Social Stalking: An Investigation into the Social Media of the Author

First of all I want to introduce myself. I’m Kate, one of the new interns with Odyssey. I am about to start my PhD in creative writing and I really, really like books. Nice to meet you.

I’m excited to contribute my first blog post, so thank you for indulging me with your readership. One of the first things that sprung to mind when I was deciding what to write about was a topic we discussed during my interview. I was asked about social media and if I knew much about how authors use their social media accounts. My answer was basically no… I was completely, pitifully naive to how social media is used by authors and how central it has become to modern marketing strategies. For much of my undergrad degree and all of my Honours thesis I studied mostly Victorian authors for whom the internet and social media would seem about as conceivable as teleporting to Mars. But I had always been interested in how the social image of an author impacts the way their work is received. During Honours I read diary entries about Thomas Hardy’s conversations at dinner parties, so I figure that’s the 19th Century alternative to stalking his twitter; I’m already in the right frame of mind, I just have to update my tactics.

I thought that I should take a look at the social media accounts of a modern author to gain a basic understanding of how they are used. I’m particularly interested in young adult fantasy fiction and its authors, which is a convenient place to start given the suitability of social media for this demographic. So I decided I should investigate an author of that genre who is well known, successful and savvy, and I settled on J.K. Rowling. The two social media sites I looked to were Facebook and Twitter. Facebook I chose because it’s arguably the most widely used site, especially for young adults, and Twitter because it’s particularly apt for authors due to its focus on text and writing, rather than say Intagram which deals in images.

These are the things that struck me most from exploring J.K. Rowling’s official Facebook page:

  1. J.K. Rowling has A LOT of followers, which really shouldn’t be surprising, but right now it’s 5,386,803. Just by posting one status, or sharing one interview, or plugging one publication 5 million people are probably going to see it. That’s some pretty damn effective advertising.
  1. The main things shared are, as you would expect, to do with publications, current projects, interviews, and information about the charity she established, Lumos.
  1. Importantly the interaction Facebook enables is very much a two way street. While the author is using this platform to share things with fans, what’s really important is that the fans can share things back. Being able to not just like, but also comment on posts, means fans are able to engage in a direct dialogue with the author. For example on Rowling’s page a Brazilian fan has commented on a post, addressing it to the author directly, and remarking how grateful he is that her books have encouraged Brazilian children into reading and engaging with literature. This comment has been liked by hundreds of other users, and a stream of comments follows it discussing the benefits of children’s literacy.
  1. So this is a space for authors to share things with their fans, but also for fans to share things with each other. Often Rowling will share a post that begins a dialogue, which is then taken up entirely by the fans. This is the epitome of networking and marketing, when the author can contribute to a discussion about their work that then continues and flourishes even without them. What Facebook creates on Rowling’s page is a keen and engaged community of fans.
  1. Facebook is complicit in this process. The page tells the user when they come across it which of their friends has already liked it. Facebook shows the user that they already have links to the community. It says “be a part of this community, these friends of yours already are, you don’t want to be left out do you?”
  1. Lastly, there is a “Shop Now” button at the very top of the page giving users immediate and convenient access to purchase her novels. While Facebook offers a platform for the author and her fans to simply interact, it doesn’t forget the opportunities that could stem from that.

Next I looked at her Twitter page, and this is what I noticed most:

  1. She has even more followers on Twitter, 8.98 million! Merlin’s beard!
  2. Much like Facebook she uses Twitter as a platform to share promotional articles and videos, giving them more scope.
  1. Twitter’s cap on the characters means Rowling’s posts are shorter than on Facebook, or sometimes in instalments. They’re also often quite jovial and much more conversational. She speaks to her followers as if she knows them, and you are convinced that she does.
  1. Finally, in comparison to Facebook, Rowling’s Twitter certainly seems more personal. She tweets and retweets about a plethora of different things. While she often references Harry Potter and promotes new releases etc., she also writes passionately about social justice issues, the writing process itself, and even her social life and New Years Eve plans. It’s social, political, literary and personal. It’s not just her books and how to purchase, but instead her everyday thoughts, those valuable thoughts that have made her one of the most successful authors of the century. By looking at J.K. Rowling’s Twitter you can feel like you’re actually getting to communicate with her; she becomes very real.

So what struck me most when investigating these two different social media sites is that despite often sharing similar material, Rowling takes quiet a different approach to each. Facebook seems to serve as the more professional platform, with links to interviews and a “Shop Now” button, while Twitter is much more conversational, where the fans can really get to know the author and read tweets about her hanging out with her cat. Nonetheless both sites offer to Rowling’s fans a means of staying in touch with the author, her projects and the wider community of her readers. Social media is changing the way we communicate with the authors that inspire us, it puts them right in our back pocket, where we can interact with them on a daily basis.

Unlike the networking antics of Harry Potter’s Gilderoy Lockhart, modern authors need not employ tactics such as smarmy charm, bleached white toothy grins or the shameless and even forceful circulation of autographed photos. Instead through social media they can consistently connect with their readers on a more substantial level, whether it’s through starting important discussions, or simply saying Merry Christmas. Significantly for me, despite being unable to read diary entries about Rowling’s conversations at dinner parties, I feel equally happy with the stalking levels achieved via her Twitter feed.

 

Live From Book Expo: Opportunity!

Live from Book Expo Australia!

Hello there! Today, one half of the team is enjoying a trip to Sydney to tackle Book Expo Australia. That’s me! Brendan. I know I promised that I would deliver an immersive worlds blog this week but something has come up. Odyssey author Tracy Joyce is delivering a talk today and tomorrow at Book Expo called Fantasy Worlds. Now, Tracy’s been writing some fairly scary torture scenes lately, so I don’t want her to think I may have some information that she needs.

Instead, let’s talk about networking opportunities for getting work in the publishing industry. Jen has covered this in relation to pitching to publishers from the author’s perspective, but I want to touch on the non-authors.

Getting a start in the industry is not an easy thing. Unfortunately, you cannot open a book and be given a job (as wonderful and ridiculous as that sounds). The key is events and internships. At events, you meet publishers, editors etc. In your internships, you work hard and do cool stuff. These are the simple building blocks to begin creating a network in the industry. It gets more complicated, especially when figuring out which events to go to.

For example, Writer’s Festivals are not a great time to meet a publisher if you’re looking for publishing work, as, obviously, they are focused on the writers.

The best events at which to meet publishers for those wanting to work in the industry have to be Book Expos, Cons and Industry Conferences (Independent Publishing Conference is coming up in November!) These are the events where a lot of networking is done. On this note, I’ll say, if you love books and want to work in publishing, (and happen to be in Sydney), why not swing by Book Expo and meet some people. We at Odyssey Books are a friendly bunch and will definitely have a chat. We may try to sell you a book, but that’s all part of the parcel.

Other ways in which to network involve taking advantage of social media, especially platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn. There is no shame in this kind of self-promotion. Everybody does it. You have to do it. And sometimes, good things come from it.

So:

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I understand that many of us bookish people can be quite shy and introverted, and that’s unfortunate for those wanting to put this advice into practice. But the truth is that sometimes you have to be uncomfortable just so that people think you’re a normal human person who wants a job, like other more extroverted normal human persons. (Yes, it totally sucks that “extrovert” is the norm. Give me a quiet room and a book any day.)

If you want to be an editor, and have some idea of what you’re doing, being active online will be important. It’s worth joining writing communities, and the existence and diversity of these communities is one of the great things about the internet. You might just get some freelance contracts, and at the least you’re broadening both your knowledge of writing as a craft and also your understanding of the kind of work that’s out there, both the published and unpublished.

This is all pretty standard advice. The point of me telling you this is simple: there is no magic potion in which these things happen for you. You just have to do whatever you can and hope it works out. Keep your heads up and come say hello!

The Counter Celebrity Kerfuffle

Jen’s wrong!

That’s right, it’s argument week!

After some unkind words were thrown, escalating our fake feuding to real feuding (it’s on ­­– or is it? How enigmatic of us!) I’ve decided to dedicate my – no, our – Friday to rebutting Jen’s blog on Monday. Leave the celebrities alone, Jen. They’re people too.

While I broadly agree that celebrity books can be gold-plated nothings, to say so is the highest of browlifts. To ask us to agree with that sentiment is dishing out the literary equivalent of a “do you even lift bro?” It’s not the characterisation of the vapidity of these books that has so inspired me to write this, and I’m sure many of you enjoy reading celebrity books, but the notion that their presence is removing opportunities for the little books.

As we know, I love the little books. I’m not stomping on them, but I refuse to blame their struggles on the books that provide the padding of the bottom line. The problem is not that too many celebrity or overtly-commercial books are being published. The problem is that the margins of the book business are too tight, and part of that is caused by public expectations of the price of books being incredibly tapered by certain profiteers of the trade.

The existence and success of these gold-plated nothings is not undermining the book, or the literary book. The simple fact is, from a highest-of-brows perspective, these books do not hold a place in the literary world. They are commercial objects that sit below, that pad the baseline and make the business of publishing objects which hold meaning just lucrative enough.

Amy Schumer’s advance was ridiculously over the top. As was Aziz Ansari’s, as was Hillary Clinton’s. It’s an endemic symptom of a Winner-Takes-All attitude pervading the big book businesses. That’s not to say that these books should not be published, but more that the advances being laid down are growing more and more preposterous.

In the sense that big companies are laying down advances that are far too big, perhaps there is scope that these funds could be dedicated to other, more literary titles. But often, these publishing operations are divided into different imprints with commercial titles published under several sub-companies (imprints) and literary under others. So the literary imprint is only going to have a certain budget, regardless of the celebrity titles. These budgets are dictated by commercial needs and rules, but as always the argument is that without the commercial drive, there wouldn’t be an incentive for money to be invested in publishing. This money then flows to the less commercial literary titles.

Not all publishing is about good books, or brilliant stories. Sometimes it’s just about the dollar, because it’s the dollar that carries us all.

I broadly agree with Jen’s sentiments about the literary value of slapping a celebrity’s name on a ghostwritten work, but I also think there can be value to celebrity books. Examples like Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants, Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl etc, have something to tell us, and can teach us about the experiences, particularly of women, working in industries known for their influence on popular culture. While not everyone will agree, it’s important to understand the mechanisms of Hollywood because it has a tremendous effect on us. To be oblivious to how this kind of cultural power works is to be wilfully disenfranchised.

I do hold sentimentality with the demand for a greater focus on literary works, but I think it’s a catch-22 when it is the commercial which supports the publication of literary titles. And largely, I don’t think the spate of celebrity books is the cause of the literary world’s problems, but a symptom of the times.

What’s in a Career? Fear, Excitement…

Returning once more to the intern side of things, I’ve been thinking about my future career a bit lately. What’s the future for jobs in our economy? There are estimates that nearly 40% of jobs currently done now will be gone in the next decade or so. It’s the computers, they are coming for our jobs. It’s like I, Robot but friendlier and with more unemployment payments.

While I know that there will always be a need for human writers, editors, publishers and designers, I do hesitate to think about what all of this means for my future. I sit in a very precarious position at the start of my career. It’s precarious because I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. I’m sure if I knew where I was going though, I would get lost. I’m happy to go with the flow, but it does worry me from time to time.

As one job comes to an end, I’m wondering how much longer I’ll be doing temporary contracts. Or if I’ll become a slashie, a term for someone who crafts full-time hours out of multiple jobs which tend to be in entirely different careers, i.e. “I’m a such-and-such/this-or-that/third-career-or-job”.

I wouldn’t mind having that sort of career trajectory as my main goal at this stage is do something interesting or meaningful, preferably both.

I think there is also a definite need for people willing to do many different things, sometimes all at once. In 2013, I attended the Independent Publishing Conference hosted by the Small Press Network in Melbourne. It was a fantastic experience for me then, as a student, and one of the key things I took away from those three days was that it’s quite common for people in the publishing industry to have a range of different roles that don’t necessarily correspond with one another. To be someone who “wears many hats”.

These storied careers are fascinating, and show a side of the business which I think is both wonderful and scary. It’s wonderful because I find the prospect of those changes to be inviting. The idea that while your career is on a path, that path is always turning. It’s not a straight ladder.

The scary part of that is the unpredictability or insecurity of it. Just like temporary contracts, you never really know when or where or how things will end.

The publishing industry is a tremendously exciting place with a range of different roles to fill and I think in the future it’s going to be more and more important to be able to fill many of those roles, to be an all-rounder. That excites me, but it does also concern me. I worry that we’ll lose specialists. Many roles have already been taken out of the house and made into freelancer positions. I don’t know if this translates to less people becoming that kind of specialist, or if it means more. I think it’s probably less.

That’s one of the weird effects of digital disruption in a way too. Digital opens up the toolkit of publishing to anyone. So while some jobs may fade away or diminish because of this, other freelancers will be sought by more customers than previously. This adds to the career excitement and the fear, and I think it’s a balancing act that a lot of people at the start of their careers feel. It’s an important one too, I think.

In this blog, I haven’t answered the question that spurred me to write. But I have come to a better way to ask the question:

How can I balance the excitement and the fear, to have an interesting career?

 

Traversing the Thorny Thicket

One of the most typical intern jobs around is being assigned to the slush pile, as both I and Brendan have been at different times.

In layman’s terms, the slush pile is the collection of all the new submissions a publisher receives. Part of my job is to sift through the hopeful cover letters and (often) ambitious manuscripts, and divide them into two groups, the ‘Don’t Bother’ and the ‘Worth Consideration’. It’s a job commonly assigned to interns and newbies because it’s intensive, with often little to no reward. However, ploughing through the slush pile is an important step in any intern’s journey for a number of reasons. It allows you to hone your critical thinking skills, as you learn to look for certain signs that a book may have what it takes.

It’s prompted me to think more deeply about why I approve or reject a certain manuscript. Not only do I suggest certain manuscripts for our publisher’s consideration, but for every manuscript I read, I’m required to do up a summary document, where I provide a short synopsis, pick out the elements that are good and/or bad about the manuscript, and justify why I would or would not publish it. It’s quite a lot of power, which has the potential to easily swell this small intern’s head!

Before I even read the manuscript, I’m looking at the cover letter, the biography, the marketing plan, and the way the author sells their work. And so, before we’ve even made it to your manuscript, we’ve made a lot of assumptions about you. One of the most important, and often overlooked is: can you follow our submission instructions? Someone who hasn’t bothered to add in their pitch, or whose cover letter leaves out relevant details automatically needs their manuscript to work harder for them.

The process of turning manuscript into finished product sees an editor and author working very closely. So when we consider your book, we’re also considering what you will be like to work with. These things come out very easily in cover letters, and will definitely make us reconsider you, even if your manuscript is out of this world. The relationship between a publisher and an author is very much a partnership. The work doesn’t stop once we agree to publish. So, ideally, you want to come across as interesting, enthusiastic, and willing to work with us, to be in the best possible position for us to accept your manuscript.

Now on to the fun part: reading the actual text! At Odyssey, we usually ask for the first four chapters, to give us a sense of the work. When I’m reviewing the slush pile, rarely will I read all four of those chapters. From discussions with various editors and slush pile enthusiasts I’ve met through my work, I’ve discovered that everyone has their own rule of thumb. For me, it’s the first twenty pages. What I’m looking for, first and foremost, is a text that can capture me in those first twenty pages. Even better than that, if I end up wanting to read more than the four chapters an author has sent, that’s usually when I send excitable emails to the publisher, demanding that we request a full manuscript, just so I can know what happens!

How does an author capture my attention and keep it? Well, that’s the part that’s hard to quantify, and is different for every book. Readers today are more spoiled for choice than ever. A novel that can make readers connected to their characters, absorbed in the action and excited to see what comes next, just in the first twenty pages, is going to be one that has a much better chance of succeeding in the market. So I can’t highlight what I want. But I can give you some ideas of what I don’t want.

  • Poor Editing – Oh wow! As editors, we know that typos slip through all the time. We do it too! (only sometimes) But a manuscript that’s full of typos just seems lazy. If an author can’t be bothered to edit their manuscript properly before submission, how are we supposed to think they are at all dedicated to making sure their book does as well as possible?
  • Over-Detailed Introductory Material – This is guaranteed to make me stop reading a manuscript very quickly. The best novels catapult you right into the world you have created. Backstory comes later! It trickles out and keeps you hanging on for more. If you load it all in at the beginning, no one will be hanging around for the middle, let alone the end.

As I’m rapidly running out of space, I’ll leave it there. My adventures in the slush pile have made me one of the pickiest readers around. Every manuscript I work with allows me to better understand what it is that makes a novel stand out as publishable amongst the mountain of slush that never will be.

An Introduction to Jenna

Who are you, and why are you writing this blog?

I’m currently a student completing my honours in English Literature. I’m also an intern with a small publisher called Odyssey Books. In my spare time I’m usually reading or chasing down lame puns.

This blog was an idea developed as part of my internship. I came into this industry knowing very little about the inner workings of publishing, especially as I’m originally from a more literary background. I was aware of basic editing, and what makes a book worth publishing, but not much to do with marketing, producing books or working with authors and designers. I realised that the questions I kept bombarding my boss with were probably questions many others had previously asked, or were curious about, whether or not they were interested in entering the industry, as an editor, an author, or something else entirely. I thought a blog about what I’m learning would not only be a great way for my boss to see just how much I’m absorbing by following her around, but also for others to learn a bit more about what really goes on in publishing.

So, how DID you become a publishing intern?

Ha! Actually, on a complete chance. I was starting to feel the itch of working in something completely unrelated to what I’m studying, and what I love doing. I started furiously googling, trying to find anything related to books and writing. I stumbled across an advertisement for Odyssey and applied, even though I thought I had absolutely no chance, with almost zero experience. I had to send of a resume, and a sample of my writing, and after that it was a phone conversation with my boss, before we got straight down to work! 

Give us a snapshot of a day as an intern?

What’s so incredible about being a publishing intern with a small press is that absolutely every day is different. Like all of Odyssey’s interns, I work remotely, so a lot of work is done at odd hours. The advantage of this is that I can turn up to work (ok, my computer) in my pyjamas, and my boss will never know the difference! Any given day can involve sorting through submissions from prospective authors, writing up recommendations on whether to publish certain ones, editing manuscripts that are waiting to be published, reviewing books that have already been published, coming up with concepts for cover designs, or researching and outlining marketing opportunities, whether for individual books, or Odyssey as a whole. I tend to spend the most time on reviewing submissions and editing, as those are my stronger suits, although I am loving learning about marketing, an area I’d rarely been exposed to before.

An Introduction to Brendan

Who are you, and why are you writing this blog?

I’m Brendan, the intern who is based in Melbourne. I’ve got a Master of Publishing and Communications and am currently interning and working part time in the publishing industry. I think this blog is a great way to talk to people interested in publishing and books about what to expect from an internship as well as to look at the book business from an interesting perspective.

So, how DID you become a publishing intern?

I was finishing up my thesis and beginning to think about what would come after, when I saw an ad online that had been up for a little while. I sent Michelle (our publisher) an email to ask if there were any spots left, assuming I was out of luck due to the competitiveness around internships in publishing. Amazingly, there was a spot for me and I got straight into reading submissions. It’s been a blast ever since.

Give us a snapshot of a day as an intern? 

A day is maybe a bit of a stretch, as I tend to work a day in this internship across a week when I have time in the evenings and on the weekends. (Kudos to Odyssey for being so flexible and understanding). Lately, a lot of my internship work has revolved around editing manuscripts while riding on trains. I have a fairly long commute to my other work, about an hour on the train each way, which I don’t mind as I normally read. Lately, I’ve been pumping out edits on my commute, which is actually a really great way to use my time and really great practice in the editorial department. It’s great that with this internship I can do a lot of things both in the internship and alongside it, throughout the day and the week.