If I’m allowed to stay

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I am not an immigrant tonight. Tonight, I am a resident of the United Kingdom. But tomorrow: what?
I moved from Athens to London in 1996, at age 18. This September, if I’m allowed to stay, I’ll celebrate twenty years in the UK.
If I’m allowed to stay. Can you imagine? Twenty years: that’s more than half my lifetime. That’s my entire experience as an adult; that’s pretty much everything I know about the world, everything I’ve learned about how to conduct myself in it, everything I’ve become. When I come to Greece, I don’t quite know how to make myself fit in. I am awkward, I am strange, I am, somehow, a little displaced. I don’t know how to ask for the things I need; I use English words where the Greek ones elude me. I apologise too much, and hold doors open for people who storm through them, casting me hurried looks of confusion or contempt. I have trouble crossing roads because the cars keep coming at me from the wrong side, and they don’t seem to obey the rules of traffic that I’m used to. I don’t belong here. My passport may be Greek, but I’ve been marked for Britain. I am a Londoner. I’ve never been an immigrant, so far.
To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never stolen anyone’s job. I’ve never accepted lower than average wages, making it impossible for the British jobseekers to compete with my rock-bottom immigrant standards. I came from a country that considered itself prosperous; I came to go to university, not to survive. I didn’t come for better; I came for good. If anything, my standards were unrealistically high.
    In the early days, in the late nineties when barwork was still cool, my colleagues behind the bar were all British, every single one of them, and we all interviewed for our positions. We were all on minimum wage and we all spent most of our earnings on beer and dancing and late-night kebabs.
    And later, when the EU opened its doors to many more nations, the ratio of foreign to native workers in the hospitality world settled at around 50/50, perhaps even tipping to 60/40 in favour of the foreigners, but it wasn’t because the latter were being chosen over their British counterparts. It was because the British weren’t applying. I know, because I was the one going through the CVs. Having gone off and done other jobs and got myself a Masters in Creative Writing, I wandered back into barwork in the mid- to late-noughties. My own generation had long moved on by now, and the kids, it seems, were no longer interested in serving drinks. I don’t know where they went or what they were doing, but they certainly weren’t queuing up for jobs in pubs and being rejected in favour of cheap Polish (and Greek) labour. Perhaps they were signing on: they were, after all, entitled to benefits; we were not. Because – in case you wondered – no: you don’t just stroll pst the borders and sign on, and then sit back and drink cider out of a plastic bottle and have lots of foreign babies to drain the country’s resources. They don’t let you do that. Funnily enough. You have to earn it.
In twenty years, I’ve never signed on. In twenty years, I’ve never applied for or received any benefits. In the twenty years that I’ve been making National Insurance contributions, both through PAYE and voluntarily, through self-employment, I have probably received statutory sick pay twice. In twenty years, I’ve visited NHS hospitals three times, and my GP perhaps ten, mostly to renew my prescription for the contraceptive pill (not a single foreign baby in sight). I’ve had one filling part-subsidised by the NHS. I’ve paid several thousand pounds in taxes. I’ve paid several thousand pounds more in rent to British taxpayers.
I think, on balance, I’ve probably put more into this country, financially, than I’ve taken out. I think, on balance, I haven’t drained this country’s resources all that much. I have earned my benefits, but I have never abused them. And I’ve chosen this country, I’ve adopted it as my own and Britain, in turn, has never treated me like an immigrant. So far. This Great Britain, made up of immigrants and thriving on the multitude of cultures that it’s embraced. Gradually, yes, and with difficulty at first, but bravely and wholeheartedly, for the most part, with the openness that makes this Britain great.
And yet, tomorrow: what? Will I become in immigrant, at last, in this country that made me who I am? Will Britain make me an immigrant, at last, twenty years on?
I think I’d like to celebrate my twenty-year anniversary in the pub. I don’t go to pubs that often anymore, but it seems appropriate. I’ll drink a pint of lager with my friends and later, perhaps, we’ll go dancing. We might even have a kebab on the way home, but a nice one, and we’ll sit down to eat it, with cutlery. Our standards are still quite high.
I think I’d like to do that, if I’m allowed to stay.


I am not a rebel.

“Think of the Indie publishing world as a team: we are all working together for the greater good of a collective.” Brenda Perlin, Indie Authors Unite: Instant Karma

I am feeling a bit rebellious right now. I’m feeling all kinds of slogans coming on. One of them is indie books rock! and I’ve turned it into a reciprocal support and promote site for indie authors, where members share their social networks to grow the pool of potential readers for everyone involved.

It’s been coming on for a while. Ever since I self-published my first book, 100 days of solitude, on CompletelyNovel last March, I’ve been involved in a one-woman marketing campaign in the social media. And I’m constantly looking for ways to do it better, while staying genuine and not feeling like I’m selling out in the name of selling my book. Connecting with other indie authors has always made sense: we’re all in this together. And then, last week, I came across an article by Brenda Perlin, entitled Indie Authors Unite: Instant Karma, and it all came together, and indie books rock was born.

The concept is very simple: authors list their independently-published books, and then promote the site to potential readers within their social networks, thus substantially increasing exposure for the work of all members. It’s like a little good karma community for indies, exactly as Brenda suggests. And it’s going well: the site’s been up for less than a week, and we have 17 authors and more than 40 books featured already. We’re not rebels: we’re just writers doing the best we can for our books.

Perhaps, then, the word is not rebellion. My decision to self-publish 100 days of solitude was not a rejection of traditional publishing. I simply wanted it out there, being read, rather than sitting on my hard drive as I searched for representation. It wasn’t an either/or decision, nor was it driven by rebellion at the time. But as time goes by, I am feeling increasingly conflicted about the conventional vs independent publishing debate. I always imagined that I’d eventually get an agent and publish my work through the conventional route, but I’m no longer certain. There are, of course, undeniable benefits to traditional publishing. There’s the validation, to begin with, and it’s a big thing. There’s the fact that you have an editor to work with. There’s distribution, and exposure: publishers have a wider reach. But support? Success? Many traditionally-published authors I’ve spoken to have confirmed my suspicion that the task of promoting their books once they’re published rests mainly on their own shoulders, and they’re out there, on the social media, along with us indies, trying their best to get the word out. And one of the questions that come up is whether chasing the dream of conventional publishing is worth it. Is the time and effort we put into looking for agents and publishers better spent actually writing?

Perhaps it doesn’t have to be either/or. Self-publishing doesn’t exclude the possibility of working with an agent and traditional publisher at a later date. But regardless of what the future brings, the decision to go indie is a choice that we make and I, for one, will stand by it for as long as I’m in it. I might remain conflicted, but for now I’m a proud member of the indie community and the good karma it brings. I’m not a rebel; I’m a writer, out there with the rest of you, indies and non-indies alike, doing the best I can. Chasing the dream.

Visit indie books rock to submit your work and/or discover great books by independent authors.

This article was originally written for and first published on CompletelyNovel.

Selling your soul to the devil? Social media marketing for authors (part one)

Selling yourself on the social media is not quite the same as selling yourself on street corners, although at times it feels alarmingly similar. At times, it can make you feel very grubby, and no amount of showering will wash that unpleasant sensation off your skin. So why do it? And how, without selling your soul?

The why is simple: because you have to. Because no one else will do it for you. Because, as an independently published author without the backing of an agent and publisher and the resources that they can use to promote your work, all you have is your wits and your social network. Because, whether you like it or not, social networking is where it’s at. So put aside your qualms and your reservations, and all your fantasies about what life as a published author will be like. You may have written your book for a million different reasons; you may have written it for yourself. But as soon as you publish it, you’re basically saying that you want it to be read, and for that, you need readers. And you need to go out there and find them. Put aside your pride, and your insecurity. You have written a book; you have published it. Great. Now stand up for it. Put yourself, and your book, out there, and do the best for it that you can. Give it the chance to reach as many people as possible.

As for the how: by being genuine. By being yourself. By resisting the temptation to sound like everybody else. When we stumble into the world of marketing and promotion, we often fall into the trap of trying to adopt a marketing persona and the voice that goes with it. We start using stock phrases that we have never uttered before in our lives, and the too-bright or overly dramatic tones of advertising. Don’t do it. That’s not your voice, and it will always sound wrong. And, more to the point, it will make you feel wrong. That grubby feeling I mentioned before? It comes from pretending to be someone else and trawling the social media begging for scraps of attention. It’s not a good feeling.

If you believe in the book you’ve written, there is no shame in backing it up. But do it in your own way, in your own words, and stay true to who you are. Treat the social media as a tool for giving your work the exposure it deserves: you can put your soul into it without selling it to anyone. In fact, you have to put your soul into it and risk making a fool of yourself. If you’re not prepared to do that, you might as well give up right now. But if you take the chance, you can’t go wrong. If you’re genuine, you will attract the right people who will happily support you, and that – regardless of how many books you sell – feels good. If you stand by your work, with honesty and modesty and pride, it will always feel good.

Are you ready to take on the social media? Read on for a few insights I’ve stumbled upon in my own journey of shameless self-promotion.

Social media marketing for authors, part one: facebook

In terms of social media marketing, facebook is non-negotiable. By all accounts, this is where it all happens: facebook is becoming less of a social networking site and more of an advertising platform, and an excellent tool for promoting your work, if you’re prepared to put in the time and effort and learn how to use it.

Through months of trial and error, I have found that a combination of my personal account and professional facebook page works best. You may arguably want to keep your personal profile separate from your professional presence but, on the other hand, many of your early readers will be people who already know you and care about what you’re doing and who will go out of their way to support you and help spread the word about your book. They will be your launchpad: the place to start. I used to say I don’t care if people like me, as long as they read my work – but it doesn’t quite work that way. If people like you – if they’re interested in your story – they’re much more likely to support your work.

Writers have gotten away with being socially challenged, obnoxious arseholes for a long time – it was practically a requirement, but in this age of independent publishing we can no longer get away with that, if we want our books to sell. We need to connect with our audience, build relationships, so that we can convert them into readers and potential PR agents who will promote our work to their own networks. And though a professional page is an essential and very effective tool, it can be faceless and even intimidating. Opening up your personal profile makes you more approachable, as people know they’re interacting with you directly.

What I tend to do is create posts that I initially publish on my author page, and then share on my personal profile a little later. That way, I reach as many of my followers and contacts as possible, and also subtly advertise my author page to friends who haven’t joined it yet. I make all my posts public so that they can be shared without restrictions, and tag friends and other pages where appropriate, as that gives my posts more exposure. I also stay involved with all of my posts, by replying to comments, thanking people for mentions and shares, and responding to all messages received through my author page. And it works: slowly but steadily, I am building a following of people who are, by and large, genuinely interested in my work and the story behind it. Not all of them will buy my book, but some of them will: enough to make it worth my while. And I get to meet lots of good, interesting people in the process, people who are willing to share their own stories with me, which is pretty cool, too.

A few useful things you may not know:

– People can “follow” your personal profile without actually being your friends. They only see your public posts.

– Personal profiles include a feature to create different friend lists (i.e. close friends, followers, etc), which allows you to accept friend requests from people who are interested in your work, drop them into the relevant list, and exclude them from personal posts intended only for your actual friends.

– Facebook pages allow you to schedule your posts. This means you can spend some time creating the posts you’d like to publish on your page during the day, or even the week, schedule them for the date and time you’d like them to go out, and then let facebook do the work for you.

– Facebook also offers paid advertising options through the “Boost post” button on your author page. Boosting a post means that facebook delivers it to a targeted audience of your choice, which you would have no access to through your personal network alone. It can be a good way to get more “Likes” for your page, but you have to clever when specifying your target audience, to hit that happy place between too narrow and too wide. I can offer no further wisdom on this, as my experience with it is very limited, but it’s definitely worth looking into.

Good luck!

(Next up, part two: twitter, instagram and google+)