Content Is Not My King

There’s a saying in the online world that, if you’ve spent much time around marketing blogs, you’ll probably have heard: content is king. It’s usually attributed to Bill Gates, some time in the mid-90s, but for the purposes of this post, its origin is irrelevant. Instead, I want to talk about the idea of ‘content’, and why I think it’s a pernicious one, particularly if you’re interested in a creative lifestyle rather than simply making money online.

The phrase ‘content is king’ is most frequently used in blogging terms i.e. you need plenty of quality content on your blog if you want it to succeed financially. That, in its most basic sense, I wouldn’t disagree with. However, in recent years, I’ve seen the word ‘content’ bandied around in a number of other spheres. Content is no longer just what you put on your blog: it’s your fiction, your music, your podcasts, your artwork, your photos of your cat. Again, at its most basic, all of this is ‘content’ – but lumping it all together creates a problem.

You see, not all media is created equal, or at least I don’t believe it should be. That novel you’ve spent a year slaving over isn’t equivalent to someone’s newest Tumblr post; a portrait done in oil paints by a skilled artist isn’t equal to that Vine you just filmed of your cat knocking things over.

These are exaggerations, of course, and things become more difficult to compare, let alone place a value on, as they either become more similar or when they’re in completely different media (how do you decide whether a masterful painting or a classic novel has more value, for example? The answer is always going to be subjective). This isn’t about deciding which is ‘better’, though, but rather about believing not everything is the same.

And that’s where my problem with content comes in. As creators, we’re constantly hearing this ‘content is king’ message, and being told that we’ll only be more successful if we keep producing more, more, more. Trying to follow this mantra, though, doesn’t take into account either the personal value we place on our art, nor the time that’s gone into it; the world would be a far poorer place if every piece of art, music and literature was suddenly replaced by low-grade ‘get rich quick’ blog-posts and tweets, in a misguided attempt to produce more ‘content’.

Maybe this sounds a bit snobby, but I don’t mean it to be – there’s undeniably a place in the world for business blogs and cat videos, after all. I’m also well aware that some of the media I consider an important part of my life would be considered trash by others, and vice versa. The important thing, really, is that whatever medium we create in, we take the time to think about what we place value on and why, and to make sure that the rush for ‘content’ never overwhelms our desire to make art, in whatever form that takes.

More is not necessarily better, quantity shouldn’t rule over quality, and sometimes you just have to focus on the passion that’s eating away at your heart, no matter how long that takes, or how much ‘content’ you could have created in the meantime.

A Bit of a Facelift

First things first: it’s not me who’s getting the facelift! If you’ve been a visitor to my blog before, you’ll already know what I’m talking about, as the whole site has had something of a revamp. There’s now space for a whole host of new material: at the moment, that’s updated information about my newest books (including the brand new ‘Servants of the Nexus’, but more on that in a future post), and I’ll soon be adding excerpts of my fiction and a brand new mailing list.

I won’t lie – building a new website, even one based on a familiar platform like WordPress, is a lot of work! I count myself fairly good with technology, but working out everything from domain mapping to WordPress installation has been a bit of an uphill struggle. I’m more than happy with the results, though, which makes it all worthwhile!

If you’re a new visitor or a long-time reader of the blog, please stay and have a look around. The site will be steadily growing over the next few weeks, but there’s already more to see than there was before. And, most importantly, let me know what you think. Feedback is always important, and I’m never quite sure what I might have accidentally broken without noticing!

Making a Few More Changes

It’s been a quiet month here on the blog. A couple of posts ago, I talked about making a few changes to what I blogged about, but with the new year upon us, I’ve decided to go with something even more drastic. I’m not closing this blog – not exactly, anyway – but it will be moving across to my larger author site, where it will become one page among many rather than the main attraction.

Why the change, then? A lot of it comes down to time, which is something I’ve been struggling with for the last 18 months or so. I simply don’t have the time to blog regularly any more, and I feel I could use my time more wisely when it comes to writing. I have big plans for 2015, after all, including self-publishing several more books that have been languishing on my hard drive, and hopefully thus setting in motion a grand total of three new series. (That’s the plan, at least. I’m fairly certain two will be in motion by the middle of the year – the third is still up in the air.)

So, less blogging, more writing. None of my archive will be disappearing, simply moving to the new site (which will still be at amysanderson.co.uk, incidentally). I may continue my Writing Life posts in the future, and I’ll keep my blog readers up-to-date with my writing and publishing endeavors, but until the new site goes up, this is me signing off. It’s been a pleasure to write here for so long, and I hope some of my lovely readers will stay in touch (there’ll soon be a mailing list with even more news and goodies!), but for now, adieu!

A Few Blogging Changes

November is always a busy month for me, blog-wise, and also a time when my posts here focus exclusively on writing and NaNoWriMo. This year was just the same, but several times I found myself fancying writing about something different. November wasn’t really the time, I reasoned – and I barely had the time, either – but now NaNoWriMo is over, I’ll be shuffling a few things around.

First of all: I will still be blogging about writing. My ‘Writing Life’ posts tend to reflect where I currently am in my writing projects, and I enjoy creating them both to clear my head and share what I’ve been up to. However, I feel I’ve been very remiss in blogging about books recently, and I want to change that. I’m planning a new series of ‘Epic Reads’, where I review/discuss some of the longer works I’ve recently read (mostly because it’ll give me a fresh incentive to dive into some fantasy series and to read some of the weightier tomes I have cluttering up my bookshelf!).

That’s books and writing – what else? I actually don’t have any firm plans, other than that I’d like to post more photos, more gaming stuff, and perhaps a few reviews of miscellaneous tech items (I do love my gadgets, after all). I am, of course, still posting to my joint game review site, but you can expect to see more casual updates here as well.

This is not a New Year’s Resolution, exactly – I don’t tend to make those – but I’ve been blogging here for several years now and it feels like time for a change. Here’s to many more years to come!

On SFF, Community and Blogging

It’s not often I spend a great deal of time on Twitter (I simply don’t have time, and my life doesn’t revolve around my PC or phone), but every time I’ve dropped in on it lately, I seem to find a similar situation developing. I follow, not surprisingly, a large number of writers and people in the SFF (science-fiction and fantasy) community, and in doing so I’ve noticed something of a pattern. Every week or two, a new controversy seems to rise up, get everyone in a fluster for a few days, and then gradually die down. I’m not going to detail these controversies – they’re out there if you really care to look for them, spread across Twitter and Facebook and multiple blogs/forums.

In the past, I’ve taken the same approach to just about every hoo-haa: namely, trying to ignore them. Well, perhaps ‘ignore’ is the wrong word. Many of these controversies arise out of genuinely important issues, such as race and gender in the genre community, or harassment, or discrimination – these are topics I do care about, and I want to know what’s going on. However, I’ve purposefully tried not to get involved in these internet skirmishes; I simply don’t have an argumentative side, and confrontation of any kind tends to make me feel physically sick. For the sake of my own sanity, I choose to stay out of it.

However, in recent weeks, that’s been hard. Short of leaving Twitter altogether (which seems a shame, as it’s so frequently a repository of excellent genre news and discussion), it’s impossible to ignore these blow-ups. One of the latest revolved around women in SFF, and how little some people want us there – reading their arguments, some of them genuinely nasty, was enough to leave me feeling exhausted and upset. If so many people don’t want me here, I found myself thinking, why am I even bothering? Why don’t I abandon all genre sites and blogs, never attend another convention, stay off Twitter, even stop buying books?

It’s easy, and tempting, to retreat in the face of such negativity. There are days when I can’t face doing anything else. However, whilst I’m not the arguing type, I am bloody stubborn. It takes an awful lot to put me off for long, and being part of the SFF community is no exception.

This, then, is a mini manifesto, of sorts. As I said before, for the sake of my own sanity, I don’t intend to embroil myself in too many internet scuffles. However, that doesn’t mean I’ll ignore them entirely. I choose to counter all the nastiness floating around the internet with my own small piece of positivity: by blogging and tweeting about those books and authors I love, by promoting them to anyone who’ll listen, and by continuing to both read and write the sort of fiction I want to see more of in SFF.

Like the majority of people in this genre community, I am just one small fish in a very large pond, but it’s an ecosystem we all have to work hard to maintain if we want it to be a place everyone can live.

On Positivity and Criticism (aka How to be a Nicer Person)

Recently, one of my favourite bands released their new single, the first off an album that’s due out next year. For anyone who’s interested, the band is Alcest, and the song ‘Opale’, which you can watch here.

In truth though, both the song and the band are irrelevant to today’s post. Instead, I want to talk about a more general aspect of positivity vs. criticism in all areas of art.

You see, when ‘Opale’ was released, the ‘fan’ comments (and I use the inverted commas there very deliberately) were fairly predictable. When Alcest formed, there was a heavy element of black metal to their music, an element which is entirely absent from their new release. As a consequence, a huge number of comments I’ve seen have run along the lines of ‘It’s not metal enough, therefore I don’t like it’.

A lot of the band’s ‘fans’ have, I feel, come to this conclusion by default, almost without listening to the new song. They’d been told in advance that black metal sounds weren’t going to appear on the new album, at which point they decided there and then that they weren’t going to like it. (Ironically, Alcest have been derided for not being ‘metal enough’ in some quarters for years – that the new album has gone further in that direction seems to be a surprise to no-one but the complainers. I honestly don’t know what they were expecting.)

The whole business bothers me: that the supposed fans suddenly hate a band for turning in a new direction, that they’re not willing to give the whole album a chance based on one song, that they go to such lengths to inform the band of their failings… All of this strikes me as both short-sighted and incredibly negative. So you don’t like a single song, and maybe you won’t like the album either. Does that stop you enjoying previous albums? Do you believe the change in style was made solely and intentionally to spite you? Does that shake your view of the world to the very foundations of the earth?

The answer to all those questions should of course be ‘no’. Liking or not liking a piece of art is, in the grand scheme of things, so very, very minor. It doesn’t alter your life, or the band’s life, or really anything at all.

And here we get to the nub of it all. So much of criticism surrounding art, particularly the ‘fan’ variety that percolates the internet, is focused on negativity. Disliking changes of style, new books by a previously-loved author, the new colour of a website… Said fans go to great and sometimes alarming lengths to make their discontent felt. And really, what does that accomplish? It lets off a few minutes of steam for the ‘fan’ – and makes the musician/author/artist feel terrible for a whole lot longer than that.

I will admit to having posted bad, even scathing reviews of books online in the past, but looking back, I genuinely wish I hadn’t. These days, I ignore the books I didn’t like and focus on the ones I did, by recommending them to other readers and posting about them here on my blog. The same goes for music, and films, and every other form of art and entertainment I enjoy.

I’m beginning to wish, too, that more people followed the same pattern. I’m not saying genuine criticism doesn’t have a place – it does, in all art forms, but it needs to be more considered than just ‘this sucks because it isn’t exactly like the last one’. Instead, I just wish that more fans and online commenters would be a little, well… nicer. Don’t like a film, a book or an album? So what? Either make your criticism a bit more constructive (i.e. a genuine review in which you point out positives as well as defects) or simply forget about it and move onto something you do enjoy.

Because I can’t help but think that, if we all focused on the positives a little more, the world would just be that bit more pleasant a place to be.

All Quiet

All quiet… on the blog, at least. I can’t honestly remember the last time I posted here – it’s been at least a month, and possibly more. However, my life in the last few weeks has seen some fairly monolithic changes, so I hope you’ll forgive my absence.

So, where have I been? To begin with, I left my job, working in a library. It was something of a wrench to leave so many great people behind, but also a necessity because of change number two: moving house.

And not just moving down the road, I might add, but 120 miles. I’m now back in my native – and much loved – North Yorkshire, where the grass very definitely feels greener (although that’s probably because of all the rain). Now that we’re here, my partner and I are embracing change number three: converting a large, late-Victorian farmhouse into a B&B. We’re doing much of the work ourselves (with invaluable parental assistance!) and hope to be finished by spring next year. Once it’s done, of course, we then have to run said B&B, but that’s another challenge altogether.

What does all this mean for my writing? Put bluntly, it’s suffering. I no longer have either the time or the relatively fixed schedule my last job provided, and when I finally get to the keyboard, I’m usually too tired to concentrate. At the moment, I’m trying to make use of my ‘weekends’ (not always Saturday and Sunday) to hammer out as many words as possible – this weekend should finally see me finishing my latest novel, Root, and moving on to my next (more on that in later posts).

It’s fair to say that life’s exciting at the moment, but as I settle into a new home and an entirely new lifestyle, I hope to find more time to keep blogging – and keep writing!

‘Chronicles of Tyria’ and ‘An Indie Adventure’ Update

I’ve had limited time to blog here recently, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been entirely lazy, just that I’ve frequently been more active elsewhere. Today, I just want to do a quick round-up of links, and let you know what I’m up to when everything is quiet here.

Firstly: Chronicles of Tyria. My story about a snarky asura thief called Amber is well underway now, with part 3 having been released a couple of weeks ago (and part 4 just awaiting a few tweaks before it’s ready to be posted). I’ve also written a couple of ‘one shots’ for the site, one-off stories about other characters, this time around written to a holiday theme. You can find them all with the links below.

Chapter 1: Part 1 – The Golem, the Thief and the Interrogator

Chapter 1: Part 2 – Investigators Don’t Do Subtlety

Chapter 1: Part 3 – Infiltrating the Inquest

The Future the Pale Tree Shows (written for Valentine’s Day, but not as soppy as that would imply!)

A Wintersday Reunion (and my Christmas short, or ‘Wintersday’ as it’s known in the world of Tyria)

Secondly: An Indie Adventure. This is my joint gaming blog, which has admittedly been a bit slow to get off the ground. The problem with writing a gaming blog is that you’ve got to find time to actually play some games before you can review them, and that’s been increasingly difficult recently. However, my partner in crime has stepped into the breach: his first review, of the game Super Meat Boy, can be found here.

So, like I said, not entirely lazy, and I will keep posting here (although my other difficulty at the moment is that I’m struggling for time to write as well, and this has always primarily been a blog about writing). I’m hoping to get a long overdue album review up in the next week or so, and hopefully it’ll be back to my writing – or lack of it! – after that.