Sunday, July 14, 2013

Virtual Coffee Interview With Lisa Goll

Lisa Goll runs London Writers' Cafe, one of the largest writing groups in Britain. I've enjoyed many of the talks, feedback sessions and social evenings all smoothly run by Lisa who also fits in a full time job and her own writing projects. A busy woman but, happily for me, with time to answer some questions for us here.

Hi Lisa, I think London Writers' Cafe is a fantastic resource for writers. Tell us about how it started and how it has grown.

In 2006, Suzy Jones and a few friends decided to gather together, read their work and get some peer feedback from one another. The word got out and soon a community had formed around this idea of reading your work to other writers for their advice and critique.

After Suzy left, and a few subsequent organisers also decamped, it was left to Ben Lovejoy. He did a brilliant job of keeping it running and he was at the helm when I joined in 2009. But at the beginning of 2010, Ben decided to pursue other projects and so the group was going to be shut down. At that time, I’d only attended a few meetings but I really enjoyed the community, the notes I’d got on my readings and the opportunity to socialise with other writers on a regular basis and so I stepped in as Organiser. Little did I know…

The thing about LWC is that it has grown, for the most part, organically – word-of-mouth is a wonderful thing – I think all I've done is tended, like a gardener does to a vine, the way in which it has grown. When I began, we had around 750 members. Today we have almost 2,200. I may have helped get the word out but mostly I think its continued success is all down to our members; taking part, talking about it, telling their friends, giving me ideas as to what to do next so as to gather more supporters. It’s wonderful really to have a community that’s really happy to talk about you when you’re not there.

Well I also think it's down to your organisation skills and investment in it, Lisa. I know you are an advocate of writers having an online presence. What tips would you give to writers trying to grow their e-profile?

  • Watch others. There are a lot of people out there who are really confident and competent at gathering a following online. Watch them. What works for them? What doesn't? It will give you a good baseline to get started. 
  • Start small. There’s no point signing up for every social media site that exists because most writers will struggle to keep up, or spend their entire day updating and not writing. Choose one of the sites you think you’ll like first; once you've got the hang of that, add another and another until you feel you've got the right mix for you. 
  • Keep it simple. You don’t need to have Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Pinterest/Youtube to be successful. Social media is about being authentic and I think that comes only by being able to enjoy it yourself. If you have to update everything everyday it will become a chore and your audience will sense you’re just going through the motions. Apathy is the enemy of all social media.
  • Content destinations. What interesting information, web sites, videos, podcasts, extracts or otherwise do you have to share with the world? Are those things all in one place and easy to navigate? It’s worth thinking about the ultimate destination for all the activity you do – promotionally speaking – if someone is directed to view a video you've done on Vimeo without any supporting material how are they going to understand more about you? It would be far better if that video lived in a blog so that other information about you could live beside it. You have less than three seconds to impress someone when they click on a link so make sure you’ve got the best front of house possible. 
  • Be the audience. Whatever you share, post, tweet or give out online it’s a good idea to think about the individual reading it and the impression they’ll get. I see profiles all the time that are half-finished (egg photos), lazy or just ill-advised. Your profile online is your brand so it’s a good idea to step back, read it and think about the impression you’re giving off. Best to get this all completed before you start reaching out to anyone else. 
  • Engage. Don’t ever think that being on these sites and sharing only what you want is how social media works. It isn't. Think of it like a networking party. You walk in, see a few people you know, many you don’t and everybody is already mid-conversation. If you’re next instinct was to immediately start shouting how wonderful you are to the entire room, how successful do you think you’d be at gathering people who want to know you better? So you really have to watch, listen and learn, at the start at least. Join discussions, share your thoughts with others if they've asked a question, take part in polls/comments until you’re part of the conversation. When you've gained some meaningful connections, that’s the right time to share more of yourself and what you’re up to. 
  • Apply the 80/20 rule. 80% of what you do online should be about others; commenting, having conversations, joining in etc and only 20% - or even less – should be about your stuff, especially if you’re selling something. People on social sites are there to talk to their friends, kill time, hang out, not be hassled to buy something. Remember the analogy about the party? No one is looking for a pop-up shop to appear in the middle of the room – it really kills the mood. 
That's a really comprehensive answer, Lisa, thanks. A lot of people seem tempted into the BUY MY BOOK overload but book sales, I think, are still built on word-of-mouth so it's important to hit the right market, and as you say, engage. Tell us about your own writing projects.

I've been toiling away at my first novel for what feels like a decade. That said, I hope to have a first draft ready for the editing phase by the year’s end. I have everything crossed that books will still exist by the time I’m done.

What are your thoughts on Amazon's exclusivity deal which means more exposure on Amazon - the largest market - but restricts e-publication to the Kindle?

I don’t have a lot of time for Amazon, it has to be said. I’d like to imagine they care about writers, and therefore publishing, but with every decision that’s taken it feels less and less like that’s true. By giving self-publishing over to writers, they paved the way for more options for writers – never a bad thing – and gave an electric shock to those publishers who had grown complacent but, on the whole, I don’t think they’re in it to ensure the legacy of quality literature. Also, reaching a ‘mass-market’ via huge exposure is fast becoming obsolete. The trend for readers to find new books via recommendations, through friends and their networks, is about 500% higher than it was five years ago, so you don’t need a lot of exposure, just enough exposure to your ideal readers. 

My concern with Amazon is that they will force the other ebook providers out of the market and then be able to charge as they like and set whatever rules they like for writers who will have to play ball if they want to sell their book. But do you think this is going to happen or that there will be a backlash?

I don't think any retailer, even a colossus like Amazon, will ever be able to take full control of the market. Plus, there's a lot of legislation out there that would prevent them from owning it all and being able to charge whatever they like. I think ebooks are definitely here to stay but the landscape of who sells them and for how much is constantly shifting. But the best news for writers is that there are always new sites being launched so it is only a matter of time before someone invents the next 'Amazon' - of ebooks at least - and the goalposts will move again.

Good point, that there will always be new competition. Tell us something about your 9-5 activities.

By day, I work in digital marketing for The New York Times Company*. Primarily, this means devising digital campaigns, content and web sites for colleagues around the world. It’s great and it keeps me well out of trouble. 

You have so much industry knowledge, would you ever consider taking on a consultancy/coaching role? A lot of blogs provide marketing tips, is this a route you would like to develop?

I never say no to anything (unless it's illegal or dull), so yes, I do see myself advising more as time wears on. In fact, I think that's the part I like most about my role at London Writers' Cafe; bringing interesting/useful tips I learn and sharing them with others. And having grown up amongst a lot of teachers (both parents and countless family friends) I really enjoy encouraging others in this way and I'm always gathering new things to help them improve. 
Read more interviews...

Well it will be interesting to see your next move, Lisa, and your writing... Thanks for the chat!

* All views shared in this post are very much my own.


  1. This was a great interview. I appreciated the tips to writers on growing their e-profiles, especially starting small and keeping it simple. There's a tendency to feel like you need to plug into every social media tool all at once. It's nice to know we don't have to in order to be successful. Thank you Lisa and Fiona.

    1. I'm really glad you found it useful. Good luck with your writing.

  2. Hi Fiona, great interview with Lisa important person, especially for people who are dedicated to writing and readers, are very important for all people advice that begins on blogs, it is interesting to know that well that you post it congratulations, Fiona have a nice day, greetings, :) .......

  3. Hi Fiona and Lisa,
    thank you for one stonking interview.
    I only have one thing to say ... please send details of legal and not dull urgently.
    Much love,
    Michelle x

    1. Yes, I was thinking of asking her about that offline too!
      Thanks for your comment, Michelle.

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