Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

Twitter for Writers (Writer's Craft)Twitter for Writers by Rayne Hall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve had this review to write for about a year. That says more about me than it does about the book. But I’ve genuinely wanted to review it all that time and now at last have done so. That says more about the book than it does about me.

Rayne Hall is a professional working writer, mostly of fantasy, horror, historical fiction and non-fiction, with a loyal fan base and an awesome cat called Sulu. I’m not a big reader of the genres that she writes in so her guidebooks on writing, and Twitter in particular, were of more interest to me than her fiction.

Rayne kindly sent me a review copy of Twitter for Writers after I engaged with her on Twitter. Ok, after I pestered her on Twitter. Just kidding. I like Rayne’s writing style and approach to social media, we follow each other on Twitter, and this was the book of hers that I most wanted to read. So I just asked nicely.

Let me say right out the gate that Twitter for Writers is a great primer on how to use Twitter if: 1) you’re an author, 2) self-published or indie and / or 3) you want to use Twitter to sell your books. No more, no less. It’s especially useful to writers who work in similar genres to the author.

The book gives you an overview of Twitter for the uninitiated writer, how to do stuff like build an audience and drive traffic to your website, and is perfect if you write SF, YA, Fantasy, Horror etc and want to use Twitter to pimp your wares without annoying your followers.

As it was a review copy I was asked to give my honest, unguarded opinion, including on which chapters I found most useful or entertaining, but also to speak a little about my background and how I use Twitter.

I’m an NCTJ-qualified journalist, currently working in the third-sector, who blogs and writes fiction on the side. I’ve used Twitter both personally, as an independent writer, and professionally, managing accounts for charities, creative industries and human rights organisations.

My personal account is supposed to be funny but I probably come across as a sarcastic git, part-time pedant and full-time grumpy arse. I even invented the hashtag #unfollowsunday — but the less said about that the better.

I spend an unhealthy amount of time on Twitter. At the time of writing this I’ve over 11,500 followers, mostly fellow writers, but I’ve yet to try my hand at selling books there. So my perspective on the application of this book is skewed in favour of people who promote themselves without shouting BUY MY BOOK with every single tweet.

Rayne offers some solid advice about starting a conversation, rather than a sales pitch, and how to tweet stuff that is relevant to your audience. For example, if you write vampire novels then talk about vampires — not about your novel.

She also gives practical advice on marketing and how to write engaging content, including models of successful marketing tweets, how to strike a good balance between marketing and conversation, and advises you to avoid automated Direct Messages like the plague.

Any fiction writer would do well to take this advice to heart. Far too often writers market at people rather than talk to them. To readers of your timeline all the typical author tweet says is: “Buy my book. Buy my book. BUY. MY. BOOK.”

There was, at least from my perspective, also some advice that was a little questionable. Namely that it’s ok to use non-photo pictures for your profile picture such as a painting or cartoon. There are of course plenty of examples of people that do this, for any number of reasons, but in my not-so-humble opinion it’s dead wrong. This is a just personal bugbear of mine rather than a damning indictment of the book.

People prefer to connect with people. Because psychology. So use a photo of your face. And not just of your ear, eye or forehead. You’ll get much better results with a real photo of yourself — it’s fine if you disagree but I refuse to justify myself to a cartoon squirrel.

And don’t get me started on cat pictures. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean your pictures of your cats. I love cats. Cats are awesome. And Rayne, for example, uses lovely pictures of her cat to promote her books to good effect. Every writer should have a cat — we all need our familiars. It’s just internet memes like lolcats that I can’t stand. No, you can’t ‘has cheezburger.’ Go back to Facebook. At least writers’ cats are good at spelling.

It just goes to show you that there’s no one true way to ‘do Twitter.’ Everyone thinks that they do it better than anyone else. And everyone annoys someone else at some point because they’re ‘doing it wrong.’ And they’re all wrong, of course, because I do it better. Just kidding.

I liked the sections where Rayne candidly confesses mistakes she made, lessons learnt, and strategies she tried that didn’t work. And I loved (laughed out loud at) the hilarious aside on weird reasons she gets unfollowed. I’ve been unfollowed for some weird-ass reasons over the years. My favourites to date include because I use British spelling (I’m English), because I like the music of Nick Cave, and the venomous death threats I received because I’ve never read Harry Potter.

To be honest I didn’t learn anything new but no doubt a Twitter newbie would find the book much more helpful. Most of the so-called advanced strategies, such as scheduling tweets, I already do. If I died today you’d still get daily tweets from me until the end of the year. But it was still a worthy read, for me, and validating / reassuring to see the process of another writer and realise that my own process isn’t far off the mark.

The most practical advice I picked up from the book was that if you want a tweet to go viral it should be visual, funny and relevant — and the best size for an image on such a tweet is 512 by 1024 pixels. I think of these as ‘hero tweets’ because the hero image makes it perfect fodder for pinning to the top of your profile. Tweet something visual, funny and relevant — preferably with a call to action such as a link to your website — and people will most likely share it. Pin it to the top of your profile and even casual visitors to your profile will see it and respond.

I came away from reading Twitter for Writers feeling like the sort of person who could write his own how-to book on Twitter but is too lazy to do so. I really should get out more or get off my arse and write something — even if it is just a grumpy guide to Twitter. I could call it ‘Antisocial Media.’ Or, you know, I could just stop drinking whiskey, put on pants and leave the house.

I’m @jamesgarside_ on Twitter if you want to say hi.

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Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and with (Almost) No MoneyPossum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and with (Almost) No Money by Dolly Freed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and with (Almost) No Money’ could just as easily be called ‘How to Kill Stuff and Eat it’ as that’s what the lion’s share of this survivalism classic is about.

The true life story of the girl behind the pseudonym Dolly Freed is as fascinating as the book itself but you can google that.

I read it cold, knowing nothing much about it, and all I’m sharing here are a handful of my half-assed random impressions of the book.

What struck me like a blow to the head was how startling, forthright and downright funny it is.

The narrator extols the virtues of laziness, lying and tax evasion and makes no bones about killing animals — so long as you’re going to eat them.

She describes in graphic detail how to rear, kill and butcher animals for food. And more power to her for having the guts to do it herself.

There’s plenty of good, down to earth, common sense advice on homesteading, mixed in with homespun wisdom and the occasional bizarre contradiction.

She laughs at people who are squeamish about, for example, killing rabbits because they’re cute (also delicious) but doesn’t kill possums ‘for totemic reasons.’

In later sections there’s antiquated advice on how to buy a cheap property and do it up yourself. And although some of it creaks and groans like a screen door banging in the wind the underlying principles are sound.

Right near the end it gets really nutty and some of the things she says are outrageous. Gotten into a financial dispute with someone who is trying to rip you off? Don’t get a lawyer — just intimidate them. And if that doesn’t work, kill their dog.

So by all means take it with a giant pinch of salt.

But there’s an intelligent message here — an ecology even — that I’d take any day over any number of ‘white middle-class people throw out all their shit and feel better about themselves’ books that pass for advice on minimalist living.

Own your own property and land. Cut your expenses to the absolute minimum. Learn how to fend for yourself. Become self-sufficient rather than money dependent. And make sure that everything you do supports everything else.

Why throw rotten vegetables on a compost heap for months when you can feed them to rabbits, who shit it out the next day, and fertilise the garden with that instead? Then you raise, breed, kill and eat the rabbits (along with fresh vegetables).

I don’t doubt such advice is nothing new if you’re any type of survivalist, homesteader or sit on your porch with a shotgun. But it was interesting to read a dated self-help book that was still surprisingly funny and, dare I say it, helpful.

I’ll leave you with her closing thoughts:

“Now, then, don’t you have a hobby you just don’t have time to pursue? Golf? Tennis? Partying? Studying? Music? Painting? Pottery? Hang gliding? Whatever? Even fishing or gardening — wouldn’t you like to change these from merely recreation to partly occupation?
Yes? Then why don’t you simply do so?
It’s feasible. It’s easy. It can be done. It should be done.
Do it.”

Now get off of my lawn.

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Becoming a WriterBecoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve loved this book for the last 15 years. First published in the 1930s — it’s so outdated that she talks about how you need a portable typewriter — this is hands-down the best book I’ve ever read on how to write and the only one you’ll ever need. Writers write, right?

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Yeats, The Tarot, And The Golden DawnYeats, The Tarot, And The Golden Dawn by Kathleen Raine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

YES! YES! YES! Poetry is magick, not the other way round. Kathleen Raine’s wonderful overview of the occult influences of Yeats and his involvement with the Golden Dawn is easily the most obscure thing on my bucket list of things to read before I die and has sat on my reading list for many years. To my complete amazement, it’s now free to read online at JSTOR: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27541704

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Vibrator by Mari Akasaka

Posted: December 29, 2015 in reviews
Tags: , ,

VibratorVibrator by Mari Akasaka
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Mad as a box of hammers. And no it’s not about that kind of vibrator.

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