The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

Category Archives: Jack the Hack (series)

JACK THE HACK: Expat authors, once you have a blog, it’s schmooze it or lose it (3/3)

Jack Scott and his partner, Liam, set up home in the Turkish port town of Bodrum in the late aughts. They were seeking sanctuary from a pressured existence in London. In the event, the expat experience proved to be something for Jack to write home about, as in a book! The pair have since returned to the UK, where they are living the life of Riley in Norwich. Some time ago, we suggested that Jack reinvent himself as Jack the Hack and submit monthly columns targeted at those of you who are still displaced and hacking away at travelogues-cum-memoirsor, in some cases, autobiographical novels. Warning to non-Brits: Don’t be put off by his wry sense of humo(u)r!

—ML Awanohara

In my last two columns, I banged on about the art of blogging and how it is one of the most important tools in an author’s PR box, particularly for indie authors or those with a small publisher and only a few shillings in the marketing piggy bank.

You’ll be relieved to read that this is third and final episode.

FACT: most blogs run out of steam after two years. So, giving your blog legs will keep it in the race for longer.

Here’s how.

Win friends and influence people

So, your gorgeous new blog has hit the ground running and you’ve fallen under its spell. Now you want others to be captivated, too. The single most important thing you must do is engage meaningfully with your audience and your blogging peers, often and in every possible way.

It’s good to talk and networking pays big dividends. Allow your readers to comment on your posts. If someone takes the time to drop you a line, always reply. It helps develop your popularity and credibility.

A word of warning: make sure you’re set up to approve comments before they are published to keep the trolls and spammers at bay.

If you disagree with a comment, unless it’s abusive, offensive or loony tune, let it stand (polite rebukes are fine). That’s the unofficial blogger’s protocol.

Participate in the blogosphere by talking to your peers. Leave comments on their blogs and list your favorites on your site. Many will reciprocate, and the backlinks will help drive traffic your way. Be generous and promote others. Join blog directories. Most are free and some specialize (book bloggers, women bloggers, expat bloggers, for example).

Faceache and that Tweety thing

Cross-fertilization with social media is a must these days. At the very least, create a Facebook Page for your blog, join Twitter and post and tweet your content.

Facebook may like us all to think that it’s just a nerdy way to keep in touch with friends, but we all know it’s much, much more. Take advantage of its power.

Many blogging platforms can auto-post to the main social networks and this takes some of the pain out of the merry-go-round. While you’re at it, you may as well post to Google+, Pinterest (for images), Linkedin and any other social network you join. All this activity will increase your visibility. It worked wonders for me.

Fans can be fickle and lazy. Make it easy to follow you by adding social network links to your blog. It’s all about seamless sharing and following. And don’t forget to set up a subscription to your great works by old-fashioned email.

It’s not all about numbers, of course. Go for quality not quantity. Try not to obsess too much about your stats. (I should talk—I check mine several times a day.) Remember, your hit rate will be low at first. Don’t let it get you down. With a little careful nurturing and a lot of networking, your audience will steadily grow.

Is there any brass in it?

Blogging may be an important promotional tool but unless you’re attracting hundreds of thousands of readers a week (and some blogs do), you’re very unlikely to make any real money from your blog directly. My advice is not to plaster ads over your site. It will turn people off.

Beware blogging fatigue

Blogs do have a natural lifespan and there’s no point flogging a dead horse. Sometimes the cupboard is bare and there are no words left. Even the most enthusiastic and verbose writers may throw in the towel at some point.

Just like real work in the real world, take a short break or a long sabbatical. A nice holiday can work wonders for the creative juices. When I packed up my drag in my old kit bag and paddled back to Blighty, I was convinced that Perking the Pansies would wither on the vine like a piece of dried-up old fruit. Still, this old fruit soldiered on and much to my relief, the change of scene gave the blog a welcome shot in the arm.

In the end though, nothing lasts forever; when it’s done, it’s done. And that’s okay.

And finally…

BLOGGING TIP FOR EXPAT AUTHORS NO 3:

Blogging can be a hugely powerful tool for writers. It really can. It isn’t for everyone but if you decide to give it a go, have fun with it. If it’s a chore, it won’t endure.

Here endeth the blogging gospel according to Saint Jack. Season’s greetings and good luck from old Norwich town.

* * *

Readers, any comments, further questions for Jack the Hack? He will be following his own advice and taking a break from this column in the new year as he’ll be busy moving house with Liam (within Norwich) and publishing/promoting his sequel to Perking the Pansies—watch this space for a review!

Jack Scott’s debut book, Perking the Pansies—Jack and Liam move to Turkey, is a bitter-sweet tragi-comedy that recalls the first year of a British gay couple in a Muslim country. For more information on this and Jack’s other titles, go to his author site.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Advertisements

JACK THE HACK: Expat authors, time to build a great and powerful blog (2/3)

The expat experience Jack Scott and his partner, Liam, had in the Turkish port town of Bodrum—they were seeking sanctuary from a pressured existence in London—proved literally to be something to write home about, as in a book! They have since returned to the UK, where they are living the life of Riley in Norwich.  Some months ago, we suggested that Jack reinvent himself as Jack the Hack and submit monthly columns targeted at those of you who are still displaced and hacking away at travelogues-cum-memoirsor, in some cases, autobiographical novels. Warning to non-Brits: Don’t be put off by his wry sense of humo(u)r!

—ML Awanohara

Last month I extolled the virtues of blogging as a way of spreading the word about your words—and, in the process, flogging that box of books you’re using as a door stop.

This month, I want to take you further down the yellow brick road to blogger glory, with answers to the following Frequently Asked Questions.

Where do I start?

First things first. Choose a blogging platform—called a “host.” This will be your blog’s home. The biggest free applications are:

  1. Blogger—easiest.
  2. WordPress—slightly more technical knowledge required.
  3. Tumblr—attracts a younger crowd and great for short posts, video and pictures.

Your host manages all the back office stuff so you don’t have to. Once you’ve signed up, you can roll out a new blog in no time. You don’t need to be technically savvy but it does help to have mastered the basics. All the blogging platforms offer online help and/or tutorials. WordPress, in particular, has a large and active user community. You will learn as you go along and this is all part of the fun. WordPress also offers a free self-hosting package through WordPress.org, providing total freedom and endless possibilities to the serious blogging geek (I’m bad but I ain’t that bad).

What’s in a name?

More than you might think. Choose a title for your blog that reflects its subject matter. Simple is best. For example, the Turkish Travel Blog does exactly what it says on the tin and works well for searching. I also like What’s for Tea Tonight, Dear? because it’s obviously about food but has a witty title.

Don’t ask me why I chose the rather obscure title of Perking the Pansies for my own blog. It’s caused endless confusion, especially across the Pond. All I can say is that it came to me in the night and seemed like a good idea at the time.

How do I make it a looker?

All blogging platforms come with a variety of appealing templates to add a dash of style. Select one; furnish it with your personal touches in words, images and music; accessorize from a menu of widgets and plugins; and, hey presto, you’ve got yourself a blog with punch and panache.

Some fancy features come at a premium but they aren’t necessary.

Your blog will be unique, so move the vases and furniture around to see what works feng shui-wise—rather like flicking through an IKEA catalogue.

Add an interesting “About Me” widget or page. The most successful blogs reveal something of the writer’s personality.

Will I be chained to the computer?

Not unless it turns you on. Posts can be written in batches and scheduled to be published over time. Try to post at least once a week, though. It’s good for what’s called search engine optimization (SEO). Don’t be spooked by this. This is just how Internet search engines index and rank your site— it’s all done in the background. Over time, posting regularly will push up your assets better than a Playtex 18-hour girdle.

What will give my blog the kiss of life?

This is the original million-dollar question. The short answer is, whatever floats your boat: something that interests you will help you write something interesting. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life—so choose a broad theme to write around.

Many authors will post book reviews or write about the writing experience itself. That’s fine and dandy, but just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean that you have to write about writing (I rarely do). And it does no harm to go off-message now and again. Surprise your audience with the occasional left fielder.

The blogosphere is an incredibly hyper-active arena. Bloggers through WordPress alone published more than 35 million posts during September this year, attracting more than 4 billion hits (yes, billion). Obviously, you’ll want your posts to stand out from the crowd. Try to ensure that the titles of your posts spark an interest. If your blog is mostly text, make the first few sentences of each post leap from the screen and get the juices flowing. Break up your words with interesting and relevant images.

In our visual, coffee-on-the-go, no-time-to-read age, the right picture can be more eloquent than a thousand words. Keep your pages clean and uncluttered. Fussy, multi-coloured fonts and busy designs can hurt the eyes and put the reader off. Don’t forget to use relevant categories and tags for each post. They’re good for SEO, too.

And the kiss of death?

If you’ve a book to flog, promote it lightly—otherwise, your readers will change channels quicker than you can say “click here.” By now, I reckon most of my regulars have either bought my book or would rather read the back of an envelope, so there’s little point banging on about it (until the next one, of course).

Don’t use your blog as a daily diary (use Facebook for this if you must). Even your dear old Grandma won’t be that interested in what you had for breakfast or that you broke a nail taking out the rubbish (unless something funny or profound happened on the way to the tip).

If you want to be seen as an authority on something, you need to write with authority.

So, until the third, and last, thrilling installment, I leave you with this final thought:

BLOGGING TIP FOR EXPAT AUTHORS NO 2:

While it’s important to blog regularly, it’s okay to take a break because real life is, well, real. If you have nothing to say, don’t say it.

* * *

Readers, any comments, further questions for Jack the Hack? He’ll be back next month with the third, and final, installment in his blogging advice trilogy: “Making Friends and Influencing People.”

Jack Scott’s debut book, Perking the Pansies—Jack and Liam move to Turkey, is a bitter-sweet tragi-comedy that recalls the first year of a British gay couple in a Muslim country. For more information on this and Jack’s other titles, go to his author site.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Images from top, clockwise: Hand with pen / MorgueFile.com; Boats in King’s Lynn, Norfolk / MorgueFile.com; Jack Scott, used with his permission; Turkish boats / MorgueFile.com

JACK THE HACK: Expat authors, let’s reopen that blogging can of worms (1/3)

JACK THE HACK _writingtipsA pressured existence in the UK led Jack Scott and his partner, Liam, to seek sanctuary in the Turkish port town of Bodrum. This expat experience was literally something to write home about (as in a book!), after which the pair returned to the UK, where they are living the life of Riley in Norwich.

We have invited Jack, now reinvented as Jack the Hack, to submit a monthly column targeted at those of you who are still displaced and hacking away at travelogues-cum-memoirsor, in some cases, autobiographical novels. Warning to non-Brits: Don’t be put off by his wry sense of humo(u)r!

—ML Awanohara

As far as the book malarkey goes, unless you’re lucky enough to bag a big boy in the publishing world, you will carry the can to get the word out. These days, this means developing a strong and dynamic online presence.

To some, this seems like a step too far. I’ve worked with a number of new authors who just don’t have the time, skill or inclination to do what it takes.

“I wrote the damn book. Isn’t that enough?” I’ve been told.

Well, no, it isn’t, I’m afraid, not by a long chalk.

So I work with them to take the pain away. You see, it doesn’t need to be a can of worms. Those who regularly dip into Jack the Hack will know that I’m a passionate advocate of blogging—for fun and for glory. With a little effort and imagination, you really can make the Web work for you, and blogging is a very good place to start (cue Julie Andrews, the old Dame who tragically lost her fabulous soprano timbre).

Still not convinced?

Then let’s start at the very beginning…

So what is a blog?

The word is an abbreviation of “weblog”. Put simply, a blog is a journal where the entries (posts) are published online, with the most recent first (the reverse of a traditional hand-penned diary). A blog can take many forms and is a perfect vehicle to reflect our multi-media world of words, music, video and images.

Importantly, blogs differ from standard websites. They are dynamic (rather than static) and constantly evolving (assuming they are kept up to date).

Why do people blog?

It may sound grandiose, but blogging is an important democratizing force, giving a real voice to those who might otherwise not have one. It’s a great social leveler tooanyone can do it, no qualification required. There’s no editor to correct your flabby grammar and no one to censure your words (unless, of course, you live somewhere with lively Internet police).

While this means a fair amount of dross is floating round the crowded blogosphere, there are roses among the weedsand you could be one of them.

Bloggers blog for all sorts of reasons and to continue the tenuous Sound of Music theme, here are a few of my favo(u)rite (things):

• Because they have something to say about an issue they care about (the campaigners and spleen-ventors);
• To tell their world what they’re up to and to keep in touch with friends and family (a common topic for expat blogs);
• To help others (health-related blogs are often written for this purpose);
• To be seen as an expert or influencer in a particular arena or place (the Arts, politics and travel leap to mind);
• To connect with like-minded people (this blog, The Displaced Nation, is a good example);
• To flog a service, brand or product (oh, like a book).

Most successful blogs tend to focus around a particular theme or niche. I know a blogger who writes about knitting patterns. It’s hugely popular, attracting thousands of hits a week.

Among the big hitters are travel, politics, food, family life and…ta-da! books and creative writing.
Blogs are a boundless, no-to-low-cost way to lay out your stall in a way an ordinary Website might not. Why so? Because Internet search engines like Google love content that’s new, fresh and frequently updated.

Even well-established businesses take blogging seriously these days. So why wouldn’t you?

Has Jack converted you to the cause? If you’re hooked, let him reel you next month with tips to launch your blog with bang.

BLOGGING TIP FOR EXPAT AUTHORS NO 1:

Blogging increases the chances of getting your mug shot on the first page of Googleand that just might sell a book or two.

* * *

Readers, any comments, further questions for Jack the Hack? He’ll be back next month with the second in his blogging advice trilogy…

Jack Scott’s debut book, Perking the Pansies—Jack and Liam move to Turkey, is a bitter-sweet tragi-comedy that recalls the first year of a British gay couple in a Muslim country. For more information on this and Jack’s other titles, go to his author site.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Images: from top, clockwise: Hand with pen / MorgueFile.com; Boats in King’s Lynn, Norfolk / MorgueFile.com; Jack Scott, used with his permission; Turkish boats / MorgueFile.com

JACK THE HACK: Expat authors, let’s review the reviewer situation

JACK THE HACK _writingtipsAfter an expat experience in Bodrum, Turkey, that was literally something to write home about (as in a book!), Jack Scott traded in the dream for a less pressured existence back in the UK, than the one he was originally escaping from. In his monthly column for the Displaced Nation, he attempts to give back something to the poor souls out there who are still displaced and hacking away at travelogues-cum-memoirs or, in some cases, autobiographical novels. Jack the Hack has been there and done that and can lend a helping hand. Warning to non-Brits: Don’t be put off by his wry sense of humo(u)r!

—ML Awanohara

There’s no doubt that a sparkling set of reviews is one of the most potent ways to market a book (or anything else for that matter). Conversely, bad reviews (or no reviews at all) are poison.

So, how difficult is it to elicit those five gold stars everyone’s chasing?

Apart from emotionally blackmailing your nearest and dearest (something I assume you’ve already done), there are a number of little tricks you can try when it comes to beefing up your scrapbook.

Tricks of the trade

Here are three basics:
1) Whenever someone writes something positive about your masterpiece on social media or on your blog, do the right thing and thank them. While you’re at it, ask if they wouldn’t mind posting a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Some won’t but some will.

2) Search out book review sites online. Some review for free, some for a small fee—and all will expect a freebie. Many of these sites will post their review on the major bookselling sites as well as their own website.

3) Raise your game even further by approaching the Amazon top reviewers. Click on a reviewer, check out their interests and if they have listed their contact details, drop them a begging letter. This won’t guarantee you a good review (or one at all)—and be careful to select someone who is interested in your type of book. Someone into soft porn vampire romps is unlikely to rave about your expat escapades, however worthy and well written they are.

Damning with faint praise

There’s a downside to all this. Reviewing can be a rum business. Amateur hacks, often anonymous and sometimes with an axe to grind or with lofty literary pretensions, can damn with faint praise or go nuclear with their toxic pen.

Naturally, no book appeals to everyone. Literature, as with art, is in the eye of the beholder.

Even writers at the top of the heap get mixed critiques. Someone once wrote that Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was “…the worst book I’ve ever read.” Sure, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea—but the worst book ever?

Was the author, Louis de Bernières, much bothered? Not with a fat cheque for the film rights in his back pocket, he wasn’t.

Should a review like that count? Well, here’s the rub. Mass appeal retailers who positively encourage reviews as part of their business model are far too egalitarian. There’s very little discernment and no filter. Generally speaking, every comment carries equal weight. (A notable exception is something written by one of Amazon’s top reviewers, as mentioned earlier. These guys do have clout).

Hoisted by their own petard? If only…

Have you ever read a book review that’s so badly written, it’s barely readable? I know I have. Talk about irony. It’s like a playground brat screaming “I don’t like you so there!” just because he can.

For my part, if I don’t have anything good to say, I tend not to say it at all. It’s bad karma.

Like it or lump it, mixed reviews are an occupational hazard. People are entitled to express their view about something they’ve paid hard cash to read. Good, bad or indifferent, as long as it’s honest and not gratuitously offensive, it’s fair comment even when you think it’s unfair. Just hope the good drowns out the bad.

As for me, I’ve gotten off lightly. Reviews for my book have been very positive, but I’ve had the odd wobbly moment, too. Someone once joined Goodreads just to trash my book and make sure it dropped down a reading list by voting up every other title. Who was the literary troll? I will never know. Was I hurt? Sure was.

Rogue reviewers? It reminds me of why dogs lick themselves—because they can.

Which leads to—

WRITING TIP FOR EXPATS NO 6:

The best you can do is rise above the din, turn the other cheek and keep you own counsel. It doesn’t do to spit back even when sorely provoked.

* * *

Readers, any comments, further questions for Jack the Hack? He’ll be back next month with some more writing tips…

Jack Scott’s debut book, Perking the Pansies—Jack and Liam move to Turkey, is a bitter-sweet tragi-comedy that recalls the first year of a British gay couple in a Muslim country. For more information on this and Jack’s other titles, go to his author site.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Images: from top, clockwise: Hand with pen / MorgueFile.com; Boats in King’s Lynn, Norfolk / MorgueFile.com; Jack Scott, used with his permission; Turkish boats / MorgueFile.com

JACK THE HACK: Expat writers, now to deal with fame and fortune … or the lack

JACK THE HACK _writingtipsJack Scott is back with his monthly column for all of you wannabe authors who are hacking away at travelogues-cum-memoirs, or autobiographical novels. After an expat experience in Bodrum, Turkey, that was literally something to write home about, Jack and his partner, Liam, traded in the dream for a less pressured existence back in the UK.

—ML Awanohara

So your labour of love is out there on the virtual shelves (and a few actual shelves with a fair wind and a bit of luck). After an initial flurry, it’s all gone a bit quiet on the sales front and you’re dropping down the Amazon rankings like a stone.

It can be disheartening, depressing even.

We all want a little recognition for our art and a few shillings for our trouble—but don’t let the dream carry you off with the fairies. Let’s face it, very few authors make a decent living from writing and even fewer reach the premier league (if only I had that idea about a boy wizard called Harry).

So don’t expect literary agents to vie for your attention or film moguls to beat a path to your door. Hell might freeze over before that invite to the daytime TV sofa drops on the mat. Nor will you be batting off the paparazzi with a stick—even well-known writers aren’t photo-fodder for the Sunday rags. Instant celebrity is generally reserved for the young and fresh faced.

Writing’s just not that sexy.

Will it even pay the rent?

Sure, writing can provide a useful extra income stream but it’s unlikely to pay the rent.

Unless you’re tapping into that trust-fund set up my your dearly departed maiden aunt (the one everyone knew was a lesbian but no one mentioned it) or have a partner who doesn’t mind indulging you (that’ll be me, then), don’t give up the day job just yet.

Even a book that does well won’t buy you that Maserati. If you’re lucky enough to get a publishing deal, expect a royalty rate of between 10 and 50 percent. This sounds a lot (particularly at the upper end) but remember, that’s a percentage of net sales after pretty much everyone else has taken their cut.

You will be last to be fed.

But, not to despair!

All is not lost. You might be able to supplement your royalties by writing for Websites and magazines because, as a published author, your street cred will improve and you’ll be seen as someone with something interesting to say.

Not to mention the chance to promote your book.

Trouble is, most don’t pay very much or don’t pay at all. Another option is to sell your soul to the Devil by writing general copy for a huge range of internet sites desperate for content. Again, they pay a poor return and you may not get any credit for your words.

Whatever you earn, whether you’re a minnow of a big fish, remember to declare your income to the nasty taxman. You don’t want a stink in the clink, do you?

What’s it all about, Jack?

I don’t know about you, but this isn’t the reason I got into this writing lark. Cherish your writing for what it is, something you enjoy and have a passion for.

Be careful though. It’s very easy to get lost in the scribbling moment (I know, I’ve done it). It’s intoxicating. Suddenly you snap out of it only to realize that you’ve sat by the computer all day long in your nightie, haven’t washed, haven’t brushed your teeth—and you’ve forgotten to pick the kids up from school.

Quick, stick that ready meal in the microwave and get to the kids before social services do.

So, savour the unique voice writing gives you but remember to look up occasionally. A little ambition and self-belief is a good thing. There’s no need to lower you expectations, just keep them in check.

Which leads to—

WRITING TIP FOR EXPATS NO 5:

Be realistic. You never know, you might hit the jackpot. But, until that day comes, write for the right reasons.

* * *

Readers, any comments, further questions for Jack the Hack? He’ll be back next month with some more writing tips…

Jack Scott’s debut book, Perking the Pansies—Jack and Liam move to Turkey, is a bitter-sweet tragi-comedy that recalls the first year of a British gay couple in a Muslim country. For more information on this and Jack’s other titles, go to his author site.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Images: from top, clockwise: Hand with pen / MorgueFile.com; Boats in King’s Lynn, Norfolk / MorgueFile.com; Jack Scott, used with his permission; Turkish boats / MorgueFile.com

JACK THE HACK: Expat writers, time to crank up the PR machine!

JACK THE HACK _writingtipsJack Scott is back with his monthly column for all of you wannabe authors who are hacking away at travelogues-cum-memoirs (or cum-novels?). For those who don’t know, he was a Random Nomad for the Displaced Nation way back when we started this site. After an expat experience in Bodrum, Turkey, that was literally something to write home about, he and his partner, Liam, have traded in the dream for a less pressured existence back home in the UK.

—ML Awanohara

There’s a firm knock at your door and a postman in a tight uniform (well, we can hope!) hands you a box. You rip open the carton like an over-wrought five-year-old on Christmas morning, pull out a copy of your book, lift it to your nose and smell the pages. It’s intoxicating, better than recreational drugs. You’ve done it. For the very first time, you feel like a proper author.

Savour the moment. It may not last.

Unless you want to be stuck with a stack of books propping open a door or languishing unloved and unread in the attic, you’ll need to start phase two of your cunning marketing plan: making sure people know about your minor masterpiece.

But how do you get the message out there these days? Just what are the rules of engagement?

1) Start a blog.

As I have said many times before, blogging is a great auditioning process for writing, and the best way to experiment and grow your fan-base. In the crowded blogosphere, content is king and the best content is fresh, new and frequently updated. Aim to blog at least once a week and break up your words with interesting and relevant images. Keep your page clean and uncluttered. Fussy, multi-colored scripts and busy designs can hurt the eyes and put the reader off. Fans can be fickle and lazy. Make it easy for them to follow you by adding your social network links and the chance to subscribe to your pearls of wisdom by email.

2) Engage with social media.

Plaster the good news everywhere. Join social networks and make friends. Facebook and Twitter are the most popular and influential, although Pinterest is starting to give both of them a run for their money. Create a Facebook page and solicit “likes.” Give Linkedin a go. After all, you are a professional author now. If social forums exist for your area of interest, join them and participate meaningfully. A word of warning: Engage gently and be careful not to over-promote; otherwise, people will switch off.

3) Join book sites.

There are hundreds of book sites out there and most of them allow you to add your book. Goodreads is the biggie and most respected, Join their author programme and add your profile and book. There’s also AuthorsDen, LibraryThing and WritersNet. Make friends and become an active member of the groups you join. Reviewing the work of other new authors will help garner support and build a “bookie” network.

4) Solicit Amazon reviews.

If you’re selling your books through Amazon—an organization set on a path to either a) world domination or b) break-up by the Monopolies Commission—make sure the selling page is attractive, accurate and informative. Add an author profile, encourage people to submit positive reviews and if you do get the odd bad review (and you will) don’t spit back, it’s really not worth it.

5) Think about search engine optimisation.

Don’t be spooked by this. Search engine optimization (SEO) is just how a page is ranked on search engines and by this I mostly mean Google (another monolith on the path to world domination). If your blog doesn’t appear in the first few pages of Google then you might as well not be on the internet at all. There are many companies that claim they will increase your ranking for a fee. Don’t waste your money. Follow a few simple steps and you’ll soon by up there with the pros:

  • Reply to comments left on your blog. It’s the polite thing to do.
  • Engage with your blogging peers with comments and guest posts.
  • Add share buttons to your posts so your readers can spread the word effortlessly.
  • Create reciprocal links by listing your favorite blogs and Websites on your blog.
  • Join blog directories. Most are free and some specialize (women bloggers, expat bloggers, for example).
  • Post to Facebook and Twitter (at the very least).
  • While you’re at it, you may as well post to Google+, Pinterest and Linkedin (and any other social network you join). All that activity will help you clamber up the rankings and increase your visibility.

6) Get yourself interviewed.

Online interviews are a great way to increase your profile. Expat and book sites (notably, The Displaced Nation!) are always looking for interesting people to chat to. It provides them with content and you with exposure—a perfect double whammy.

7) Create a personal Website.

Creating a personal Website isn’t the expensive faff it used to be and the days of paying top dollar for large-brained web-designers to give birth to your labor of love are over. These days, get the right help and you can end up with a fully functional and integrated site for a fraction of what it used to cost. (PLUG ALERT: You could do worse than checking out author2author, my new low cost Website, blogging and social media service for authors.)

8) And finally…keep chipping away at it!

Exhausted? You will be. This PR lark takes a lot of graft. I know. I’ve never worked so hard. The good news is that once you’ve set the wheels in motion, you just need to keep a light touch on the tiller. Then before you know it, you’ll start getting that exposure you’ve always dreamed of and, who knows, the agents and distributors knocking at your door instead of the pretty postman.

Until then, I’m afraid there’s no substitute for
WRITING TIP FOR EXPATS NO 4:

Master the rules of engagement!

* * *

Readers, any comments, further questions for Jack the Hack? He’ll be back next month with some more writing tips…

Jack Scott’s debut book, Perking the Pansies—Jack and Liam move to Turkey, is a bitter-sweet tragi-comedy that recalls the first year of a British gay couple in a Muslim country. For more information on this and Jack’s other titles, go to his author site.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Images: from top, clockwise: Hand with pen / MorgueFile.com; Boats in King’s Lynn, Norfolk / MorgueFile.com; Jack Scott, used with his permission; Turkish boats / MorgueFile.com

JACK THE HACK: Advice to all you expat writers: Publish and be damned!

JACK THE HACK _writingtipsJack Scott is back with his monthly column for all of you wannabe authors who are hacking away at travelogues-cum-memoirs (or cum-novels?). For those who don’t know, he was a Random Nomad for the Displaced Nation way back when we started this site. After an expat experience that was literally something to write home about, he and his partner, Liam, have traded in the dream for a less pressured existence back home in the UK.

—ML Awanohara

After months of burning the midnight oil, neglecting the sprogs and denying your long-suffering partner their conjugal rights, your memoir masterpiece is finally done and dusted. Whether you’re pleased with the result of your hard graft or just relieved, pop a cork. It’s quite an achievement.

So what’s next? Well, obviously you want to launch your labour of love onto an unprepared world—but how?

Essentially, you have four choices:

1) The big boys—the Holy Grail

Who wouldn’t bite the hand off a corporate suit offering a fat advance cheque, certainly not me. It sounds tantalising. Let the big boys do all the work—edit, design, promote and distribute—while you sit back and watch the royalties land on the mat. And you get to feel like a ‘proper’ author. Easy.

Except, it isn’t.  I know of no traditional publishing house that accepts unsolicited manuscripts, so don’t waste your time and money.

Mainstream publishers have cosy relationships with literary agents who filter out the dross so they don’t have to.

So, your first task is to bag yourself an agent who’s willing to take a punt on you (and a cut from you).

That’s not easy either. Agents receive thousands of manuscripts every year and few make it past the receptionist’s in-tray.

Keep the Faith. There are things you can do to avoid getting your memoir filed in the bulging bin:

  • Carefully read what an agent is looking for. Select only those who fancy a trip down memory lane. If you send your book to anyone else, you’re toast.
  • Follow the submission guidelines to the letter. If they want it double spaced in Times Roman 12, a full book proposal and a copy of your grandma’s marriage certificate then do exactly what it says on the tin.
  • Develop the patience of a saint, do not expect a quick response (if any) and don’t hassle.

2) Half-way houses—stepping into the breach

As we all know, the traditional bricks and mortar bookshop is under seize from the growth of on-line retailers (particularly Amazon), print-on-demand services and electronic books and they are transforming the market. A number of smaller publishers have sprung up to take advantage of this brave new world. For an upfront fee (often with set menu and a la carte offers), these smaller outfits will work with you to prepare your book to a professional standard (both print and e-versions) and get it onto the virtual shelves.

In return for a higher royalty rate, you will be expected to do most of your own promotion.

The advantage of print-on-demand publishing is that you can keep a stock of books in your bedroom for direct sales (to local bookshops, through your Web site and by emotionally blackmailing your nearest and dearest). The disadvantage is that most major book chains won’t give them shelf room.

3) Vanity publishing—the blind leading the desperate

We’ve all seen the “Authors Wanted” ads popping up on Google placed by companies who trade on a writer’s desire to see their name in print. For the right price, they’ll print almost anything. I’m not saying they are necessarily unscrupulous or misleading, but the quality of the written word isn’t their bag. Unfortunately, the line between the vanity publisher and the half-way housemate is becoming increasingly blurred. For me, the main distinction is selection and control. Be careful.

4) Self-publishing—the DIY approach

If your story is fit for publication (that is to say edited, proofed and formatted with a snazzy cover), why not self-publish as an e-book? It’s easier than you might think. Open an Amazon Kindle account, upload your file and let them do the conversion and listing.

And there’s always Smashwords, which will convert and distribute your e-book to all the main online retailers (including Amazon). Formatting an e-book for Smashwords is a bit fiddly but they do publish a handy style guide to lead you by the hand.

The advantage of self-publishing is that you get to keep full control over your work, including the price, and you’re paid direct without a publisher’s cut.

If you really want to see your precious words in print (and there’s nothing like the smell of a brand new book), get a printer to set the presses running. Many offer their services online and deliver to your door so you don’t even have to leave home.

Amazon also provides a print-on-demand service called CreateSpace. This way, people can order a print copy direct from them and, if you get the look and feel right, no one need ever know you did it yourself.

Postscript: Bedtime reading

Especially for expats with UK connections: The Writers and Artists Association has a comprehensive list of UK and overseas agents and their requirements. You’ll have to register first but it’s free. Their site also contains a well of advice about all aspects of the publishing business.

Which leads me to …

WRITING TIP FOR EXPATS NO 3:

Publish and be damned!

With all of the options out there, what are you waiting for?

* * *

Readers, any comments, further questions for Jack the Hack? He’ll be back next month with some more writing tips…

Jack Scott’s debut book, Perking the Pansies—Jack and Liam move to Turkey, is a bitter-sweet tragi-comedy that recalls the first year of a British gay couple in a Muslim country. For more information on this and Jack’s other titles, go to his author site.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another in our NEW vs OLDE WORLDS series.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Images: from top, clockwise: Hand with pen / MorgueFile.com; Boats in King’s Lynn, Norfolk / MorgueFile.com; Jack Scott, used with his permission; Turkish boats / MorgueFile.com

JACK THE HACK: How do you know whether you want to write a memoir or a novel, and what’s the difference?

JACK THE HACK _writingtipsJack Scott is back with his monthly column for all of you wannabe authors who are hacking away at travelogues-cum-memoirs (cum-novels?). For those who don’t know, he was a Random Nomad for the Displaced Nation way back when we started this site. After an expat experience that was literally something to write home about, he and his partner, Liam, have traded in the dream for a less pressured existence back home in the UK.

—ML Awanohara

Hmmm… Is it easier to turn expat stories or travel adventures into a memoir or a novel, and how does one decide?

As with all such questions, the answer is a resounding “it depends”.

Let’s look at some definitions:

Memoir (noun) – a historical account or biography written from personal knowledge.
Travelogue (noun) – a film, book, or illustrated lecture about the places visited by or experiences of a traveller.
Novel (noun) – a fictional narrative, typically having a plot that is unfolded by the actions, speech, and thoughts of the characters.

So it seems that travelogues and biographies can’t be novels because, by definition, they’re based on real events by real people in real places.

Does this matter?

I think not.

False dichotomies

For me, writing a memoir is like telling a story and every story, even a real-life one, needs order, pace, plot, a compelling blend of highs and lows and a sense of purpose.

I learned some valuable lessons from David Steddall, the English teacher at my South London grammar school back in the big hair, bell-bottomed Seventies.

“A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end,” Mr Steddall would say.

We’ve all heard the mantra, haven’t we?

Mr Steddall seemed to like my essays, even if they were sometimes a little risqué in a post-pubescent, hormone-raging kind of way. He would often give me top marks and have me recite my work in class. His encouragement gave me confidence—a confidence that lay dormant for thirty-odd years until a little sun-kissed nourishment breathed life into it like rains in a desert.

I’ve stayed faithful to Dave(as I now think of him)’s cause. My own memoir has a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s not a random series of observations like a diary. Who’d want to read that? Let’s face it, I’m not Anne Frank, Kenneth Williams or Samuel Pepys.

Make it work!

Here’s the trick. Just because a memoir can’t be a novel, it doesn’t mean it can’t be written as if it were. The greatest challenge is to give memoir a plot that readers will find convincing and engaging enough to make them turn the page.

For me, that meant very little fat. One of the first tips I picked up from my publisher was to dump storylines and characters that weren’t key to the main event or didn’t add interesting flavour. I tackled this by creating a story board, much like they do in the movies. This meant I could identify gaps in the narrative, ensure continuity and shoot down the flights of fancy.

Does this mean it’s not true?

Well, as I wrote at the top of my first book:

This book is based on actual events. To protect the privacy of the persons involved, and in the interest of narrative clarity, some names, characterizations, locations, conversations and timescales have been changed.

This was necessary to protect the guilty, avoid a brick through my window and keep me out of the courts. The end result is that all the characters are true, if renamed and heavily disguised, and all the events actually happened, though not necessarily as chronologically written. Once I accepted this, I could let my imagination run riot and had enormous fun assembling the pieces of my life abroad like one huge colourful jigsaw.

I admit, though, I may have left some little gems on the cutting-room floor.

It’s the risk you take.

Glossy travelogues and expat classics

Most people are familiar with the lavish and beautifully crafted travel book, heavy enough to stop a burglar or prop open the living room door. Every coffee table should have one.

But I don’t really think of travelogues as memoir as their primary purpose is to inform the reader about foreign places in words and (often) pictures.

As for the kind of expat book that has ended up appealing to a mass audience—Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence and Chris Stewart’s Driving Over Lemons come to mind—the formula calls for lots of descriptions of majestic landscapes as well as a plot centered around building a dream home out of a hovel in the rolling hills.

Which leads me to …

WRITING TIP FOR EXPATS NO 2:

My advice to the budding expat writer: find your own angle; don’t waste your time reinventing the wheel.

In my case, I wrote about the (sometimes grubby) reality of expat life from the unique perspective of a gay man in a Muslim land. It’s something no one had done before, and why would they? There weren’t many of us there.

* * *

Readers, any comments, further questions for Jack the Hack? He’ll be back next month with some more writing tips…

Jack Scott’s debut book, Perking the Pansies — Jack and Liam move to Turkey, is a bitter-sweet tragi-comedy that recalls the first year of a British gay couple in a Muslim country. For more information on this and Jack’s other titles, go to his author site.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s “Capital Ideas” post, by Anthony Windram.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Images from top, clockwise: Hand with pen / MorgueFile.com; Boats in King’s Lynn, Norfolk / MorgueFile.com; Jack Scott, used with his permission; Turkish boats / MorgueFile.com

JACK THE HACK: You’re thinking about writing a travelogue or memoir. Should you start with a blog?

JACK THE HACK _writingtips

Today we introduce a new monthly column by Jack Scott, who was a Random Nomad for the Displaced Nation way back when we started this site. After an expat experience that was literally something to write home about, he and his partner, Liam, have traded in the dream for a less pressured existence back in their home country. We’re thrilled to have recruited Jack as a writing guru for all of you wannabe authors who are hacking away at travelogues-cum-memoirs — perhaps even as I type this?!

— ML Awanohara

Do you think it helps to write a blog with the purpose of publishing a travelogue or memoir in mind?

It’s a good question — and for me, the short answer would be a simple no.

But the long answer would be a qualified yes.

Let me explain.

When Liam and I first flogged off the family silver, jumped the good ship Blighty and waded ashore to Turkey, we planned to put our feet up and watch the pansies grow. Twelve months into the dream, we began to feel, well, a little bored.

It was a benign type of boredom — not the terminal kind that leads to low self-esteem, heavy drinking, chocolate binges and serial infidelity.

But it was boredom nevertheless.

Life before expat-dom

In the wicked world of the waged, I had been a busy bean counter, mismanaging a large public sector service. Liam had been shackled to a cut-and-thrust slash-and-burn private sector company, with a grueling 12-hour day as his reward.

My boss was off with the fairies, his was Lucifer in lace. Work gave me a routine on auto-pilot, while it nearly drove Liam over the edge.

In quite different ways, we were both fully (if unhappily) occupied.

In our brave new world of idleness and long Anatolian summers, lazy days in Eden turned into one perpetual holiday. Our old life withdrew into the fog of a hazy past.

The trouble is, life isn’t supposed to one long holiday.

Like so many before us, we parachuted into paradise thinking entirely of the destination. We gave very little thought to what we might do once we got there.

Not another beautiful day!

It’s an all too common mistake. For every able-bodied emigrey (well, those with brains and bones still in reasonable working order), the trick is to find a meaningful occupation: something to break up the unending monotony and keep them off the sauce.

It really doesn’t matter what it is: turning water into homemade wine, feeding the five thousand street dogs or raising your sex life from the dead — whatever gets the juices flowing.

For me it was starting a blog to tell an unsuspecting world about our encounters with the mad, the bad, the sad and the glad along the highways and byways of the whitewashed ghetto where we lived.

A book really never entered my mind.

Then, quite by chance, my irrelevant ramblings became one of the most successful English-language blogs in Turkey.

You could have knocked me down with a feather boa, I was that surprised.

It was only then that I began to think there just might be a book in me.

Remarkably, there was.

Re-energized!

It’s quite amazing how the fear of terminal boredom can re-energize a novice expat. In just 12 months, I created the blog, designed and published a Web site, and wrote my debut book. For most of this meandering expedition, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. A combination of trial and error, intuition, intravenous wine, gentle encouragement from an inspirational publisher and not-so-gentle cajoling from Liam turned an unplanned and uncoordinated series of chess moves into the production of a well-received book that I’m proud to have written.

My probation was illuminating and taught me a great deal — about writing, process, content, plot, characterization, networking, promotion and engagement.

You see, hindsight is a wonderful thing. Looking back, it seems only too obvious that blogging was a great audition for my writing. I had never written before (unless you count a series of unread and unloved business reports rotting away on dusty book-shelves in municipal vaults). Writing my blog was a safe and fun way to experiment and to build up an audience at the same time. Reading through my back catalogue, I can see quite clearly how I evolved as a writer.

WRITING TIP FOR EXPATS NO 1 (aka the long answer to the question at the top of the conversation):

It might be useful to start up a blog if you want to write a travelogue-cum-memoir. It’s not the Law, but blogging can really help.

And what about Liam in all of this? Did he develop suicidal tendencies or did he cope better with the ever-constant Aegean vista and nightly sunset show?

Well, apart from re-discovering a love of composing and tickling the ivories, he acquired a new skill of his own: cracking the editor’s whip, something he did (and still does) with rather too much pleasure than I (or he) would care to admit.

Us writers put up with so much, we really do.

* * *

Readers, any comments for further questions for Jack the Hack? He’ll be back next month with some more writing tips…

Jack Scott’s debut book, Perking the Pansies — Jack and Liam move to Turkey, is a bitter-sweet tragi-comedy that recalls the first year of a British gay couple in a Muslim country. For more information on this and Jack’s other titles, go to his author site.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, on NEW England…

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

Images: from top, clockwise: Hand with pen / MorgueFile.com; Boats in King’s Lynn, Norfolk / MorgueFile.com; Jack Scott, used with his permission; Turkish boats / MorgueFile.com

%d bloggers like this: