Towards a super-blog?

Eye-catching and complex. This is the kind of illustration that attracts my attention. I’ll scroll down if I see something like this. Ideally, a blog post needs a visual with immediate appeal.

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Let me start by emphasizing that this post is a personal view. I don’t have the blogging qualifications to give the answer to my title, but I am a reader of blogs, so my reactions to blogs won’t be unique.

In this post I am highlighting four blogs I have come across and followed with delight – delight because I cherish mastery. Each of these blogs, despite being so different from each other, displays a mastery of the chosen field: blogging. It’s become apparent to me that blogging is a new art form, and one that can make use of existing art forms as well as new technology.

This is my personal criteria for a blog to be excellent: it has to attract the eye, serve an immediate need for specific information, be clever in its use of the web-site technology, to entertain and be memorable.

I am sure there are thousands of wonderful blogs, but I’ve been too wrapped up in managing my own blog struggles to surf a lot. I was handicapped by not having been a blog visitor before having to create one. It was like being told to trampoline before I’d learned to jump. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop me noting quality as soon as my blogging trawls began.

The following blogs each offer something special, and they’ve each paid due attention to the appearance and ease of use of their blog. Furthermore, each demonstrates commitment to the work of blogging and the responsibility of delivering quality content.

The Inky Fool. My prize for erudition. http://inkyfool.com   Mark Forsyth generously presents information on words, where they might be found or used, their derivation or intricate, fascinating details about them. Example posts:  an examination of the origin, role and place of Sherlock Holmes in literature; the Anglo-Saxon version of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Wordiness can be great fun. It’s a wonderful site, and incidentally makes you want to rush off and buy these unique books. The blog is impressively elegant and is easy to negotiate.Inky Fool

The Bloggess.  http://thebloggess.com   My prize for hilarity. Jenny has a huge following and a book that developed by demand as result of her entertaining blog. (Enviable position!) She appeals to all our rebellious and unworthy urges, provides a fun outlet for all the cringeworthy mistakes anyone might have made and states outrageous things with a jokey corollary so that no-one could reasonably complain. (Unreasonable ones do). Example posts are shown, but these can’t do justice to the fun of Jenny’s discourse.

AnneRAllen. http://annerallen.blogspot.co.uk. My prize for quality writing – as it happens, about writing. There are many writing blogs, often with advice that is very ‘samey’.  This blog convinces with sensible, knowledgeable advice, well written articles and links to useful information. Example article =        12 Signs Your Novel isn’t Ready to Publish    The presentation is clean and spare. The opinions do not appear to be derivative, as is true of many writers’ blogs. I’m a Brit, so in British terms, AnneRAllen is a Liberty’s as opposed to a British Home Stores writers’ blog.

Morgen Bailey.   http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/ My prize for multi-tasking, and a separate prize for responsiveness. The presentation is of layers upon layers of related sections. The multitude of key words to click and explore fairly represents the true multi-tasker. Look at how comprehensive this is:

I’ve admired, enjoyed and explored these blogs. I know there will be many others of excellence, but these provide good examples of successful blogging. They provide a real service.

Regarding my own two blogs, I’ve been told my other one is (not Rolls Royce, lol, but) unique. It provides no service! It developed out of a mischevious attempt to retain some privacy while still giving exposure to my book. The Me-Time Tales blog has the characters do the writing. I let them take charge and dominate me. Now the blog has taken on a life and narrative of its own and has received to date 5,500 visits in its five months of life. Since it doesn’t have articles, guests and so on, I guess it will stay in its weird form until it dies. Everything has a natural life and I am prepared for this. http://fictionalcharacterswriting.blogspot.com

And this blog? It will be some time before I have learned all the skills necessary to develop it into the superblog I would like – a resource for character-based writing, and to discuss writing in process.  Meanwhile, I continue to search for blog masters and to learn from them.

ThreeHeadedWoman

Do leave a comment if you have learned something useful about blogging. 

Short Story in the shadows

The Latin Quarter, Paris, France

A few days ago I went to browse in the large Waterstones of a town I was visiting. I had just reviewed some Chinese short stories (earlier post), I thought I might find another stimulating collection.  Huge shelves of fiction faced me, but not even one for short stories; worse, there were only seven different titles. At least this included the recent Munro, although this was on the counter rather than displayed on one of the tables where the rushed shopper might think ‘Yes, Munro’s latest, must have these stories.’   Amongst the thousands of titles for fiction, only 7 for short stories seemed amazing. There were more titles for knitting.

On Amazon, the original search for short stories brings up over 3,000 titles, but the number of literary and contemporary collections appears to be only in the hundreds. Even then, scanning through, I found children’s titles, single stories of 6 pages and erotica among these.

In my local library there is no separate section for short stories, and there are only five on its entire list. The city library has more, but there is no shelf-full. Short stories are placed besides poetry which, to my surprise, filled most of the shelf.

I prefer writing novels – so much more scope for developing a character and his/her fortunes. Nevertheless, I have written many short stories with difficulty. I greatly admire those writers who show a key moment in a character’s life, or address an emotional issue succinctly yet memorably.  I’ve reviewed two collections of short stories on this site, picked for their unusualness. I am sure I shall review more, but finding new collections is not made easy by either availability or by marketing.

It may be that in the U.S. and elsewhere, short stories sell better but in the U.K  genre fiction and celebrity memoirs dominate.  It seems odd that short fiction is not first choice when time demands are believed greater in the current economic climate.  We don’t write letters, we text in condensed format or tweet in 140 characters. Our TV dramas appear to assume a maximum of two minutes before the character and scene must be changed. It would be logical to expect short fiction to sell better than long.  Sales of misery memoirs, for instance, must take four times as long to read as a short story, if not to absorb. Even undemanding stories must have lost favour in that most magazines have largely dropped their short story features.

Why are short stories so sparsely treated? They seem very rarely taken on by U.K publishers unless written by an already very successful author, and that not often. They probably make little money for publishers, and this means they have failed to attract an audience.

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Is it possible that insufficient attention has been paid to the covers of such collections?

In the main, they tend to be in plain colours with only a contrasting stripe or emboldened fonts to arrest the gaze.  It doesn’t.  Short story collections have some sort of theme. If none is suggested by the author, such as revenge or love or fear, there is always the style, culture, time or the place in which or about which they are written. A good graphic designer or illustrator can surely encapsulate some image or design to attract the book browser? The only volume I have seen recently where this  has happened is Because They Wanted To by Mary Gaitskill, and that is modest.

Children’s short stories still sell well. Parents would rather read something bite-sized than embark on a novel. Children are assumed to want something which doesn’t daunt by size – despite their love of huge Harry Potter novels . Note that children’s short stories have illustrations on the covers. Publishers must have concluded that plain covers would be far more off-putting for sales than size.  Are we adults so different?

I do love an eye-cataching cover. Therefore my own forthcoming volume of short stories (Me-Time Tales – tea-breaks for mature women and curious men)  is unashamedly bright with its theme of self-indulgence evident.


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LATE OPENING WORDS

guilty

When I began seriously trying to fledge a book or two I found that it was a universally accepted truth that I would have to potter around in social media. Like other writers, no doubt, used to being a hermit, hiding my light underneath a bushel of characters, the idea of self-promotion was hideous.

When I read a novel, I only want to enjoy it fully.  I might want to know the author’s intentions or relevant research.  That’s all. In past days of innocence, I hoped that if I wrote something good enough people might read it. No. I’m told I have to become a social animal, sharing my personal life, persuading people that I have something to offer, trading tricks, begging to be read.

All writers are advised, urged even, to engage in every possible way online and offline to promote their wares.

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PaperBag Man
by JJH

I penned a rebellious note to start this website.  I sensed that it was unwise to publish it so I kept it private. Now that I have fully learned the error of my ways, I admit them here.

I wrote: When I need a plumber, electrician, home tutor, laboratory assistant, psychiatrist or garage mechanic, I don’t seek to find out how many chameleons s/he owns or where he likes to enjoy a pint or a double scotch. I just want to know that he can do the job efficiently and well. He may have to list his name and service in a directory but not since the 19th century does he expect to stand in the local barn exhibiting his face along with his tool of trade, waiting for attention.  These workers, along with college lecturers, engineers, architects, nannies, surveyors etc do not have to display themselves in situations totally separate (alien?) to carrying out their work.

Surely writers should only need to display their writing ability and track record, or an extract of their work?  I recently enjoyed The Silent Wife and was sad to hear that Harrison had died before it was published. She was saved from a heavy round of book-thirsty visits and signings, and her excellent psychological drama is going to sell and sell anyway.  I read and reviewed Conor Patrick’s short stories on this site, Goodbye Crocodile. I was impressed but I don’t care a jot for what the author looks like or even if he’s a he, a she or a crocodile. Whatever his appearance, present accommodation or family setting, I’d read his work again.

Rebellious thoughts outed, I now confess.   withnail-guilty-dog-face-i-am-not-guilty-nikon         (Nikon ad.)

 I was brought up to be obedient. (I was just disobedient in my head). Therefore, here I am, rebellion suppressed, involved in social media.

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I began by creating a blog. This was to promote Me-Time Tales, a book of short stories, ironic and with a dark edge.

I overcame the problem of author biog by calling the blog by the name of the book (http:\\fictionalcharacterswriting.blogspot.com).  As I couldn’t bear to bare my soul, I let the characters do it for me. They’ve always been critical and now they dominate me. See the blog for yourself. I’m sure you’ll quickly have sympathy for me. Or perhaps you’ll tell me to assert myself and buy a self-help manual.  I do have a laugh writing it and am amazed that visitors from 19 countries read it. I am warmed by that fact. And, there is not a whiff of my personal details on it, except what the characters reveal e.g. that I’m disorganized.

However, one blog does not make a social platform. There is Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Amazon, LinkedIn, various writers’ sites and numerous writing blogs to be entered upon. I do some reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. That activity is worthwhile and stimulating. But I have a feeling that if I could ditch fiction and just write fact, such as the manual for a vacuum cleaner, I could escape social media.

x-guilt      Succumbing to the necessary, I have opened my arms, if not embraced, social media. I’ve been told to. So here is this serious site. I admit I enjoy reading and reviewing unusual books. I truly love talking to other authors. What I don’t believe I will ever like is ‘Buy my book, it’s the most amazing x or y since Shakespeare.’  Who knows what will happen on this site? One thing’s for sure, I’m going to hang on in here and not rebel any more. Oh, I’m an obedient soul at heart and I do want to sell my books. Eventually. When I’ve got them right. You’ll be able to buy them here.

When I write that manual about sprockets, I’m not going to advertise it at all. It will just come with the goods.