Sunday, 6 May 2012

Why I Love the Internet! ...and why any writer should, too!

Years ago I used to bemoan how difficult it was as a writer to live in one of the smallest Caribbean islands, far away from networks of other writers and from the great research libraries. (An inter-library loan once took me six months!) It isn’t a coincidence that most of the Caribbean’s great writers (in fact, all I can think of) don’t actually live in the Caribbean. 

Now, because of the internet, the challenges aren’t as great as they once were and I thought I’d chat today about some of the great ways in which the internet has made my life easier.
1.)    Google. Of course, I had to start here. With Google everything is at my fingertips. Google is like having my very own research assistant/library right there on my desk.

2.)    One of the best Google innovations is Street View – having trouble imagining a street in Chicago or Paris? No problem. Call it up on Street View and it’s almost like you’re there yourself. (Imagining the smells and sounds is up to you, though.)

3.)    Wikipedia. This site is often the top listed after a a Google search regardless of whether I’m looking for information on Henry Morgan or on women’s prisons. It is a fabulous resource for writers and a great place to start researching your topic.

4.)    You Tube doesn’t always immediately come to mind when thinking of great places for writers on the Net but it should. Why? Well, one of the issues for me is that if I want to attend, say a thriller writers conference or a conference for science fiction and fantasy writers that means a long (and expensive) trip. Similarly, the chances of my being able to hear Ray Bradbury or Alice Walker speak are pretty slim unless I journey overseas but there they are on You Tube. It’s still not as great as being there live but with more and more conferences being livestreamed, even that distinction will be all but lost. 

5.)   You Tube also offers writers a great opportunity to put themselves out there by filming themselves reading excerpts from their books or showcasing book trailers which are a great promotional idea.  You can see me reading from Dido's Prize and the trailer for Jessamine, my upcoming novel, on my You Tube channel.

5.)    And if I’m researching a location that’s pretty well-known (and even some that aren’t) chances are someone has filmed it on You Tube and, if I can’t find it on Google Street View, I’ll find something I can use on You Tube.

4.)   Non-copyright books. Books from the 1800s and earlier are freely available either through  the GutenbergProject, Google Books or on Amazon. For a writer of historicals, this is a treasure trove beyond measure. Books that I couldn’t find on local library shelves or in bookstores are now appearing as ebooks giving me access to loads of information about how people dressed, how they spoke, what they ate, etc. You can find some of this information in secondary sources, yes, but these books can give you a more rounded and authentic experience. (One caveat is that since I wrote this Amazon appears to have begun restricting the availability of its copyright-free books to the U.S. only.)

5.)   One of my Facebook friends took copies of his first book to Grand Central Station and started handselling them outside. In a month, he’d sold something like 500. One Sunday, he filled his tank with gas and his trunk with books and went around to some of the bigger churches. He sold enough copies to make him repeat the exercise over the next few Sundays. A month later he went to New Jersey and did the same thing. Now this isn’t something I can replicate over the Net but by interacting with people on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and other social media sites I’m reaching a lot more people than I previously could. I also don’t have to just rely on bookstores listing my books – I  can list them myself at several online sites like Manic Readers and get additional exposure.

6.)   Online critique groups. An island of about 17,000 people isn’t going to have a writers group where writers can critique each other’s work and support each other. Not to worry, though, because several online groups such as Critters and Critique Circle exist to do just that. (Big up to the critiquers of the Circle who gave me invaluable suggestions when I was writing both Dido's Prize and Jessamine.)

The Net isn’t all good, or I should say isn't used only for completely good purposes, few things are. There are privacy issues and concerns about identity theft among others but, for a writer, from a small (very small) island it makes a lot of things possible that ten or fifteen years ago, were not.


  1. Ya I like how you can advertise yourself over the internet. My dad made a website for his jewelry store and people come from other parts of the country to it. Some even make a trip down here just to go to his store, we had one from Atlanta yesterday. That's good advertising to people that would've otherwise not known about it. : )

    1. Exactly, Joseph! The internet can literally bring the world to your door!

  2. You're so right! I'm hoping the world will visit my door...LOL!