LITERARY ARMAGEDDON POSTPONED

Photo credit: Pierre J. on Visualhunt

I was in the village on Tuesday enquiring about the possibility of using a local community space for hosting a writers group, either the local one I am already with or another one I may start. I haven’t fallen out with the existing group but we lost the library space we used due to a combination of Covid and refurbishment at the library and we now meet in person half as often as we did, six miles away. I would like to meet in the place we are named after and within walking distance.

I found the person who runs the space and we were talking about checking availabilities and options for meeting there and it transpired that they do not have a website, they rely on Facebook. Facebook is possibly great for many things (I say that in an attempt to appear reasonable – it isn’t.) but it is lousy as a resource for finding information easily. I try and follow hobby sites and forums that have moved exclusively onto that platform and they may be immediate and simple to post on, but retrieving something you remember seeing two months ago is like trying to track down a work from the Great Library of Alexandria for all its accessibility now.

What has that got to do with writing? It reinforced a feeling that social media platforms are ousting web based information. Later that day I forgot and clicked on a link I have had stored for some years but rarely bother visiting now. I would visit more often, it remains interesting and informative, but it is moribund. As soon as I saw the landing page with its reminder that this site is no longer being updated I remembered why I hadn’t visited for some time. They still welcome you with open arms and invite you in to look around and enjoy the thoughts, links and celebration of the short story form. But one can’t help but notice that things like the ‘Lit Mags’ list is out of date.

I suppose part of the reason it is not longer being updated is that a source like ShortstopsUK is going to need constant attention if it is to remain relevant. The turnover in magazines has been huge and while solid stalwarts of the trade like ‘Granta’, ‘Ambit’, ‘Confingo’ and ‘The Fiction Desk’ are still going strong, the threat to many outlets old and new is highlighted in what remains of the lists in Shortstops. The number of titles, print and online, paying and not, bearing the dreaded red ‘CLOSED’ letters after their contact details is high. And trying to click on through many of the others reveals how even this annotated list is now inaccurate.

The site stopped being updated after January 2022 and the tumbleweed is beginning to roll through. I find this a real shame as I found it a very useful place to keep in touch with what was coming and going and who was rising and where to find them. It was of course also a very useful source of titles to place work.

Go and have a look, and if you are a social media user fear not, they maintain a twitter feed at https://twitter.com/shortstopsuk  which appears to include at least some of the features I found useful on the website. The Call for Submissions which collated magazines open periods for submissions and prizes and the like seems to slide in as one off tweets here and there, which may be okay, but is a nightmare to backtrack through from what I can see. I say ‘from what I can see’ because I am not tweeted up and twitter now blocks access after a couple tweets through and tries to force you to join to see more. I have a very oppositional nature and confrontational temperament so my main reaction is a string of expletives even if it does make life a lot harder.

I immediately wrote a piece about the demise of the web page and the takeover of social media. And then I had a thought; was this right? Had the web resource for writers disappeared to be replaced by an inefficient, short attention span social media storm? Or was I just being lazy? Me? Lazy!?

I started searching for writers/authors’ websites, blogs, fora. Sure enough the lists of lists popped up, 50 best sites for… etc. I picked https://www.scribendi.com/academy/articles/best_writing_websites.en.html for trial purposes, principally on the basis it had only 30 sites to check which suits my laziness/tight schedule but gives me more to chew on than ‘top 5’.

There are still lots of writers resources online so I can stop, for the moment, writing my ‘We’re all doomed!’ article (shame I like a good panic story) and look at what is out there.

It is worth noting first off that the list is two years out of date, but whilst three links were dead and a couple have morphed into related writing forms, the list seemed remarkably active.

This may be because most of them have commercial aims or at least spin offs – the number of free guides, booklets, newsletter was high but as I didn’t click through I can’t say how many led to pay-for classes, courses, books, guides etc. At least a few, because I did see several with links to content to buy, and there is a fair percentage of commercial outlets involved in this list. Two at least were part of a self publishing outfit.

There were hints in several that there were links to actual outlets for work, but none of them had that as their aim. The list was divided into ‘Advice’, ‘Lifestyle’, ‘Marketing and Blogging’, ‘Publishing’, ‘Writing Inspiration/Prompts’. There was a lot of overlap and in some cases I found it hard to understand why the link was in a particular category, but this was probably because bloggers had changed tack.

The general feeling was one of slick professionalism. Why did that feel worrying? There was a sense of glibness and a feeling a lot of them had been through the same course on how to sell a blog and that indeed a fair few were selling more for cash. That didn’t stop many having good, solid, engaging and interesting content. My reaction may be a Brit thing, I am naturally suspicious of surface glamour and glitz. The white bread may have a superficial promise of soft tastiness but I prefer a chewy wholemeal granary myself. And that is what Shortstops felt like to me compared with many of these sites. It had grit and maybe you had to work through a bit more, but I didn’t feel like I was being sold a snazzy looking confection that was a triumph of appearance over substance. Is that harsh on these sites? Probably and I would recommend having a look rather than taking my word for it.

It is probably part of my feeling that the web itself has lost its way in becoming part of the advertising industry it and commercial world it tried to subvert initially.

Still! Good news, there are writers and authors sites out there. I don’t have to sell my soul to the Metaverse or Twitter just yet.

[PS Not a natural Luddite:  Computer user programming Basic 1982, IBM mainframe TSO user 1984, PC and internet user since 1996. Smartphone Refusenik since forever!]

ANTI-SOCIAL MEDIA

So, and remember I know absolutely NOTHING! about this, I thought I might have a Facebook presence after all. I have avoided most social media with a vengeance for years. I have been online for 20 years and never felt much of an urge to post pictures of cats I have known, voles I have strangled or oddly erotically shaped vegetables I have found or grown. It all seemed rather purposeless, especially as my previous occupation didn’t exactly encourage publicity.

Recently however, I have begun thinking about how I can connect with more people to get them to read my writing. I’m still hooked on hard copy and eBook publishing. Hard to think that eBooks have acquired a sort of ‘traditional’, almost fuddy duddy, status already, but they seem to have passed into the realm of the staid almost before they became cool. I still like vinyl records and regard CDs as modern, but I know that makes me sound like a judge at the Assizes asking if the Rolling Stones are a ‘modern beat combo’. Streaming and downloads rule and many casual readers consume writing in a similar fashion (so my 16 year old daughter tells me – although not her she snorts in contempt, having now transformed over the last eighteen months into a hard back book snob). Now I can’t pretend that I am aiming at the 16 year old reading market, but I am aware that many people, some even older than I am, do pay quite a lot of attention to the various social media platforms, for a steer at least, on what to read. I have a feeling that I should not let this avenue of contact with readers pass me by, but I am, at the same time, aware that I sound less than enthusiastic about the idea. This is not true, I have bags of enthusiasm but my knowledge of what I am doing is in inverse proportion to my enthusiasm. I am fairly confident therefore, that I am likely to be barking up any number of wrong trees regarding which platform is appropriate for what I want to do.

Take Facebook. At last he gets to the point again! I read, online that Facebook was easily the best platform for a writer to use to put themselves out there. Then, in three Google results, I got three different sets of advice, all from supposedly knowledgeable and independent writing sources, about what I actually need. I just thought Facebook was Facebook but apparently within the house of Zuckerberg there are many mansions. I need a Page for professional look to separate my personal page, no I need to use my personal account to boost my immediate contacts and build my following, no I need a Profile not a page as it is more friendly and welcoming and can be extended by allowing followers and… Already in half an hour I am lost. I ask my daughter. She looks happy, Dad is moving with the times, and here is something where she is the expert and I the tyro. She gives me a completely different account of what I need.

I think I may take ads out in local newspapers instead, or walk the streets of Cardiff and Bristol wearing sandwich boards.

Watch this space: but don’t hunt too hard on Facebook just yet. I’ll let you know.