19. Interlude: A blog is born

I make no bones about it:  blogging does not come naturally to me.  Earlier I composed this piece as a crie de coeur, hoping that my experience might strike a chord with other “unnatural” bloggers.  If your experience is similar:  my sympathies.  If you have any thoughts that might help, please get in touch.

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This is about my blog about my grandmother Evelyn Scott, a controversial modernist (and feminist 30 years before her time) American writer in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s.

Ten years ago (!) I embarked on what I never dreamed would consume so much of my time and energy:  collecting as many of her letters as I could and turning them into her biography.  I have struggled with the vastness of the collection and the seeming impossibility of creating any sort of narrative from them.  [Skipping over about 8 years’ struggle], I was eventually persuaded that it would be difficult to get the result of my labours published by a conventional publisher, and that the key to getting anything published was SOCIAL MEDIA!

My book needed a presence on social media before any publisher would even glance at it.

In May last year, I decided to give a paper about my grandmother at the annual conference of the American Literature Association in Boston.  Deep breath: I paid my fee and bought a plane ticket, and then collapsed in panic.

Somehow I produced a PowerPoint summarising her life.  The discipline of a 20-minute slot focussed my mind, and eventually I summarised her life and letters in 40 minutes of hard-won distillation.  It went down well with the select audience.  And suddenly, I realised what I had to do to prepare for the publication of my life’s work (well, the last 10 years or so).  Distil it all into a much longer PowerPoint, which could serve as a first draft.  Enough to interest (or not) a possible publisher.  At least I would have something I could show.  Reflection persuaded me that PowerPoint might not be the best medium.  And how to share it amongst the audience I hoped would be interested?

Friendly advice prompted me to try a blog.  A what?  A bit of research persuaded me that WordPress was the one to use.  I bought a generously-illustrated “introduction”, complete with CD, and parted with £10.

If that was an introduction, I wonder what the advanced-level book would be like.  The pictures matched, more or less, what came up on my screen, but the words could have been mystic incantations.

“Only 5 easy clicks to get your new blog online!”

Yes, the easy clicks weren’t the problem.  It was the difficult ones leading up to them.

I am not a newcomer to IT.  Long ago, I even wrote in machine code!  However, WordPress does not understand machine code and insisted on terms like “plugin” and “widget” and, for the really advanced, “page jump”, also known as “infinite scroll”.

After a certain amount of screaming, tearing of hair, and kicking the cat, I produced my first post.  And posted it.  But how to make people aware that it was out there?  It would have to be the dreaded social media.

Now, I have a visceral objection to placing information about myself, however trivial, in cyberspace, and have studiously avoided anything to do with it. Facebook does not appeal to me, but I dutifully went out and bought the latest Dummies guide.  A gripping read it is not, but I did glean that you could turn on numerous “privacy” settings which would hide anything you posted from everyone. There seemed little point in that, so I carefully set my privacy to allow my next-door neighbour and my daughter to see what I was up to.

When I opened my new Facebook account I was invited to reveal “what’s on your mind?”  All I wanted to disclose was the fact that I had posted something on a blog.  What blog?  I entered the web address and, magically, an image of my blog’s title appeared!  Wow!

ALIL

I rashly clicked “post now” and “public” and waited.  Several days later I got a notification:  someone had liked my blog!  I was well on the way to publication!

Heady with excitement, it occurred to me to let my grandmother in on the act.  She died in 1963, and she was a bit of a troglodyte where matters literary were concerned, but she might just have been intrigued by the possibilities offered by social media.  I thought she might like her own Facebook account.

She could write from beyond the grave.

And indeed she does.  Each time I post a new instalment of her letters, she has something to say about what I have done.  She is not always happy, either.  She can be very critical of my selection from her letters.  (Did I mention that I have over 2000 of them?  And that some of them are very lengthy?  And repetitive?)

That, I thought, is that.  But not for Facebook.  How do you think they make those huge profits?

That is where the concept of “boosting” comes in. It is another word for paying them to make sure lots of people see what I have done. Or, more precisely, what Evelyn has written about what I have done.

Like WordPress, FB can use words in mystifying ways.  A few ill-judged clicks and I discovered I had almost committed myself to paying £790 to “boost” my post to over 1,000,000 potential “likes” in sub-Saharan Africa.  It was only because I had to go find my bank details that I was saved from making that payment.

Some careful clicking through the various options, and I have discovered that I can decide with whom to share Evelyn’s FB posts.  Everyone aged 18 to 65 seemed like a good start.  Interests?  Certainly not “celebrities” or “classic cars” or “eating out”.  Maybe “reading” would cover it. Geographic area? Tricky, but settled on England and a few US states.  I could always add to the list.

I have been “boosting” by paying small amounts for a few days’ boosts at a time.  FB helpfully sends me a daily summary of my measly statistics.  Bit by bit, I am getting more “likes”.  Now they send me regular reminders:  “You have 7 likes so far.  You could have 27 likes tomorrow if you pay us £xxx every day in perpetuity.”

As they say, every little helps.

I only wish I knew how many “likes” a publisher would consider sufficient interest.

The plan, dear friends, is to post Evelyn’s entire collection (edited just a bit) by the end of next summer.  That done, I can start thinking about how to get the material into print.  And to help, I (or more precisely, Evelyn) need “likes” and “shares”.  Lots of them.

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