Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Social Media Quandary

When I sold my first mystery, back in the early 1990s, not a lot was expected of me in terms of promotion. But I had a good friend who thought arranging a book tour might be fun, and she did so, lining up newspaper and radio interviews, bookstore visits, writers’ workshops, and more. It was a fabulous experience, not to be repeated.

Now, when a new book is launched, I, like many other writers, am expected to set up blog tours, FB giveaways, and newsletters. I might be given 20 or 40 ARCs (advance review copies) to send out to reviewers already known or perhaps new to me. I might find some through Goodreads or LibraryThing, or perhaps WattPad or The Reading Room. At the end of these reader contests, I get to carry piles of books down to the post office and mail them off. The goal is reviews posted on GR or Amazon and, we hope, advance orders.

This part takes work and planning. But through all of this I might never meet a reader face to face, or hear any of her opinions. Readers aren’t always inclined to post reviews. They might be happy enough to tell a friend or family member about the book they just enjoyed reading. I think this is sad. I want to know what my readers are thinking, what they liked or enjoyed or were surprised at. Further, watching someone talk, and listening to the voice and observing body language, is infinitely more engaging that reading something typed on FB or Goodreads. The choice of doing book events in brick and mortar bookstores, of course, is still available, but no longer an automatic first choice.

I’m pondering this situation now because this past week I read several posts about the most effective use of—of what? Should writers focus on their blogs? Should we get off FB and write? Should writers develop an interactive website? What about Instagram? And is anyone still using Pinterest? What bout Tumblr? What about newsletters? And what about Goodreads? What bout Twitter?

More than ten years ago I listened to a young editor explain why blogs were passe. I’ve forgotten his reasons but I didn’t even have a blog then. I do now. I’m not as faithful with it as some other writers in the mystery community, but I’m mostly faithful to a weekly post. And to my surprise, I enjoyed doing blog tours to promote the Anita Ray mysteries.

My web maven died almost a year ago and I finally built a website on my own. It seems to work—people have contacted me through it, which I take as a good sign. I post reviews on Goodreads, and play around with Pinterest. And yes, I show up on FB regularly. I occasionally do book talks, but mostly I stay home and write.

As I look back over the many options I’ve listed (and more I barely know about), I still don’t know which ones I as a writer should use and which I should skip. And, further, I no longer think that’s the question. As a writer I have options today that didn’t exist when I started out. None of us (outside of the IT world) could have anticipated what was coming. And I never thought the new online world would come close to replacing the face-to-face hand selling of books.

The sheer number of options means we have to make choices. I don’t think the answer is for all of us in the writing community to give up blogs and focus solely on a website; or drop Pinterest and only use Instagram.

I think the answer is for each of us to pick the options we enjoy and are most comfortable with, the ones we think of first when we have news to share or an idea to explore. But most importantly, I think no one, myself included, should become attached to any one approach, not with the now constant change in the cyberworld. I’ll enjoy what I can while I can, and then I’ll try something new.



Susan Oleksiw @susanoleksiw




Thursday, September 7, 2017

Revisiting an Old Favorite

Earlier in the week I was considering several topics for this blog, and was about to settle on setting. This is something I consider crucial to a successful novel, a sense of the physical location as well as psychological space of the story and its characters. But I decided to abandon the idea after coming across two other blogs on the same topic. Both were well done, and I agreed with what both writers had to say. On a whim, however, I thought to look at one of my favorite writers and consider setting from her perspective.

In the 1970s I went through all of Agatha Christie’s books, including Sleeping Murder, the last Miss Marple, published just after her death in January 1976, and Curtain, the last Hercule Poirot mystery, published in 1975. I heard the news of Christie’s death in India, and her readers there were just as saddened as any in the UK. Since it has now been many years since I last read one of her books I have forgotten some of her standard techniques.

In Curtain, Christie approaches her story in a manner that is little used today in the traditional mystery. Even though the setting, Styles, a country house in Essex, is known from her first mystery and offers myriad opportunities for describing life in a country house in the modern era, Christie spends almost no time on this beyond telling us that Colonel and Mrs. Luttrell have bought the old place and turned it into a guest house. And they’re not doing very well at it either. The narrator, the hapless Hastings, tells us a lot about his sad state after the death of his wife and the launching of his four children, but little about the scenery.

Most of the novel is told in dialogue. If the author has to set a scene with characters showing up on the terrace or collecting drinks in the game room, she does it swiftly and efficiently. Her preference and great skill is letting us hear the suspects chatting away, noticing something and stumbling over their surprise, making a faux pas and trying to conceal it, or just behaving badly.

With her focus on dialogue and the behavior of her characters, Christie doesn’t waste time creating a mood or distracting the reader with descriptions of the copse below the house or the pub at the nearby village. The book is a scant 185 pages, and yet the mystery is one that keeps the reader guessing, with plenty of clues even though we don’t recognize them as such at the time.

Crime fiction has changed enormously since the 1970s, and I’m a fan of many of the newest books. But it’s a pleasure to return to an old favorite and find myself in such competent hands.

For more about Agatha Christie and her books, go here: http://www.agathachristie.com

To read my books, go here: