On October 18, I participated in the annual Novel Slam, held as part of Sheffield's Off the Shelf lit fest. But until 30 seconds before I got up on stage to deliver my novel's first line and 1-minute pitch, there was no way I was going through with it.
I absolutely detest being front-and-centre. As I often tell my editing clients, "I am not the person on the stage; I am the one in the lighting booth." I have always had a fear of performing. I recall the occasions as a child when I had to sing or act and hating every single second, mostly in contrast to my peers who seemed to revel in the attention and thrill of performing. Fortunately for me on Monday, I had two things in my favour:
1. A friend who would not let me back out
2. A surname that put me last in the pitching order
Both of these helped me conquer my fear in the moment and put myself out there. And man, did I sweat! But I am so pleased I did it, given that I was voted into the final eight entrants by the Novel Slam audience and then placed second by the panel of esteemed judges. Hurrah for validation! The experience has relit the fire in my belly, and I'm more determined than ever to get my novel published.
So, what did I learn from this little adventure?
1. Find a friend who will hold you accountable and (if necessary) shame you into putting yourself out there, be it as a contest entrant or performer of your work.
2. Understand why you're afraid to put yourself out there. For me, the reason is usually imposter syndrome, which is a decades-old affliction. However, since hitting 40, I care very little about others' judgement, so my reason no longer holds water. If you understand your reason for hiding, there will be plenty of advice online about how to overcome your fear.
3. The writing community is incredibly supportive. Wherever you are, you'll be part of a community that's in it together. Sure, you'll find a few oddballs, but mostly other writers have got your back and want you to succeed. Knowing this makes putting yourself out there much easier.
4. Be prepared! I showed up to the event not expecting a pitching slot, but I went armed with my materials anyway. I'm not suggesting you carry your manuscript everywhere on the off-chance, but I would suggest having your elevator pitch committed to memory. You simply never know who might want to hear it! It's a heck of a lot easier to put yourself out there one-to-one, too.
5. Putting yourself out there is the job of a serious author. There is no choice, so suck it up! If you don't put yourself out there, your just a guy or gal in a room with a laptop.
All this said, my Achilles heel is social media. The very idea of Instagram fills me with dread and a weariness I cannot describe, and Twitter just irritates me. But social media unavoidable because its the most efficient way of putting yourself out there, so I guess that's my next challenge--one that can wait till 2022.
Whether you self-publish or are fortunate to get a traditional publishing deal, the chances are you will have to do a lot of your own book promo. This can be highly time-consuming and frustrating ... especially if you go at it half cocked, so to speak. But where do you begin?
I asked marketing/PR expert (and agented writer) Anna Caig for a few choice words of advice for promoting your book based on her experience as a trainer/coach of writers who want to build their brand and reach more readers. (To find out more, or to work with Anna Caig, go to https://www.annacaigcomms.co.uk). Here is what she shared.
1. Be clear on your author brand
Does thinking of yourself as a brand have you cringing or running for the hills? If so, you’re certainly not alone. But this is about pinning down what makes you stand out, and it’s often one of the most enjoyable parts of the work I do with authors. Looking at where the inspiration and motivation behind your writing comes from is a good place to start thinking about how to differentiate yourself from all the other authors out there.
2. Use your storytelling skills in your marketing
It’s amazing how many awesome storytellers revert to flat, linear descriptions when they’re talking about themselves and their work in bios, on their website, or anywhere they’ve got limited space to tell potential readers what they’re all about. But by using the same skills you use in your writing to describe your books and yourself as an author, you’ll be off to a flying start.
3. Also think about what you *don’t* want to share
Your author brand is a version of you that you’re comfortable sharing with the public … it is not all of you, warts and all. For example, many people get inspiration for their writing from painful personal events. Sometimes you’ll be happy to talk about these explicitly, but sometimes you won’t, and that’s fine. It is important to establish this ahead of embarking on marketing a book.
4. Before any marketing activity, set yourself some objectives
Is it all about sales? Do you want to build your mailing list? Are you setting up a community of readers in a Facebook group? Spending a little time thinking about what exactly you want to achieve with your marketing activity is an important first step in putting together a strategy and will ensure everything you do contributes to a specific outcome.
5. Write a strategy
Snore, right? A strategy’s a dry old document that sits on a shelf and never gets used? Well, nope. A marketing strategy means you know what you want to achieve, who exactly you’re targeting and how you’re going to reach them, and what you’re going to say. Not only does spending a little time on a strategy save *a lot* of time in the long run, it also ensures your marketing is coherent.
6. Be creative when it comes to reaching potential readers
Most spaces, digital or in-person, dedicated to book promotion are crowded and competitive. I always encourage writers to think outside the box when it comes to reaching readers. Put in the simplest terms, if you’ve written a book about trains, don’t just target people who love books, target people who love trains. Think about where you can find this audience and use the channels that will reach them there.
7. Digital and social media are just channels
I hear a lot of ‘you should be doing x, y or z’ when it comes to book promotion, and never more so than with digital and social media. But the truth is, these are just channels to reach audiences. There’s no should about it, unless they will help you talk to people who are likely to love your books. And you’re much better off using two or three channels well than spreading yourself thinly across loads because you think you should be there.
8. The rule of thirds
No more than a third of the content you share with your audiences should be explicitly promoting and selling your books. Another third is all about engaging content which doesn’t overtly sell: this is where you can give audiences a glimpse behind the curtain, share interesting information relating to your research, writing process, or just elements of your life that form part of, or complement, your author brand. The final third is where you respond to others, have conversations and comment on what other people are doing, building your relationships and communities.
9. Give video a chance
There’s no point forcing yourself to create content you really don’t enjoy, but I’ve lost count of the number of writers I’ve worked with who are reluctant to give video a go and then end up loving it. There is a lot of evidence that video is more effective than text or images in engaging audiences, and there are many different ways to try it, from a more polished, edited video to a quick Facebook or Instagram live. Try some different things out and try not to worry about ‘getting it wrong’ (whatever that means!) You don’t need to be too polished or perfect. The most engaging content often includes flaws, or even mistakes. It can be scary to put yourself ‘out there’ and be vulnerable, but you may be pleasantly surprised by how your audience responds to content which contains faults. Look at the engagement on a serious Facebook post, versus the outtakes and bloopers post from ‘behind the scenes’ (from those who are brave enough to share these) and the latter will almost invariably reach more people and elicit a more positive response.
10. Have fun
Yes, book promotion is a serious business that will find readers for your work and persuade them to part with their hard-earned cash, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun doing it. It’s important to bear in mind that content you enjoy creating is likely to be more effective because the energy and enthusiasm will come across to your audience. So, enjoy yourself!
Not content with being all over the big screen, little screen, or music scene, a lot of celebrities publish books. Many of them are writing the books, but a growing number are now publishing other writers' works. According to an excellent article in the Guardian Online, some high-profile celebrities include Sarah Jessica Parker, Lena Dunham, and Stormzy.
Of course, this trend is a boon to the big publishers because many of the celeb publishing companies are imprints of the big players, such as Penguin Random House. But how much those celebs are actually involved, and how knowledgeable they are about publishing, is unknown. So what kind of books are they publishing? You might expect celebrities to go for popular fiction, but it seems that some of them are going for books with spine.
Here is some info about two notable examples:
LENNY is Lena Dunham's imprint at Random House and was reputedly inspired by her weekly feminist e-newsletter. It has published three female-centric titles so far:
goop press is Gwyneth Paltrow's publishing company that operates in partnership with Grand Central Life & Style and Hachette Books. It clearly began as a vanity press, putting out cookbooks created by Paltrow, but in 2018, the output is being diversified. Recent titles include
This celebrity trend is one I can get behind. Is it just a way for celebrities to raise their income and cachet? Of course. But the benefit to writers is potentially huge, too. If you're discovered by a celebrity who endorses your work and puts his or her name somewhere on the cover of your book, your work will almost certainly make waves. My only hope is that, in future, some of these imprints will come out of smaller, indie publishers so that this trend is not giving the big guns an even greater advantage.
Lorna Partington Walsh, Wordsmith