Through the Instagram App and What Sharon Found There

Through the Instagram App and What Sharon Found There

Recently, I joined a marketing group on Facebook, formed to help writers and small business owners (the businesses are small, not the owners—although, they may be small, too, who knows?) improve their public profile.

It’s a tough world out there, you know. I may be famous in my own back yard—as in, a new book brings a flurry of excitement from my mother, my mother’s neighbour, my sister and my aunt—but if I’m to make any impact on the world, or even my little corner of it, I have to get my name, and my work, “out there”, wherever the heck “there” may be.

We’ve been discussing social media. Are you on Twitter? Tick. Facebook? Tick. Do you have a Facebook author page? Tick. A blog? Tick. Pinterest? Tick. Instagram? Er, what, now?  “Ah, Instagram. The new, trendy app that simply anyone who is anyone is using.”  “Okay, well I’m not sixteen and I have no idea about Instagram. Help, please?”

In the event, it turned out that most of the other people in the group had no idea about Instagram either, so I decided to march forth and try out this brave new world for myself.

Does anyone have a clue?

Does anyone have a clue?

First step—as always—was to Google it for information. First question. What is Instagram? Google was most helpful. “You’re kidding, right? I mean, how old are you? A hundred and six?” (I jest, of course. Google would never be so flippant, or so rude.) Having determined that Instagram was an app that basically lets you share photos online (you know, kind of like Pinterest, or Facebook, or Twitter…), I decided that I HAD to be part of this amazing feat of technology.

First lesson. You can’t join Instagram online. You have to download an app to your phone. Having just figured out how to turn my brand new Windows phone on, I was in the marvellous position of being able to do just that. So I duly downloaded the app. Now what?

Second lesson. You have to have a username and password. Okay, fine. I’ll just use my name. Except, my name wasn’t available. My own name! Harsh. Okay, let’s go for my own name and date of birth. Not available. Well, that was just rude. How could my own name and date of birth not be available? Who pinched them? I tried various combinations of words and numbers and not one of them was available. In desperation, I used my nickname and birthday. Aha! Allowed. So I was finally signed up for Instagram.

Third lesson. Your username is available for everyone to see. Oh drat. I don’t want to be known as that. I thought it was private. Okay, how do I change my username? Back to my beloved Google, which scratched its head, rolled its eyes, tutted in despair and said, “You do know what edit profile means?” Oh. I hadn’t noticed that. So back I went and clicked on “edit profile”. Delete username. Add new username. Done. Well, that was easy. Just add a short bio now…

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Not the actual book I didn’t win because I DIDN’T win it.

Fourth lesson. Your bio has to be very, very short. Shorter than a tweet. After rambling on, explaining how I once played the queen in a school play, and how I never got over not having my name picked out of a hat to win a signed copy of a Bobby Brewster book after the author visited our primary school, in spite of the fact that I was the only child in the class who actually read for pleasure, I was informed, quite sternly, that my bio was far too long and I’d better cut it. I deleted a sentence, then a paragraph, then a chapter. Eventually, I was down to the permitted length. Success. My bio was complete. My profile was done. Except…

Fifth lesson. For some reason I cannot fathom, Instagram had taken my Facebook profile picture and used it as my Instagram profile picture. Since the picture wasn’t even of me, this didn’t seem at all useful. Back I went to Facebook and searched, in increasing desperation, for a photograph of me that looked reasonably human and didn’t feature me posing with Benedict Cumberbatch. What do you mean, camera trickery? It was all perfectly genuine, I’ll have you know. Anyway, I finally found one where, not only am I alone, not only am I not staring in horror with my hand half over my face, pleading with someone not to take my picture, but I am actually smiling. Crikey! So I changed that to my profile picture. (When I got home from work that night, the picture had loads of likes

100% genuine *cough*

100% genuine *cough*

and nice comments. I think my Facebook friends were stunned that I’d actually posted a photo of myself. I’m not the most photogenic of people, let’s face it.) So there I was, fully signed up and all profiled up for Instagram. Except…

Sixth lesson. I had no idea what I was supposed to actually do on there. I posted on my Facebook writer’s page, announcing that I had joined, and asking, quite genuinely, “What do I do now?” Back came several replies. “We have no idea, but when you find out can you let us know, please?” I really do have to get some younger, trendier friends. So, I decided to trawl through other people’s Instagram accounts and get some idea of what I was supposed to be posting. Hmm.

Seventh lesson. There is one huge snag with Instagram. You’re supposed to do things, see things, go places that are interesting. Since I’m usually either at home, writing, or at work, er, working, this doesn’t really apply to me. I tried my Write Romantic pal, Rachael Thomas, for help first. Her account featured lots of beautiful pictures of the countryside. Well, you see, Rachael isn’t just a fantastically talented romance writer. Oh, no. She’s also a dairy farmer. So when she skips merrily out of her house in the morning, she can raise her camera phone and sing happy little Disney songs and balance little blue birds on her hand as she takes gorgeous pictures of the Welsh countryside, pretty animals and—you know—stuff like that.  I, on the other hand, live in a city. I don’t much fancy taking pictures of the dustcart blocking our way out of the road yet again, or the latest takeaway that’s opened nearby because, after all, we’ve only got thirty takeaways in our area already, or the roadworks at the end of the street that have been there for weeks, even though whoever put them there seems to have forgotten all about them. So what to do?

Here's one I made earlier- honest!

Here’s one I made earlier- honest!

Eighth lesson. Everyone has photographs of cake. I mean, everyone! People bake and then they take pictures of their culinary creations so the rest of us can a) feel suddenly in desperate need of cake and b) hang our heads in shame because we haven’t baked since nineteen ninety-eight. (That may actually be true, in my case.) Even Rachael had posted a photograph of a cake she’d made! How does she find time for that, for heaven’s sake? I turned to my other Write Romantic chum, Helen Phifer. Helen is really busy, just like Rachael. But Helen writes ghostly crime stories. She collects photos of haunted houses and—you know—creepy stuff. I can rely on Helen. Oh, Helen! Cupcakes! Seriously? But yes, there they were. Cupcakes. Okay, they were in among some creepy stuff (and some lovely stuff, too!) but they were there. I had to take photos of cake. It was obviously the way to go. A quick scout around our kitchen revealed two stale Jacob’s cream crackers and a broken custard cream. I suppose I could have photographed them as some sort of artistic statement. But no…Things were getting critical.

Ninth lesson. Instagram makes you desperate to photograph anything. I mean, anything. I spent the entire day wandering around looking at “things” and wondering if they would make a good subject for a picture on Instagram. I even trawled through old Facebook photos, trying to convince myself that I could post some of them and pretend they were new. Then I realised that I didn’t like any of them anyway, so that was pointless. I decided I would have to buy cake and start—you know—actually going out. Desperate times.

Tessa to the rescue

Tessa to the rescue

Tenth lesson. When in doubt, remember man’s best friend. Okay, so I don’t bake, and I didn’t have cake in the house, and I don’t go anywhere. But what I do have, which seems to be very acceptable, is a pet. My lovely German Shepherd, Tessa (who features in my Kearton Bay books, albeit aged by some years and with a personality that’s the opposite of the real version, but is still lovely—not that I’m plugging my books, you understand. Ahem) was most obliging. As I scoured the house, looking for something that I could take a picture of, she gave a sudden sneeze, drawing my attention to her. She was lying by the sofa and as I leaned forward to get a better look at her, she gave me a worried look as if to say, “Why are you pointing that phone at me? Get away from me, you mad creature!” Too late, Tessa! A click and I had it! Feverishly, I looked at my photograph. Ah, my beautiful dog. You are the perfect subject for my first Instagram photograph!

Eleventh lesson. Uploading, or downloading, or whatever it is you do with the wretched things, isn’t as easy as you’d think. For a start, I couldn’t figure out how to crop the picture, and Instagram likes your photos to be square. Back I went to Google. “Oh, God. It’s you again. What now?” it sighed. Still, it was very obliging, and I managed to find an app that ensured all my photos were suitable for Instagram, and I didn’t have to worry about cropping or any of that technical stuff. Problem solved. So my picture of Tessa was duly up/downloaded. Then I up/downloaded pictures of my People’s Friend pocket novel. Then pictures of my two books. Then a picture of Winter Tales (which is back on sale, by the way). Then a picture of my notebooks to show that I was about to start plotting and drafting a new book, because, after all, I’m a writer, and that was the point of joining Instagram in the first place – to remind people that I write books and they’re worth reading, even if I do say so myself (and my mum’s neighbour agrees with me, so there). The point was not to prove that I bake cakes or go places or socialise or anything like that. Right?

Hmm. I still have to work out how, why, or if I should share my Instagram photos to Facebook. I also have to fathom the mysterious world of the hashtag, so my adventures in Instagramland are not over yet. I have a feeling that I’m going to be looking at life through a lens from now on. Everything is a photo opportunity.

Look out, world. Sharon’s got a camera – and she’s not afraid to use it. In fact, she’s quite desperate…

Sharon xxx

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Mega Monday: We’re influential bloggers!

most-influential-bloggerThank you to Carol Cooper who awarded this badge to the Write Romantics.  We already loved Carol for inviting us to review her wonderful novel, being interviewed for the blog and for agreeing to write the introduction to our anthology, but now we love her even more.

One-Night-at-the-Jacaranda_cover_eBook_smlIn case you didn’t know, Carol is a doctor, teacher, writer, broadcaster and mother, whose debut novel, One Night at the Jacaranda, has received a wealth of rave reviews on Amazon. Carol is also a successful writer of non-fiction books, mainly on child health and parenting, and is The Sun newspaper’s doctor. As well as being a great friend of the Write Romantics blog, Carol has a fab blog of her own. If you’ve been missing out on Carol’s beside manner up until now, then you really should check out her blog.

Now we’re passing on the award to ten other bloggers. They might not get quite as excited over blog awards as we do – perhaps they’ve already had thousands – but we’re going to recognise them anyway, because their blogs have been influential to us.

Diana Blacklock was nominated by Helen R, both of whom are based in Australia.  Diana’s writing has been influential to Helen and her blog regularly features other writers who open up new worlds and add even more titles to Helen’s bulging Kindle!  Just the blog to visit if you’re wondering what to read next.

Sheila Norton, was nominated by Deirdre.  Sheila is a member of the Romantic Novelist’s Association and was traditionally published for some time, but is now blazing a trail for indie publishing.   Deirdre also recommends Sheila’s book Yesterday, which is set in the sixties and is well worth checking out.

Sharon Booth’s blog, the Moongazing Hare was nominated by both Alex and Julie – I might well have got in there too, if they hadn’t been so quick!  Sharon’s posts are always entertaining and she has a great writing style.  Sharon is brilliant at networking and supporting other authors and we are absolutely delighted that she is going to be a guest in our anthology.

WeddingSarah Lewis who runs the My Eighties blog has been influential on me (Write Romantic, Jo) for many years, having been one of my besties for (*clears throat*) 32 of them. Of course we met in a test tube! Sarah’s blog is a must read for fans of what surely was the best decade of all time (although Sheila and Deirdre might beg to differ). Sarah is currently writing a memoir and will also be a guest writer in our anthology.

The Murmuring Cottage was nominated by Lynne, who tells us that the blog is just beautiful, with still life pictures similar to Country Living magazine, very peaceful and restful, with an atmosphere that’s great for getting her in the mood to write.

Alison May is a brilliant friend to the Write Romantics blog and we have really enjoyed tracking the journey on her blog from nervous NWS member to published author, winning and being shortlisted for various awards along the way… giving those of us still in the NWS something to aim for. In fact she might already have this award, too, but we’re sure she’ll make some room in her trophy cabinet! Alison is also going to feature in our anthology and we can’t wait to read her story.

JKellerFord-web-301J Keller Ford was a recent guest on the blog,we absolutely loved having her visit and we have enjoyed following her blog ever since.  She’s got us thinking about the type of book cover we want for the anthology, which has been really influential on our plans, and has contributed to two anthologies herself, so really knows her stuff.

Rhoda Baxter, is another wonderful supporter of our blog and has helped many of the Write Romantics with advice and, especially, her knowledge of the US market. We really like Rhoda’s inheritance books slot on her blog and although we’re pretty certain she will already have been nominated, we’re including her in our top ten nonetheless. As you can already tell, we’ve been incredibly lucky that many of the bloggers and writers we have found so influential, in our first year of blogging, are also going to be involved in our anthology and Rhoda is no exception.

VIKKITHOMPSON_PICVikki Thompson is about the most prolific blogger we have ever met!  Vikki’s blog, The View Outside, was really influential on the Write Romantics in the early days and she taught us all about the value of tagging our posts properly and the joys of the scheduling function!  She takes on A-Z challenges with admirable enthusiasm and her writing prompts and insecure writers’ group posts are definitely worth the visit.

_MG_1008Linda Huber is another contributor who we have been thrilled to get on-board.  Just the picture on Linda’s blog, of where she lives on the banks of the beautiful Lake Constance in Switzerland makes us want to write!  She’s been inspirational in her support of the anthology and we have all been downloading her debut novel, The Paradise Trees, so we are ready for the release of her forthcoming second novel The Cold Cold Sea.  Her writing is every bit as evocative as the titles suggest and we can’t wait to get her anthology story in our hot little hands!

Carol asked us to include a YouTube video of our current favourite song.  Getting nine romance writers to agree on a single song was not something I wanted to attempt, so I posted a request on our Facebook group, promising the first person who came back to me that they’d get their choice.  So here is what Jackie chose, Ed Sheeran’s Sing, and we’ll be playing it in our flat at the RNA conference, at full volume.

So if you find yourself in the room below, and there’s some less than tuneful singing coming through the floor, you’ll know that the Write Romantics have been on the vanilla vodka again!