paying much more attention to the site when I have a new book to launch and promote.

There are going to be times when it is much more important to use certain social media sites, such as when a new book is coming together or about to be launched. But my advice would be the rest of the time, to stick to the three that you deal with daily or weekly, and take a break from the rest.

It’s not a good idea to dip in and out of all of them for example, so if Facebook and Twitter are your thing, then stick with them, and post consistently and engagingly in order to build a loyal following. Just don’t feel like you have to be doing this all day every day with ALL of the sites you are on.

My last piece of advice? Give yourself one day or night totally OFF. I’m the sort of person that would be writing all day every day if I could. I hate not writing and when I am not writing, I always wish I was writing and I am constantly thinking about writing. This includes time spent increasing my social media content. But once a week I turn it all off and step away from the wi-fi. It’s a no go area, and it really does me the world of good. I curl up with my kids, leave my phone off, watch TV and chill out.

It genuinely feels like a day off ‘work’ and of course, we all need those.

Please feel free to comment or share! How many social media sites are you on? Do you feel guilty about the amount of time you spend on them? How do you strike a balance between work, social media and home life?

 

My Shit Tree…And Other Christmas Let-Downs

I blame the perfect people of Facebook and their perfect trees and decorations. I mean, once upon a time, when there was no such thing as social mediawe didn’t know what anyone’s house looked like at Christmas unless we visited them. Although, I suppose, to be fair, there have always been those treacly Christmas movies, with their perfect trees and perfect families. But these days it’s pushed into your face even more and  we know what everyone’s Christmas tree looks like. And they are all gorgeous, and evenly balanced, with matching decorations and a colour theme. The lights hang perfectly, looking like they are a part of the tree, not some extra tangled mishap that’s been thrown on in some haphazard manner.

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My tree looks like…well, it never looks like the picture I have in my head. This current one looked awesome in the shop (my 9-year-old chose it) but when I got it home, I realised the trunk was too short and stubby at the bottom and would result in the heavy tree falling over in the pot. (Been there, done that.) That’s okay, I cheered, while my cynical, Christmas-hating husband looked on, I just have to lop some branches off the bottom! He left me to it, and once I’d trimmed it, I found the giant pot that sits by the back door waiting to come in every year and started to dig the weeds out of the dirt. I released a few worms and checked there were no slugs or snails on the bottom, and then I lugged it in through the back door and positioned it proudly on the carefully laid out Christmas wrapping paper.(Every year I promise myself a proper tree skirt AND a little wooden train going around…) All good so far! I was feeling all excited and festive. I wanted to get it up with the lights on before my son got back from school, so he could do the rest of the decorations. I dragged in the tree and husband dutifully held it in place while I shoveled dirt back around it.

And inevitably it leaned a bit, so I fiddled some more, added more dirt and some bricks for good measure, and said aloud to my husband; every single year I say I am going to buy a tree stand and every year I don’t and use this same old annoying pot. Then my poorly 12 year old looks up from the sofa and claims; ‘the problem is, it is not a very neat tree.’

No. Well, real trees are not ‘neat’ are they? That’s what we love about them! They’re bushy and fragrant and real! They come in all shapes and sizes and that’s what we like! It’s interesting!

Refusing to be beaten by cynics, I set about sorting the lights. Two sets worked but had become so entangled I swear to God they have actually fused together and become one. I gave up on them before I got too angry. Another set didn’t work. I plugged in a brand new set I purchased from eBay last January (yes, January!!) when I was searching online for lights that looked really traditional. I found these beautiful lights from America, with ceramic bulbs! It wasn’t until they arrived that I realised our plugs are different. Not to be deterred I purchased what I believed to be the correct adaptor, but when I plugged it in, the whole thing blew up.

Well, I’m sure I’ll definitely get around to fixing that one day and won’t have wasted any money whatsoever.

But for now, luckily, I had purchased another set of star shaped lights this morning at a bargain price, plus they are battery operated! Yay me. I put them on and they looked fantastic. But they also looked sort of out of place among the other smaller lights. Never mind maybe I will grab another pack next time I’m there?

On with the rest of the lights. One twinkly multicoloured pack also battery operated and work! One ancient pack, they work, but only some come on, but oh well, stick it on anyway. How the hell do other people wrap lights around trees? I look forward to doing it and then start hating it right away. There is never a branch where you need one to be! You can see way too much wire. I end up with bare areas no matter how hard I try to distribute them evenly. I thought I liked it until my daughter told me to look at it from where she was sat. Where it looked crap.

Disheartened I turned them all off and decided to forget about it for now. In my head I was thinking, isn’t this the same thing that happens year after year? It’s like Groundhog Christmas for me. Every year I do the same thing. I promise myself next year I will get the best tree ever. I will buy more lights, because more lights is surely the answer and I never seem to have enough lights or remember how many lights will not work or be tangled together never to be parted again. And I think about all the lovely trees I have seen in shops, on TV and on Facebook, and I long for the same look, the same feel, and I make plans to achieve it.

And yes I actually do make plans. I have a little Christmas notebook I write in all year, adding presents when I buy them so I can tick them off. Last year I decided I wanted this year to be much more traditional and home made in look and feel, hence the sought out bulb shaped lights. It was going to be home-made this and home-made that, old fashioned and cosy. With paper chains and paper snowflakes and even home-made crackers on the list.

Why do I already feel like that picture is slipping away from me?

Because my tree looks shit.

And money has done that thing it does so magnificently at this time of year. You know, vanishing, drying up, running out, backing off, hiding. It does then suddenly start to get stressful, and I feel angry with myself again because last year I promised myself as usual that this year would be different. I would buy more throughout the year and would avoid a last minute financial meltdown.

Why am I always searching for the perfect Christmas?

I suppose they sell it to us, don’t they? In movies, and in adverts, (God don’t even get me started on those bloody adverts), and in shops and catalogues. And I’ve saved about a million different recipes about how to cook the perfect dinner because of course I will do it this year, because after last year I promised myself I would! (When serving Christmas dinner I lose the ability to count, often forgetting to serve one person, or like last year, dishing up an entire plate for an extra person who did not exist.)

When I look back on all the Christmassses of the past and I try to work out what made them great, or okay, or even terrible, it’s strange what actually comes up. I can remember some awesome Christmassses. When I was about seven or eight and it felt like the presents under the tree were a mountain. I got a Charmkins house and  My Little Pony stable, and a great big rag doll. I’ve seen the photos. We were all very, very happy. When I was ten I got a flufy tiger and sat on the landing after we’d been sent to bed, listening to the adults still talking and laughing, and feeling sad that Christmas was over. I remember sitting by the tree and staring at the lights, feeling dazzled by them, like I might cry. The best things were stuff we weren’t normally allowed like fizzy drinks and sweets and chocolates, and everyone watching TV together, and passing them around and having extra people in the house like grandparents and funny uncles.

I can only really remember two really sad Christmases. They were both terrible and heartbreaking for very different reasons. The kind of things you think at the time will mean you will never enjoy Christmas again.

But you do. Our first Christmas as a family was one of the best ever. Our first daughter was only 4 months old and everything was just so exciting. Another one I remember as being above and beyond was our first in this house, after a terrible year of things going wrong, we were finally settled and secure, and the kids all had bean bags and we had this dopey foster puppy with us, and I can just remember us all sprawled out, or cuddled up.

Last year was pretty damn good from start to finish, yet as normal, there I went again afterwards, scribbling in my book, trying to plan it better for this year, trying to achieve that elusive stage of perfection I seem to see all over my Facebook feed and on TV.

But maybe it’s good to stop and think and try to remember the ones that counted. Why they were sad, or why they were amazing, had nothing to do with trees, or lights, or crackers or food. It was only ever to do with the people you love.

So, in tribute to this and to them, my loved ones, my family, I will endeavour from this moment on to forget about the lop sided, leaning tree with its mismatched only half working lights, and forget about the plans to collect holly and ivy and spray fir cones and make centre pieces, and name plates, and I will forget about how beautiful other people’s trees and houses look compared to mine, and I will just relax. Love my shit tree and everything else that will inevitably go wrong at this strange time of year. I will accept my shit tree and concentrate on the people, knowing that in their little eyes, every Christmas tree is amazing and beautiful, and every wrapped present exciting, and that just being together is all any of us ever really want.

And when it is all over, I will try really really hard not to think about how much better it could have been, if only…

10 Things I Hate, 10 Things I Love About Being an Indie

The other day I was putting a blog post together and frantically searching the internet for suitable images for laughter inspiring memes. I like to try and make my own in case I get into any trouble, but I’m really not that good at it. I kind of have an idea in my head which never seems to  work out! Anyway, it was tedious and it annoyed me, just like Facebook annoys me every time it limits my post reach to a tiny amount of people. So I decided to write a list of the things that annoy me about being an indie author. And of course, to counteract the negative list, I had to come up with a positive one as well. Please feel free to add yours in the comments!

10 Things I Hate

  1. Creating amusing memes to add to blog posts, because it is time-consuming and I am crap at it.
  2. Finding or creating ‘fun’ images to help boost my Facebook reach every time I update my page because I am also crap at it
  3. Asking for reviews. Tedious, repetitive and pretty ineffective
  4. Having to be good at tech stuff ie formatting, because I am not
  5. Facebook showing only 3 people my exciting update, despite the addition of a funny meme/image
  6. Indie writers who do nothing to promote their books or build a platform, and then moan about never selling any books
  7. Indies who do not support other indies in any way, but constantly ask for support
  8. How much everything costs (I’m talking paid promotions and paid reviews)
  9. Having to write the synopsis
  10. People thinking your books must be crap because ‘anyone’ can self-publish

 

10 Things That Are Actually Quite Cool

  1. Designing front covers, and working with very cool people (and Canva!) to get your ideas out of your head and onto your book
  2. Connecting with other indies, who totally understand what you’re going through
  3. Connecting with readers, who message you about your book, article or blog to say what it meant to them
  4. Being the master of your own destiny!
  5. Learning how to run a business
  6. Embracing social media. Hated it to start with, sort of love it now
  7. Thinking up new and inventive ways to promote your books
  8. Breaking the rules
  9. Knowing you are getting better at all of it
  10. Perpetual hope that some kind of success is on its way!

 

Over to you guys! What do you love and what do you hate about being an indie author?

Do you ever think about how far you have come? Or if you are at the beginning of your journey, what are your biggest fears? What are you most excited about? To those further along, what would you do differently? What lessons have you learned?

Indies!! What The Hell Are We Doing?

Indie writers, if you’re anything like me, you ask yourself the same question on a regular basis. It looks a bit like this;

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I’m sure my family think I am mad. None of this really pays off, let’s be honest. My husband chuckles when I declare I am going onto the laptop to ‘work’. He thinks I am crazy for giving myself so much stress.After all, it’s not like I have a boss breathing down my neck! I don’t actually have to do any of this, do I?

He can’t understand when I announce that ‘I have a lot to do tonight’. To explain, it usually goes a bit like this; ‘I’ve got to finalise the short story for the newsletter and I’ve got to fiddle with the template, plus I’ve got to share the newsletter link to my page before it goes out, so I can try to pick up a few more subscribers, then I’ve got to go over this week’s blog, because that goes out tomorrow and I haven’t added images yet, and I’ve really got to start hitting some book review blogs and I’ve really got to start submitting to some competitions, but I’ve got to finish this book too, and plan this other one…’

And I’m sure he’s thinking; um no, you don’t actually have to do any of that. You could have a night off and watch TV or something.

Indies, I’m sure you can relate to how I feel when I regularly ask myself; what the hell am I doing? Why am I doing this? Why am I writing another short story to add to another newsletter than only 19 out of 34 people will even open, and out of those 19, only 2 will go on to open the file and hopefully read the story? Why am I sharing my thoughts, my progress and my blog posts to Facebook so that it can show them to only 23 people out of 1027? Why am I asking for reviews when I might as well be banging my head against a brick wall? Why am I writing a book when the ones I have released already barely sell? Why do I constantly feel like I am fighting a losing battle? Why am I forever looking for the holy grail of ‘making it’ as writer? Will I even know it when I find it? Why the hell am I doing this to myself?

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I think it’s common to feel thwarted, frustrated and downhearted as an indie writer. You constantly swing between feeling like an outsider, and feeling proud to be doing it your own way. You feel like you have something to prove, when surely having a nice, fat traditional publishing contract, would be all the proof you’d need? As an indie, you keep one eye on the sales, you pester and beg for reviews, you enter competitions, and do all you can to promote without becoming an annoying spammer. You lose yourself in social media, and it is all for your books. Sharing interesting writer advice to Twitter, pinning funny writing quotes and making storyboards for your books on Pinterest, running events and giveaways on your Facebook page, and starting an email newsletter to try to gain a decent, loyal following. You do it all, don’t you? And wonder when on earth it’s going to pay off…

How do you know when you have succeeded? How do you measure achievement when you’ve chosen the indie path?

Maybe it’s enough money to live on, or to at least pay a few bills. Maybe it’s some level of fame, recognition or critical acclaim? Maybe it’s wonderful reviews, or just a nice, steady trickle of sales? Maybe it’s just becoming a better writer.

Sometimes I have to stand back and force myself to ask some awkward questions. What if I never sell lots of books? What if I never get the amount of reviews they say you need to get Amazon on side? What if I never win an award? What if I never get any recognition or any level of success?

Would I stop doing it?

No.

Never. And when I remember this, I think, fuck it, and keep going.

And what is success anyway? Yes, more reviews, more sales, an award or too etc, would all be lovely. Of course they would. They would make it all worthwhile. They would help justify the hours, the blood sweat and tears and sanity invested in all this. They would help alleviate the crippling self doubt and the gloomy, why am I bothering days.

But you can measure success in other, smaller ways too.

Such as, where was I a year ago? Or two? How about six?

Well, six years ago I was still working on the early drafts of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, having dragged it out from the dusty suitcase under my bed where it had been living since I last worked on it aged 16. With my then youngest child starting school, I’d felt the strongest urge ever to get writing again, as that book had just never stopped talking to me.

In the years that followed that decision, I’ve published four novels and one short story collection. I’ve finished two more novels and am working on getting them released soon. I’ve started a Facebook author page and slowly but surely reached over 1,000 likes. I started this blog which also has over 1000 lovely followers. I’ve had many articles about writing published by Author’s Publish. I’ve fallen back in love with writing short stories. I’ve started my own writing business, Chasing Driftwood, running adult writing group and children’s creative writing workshops. I’ve been asked to run several workshops for children and adults by the Dorset Writer’s Network. I’ve become a reviewer for Underground Book Reviews, where I actually get paid to read books! There is so much more I want to do too, such as working regularly with schools, running workshops for aspiring authors and after school writing clubs. I want to write all of the books in my head! And if that’s not the main motivation for all of this craziness, then I don’t know what is!

Plus, I have a confession. I do moan, I do lose heart, I do get frustrated and I do have ‘I’m just gonna’ give up’ days, but do you know what? The truth is I actually enjoy all the craziness that goes with being an indie. I’m proud to be doing it my way, I’m proud to be learning from my mistakes, I’m proud to be getting stronger and more confident, I’m proud of the sales and reviews that I have, and the messages from readers. And as for all the other stuff; Pinterest, tweeting, author page, email newsletter…yeah, I have to admit it is all quite fun. Admit it!! It is fun!! Plus, writing blog posts, learning how to master social media, attempting articles and short stories, will all help make you a better writer. You may be doing them for promotional reasons, but the process is going to help your writing in the end, so that’s a win-win!

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Now, over to you, fellow Outsiders. How often do you feel like quitting? How do you really feel about being an indie? How do you measure your own success? Do you enjoy all the promotional activities that go with being an indie, or are they a curse? Please feel free to comment and share! 🙂