On Sunday I was on a panel at a local writers’ expo, hosted by the fantastic Beaumaris Library. Also on my panel were Jane Sullivan (wearing her two hats: white for writer, black for critic/reviewer), Olga Lorenzo (fellow Allen & Unwin stable-mate) and Lorraine Campbell (author of The Butterfly Enigma, and other titles). Our chair was Rochelle Jackson, journalist, true-crime writer and fabulous woman.
Our topic was Promotion is not a dirty word! The art of marketing your book, and we all spoke to the theme for a few minutes. I was last speaker and worried I’d have no points left by the time it got to me, but it wasn’t the case as everyone responded to the topic differently.
My 3-4 minutes were spent on three points. Obviously the below is an expansion of what I said. Three minutes is not a long time:
1. Be yourself. Like everything in life, it’s important to be authentic. Publishers don’t want an unhappy author, and won’t be pressing authors to engage in social media activities that they really don’t want to do, can’t do well or can’t sustain. (Publishers shouldn’t be pushing people in this way.) The good thing about SM is there is a wide range of platforms – from twitter which is short bursts of bits and pieces, to the longer form of blogging or an author website. Setting up your platforms well ahead of time is a good idea too. Nothing looks worse than a website with three posts on it, or a twitter account with 23 followers, 6 tweets and an egg instead of a profile picture. Make sure you can sustain whatever it is you choose, and if you can’t, delete it is my advice. I started my twitter account and author website in 2012, before I’d signed with my agent and well before I had a book contract. I had the sense that I wanted to build a profile, but I didn’t have anything to ‘sell’ yet, which was just as well. I’d like to think I’d be smart enough to not have been a pushy person on twitter if I had had a book, but as it was, I watched other people, saw the do’s and don’ts, and focused on sharing interesting links to articles etc, writing about books, engaging with other writers and lit people, and trying to keep myself nice. Similar activities on this website, sometimes linking the two of them. So by the time I had a book out, I was kind of established, and certain that I was not going to hammer people about it. It was agonising, tweeting about my book, so I kept it to a minimum. I prefer to mention other people’s books and work, share about that. It’s all about comfortability. And for people who struggle with fresh content for a website, say, best to have a static situation, so a landing page with fixed text, links to your book, to reviews, and that’s it, no ‘blog’ section with comments where there needs to be engagement, and fresh content consistently updated. (This is something I struggle with here, I admit it!)
2. Say yes to everything. This was advice given to me by novelist Andrea Goldsmith (‘within reason’ she said, and I thought to myself: What does that mean? Funny how our minds always turn to nakedness, and I admit, I would say no to a naked poetry reading, I *think* – look up Angela Meyer’s experiences there…) Saying yes to everything is hard for people who consider themselves introverts and who are happiest alone, tapping away in cafe/garret/cave. Public speaking and radio interviews and talking about ourselves (and our books are an intimate, precious part of us, there should be some anatomical term for an author’s book) can be very uncomfortable. This is why we are writers – because we are better with words on the page than words as they come out of our mouths (or I am, anyway). Still, we can get better. We can prepare (the first thing I would say to prepare is your answer to the most terrifying question a writer can be asked: What’s your book about? Think I’m joking?) We are the people who know our books best, we are the ones who have read it the most, and let’s face it, no one will care more about our book than ourselves. It’s true. We have to stand by our work and do what we can to help it live as long as possible. My agent told me that publishers let books die ‘all the time’ – terrifying, when you think about it. So, beyond the two months pre-publication work that can happen (if you’re lucky) and some small sputtering noises (I can’t quite say buzz, cause most books don’t get that) over the publication time and for a few weeks afterwards, it’s you and your book, unless you have some people championing it. My little tugboat was sent off from shore, with its own engine, yes, but it seemed there wasn’t much I could do for it, and I had to trust it would be ok. It was. I was lucky, with lots of radio and good reviews. But still, it never had anything like buzz. It’s a damned hard business. But I said yes to everything, and created even more opportunities myself, and am happy with how things went for my first book. So much of survival is moving on, and in a writer’s case, that’s moving on to the next project(s). Like sharks, we have to keep moving.
3. Be positive. It’s really important to have a good vibe, not a negative, snarky, complainy one. Part of it is being professional, being courteous. An easy way to do this is to think: How can I be helpful? Partly it’s me as a teacher, partly as a know-it-all, but when I come across resources that I find interesting, I want to share them. So a lot of my online time goes to sharing links to articles across a whole range of topics – the internet is our friend. Not only can we research how to market and promote, we can look up each of the publication stages, each of the post-publication stages, the writer’s life, the craft, how other people do it and so on. It’s there for the taking.
And the results of my twitter poll?
The question was: is self promotion an activity that makes you want to shower more?
The answers, 9 votes to yes, but it’s an necessary evil, 8 votes to I’d rather you kill me, and 1 vote to no, it’s fun and necessary.
The upshot of my experience with having a book out and promoting it in my half-arsed way is that: I don’t think being on twitter or anything like that sells books; being in the book pages of the newspapers doesn’t even sell books (because that’s a circle of people all talking to each other, like on twitter). If you can get a mention outside the book pages, that apparently is gold (my agent said I did well to get outside the book pages, I still don’t quite know what she means…) but the biggest thing I’m guessing is to get buzz, word of mouth, which can take time to happen, or can fizzle, but seems to be so rare. Prominent champions in the industry – the Stephen Romeis, the Jason Stegers, the people running festivals and literary journals, these are the voices that will create buzz. The booksellers, oh the booksellers – if they love your book, if they love you, then you are in with a chance. If it’s up against other books that are more saleable, then you’re in trouble, and it’s nothing personal, it’s just the way of the world. So like a shark, you keep swimming, back to your cave, your desk, your next work.
Good luck to any writers, let me know how you go or what your experience has been.