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Wednesday 25 March 2009


A timely post on the behlerblog reminds me of one of the most important things I haven't told you yet (and there are many, but I'm getting there.) See, in all my years of trying to get published, I thought "getting published" was the end result, and that then I'd just sit back and relax in the smug champagne-infused knowledge that I was "An Author".

Oh, how wrong could I have been! Publication is just the start and if you think that all you've then got to do is write, eat chocolate and google yourself every Friday evening, you'll have a major shock.

To illustrate this, here are a few questions that you will be asked / fascinating observations that will be made by your non-writerly friends and relatives (especially relatives, some of whom seem hard-wired to say the most unintentionally annoying things).
  • I haven't seen any reviews yet in the national papers
  • so, doesn't your agent book events for you and do marketing?
  • I went into the bookshop in Pittenweem but I didn't see your book there
  • so, how are sales?
  • my son's teacher hadn't heard of you
  • is this the book signing? So why is no-one here?
Thing is, unless you're very lucky, you are going to have to jump and down and do a bit of marketing. The dreaded self-promotion. Because you can't expect your publisher to do as much as you would like, and with many books there will be zero marketing budget.

You have two choices:
  1. sit around, moan, and wait for the world to come asking you to do huge events / signings / interviews
  2. get out there and be pro-active. Ideally without being obnoxious - there are plenty of authors who break that rule, but I will like you more if you don't. I am also more likely to buy your book if you're not arrogant and don't go about thinking you're the only person who ever wrote a book. In fact I make a distinct point of not buying the book of anyone who I don't like (though I have been sent a few by publishers ...).
So, what can you do?
  • read Marketing Your Book by Alison Baverstock.
  • have a meeting with your publisher to brainstorm ideas - even if there's no budget, there's a huge amount that can be done for nothing (or very little) if you work together. Your publisher will respond well to you having sensible ideas and working with them, and they are then likely to help more. They want to sell copies, too, remember, and they like authors who work with them in this way. (But not unrealistic or pushy ones.)
  • at that meeting, ask them what they plan in terms of sending review copies out. At this point (or earlier, ideally) tell them your relevant contacts, anyone who knows your name and might be willing to do a review or comment for a press release, for example
  • be imaginative - sit down with a sensible friend and work out some ideas. Get his/her help to contact local press and other media - if your friend can be your publicist, so much the better. (But do talk to your publisher about this - if they have a publicity dept doing something for you, they will not take kindly to you announcing that you have your own publicity person. Friction here is a Very Bad Idea.)
  • talking about being imaginative, if you're a children's or teenage author, why not do what I do and work with a school on the publicity? One of the greatest mysteries of the world is why I'm the only author who seems to do this. OK, so it's hard work and you have to start by being trusted by a school, but it's incredibly exciting, very rewarding and it gets a lot of publicity each time. For a bit of detail about the current porject, see the Deathwatch project here or for a previous one, see My Mad Moniave Monday. Between them, those two pages will give you a pretty good idea of the possibilities. I've done things like this with every new book in the last 4 years.
  • contact schools and libraries in your area - but be clear what you are offering. See my website's Inviting me to Speak page for what I offer. Around publication it's acceptable to offer free events but otherwise it's frowned on - you're undermining your art, talent and hard work, not to mention those of other authors. Sorry, I feel a rant coming on and a hobby horse demanding to be ridden - I must control myself. (Events / signings in bookshops are, however, normally free - it's simple economics, but you'd normally do this around publication anyway.)
  • know your strengths and weaknesses - but remember that what you think is a weakness can become a strength if you face it and work at it. Nervous about speaking in public? Two tips: prepare fantastically and just DO it - a few times and you'll be so much better. Expect the first few talks to be less good than later ones.
  • talk to booksellers - often they're very amenable to a lovely author coming in and politely and enthusiastically (and briefly) explaining why their book might usefully be stocked. Sometimes you will come out of the bookshop feeling like a trodden-on slug. Pick yourself up and move on. It's a tough world and people do sometimes step on slugs.
  • have a website - it's your shop window. Readers can send you reviews (and you can select the ones you like ...), you can advertise your events etc etc.
  • and a blog - ditto
  • join one of the many on-line (or other) support groups of writers in every genre - if you don't know of any, your agent or publisher probably does. That way, you'll get ideas for marketing and support from people who know what it all feels like.
Remember that there are VAST numbers of books published every year and even the keenest reader can't read more than the tiniest fraction of them. This means that only the tiniest tiniest fraction will get reviews (other than on Amazon, where reviews are highly unreliable - but let's not go into that right now); the tiniest fraction will be read; and most won't ever appear on general release in bookshops. So, if you want to give your book the best chance, you've got to work at it.

After all, however much your publisher supports you, no one loves and wants your book to succeed more than you.

But do it all nicely, please, unless you're actually happy to have readers but no friends.