I had the misfortune to be banned from Instagram this week from Sunday to Thursday. An almost total ban, I was unable to do anything but message people and post to my stories. I’ve suffered from Instagram glitches before, whole days when I was unable to like or post or even comment, but nothing like this total block that lasted five very long days.
At first I wasn’t too concerned, I assumed it was just another glitch which would sort itself out, so I did all the usual things – I changed my password, uninstalled and reinstalled the app, powered my tablet down and switched it back on and reported the fault to Instagram – who, FYI, are harder than God to contact.
Nothing worked. With rising concern, I realised every time I tried to do anything, a little message would pop up informing me that I’d been blocked for violating community standards! Now, I had no idea what that meant and asked amongst my friends who are a bit more social media savvy than me. They informed me it meant I’d either done something Instagram didn’t approve of – maybe posted a few too many times in one day or liked and commented too quickly, all of which would cast doubt on my humanity and make them believe I was a robot! Or, another possibility was someone had reported me for something, and my account had been temporarily blocked while the accusation was looked into.
This was an unpleasant thought. My Instagram feed is innocence itself, I post about my books, other authors books and any news of a bookish nature. I post a harmless funny meme each evening and do my best to ensure my feed is a political, sexist, racist, religious free zone, so I know if anyone did report me it was purely from malicious spite and that doesn’t sit well with me.
Convinced the problem would be fixed by Monday, I was dismayed and then apprehensive as Monday ticked into Tuesday, and still I was blocked from my own account. It was the one year anniversary of the publication of my book The Forest ~ a tale of old magic ~ on the 23rd October, and I had posted a special giveaway on the Sunday morning just before the ban came into effect, so the timing of the block couldn’t have been worse.
Desperately, I tried to keep the momentum up in my stories alone, and friends and supporters valiantly tried to help, sharing the post in their stories and on their feeds. Unable to comment back, like or follow back the people who’d followed me and entered into the giveaway, I would constantly scan my notifications and carefully make a note of anyone who’d entered.
Wednesday, the day originally scheduled to draw out a winner came around, and still I was banned. Quickly, I posted in my stories informing all that the giveaway would run a little longer so there was still time for anyone who wished to enter.
Finally, Thursday morning, I discovered I was able to like peoples posts again and comment. Tentatively, I tried a test post and discovered to my joy that it was allowed. My time in Instagram jail appeared to be over.
I still don’t know what it was I was supposed to have done. Instagram are harsh dictators and give no reasons for their actions. Paranoid that we all might be bots using their precious platform for nefarious goings on, the infamous Instagram algorithms tend to use a sledgehammer to crack open a nut and many innocent accounts like my own get shattered in the process. What got me the most was there was no comeback, no friendly helpline to explain the situation to and gain reassurance from. Come on Instagram, you are becoming one of the biggest social media platforms in the world, surely, it’s time to develop the infrastructure to support your clientele. Instead of just arbitrarily sentencing without giving the accused any explanation of their crime and no chance to defend or excuse themselves, why not give us a way to contact you? Instead you lurk behind automated systems and refuse to make genuine contact with us. What are you hiding? Oh, the irony if an organisation terrified of being infiltrated by bots is actually completely run by bots itself.
I hated being blocked from my own account. It may sound ridiculous and like a first world problem, but until it was taken away from me, I hadn’t realised how much I depended upon Instagram. Not just for promoting and selling my books, although it’s no coincidence that sales dropped by almost 75% during the five day’s I was offline, but also as a valuable and empowering support network. Being an author is a lonely old game and the contacts I have made on Instagram are what keep me going. Not sure of how a new sales platform works? There’ll be someone on there who knows and is only too happy to help. Feeling dispirited and on the verge of giving up? Just bleat a little cry for help and sit back and watch the warming words of encouragement and the messages of support come flooding in.
Those five days in Insta jail made me realise something else. Like many of us, I’d been guilty of putting all my eggs into one basket. Loving the nice cosiness of Instagram, I’d neglected to look for other platforms and other ways to spread the word about Julia Blake the author. Oh, I’m on Facebook of course, but have to admit I’m not a great fan of it, and even in the two short years I’ve been on it have noticed a change in the nature of the posts.
Two years ago, there was a real community of what I call professional authors – those writers who were dedicated to being good at what they did. They posted daily, slick and enticing ads and videos promoting their books, some even posted their sales figures (which was a little intimidating, but still, you get my point). Now, some two years later, I don’t know where most of those authors have gone. Facebook now is a gossipy, toxic hotbed of slander, bitching and complaining. Very little that is professional is posted and sometimes I can scroll through my feed for ages without seeing a single author’s post that is actually about their own or any other authors books.
I have a feeling that as a promotional tool. Facebook is pretty much next to useless. This is backed up by the fact that when I ran the competition on Instagram this week to win a free copy of The Forest I had over forty entrants – and that was in spite of all the shenanigans that were occurring at the same time. I ran the same competition on Facebook and had less than five entrants.
So, what’s the answer? For a penniless author like myself desperately trying to promote and sell my books, without the money for paid advertising the outcome is grim. I once saw a post that asked the question – do you want to know how to make $2 million from selling books? Of course, I did, so I read on and the answer was – begin with $1 million. Now, this may be slight exaggeration but is so close to the truth that it brings tears to most authors eyes.
The cold, hard, brutal fact is barely any authors make what could be considered a living wage from writing books alone. Yes, there is J.K. Rowling, but she is the very lucky exception that proves the rule and most of her vast income doesn’t come from the Harry Potter books themselves, instead it comes from the very successful film franchise and all the merchandise sales that she gets a percentage of.
Still, even understanding that I will never be in her league, indeed, may never even get to the point where I’m making money from my books instead of it just being a quite expensive hobby, I do want to sell my books and I want to sell as many as possible.
I need to find other ways to reach readers. Of course, there are other platforms – Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, MeWe and associated author and reader sites such as Goodreads and Amazon, but it all boils down to an enormous drain on an author’s time and resources, plus you need to be tech savvy and understand how to maximise your exposure on these sites. All something that demands a lot of thought and time and energy and takes the time that an author should be writing. Oh well, I’ve always said that should the books ever start to sell in decent amounts, one of the first things I would acquire is a PA to do all the promo stuff for me. The second thing would be a cleaner.
I’m writing this Friday lunchtime as I’m at work all day tomorrow so need the get this week’s blog safely tucked up in bed ready for release Sunday morning. So far, all is going well on Instagram in that I’m allowed to post, like, comment and follow people. Fingers crossed it stays that way.
In case anyone is interested, as it was the one-year anniversary of the publication of The Forest ~ a tale of old magic ~ this week, the eBook version is available from Amazon at half normal retail price. My most popular book to date, this tale of an insular and isolated village in a forgotten corner of England, where the villagers are trapped in a bitter cycle of jealousy, betrayal and death, has outsold all my other books put together. Readers adore the timeless element of the tale, loving the quirky characters and strong plot that twists together into a tapestry of a centuries old tale of a curse that wouldn’t die and a love that wouldn’t forget.
Available from all Amazons as an eBook, stunningly illustrated paperback and free to read on Kindle Unlimited, the eBook is half price until midnight on Sunday. So why not get your copy just in time for Halloween.
Now, a few of you have messaged me asking about the rather cryptic reference I made to ants in last week’s blog. Well, as many of you know, my daughter Miss F is studying to be a zookeeper and wants to specialise in entomology with her specialist subject being myrmecology. And before you get all excited, no, that is not the study of mermaids but is the study of ants.
For some reason, these little creatures absolutely fascinate her, and she desperately wanted her own ant farm. After a bit of persuasion and a lot of reassurance that they would not escape and swarm all over the house, I agreed she could have one. She bought a proper little habitat for them then made contact with a special ant seller who lived about a thirty-minute drive away from us in Ipswich. Honestly, the whole thing sounded very dodgy, we had to meet this guy outside the train station, he’d be wearing black jeans and a grey hoody, and we had to bring cash to swap for a test tube of ants!
On my day off, Monday, I drove her there in torrential rain and we managed to find a space in the 20 minute waiting zone and duly lurked outside the station for sight of an individual wearing black jeans and a grey hoody, carrying a test tube of ants. He was spotted, and the deal went down!
“You got the cash?”
“Show us the ants!”
Of course, it was all perfectly legal, above board and harmless, but it did feel very suspect. We took “our” ants home and settled them in their new home, but two days later disaster struck. The queen ant was discovered lying flat on her back with all her legs curled up under her. Distressed, Miss F summoned me. She thought the queen was dead, what did I think? Now, even with my glasses on I was struggling to see her, so to make the judgement call of whether or not this was a deceased monarch was beyond me. I suggested Miss F consulted the oracle (aka Google) and researched whether the queen was prone to deep sleeping or hibernating or something similar.
She checked, yes, ants did hibernate about now, but there was also a high possibility that queenie was in fact dead. It was hard to tell, to be honest. In the meantime, the worker ants took matters into their own hands – or feelers, or whatever it is that ants have – and dragged their queen under a piece of flat rock in their home. They also dragged all the eggs she’d popped out as well under there and piled them all around the queen’s dead/sleeping/hibernating/comatose body. Now, logic suggests that if she is dead then the worker ants will be aware of this, so as they’ve taken her to a place of safety and stockpiled all her children around her, does this mean she is alive but doing a Sleeping Beauty number? Only time will tell, we’ve left them to it, and I’ll keep you posted.
Anyway, it’s now time to drive out to pick Miss F up from her work placement deep in the Suffolk countryside so I will need to be signing off for now. Hope you all have a great week and once again thank you for dropping by and having a chat. As ever, if you have any comments or would like to ask any questions or have a suggestion for a subject you’d like me to blog about, then please leave them on here or contact me on Facebook or Instagram.
All the best