Wednesday, March 30, 2016

My Guest: Ronel Van Tonder

This week's Guest is an outstanding writer of Sci-fi novels. She also knows her way around one of the biggest issues for many writers - social media marketing and is going to share some very practical tips today. Ladies and Gentlemen...

Ronel Van Tonder

Accelerate your Social Media

Unless you're earning 5 figures or more with your writing, every writer has to have a day job to keep the lights on. This makes finding the time to write difficult, and we often have to give up luxuries like watching television, playing with our kids, or sleeping to put out a novel in any decent time span. 

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And, since we're 100% responsible for our own marketing, we still have to find the time to nurture a social media presence. This becomes increasingly difficult, and even if you do manage to find a few hours on a weekend to tweet or troll Facebook, all that happens is that you end up looking like a spammer and people quickly unfriend/unfollow you. 

If you do find a more regular social media schedule, keeping track of those people that do reach out to you becomes near impossible, and you quickly lose important contacts or chances to interact with potential readers. I've discovered a few ways to keep sane during this constant struggle, and have grown my social media following steadily over the past two years. Here are some of the tips and techniques I use, and hopefully some of them will work for you too. 

1: Be Picky

Times have changed. It is no longer feasible or even possible to be on every social network all the time. I tried this and, even with a system in place that made the task of posting to all these places possible, I found that only a few of the networks produced any results. 

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So, when starting out (an especially when you have limited time), try and stick with 2-3 networks that you feel comfortable using, that you might have been using before you became a writer, and where you find people are responding well to your posts. If you're brand new to the social media scene I recommend that you only use Twitter and Facebook until you've found your footing. 

Limiting your social media presence to only a few networks initially also makes it easier to find an audience, and to engage with your potential readers. Also, use the tools at your disposal to save time when trying to connect on social media, without appearing phony or autonomous. There are tons of great apps out there, but there are five tools which I recommend you use to ease the burden of social media. 

2: Curation made Easy

One of the things I really struggled with when I first started out on my social media adventure was finding stuff to share. I mean, I'm not an expert in anything. I could talk someone's ears off about computer games, but then the conversation would dwindle out and I'd have to make up some excuse to go home before I embarrass myself. 

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To overcome this, you need to find valuable content for your target audience, and share this religiously until people start paying attention to what you have to say. But roaming around on the internet, getting sidetracked by stuff I really don't have any interest in but that's been created specifically just to detour me, is frustrating. And it steals away time I could be spending working on my latest novel. 

Instead, I use two apps in conjunction – Feedly ( and Pocket ( 

Feedly can find and aggregate content for you from any blog that has an RSS feed - and most blogs do, even if they don't advertise it. To start, sign up for a free account and simply start typing in topics that your target audience would be interested in. For instance, if you're a science fiction author:
  • Technology
  • Computer Games
  • Anything happening in space

Once you start getting some articles in, it's a simple process to share the most valuable, and get rid of the rest. 

Also, if you happen to be browsing and find a good article but you don't have time to read and share it straight away, use the Pocket app it to store it for later consumption. This app also has a browser extension, which means it's just a click away whenever you're browsing the internet. And, with its handy mobile app, you can even add stuff to your pocket when browsing on your phone. 
3: Work Smarter, not Harder

If your idea of using social media is logging into Facebook every day for an hour or two and randomly scrolling through your timeline to share relevant stuff... well, this might work if you have time at your disposal. I don't. So this doesn't. 

Instead, I use the productivity technique of bulking to save tons of time, while providing invaluable content to my social media followers, all in one fell swoop. Firstly, I don't post from Facebook or Twitter - I use a third party app to do that. It's called Hootsuite (, and it's changed my life. 

Using Hootsuite (which is free for up to 3 social networks), you can add a post to all your social networks at once, and schedule them automatically so that all your content doesn't appear within a 2 hour period every Saturday.

What does this mean for you?
  • Get tons of engagement by posting when your followers are most active, not when you manage to find five minutes to tweet
  • Less unfollows because you're no longer spamming people by adding all your content in a short period of time
  • Provide a more natural social media presence while providing top-notch content
  • By using a broader schedule, you can reach people from across the world, not just those that are active when you are

4: Keep Track

Don't go blindly into a social network - use a link tracker to see what works and doesn't. You can do this by setting up a free ( account that you can use to keep track of how many times your links are clicked. Remember, people retweeting a tweet doesn't mean much unless they're clicking on that link too.

Of course, the more times your tweet is retweeted, the more chance you have of someone clicking on it, but you'll have no idea of how successful your social media posts are until you start using a link tracker like 

You can also use apps like Statusbrew ( or Crowdfire ( to get detailed reports of your Twitter activity, and Facebook's "Insights" for details on how your page is performing. This is another reason why it's always better to set up a Facebook page rather than just using your normal Facebook profile. 

If you don't have Google Analytics ( or a similar tracking service on your website yet... well, it's time you bite the bullet and set it up. It's not difficult at all, and if you're running a self-hosted Wordpress website then it's as easy as installing Yoast's Google Analytics plugin ( and signing into Google Analytics with your Gmail email account. 

5: Schedule, Schedule, Schedule

The sad thing about social media is that the minute you stop posting, people stop caring. So make sure that you're always feeding that voracious beast of a reader by scheduling interesting articles or links a week or two in advance. This way, when the apocalypse happens, you'll still have your tweets and Facebook posts going out, even if only the zombies are going to read them. Do #zombies retweet?

I usually browse 2-3 times a week, adding interesting articles to my Pocket. Then, for about an hour on a weekend, I will go into Pocket and schedule out these posts using Hootsuite and adding in promotional posts as I go.

You can also use Hootsuite to keep track of mentions and responses, so that even if someone mentions you in a tweet in a different time zone, you can be sure you'll know about it and can respond. 

Bonus: Social Media Tips

Here are a few tips that I've discovered on the way that have really helped beef up my social engagement: 

  • Always install browser extensions for easier use of your apps (Pocket, Hootsuite, Tailwind, etc)
  • The perfect amount of hashtags to use on Twitter is three
  • Always add an image to your tweet or facebook post
  • Facebook-hosted videos receive much more engagement than any other post
  • Try pinning a promotional tweet to your Twitter timeline for new followers to easily spot and share
  • Mention other Twitter followers in relevant posts as a way to start conversations
  • Instagram loves hashtags: the more the merrier! I've seen dozens of hashtags on most posts.
  • Use Canva or similar apps to create stunning instagram-style quotes or images
  • Use Pinterest to create inspiration boards for your books as a way to gain new followers while promoting in a non-sleazy way
  • Pinterest also accepts hashtags, so use up to three to increase your pin's relevancy

I hope you'll find some of the apps and techniques I listed here helpful in accelerating your social media. As writers, finding our audience is vitally important, but not at the risk of eating away at our precious writing time. If you use some of the apps available to save time and become a better social media presence all-round, your new fans will thank you. 

Let me know which of these methods worked for you, or if you're using another tool or app that's garnered success. 


Ronel van Tonder is a science fiction author from South Africa, currently residing in Johannesburg. Her works include a dark, dystopian sci-fi trilogy, 'The Corrupted SUN Script', and a standalone cyberpunk novel, 'The Seventh Glitch'. When she's not writing, Ronel spends her free time slaying rendered baddies in the form of robots, gangsters and aliens - with any weapon that happens to be at hand. She also runs her own website design company, and loves dabbling in graphic design, 3D modelling and animation.

Ronel can also be found here:


Goodreads Author Page:

Amazon Author Page:

Social Media:

Thank you, Ronel, for a great article that demystifies the Social Media Marketing jungle. I'm sure many authors will be bookmarking this post for future reference.

If you like original, quality sci-fi novels, check out 'The Seventh Glitch'. I was privileged to read an Advanced Reader Copy and it's awesome!

Check out Ronel's Rafflecopter Competition too before it's too late!!!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

My Guest: Keith Dixon

My Guest this week is about to reveal a secret... You are probably as intrigued as I was as I read his article for the first time. Ladies and Gentlemen...

Keith Dixon


I’d been writing for 40 years before I got it.

You see, I’d always liked words and I liked the way you could fit them together to make fluent sentences that resonated in your head. I admired James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Anthony Burgess and a bucketful of other writers who painted word-pictures, or provoked an interesting perception by yoking together an adjective and a noun in a striking combination.
So for the longest time I thought writing was about working on those combinations—building your vocabulary, understanding rhythm in prose, using short sentences after long ones. Like this. I thought I had to make words collide and crash against each other to produce a creative spark and make my sentences crackle.

And of course that meant I had to describe things, in order to put this word-craftiness to use. I had to find different ways of delineating a cityscape, or a couch, or a loved one’s face. I had to construct paragraphs that helped the reader ‘see’ what I saw in my own mind’s eye, to help them get the picture and be able to replicate exactly the world I was creating. The beginner’s default setting.
And it didn’t help that I spent a number of years teaching English and American Literature. With students I dove into the pages and extracted nuggets of meaning, symbolic moments or images we thought resonated through the texts. We came up gasping for air, but were we any wiser, in truth?

The problem was, the books I was teaching weren’t the kind of books I read for pleasure. I loved Moby Dick and Huck Finn and The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath … but Elmore Leonard, now there was a story-telling master. James Lee Burke—now he could write. Robert B. Parker … what dialogue!

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In an idle moment I’d been looking out of my window in leafy Cheshire—sedate, suburban, calm and unthreatening—and wondered what it would be like to be a private detective working these completely un-mean streets. I knew there were detectives around—I used to see an agency’s name engraved on a window when I went into Crewe, the local town—but I couldn’t imagine what they would do in a county that had none of L.A.’s glamour or New Orleans’ explosive diversity. So to scratch this itch I created a tough, Chandleresque P.I., working in an environment that was so un-noir it was almost transparent. More soft-centered than hard-boiled. Could I create an investigator who had credibility as a tough guy for readers, and enough realism to work in the environment where I wanted to place him? These were the first stirrings of the Sam Dyke Investigations series.

But because I still didn’t get it, I took seven years to write the first book, Altered Life, then another four writing the follow-up, The Private Lie.

What didn’t I get? What did it take me 40 years—from my first teenage fumblings with stories—to understand?

Not plot—I had plenty of that.
Not compelling characters—I worked hard on those.

Not the spirit of place—I went on road trips and did my research.

What it was … was Structure.

In my late teens and early twenties I’d written seven novels. Full-length, 80k novels. The problem was, they were all over the place, in all kinds of genres.  In each of these books I worked on the principle of having a beginning, a middle and an end before I started writing—that was my Structure. I wrote away from the beginning towards the middle; then away from the middle towards the end. I was making stuff up as I went. Which was fun, but hard. Especially before the age of word-processors and the Delete button.

So fast-forward 40 years and I’m still doing the same thing! Beginning>Middle>End. But now I know something’s missing. By this time I’ve got four shelves full of books on writing, each of them read from cover to cover…

… and finally I get it.

Structure harnesses and enables the reader’s expectations. It isn’t a pattern you impose on the work from the outside, like using a cookie-cutter to divide up dough. A cogent structure allows the reader to become psychologically invested in your book.
I realised just knowing about the 3 Act Structure wasn’t enough. I hadn’t understood how the reader subconsciously expects to go through a 3-part emotional process: empathising with a central character who in some respects is likeable or admirable; feeling trepidation as that character struggles against some external force (sometimes an internal one), until she realises something about herself that helps her move on; finally confronting the adversary and receiving help or some new knowledge to conquer the foe.

When I moved from being a ‘pantser’, writing by the seat of my pants, to a ‘plotter’, writing became much easier. The notion of this kind of structure has been elaborated in depth by Robert McKee, Syd Field, John Truby and plenty of others, and it’s easy therefore to dismiss it as either old hat or tired and formulaic. But it’s not a ‘formula’—it’s a deep-level expression of how stories work. You can build different kinds of houses on the same foundations.

But you need the foundations.

Knowing this structure helps me plan. It helps me write more quickly. It persuades me that I’m taking the reader through a journey that he or she both anticipates and finds surprising.

And it seems to work: the first competition I entered a book for, Chanticleer Reviews CLUE Awards, I won First Place in the Private Eye/Noir category. The Bleak was also designated a Notable Page Turner by Shelf Unbound magazine in 2015. And my non-crime novel Actress, written with the same commitment to structure, won both an IndieBRAG badge and an AwesomeIndie Award.

There’s still something appealing about making it up as you go along … but real storytellers don’t actually do that.

They just seem to.


Keith Dixon was born in Yorkshire and grew up in the Midlands. He’s been writing since he was thirteen years old in a number of different genres: thriller, espionage, science fiction, literary. He’s the author of seven novels in the Sam Dyke Investigations series and two other non-crime works, as well as two collections of blog posts on the craft of writing. When he’s not writing he enjoys reading, learning the guitar, watching movies and binge-inhaling great TV series. He’s currently spending more time in France than is probably good for him.

When Keith is not writing superb novels, he can be found here:


Thank you, Keith, for sharing your discovery with us. and for introducing me to your detective, Sam Dyke. After reading the first book in the series he's now firmly of my people to be followed list.

Eric @

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

My Guest: John Dolan

Another of my favourite writers returns today, after a prolonged absence; he's been hearing voices you see. But I think I'd better let him explain. Ladies and Gentlemen...

John Dolan


First, Eric, let me say it is a pleasure to be back on your blog following my release from prison, and the release of my fourth novel. (Did you see what I did there? No? Oh, well, never mind. I haven’t really been in prison, by the way. Not unless a week in the north of Scotland counts. Which it probably does.)
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Topic for the day: Characters. Those of a nervous disposition should look away now. If you enjoyed Deadpool, it’s probably OK to keep reading.

*** Clears throat ***

I was asked recently where my characters come from. The question was of more interest to me than to the person asking it. They were just being polite, and trying to find some way to fill an awkward gap in the conversation. By way of reply, I made something up: something that might sound credible. The unvarnished truth is not palatable. Generally speaking, I dislike discussing the process of writing, mainly because I have no idea what I am doing or how I do it. It’s a bit like breathing – better done automatically and without thought. Once you start trying to breathe, it becomes difficult and you convince yourself you can’t do it, and that you’re going to die. At least, I do. Wait a minute, let me just get a brown paper bag.
*** Sound of gagging ***

Ah, that’s better.

The characters in my books – or at least the main ones – seem to emerge from some internal dialogue going on in my head, and in which I am only a semi-participant. Plots for my novels emerge through some similar process. In much the same way as a rat might come up a U-bend.

Really, I would make a lousy teacher of creative writing. Sure, I could give you some ‘rules’, but they would be other people’s rules, because I don’t think I really have any. I am simply aware of some vague flag in the distance towards which I tack. Maybe it’s not even a flag. Maybe it’s a red penguin vibrating on a stick.
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Sometimes, I tell myself that I have a ‘Muse’. This is not a bad strategy. For one thing, if people tell you your writing is lousy, you can blame the Muse. If folks like your writing, the fact that someone else wrote it and you just typed it out for them, helps to keep your feet on the ground and prevents a certain swelling of the head (a condition to which, sadly, some of us are prone).

Once the voices in my head have talked enough, I write down some sort of plan for how I am going to address the business of transcribing their story. This comprises producing an Excel spreadsheet of events and a Word document describing the main people in the story; and seeing how the events will change the people and how the people will drive the events (while interacting with each other). Sometimes people change other people too, but let’s not get too clever here.
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After all, I’m not really a writer. I’m a typist.

For those pen monkeys out there who like to claim that you do, in fact, create the characters for your books, you might find the following answers to typical reader questions helpful. Or not.

Q: Are your characters based on real people?

A: Not usually, although there are a few real people based on my characters. I did, however, have a great uncle who had three legs, and a tripedal bishop will be featuring in one of my future novels. His limbs will comprise a metaphor for the Holy Trinity, and it gives me the opportunity to insert puns about stools.

Q: How do you make your dialogue so realistic?

A: I listen to people on buses, then steal what they are saying after taking out the “f*cks”.

Q: Is your protagonist like you?

A: Apart from the abnormally large penis, no.

Q: Many of your characters are quite contrary, aren’t they?

A: No, they aren’t.

Do the voices in my head bother you as much as they bother me, I wonder?

*** Taps fingers and wonders what to do next ***

Also by John Dolan:

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"Makes a living by travelling, talking a lot and sometimes writing stuff down. Galericulate author, polymath and occasional smarty-pants."

John Dolan hails from a small town in the North-East of England. Before turning to writing, his career encompassed law and finance. He has run businesses in Europe, South and Central America, Africa and Asia. He and his wife Fiona currently divide their time between Thailand and the UK.

When John's not playing with red penguins on a stick, he can be found here:

Twitter  @JohnDolanAuthor

Thank you, John, for your return visit. Red Penguin vibrating on a stick??? Still trying to get that image out of my mind! Readers, I finished John's latest novel, 'Running On Emptiness', recently and it's worthy of 6 Stars! Don't miss it!