Hello and welcome to Ask Me Editing, the publishing and writing advice column which puts the ‘semi-qualified to do this’ back in semi-colon. And the colon! Let’s answer some questions.


Q: Where’s the fun?

We need to talk about Twitter. While I don’t agree with Lionel Shriver’s recent stupid speech at the BWF, I’m alarmed at the ferocity and the personal nature of the backlash against her, led mainly by twitter-based activists. It’s made me realise that for some time I’ve been afraid to voice an opinion on Twitter that doesn’t toe party lines (I’m a cis-het WoC who tries to practice ally-ship). I am worried that the good causes that were spearheaded on Twitter years ago have been hijacked by bullies and trolls. Worse, I’m worried that Twitter isn’t fun anymore. I would like to just get off twitter, but I feel like it’s an important part of my writing practice and I would miss out on opportunities if I walked away. What should I do? 

Right, well let’s start immediately with the idea of missing out on opportunities by not being on Twitter. You’re right – there are a lot of opportunities to be found. I get a lot of my freelance writing and freelance consultancy work from either keeping an eye on Twitter or engaging with editors/ authors etc. I am usually pretty confident that I’m abreast of the writing scene because I’m in the conversation, and I’m not worried that I’m missing out. I’ve had several creative projects come about because of Twitter relationships. So – there definitely are opportunities. However, as with almost everything, you can find those opportunities elsewhere, perhaps less conveniently or easily, but the world doesn’t end with Twitter.

But, let’s talk about the why you want to leave – and that’s the feeling that Twitter is hijacked by bullies and trolls, and isn’t fun anymore. I agree – for a lot of people, Twitter is a cesspit of abuse and shouting, which I can’t imagine is fun for anyone. Here’s a great article by Clem Bastow, about why she quit hers, along with some other people. For anyone from any sort of marginalized background, Twitter can be horrific. I’m able to sail through on my white maleness, and say and do things that would provoke a torrent of abuse if I was a woman, for example. So, I think that if Twitter makes you uncomfortable in any way, follow your gut and shut that shit down. You might miss some opportunities, but you will probably make up for it with peace of mind. There’s no perfect answer – Twitter does have a point for many writers, but only the individual can say whether or not it’s worth it.


Q: New hands

I've been writing a lot in one format (reviews/nonfiction/whatever) and have had some success but am keen to try my hand at something different like fiction or poetry. But I am worried that because I'm 'emerging' in some areas and 'emerged' in others it will make my experimenting with new stuff comparatively worse. What are ways to deal with this?

I am a serial format experimenter with my writing, having spent serious time writing plays, films, sketch, fiction, short fiction, microfiction, novels, memoir, creative nonfiction, journalism, op-ed, reviews of wine, long Twitter stories, torrid adolescent diaries and first person elf adventures. So – this isn’t exactly answering your question, but I believe that if you see your writing practice as being the cohesive point, of being the thing that you’re nurturing and growing by trying new things and experimenting, then I think it doesn’t matter if your new writing isn’t of the same ‘standard’ as what you’re used to. Plus, you bring all sorts of skills you wouldn’t expect from one format to another, and you’ll probably be starting at a great level regardless.

So – two strategies that I always do when I suddenly find myself writing in a format that I have almost no experience with. 1. Read – read widely and read strategically, read examples of established people in that field, and learn how they do it. And 2. Get someone to read your work, and ask them POINTED questions – when I first started writing op-eds, I had almost no experience in how to venture a strong opinion in writing, and asked some people about the structure of ‘argument’, rather than just asking if the article was ‘good’.


Q: Money talks

I’m a self published author, and after paying for a very expensive copy-edit, I’m quite broke, and don’t expect to even make that money back from my book. But I keep reading that I need to hire a cover designer, a publicist, a marketer and buy a website and pay for ads – and the whole thing fills me with despair. Do I need to pay for everything, or is there another way?

I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep saying it – but making the decision to self-publish means that you have decided to become an entire business, an entire publishing house. And what that means as well is that you either have to learn all those skills: design, marketing, publicity, sales, editing – or pay for someone else to do them. Some self published authors do a lot of that themselves, and spend a lot of time learning how to do so. Even then, they usually spend some money to learn those skills. But increasingly, authors are taking on a few of the responsibilities themselves, and outsourcing to other professionals (like me!) to do the stuff that they aren’t trained in or don’t have the time to learn. The really bad idea is when authors try to ‘get by’ with a dodgy cover or a cheap or non-existent proofread, and that’s when their books look amateur and crappy, and nobody will buy it. So – short answer, it’s either time & effort or money that you’re spending. 

Patrick Lenton's picture

Patrick Lenton

Patrick Lenton is an author, works for Momentum books and runs Town Crier, a social media and digital marketing consultancy for authors.