Archive for category Book marketing

Social media: a message in a bottle

3928105188_3e98ca7eb3_zYou’ve seen this week’s Undercover Soundtrack? I want to tell you how I met its author, Dave Newell.

He emailed me out of the blue because he’d run across a comment of mine on a blog written by Nathan Bransford. It was a post about the difficulty of self-publishing literary fiction, and Dave – whose work is indelibly literary – was asking if I knew where those readers hung out on line.

The funny thing is, I left that comment more than two years ago. When I look at it I was talking about episode 2 of My Memories of a Future Life, which had just gone live. Oh, nervous days – I probably wrote it in the hope that it would lead ME to a secret vast land of literary readers. (It didn’t; I should probably work on that.) Probably no one else took much notice, and so it stayed there, falling under new comments and posts, sedimenting into the substrata of the ever-renewing, multiplying internet. Then two years on, Dave Newell typed a few words into Google and it led him there.

We struck up a conversation. I don’t know that I was much help with his problem, though we had fun talking. But I did offer him a guest spot on The Undercover Soundtrack, which I’m very glad he took. Especially as I then had an email from a fan of the series who told me how excited he was to discover this author. (I’m sure there were other converts too, only they didn’t email me to share.)

So does this story have a bigger payoff? Does it end with a hardback deal, an Amazon landslide, a red carpet? Actually no. But it does end with a special reader, who was charmed by a post by someone he’d never heard of. As Dave Newell leaped on a random comment by someone he’d never heard of, which had been made by someone visiting a blog hoping to find likeminded folk. A chain of strangers finding they have kindred interests; that’s rather nice.

Author platforms are also on my mind because this week I was a guest speaker at an online author marketing conference called Get Read. A message we heard constantly was that platforming is a long game, and we might feel like we’re getting nowhere, giving so much of ourselves and wondering if anyone notices. This episode reminds me to keep the faith.

It also reminds me that platforming is full of contradictions. That for all its widewidewide reach, it operates at a micro scale, person to person. That our blurts on websites and social media seem trivial but are actually eternal, and might be summoned to the top of a search by the right Google spell (just like bad party photos). The take-home point of my GetRead session was this: be yourself and stay gregarious. Anything you write might find a new reader, an ally, or a friend.

Thanks for the pic SergioDJT

It’s a bit of a different post this week, but I’d love to discuss this question. Has someone found you because of a comment, post or a tweet you’d long forgotten? Have you followed a trail and made a worthwhile contact?

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3-ish tips for pitching your book

5183319657_7679455bdf_zI’m slightly early with my post this week. On Saturday I’m an author in residence at Barton’s Bookshop as part of the national Books Are My Bag celebrations this week. After that, Morris HQ is on cyber-shutdown for the weekend as we celebrate a friend’s 40th. Just as I was wondering what (on earth!) to post about, this question popped into my inbox:

‘I have to give a presentation about my novel at college. Could you give me some tips on what to talk about? Thanks, Fahim’

Thank you, Fahim. Since I’m going to spend the day explaining my books to complete strangers (and hoping not to frighten them) I could do with thinking about this. So whether you’re wooing a class, an agent or just one interested book lover, here’s an express guide to pitching your book. It’s a brief post, but attention spans are short… ooh, tree mammal.

1 The novel in a nutshell

First, they want to know what it’s about. Orientate them with a polished one-liner that gives a clear idea of the kind of characters and the story – eg ‘it’s a novel about five friends at college who murder somebody and have to live with the consequences’.

2 Get the title in early

Make sure your one-liner explains the title, or makes the title intriguing. Your audience will probably remember no more than a couple of details. You want one of them to be the title and its tantalising promise.

3 Get personal

Tell them why it became your personal mission to write the book. If you have an anecdote about your initial inspiration, that helps pull the audience on board. Hint about where your research took you and why there’s much, much more than you could say here. Single out key characters with strong dilemmas; people are more memorable than themes. Weave in comparisons with other novels or films if they’ll help make your point more strongly, but they’re not essential.

4 Is there scope for a reading?

Obviously you won’t give a reading if you’re buttonholing an individual. But if you’ve got a bigger audience, it might be natural to round off your talk with an excerpt. If so, context is everything. It’s hard for listeners to plunge into the middle of action, or adjust their minds to a section of dialogue. Whatever you choose to read, make sure it continues the threads you’ve been tempting them with so far. Perhaps a tricky, cruel character, or the awesome difficulties of spending the night in the same house as a dead Mafia boss. You can find more tips here on choosing a passage to showcase your book.

bagPS What’s Books Are My Bag?

It’s a national campaign to celebrate bookshops. If you’re in the UK, drop by your local bookseller and see if they’re breaking out in bunting, orange cake and sloganed T-shirts. Chances are, if you buy some books, they’ll give you a smart tote bag. If you don’t, they’ll probably set their pet authors on you…

Thanks, Fahim, for the inspiration. (And thanks Alexisnyal for the pic) Do you have any tips to add?

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Getting into bookshops, part 1 – post at Independent Authors Alliance

allibookshop1If you follow me on Twitter, Facebook or in Google’s Confusing Circles, you might have seen me celebrating when a bookshop reviewed My Memories of a Future Life - on Amazon. ‘I was so impressed’ (it read) ‘that I persuaded Roz to hold a signing…’

That’s a bit astonishing in the current climate, and the Alliance of Independent Authors were soon wanting the story of what I’d done to get into their good books.

Much of it was luck, I have to say – I clicked with their tastes. And I’ve had a hit and miss relationship with other bookstores. But if you’re contemplating approaching bookshops with your print editions, you might find my experience useful

And tell me here: have you approached bookshops or other retail outlets with your work? How did it go?

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How do we discover what to read? Post at Authors Electric

problogAESorry, you got two trailer posts from me today. It’s my turn at Authors Electric, where I’m wondering how relevant SEO is for fiction writers and readers.

It all started when I saw a link to a post on Problogger which advised bloggers to stop running guest posts with a lot of links because of new Google algorithms. Undercover Soundtrack host, please note. This led to a fun, fulminating conversation with Facebook friends Cyd Madsen, Vivienne Tuffnell and Beth Rudetsky about tails wagging dogs. But getting our work discovered is a real issue for writers, and at Authors Electric I’m wondering how that’s done. Come over and join the debate.

(Thanks for the pic Daveynin)

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How to self-publish an ebook and get a traditional book deal – guest spot on The Write Lines podcast

When I was first discovering blogs – and looking for a home for my own fiction – I discovered The Write Lines on BBC Radio Oxford. Presenter and novelist Sue Cook brought together experts from UK publishing to give advice, information and resources for new writers.

Fast forward through a few revolutions and the latest series (now a podcast) is exploring indie publishing – both as a leg-up to a traditional deal and a viable option in itself. Some of the authors whose blogs I was reading as the first series aired are her experts this time – including Nicola Morgan and Catherine Ryan Howard – and me. I feel like I’ve graduated. Exciting times…

In my episode I’m sharing a studio with indie superstars Mark Edwards (one half of the Edwards/Louise Voss partnership) and Mel Sherratt. You can either listen on the site or download….

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How to choose an excerpt to showcase your novel

If you have to showcase your novel – perhaps for a reading, a book trailer or as an excerpt on a blog or website, how do you choose a piece to do it justice? I recently gave a reading at a book event in London – a landmark as it was my first – and choosing an excerpt was a little more tricky than I anticipated.

Not the beginning

I’d assumed I’d read from the beginning. Surely that was a no-brainer. There would be no need to explain anything. It introduces the narrator, charms you into the story world.

But then I was listening to Radio 4’s Film Programme and noticing how they teased  a movie they were about to feature. There would be a short spiel about the premise and then a clip. It wasn’t the beginning, but the first plot point, the first irrevocable step into a new and perilous situation.

So although we hone our beginning so that it grabs, it’s perhaps not for a live situation. It’s for settling down with, not standing up.

Waiting to go on. I remembered to put my handbag down

So I looked at my first plot point. Out of context, it was too baffling. I tried my narrator’s first hypnosis session when she goes to the future. It was spooky, but much of its power came from the interplay with the two characters. It was as much about them as it was about what they were doing, but if you hadn’t got involved with them I feared it wouldn’t sizzle.

A grounding scene

But not long before that was a scene where my narrator’s best friend is hypnotised back to the time of Jack the Ripper. This is the way hypnotic regression conventionally works, and I’d written it partly to ground the reader, to present them with the idea in familiar guise before I started to warp it. This excerpt is easy to understand if you come to it cold, it has plenty of drama and it’s narrated by a horrified friend. It’s self-contained. Perfect.

Time yourself

I had to fit into a strict five-minute slot. Reading at a pace listeners can keep with, that’s less text than you might think – though it seemed for ever with all those faces watching me. Five minutes gave me two sides of text from my print edition.

Abridge

I didn’t use the excerpt exactly as it appears. I removed sections that you could only understand if you’d read the earlier scenes. An audience’s attention will wander easily and if you confuse them, you lose them. I also trimmed the description of what the hypnotised Jerry sees in the regression. In the book, it’s part of the veracity of the experience and the details are significant later, but in radio drama descriptions tend to be shorter. Writing that works for the eye doesn’t always hold the attention of a listener. But even if your excerpt will appear in print, consider whether you need the extra details that only make sense in the full work.

Write an introduction

I had to allow for an introduction in my five minutes as well. My usual back cover blurb was too sweeping so I simplified to give my excerpt maximum impact: The narrator is Carol, a classical pianist, who is forced to stop playing because of a mysterious pain in her hands – and fears she may never play again. Her closest friend, Jerry, also has a secret burden – he has crippling panic attacks and is convinced they are caused by a trauma in a past life. In this scene Carol accompanies him to a secret theatre under a house in London, and a stage hypnotist. (If you’ve read the story you might spot I’ve taken liberties with my own ‘facts’. In the novel, Jerry’s curiosity about past lives isn’t as straightforward as this introduction suggests. But it’s all a listener needs to know for these purposes.)

Dammit, be a storyteller

As I said, I’d never read my work out loud before, even in the writer-friendly confines of a bookshop. This event was taking place in a pub. Not a place where people go to read. We had a stage and a microphone, but the crowd had their cronies and beer. They were too nice to heckle, but we had to win them over.

Delivery made a huge difference. Some readers kept their noses in their novels and never looked up. Their excerpts might have been great, but they were reading to themselves and after the first sentences the general rustle of conversation rose. The readers who commanded attentive silence looked frequently into the crowd and told their stories with a bit of swagger.

Dammit, we’re storytellers. We hold our reader with our conviction on the page, and stand-up reading needs that confidence too. (You can guess which option I favoured. It worked.) Afterwards I talked to a seasoned pro who had roared and waved through his piece and he confirmed that you could never overdo the drama.

Copies, flyers and stuff

Of course, take copies of your books. But those of us who were new to the crowd didn’t sell many copies, because people don’t usually buy the first time they hear about you. Or they might want ebooks. But they will take other souvenirs and it’s worth cramming in as much as you can – bookmarks, catalogues, flyers. I had dinky Moo cards, beautifully printed slivers the size of a French train ticket. All of them disappeared.

If you’re doing a reading, here are my tips for success

  • Choose an excerpt that shows off your hook
  • Re-edit your original text
  • Take ‘souvenirs’
  • Tap your inner show-off. There’s no such thing as too much drama

Thanks for the bookshop pic, katclay

Such was my experience. Have you got any tips to share, either as an audience member or from reading your own work at events? Share in the comments!

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Should you publish your novel to build your platform?

Here’s a phrase I’m hearing alarmingly often: ‘I’m going to self-publish my novel and use it to build my platform’.

Sorry, but that’s the wrong way round.

Except in a very few cases, it doesn’t work.

Non-fiction

You can build a platform with a non-fiction book. If you’re offering expertise, it’s easy to find the people who need it. If you write about a life experience, you can connect with readers who seek similar support. And there are far fewer of you – and more room to be heard.

But novels?

Before you use your novel to launch your platform, go and look at Facebook. Goodreads. Twitter. Everyone is waving a novel.

The number of people you will reach by starting this way is negligible.

Successful self-publishers

There are many examples, of course, of successful self-published fiction authors. Everyone has their favourites to brandish. I’m going to talk about Joanna Penn. She didn’t start with a novel. She started with a blog – The Creative Penn  – and built a loyal following while she taught herself about the writing and publishing world. By the time she launched her first novel, Pentecost, she had a great relationship with a lot of people.

Relationships rock

Relationships are what sell books, both fiction and non-fiction. That’s what a platform is.

So to build your platform, get out there and blog, tweet, Facebook or whatever. Be natural, be yourself and build relationships. It’s also much less of a strain if you’re not trying to sell something.

And since you’re not using your novel to build your platform, what are you going to do with it?

You might as well, um, query with it.

Yes, query

Stop grinding your teeth at the back there. We’re agreed that relationships sell books? Agents have relationships with publishers. Publishers have relationships with distributors, the press, the places you cannot get reviewed if you do it all yourself. Yes, agents and publishers take their cut, but that’s because they have a much bigger reach than one little writer on their own.

If you don’t like the way a deal adds up, you can always refuse it. Or negotiate. But if you never try, you don’t know what might have happened. If you want to have a publishing career (and why otherwise would you build a platform) it make sense to explore all the options.

‘But every agent has different taste…’

Good writing is good writing. All agents are able to spot it. If you target enough agents who are a good fit for you, you will find out whether you are ready to go into print (or pixels) – or whether you should develop more. It is worth knowing that, isn’t it?

‘But it takes time…’

You’re going to have to spend that time building your network anyway. And what’s the hurry? You can’t – or didn’t – learn to write overnight.

‘But everyone’s publishing…’

I understand you’re impatient to get out into the big publishing party. Really I do. When I first held a book that was filled with my words I felt the earth quiver.

But I’m now seeing a lot of people who have whizzed onto Kindle, are finding their novel doesn’t sell, and are getting dispirited. That’s a shame. That’s the sound of dreams shattering.

Please don’t mutter the name of Amanda, the lady my friend Porter Anderson dubbed Amanda Hocking [example of everything]. That’s exactly what she is – an example of anything you like, including holy amounts of luck (and I wish her plenty more luck, BTW). But will the law of probabilities allow that to happen to you?

Build the relationship first

Relationships sell books. Build the relationship first, in whatever way you like, partnering with whoever seems right. That may be conventional industry routes; it may be creative collectives. Then you will have a platform, and you will have readers.

Thanks for the pic, Scottnj

While we’re on the subject of being grown-up about platforms, I’m planning a newsletter! Add your name to the mailing list here.

So, agree? Disagree? Sending the lynch mob…? I’m sure you’ll have plenty to say in the comments

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Why playing safe in publishing is riskier than ever

I tweeted this piece yesterday by agent Jenny Bent : ‘Why reader taste differs from publisher taste’. I urge you to read the whole article, but briefly, she’s talking about what’s wrong with the way the industry tries to second guess what readers should be offered – whether literature or popular fiction. A friend on Twitter came back to me and said ‘come come, surely it can’t be that bad?’

Jenny’s in the US, and I’m on the other side of the Atlantic. But here, it is indeed that bad.

I know a few agents, and they’re tearing their hair out. An agent recently told me ‘editors in big publishers are basically readers for marketing departments’. Another said in the past year she’d got more than 10 excellent books to editorial board, with all the editors staunchly behind them, but marketing vetoed them. An editor I know – very senior in terms of job title and the publisher she works for – laments that she is no longer allowed to accept the rich fiction she loves to read and has to publish shallow sure-fire supermarket titles.

Jenny says books are that too quirky or defy comparison don’t get a chance. Again, that’s the same here.

The interesting and popular authors I like wouldn’t, I’m told, get published if they were starting today. Especially not with their most ambitious work. David Mitchell would be told to take Cloud Atlas away and keep it on his hard drive. Kingsley Amis wouldn’t be allowed to hop between genres. Michael Morpurgo wouldn’t be allowed to write a non-genre novel about horses. Holes by Louis Sachar? Forget it. And David Almond’s Skellig. Readers seem to like them, though. They still buy them.

It’s the big monolithic publishers I’m talking about here. They were a good model five years ago but they’re breaking down because they can’t take the interesting books. But the smaller boutique publishers are a different matter. They can – and are being – much more adventurous. The economist Tim Harford has in fact written an entire book on this subject (Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure), about how you cannot prevail in today’s business environment without a willingness to experiment and take risks.

One of the things that’s so nice about Jenny Bent’s piece is that she pays tribute to the self-published writers who are getting out and finding their readers. That’s something we’re not hearing enough of. Some self-published authors I know who’ve been to conferences recently felt like they were about to be chased away with pitchforks.

Reviewers, who you’d think were less restricted, haven’t yet caught up with the fact that quality, competent, worthwhile authors are self-publishing. The theory goes that this is because journalism is funded by advertising and indies don’t buy expensive adverts. Whatever the reason, this industry needs to find a way to give good self-published writers a fair chance at creating a decent and widespread reputation.

But there’s no point in negativity, and ending on a whinge. The other thing I’d like to say is that the agents, editors, and publisher sales forces I’ve met are all book lovers too. It’s just their end of the business that’s broken. Thankfully, as Jenny points out, we’re all now building a new one.

(Thanks for the picture, Frankh)

Rant over. Do continue in the comments if you feel so inclined…

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Your new writing blog: avoid these faux-pas

Last post I discussed fitting blogging into your schedule. Today, I have a list of common problems with new blogs.

No sidebar

You need a sidebar – a narrow margin down the right-hand edge of the page. For all the stuff I’m going to tell you about in the rest of this post. Yes, the right – it’s easier on the eye. And one only. That’s easier too.

No picture of you

Published books include a picture of the author and blogging is even more personal. We want to know what you look like. And not a cartoon or one of those weemee avatars. Don’t be bashful. Use a photograph.

No email

If you’re worried about spam and your blog platform doesn’t offer an easy email form, write your email address so that bots won’t recognise it – see mine in the sidebar.

No other places to find you

If you’re on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Google Plus, put your profiles in the sidebar. Okay, I haven’t featured Google Plus even though I’m on it, but I haven’t a clue what I’m doing there. If you contact me on Google Plus you won’t get any sense out of me. And I keep wanting to call it Circles.

Hidden Twitter handle

Twitter is one of the best ways to share posts. Once I joined, my readership rocketed.

I retweet a lot of posts and like to credit the source, so my followers have the option to follow the original author as well. But I’m less keen to credit if I have to hunt every line of a sidebar to find an ID.

On some blogging platforms, you can include your Twitter handle as part of your username (like I have). And while we’re at it…

Leaving your user name as ‘admin’

Blogs are personal. Even if every post is written by you, readers prefer to see your name, not the default ‘admin’. It’s easy to change if you hunt around in settings for your username. And add your Twitter handle.

Not putting an internal search box

If readers are looking for something, they don’t want to guess where you might have posted about it. Give them a search box.

Not enabling comments

Most blog designs allow comments by default, indeed it’s hard to turn them off. But in the last couple of days I found my way to two new blogs and wanted to let them know I’d enjoyed their posts. Even though they asked in the signoff for comments, there was no way to do so! Make sure comments are enabled.

Not including subscription info

Not everyone wants to type your URL each time, or even come to your site. Lots of people like to keep up with blogs in a reader or by email. Don’t miss out on them.

Leaving the blog untended

As I said in my previous post, blogs need to look inhabited. If I come across your blog and see you haven’t posted for a month or so, I wonder if you’ve abandoned it.

No one minds if you unplug to get on with other stuff, so long as you let people know you’ll be back. In summer I took time away to finish edits on My Memories of a Future Life, so I left a ‘gone fishing’ notice.

Using hard-to-read designs

Some design themes are over-colourful, or light text on a dark background. These might work well for illustrative blogs, but are murder to read if most of your content is text. The trouble is, they look so tempting. I fell in to this trap when my self-hosted blog got hacked and I moved (long story). I went skipping around the WordPress wardrobe and picked something that looked groovy. Oh it was yummy. It went with my hair. You were all really nice about it too. But a few brave souls pointed out it was a migraine to read. The good news is, it was easy to change.

Next time I’ll look at blog design in more detail, including customising, bought themes and an extremely brief discussion of hosting options.

In the meantime, if you’re a seasoned blogger, what faux-pas did you commit when you started? Are there any you didn’t, but you notice on others?

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How I get time to blog as well as write

I’ve had this question from Cindy Richard: I have been toying with starting a blog because I would like to have a platform when I finally finish my novel. I am worried about having the mental energy for it, since I have a full-time job and am deep into writing my first novel. I have a great idea for how to focus my blog and what to write, but I am worried about starting it and then having it fizzle out because I don’t have the energy to give my best. Do you have any suggestions for making it more manageable starting out?

Great question. Here are my tips to make sure your blogging resolution doesn’t end up a sad forgotten thing, like December’s festive trees blowing down a January pavement.

Treat blogging as part of your writing work

You’ve probably got a routine for your writing – or you wouldn’t have got so far with your novel. Carve a little of that off for blogging. You can’t possibly steal more hours from the other things you have to do, so take it from your writing time.

I designate a day a week on which I am allowed to do blogging tasks – including posts, guest posts elsewhere, scheduling Undercover Soundtrack pieces. Even though those are written by guests, they are fiddly to publish. This all takes time and you need to schedule it properly so you make a good job of it.

Write a ton of posts in advance?

It’s not a bad idea to have posts prepared, but some people schedule months of them and leave the blog to fend for itself. I wouldn’t recommend that because when they end you’ll have to interrupt your writing schedule to cue up a load more – and that’s painful. It’s better to get into a regular routine.

If you do cue in advance, be prepared to rejig if you spot a trend you could post about. Often these gain more hits, more readers and more discussion.

Whatever else you do, answer comments ASAP. Blogs have to look alive and responsive – readers like contact and conversations.

Keep blogging time in check

Blogging is addictive. I could spend endless hours on design fiddles, tweaking widgets – as is probably evident in my greedy number of blogs (you’ve already seen this red one, and there’s also my website). It’s even worse when your blog is oh-gosh shiny and new. Aside from answering comments, don’t let yourself do blog stuff on other days.

Prevent blogging burnout

Many people start a blog and then find they run out of ideas. Find something you can genuinely talk about forever and you’ll never run dry. But more importantly…

Short is better

A lot of new bloggers try to cram too much into one post. Posts don’t have to be the definitive, exhaustive essay, unlike articles or reports outside of the blogoverse.

Nor does that make blog posts superficial. You can still be brilliant, useful, provocative, evocative – whatever you like – in 500 words or so.

And computer screens aren’t the easiest medium for reading – another reason why shorter posts are better.

If you think you can split a post in two, nobody minds that. The more times people come back to your blog, the more familiar they get with your blog furniture, your writing voice. That’s why people have favourite newspapers – they know where to find what they want, quickly.

And as I’ve already gone on too long, I’m going to take my own advice. I’ve got a list of fledgling bloggers’ mistakes – but that’s for another post.

In the meantime, tell me – how do you make time for blogging?

 

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