Liberate Yourself With the Unfriend Button

Today, a toxic, now ex-friend, pushed me into writing my first blog in ages. The past two years have been consumed with moving and adapting to living as an expat in the Middle East, being a stay at home mom, making up for my pre-expat lack of traveling and writing when I get a chance. (This is also why I haven’t published a book in a while. Don’t worry – I am writing, albeit at my own pace.) I nearly didn’t write this blog. Then I realized how many people deal with toxic social network relationships and how many don’t speak up. So, here goes…

We all have that friend. Whether it is someone you’ve met on social networking or someone you’ve worked with – the kind that pretends to be a liberal philosopher but who is actually sanctimonious and judgmental.

I got into a debate turned nasty with such a friend this morning and try as I might to diffuse the situation, he just kept on coming back with veiled insults and cleverly worded judgments. I attempted to reason with him by acknowledging his point of view and offering different ways of seeing mine. In the end, nothing mattered. Not only would he doggedly stand his point of view (which I’m actually okay with because ‘agreeing to disagree’ can be a powerful act), he would insult me in every single comment he made. He would, for example, admit that he was being judgmental and follow it with a ‘but’ or another statement with snarky comments – a verbal slap. That’s when I thought that a direct approach would possibly work better than a diplomatic one. No, that was like pouring oil on a fire. It blew up. In the end, he was openly insulting and purposefully hurtful whilst saying, “I respect you, but…” or “With all due respect…”

Why do people do that? Do they think we’re stupid? When people say that we all KNOW they’re going to follow it with something negative. I mean, really!

I’ve seen a few friends have such experiences too. Before social networking they would have been referred to as ‘email wars’. Now, it is cyber stupidity. Every Tom, Dick and Jane think they have an opinion and that their opinion should, in fact, be everyone else’s. I get it. Believe me. I too have strong opinions. Push a button or get me onto a topic I’m passionate about and I can debate for days. There is, however, a difference between debate and personal attack. If someone is really going to upset you, you have a right to ignore them, unfollow them or unfriend them. There is actually no need to be mean.

In the end, I had actually had enough of this guy today.

blog pic reality and opinion

That’s when I came across a saying, “Your Opinion is Not My Reality”. The fates threw that one into my lap. Of that, I’m sure. I had to ask myself whether my life would be better with or without him in it. The answer was that the only impact he had made on my life thus far had been a negative one on social media.

My lesson learnt for today – Cut Toxic Friends Out. Liberate yourself with the unfriend button. (And if you’re a writer, write them into a book and transform them. 😉 )

The Best Kind of Book Promo ‘Swag’

I am most definitely not a saint! I’m a regular mom, wife, writer and woman. Like many indies, I have become intimate with swag – for events, promotion and because it is just so awesome! Yesterday, I watched something on TV that led to some serious introspection and so I decided that instead of doing a monthly swag giveaway for my fan club, I’d do something for charity. It took about an hour of internet searching and a couple of phone calls to find a few worthy causes. Some wanted donations and I did that but I did not only want to donate. I wanted for my girls and I to take the time to get what was needed and deliver it in person. I have many reasons – it’s a religious month of charity, in South Africa we celebrate Nelson Mandela’s birthday by ‘giving back’ (it was his 95th birthday yesterday), and I wanted my girls to learn some valuable lessons. I do my bit for charity – I donate money or ebooks, share and promote Facebook Charity Events and give away things I no longer need to others who do. But, I no longer get actively involved in charity work – not since I attended university. It was time to change that.

And so, I went on a journey of self-discovery that I believe I’m so much better for. Indie writers often speak of ‘Indie Karma’ but when we do; we refer to helping each other out or supporting the newest, big cause. The causes indie writers support have been worthy and we’ve done fantastic work in raising money. Today I found that ‘Indie Karma’ has a place in my backyard too!

Shopping for Charity

Shopping for Charity

And so I found myself rushing out of the house because I was running late – I just had to hit publish on KDP first. Fortunately, I managed to shop with my two kids in tow and get a store assistant to push the additional shopping cart to my car. Then came crunch time and I was so nervous, my hands were clammy. After getting lost a few times, I navigated the car down a steep, muddy hill. The building was as expected – clean, sparse and in need of a fresh coat of paint. The girls I met were not what I expected. I’d been nervous to meet them but I pushed on because I wanted my daughters to experience the joy of giving and to see how fortunate they were. I’d known the basics – they were all young, teen runaways who had been raped. It’s weird, even having counseled rape victims and with my background in psychology, I was nervous. I didn’t want to inadvertently upset these girls or come across as some condescending jackass donating with smugness. Goodness knows, I’m no ‘Daddy Warbucks’. So, I did what came naturally – I focused on logistics and getting the goods from the car to the house.

The house was tiny. They’d converted what was the original lounge into a communal bedroom. In it were six beds and a single, tiny cupboard. Of course, I realized as soon as I noted it, that runaways don’t travel with suitcases. The place was spotless but furnished with the very basic of necessities. There was no TV, no computer, no posters (those who have teenagers know how strange that is – no Bieber, no 1D adorning the walls – the only décor I could detect were three ratty teddy bears perched against a threadbare pillow on one of the beds. Awkwardness began to engulf me. I felt sorry for them. Here I was, a happily married woman with a holiday house and kids that attend a private school and get almost everything they want. The girls at the shelter have so little; my heart aches to think of it. The harsh reality is that they ran away because those who should have taken care of them hurt them instead.

Glancing at my kids to make sure they were behaving, I followed the troop of girls to the kitchen. If the room was sparsely furnished, the kitchen was even more so. The most notable thing in the kitchen was a baker’s tray of bread. It was filled with packets of what looked like bread that was day’s old, as though a number of people drop the leftover bits off at the house.

It’s not that easy to act casually when these images are thrown at you. You’re supposed to feel shock and empathy. But I couldn’t show my hosts these emotions – it would be tacky and unkind. Once again, I took refuge in managing logistics. It was easy to unpack the goods and hand it out but I was ever cognizant of doing so with humility. I think I managed to do that though because I watched their reactions closely and they remained friendly. Once that task was complete, I was again awkward. These things don’t come with manuals, so what the heck was I supposed to do next? It seemed as though they were waiting for me to say something. I decided to go with my gut.  I found myself thanking them for the opportunity to allow me to give them food, toiletries and some treats. I was honest and told them that I did it because I needed to – because I could; and because my kids needed to know how lucky they were. I nearly cried doing this because here I was giving them basics like toothbrushes and they seemed so grateful. Afterwards, I was ready for a quick escape. My humanity, thankfully, didn’t allow it, and so I turned back and began speaking to the girls, joking with them. I started to relax around them. I no longer saw them as rape victims but as a group of young, giggling girls with the spirit to survive. My daughters were chattering comfortably with them, completely unaffected by the issues I had had because children have so much less baggage and fears to color their interactions. I wanted to teach my daughters a lesson and to give back to the girls at the shelter and ended up learning more and receiving the most. In that instant, it became less about me and my insecurities and need to teach my daughters, and more about them. I got to know a bit about who they are and connected with them. If I hadn’t, I would indeed have been nothing more than a smug donor of goods. Oh, the irony!

In the end, we had a great time and we’re going back this Sunday. My girls have decided to raid their ample toy closet and have made up parcels for the girls. I’m going to buy cake, ice-cream, sodas and a huge bucket of KFC so my kids can play with the girls at the shelter. And, this time, I can’t wait!

Thanks to the members of my fan club for agreeing to my idea of ‘charity instead of swag’. I’ve discovered that charity is the best swag ever!

child abuse portrait

For the Love of Romance, Leave Us to Our Fabulous Sex Lives!

couple kissing in shower

Have you read a good romance lately? Did you recommend it to a friend or colleague only to have them say, “I don’t read such things” or “I read crime novels or autobiographies”? Of course, they say it with an immense sense of superiority as though they’re more present in the ‘real world’ and that there is something wrong with someone for enjoying a good ‘happy ever after’. It makes me want to regress to being a teenager, roll my eyes and reply, “whatever”. But I don’t. Until recently, I’ve smiled and nodded and changed the subject. On Facebook, I generally ignore the comments or provide a diplomatic response.

Now before you get your knickers in a knot, I’m neither referring to individuals who genuinely don’t have an interest in romance (much as some people prefer tea to coffee) nor those who prefer other genres and will only pick up a romance occasionally and if a friend coerces them to. I’m also not referring to people who don’t believe in romance. I respect that we all have pasts and can understand that some experiences don’t lend themselves to creating much belief in love. I am referring to the ‘heart haters’ – those individuals who believe that they have the right to judge the romance reader and writer.

The suppositions made by them are that romance readers are sadly disillusioned or are overcompensating for a lack of sex, love and / or dating in their lives. I even came across an article that refuted a statement that women who read romance novels “can become dangerously unbalanced”. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jun/01/claim-romantic-novels-unbalance-readers) In the same article, a crime writer is cited as stating, “”My plea to romance writers: please stop writing. You are destroying marriages, the fabric of society, and the entire cosmos”. Really? Judge much? Okay here, I think regression is appropriate and an eye roll is absolutely deserving and maybe a good shaking or two. The irony is that the statement made by this crime-writer is soaked with the very melodrama us romance writers and readers are often attributed with. (And I think he is just jealous because romance novels sell more than any other genre.)

Thankfully, there are enough people out there who have the kutzpah, the tenacity, to challenge the fabricators of such dribble. I found another interesting article on the demographics of romance readers (http://www.lifescript.com/life/timeout/chill/romance_novels_who_reads_them_who_buys_them.aspx) and quite a few more on how romance can spice up one’s sex life, most notably, Teach Me Tonight (http://teachmetonight.blogspot.com/2010/01/sex-lives-of-romance-readers.html).

So here are the judgmental assumptions made about romance readers, facts I’ve found and of course, my take on things:

Assumption – Romance readers are sad and alone.

Fact – The majority of romance readers are married or in a committed relationship.

My take – I know many romance writers, being one myself, and even more romance readers. Most of them are not only in relationships but also in happy, supportive relationships. Who knows… maybe the hope and positive outcomes inherent within romance novels creates a mind-set more open to love and overcoming the challenges relationships present. Now I have what I refer to as a ‘gatvol’ stage. The direct translation of that Afrikaans word is ‘ass-full’ (LOL) and means, “I’ve had enough’. I’ve reached that stage where I no longer can ignore the disdain from others when mentioning romance and so I’ve begun asking them about their own relationships. I’ve found that those who don’t read romance novels have mostly been hurt in the past, are divorced or generally don’t believe in love. Essentially, a romance is about the belief that the human spirit can and will overcome the difficulties life presents it with and that this is only strengthened by love. I personally find it sad that others have lost that hope.

Myth – Romance readers are old and unattractive.

Fact – The age of romance readers ranges between 25 and 54. Romance readers are not predisposed to look a certain way.

My take – Most of my readers fall within that age range although there are a few older and younger too. As to whether or not we are an attractive bunch? Well, I beg to differ. We are all shapes, sizes, colors, and features. Given that most of us are married or in committed relationships, someone obviously found us attractive enough to ‘put a ring on it’.

Myth – Reading romances creates unrealistic expectations of sex

Fact – “Most of the study participants (75.5%) reported that reading romance novels has had an impact on their sex lives. This occurred in several ways, including making participants more likely to engage in sexual activity and by making them more likely to try new sexual activities.” (http://teachmetonight.blogspot.com/2010/01/sex-lives-of-romance-readers.html)

My take – Many readers I know have reported an especially hot experience between the sheets after reading a romance novel. As a writer, I know that many of my colleagues and I feel particularly frisky after writing a sex scene and our partners certainly do not complain when we expend that energy in the bedroom. We also *clears throat* do extensive research for our novels. Does that sound like we have unfulfilled sexual relationships? Moreover, the fact that we don’t complain obviously means that our expectations were met. I’ve even heard of many women who use what they’ve read in romance novels in the bedroom. If it is legal and consensual then surely that’s okay? What puzzles me is why on earth folk want to know what goes on in the bedroom of romance readers? Are they projecting? In other words, are the ‘heart haters’ actually the ones who are unhappy with their sex lives? Are they threatened? I know what I think… I’ll let you make up your own mind about that.

The fact that I found most interesting was that romance readers use the novels as a means of relaxation and escapism from life’s daily stress. The last time I checked, that is one the primary reasons why most people read. I know that I treat myself after every deadline to a long bath and a good romance novel. In fact, that is precisely why I read and write romance – I want to enable others to escape into the worlds I create and have a moment of bliss, shed a tear or two in commiseration and to feel happy that all turned out okay at the end. So my plea to all heart haters is to give it a try and if you insist on ridiculing us, then leave us to our fabulous sex lives! Now I’m off to think dirty thoughts, write them and then…

Body chocolate.

Does Bling Bring the Swagger to Book Sales?

Facebook, Twitter and every social network are inundated with ‘ebook and swag giveaways’. They started off with more affordable prizes such as bookmarks and postcards then progressed to bling in the form of necklaces, jeweled bookmarks and bracelets. Now the recent trend seems to be the amazing prize of a Kindle or Nook giveaway – with the Kindle Fire being the biggest draw card.

I resisted going the swag route – not because I’m adverse to it but simply because as a new indie writer, just starting out with absolutely no budget, every ebook I gave away ate into my personal bank account. So, you can imagine that swag seemed like a dream.

To Swag or Not to Swag?

I first gave into the lure of getting my own swag when I observed the huge interest it drew and to be honest, my sales went from looking hugely promising to despondently dwindling. Another thing happened – I got a bit of disposable income, which meant that I could carve out some of that for swag. The thing with being an indie is that you cannot discount that indie writers mostly have day jobs, family responsibilities and thus also financial responsibilities with the majority of their income coming from outside of the sales of their books. But, because I was worried about my sales and I needed to create some form of hype around my work, I bit the bullet.

 Custom-made Coffin Girls Swag through Vistaprint

Custom-made Coffin Girls Swag through Vistaprint

What Swag To Choose?

The first thing I do before embarking on any venture related to indie writing is Google. Google is the most informative and amazing resource any writer has access to and Google gave me information on swag. My search led me to a blog by Curiosity Quills. What resonated the most was that the swag being given away should be functional as well as decorative and promotional. And even better, Curiosity Quills provided the website address of an international printing company called Vistaprint (www.vistaprint.co.uk).

I then spent hours poring over the contents of a variety of websites and settled on Vistaprint, who was affordable even with taking shipping into consideration. Having said that – if any indie writers are reading this blog and mosey over to Vistaprint or any other site – note that affordable is a relative term because what I paid still made me grimace.

In the end I settled for calendars, notebooks, postcards, tote bags, etc. The great thing is that you can build an online portfolio and order as little or as much as you want whenever you want to. So, I may not have a stock room full of swag – I have a small box – but I do have access to an on-site, personal portfolio for future use.

The Price of Swag?

Buying swag is one thing, shipping the swag from the vendor to your home is another. But the hidden cost that is not always taken into consideration pertains to shipping. Do not discount this because the indie writing and social literary networks are internationally spread and when you do a giveaway, what you send will be weighed and measured by your postal service or couriers.

Some authors are limiting giveaways to their home country. I can respect and understand why but what bothers me about this is that the literary community is an international one and by limiting a giveaway to a country, you exclude many from participating.

So now, I basically sit with a box of swag in the cupboard while I save money towards the shipping! (LOL – I’ve got to laugh at the irony of the situation.)

Has it Worked?

I’ve only recently started giving away the swag. Has it helped sales? Absolutely not (*grinning again*). But what it has done, which is why I’m a swag believer, is assist me in promoting me as a writer. The number of Author Page likes for Aneesa Price – Sugary, Spicy Reads has increased, so have the number of friend requests I receive and I’ve also been experiencing renewed interests from reviewers to host my work on their blogs and to provide me with honest reviews.

So, yes – it does work. I believe that Swag fits into the category of ‘short term (financial) pain for long term (sales and promotional) gain’.

The Future of Swag?

At the moment it seems to be flooding the literary social networks and to be honest, there’s a feeling of ‘you snooze, you lose’ if you don’t get onto the swag bandwagon. So my recommendation to other indie authors is to get out there and do the swag thing (but save up first – do not put yourself personally out of pocket).

What will swag look like in future and will I reap the benefits in the form of reader reach? Well I don’t know the answer right now but I’ll be watching.

Swag made by a friend and street team member

Swag made by a friend and street team member

Bookmarks

Bookmarks