How to write great guest posts about your book – keep your stories about your stories

‘Do you know how I came up with the new ending for my book?’ said my client. ‘I dreamed it.’ She went on to describe a wonky version of what finally went into the draft I was reading.

‘Keep this anecdote,’ I said. ‘Write it down.’

‘Pah it’s just a dream,’ she said. ‘I was also inspired by this strange thing that happened to a friend…’

‘Write that down too,’ I said.

She thought I was mad, and no doubt you do too. But there will come a time when you will be scratching for things to say about your book and you need something beyond a story summary or a sketch of your main characters.

Awkward moments

I first realised this years ago at a friend’s book launch. I’d just finished My Memories of a Future Life and I got chatting to a publisher. I gave my prepared spiel and he nodded eagerly, wanting more. I’d run out of pitch, so I bumbled on about my favourite bits, aware that I was getting obscure, but I was so mired in the book I couldn’t see it as an outsider. What I needed was a crisp anecdote or two to keep him relating to it – perhaps about its influences or what inspired it. (He still asked to see it, though, so no harm done.)

Publicity is a long game of guest posts, interviews and maybe personal appearances. (At the moment, Dave is gearing up for the launch of his Frankenstein book app, and is grappling with interview questions. ‘What on earth do I tell all these people?’ he frequently says to me. ‘I thought it was enough to just write the story.’)

Blah blah blah

There’s only so much you can say about the novel without giving spoilers. And you’re going to be asked the same questions time and again about the writing of it, but that doesn’t mean you have to give the same answers. In fact, you shouldn’t. In each case you might reach a new audience, but the chances are, readers will see you several times before they decide to check you out. The more different – but congruent – stories you can tell about your book, the richer it will seem and the more ways you have to reel readers in. And the less you’ll bore everyone, including yourself.

And people who like stories also like stories about stories. I recently added an ‘inspired by’ anecdote to my Amazon listing for My Memories of a Future Life and sales have trebled. This experimental sample of just one seems to prove somethingorother.

What makes a good story about your story?

The very best are specific but don’t give too much away. It could be

  • novels that influenced it
  • favourite fictional characters that spurred you to write it
  • real-life experiences that fed into it – anything that gives you an insider view of the subject or events
  • real-life people who inspired it or helped with research – although be careful of libel
  • issues the novel raises

Or it could be something left field, like my series The Undercover Soundtrack on the red blog, where writers tell a tale about their book in the context of music that inspired them while writing.

But thinking of all this stuff – unless someone gives you a specific exercise like my Undercover Soundtracks – is time consuming. And, depending on how complex your novel is, you may not be able to name all its influences at the drop of a hat. I’m still becoming aware of forgotten seeds for both of mine. They emerge by chance in conversations, revisited films and novels I dimly remember. Now I realise I might have a use for these insights, every time I stumble on another, I write it down.

Keep your stories about your stories. You’ll be surprised how easily they’ll slip your mind, but they’re as useful to you as the ideas in the actual novel itself. And you’ll never have enough.

Thanks for the pic Ben Chau

Do you have a tale about your novel? If you can tell it briefly, the floor is yours…

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  1. #1 by barbarahenderson on April 15, 2012 - 12:49 pm

    Excellent post, Roz. Telling stories is the way to make anything stick!

  2. #3 by jenniferscoullar on April 15, 2012 - 12:57 pm

    This is such a useful post. Thank you! I’ll be doing publicity about my new novel soon, and am always HOPELESS talking about my writing. That checklist of possible topics is perfect …

  3. #5 by Jennie Coughlin on April 15, 2012 - 1:06 pm

    Great post, Roz, and one I wish I’d seen before my book came out last fall. But definitely one I’m going to bookmark to remind myself for the next one. Although my expert source on the mob pieces probably would prefer I keep those stories quiet… 🙂

  4. #7 by Laura Pauling (@laurapauling) on April 15, 2012 - 1:32 pm

    And most people love hearing those little tidbits behind the story. I do anyway!

  5. #9 by courseofmirrors on April 15, 2012 - 2:50 pm

    Good points, Roz. Come to think of it, almost every post on my blog is indirectly also about my first novel, though I don’t make it explicit, since I haven’t published it yet. I reckon we all have a personal myth that shines through all of our writing.

  6. #14 by Sally - aka Saleena on April 15, 2012 - 3:49 pm

    Roz, I’m a bit slow sometimes … where’s the MMOAFL anecdote you’ve referred to on your Amazon page?

    I think you’re right to say that anecdotes will fade from memory with time, so they should be written down. I have tonnes of anecdotes about my novel some of which I have recently been mentioning, but I’m going to take your good advice and keep a notes file for them somewhere.

  7. #17 by J.C. Martin on April 15, 2012 - 4:40 pm

    Great advice! My idea for ORACLE came soon after London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics. There were lots of stuff in the news at the time about all the problems during the intiial organisation: overinflated budgets, transport problems, construction work chaos… I thought, “Hey, won’t adding a serial killer in the midst *really* stress out the organisers?” That’s how the initial idea came about. 🙂

    • #18 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on April 15, 2012 - 10:10 pm

      Hi JC – can you get it out in time for July? Still, if you’re in London you should be ideally placed for research. And it’s a nice idea to set a murder story – which is essentially about the natural order being upset – in a time of interesting upheaval and even celebration. Good luck with it!

      • #19 by J.C. Martin on April 16, 2012 - 8:48 am

        Thank you, Roz! Yes, it’s releasing on July 30th. The Olympics start July 27th. 🙂

  8. #20 by jperrykelly on April 15, 2012 - 5:46 pm

    Hi Roz! Another insightful post–thanks! I was driven to write “Quantum Fires: The Sibyl Reborn” after waking from a coma to find I was paralyzed from the neck down. (Luckily my arms thawed out, or I wouldn’t be typing this:<) The fact my auto accident stemmed from my refusal to face reality led to my portraying a reborn Cassandra (from Troy) as a pro-green activist who's locked in a mortal battle with her spiritual bane.

    • #21 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on April 15, 2012 - 10:13 pm

      Hi James! Yes, I think your novel’s origin story about knocks the socks off everything else. Hugs – and respect – from across the pond.

  9. #22 by Deb Atwood on April 15, 2012 - 10:25 pm

    The file idea is great. Hi J.C, your comment made me laugh. And J Perry, I’m glad you woke up.

    When my husband was five years old, his mother brought him to an orphanage. He was adopted when he was six. I never thought much about this until our oldest child turned five. That morphed into a real gotcha moment. I hadn’t realized how perceptive five-year-olds were. If we were apart for any length of time, my daughter wanted a play-by-play–where was I going, how long would I be…That shocked me into wondering exactly how a mother goes about taking her child to an orphanage. Do you tell him the truth? And what exhaustive measures do you try before that final desperate journey? That’s where I started writing my first (but not first to be published) novel A CIRCLE LINE.

  10. #24 by Valerie Long on April 16, 2012 - 6:07 am

    OMG — I’m always juggling with the idea of an “behind the scenes” series on my series, but I’m reluctant, as there’d be so much to tell! But yes, I should really tell about the little contest that triggered my very first chapter, and how it turned into a million-words-series, shouldn’t I?

    • #25 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on April 16, 2012 - 7:21 am

      Valerie, that sounds like it could run and run!

      • #26 by Valerie Long on April 16, 2012 - 3:23 pm

        You bet it could — just as the story itself runs and runs, one chapter per day for more than five years and eighteen sequels so far… but do I write the story or do I write about writing the story? 😉

  11. #28 by TeacherWriter on April 16, 2012 - 11:54 am

    Thanks so much for this post. I have several guest blogs coming up early this summer, and I was wondering what I was going to write about. Now I know I can start with the dream I had that inspired my newest book, Shades of the Future.

    @Deb Your husband’s story is so emotionally charged. I agree with Roz, that will give you so many thoughts and tales to tell.

    • #29 by Deb Atwood on April 16, 2012 - 3:24 pm

      Hi Suzanne,

      I’m a tutorwriter, so I went to your site and just signed up for two of your blogs. I’m ooking forward to future words of wisdom.

    • #31 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on April 17, 2012 - 9:39 pm

      My pleasure, Suzanne. Once you get into that way of thinking, it’s fun. Best of luck with your launch

  12. #32 by DRMarvello on April 16, 2012 - 4:58 pm

    Good advice, Roz. I’ve discovered that I love to read author interviews and guest posts. Thinking back on it, the ones I like best are the ones that share a story about “the making of” the story. Anecdotes give you insight into both the author and the book. Like you, I keep re-discovering influences for my writing. In the future, I’ll be careful to write them down. They make for good blog fodder as well as guest post fodder.

    Along the same lines, I’ve been using a “swipe file” to save aside comments I make on blogs like yours. As writers, we sometimes put a surprising amount of thought and effort into our comments. No sense wasting all that creativity!

    • #33 by Sally - aka Saleena on April 17, 2012 - 11:02 am

      And I thought I was the only one who saved useful comments. We writers really do love hoarding our words! 🙂 I agree they contain a wealth of info, Daniel.

      • #34 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on April 17, 2012 - 9:40 pm

        Daniel, Sally – I do that too! What starts as a comment somewhere often turns into a full-length rant (er – post…)

  13. #35 by Laura Ritchie on April 18, 2012 - 1:49 pm

    Rox, this is a wonderful suggestion. Definitely a keeper. I’m going to start doing this right away! Thanks!

  14. #37 by Mark Feggeler on April 19, 2012 - 6:47 pm

    Excellent advice! I will have to keep it in mind as I (slowly) reach the end of revisions on my first book.

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