Tuesday, 29 November 2011
Mother has three children. Two thirds of her children have bad coughs. One child with a cough wakes three times each night, the remaining child with a cough wakes twice as much. The third child has no cough but has eight tantrums between 7am and 7pm - twice as many as the other two children put together.
How much gin does Mother drink?
Wednesday, 23 November 2011
I caught the question, uttered in an accent I couldn't place, as I picked my way through Oxford Street last week. I turned my head but couldn't identify who had spoken - or to whom - and reluctantly I allowed myself to be carried along in the throng of people leaving the Underground.
Who was he asking? And why was it phrased in that way? Not will you marry me? but do you want to? More like a business proposal than a romantic declaration. Had she just broken the news of an unplanned pregnancy, and he was doing the honourable thing? Maybe she needed a visa, and his offer provided a practical solution to her dilemma. Was it the hundredth time of asking? Had she changed her mind more times than the wind? Was he despairing of yet another row? Do you want to marry me, or not?
I could write a dozen stories based on a single overheard conversation, and I love to eavesdrop. Snatches of arguments drifting from an open window, or the tail-end of bar chat. Hairdresser laughter, bus-stop banter, or the window-cleaners' hollered hecklings. All grist for the creative mill. Hearing accents, local expressions, vocal tics and curses adds so much colour, inspires so many ideas my fingers start to twitch, searching out a keyboard, a pen, a pencil.
When I lived in Paris I spent a lot of time alone. I'd go to the cinema and listen to the couple behind me make whispered plans. I'd sit in cafes stirring my espresso and smiling at the women discussing their husbands' sexual prowess. I'd listen to the English girls on their French exchange and the furious waiter slamming his tray down with an ever-varied range of expletives. Colour so rich and varied you could never be bored.
"Do you want to marry me?"
I hope she does. And I hope it's for all the right reasons.
Thursday, 3 November 2011
Imagine your son died. Imagine that the days and weeks which followed were marked by rising panic which choked the words in your throat until they escaped as wails, without form or substance. Imagine that you stayed upright each day only because you knew the days to be easier than the nights. That at night-time grief and guilt joined forces, pulling the steel band around your chest so tight you had to stand to breathe. That sleep rarely came, and that when it did, it was punctuated by such horrific images that waking again was a relief.
Imagine that people were kind, in the main. Imagine they visited, and wrote, and sent flowers. That they said the right things - and the wrong things, in some cases - and they held your hand as you cried great racking sobs of despair. They were kind when you fell apart. They understood.
Imagine then, that you had to stop talking about your son. Because how would they feel, these people, if you were forever talking about a son who died? What could they say? So imagine you fell in with convention, and now instead of flinging yourself to the floor when your child is mentioned, you smile politely and agree it's so sad, but isn't it wonderful how time heals all? And your nails leave perfect crescents in the soft skin of your palms, because over the years you've realised time heals nothing. Time has taught you to hide your grief, to repeat by rote the story of your own personal tragedy, but time has healed nothing.
Imagine his birthday. A day when perhaps it would be acceptable to mourn more openly. When perhaps you could slip off the coat you wear to protect others as much as yourself, and grieve. When you could look at his photo, touch his hair, remember the smell of his head as you held him. A day when you could shut out the world and just grieve.
Imagine that instead of doing that, you bake a cake. You make a birthday cake with five candles. You wrap a present, write a card, host a party and smile fiercely all day. You give your surviving twin the best day he can imagine and you vow that not for a second will he resent the shadow you see so clearly by his side. You make the day about him, and you apologise silently to the other boy. The boy you love just as much as the one blowing out his candles.
Happy birthday, you imagine yourself saying. Happy birthday, boys.
Wednesday, 2 November 2011
This is the final part of a three-part-post about publishing blogs to Amazon Kindle. I have been asked to write it by various people on Twitter, so my apologies to those for whom it holds no interest. Normal service will resume tomorrow. For those who asked for the tutorial, I hope it’s useful.
In part one of this series I explained why I’d published More than Just a Mother on Amazon Kindle, and what the benefits were for bloggers considering doing the same. Yesterday I outlined step-by-step instructions for publishing a blog to Kindle. Today I’m going to share some thoughts on how to market your blog successfully on Kindle. I should point out that I haven’t done all of these yet, having promptly forgotten about my blog the moment I uploaded it to Kindle. However, since realising the potential of Kindle as an additional, if small, income stream, I intend to give it some more thought. This post, therefore, is as much an action plan for me, as it is a tutorial for others.
Best-selling doesn’t mean it’s any good
Take a look at the best-selling blogs on Amazon Kindle. Then read their reviews. Pretty damning, aren’t they? So why on earth are terrible blogs listed so highly on Amazon? Because they’ve done their marketing right. It’s a sad fact that ‘best-selling’ lists are self-perpetuating; buyers see the most popular blogs and subscribe without doing any more research into them, thereby propelling them further up the best-selling list. Early adopters to Kindle blog-publishing had an advantage and now it’s harder to cement one’s position at the top of the tree. But there are a few ways to make sure your Kindle blog is working well for you.
Write good content
It’s dull but true. If your blog is worth reading, people will read it, online, by email or on a Kindle. Concentrate on producing good quality copy which is either useful or entertaining, and make sure you post regularly.
Get the price right
This is a bit of a mystery to me, and Kindle’s help forums failed to shed any light on the issue. I mentioned yesterday that my blog price changed when I altered the frequency of my posts, but there appears to be no consistency across blogs in this respect. What I have noticed is that all the best-selling blogs are priced at 99p and not £1.99, and personally I’d strive to keep my blog at the lower price, by tweaking my settings if I noticed the price had been raised.
Use good images
Like the cover of a new paperback, your blog image is crucial in attracting the attention of a prospective buyer. I’ve chosen to use an avatar – a logo, essentially – instead of a screen shot, because I prefer the image and choose to reinforce my ‘brand’ in this way. If you use a screen capture, make sure your blog layout is attractive and eye-catching, with important information ‘above the fold’. Using a mast-head (the banner image which will appear above each post when it is delivered to a subscriber’s Kindle) will help foster loyalty among your subscribers, who will associate this image with your content.
Choose the right category
When you upload your blog to Kindle you can choose up to three categories in which to list it. Choose carefully. Decide whether you want to be a big fish in a small pond, or fight with the sharks in the big one. For example, there are only 16 blogs listed under Parenting, a sub-category of Lifestyle and Culture, so it would be relatively easy to reach the top of the Parenting best-seller list. But isn’t it more impressive to reach the top ten of all 7,000 blogs listed in Lifestyle and Culture? By taking a more generalist approach you broaden your audience reach and attract subscribers who might not have trawled through the specialist categories. If you’ve already published your blog to Kindle, it’s worth amending your categories if you’re not gaining subscribers.
Tag your blog
Look at your published listing on Amazon and scroll to the bottom, just above the reviews. Here you have the option of adding ‘tags’ or key words to your listing, to help readers find you more easily. You can see that on More than Just a Mother’s listing, several people have added tags to my listing, and reinforced ones already added.
Ask for reviews
Reviews are key to converting browsing to subscribing, so ask your readers to take a few minutes to write a few lines about your blog. Many people will search only for blogs with five star reviews, so don’t ask for reviews unless you’re confident about your content!
Promote your listing
Once your blog is on Kindle, you’ve chosen the right categories and tagged your listing, you need to tell people about it. Think about your market; the people most likely to subscribe to your blog via Kindle are your existing blog readers, and people who have Kindles (or use a Kindle app on an iPhone or iPad). There are limited opportunities for promoting your blog to wider Kindle users (although Amazon will do this for you once your blog becomes more popular, by suggesting it to browsers) but you do have control over your existing blog readers. Write a post to tell them they can now access your blog via Kindle, and add an easy-click button directly from your blog to your Amazon listing. Don’t just announce you’re on Kindle – sell the benefits. Subscribing via Kindle is great for people who commute or travel and want to read their favourite blogs without being online. Send a mail shot to your contacts, include an update in your newsletter, or add the news to your email signature. Buttons on your Amazon listing make it easy to share the link via Facebook, email or Twitter, so make sure your followers know that you are now on Kindle.
That’s your lot. A brief glimpse into the sensible side of what I do before I return to what this blog is really all about. Entertainment. Thanks for reading, and if you’re a Kindle subscriber, thank you for continuing to keep me in gin.
Tuesday, 1 November 2011
This is part two of a three-part-post about publishing blogs to Amazon Kindle. I have been asked to write it by various people on Twitter, so my apologies to those for whom it holds no interest. The remaining post will follow tomorrow, with normal service resuming after that. For those who asked for the tutorial, I hope it’s useful.
Yesterday I explained why I’d published More than Just aMother on Amazon Kindle, and what the benefits were for bloggers considering doing the same. If you’d like to publish your own blog on Kindle, this post will tell you how.
Step one: Sign up for a Kindle publishing account
You’ll be asked for your name and email address, and have the opportunity to select a password as well as three security questions.
Step two: Add your blog
When you log in, you’ll be taken to your ‘dashboard’. In the top right hand corner, click on ‘add blog’. You’ll see a form to fill out with all your blog details, starting with your RSS feed. In fact, you can just enter your blog’s web address here, as the ‘validate feed’ button will automatically find the right feed. Add your blog title and a tag line – something which sums up your blog – then write a short description of your blog. This is your sales pitch, so think of it like the blurb on the back of a book. Put your name in the ‘blog author/publisher’ field.
Next you’ll need some images. The form asks for a screenshot of your blog, which you can take easily by using the ‘print screen’ function on your keyboard and pasting it into whatever graphics package you have. I chose not to use a screen shot, and instead used my blog’s avatar. You also have the option of uploading a banner image, which could be your blog’s header. This will appear as a mast-head at the top of each post when it’s delivered via Kindle. You need to click on ‘choose image’ and then ‘upload file’ for each picture you want to use.
The next step is to select which language your blog uses, and choose up to three categories in which you’d like to list your blog. In tomorrow’s post, where I’ll be discussing how to market your Kindle blog, I’ll explain why these categories are particularly important, so don’t jump the gun just yet. The next field asks for suggested keywords which apply to your blog, and I’ll cover this aspect tomorrow too.
Finally, choose how frequently subscribers will receive posts. You can choose from ‘multiple times a day’, ‘2-5 times a week’ or ‘1-2 times a week’. Be realistic about what your usual posting regime is, and don’t over-promise. Interestingly, when I first published my blog to Kindle I was posting around four times a week, and selected the middle category accordingly. My blog was priced by Amazon at £1.99. Relatively soon afterwards I began posting less frequently, updating my Kindle listing to reflect the new schedule. My blog price was immediately changed to 99p, so clearly the frequency of posts is a factor in Amazon’s pricing strategy, exact details of which I’ve been unable to find out.
Step three: publish your blog
You can click the ‘preview’ button to see how your listing will look, and if you’re happy with it, click on ‘publish your blog’ to submit the listing to Amazon. Amazon say they’ll review your blog within 48-72 hours, and in reality most are live within 24 hours, which is a pretty impressive turnaround.
Step four: give payment details
You’ll be asked to confirm agreement to Amazon’s terms and conditions, and to enter your details for royalty payments. If you’re in the UK select ‘international’ and request payment by cheque (‘check’). One word of caution, do make sure your name is correctly spelt and as per your bank account. I’m currently trying to get a cheque re-issued which has been made out to my pen name. I suspect it would be simpler to change my name by deed poll.
And that’s it. It took me about half an hour and really is the simplest thing to do. Tomorrow’s post will cover how to position your blog effectively on Kindle, how to market it and why so many rubbish blogs appear in the best-selling list. Although not this one, naturally. Cough.