When Humo(u)r Goes Bad…

When Humo(u)r Goes Bad…

“But I just want to make the people laugh!” he cried, as the rotten tomatoes splatted against his tear-stained face and the boos drowned his artistic dreams.

Yes, it’s true. From stand-up comedians to comedy novelists, there are always people out there who won’t find you funny. And that’s good, because originality should set off a range of reactions – some good, some bad. Boring, safe, same-old is easy to do. I’m sure some people make money from it but it’s not very satisfying from a creative point of view. (Though if someone wants to offer me a million pounds to be boring, safe, same-old, I would certainly give it some serious consideration.)

The reviews for my first two novels, We Have Lost The President and We Have Lost The Pelicans, have already proven that not everyone ‘gets’ my sense of humour (or ‘humor’, as most of my readers call it). My small band of British readers all seem to all understand it – no surprise really, given that Brits use humour about every 10 seconds when in a group. But a small minority of my core non-British readership don’t get it. Once again, no surprises, as I write original books embedded in British culture. But what has surprised me is this small minority is very vocal. Believe it not, they can get quite mad and rude about it all – something I never imagined would happen with a comedy novel. And that’s when humo(u)r goes bad. It’s not nice to wake up to one of those reviews – it’s a bit like getting a rejection for a job application. You feel deflated and you start to doubt yourself – even if sales are booming. If you’re ever in the presence of an author when they receive one of these, there’s only one course of action to take: tea and sympathy (preferably involving cuddles). Yes, that’s right. We are very delicate creatures.

In an effort to cope with the comedy doubters, I’ve decided to turn it around and find a brighter side to it all. So, here are some of the funniest critical comments about my lack of funniness (with the book being reviewed in brackets and my allegedly humorous commentary underneath):

Reviewer 1 (President): “I was hoping for a mystery with some humor, not a comical story.”

So, it was too funny? Thanks. I’ll take that as a compliment!

Reviewer 2 (President): “Humor quite juvenile – was hoping, at least, some semi sophisticated English humor. Is slapstick comedy in written form, not good…For this kind of humor I would watch old Buster Keaton movies.”

This completely baffled me. Firstly, the book is a political satire based on a vision of the British Government in the future – not the kind of thing Junior watches on Saturday morning TV. Also, comparing a book to American silent movies – who, what, why, when, how? I want some of whatever he’s smoking!

Reviewer 3 (President): “Not sure I ever got the point of this book.”

I did point out to Amazon that this comment was not a review, as the point of a book is to read it. Imagine a review about a barbecue that read, ‘Not sure I ever got the point of this barbecue.’ You’d rightly wonder what type of spicy sauce they were putting on their sausages. But Amazon wouldn’t budge. Still, it makes me chuckle every time, so I quite like it staying up there!

Reviewer 4 (President): “It wasn’t funny or exiting. Unfortunately I bought the next book too. I am not sure I am going to read it.”

I’m sorry it wasn’t funny for this reader. Or ‘exiting’ (whatever that is – possibly the type of feeling that makes you want to walk out on friends and family and find a dark corner to read your book). I love the way this review leaves us all on a cliffhanger. “Will they read it, won’t they read it? Join us next week, to find out!” It’s like a soap opera in three sentences. (Although personally, I’m hoping they won’t read it, as the inevitable one-star review will follow..!)

Reviewer 5 (Pelicans): “The short intro doesn’t really give you any idea of how witless this story is written…I have friends in U.K. and understand their sense of humor can be different but this wasn’t even worth the paper it could have been written on.”

This person sounded really angry. I can imagine him calling his British friends and explaining his comedic angst to them, while they ‘um’ and ‘ah’ sympathetically and check their watches. His username is ‘The glass half full!’ but I think he’s being a little optimistic there.

Reviewer 6 (Pelicans): “bad reading, bad plot. just bad”

As someone who enjoyed a lot of Michael Jackson’s songs, I was tempted to respond with a big ‘Thank you so much! Glad you loved my Thriller. Who’s bad?!’ but I’m not sure they would get the joke.

Reviewer 7 (Pelicans): “not only did I not laugh I seldom smiled”

I utterly love this line. Every time I read it, it conjures up an image of a man so sad, you would just want to go up to him, kiss him on the forehead, and tell him ‘Everything’s going to be alright – it’s just a futuristic satirical British novel that you didn’t find in the least bit funny. There now.’

Okay, that’s enough examples (all from Amazon US). You need a thick skin in this business – which I don’t have – and there is a consensus that authors should never respond to negative reviews. But if they give me a subject for a blog I haven’t written in nearly six months, I reserve the right to perform a dramatic shimmy and declare, ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!’

Paul Mathews is a British novelist who is apparently quite funny to some people. To other people, he isn’t. Visit his Amazon author pages here: Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Ten Twitter Secrets

You might think you know Twitter. But it has secrets. I know ten of them. And I can never keep a secret. So here they are:

Your username – Fed up with that username you chose in a hurry when you signed up? Or maybe you changed your name from ‘John Smith’ to ‘James Bond 007’ and want your username to reflect that? Well, you can change it to anything you want – as long as it isn’t already taken by someone else. And you get to keep all your followers. It’s easy to do. Just go to the web-based version of Twitter, access ‘Settings’ and then ‘Account’. Your username will be there in a box. Just delete your current username and type in your new one. Twitter will tell you if it’s available or not. If it is, you can ‘Save changes’. That’s it. Goodbye, John Smith. Hello, James Bond 007. But that doesn’t mean you have a licence to kill. Only tweet. Sorry.

But be warned, 007– there are consequences to consider. For example, your old username will now be available for evil geniuses and others to obtain (although you could sign up for it – using a different email address – and use it to re-direct people to your new account). Also, previous mentions of your old username in tweets won’t direct people to your new account. So do some secret agent research and make sure this is right for you.

Your Twitter biog – We all love writing about ourselves. Because, let’s face it, we’re the most interesting person we know. But Twitter only allows you 160 characters for your biog. However, you can extend it. In your profile, there is a field for your location that allows up to 30 characters – but it doesn’t require the content to be an actual place. You can write what you want. So go to it, my super interesting friends.

Pinned tweets – You can choose one of your best tweets and pin it to your profile. That means it will always appear as the first tweet on your timeline when people visit your profile. You should use it along with your biog to showcase what a brilliant, social media hotshot you are. And I know you are – because you’re reading my blog. Just access the tweet, go to settings and choose the ‘Pin to your profile’ option. You can unpin it any time you want from the same menu. Or simply pin a different tweet. I know what you’re thinking: ‘What did we do before pinned tweets?’ They’re amazing.

Photos – You can now attach up to four photos to a tweet…and it won’t count towards your 140-character limit. Woohoo! Sorry. I’m easily excited. You can also tag other accounts (if their privacy settings allow you) in those photos. This allows you to include a reference to another account without eating into your 140-character limit. For info, the best size photos for sharing on Twitter are 1,024 x 512 pixels (a 2:1 ratio for the mathematically-minded amongst you). So try and choose photos that size (or crop them before you post using Photoshop, Paint or something similar.) If you don’t post properly proportioned photos, your pics won’t preview properly (that was a lot of p’s, I know – I’m a writer and I like to do these things sometimes).

Analytics – Twitter lets you check out lots of cool analytics for your tweets. This includes number of tweets, tweet impressions, profile visits, mentions and follower numbers over the last 28 days. You can get data for individual tweets: as well as retweets and likes, you can find out how many times any links were clicked in a tweet or your Twitter profile was accessed from it. You can visit https://analytics.twitter.com for overall and individual tweet analytics. Or view analytics about individual tweets via the Twitter App – just access a tweet and look out for the ‘VIEW TWEET ACTIVITY’ link below the tweet. No, sorry. I can’t think of any jokes about tweet analytics. So I’ll move on quickly.

Other people’s retweets – Do you follow someone who is retweet crazy? There’s a simple solution that doesn’t involve unfollowing them or standing outside their house and screaming ‘Lay off the retweets, will you?!’. How? You can simply turn off their retweets in your timeline. Just go to their profile and select ‘Turn off retweets’ from the settings menu. Now you’ll just see their words of wisdom – assuming they have any.

Blocking – Think that blocking someone means they can’t read your tweets? Think again. Believe it or not, they can just Google search your Twitter username and that will reveal your latest 140-character words of wisdom – including any links in them. Or if you have a website or blog with a live Twitter feed, they can view that. They could even just set up another account and follow you anonymously. In other words, all blocking really does is stop people following you and replying to your tweets directly. So be careful what you tweet – someone can always find it, if they really want to. Even if they’re blocked.

Timeline – Firstly, you may not be seeing your timeline in real time. There is a ‘Show me the best Tweets first’ option within settings, which involves Twitter making decisions about what’s best for you. But it’s easy to change, if you believe you know best – just uncheck the box. Secondly, you may be seeing tweets from accounts you don’t even follow (and we’re not talking about retweets here). According to Twitter’s help pages, they may identify popular tweets and add them to your timeline even if you aren’t following them. There’s nothing you can do about that – in fact, it’s probably a good thing. So don’t panic if one of my @IamTheHuman tweets appears on your timeline and you don’t follow me. Hang on a minute, why aren’t you following me? Okay, don’t follow me now. Later. You’ve got to finish reading this and check out my book and other stuff.

Twitter Search – There are all sorts of useful things you can do via Twitter search. You can use it in a similar way to Google and, for example, filter results by excluding words. You do this by putting a minus sign in front of the word you don’t want featured. For example, searching for ‘Donald Trump’ and ‘president’ would only return results about Donald Trump that didn’t include any reference to ‘president’ (and, believe it or not, there are a few – I’ve checked). You can include search terms in quote marks if you want results with that exact phrase, such as “please buy my e-book” and “It’s only £1.99”. You can also search for your username and someone else’s – to see what you’ve tweeted about each other (just enter both your usernames in the search box). Or search for hashtagged words such as #IamWriting. There’s lots more. Just Google ‘Twitter advanced search’. It’s hours of fun for all the family.

@ Replies – Okay, listen carefully because this is a bit weird. If you reply to someone’s tweet, only people who follow both you and the person you are replying to will see it in their timeline. So if A replies to B, and C follows just A or B, he won’t see it. But D, who follows A and B, does have the opportunity to see it. To get round this, just insert a full stop / period before the first username in your reply (so it’s the first character of the tweet). It will still show as a reply to that tweet, but all your followers will see it. See – I told you it was weird. Twitter might be changing this in the future, to avoid millions of brains hurting while they have to process this weirdness. Let’s hope they do.

Tip: If you do this, try to make the reply understandable in itself. That’s because many people will see it without the original tweet as context. For example, rather than replying ‘Wow! Your book is a fantastic comedy-thriller novel!’, you should tweet ‘Wow! “We Have Lost The President” is a fantastic comedy-thriller novel!’ Okay. I know. That wasn’t subtle. But I’m a writer, guys. I don’t write brilliant blogs purely for fun. Okay? Good. We’re cool. Hmm? What’s the book about? I thought you’d never ask. Take a look here.

How to be a Twitter Blade Runner – Hunting Fake Followers

Some people say robots are the future for mankind. But not on Twitter. Bots are a pain in the timeline. They infiltrate your Twitter account and, before you know it, you’re being swamped by an army of robots who spout more nonsense than your really annoying school friend who tweets non-stop about their cat. Not just that, Twitter bots encourage other fakes to follow you – like you’re some kind of robotic Pied Piper of Hamelin. And when they’re following you, these robots never even say ‘Good morning, how are you today?’, like all those polite robots in the movies. No. They just shout at the world and don’t want to listen to anyone else – like that guy you worked with, who got a promotion.

I’ve been battling bots for the last 18 months across my five Twitter accounts (including my writer’s account @IamTheHuman and my novel’s account @IamTheNovel). I’ve spent the last 18 months tracking down fakes, Blade Runner style, and dealing with them in much the same way that Rick Deckard deals with replicants. I blast them. Well, I block them…but I like to pretend it’s blasting. It makes me feel like I’m Harrison Ford.

So here are the different categories of fake followers, as identified by this experience-hardened, Twitter Blade Runner. Bots will usually display several of these characteristics. So it’s easy to keep your account bot-free, if you become familiar with them.

The ‘Buy Followers’ Bots– These are the worst kind of fakes. They encourage real people to be followed by hundreds and thousands of their own robot kind – because that’s what you get when you buy followers; 100% fakes; not a real person among them. So there’s a simple rule: if the user’s profile urges you to buy followers (usually in a weird typeface) it’s 99.99% going to be a fake. (Lately, I’ve noticed one or two offer Facebook or Instagram followers – treat them exactly the same.) Even if they are a real person, they trade in fakes. So they should get what they deserve. Smoke ’em.

Advertisers – These robots are smart and will often have genuine-looking usernames and well-written biographies. But all they do is re-tweet content from a small pool of websites – often tedious corporate nonsense or lightweight features of the  “10 things you don’t know about…” or “5 silly photos of…” variety. While they can be tricky to initially identify, they are almost all non-likers (see below), so combining these two tests will get you your bot.

The Formulaic Biographers – These fakes have computer-generated personalities. Their Twitter biogs are a list of their favourite things with a word attached to highlight a strong interest. Common things include: internet/web, Twitter, alcohol, coffee, ice cream, beer, bacon and zombies (which is ironic really, given that they’re the Twitter undead). Common highlighters include: addict, aficionado, evangelist, expert, fan, guru, practitioner and specialist. So, if your follower is an ice cream addict, bacon specialist and internet guru, they are a guaranteed fake. You know what you’ve got to do.

Nonsense Tweeters – Any account who tweets a mish-mash of letters and/or numbers is a sure sign that the robot’s programming has gone crazy. Or their tweets cut off halfway through a sentence. Or they refer to comments, links or photos without linking to them. Put it out of its mechanical misery. Blast it to kingdom come.

Non-Likers – These bots appear to be established accounts, with large numbers of followers and / or followings. But when you click on their ‘Likes’, it’s a big, fat, robot zero. That’s because churning out automated tweets and re-tweeting is easy. But ‘liking’ other accounts’ tweets is much tougher. In fact, Twitter’s robots very rarely like anyone. Which isn’t a surprise. Because we don’t like them.

Non-Repliers – Another sure sign that the accounts are bot broadcasters, rather than human listeners, is that they never reply to anyone’s tweets. (In other words, they never start a tweet with someone else’s username.) These imposters don’t belong in your world. Do what Rick Deckard would do. Even if they have a pretty face like Pris the snake lady. Show no mercy.

Blanks – Your Twitter profile is how you gain more followers and tell the Twitter-verse who you are. But blanks are an unsophisticated breed of bot who don’t have a profile. They may also be an egghead (see below) or have a profile photo lifted from the internet – often a good-looking male or female. Real humans can decide not to have a profile – but that’s a pretty dumb move when there are Blade Runners around. A bit like not carrying your human ID in Los Angeles, 2019.

Eggheads – These guys are simple bots that don’t bother with a profile photo. Think of it like a faceless android. There are plenty of humans who choose to hide their identity behind the egg mask, too. So use it as a sign, rather than definitive proof.

Copycats – These accounts lift tweets from other accounts. It won’t be immediately obvious. But if you copy one of the individual’s tweets and paste it into Twitter search, it will produce at least one search result that is not from them. Experience will teach you what kind of tweets are copied, but they are usually of the ‘Me, me, me’ or advice for life variety. And no one needs a stream of that in their Twitter feed.

The Feb 2015 Crowd – Don’t ask me why, but many fakes I encounter have a last tweet from around this date. Maybe this is when the Twitter war between humans and the Twitter replicants began?  In practice, if the last tweet is more than about a year old, it’s suspicious. So proceed with caution, trainee Twitter Blade Runners.

Twitter Bombers – These robots issue a constant stream of regular tweets, often with no relevance to each other. Real people who have no idea what they’re doing on Twitter can, occasionally, imitate this behaviour. Check their most recent tweets for other tell-tale signs of automation. Once satisfied it’s a genuine Twitter bomber, you only have one option. Neutralise it.

Name / Username Mismatchers – Their name is John Smith or Jane Green, but the username is different or a string of total nonsense. Or maybe the photo is of a male and it’s a female name, or vice versa. Don’t waste time with this particular breed. Even if they’re as good-looking as Rutger Hauer. Blast them to Twitter oblivion.

Some additional advice for you all, my budding Blade Runners. If in doubt, put the suspect account under surveillance. Don’t follow back. Just keep an eye out for any suspicious activity. During this period, as well as the characteristics above, one thing to look out for is other suspicious accounts following you. That’s a sure sign that the suspect is a bot and is calling in his buddies.

So, that’s it. You’ll soon develop an almost sixth sense for who’s real and who’s fake. Just like Rick Deckard did for replicants. So good luck on your Twitter travels, my friends. And don’t forget your blaster!

P.S. If you enjoyed this blog, don’t forget to check out my novel. It’s apparently quite funny. Thanks!

Living With a Novelist – 8 Great Tips

Living with a novelist can be hard. I know. I am one. So I’ve put together eight great tips for friends and family of novelists, to help them avoid falling out with their literary loved ones (or, even worse, ending up as that character nobody likes in their next novel).

1) Response Times – novelists are often so involved in their story writing – so immersed in the worlds they have created in their heads – that their response times slow dramatically while writing. As an example, a novelist at the peak of their creative powers will display reaction times only slightly quicker than the giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands. So remember, if there is a mealtime, shopping trip or household chore coming up soon, issue a call to action at least ten minutes (preferably fifteen) before the time you actual require them to get their backsides into gear. If this doesn’t work, threaten to hide their coffee and chocolate. That usually does the trick.

2) Diet – over the centuries, novelists have evolved digestive systems that mean they can survive on three cups of coffee, half a dozen biscuits and a jumbo bag of Maltesers a day, with no loss of writing productivity. But do try and persuade your novelist to leave their computer and eat a proper meal, if you can. However, don’t tell them they will just be eating – they will often see this as a waste of valuable writing time. Tell them you want to sit down and talk about their novel. Then, before they can even begin to outline their latest plot twist, put the food in front of them and say you’ll be all ears after they’ve finished what’s on their plate. Works every time.

3) Liquids – it’s important to remember that a) novelists function in the morning much better with coffee and b) they waste so much time before actually sitting down at a computer that they often forget to make themselves a cup. Fill that coffee void, and a novelist will love you forever. If you’ve run out of coffee (and try not to), tea can be offered as an alternative. In the evenings, wine or beer is normally consumed if today’s ‘word count’ target has been achieved (this number is extremely flexible and can range from 50 to 2,000 words, depending on how badly the novelist wants a drink in the evening).

4) Napping – while your novelist may have a study and claim writing is a full-time job, be prepared to find them crashed out on their study chair or sofa-bed any time after lunch. Never refer to this as ‘being lazy’. The correct terminology is ‘recharging one’s creative batteries’. Also, never wake the novelist while still sleeping – this can result in grumpiness for the rest of the day, accompanied by comments such as ‘I’m grumpy because you woke me up’.

5) Dress Code – while the novelist may refer to their study or special corner as an ‘office’, please be aware that dress codes do not reflect those in more traditional working environments. Writing in pyjamas or underwear is entirely normal for a novelist – partly because they must get those words down on the page whenever the creative urge strikes them. And partly because they oversleep a lot and feel better if they sit straight down at the computer without spending too long in the bathroom. If you are expecting guests, it is best to turn off the internet, shut down their computer and shout ‘Get in that shower…NOW!’

6) Social Media – while your novelist may look like they’re spending half their day posting on Facebook, tweeting on Twitter, and Googling things like ‘How much will I get if my book is made into a film?’, ‘What’s the minimum number of words for a novel that I can get away with?’ or ‘Can Angelina Jolie appear in my novel and, if so, will she come to the book launch?’, this isn’t them wasting time. No. This is work.

7) Watching Films – it’s difficult for a novelist to switch off sometimes. A trip to the cinema or a night in with a DVD might sound like fun to you. But for a novelist, it’s a minefield. Their hawk-like eyes and razor-sharp brains will be searching throughout for plot holes, one-dimensional characters, bad dialogue and anything else that proves that the people who make these multi-million dollar dramas are total schmucks who couldn’t write a decent story to save their lives. Listen to the novelist’s post-movie analysis and nod understandingly for as long as necessary. Then distract them with an ice cream and move the conversation on to what biscuits are on special offer in the local supermarket.

8) Novels – if you know a novelist, it’s a seriously good move to buy their novel. It might seem like a very simple gesture to you. But to the novelist, it is an act of great support and generosity that they will never forget. In that way, novelists are the elephants of the literary world. And like elephants, you should never startle them. For example, by revealing that you haven’t bought their book. If you get cornered by the novelist at a party and they ask ‘Have you bought my book?’ when you haven’t, the correct response is to say ‘I haven’t had a chance to buy it, but I will’ or ‘I’ll pick it up on my next Amazon shop’. This should calm the literary beast within them. If they still haven’t calmed down after five minutes, stroke their head gently and keep repeating ‘But I’ve heard so many good things about it. I’m sure you’ll be bigger than J K Rowling this time next year.’

So, that’s it for the tips.  If you enjoyed this blog, you’ll also enjoy my debut novel We Have Lost The President – click here to find out more.