Sunday 25 February 2018

Social media leads the way to a new chapter

Using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as platforms for their ideas, quite a few would-be authors have gone on to sign book deals of late

Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling (OMGWACA) writers Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght
Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling (OMGWACA) writers Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght

Claire Coughlan

There's been a slew of recent book deals that started life on social media. From Very British Problems, which began on Twitter, @soverybritish, as a tongue-in-cheek look at British devotion to politeness above all else, and has gone on to book and TV show formats, to the recent signing of Things I Have Drawn, which is being published in hardback by Orion imprint Trapeze in November and originated from author Tom Curtis posting his young sons' drawings on Instagram.

September sees the publication of two social media sensations by Irish authors: Motherfocloir (Head of Zeus, €15.40, September 7), a non-fiction book by Darach O Seaghdha, which offers a completely fresh take on the Irish language and started life on Twitter @theirishfor. There's also Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling (Gill, €14.99, September 15), a novel by journalists Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen, which began on Facebook as a playful look at the archetype of a country girl living in Dublin.

For O Seaghdha, it was a matter of being approached by a literary agent who liked his Twitter account.

"Sallyanne [Sweeney] had been following me on Twitter for a while before approaching me," he says. "She told me that initially she wasn't sure what the market would be like for a book about Irish words, but saw how people were responding to @theirishfor and couldn't bear the thought of someone else signing me first. I'm really glad she did."

O Seaghdha, who works in the civil service, says that the inspiration for @theirishfor came from his relationship with his late father.

"After Dad passed away, I wanted to commemorate him in a way that was true to his spirit. This feeling grew even stronger when my daughter was born; it pained me that they'd never meet each other. I've tried to do that by changing the conversation about Irish the way he would've liked; to move it away from those same old questions and make it about the beauty of the words themselves."

O Seaghdha says that social media has absolutely made the publishing industry more accessible to would-be authors.

"Social media introduced me to an amazing agent, new friends who advised me on the entire process… and thousands of potential readers," he says.

Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling (OMGWACA) co-writer Emer McLysaght agrees that would-be authors now have more opportunities to showcase their talents.

"Aisling had her beginnings on Facebook but more recently I've seen so many funny and talented people recognised and given the chance to publish," she says. "A lot of social media-driven books are almost like compendiums, or collections of funny tweets or thoughts. We've written a novel that can exist outside of the Facebook page and is accessible to people who aren't even on social media - my mother, for example. She's not on Facebook but we've taken Aisling and made her into such a full character that hopefully she'll resonate with everyone."

McLysaght and Breen had a few OMGWACA projects in the works before, "most notably a TV show a few years back which was greenlit by RTE but never made it through the process."

A commissioning editor from Gill then approached them about the Facebook page late last year and they decided to turn it into a novel.

The pair met studying journalism at Ballyfermot College of Higher Education and cooked up the Aisling character "one hungover Saturday in our shared flat in Stoneybatter".

"We came up with a fairly simple character, 'those girls you see hoofing it to work with the runners on and the heels in an old Brown Thomas bag and a sensible raincoat? What do you think her name is?' And Aisling was born."

Leading UK-based literary agent Juliet Mushens says that social media is generally only a consideration for non-fiction projects. "Some of my most successful novelists loathe social media! But occasionally I follow a brand, or a commentator, and love their content so much I approach them about a book."

As well as representing bestselling fiction writers like The Miniaturist author Jessie Burton, Mushens has Very British Problems creator Rob Temple on her books.

"I followed VBP on Twitter and thought he was very funny!" explains Mushens.

"I messaged him and suggested we have a call to talk about books. He had had several approaches directly from publishers so I helped him come up with a book proposal - and we ended up with seven publishers bidding.

"The first book has now sold over 100,000 copies and there was a successful TV series. We are now working on book three.

"However, a successful Twitter feed doesn't necessarily translate to a successful book - they are entirely different mediums. It takes a real vision as well as original content to cut through."

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