On Easing Lockdown and, Plot Twist, Getting Offered the Vaccine When I’m Quite Young & Healthy

I started writing this early on Thursday and finished it on Friday evening and there was a bona fide plot twist while I was editing, so I wrote more and added to the first part and now it’s twice as long. I’ll add headers and random photos to break it up. ENJOY.

On lockdown easing, or, the original post

My hands are stiff from working on a report for college, so I thought I’d use the computer’s speech recognition software to write this. The system isn’t used to my voice, though, so words kept coming up as the @ symbol, or asterisks or an ampersand. Then I turned the screen to greyscale.

2021 in a nutshell, then. (I am typing this.) (I don’t know how to get the colour back on my screen ahaha.)

I can’t even remember what I wanted to talk about! I’ve started, now, though. Okay, let’s try this again. Let’s talk about lockdown easing.

How is everyone feeling about the possibility of a Return to Normal in June? I am… more anxious than I thought I would be. I wrote in the first lockdown about how I thought I’d be okay in isolation because I was already an introverted little hermit, but that even I was finding it hard. And I definitely still am – I had a dream the other night that I got a takeaway with some mates. My cousin moved house a few weeks ago and I can’t wait to see her new place. I miss mooching around charity shops and being rude about other people’s discarded clothes. I miss popping out. I want to get cocktails with my friends and gossip about colleagues and try to figure out if we know the person at the next table.

But.

I’m not sure if I’m ready for noisy pubs with tipsy people jostling you at the bar, or big family barbecues with forty people and lots of cheek kissing, or buses with squished-up queues. I know that even with hospitality reopening and easing of household mixing restrictions, we’re meant to still distance. But we won’t. Drunk people can’t. Anti-vaxxers and Covid-deniers won’t wear masks the moment they think they can get away with it. When lockdown eased in the summer, some of my family threw a boozy house party. Was it distanced and considered? Was it fuck. I know people who aren’t taking up their vaccine offers, or are sceptical that the pandemic is even a real thing. Will they do normal-things-plus-distancing or will they go back to 2019 behaviours, like elastic that’s been stretched and let go?

I went to Greece in the summer with family (not the house party family. I have, like, eight strands of family). I was anxious, but it was for a long-planned family event and on balance, when I’d done the reading, I reckoned it was safe enough to take the chance. No one I was with caught or transmitted Covid as far as I know, and although social distancing was less strict than here, Zakynthos felt safer than the UK (I’ve also never seen such clean aeroplanes). There’s been a lot of non-Covid family stuff over the last year and I’m grateful we got to do something normal for a week when the rules allowed it. So I’m not advocating for national lockdown and no fun until we hit zero new cases. But Southend’s pubs felt more disgusting and less safe on a personal level than Zakynthos’ bars before the pandemic. I don’t know if that speaks more to Southend’s grottiness or Zante’s friendliness. I’m digressing. Have a nice photo.

closeup photograph of bougainvillea
Did I just make my travel blues worse? Um yes

I don’t know if I can deal with coming out of lockdown again just to go back in when cases rise. I guess the theory is that with mass vaccination, cases can’t spike. But still. I think I’d rather stick out a longer lockdown and know what the rules are than yo-yo between tiers like we did in autumn. The constant changes made me anxious, but I know what lockdown involves. I know how to do it now. Southend’s been in lockdown since just before Christmas when we went into Tier 4, but I’ve been really busy so I’ve coped quite well. Better than first lockdown probably, because college and book promotion are keeping me occupied. I’ve got less time to spiral into doom thoughts. On the other hand, I can’t really remember what it’s like to not be in lockdown? And this roadmap whatsit seems like a lot of changes very quickly. I know the ‘back to normal’ date is in June and I’m writing this in February, but it feels soon. I was expecting to ease into ‘normal,’ the same way you dip a toe into a hot bath and acclimatise before getting in. Maybe start with a coffee on a park bench and work my way up. I guess going to Zakynthos was dipping a leg in? I’ve been there a dozen times, so visits are less like going to a foreign country and more like taking a really long journey to see old friends.

Then there’s the whole question of what ‘normal’ involves. I don’t hate what my life has been since Covid started. I hate lots of parts of it, but I feel like I’ve made progress with my mental health in the past year or so, probably because I can’t ignore issues when I’m stuck indoors. I’ve reconnected with friends over Zoom, done a tonne of reading, written a series of short stories, gone back to school. Published a book. I’m not mad about those things. So do I want things to go back to precisely how they were at the start of the pandemic? No. Plus, surviving 2020 feels like a badge of honour. I’m ready for parts of my life to start back up, while keeping hold of the good bits from Covid. I’m just not as ready as I’d like to be?

Perhaps I’ll feel differently when I’ve had a vaccine. And I think some people’s behaviours have changed permanently, for the better. I feel like it’s going to be really normal to see people with hay fever wearing masks, and it’s going to be more acceptable to call in sick to work when you have a cold. Hand sanitiser is going stay in people’s bags when they use public transport. More people will wash their hands before they eat.

Probably?

The second aspect of The Return to Normality that’s giving me nerves is money. As in, I don’t have a lot since I went back to college. It hasn’t been that big of a deal, because what is there to spend money on? Except I’ve promised at least three groups of people that when this thing is over, we’re going for dinner or drinks or suchlike (and I want to do it properly, with a nice outfit and cocktails with an umbrella). I looked at a restaurant menu the other day and thought ‘shit that looks pricy. Was it always this pricy?’ Everywhere’ s going to up their prices to make up their losses. I don’t blame them, and I do want to buy from my favourite places. God, I miss browsing bookshops. It just feels like a lot to commit fifty quid to a night out or a dinner I don’t feel completely safe going to.

from Giphy. I don’t know the film/show this is from I want to see it.

Oh, and the sudden ‘maybe’ of concerts going ahead is nerve wracking. I don’t think MCR’s tour will happen, at least for the UK, because their UK shows are in a stadium that seats 30,000 people and their run finishes the day before the legal limits are removed. If I were any of the dozens of people involved in the tour, I’d want to postpone. Just to be on the safe side and reduce the risk of getting stranded if a country’s rules change suddenly. But if it does go ahead, I (and presumably 30k other people) have to weigh up safety versus, you know, the return of Jesus. Also, I thought I had a while to save up for inane merchandise (that baby is me at a merch stand) and finish making my Killjoy jacket. JUNE IS TOO SOON.

Part two, or, plot twist

I took a break from working on this (and somehow turned the greyscale off, ha) to get lunch. I was faffing about when I got a text from my GP asking me to call to arrange a vaccine appointment. I have never made a phone call so fast. I’m the youngest person I know who’s been offered it (I’m 25), and I’m not completely sure why? It might be because I had asthma for a bit as a child, or more likely due to the respiratory issues I had when I was born. I was in A&E the Christmas before last with heart palpitations (did I ever tell you guys about that? Christmas Eve on a hospital ward, what a treat). Or maybe I’ve been up the doctor enough times in the past couple of years with my IBS and shitty wrists that I flag up on their system. Maybe I’ve got points on my loyalty card.

Seriously, though, I’m not sure how to feel. I mean, there was unrelenting joy and relief once I booked my appointment, followed by crushing guilt that I’ve been offered it when people with learning difficulties have had to fight to be moved up the list. I guess I’m in the ‘everyone over 16 with a health condition that increases their risk’ bracket, even if this is the first I’ve heard of it. Do I deserve the vaccine more than people who have been shielding for a year? No. As we’ve established, I don’t go out much. I’m not a key worker, I don’t see many people day to day. I’m not a huge risk to others, nor am I necessarily at risk of a bad Covid experience. But I didn’t turn the appointment down, because I have a responsibility to protect everyone who is at risk. If popping up the vaccination hub next week contributes to The Return of Normality, it’s the literally the least I can do. I’m just not sure if I’m quite ready for The Return of Normality. I gave myself a day to think about it before coming back to this post, and although I think getting the first vaccine will make me less nervous about socialising, I’m still not sure about pubs or crowded indoor gatherings. I’m definitely not sure about an open air stadium with 30,000 people. And by ‘not sure’ I mean ‘will probably refuse to unless I’m reassured by the data we’re given closer to the time regarding vaccinations and new cases.’ Obviously I’m hoping that things will continue to go well and by the time places open up, I’ll feel more confident. But we’ve been in lockdown-easing territory before, you know? Nothing’s certain until it’s happening.

I wasn’t sure whether to talk about being offered the vaccine. Bragging about getting it at 25 when I’m not even certain it’s for a current health issue is not a good look when so many more people are more deserving. Then I watched a Royal Institution livestream about vaccination myths and the panel talked about how young people might be more inclined to get vaccinated if influencers were getting it. I hope to never, ever be considered an influencer, unless I’ve influenced you to read a book I’ve raved about or some shit, but it won’t hurt to add my voice to the number of people talking about their experience. So I’m due to get vaccinated on Thursday, and I’ll pop in over the weekend to talk about what it was like, and discuss any side effects. If it’s anything like the flu jab, I’ll have a sore arm and take a nap… which is really not that different from a normal day. Might take a selfie with my little cotton arm swab for Instagram and caption it Be The Change.

So, yeah. This was a weird post to write: I’ve never had the topic I’m writing about have such a dramatic plot twist half way though! Editing was harder than it should have been. I’m not sure what tone I’m going for. Reticent? Nervy? Not looking forward to the possibility of getting yelled at on Twitter for getting the vaccine when I’m healthy and young versus not looking forward to listening to people talk about how if the pandemic was real, there would be bodies in the streets (real quote from a very intelligent human being). I’m still conflicted. About all eight billion words I just wrote. I usually end with a question, so I guess today I’m asking: if you’re under 30 or so, have you been offered the vaccine? How was it? Regardless of age, how are you feeling about going back to ‘normal’? If you are also an anxious neurotic who isn’t sure about hugging people, please let me know. Day to day I’m mostly surrounded by people who can’t wait to go partying and take off masks and pretend this shit never happened. Speak to me, my people…

Oh, I feel like you guys would appreciate that I celebrated booking my appointment by ordering a new bra. I mean, I was thinking about it anyway because the one I was wearing the day I began this post was literally falling apart at the seams and wouldn’t survive until the shops reopen. It had sort of begun garrotting my back. I figured it’s a very 2021 experience to celebrate one’s vaccination from Covid with the purchase of a (non-wired, obviously) bra. We’re supposed to celebrate the little things in life, right?!

Look after yourselves.
Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like. If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers.

So What Constitutes a Fan, Anyway?

Let’s talk about fans. Followers. Subscribers. Readers, in my case. I’ve thought about this a lot over the last few years, I was chatting about it with a friend recently and I figured, let’s chat with the internet. In 10+ years of blogging and posting stories on the internet, and five working in marketing, I’ve noticed an interesting disconnect between subscriber count/newsletter signups/social media follows/Patreon members, and engagement. As in, they look like this:

messily-drawn purple felt tip comparing views/subscribers/followers with engagement. Engagement is a fraction of the size of views/subscribers/followers.
I do so love doing visual art

It makes sense, right? In marketing, they say that if you convert 1% of your ‘leads’ into buyers, you’re doing well. There’s a whole funnel thing people go through between learning about you and making a purchase or, in this case, defining themselves as a fan, and you lose people at each stage of the funnel. So it follows that if you have 10,000 YouTube subscribers you probably don’t have 10,000 patrons. You don’t get 10,000 comments on each video. You can’t say you have 10,000 dedicated viewers. You might only have 10 patrons or sell 10 t-shirts and if that’s the case, you’re statistically doing quite well.

This disparity not a big deal in the grand scheme of, you know, real life. Anyone can click ‘follow’ or ‘subscribe’ to a webpage, then never look at that page again. People can buy followers, too, and then there are multiple accounts run by the same person, bot accounts, etc. It’s just one of those things. So how do you differentiate between someone who’s clicked the follow button and someone who’s an engaged reader or viewer? When do you know that that person has become, for want of a better word, a fan? I have no idea how other creators decide, but I’ve figured out how I do it and since there’s a pandemic on and I don’t have a life anyway I’ve written it up. Before we start: I do sort of feel that a person has to identify as a fan or member of a fandom. It’s like gender. If someone says they’re a fan, they’re a fan. If they don’t, they aren’t. So when I’m saying ‘fan,’ I really mean ‘engaged human.’ ‘A person with ongoing interest in a creator.’ You can be engaged with a creator and not really consider yourself a fan of theirs. It’s up to you to wave your fan flag from the rooftops! Your choice to become an active member of a fandom and wear little pin badges proclaiming your fan-ness! I can’t believe I’ve drawn a link between fandom and gender identity. Let’s get on with this thing before I unwittingly insult a lot of people.

How I Figure Out How Many Readers and/or ‘Fans’ I Have

Let’s start with a story time and wind it back to 2012. My friends and I were in school. We were busy (12 classes on a timetable. How was that legal?!) but also not that busy. So if I tapped out a blog post, they would come and read and comment on it. A lot. We had some serious threads going on! You can still find them if you look, which I don’t hugely recommend as I was just as grumpy as I am now but also way more ignorant. Oh, the irony.

Anyway. As the years went by, my friends got busy with the real world and average monthly views dropped significantly but as they got busier, I got more serious about making money from writing. I realised that had I monetised the blog when it reported 800, 1000, 2,000 monthly views, I could have made, well, not a lot of money, but maybe enough to contribute to the domain names. Alas, the ship had sailed. A lot of those friends weren’t really readers, anymore, anyway.

How can you know that, though, you ask. Are analytics that good you can tell all your readers by name? No. No, they aren’t that good. I can see the country people arrive from. I can see visitors versus views, ie when one person comes to the site multiple times (I think it’s to do with cookies, though, so if you clear your browser history a new visit might count you as a new visitor, or if you’re in a private browser it might not count you at all. It’s not an exact science). You can see from these screenshots that the visitor/view count can, however, mislead or confuse you depending on which statistics you’re interested in tracking. In 2012, I had my best year for views ever. Almost 16k total views! That’s not huge for an influencer, but it was pretty big for 16/17 year old me.

Graph showing visitors and views for IndifferentIgnorance.com from 2012-2014.
The darker bit is visitors, the lighter bit views.

2013 and 2014 look pretty low in comparison, right? Half as many views. But when you focus on the number of visitors I had from 2012 to 2014, it’s a completely different picture:

Graph of visitors to IndifferentIgnorance.com from 2012 to 2014.
This is the darker part of the graph above, the visitor count.

Although I had fewer visits in 2013 and 2014, the people who did visit came back multiple times. In 2012, it was mostly the same people clicking back lots of times. If you only care about view count, it doesn’t matter to you if 16k people click on your page once and never return. If you care about building a community, you’re likely more interested in who’s revisiting. So these graphs are a data-filled minefield! And maybe you can’t trust your stats if you’re not even sure what you want to track!

Another thing: I can see search terms and number of email subscribers and number of WordPress subscribers but I can’t see name, age, post code, etc. There’s no way of telling if someone’s a casual reader, or pops in twice a year, or reads every post as soon as I press publish. You could go by how many comments each post gets, but I’ll talk more in a tick about how that’s not necessarily a good way of working things out either. Essentially, unless you’re only interested in views or subscriber count, there’s no formula you can plug in. A over B minus C equals engaged fan, etc.

So here’s how I work it out.

I’ve been blogging since 2009. I post one to four posts a month, thereabouts. Back in the day I posted one to four posts a week (insane), but over the last four or five years it’s about one to four monthly. My rule of thumb for discerning a ‘regular reader’ is that they are anyone who leaves a comment, or does a reply to a publication post on social media, or drops me a message, or brings it up in conversation if we know each other in real life, every two-four months. Because I can’t discern ‘casual reader’ from ‘one time viewer’ from ‘very enthusiastic reader, essentially a fan’ from the analytics, I go by how often the reader actively tells me they’re there. And if you don’t tell me you’re there every quarter, or every 12 or so posts, I’m going to assume you’re not there and haven’t been since I last heard from you.

Does that sound too strict to you? Or not strict enough? I came to the ‘every two-four months or assume they’ve gone’ ‘rule’ by considering how I engage with creators, and assuming that the rest of the world acts in a same-ish way. Look, I used the phrase ‘rule of thumb,’ you can’t have expected lots of science. Maybe I’m the only person in the universe who engages how I do.

To break it down my consumer habits a bit: I don’t comment on every YouTube video I watch or comment on every blog I read. But when I think of the creators I like giving my time to, I might post a comment every third or fourth post (or comment on a comment). Sometimes I only comment once in a blue moon, because I don’t have anything to add to the conversation, or I’m not quite ready to start chatting to the creator. Sometimes it’s nice to just be a bit casual or anonymous, especially if the creator’s subject is something I’m new to, or if I’m educating myself about a topic. Sometimes, my way of engaging is to tell people to check out so-and-so (speaking of. Remind me to tell you guys how much fun this last series of The Magnus Archives has been). So I consider myself ‘engaged’ with a creator if I do those semi-regular, well, engagements. If I engage casually, maybe only commenting every few months, then I’m a casual reader/viewer. A fan but in a very relaxed way. No flag waving! It’s flexible, though. You can go back and forth between ‘casual’ and ‘active’ a lot over the years of liking something or someone’s work.

For example, I spent three or four months as a casual listener of The Magnus Archives, but then I joined a subreddit which I comment on sometimes and I’ve been nerding out about the plot of the final series with my friend and I wrote a script inspired by [spoilers] for my friend to illustrate, so now I reckon I’m a committed fan. Oh, and I’m telling you guys about it! So, yeah, I’m a member of the Red String Brigade as of the day I’m writing this. Will I always be this entrenched in the show? No. But I’ll always have a soft spot for the creators and the fandom, which seems to be stocked with very nice people. In the same way that I don’t listen to My Chemical Romance every day* but I do still retweet Frank Iero and keep half an eye on solo projects and merchandise. Many fandom friends from 2011 are still my friends now. If MCR ever comes out with new music, I’ll hit that order button faster than Biden re-joined the Paris Climate Agreement. I’ve spent months designing a jacket for their comeback show. ‘Being a fan’ is an elastic experience, like attending an exercise class. You can stop for a bit and then go back when you feel like it. Let the tide take you where it will.

None of this is designed to make you feel bad if you’ve been reading this blog for 10 years and you’ve never left a comment. You’re consuming entertainment, not applying for a mortgage. I do not need proof of your existence. Like I said, there are some creators I engage with rarely, if ever. Those I’m watching or reading because I’d like to learn more about a subject are more likely to get a quiet private message from me saying thanks for the info than they are a five paragraph comment, you know? Maybe one day I’ll start engaging more publicly or regularly, but I might not. I might not even send that private message; I’m not contractually required to. As a consumer I like to show my appreciation but I don’t like being made to feel obliged to do so. As a creator, I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to comment on every Tweet or blog post in order for me to consider them ‘a real reader.’ If you like the things I write on this blog, you’re one of my readers, as far as I’m concerned! Which probably negates a lot of what I’ve just written but like I said, these things are self-identified so really this rule of thumb business is just me being a giant Guessy McGuesser.

I feel like I’m going to get a question about books, so:

How does this work with books?

Shockingly, I do not know the identity of everyone who buys my book (please buy my book). My royalty statements aren’t through yet but they won’t contain a list of customer names. No one wants that much depth in their analytics… I suppose my only way of telling a casual reader from an engaged one is if they actively engage with the book after they’ve finished reading. For example if they hit me up in a private message, or leave a review.

So what have we learnt? I learnt that I wanted to put a gif of Klaus Hargreeves in a swimming pool below the paragraph about the tide and I couldn’t find a suitable one. Have you learnt anything? If you’re a consumer, how do you know when you’ve become a fan as opposed to a casual viewer? If you’re a creator and a consumer, how do you work it out?

Look after yourselves!
Francesca

*I am listening to My Chemical Romance as I edit, though, ha!


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like. If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers.

Read, If You Like: Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

Is it hugely shameful to have completely missed this children’s classic when I was an actual child? I don’t know how it passed me by, especially as there’s been a copy on my shelf for ages. I’d have loved this story 15 years ago… to be honest I quite loved it now. So let’s not beat about the bush:

Read Anne of Green Gables (LM Montgomery, 1908), if you like:

  • Chatterboxes
  • Nature
  • Really wonderful descriptions of nature, honestly, A***
  • Gently irritating characters who are well written enough that you they grow on you after a while
  • A look at early 20th century Canadian life
  • A warm feeling of cosiness
  • Slow living, which I suppose was just called ‘living’ a century ago
  • Honestly it is so cosy, it was a perfect January read.
photograph of 'Anne of Green Gables' by LM Montgomery, 1980s TV tie in Penguin Edition
I wanted to add some leaves or suchlike to the photo, but the background – a footstall my grandfather made that I use for propping up my laptop – seemed suitably rustic. Also I KNOW it’s a bit wonky ugh what are you, Instagram.

I’m probably going to give my copy of Anne away for bookshelf space reasons, but I very much hope to return to the world in future. I knew there was a series of Anne books and my instincts with series is to wonder if the author’s stretched things out for money or reputation, but I could live in Avonlea quite happily for years, and I got the impression LM Montgomery felt the same way. Maybe I’ll keep my copy after all…

The only thing part of me wanted more of is general background about Canada. We learn a lot about the world of the Avonlea and its inhabitants, but aside from Murdoch Mysteries (okay, including Murdoch Mysteries) I know almost nothing about Canadian history. The Home Children are mentioned in passing, as well as some political events, but I’m always after more. To be honest I think I’d prefer a list of good history books over a novel with more background: this really was one of those perfectly formed little gems (and it wouldn’t have made sense for Montgomery to spend paragraphs spelling out context, as her audience would have already known it). I also think it’s asking too much to expect a children’s book published in the 1900s to cover the intricacies of the Home Children, too, so I’ll shut my gob and look forward to reading the next instalment.

Other books I’ve devoured lately: Natalie Haynes’ Pandora’s Jar, The Scorpio Races, Brian Jacques’ The Taggerung (another children’s book that was on my shelf for so long that I’d stopped being a child when I read it AND NOW I learn Netflix is turning the whole series into a show. How did the entire universe of Redwall pass me by until the age of 25?). I’m partway through Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen and I think that might be my next Read, If You Like because it’s a really meaty story so far, with absolutely nothing in common with Anne of Green Gables except maybe the book name/character name element. Would you like to see any of the above as a Read, If You Like? I’m thinking of doing two or three books per post, if those books have similar themes. There are so many books to talk about and so few weeks in the year.

Did you read Anne of Green Gables as a child? Did you get the same ~ feelings ~ that I did as an adult?

Look after yourselves!

Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like. If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers.

Making Money: introducing a quarterly income round up!

Hi hi lovelies. A slightly quicker post from me today. More of a heads up kind of a thing? I’ve been sharing a survey on my socials about how I can improve my Patreon page, the No. 1 Readers’ Club (please take a couple of minutes to do it, whether you’re a member or not, because more voices equals better direction for me, and your input will influence the posts I share here).

One of the suggestions that has come up so far is more transparency about where patrons’ money goes. I’d already been considering sharing a post, or posts, about how I earn my money, because I’ve had a lot of questions about book royalties and how they work. I figured that, since royalties are a quarterly thing, it might be more useful to do a quarterly ’round up’ post detailing all my income rather than a monthly one… also, frankly, I don’t earn enough at present to warrant a monthly post. So what I’m thinking is, I’ll do the first one when my first royalty statement comes through. That will be some time in March, I believe. I can also talk about the money I get in from my stationery shops, plus of course income from my patrons. I’m not sure how long the post will be, but I want to be as transparent with patrons as I can, so I figure I’ll do it every quarter? I won’t be sharing how I spend my money, but the number of questions I’ve had about book royalties alone has convinced me that the general public could do with a little bit of an education about how much authors actually earn.

Spoiler alert: this will be my face when I calculate how much I’ve earnt versus what publishing dragonnovel cost:

Gerard Way pulling a face next to a BBC reporter at Reading Festival in 2014
from bloodinfections.tumblr.com, according to my computer

(That image has been sitting on my computer for SIX YEARS.)

Anyway. Leave a comment if you’d like to see anything in particular in this as-yet unwritten income round up post! Let me know if you have any questions about book royalties and how they work, or how publishing works, and I’ll do my best to add those in too. I feel like people tend to think of the creative industries as a bit mystical and opaque, not to mention lucrative, so anything I can to, you know, add some reality to the perception is something I’m interested in. I know March isn’t for ages, but this is the sort of topic that requires planning and I want to do it properly.

Look after yourselves!

Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers.

Thoughts on the Epically Long Bad Book Review (by a confused reader and slightly nervous author)

Picture the scene.

You’re browsing the internet. You find a page of reviews for a book you loved, or perhaps fall down a book blog rabbit hole. You spend a delightful tea break reading all the posts from people who, like you, find this book FANTASTIC. You are warmed in your soul; you feel connected to these reviewers, these strangers across oceans; you’re joined by the thread of mutual appreciation.

And then.

Snuggled amongst the posts, like a wee moth in a dresser of comfy jumpers, is a two star review. Not just a two star rating. There’s prose. It’s five paragraphs long. It runs to hundreds of words. It’s an Epically Long Bad Review.

You’re devastated. Well. Displeased. Perplexed. DID THIS PERSON READ THE SAME BOOK YOU DID? Maybe they were born without good taste. That’s not their fault. But, you think, five paragraphs and hundreds of words? That’s quite some commitment when you consider edits. Why? Whyyyy?

Okay back to first person. We all knew I meant ‘me.’

I am, obviously, writing this now not because I’ve only just discovered book reviews but because I’m spending a lot of time on Goodreads and engaging with the #bookstagram tag as part of the promotion for The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes (blog tour ongoing!), so reviews are very much on my mind. I’m also using Goodreads to keep track of my reading and share my thoughts on some books (my reviews are either very earnest or your drunk auntie at a party, no five paragraphers from me unless it’s a Read, If You Like). Thus, a lot of time on Goodreads. I’m also trying to focus my energy on things that either feel productive or are genuinely enjoyable, because if 2020’s legacy is anything, it’s ‘let’s try to enjoy this tyre fire of a world before the planet dies completely…’

So, yeah, I’m perplexed by the existence of the Epically Long Bad Review. Why would you put so much care into a blog post or Goodreads entry explaining why you hate a book? It feels counterproductive at best and, at worse, like you’re wallowing in bad feeling. You didn’t enjoy a novel, it wasn’t worth your attention… so why are you telling us about it? Why, when, according to the internet, you will only live for 40,000,000 minutes? It’s not the author’s time you’re wasting, you know?

In the interests of balance, because I used to want to be a journalist

I’m not against negative reviews in general. It’s good to tell potential readers, ‘don’t read this book if you don’t like memoirs written by a famous person who is not naturally an author, whose prose feels a little like walking through mud.’ Or ‘I didn’t love the arguably unnecessary violence in this novel and you might not either.’ That’s useful. I want to know if a book deals in heavy themes with all the nuance of a sledgehammer. But who are you really serving by spending paragraphs and paragraphs talking about each and every terrible aspect of the book when you could say the same thing in a couple of sentences?

Maybe I’m overthinking this. One reader’s five star review is another’s one star, after all. ‘The prose felt childlike and the plot moved too fast; this is a juvenile waste of my time,’ is another reader’s ‘the writing was direct and didn’t faff around. The pacing was so fast, I was on the edge of my seat and couldn’t put it down.’ I think I’m really just in awe of the length and detail of some of these Epically Long Bad Reviews. It’s the love that goes into them that bemuses me.

Kermit the frog typing manically from Giphy
from Giphy

Time to declare my conflict of interest

Obviously I’m biased about reviews when it comes to one particular writer over all others. I’m a newly-published author who needs good press. At time of writing, I’m organising that blog tour for The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes and crossing my fingers for good, or at least neutral, feedback. At the moment, as there are so few reviews up for the book, I’d rather none of them were less than four stars. If they are less than four stars, I’d prefer there wasn’t a five paragraph explanation of everything the reader hated about it. Not because I’m personally offended by the review or the reviewer – I know they aren’t being personal. I also know I wrote a book that stands up with, if not the best of them, than at least not the worst. I feel reasonably confident in saying that because I’ve read thousands of novels in my life and watched thousands of films and TV shows: I can tell the difference between a well executed plot and a badly executed one. I can identify good prose versus prose that just needs a bit of polishing versus prose that’s genuinely terrible. I know the next novel I write will be better, because I’ll have had more practise and read more books. So although I may spend a few precious seconds of my 40,000,000 minutes reading that Epically Long Bad Review, thinking ‘god that reader has no taste,’ I’ll survive.

Plus, in ten years’ time, if The Princess and the Dragon has hundreds of four-plus star reviews, reports solid royalties and remains a piece of work I’m proud of, I’m not going to give a shit if Briana from Nottingham found the writing immature and the sub plots boring. I might get drunk with my mates and read Briana’s review out loud when we have a get together, because I’m drinking a gin and tonic purchased with those sweet royalties (you would too, don’t pretend otherwise), but I will be fine. And I won’t nurse a grudge against Briana for her honesty.

That’s ten years’ time, though. While I’m getting this book off the ground and trying to recoup some of the publishing costs, I’m mindful that Briana and her Nottingham-based book-themed Instagram could impact my burgeoning reputation. Does that mean Briana shouldn’t post her honest opinion? Of course not. Free speech, man. I might curse you and the potential damage to my gin and tonic money, but your time’s your own to do with what you will, and freedom of expression is as important when you disagree with that the thing being expressed as when you agree with it (it might be more important when you disagree). If you think my work should be thrown in the proverbial bonfire, you’re more than welcome to tell people that. But what do you really want to achieve by it? Do you want me to see fewer sales? Do you want to dampen some of the noise around my book’s release?

I respect that if you also think that I should be thrown in the proverbial bonfire – maybe we disagreed on Twitter once, or you don’t like how I run my businesses, or I stepped through a door you were holding and didn’t say thank you. If that’s the case, I understand that telling people to avoid me and avoid lining my pockets is something you might want to spend time doing. (I especially respect that if you’ve had experiences with an author who’s been racist towards you, or you saw them being rude to fans at events, or they’ve been accused of plagiarism by a credible source, etc. There’s another conversation to be had about the line between a creator and their work, and how much one can be considered separate from the other, but if you think a person’s actions cause another person harm, you arguably have a moral duty to do your level best to talk about it.)

But if you just didn’t click with the book I wrote? I’m not sure what you’re aiming to do in five paragraphs that you couldn’t do in five sentences or less: ‘this book wasn’t for me, because of [reason]. I also didn’t like the way [something] was portrayed and I thought the prose was [something else]. If you do like those things, you might have better luck than I did.’

Alice curtsying
From Giphy I believe

Just saying. You stretch your free speech muscles, woo. I’m glad that you didn’t feel like you had to lie about how you felt while also feeling relieved you were reasonably objective. My sales and reputation can continue growing, woo.

When it comes to my own reviews or recommendations, I don’t review anything on Goodreads that I consider anything less than four stars. It doesn’t feel necessary. Not when my three stars is another person’s five. Not when I know how long it takes to write a novel, and how much soul goes into each draft and edit and late night hunched over the computer. It feels like I’m being a bad author by talking shit about another author. We all earn peanuts at the end of the day, we all do the work because we love it and we all want the publishing industry, book selling industry and reader communities to thrive. Like I said, I’ve got better things to do with my 40,000,000 minutes.

What are your thoughts on the Epically Long Bad Review? I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether you’re a vivacious reviewer, a causal reader, an author or a mix of the above. Do you write long reviews? Do you write short reviews? I think that, as a reader, I’m still perplexed. As a writer, I’m definitely slightly nauseous every time I see there’s a new review for The Princess and the Dragon. I don’t think that will go away any time soon, even if I do figure out the point of the five paragraph bitchathon.

Look after yourselves!

Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Or we could just get coffee? If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my book, The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers.

Making a Killjoy Jacket Part Two

I was under the impression I’d already done a sequel to this post, but I’ve clearly made far less progress on my killjoy jacket than I thought I had. The MCR show I’m making it for is meant to be in June, but I’m pretty sure it won’t happen. Part of me wants another year to get fit enough to dance for 90 minutes and decide what I’m going to put on the back of the jacket, even without the ongoing worry of Covid and vaccinations and which tier I’m in (I can’t remember, I’m assuming it’s a bad one).

Anyway, the jacket. It needs a back piece! I could sew on a large patch or I could stencil something? I’m not good enough an artist to freehand it. There are some nice larger patch designs available online that I might save up for. BUT THAT IS FOR ANOTHER DAY. Here is the progress I’d made in June, adding an Aglionby Academy patch and a Fun Ghoul patch:

dark green New Look jacket with My Chemical Romance patch and The Raven Cycle patch

Here is the progress I’ve made since June:

Yes, it’s only one pocket patch. It is a very large patch, though. Shout out to Jayne at Tickle and Thread on Folksy for being so helpful when I Instagram messaged her about restocking the design I was after! I’m so pleased with the contrasting yellow/khaki colours. It’s also matchy matchy with the Fun Ghoul patch. I’m not sure what will go on the other pocket. Maybe something else book-inspired, or maybe something tarot-y. I’ve seen some lovely little designs inspired by Greek mythology. Hmmm.

In the mean time, I have a conundrum regarding something I already know I want to add:

This quite large mourning band came with… a CD. Presumably May Death Never Stop You? I can’t remember. Obviously it would go perfectly on the left jacket sleeve, which is where mourning bands traditionally go unless the internet has lied to me (what a thought). It would now of course be delightfully ironic.

Had I purchased it, though, I’d have bought one that fit my arm instead of the arm of the Average Man, which I think is who this one is designed for. My initial plan was to stitch it around the arm of the jacket, but it’s so big! Should I cut it shorter to sew it on? Or sew on the design part of the patch first and then wrap the rest of the fabric to fit?

Sewers of the universe, lend me your opinions. I definitely have a while to decide how to do it, but it’s nice to have little goals in lockdown… once I’ve proceeded with whatever I choose, I’ll take another full photo. I might even – but don’t quote me – be in the picture, wearing the jacket. We’ll see what my hair’s doing then.

Look after yourselves!

Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Or we could just get coffee? If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers.

Read, If You Like: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Welcome back to my occasional book recommendation series! I don’t like to overtly review books, because what I disliked about a novel might be what someone else liked about it, so it feels unfair to the author to write a post moaning about a novel I didn’t like. I also personally try to avoid reading too many reviews before reading a book, in case it doesn’t live up to the hype or I feel obliged to agree with reviewers when I actually don’t. Let me make up my own mind, I guess is what I’m saying. That said, I enjoy doing Read, If You Like because some of the best recommendations I’ve had have been where people have said ‘oh, you like X and Y book or film? Then you’ll probably enjoy this one!’ They are usually right.

So without further ado, the first Read, If You Like for 2021!

Read The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath, 1963), if you like:

  • Candid, realistic depictions of mental illness (note that if you are currently in the depths of depression, you might find that The Bell Jar either speaks to you and gives you hope or just pushes you a further into the depths, so please consume responsibly and also seek out some professional help)
  • Protagonists, like our lady Esther Greenwood, who are simultaneously very annoying and very real. I have met various Esther Greenwoods. I have been a bit of a Esther Greenwood. I think a lot of teenage girls and young women stray into Esther territory at some point, not necessarily in terms of her mental illness but in terms of being frustrating, frustrated and hugely overwhelmed by life’s opportunities
  • A snapshot of 1950s Americaaaa
  • With all of its lovely bigotry, I should add, just as a heads up if you’re not in the mood for casual racism
  • So much has changed
  • Deliberate, easily readable prose (Sylvia Plath was a complicated human being but this book felt accessible. I was expecting to find this A Very Tough Read, given its main topic is mental health, and although I didn’t skip through it, the prose is concise and draws you in. It’s not one of those books where every sentence feels laboured)
  • Irritating secondary characters
  • Some of them are so, so irritating
  • Reading around the subject, to an extent. Adding this in because on the back of my copy, the blurb proclaims that The Bell Jar was published a month before Plath’s suicide. I assume this nugget is on most blurbs. It was impossible, therefore, to read it without drawing parallels between Plath’s life and Esther’s. I studied Plath for a while at A Level so I remembered a bit about her experiences of depression and her death, and I kept thinking, ‘this feels autobiographical.’ To write about depression that well, you really have to have experienced it, which is probably why the book feels authentic. It is authentic. It’s also just a bit sad, you know? It’s hard not to wonder what sort of person Plath would have become had she lived past 30. So if you don’t know much about Sylvia Plath before reading The Bell Jar, except for what’s on the burb/author page of your copy, you might feel compelled to Google her afterwards. And if you did know about her, then that knowledge will colour your experience of The Bell Jar, and then your reading of The Bell Jar will influence how you feel about Plath. They’re always going to be linked in the reader’s mind.
Spine of 'The Bell Jar' by Sylvia Plath, plus a pen and pencil, on lined paper and envelopes.
I tried to do a proper photo of the cover, but it’s so grey and rainy here today that the lighting/shadows made everything very, very ugly. Enjoy this book spine instead!

So, yeah, not the easiest of reads but definitely worth a try if you’re interested in any of the above. I am cleansing my palette, I should add, both with Pandora’s Jar and with The Scorpio Races, which I actually tried to borrow from the library in November but lockdown got in the way. It is a very November book, The Scorpio Races. Pandora’s Jar is about women of Greek myths and how history’s done them dirty, ie by calling Pandora’s jar a box and conflating Pandora with Eve. The Bible’s Eve, not, like, Killing Eve’s Eve. You probably got that. Um. Follow me on Goodreads if you want to keep up with what I’m reading. I think I’m following myself on Goodreads. How is that possible when I only have one account?!

I will see you soon-ish for another one of these, maybe for Pandora’s Jar? With the country in lockdown there’s not much to do except my college work, writing and reading, and you guys don’t need to see my notes for the Effective Business Processes assignment. I drew a diagram the other day that looks like a blueprint for a bathroom’s plumbing. It actually has something to do with ‘critical path analyses’.

Told you you wouldn’t want to know. Leave a comment if you’ve read The Bell Jar, or Plath’s poetry – what did you think of it?

Look after yourselves!


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Or we could just get coffee?

Let’s talk about stamps, baby

Let’s chat about the post. The mail. Shipping. Stamps! Here is a pretty example of postage:

stamps from Finland on neat postmarked envelopes
By Anne Nygard on Unsplash

Here is a realistic example of postage:

I started my stationery business back in 2014 or so, and in summer 2017 when I was looking to increase orders, I asked my friends whether they prefer to pay postage on online items or not. They were unequivocal: postage is annoying, especially when your budget is £20 and your basket is £19.50 and then you hit the check out and you’re actually paying £26.72. So I decided to experiment and offer free UK postage. The same day I changed the postage settings, I had my biggest order to date, which felt like a good sign. Back then I used very thin paper envelopes and most of my items were the size of a regular letter, so free domestic postage wasn’t going to bankrupt me.

Royal Mail always put their prices up in March, sometimes by quite a bit, and over the years I began to invest in thicker envelopes and larger items requiring more postage. But my margins were still okay-ish. In 2020, Royal Mail upped their prices in March, July, September and then again from 1st January. Mostly it was international postage changes but in January UK stamp prices went up by 2-12% (biggest increase since 2012. Small parcels have gone up too. Going to blame Covid for that. And Brexit, because it makes me feel better). I realised that if I kept offering free postage, I would be paying my customers to buy my products. So at the end of December I introduced a 50p postage charge on UK items, with 10p on items thereafter. Large letter second class stamps are 96p now, so the customer is still getting a deal; I’m just making sure I don’t lose money.

On the first order I had after changing the postage price, the customer used a browser plugin to use a free postage coupon I’d forgotten about. I love my customers, I am grateful for my customers and I understand that times are tough. I get that we all resent paying for postage. I’m not frustrated at the customer, I’m frustrated at past Francesca for not remembering to cancel those long ago coupons. But still.

Frank Iero fuck off gif
from Tumblr

Orders have been quiet since. That’s a bit because it’s January, of course, and a bit because Covid is getting to everyone. But is it also a bit because of postage charge? Over on the Big E, they prioritise showing items that offer free shipping over those that don’t (great idea for those creators who have to send their expensive hand crafted items tracked and insured, or those who can’t afford to absorb the cost of postage, or anyone who isn’t a drop shipping shitbag reselling crap they found on Urban Outfitters).

I don’t know. I can either continue offering pencils at £3.95 plus 50p postage, or I can start offering pencils at £4.45. Either way people are going to be thinking ‘well that’s a bit pricy.’ It isn’t, of course. My margins are almost too low to be practical; the majority of my products are purchased from small UK suppliers, so they’re more expensive than the standard fare you find on Amazon or eBay. My suppliers are VAT registered and I’m not, so I can’t claim back that 20%. I’m not busy enough to apply the old economy of scale, either, and purchase a thousand pencils at a lower price than I pay for 250. I’m thinking of changing up my packaging, because those higher quality envelopes are eating my profits. Any savings might be negated by free replacements of items that have been crushed in the post, though. Or maybe I should only offer bundled items, because two or three products per order is a much better margin.

Or perhaps we could as consumers could start understanding that when we buy an item on the internet, the product and the postage are two different things? When I had free shipping on my shop, Royal Mail wasn’t being paid in smiles and small talk; the postage cost was coming out of the product cost alongside packaging materials, the item itself and, you know, my time. Now I’m just asking people to see the two costs in two separate columns. Are we really so used to Amazon Prime’s free-postage-24-hour-delivery-free-returns that we’ve lost our understanding that indie sellers on Folksy or Etsy aren’t using the same business model that Jeff Bezos is?

Probably.

I haven’t decided if I’m going to keep the postage charge or just raise my prices. I suppose I could go back to those cheap as eff packaging materials and say a small prayer every time I ship something. I could experiment with other postage providers, like Hermes, but I’ve heard so many bad things about their service. I could make another attempt at Click and Drop, although last time I tried printing my own shipping labels I almost threw my printer out of the window. You still have to buy those mailing stickers, anyway, so I don’t know if it’s worth it for my little cards and prints. Maybe it’s time to offer digital items with no postage cost, or much heavier, larger items with a big enough price point that I can include postage within the item price without the customer blinking. Maybe my entire business model needs rethinking.

WHO KNOWS. It’s 2021. We’re living in a world where I can’t hug my nan but white supremacists can attempt a coup d’tat in the United States legislature at the behest of the president. Anything is possible! I’m going to pop off to make a cup of tea – or maybe a gin and tonic, because 2021.

Here’s my shop, by the way, if any of my moaning has whetted your appetite. Are any of you in the online sales business? Are any of you customers with really strong feelings about online sales? Let me know your thoughts on this! I think to-charge-postage-or-to-not-charge-postage is one of those weirdly large issues that will be hanging around for the foreseeable future, and I do not have the answers so I’d love to hear some other perspectives.

Look after yourselves!


Want to support this page and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Or we could just get coffee?