Sunday, 7 March 2010

How Social Media Taught Me How To Write

Simple tomato chutney. We also had some goat c...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I picked up a parcel from Sharjah post office yesterday containing a jar of homemade chutney. We had some with a slice of cheese on toast last night. It was delicious.

It had been sent to me by Australian author HélèneYoung after I came in as a runner up in a frivolous competition held in a guest post on on Hélène's blog by writer pal Phillipa Fioretti. (Did I mention that Phillipa's first book, 'The Book of Love' publishes on the 1st April? Yes? Oh, okay then) I confess I had not seriously expected to ever see a jar of home-made chutney arriving from 'down under', let alone one sent by a Bombardier pilot and novelist, but then that's the power of social media for you - the power to globalise chutney.

I met Phillipa on Harper Collins' authonomy, where I had put a lump of my first book with the hope of finding someone who'd want to publish it. One of the fascinating side effects of authonomy was to drive a huge focus on editing work, with writers encouraged to critique each others' work and sharing views, information and approaches to writing on the site's lively forums.
I started writing books because I had reasoned I could write well. I had written millions of words in a 22-year career in media and communications, from articles, news stories, interviews and reviews through to market research reports, speeches and white papers - I'd churned out all sorts of things for all sorts of people, from CEOs to Kings. Why not write a book?

I quickly learned that Space, my first book, was as funny as I thought it was. It was popular on authonomy and hit 'The Editor's Desk', voted there by the community of writers that made authonomy snap, crackle and pop. I also learned that it was very, very badly written - although I didn't know it at the time. I remember Jason Pettus of the Chigaco Centre for Literature and Photography being particularly horrified at the way Space was put together. It broke most of the 'rules' of bookish writing - to the point where I have now retired it as uneditable.

I had a second book up my sleeves, a serious book about Jordan called Olives, that I also put on authonomy - although this time around I was just after 'crits' for the work. The frenetic effort it took to get the first book to the top of the slush pile was exhausting - and the proffered 'crit' from a Harper Collins editor was hardly value that returned the effort. 

The crits on Olives started to make me think more deeply about how it was written and I started to make some big changes and a series of wide-ranging edits to the book. Phillipa worked with me on a big edit and made me go and buy some books on editing and writing (I had hitherto vehemently resisted doing that but Pip bullied me), and Heather Jacobs, another of the little band of writers I've stayed in almost daily touch with since authonomy, did a painstaking line edit of the book. Heather taught me I use 'that' too much, the latest in a series of lessons that has completely transformed the way I approach writing.

I haven't met a single person since I started all this. It's all been online. I have canvassed agents in the UK, had feedback on my work from hundreds of people from around the world and profited enormously from having broken my pre-authonomy 'I'm not telling anyone I write these things' approach and have made friends online with a number of smart, talented writers whose daily doses of input, support and general silliness have been invaluable. There are writers everywhere in my online life now - on Twitter, on Facebook and the blog, too. It's nice to have them there, because I know they understand.

If it hadn't been for authonomy, I'd have learned nothing. I probably would have given up and gone back to the day job. Now I'm on book number three and 'shopping' Olives in the meantime.
I wouldn't have got a jar of Australian chutney, either...

Sorry, folks, this week's mostly going to be about books (Which usually sends readership plummeting, but hey ho!) - you can blame the Emirates Airline International Literary  Festival - in particular, don't forget the social media and publishing session on Friday! There's a Twitvite and FaceBook event page, BTW.
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alexander... said...

And no, I'm not saying I'm a perfect writer now. But I haven't half moved on since then!

Pascal said...

Hello, I thought you might be interested in a new site that has recently launched: at authors submit their manuscripts, readers read comment and vote for their favorites. Slush Pile Reader will then publish (edit, market & distribute) the most popular manuscript(s). There are no fees or cost what so ever involved for the author – Slush Pile Reader is an ordinary publisher with a modern way of discovering great new books. It's also a great place to meet readers and writers from all over the world. Best, Pascal

Macthomson said...

Trawling Google Reader on a Sunday afternoon I was amused to read of your experience with Authonomy. I finally posted a manuscript ("Golden Dawn")on Saturday, so my adventure is just starting.

Unless I get too discouraged by the feedback, if I avoid drowning in the slush, my next effort will be set in the Sandlands! Yalla!

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