Articles, Writing

The Right Kind of Support

As I write this, I am in the final stages of preparing my second monthly newsletter – in it will contain something juicy for my subscribers for my upcoming project. This weekend, I prepared an Instagram story as a call-to-arms for anyone in my meagre following to join up before I drop the newsletter on Monday.

This all seems straightforward, does it not? By my own confession, I am not a social media marketing expert; indeed, the whole process seems very much smoke-and-mirrors, but I do try to do it a bit better each time. I don’t think I could’ve made my newsletter easier to sign up for, and I’m thankful to all those who have subscribed so far.

However, I’ve had feedback to my social media efforts that, on the face of it, seem fair and critical – and indeed useful – but I’m struggling a little to deal with quite how they’re being framed.

I’m quite lucky to find myself involved in a few communities and with a group of fellow authors who are very supportive. I never take that support for granted, and indeed, signing up to my newsletter is a personal choice by any reader or supporter, as there’s nary anything quite as personal in today’s digital age than an email address. Being able to beam my message right to people’s email addresses is a powerful privilege and not one I take lightly.

But let’s get back to the matter of feedback. Should we value feedback from those who claim to support but don’t put any action behind those empty words.

Let me expand on the personal experience I have had: I’ve received feedback on a promotional Instagram “story” from a follower on my Instagram who has made no effort to actually engage with the stall I’m setting out. They won’t sign up to my newsletter as they “don’t want clutter in their inbox”. Fair enough. I think it’s true that it’s more important that my newsletter readership is engaged, rather than just being merrily sent to the inboxes of people who will never read it. It’s a nonsense to spend time crafting a newsletter – as I have done – that sits unread in an inbox full of junk mail. I won’t ever get a return in engagement on that. The comment from this particular follower that there’s no point them signing up to a newsletter they have no intention of reading is valid, on its own, on face value. Initially, I was minded to take this feedback in isolation, but as we will discuss, my thoughts on even that have changed.

But then I pondered a bit on the particular history of this follower, who I do know on a personal level. They didn’t choose to buy – or even read – my short story The Landlady as it was “too scary”. Despite not even looking at it. My upcoming newsletter will mention an upcoming live-stream I’m hoping to hold in connection with Nightmare Tenant (I’ll absolutely blog about it soon) – even this did not tempt them to subscribe, even to see what the announcement was. It was a completely cold reaction; fair enough if my writing exploits are not to their interests, but the framing of this came across as very mean-spirited. No sign of a “good luck though”, just a blunt rejection. The impression I got from them was that they’d make a point of being busy so as not to engage with any of my promotional endeavours.

I’m really excited about Nightmare Tenant but I can’t help but feel a good amount of disappointment and dismay from these responses. Sure, there’s some good standalone points that I can use to improve. But this particular ‘supporter’ has pretty much confirmed that nothing I do will ever be ‘good enough’ for them to actually engage. That’s a pretty disheartening, especially as this is a personal contact who purports to be on friendly terms with me.

I get absolutely that my writing thing is not to everyone’s interests, and I do not take support in any of these endeavours for granted in any way. But two things emerge from this situation:

  • Is this feedback valuable? Even on face value, some good points were made. However, they came from a source that has expressly said they will never engage. Do I feel incentivised to take this on board? Not really, honestly. This is something from an author’s standpoint. I feel there are some good points in the comments that have been made, but the way they’ve been framed to me puts me on the complete defensive.
  • As a supporter, remember that those who you offer criticism or advice to are human. I feel quite disappointed that, while offering some good ideas for improvement on face value, this supporter has become unaware that how they’ve framed their criticism – without any positive balance, no “That’s nice, maybe next time try…” – no, it’s just finding faults. And they’re not prepared to make any investment; indeed, it just comes across as less helpful, more snide and nitpicky.

Once again, there is no obligation for anyone to support my writing endeavours by subscribing to the newsletter, buying any of my work, or even reading my blog or social media pages. I am so, so grateful to all the full-throated support I have received, and it keeps me going. I enjoy the community I’m in so much, and I am grateful for their support.

But this kind of completely negative support doesn’t help me. Sure, the points being made to me, in isolation, are good for continual improvement but it’s more the framing of them that just leaves me feeling quite demotivated and upset. I’d have found it less upsetting or distressing if this had been a random online internet troll but the fact it’s from someone I know on (apparently?) friendly terms cut a bit deeper. That’s less easy to dismiss out of hand.

I feel there’s a social contract here – I’m more than happy to support my fellow authors as my support – signing up to an email newsletter – ultimately costs me nothing. I give people the support I hope they would give me – not because it’s a quid-pro-quo, or that they then owe me their support as I’ve lent them mine, but because they genuinely want to help me like I’ve helped them.

The social contract between creator and supporter should be two-way: a supporter can offer genuine and earnest feedback in goodwill but should be prepared to invest a little in that creator in terms of tangible support. Conversely, as a creator, I am much more inclined to take heed of feedback, suggestions or comments if the person has made that tangible commitment.

My strategy from now is not to take this particular instance to heart as ultimately it doesn’t matter. I’m not angry about this; rather, I think it is their loss if they cannot find a reason to offer genuine support. I’m grateful, more, for the real and full-bodied support I enjoy and will focus on that rather than this negativity. I would prefer to surround myself with this kind of support – enthusiastic, but not sycophantic as criticism needs to be constructive and helpful for continual improvement – than focus more on this than needed.

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Articles, reading, Reviews

Review: The Love Story

Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of The Love Story ahead of release by the author, C. Kenny, for review purposes.

It may surprise you to see me reviewing a book with this title. It surprises me too, for I am not the expected consumer of this book’s proffered genre.

However, the fact that I read this book largely in one sitting stands testament to this book, which possesses a rare and incredible ability to traverse genre boundaries and preconceptions and tell a genuine, heartfelt and captivating story.

The Love Story, is, as the title suggests, a story of love. It introduces us to John Buckston, a twenty-something jack-the-lad who enjoys all the trappings that age presents: beers with friends down the pub, football, nights out. However, John is unlucky in love – until he visits the Winter Wonderland just before Christmas and has a chance encounter with a woman – Elena, who works on a kitsch gift stall there –  who will change both of their lives.

Where The Love Story is perhaps trite – a chance encounter between two star-crossed people who are immediately attracted to each other, and the trials and tribulations as these characters invariably miss each other through a cavalcade of misunderstanding and mistiming – it makes up for this in several areas.

First, the characters are well-developed, and it was their exploits that I became quickly invested in. John and Elena are the most well-developed. Starting with John, we learn about his family and his friends, and we find out he’s likeable and relatable. Pretty much the idealised version of the young man we all thought we were. However, he is not perfect and is not infallible, but it is through a harrowing misadventure having missed out on a chance, not just to be with Elena but to even tell her his true feelings for her that we learn his real mettle. John barely comes out of the spiral events take him down but when he does, he cements himself in the reader’s mind as a flawed but doubtless good and noble character beyond his years.

Elena, too, is a well rounded and complex protagonist – for The Love Story is told through duelling points-of-view – with her own skeletons that we see tantalisingly hinted at throughout. Her own journey is one that takes her to dark places, the opposite of where we, the reader, want her to be. She becomes torn between her head and her heart, a sense of duty glossing over the obvious faults in her situation.

I studied romance fiction at university, so I am aware that there is a familiar formula always at play. Of course, the star-crossed lovers do get to be with each other. It’s never a smooth ride. But with this book I felt taken on a journey in a very captivating and engaging way. The Love Story includes the best trait of the thriller genre in how the story is told – you just find yourself wanting to read the next page to find out what happens next. I think ultimately, we know that our lovers eventually get their happy ending from the outset, but the journey they go on – both physical and mental, plumbing some low moments, just makes that ascent to their happiness all the more rewarding and enriching.

The story is genuinely thrilling, with the stakes being upped with every moment – some moments took me by complete surprise, with a “how is the story going to get around this?!” reaction, which is in each instance deftly, but not implausibly or unsympathetically, countered, but it still makes you pause and reflect. Some moments came out of the blue, narratively speaking, and I felt my stomach dropped but the story ratcheted up from those points. It was impressively and stylishly accomplished.

There’s some truly moving moments contained in The Love Story, some harrowing moments and scenes where you’re hooked on every word, wanting to know what twist happens next. This is an ambitious and bold blending of two genres – romance and thriller – often seen as mutually exclusive, but this book presents a modern fusion that shows the versatility of both the author and the genres themselves.

The Love Story is written in fresh, unobtrusive prose that really takes you on the story of John and Elena, but doesn’t obstruct the view out of the window. That said, it’s stylish and precise, clearly written with care and attention to detail. Reading this book, especially when you push aside any notions of how “romance” books read archetypally, is a breath of fresh air. There’s no stodgy prose, or overwrought writing. The airy prose matches the story’s mood and tone rather wonderfully. The precise, delicate and intricate prose is by no means tawdry or maudlin, but takes the reader on a believable and compelling journey.

I feel that The Love Story also presents an important point and seeks to challenge a popular belief: that men do not write (and do not read) romance books. There’s a clear audience that this book aspires to satisfy and I foresee no issues in that goal. However, this book is approachable to those unfamiliar to the romance genre; it reads in a lot of places like a thriller and should appeal to those readers too.

I am not a romance reader by any stretch, yet I burned through this book in an evening – I was quickly gripped by the characters, situation, and story, like I would be with any good thriller. So don’t let your preconceptions about a love story dissuade you, and I see many good things coming from this author to come!

My rating: Highly recommended

Find out more information on The Love Story on C. Kenny’s website.

Purchase The Love Story on Amazon today! (Also available on other ebook platforms)

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