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.

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!


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Minimalish, Part Three: a 1-month anniversary review of the Brick Phone

Before we start: this post got LONG. Just a heads up, especially if you’re reading on a mobile (ha). Here’s part one, part two and part four of this tenuous series.

I was going to share this sooner, but I wanted to take a bit longer to get to know the newest electronic acquisition in my life:

Black Nokia 3310 2015 'brick phone'
Bow added for scale

Yep, it’s a brick phone. It’s a 2015 model, so it has 3G and an okay-ish camera, but that’s about it. I got it because my smart phone is dying (at the stage where you take one photo and 80% battery becomes 2% battery) and because I was fed up with spending all my brain power looking at one small, overly-delicate screen. I’m also trying to look after my mental health more, and although a lot of studies are observational and although the internet is generally a Good Thing, we know that increased screen time often contributes to worse sleep, which contributes to worse mental health. We know that the behaviour associated with bad mental health can also be associated with obsessive phone use. (This is a good article looking at various evidence for what I’ve just mentioned.) I know that my smart phone contributed to my appalling mental health, through the very scientific study of having used one for 10 years.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about consumption and the environment, so I didn’t want to get a new-new phone. When I scoured Southend’s second hand tech shops, I realised I couldn’t actually afford an old-new smart phone, even if I wanted one, because smart phone prices are like house prices. It doesn’t matter how many are available or what the quality’s like; someone’s realised that they can get away with adding a couple of zeroes to the market price every year or so. £400 for a second hand mobile that will stop accepting updates in a year or two? Haahahaa no.

From sunshinethekatt.tumblr.com

So I got this little Nokia. Emphasis on the little. I’ve had it about a month now, so I thought this is a good time to take stock of its pros and cons:

New Brick Phone Pros

  • There’s no touchscreen; it’s harder to accidentally press something and message the wrong person.
  • It’s so basic there’s no need to pick it up unless it makes a sound.
  • Fits in most bags and pockets.
  • It has Snake!
  • It cost £23, aka a realistic budget for a full time student.
  • I’ve owned it for four weeks and, after an inaugural full charge, have only plugged it in twice. Maybe three times, but I think twice. I do a fair amount of calling on it too. My smart phone needed juice every other day at best.
  • It’s too early to say for sure (thanks lockdown), but I think I’m more present at social events. There obviously hasn’t been enough socialising to do a full study, but since there’s nothing to do on the phone unless I want to call or text, or maybe use the calculator or timer, there’s no point in it being in my hand.
  • I have to be more deliberate about doing the things I used to do in 2 clicks on the smart phone. For example, I use Headspace, and I try to do a few minutes’ meditation (or sitting to try to meditate) everyday. Now my smart phone is usually turned off or failing to charge, I often use the desktop version of the app, which means I’m planning my meditation more. It’s the same for my banking app: I used to check it as though I had a nervous tic. Now I spend a minute logging in on desktop, so I do it less but now I know what I’m looking for when I am on there.
  • I think I’m not tapping my card to pay for ‘little’ purchases quite as much either, because I can’t do a quick balance check to see if I can justify the payment. If I’m right, it’s probably going to save me cash in the long run because let’s face it, ‘checking to see if I could justify the purchase’ did not necessarily mean I could really afford it, but it meant that I told myself that I’d done my due diligence.
  • I’ve done at least one Proper Drop and the thing damn near bounced. There’s barely a scratch on it, and it was second hand to start with. I can’t believe how much I’m going to save on screen protectors, cases, repairs, etc.
  • No creepy adverts on the phone that reflect something I Googled on a separate device.
  • No noisy, headache-inducing apps enticing me to stay a minute longer.
  • I don’t feel like every tap is being tracked by the government or satellites or whoever owns or hacks the satellites. It doesn’t even matter if I am being tracked, man, I just don’t like the feeling that I might be.

Brick Phone Cons

  • Manual button pressing for texts = painful on my achy fingers (on the plus side, I find I am saving things for when I can have a proper conversation. This might improve my memory in the long term?).
  • No notes app (ditto; I carry a pen most places anyway).
  • No track and trace (although the track and trace app fried my smartphone to the extent I couldn’t turn on the location or the Bluetooth until I was zapping a QR code, which called into question the point of having said app. Also haven’t they decided track and trace in England doesn’t work?).
  • No emojis. You can insert basic smileys, but I miss the eye roll emoji.
  • It’s so small I keep losing it in my pockets. Do you know how small a phone has to be to get lost in women’s cut pockets? I can actually keep the phone in my purse haha. I keep leaving it around the house, too, and forgetting where it’s gone because I haven’t needed to look at it for six hours.
  • No WhatsApp or work banking apps.
  • I would love a better camera.

All in all, I’m feeling pretty positive about the swap. For anyone wondering about phone contracts: I have a SIM only pay-as-you-go whatsit. At one point I topped up my smart phone with £10 or £20 a month, depending on how much data I thought I might need. Gradually I reduced it, because I wasn’t really using all the calls or texts, and I realised that a lot of my smart phone use was just me checking emails or messages that could wait until I got to a computer. Have I ever mentioned that I’m not very good at work-life balance. So I have a bundle thing that works out as £1 a week for calls, texts and data. I thought I might have to pay more when I bought the brick, because it doesn’t have wifi capability – you have to use 3G. But the internet system is a) quite shit and not worth bothering with unless it’s an emergency, and b) so low tech that your data gets you more browsing time.

There are a couple of things I’d like to improve.

Number one is WhatsApp and the banking apps. I’m in a couple of groups with family and college people that are really useful. You can get WhatsApp on desktop (so much easier than typing on a phone) but it needs to connect to the smart phone. Which is entering that can’t-hold-charge phase of its demise. Can I really do without WhatsApp? Not sure. I also liked the Facebook messenger app, because I do a fair bit of selling on Facebook and it’s convenient to be able to message people in situ. There are also friends who I only get hold of through Facebook, so sometimes I’d like to be able to message them a bit more easily. Furthermore*, I did like apps like Depop and Headspace (infinitely easier on the app than on desktop) and my work banking apps. I can’t not use those banking apps, because they don’t have desktop versions. I could use a different bank to make up for it, but that’s a lot of admin (and I like those services).

Number two is the camera. I’ve still got the smart phone, because I don’t own a proper camera, and I do need a one for general photos/videos for members of the No. 1 Readers’ Club/product pictures. The brick does not cut the mustard, so I’m sort of juggling between the two if I need to film something.

Finally: you sort of need to tap more on a phone with buttons. Although I used to scroll various apps and send messages when I could’ve phoned people on the smartphone, I loved the qwerty keyboard because it’s kinder on my hands and fingers than the traditional brick phone keyboard (to an extent, of course. I fell down with the smart phone because I used it until my thumbs were numb and I could hear my wrist bones clicking). Now I have to press-press-press to get the letter C, or press-press-press to turn the phone on and off silent mode. On the plus side, I’m now more inclined to ring someone if they require a long text, which means the conversation is actually over faster.

Soooo the verdict?

The brick is staying for now. I really like that I’m less tethered to one device. There’s less risk if I drop it, it’s cheaper (both in terms of running costs and in terms of paying up front for the device) and my mental health is almost definitely better for it. I’m not feeling as though I’m beholden to something that ostensibly is there to make my life better and easier, but was actually making me anxious, frustrated and easily-distracted. It sounds ridiculous, but the plain-black screen is nicer on my eyes (no bright apps shouting in my face), the interface is so empty it’s quite calming and I’m not tempted to waste my life mindlessly scrolling. Those are things worth hanging on to.

That said: I am still juggling between the brick and the nearly-dead smart phone. The camera could become an issue, and if they ever improve test and trace, I’d like to use it.

My plan for now is to keep using the brick and eke as much life from the smart phone as I can. Depending on how much money I find myself with in spring (at which point I’ll have had six months of using the brick, so I’ll know what I’m willing to compromise on), I might do a spot of shopping. There has to be a smart phone on the market that has zero bells and whistles. Or a brick phone with a couple of bells. I know some Nokias do have WhatsApp options. I feel like there must be a kid on Kickstarter crowdfunding a phone that offers all the convenience and genuine positives of the smart phone, with none of the shouty, advert-y, brain-frying creepy tracking of the current market.

Of course, I could get a proper smart phone and just not load up the apps that had a bad impact on my brain (so basically, everything except Headspace and my banks. Sorry Depop, I love your convenience but I have made multiple purchases on you just to make myself feel better. WHICH THEY DIDN’T. Now I feel guilty when I look at those clothes). But do I trust myself not to crack and download Instagram when I’m feeling low, even though I know it’ll make me feel lower? No. I might download Instagram so I can do a fun Insta Live with my lovely followers, but keep it on there ‘just in case’ I do another soon. Which I won’t. I’ll just sit on it in bed, scrolling past the posts that I know are lies, let those lies make me feel bad about myself, lose sleep… and wonder why I feel crappy the next day.

So for now, the little brick is staying with me. Maybe in six months I’ll buy a smart phone but keep the brick as a back up, so if I notice myself falling back into bad habits, I can just pop back to the brick until I’ve rebooted my brain. We’ll see.

Have you ever considered swapping your smart phone for a brick? Do you know any good low-tech smart phones? Let me know in a comment! I’m curious to see how many people have thought about doing this, or have done it. If you can’t imagine swapping your smart phone, why not? (Okay, I kind of know the answer to that.)

Look after yourselves!

*Furthermore. Can you tell I’m writing essays again?!

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?

Mildly Good Things That Are Happening in the World 2

The time is ripe for another of these.

  • Remember when the main source of conversation was ‘Poor Caroline Flack. We should all take steps to be kinder, right?’ Now it seems to be ‘Fuck you I want 8,000 toilet rolls.’ BUT. Hairdressers have stopped stocking those bullshit gossip magazines. Ironically, we could probably use them for toilet paper in a pinch.
  • Electronic planes are on the cusp of becoming a reality. Fast, convenient travel without polluting the planet? Sign me up mate. Okay so perhaps it’s not quite on the cusp of reality… more like the cusp of the cusp. But I am confident that with funding (anyone know a billionaire? Someone who invested in loo roll stocks and shares? Or just invested in loo roll?) it will happen.
  • A white, statistically straight millionaire took a pay cut in order to give his employees a raise. The employees were happier. He was happier.
  • Right, I’m mentioning the C word for a minute. There’s a website called Covid Mutual Aid, which helps you find a local groups of people volunteering to help others during these batshit mad times. The groups organise shopping runs for those in isolation and help link people up with goods and resources if they need them (been stockpiling loo roll since 1982? It’s your time to shine, my friend). I’ve joined my local one because if you can’t volunteer to get someone’s shopping when they’re in isolation, then a) you’re a dick and b) seriously what do you do with your life.
  • Following on from that, a lady named Becky has made coronavirus postcards. Pop them through your neighbours’ front doors and let them know you’re there if they need you!

postcard with information for people to fill in in order to offer help during coronavirus outbreak

I may use some of this distancing time to finish up some blog posts I’ve been sitting on. I’ve been thinking of a post about working from home, since I am a seasoned pro at spending the day indoors? Let me know if you’d like my accumulated wisdom. In the mean time, look after yourselves and make sure your grandparents stay at home!

The Poor Person’s Guide to Helping Creators Make Money (without spending any of your own money)

I’m a writer and have a mini-but-growing stationery business. I also work in marketing. Thus, most of my day and quite a bit of my evenings are spent trying to get consumers (you) to buy into brands (my batshit stories and smartarse pencils, or my clients’ very sensible businesses). There are a billion ways to entice people to part with their cash, and there are a billion resources that will teach you the ins and outs of those ways. Something I’m more interested in is how people with no money can help small businesses and creators grow.

This is partly because I don’t have much disposable income to spend on indie creators or new businesses, and partly because most of my friends don’t, either. I feel like we’re still consumers, though – we’re just consuming with our eyeballs instead of with money. (Although as anyone who’s seen me at a merch stand at a show can attest, when I spend my money on a creator, I spend… all of it.)

Here are several ways you can help boost your favourite creator’s reputation and bring them more income without actually parting with your own money. For ease of writing I’m going to call your favourite creator Jiminy Snicket, because I think we’ve all met a Jiminy Snicket. Jiminy probably draws slightly off the wall comics, straightens their hair à la 2007 and lives with their mam in the Midlands.

Share and reblog social media posts (don’t just click like)

…unless the channel’s entire currency is in likes (hi, Instagram). This is the single best thing you can do to support Jiminy Snicket – in some ways it’s better than spending money on their comic or joining their Patreon. Sharing posts to your feed and followers puts Jiminy’s work in front of a new audience. Let’s face it: if you aren’t coughing up your cash for them, you can at least put their stuff in front of people who might.

Send work to friends who aren’t on the same channel as the creator

I have accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (two, actually), Tumblr, LinkedIn, Patreon… Jiminy Snicket is probably also on Discord, Twitch, Snap, Ko-fi and other ridiculously-named channels, because they’re really keen. Most people are regular users of three of those channels, tops. If you’ve seen something cool on Instagram that your friend might like and your friend isn’t on Instagram, email it to them. Text them. Carrier pigeon. Maybe your friend uses Twitter? Jiminy uses Twitter! Your friend can find them on there if she likes their stuff.

Comment on posts

Social media channels (and social media marketers) love talking about engagement. ARE YOU ENGAGING ENOUGH, shouts every marketing website in the universe. NO, YOU ARE NOT, GIVE US YOUR MONEY AND WE’LL TEACH YOU OUR SECRETTTSSSSSS….

All that shit means is, is Jiminy Snicket commenting on other people’s posts? Are they hanging out in their chosen online cesspit community? Spoiler alert: Jiminy does little else. They’re following hashtags and leaving comments and ENGAGING DAMNIT, INSTAGRAM, SHOW JIMINY’S PHOTO TO THEIR FOLLOWERS. Engage right back at Jiminy by commenting on their posts, tagging friends who might like to see their content, doing those shares. Then Instagram or Facebook or wherever will show you Jiminy’s posts more often, and show Jiminy’s posts to other Instagram or Facebook users more often. Those other users might have money to spend on a comic artist from the Midlands!

Click on their website

Most websites cost money to make. Trust me, it’s part of my day job to build and maintain them. They don’t just magically appear on the top of Google either; that takes a mixture of organic searching, clicks from other websites and clicks from things like social media and newsletters. So if Jiminy shares a fancy new website on their Twitter page, click on it! Then go to Google and search things like ‘Jiminy Snicket portfolio site’ or ‘indie alternative comic book artist in the midlands’.

It takes a bit of time, but JiminySnicket.com will start to make its money back and show up for ‘indie alternative comic book artist in the midlands’ or even more vague searches like ‘comic artist in the midlands’. (This also relies a little on Jiminy having a properly optimised website… give me a call, Jiminy, I can help with that.)

RSVP to events even if you’re not going

Looking at you, Facebook Events! When you click ‘interested’ on a Facebook event, it’ll show up in friends’ feeds and sometimes their notifications, therefore telling them that your mate Jiminy Snicket has got a new experimental art show at the local comic store.

Covert ops support

There are ways of boosting Jiminy’s ~general standing in the universe~ without telling lots of people (or Jiminy) about it. Are there competitions or awards you think Jiminy could win? Nominate them. Have a friend who might like their stuff? Pass on their business card (while we’re at it, tell Jiminy to invest in business cards. They’re invaluable).

owl hopping
from Giphy

There are some content-specific things you can do, too. Supporting a writer? Request their books are added to your local library (authors get paid when library books are taken out). Add or review a book on GoodReads (The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes is on GoodReads and it’s not even out yet – you can add it to your to-read shelf in about three seconds and help drum up some noise about it, for example).

Something else I think can work – or is quite fun, at least – is hiding Jiminy’s work in real life places. I gave a handful of Princess and the Dragon samplers to friends who popped them into the bookshelves of coffee shops. Or if they haven’t, they’ve kept schtum about it. The odds of people picking up the samplers and then pledging to my Patreon? Slim; has not happened yet. The sense of smugness when I’ve looked at bookshelves were I personally have left samplers and the sampler is no longer there? Immense, although there’s always the chance that it got chucked away or used as a napkin. It’s a gamble, but so is life.

Not so covert ops support

If you’re both on a site like Wattpad, Archive of Our Own or DeviantART, go on a liking or commenting/reviewing spree on Jiminy’s pages to boost their stats – and their confidence. Are loads of people going to see your heart emoji on a DeviantART post or your rambling review on AO3? No, but you’re doing your bit to make some noise and you’ll give Jiminy the warm fuzzies. While we’re at it, follow Jiminy on every channel you’re both on. Sign up to their newsletter. You don’t have to read and respond to everything, but a boost in numbers will remind Jiminy that there are people out there who are paying attention. Jiminy’s an artist, so will appreciate the stoking of their ego/increase in follow numbers.

Jerry and a Canary from Tom & Jerry GIF
from Twitter

Appoint yourself brand ambassador

You know, like Instagrammers do with those diet tea products. Except Jiminy’s not going to pay you for this. Do you have a moderate following on Twitter? Have you got tonnes of Facebook friends? Consider writing a recommendation post and linking back to Jiminy’s web page and their online handle. Something as simple as ‘My friend @JiminyS has a new comic out and it’s brilliant! You can find it on Patreon at patreon.com/jiminysnicket and see previews on their Facebook page: facebook.com/JiminyS.’

Have you joined Jiminy’s Patreon? Nope. Have you even read the comic? Probably not, because you aren’t the sort to request to read for free something Jiminy is trying to make money from via Patreon. But you’re adding to the noise around Jiminy’s Patreon page, you’re informing the world that Jiminy means business and is in business. Worst case scenario: no one clicks on Jiminy’s stuff but Jiminy gets the warm fuzzies. Best case: people click both links, they like the Facebook page, they become a patron. Jiminy gets both the warm fuzzies and some cash.

This works especially well if Jiminy’s doing something niche and you’re a member of a community (online or offline) that fits the niche. Has Jiminy done a new comic for Pride week? Did it make your howl your eyes out and consider joining a local activism group? There are hundreds of LGBT groups, online and in real life spaces in your town. They’re not all serious and activism-y, some are just places for hanging out. Share the comic to those spaces and Jiminy will notice a lot more engagement. Or maybe they won’t – maybe you printed the comic out and pinned it up in your local friendly queer-run coffee shop. Maybe in six months’ time, a customer sees the comic, howls their eyes out, whips out their phone and types in the Patreon link that Jiminy cleverly included on the comic. This person is in a higher socio-economic bracket than you or me and immediately pledges to Jiminy’s highest Patreon tier. Jiminy thinks it was down to the gods. It wasn’t. It was down to you.

Tom and Jerry gif
from Twitter

Ask after them

I nearly didn’t include this, since it’s not all that practical. Texting Jiminy occasionally and asking about how the new comic’s coming along, or if the Patreon page is growing at the desired rate, or if they want to meet one Saturday to complain about social media algorithms, won’t bring them income. It might do the opposite if you meet for overpriced coffee in an overpriced chain store.

But I’ve been thinking a lot about what genuinely helps creators day-to-day. All these suggestions help more than you’d think, by confirming to Jiminy that they aren’t shouting into the void, that the hours they’ve put into social media schedules and web pages aren’t wasted. The thing about making things for other people to consume is that the process is twofold. First you have to get people to take what you make seriously. Then you have to make them want to pay for it. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been asked for free work, or told I don’t have a real job, or had family members glaze over when they ask how work’s going and instead of telling them about marketing work or a retail job, I talk about how my book is going. Books cost £1.99 on Amazon, so there’s no way I’m justified in asking people to pay more than that on a regular basis just to get the thing onto Amazon!

Creating ~stuff~ is the best fun. Jiminy will make their peace with realistically never owning property and being the cousin/friend/child who can’t afford to join in with events that cost more than £30. But they’ll get lonely sometimes, when they’re the only person in the room without a salaried job or meetings with mortgage brokers or the money to spend on a night out. So, if you know a Jiminy, drop in and ask how things are going. A message from a friend about a specific bit of a project or asking whether they finally worked out that issue with that file reminds Jiminy that they have a life and people outside the all-consuming mindset of making stuff. If you’re of the creative mindset too, Jiminy will appreciate hearing from someone else who’s in the When Will You Get a Real Job trenches.

Rachel and Phoebe from Friends hugginh
from Giphy

This post has been my favourite for a while. I think I quite like Jiminy. Thank you to Tatchiana for the suggestions, let me know in the comments if I’ve missed any useful tips and, in the spirit of what the post is about, here’s my Patreon and my quite expensive portfolio site.

An early new year’s resolution ft. mental health and mobile phones

I feel a bit dumb even writing this post, but it’s about something that we should probably talk about more: I have hair on my toes. Kidding, although I do (hoping it might thin out as I age, though). What I want to talk about today is the fact that yesterday evening, I switched off my phone before I went to sleep.

You either read that and thought ‘isn’t that an obvious thing to do?’ or you thought ‘YOU SWITCHED OFF YOUR PHONE?’ I’m talking to both groups here, because it’s important to bridge gaps between communities. A couple of things prompted the Great Phone Switch Off. First of all, I used to switch off my phone before bed and recall, somewhat fondly, that my mild insomnia was less irritating when I did. Secondly, I’ve been getting brain fog and numb, tingly fingers recently, and because I’ve been thinking about the NHS lately, I want to do everything I can to improve my mental and physical health before I see my GP. I’d need a double appointment, too, because ten minutes is not long enough to talk about two issues, and a double appointment would cost the taxpayer, like, eighty million pounds.

So, the insomnia: it’s probably never going away because my brain has 567 tabs open at all times. Cool, whatever, it makes me a good writer. The worse it gets, though, the longer I spend looking at memes on Instagram after I’ve gone to bed, trapped somewhere between being awake enough to scroll but too tired to do anything else. The brain fog: happens this time of year, every year. Once I’ve actually fallen asleep I sleep like the dead, I wake up three hours later than I do in the summer and can’t organise my 567 tabs even a little bit. Because pre-Christmas is my busiest time for my stationery business, the first thing I do once I’m out of bed is check my email and the Sell on Etsy app to see how many pencils I have to ship to northern Illinois. It’s also the last thing I do before bed and the Instagram scrolling. The finger tingling and numbness: I first noticed it when I was doing my GCSEs and assumed it’s part of the repetitive-strain-injury-carpool-tunnel-tennis-elbow-bad-posture thing I’ve had since my GCSEs. My wrists and hands have been infinitely better since I left school and can set my own timetable but everything plays up when I’ve had a long week or been on my phone too much.

You see a pattern emerging, huh. Last night the finger tingling made me panic because I’m only 24 and there isn’t actually such a thing as a Luke Skywalker arm unless you’ve been in the military and lost a limb and they give you a high-end prosthetic, and actually I’m quite attached to my current arms and would like them to last my whole life and isn’t it bullshit and entitled to just assume I should be given a replacement limb and also I’m a writer and also and also and also

Once I stopped panicking, several other things occurred to me. I’ve been getting ridiculously dry skin on my face and scalp, to the extent that I’m going to stop dying my hair for a bit because there’s no point when I just wash it with Head & Shoulders every five minutes. My fingernails are really brittle, I keep seeing things out of the corner of my eye that aren’t there and I turned my car around just after I’d left the driveway the other day because I was so tired I didn’t trust myself to drive.

FRANCESCA, my body is saying, CHILL THE FUCK OUT.

Something else I’ve been thinking about lately is that I don’t really eat meat any more but I’ve been to foggy to cook properly, so it’s safe to assume I’ve been eating way too much selection box confectionery and way too little vitamin B. Is it vitamin B you have to be careful of when you’re a vegetarian? Iron? I’m scared to Google it in case I come across a good case for abandoning peanut butter on ethical grounds. Anyway, on the off chance my body is also saying, FRANCESCA, LEARN TO COOK MORE NUTRITIOUS MEALS, the other day I bought spinach.

Alice curtsying

I’m digressing.

I can’t be alone in feeling like I’m in a mental washing machine; everyone I know is run down, irritated and overworked. I’ve seen, heard and had so many conversations recently about mental health and social media and about burning out. It feels like so many of us switched on all the time, but the wiring is starting to wear out. Eventually we’re all going to become fire hazards.

What a metaphor.

I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t want to wait until new year to ‘resolve’ to do something about the brain fog and the tingling and the dandruff. New year is the absolute worst time to decide to do anything (except The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, the second draft of which I began on new year’s day 2018 but does that even count when I was clearly always going to write weird YA novels as a hobby). Also, new year is ages away. I am foggy now. I want to start forming better habits now. I don’t want my morning routine to be up-loo-contraceptive-pill-70-emails-check-Instagram-feel-bad-about-my-life-compared-to-other-people-on-Instagram until my right thumb stops moving. I don’t want my evening routine to be shower-bed-read-a-book-scroll-feel-bad-mild-crisis-scroll-try-sleeping-radio-on-radio-off-scrollololol until I have a nervous breakdown. Typing all that nearly induced a nervous breakdown.

If I want to do anything in 2020, it’s do more of what I want on my own terms. I’d like to  reduce the finger numbness without compromising the quality of my work; I want to keep my customers happy without putting them before my sanity. It’s on me to decide how to proceed. Switching off my phone before bed won’t by itself improve my skin/sleeping/fingers. Deleting the Sell on Etsy app won’t. Installing a battery-intensive phone usage tracker won’t. But they might all help a little bit, so I’m willing to try them. Telling you all this might help too, because now I’m accountable to a tiny corner of the internet which now knows to look out for my flaky face. I’ll know I’m being judged if I post to Insta stories at 11pm.

So, my non-new-year’s-resolution is to try to be more mindful about my tech use, and to make the tech I do use work for me. At the moment I feel like I’m just a pair of eyeballs that belong to Mark Zuckerberg. What I suppose that boils down to is being more mindful: of my diet seriously need to Google vitamin B, of my time management, of what I actually want to spend my time doing.

This is the longest post I’ve written for ages. Let me know in the comments if you, too, feel like you’re in a washing machine. I’ll keep you updated on the mindfulness thing. Ironically, I thought I’d be done with this post two hours ago and planned to spend the evening washing my hair. C’est la whatever. Happy Wednesday!

The Beginner’s Guide to Working from Home

The Beginner’s Guide to Working from Home

Try as I might, I can’t seem to stop being a freelancer. Sometimes I go to an office, but usually I don’t, especially now I’m getting into the final stages of my Open Uni course and working on dragonnovel. I’ve learnt a lot during my time of commuting down a set of stairs or across my bedroom to my desk, and I thought it high time I share some tricks of the trade.

Your wardrobe should be work-appropriate

For example, your trousers should be elasticated to account for all the caffeine you’re drinking and all the angry snacking that takes place after a less than fruitful Skype call. Matching socks can help one focus on the day’s tasks, but as long as they’re clean you’ll be able to sit at your desk with pride. Just kidding – if you’ve cleaned your teeth today, you’re already 99% set for work!

Sometimes working from home does require you to leave the house – perhaps in search of your sanity, which you fear you may have lost underneath paperwork. In these situations, I recommend you consult WikiHow to re-learn what deodorant is. For those days when you’ve got people over, or have an emergency video chat, I recommend you keep a couple of unstained outfits at the back of your wardrobe. Remember, only the parts of you that are visible need to look like you’ve got a self care routine.

 

I wish I could tell you where I found these gifs, but my computer has eaten that information. It was in 2015?

Your workstation should be organised

Even the most organised work from home-er has a tendancy to multitask, especially if you’ve accidentally overbooked yourself, so you need to ensure that your paperwork, computer and faintly stained coffee mugs are well-organised. I find that keeping stationery in odd places, like the key tray by the front door, or in my dressing gown pocket, helps make home feel more like an office, and there’s always the old trick of piling all your papers onto one tiny allocated space so you look far more official than you actually are.

You need several planners

One or two, at least. Probably a wall calendar. They contain nothing but deadlines because you last saw your friends on Halloween 2016, but they’re a nice reminder that the end of the tax year is coming up and you’re not as rich as you thought you would be by now.

Invest in quality headphones

Not to block out your neighbours! Not to listen to interesting podcasts while you work! Your headphones are there for when your family members come home and you’ve accidentally read Atlas Obscura all day so you have to catch up during the evening and need to look focused.

Disconnect your wifi

So you can get lots done with no distractions! Wait, you need the internet to work from home in the first place? Hm. Well. If I ever work out a happy medium, I’ll let you know, but I spent a full thirty seconds this afternoon watching a Facebook video of someone’s pet fox zoom around their living room. You should probably just go and work in a coffee shop or something. Or a library.

Or an office.

 

Introducing a BOOK, Sort Of, That I’m Writing, I Think?

Introducing a BOOK, Sort Of, That I’m Writing, I Think?

It occurred to me recently that a) I should start calling the Giant Enormous Writing Project a book, and b) I should probably talk about it more because it’s driving me a bit mad, in a good way, and when it’s done I’m going to brag about it until hell freezes over, and I should set the ground work for that.

So, yeah, I’m writing a book! It hasn’t got a title yet, before you ask, but I’m calling it dragonnovel, because there is at least one dragon in it. It’s a children’s book, probably. I’m not telling anyone anything else yet, because the dragon is one of about three elements that definitely won’t change. Kind of like in an essay when you know that you’ve got to answer a specific question but how you’ll answer it is really anyone’s guess because you’ve deleted about 5,000 words and made 14 separate plans and look please come back later I need emergency snacks and the ability to spot repeated sentences with my eyes closed.

But it’s going well. This week I rewrote an irritating paragraph and I haven’t felt such a sense of satisfaction since I finished my A Levels. I guess the whole not-discussing-the-plot thing is going to keep this post quite short haha, because all I can tell you is that it’s a CRUCIAL PARAGRAPH. There are also many characters. Several conversations pass the Bechdel Test. I think. Ugh, now I’m paranoid that they don’t. I’ll check in a minute. Look, I made a Pinterest board? Enjoy?

I’m going to try to sort-of track my progress with the book by blogging about it sporadically. In theory, the further I get the more I’ll be able to talk about without worrying that whatever I’m telling you won’t make it into the final draft, so hit me up if you have questions you want answering or have strong feelings about dragon mythology or something.

I’m also here because even though I hate talking about works in progress, a condition of finally talking about dragonnovel is to share my Patreon page more often. I’ve reworked it – again! – because I could do with a little bit of financial breathing space while I write, just for tech expenses and website domains and the like, so I can focus on getting as many MCR jokes into dragonnovel as possible and finishing a proper first draft by the end of summer. I want to make this whole thing as fun and off-beat as possible, too, so everyone who pledges from now until I’m finished writing will get their names in the thank yous of the book, and anyone who pledges $3 or more will get a free ebook/PDF of the finished novel. I am hoping to get traditionally published with a proper agent, but I’ve been working on dragonnovel since 2016 and even if I end up printing it on my home computer, there will be an ebook or PDF. All patrons will also get behind the scenes updates and extra content like playlists and previews (spoiler alert: Lorde is on a playlist). I’m still going to write little short stories and things too, as a break, so there is still early-access to those. Oh and I’ll always name a character after patrons, because I enjoy naming characters hugely.

LEO FUCKIN WON AMEN from Villiage Roadshow Pictures
from Villiage Roadshow Pictures

I’ve done some research and did a soft opening of the new page for friends and apparently it all makes a lot more sense than the old one did, so have a read and bask in the glory of my reward tier names. I also got rid of all tiers above $5, because who has more than $5 spare every month, and added some cool rewards. I’m not really ever expecting to hit 10 patrons but if I do, you guys better prepare yourselves for some excellent fan fiction reading.

Have a good weekend!