Blogger turned author Amelia Perrin on how social media is shaping books

Blogger turned author Amelia Perrin on how social media is shaping books

Into It began as an essay Amelia Perrin posted on her personal blog about a painful breakup. The essay went viral, propelled by the support of the likes of Marian Keyes, and shortly after, Perrin was approached by crowdfunding publisher Unbound. Now, the book - a collection of essays about Perrin's "lifetime of obsessions", partly fuelled by her Tourette's Syndrome and OCD - aims to educate about these disorders whilst still providing a light-hearted, entertaining read.

In many ways Perrin, a 22-year-old freelance writer, represents a new generation of authors. Her instinctive use of online platforms to spread her story, her transgression of genres, and her eagerness for more nuanced representations of mental health, reflects a larger movement towards diversity and self-determination in publishing. We asked her to share her experiences of her particular route to publication, her experiences of the industry, and her advice for publishing people looking to capture the attention of a generation deulged with choice.

Your book begun as a blog and graduated to a crowdfunding project on Unbound. How have you found the whole publication process?

Honestly, I assumed the publishing process would take a lot longer than it did. Maybe this is because I opted for Unbound, who really pride themselves on publishing authors’ own ideas. I’m sure a larger, more traditional publisher might have tried to ‘edit’ my book pitch a lot more, which would have slowed the process down. Unbound approached me asking if I’d ever considered writing a book, a week later I was in the office at an ideas meeting, a few days after that I had a list of chapters and had a quarter written, two weeks later we made a book trailer, and suddenly it was live. It’s been astoundingly quick and pain-free, to be honest.

Did you consider reaching out to any agents or big trade publishers before you opted for Unbound?

When Unbound approached me, I didn’t have a solid idea of what I wanted to write. It was like my brain was covered in Post-It notes of things I wanted to write about, things I thought people would want to read about, but I didn’t have a solid idea of how to make that a coherent book. I hadn’t thought about reaching out to anyone, as I was convinced I had to have a really solid idea as a first-time author - and even most of the book ready - before approaching a big publisher. Unbound, on the other hand, helped me rearrange all the mental Post-It notes until it became something we both thought would work well.

Your day job is at a content agency. How are you using online and/or offline platforms to spread the word?

I’m trying my best to use my online platforms to promote my book, but it’s a fine line between convincing people your book is an addition to the online persona they follow you for, and seeming like you’re straight up trying to sell something. I don’t want to be pushy, but I really do believe in this book, and when I believe in something - be it a makeup product, a TV show, a person – it’s all I bang on about online.

When I wrote the piece on my blog, I had so many people message me telling me they could relate, some even said they wished it was longer. My book is an extension of that post, with chapters on every obsession I’ve had, so I think it would appeal to everyone who read and enjoyed that post.

(How) does your Tourette’s/ OCD impact on your writing process?

The obsessive side of me means if I get an idea for an essay in my head, I’ll have to drop everything I’m doing then and there to write it. This could be at 4am, if I wake up with an idea, I slam out a draft right away, or it’s all I’ll think about until I get a chance to. I don’t think Tourette’s affects the actual writing process, but writing about it does make it worse. When you’re relaxed, so are your tics. As soon as you start thinking about them too much, they come back. That’s why whenever someone brought them up to my face they’d get worse, it’s a vicious circle. I’m lucky that as an adult I’m out of the worst of it now, I’d love some younger sufferers to read my book to learn how to manage it. When you’re deep in it, especially in an atmosphere primed for bullying like school, it’s hard to imagine that one day it will get better (but plot twist: it will!).

How do you think the book trade could improve its representations of mental health?

I think the book trade is one of the best places for mental health representation right now. There are so many useful (as well as genuinely entertaining) mental health guides and books out there, written by sufferers themselves. I don’t think there’s that type of representation in other media right now, there isn’t a space I can think of where sufferers can not only share their story, but help others too. It’s transcended from social media, a place where people go for help and respite, to physical books, which is amazing. The only improvement I can think of is for more diversity within the pool of writers chosen to share their stories. Mental health is experienced differently by everyone, but this can be especially affected by location, race and age. By allowing more and more writers to share their personal experiences, the help will reach a broader range of people. And when mental health can be the difference between life and death, reaching, helping and speaking to more people can only be a good thing.

How much, and in what forms, do you read? - (print, digital, audio etc)?

I used to read constantly, but then did an English and Creative Writing degree where we were expected to read multiple books a week. If you had one day off, you didn’t have enough time and were completely snowed under with reading. That sort of took away the love of reading for me, knowing I had to do it or else I’d be so far behind. I didn’t read anything for pleasure those three years (as I didn’t have time), and for about a year afterwards (as I was convinced I hated reading). When I tried to, even just magazine articles, it was like I had a mental highlighter pen, trying to pick bits out and decipher new meanings, like we’d been taught to at uni; I couldn’t read anything without automatically doing it. It was joyless. But I’m picking it back up again, reading before bed and on my commute. I personally only read print books (I’ve tried a Kindle and: yuck), but I’m hugely into podcasts, so maybe audiobooks are something I should try.

How do you choose what to read next / where do you get your recommendations from?

As I was reading all this wildly complicated stuff at uni (that I hated!), I became a bit of a book snob. And maybe that’s why I didn’t read for pleasure for such a long time afterwards. I snubbed best sellers and popular stuff in the charts, thinking it wouldn’t be any good, assuming if it only took me a few hours to go through, it wasn’t worthwhile. But recently, while away, I picked up a popular book loads of people online had recommended at a holiday book swap (you know, the ones full of Fifty Shades and other abandoned ‘Mum Books’), to read on the plane home. I couldn’t put it down. There’s so much joy in a page turner, something you can get through quickly, something you don’t have to Google word definitions every two minutes. Although I didn’t love the story, I realised I’d really missed the ‘dip in dip out’ quality of easy reading, I’m definitely going to take more book recommendations from friends now.

I also love to read things from people I crush on online; so many people I love have books coming out nowadays, so I try to read as many of those as possible. Reading a book by someone whose tweets you like, it’s like when you get into a relationship with someone and try to uncover every single facet of their personality. It’s their URL made IRL, which makes you feel a little closer to them. And it’s nice to support people you love doing well.

What attitudes do you see crop up towards books and reading amongst your friends/online network?

I think there’s a huge interest nowadays in biographies/autobiographies and non-fiction memoirs, over fiction. I don’t mean like your Christmas gift celebrity autobiography specials, I mean just autobiographies of regular people. The interest in all kinds of human experience means no-one’s story is ‘too normal’ anymore.

I’ve also seen a huge resurgence in poetry, which I’m super happy about. I thought I’d choose the fiction route, but ended up graduating with the Creative Writing section of my degree focusing on poetry, sort of out of a desperate attempt to do my bit to try and make poetry ‘cool’. I’m incorporating poetry into my book, so I’m super happy to see people writing and self-publishing their own poetry zines and chapbooks. I love that poetry seems to no longer hold the stuffy ‘high art’ attitude it once did, it doesn’t just have to be about love and death, I’ve seen ‘online’ poetry on everything from Kim Kardashian’s 52-day marriage to Monica from Friends. My own poetry is about dick pics and nudes. There’s no rules about what poetry ‘has to be’ anymore, it’s being reclaimed by the Internet age.

What would be your advice to publishers trying to reach new and different audiences?

I would say social media is key. Unbound has this pitching section called ‘Should Be A Book’, where people can recommend their favourite social media accounts for consideration, and I think that’s so forward-thinking, and adaptive to people’s new reading habits. There’s so many accounts I think, ‘I would read absolutely anything you came out with’. I scroll Twitter daily, having followed some of the same people for years, they’re so entertaining, I can just tell a longer project would be perfect for them. I’d say, don’t underestimate the power of a funny, thought-provoking or straight up weird social media presence. If you read something they’ve written (even if it’s just tweets) and thought ‘I wish there was more of this’, contact them.

What’s next for you?

I’ve just started a new job at a brand I love, focusing on storytelling and content creation, so I’m super excited to have creative work - previously something I’d seen as a ‘side hustle’ - as my ‘main job’ now. I was partly hired due to my blog and social media presence, which I think is amazing, as it shows they want me as a person working for them, rather than just someone to hit targets. Other than that, I’m focusing on finishing up and crowdfunding my book, as I can’t wait to take it from a Word document sitting on my laptop, to something out there in the real world.