How to be a really successful writer- A biased view from a small publisher

I’m a writer as well as a publisher, and when I had my first work published I was dreadfully naïve and thought the books would sell themselves.

After all, I’d written it, and someone liked it enough to publish – my work was done!

Really, not.

Now, three books in, and running my own micro-publishing company I am a bit wiser and a heck of a lot more cynical.

The statistics on the number of books published every year don’t bear thinking about – how on earth can you get noticed? Especially if you haven’t been snapped up in a bidding war between the big publishing companies who have an army of publicists on their payroll?

You have to be prepared to get into the limelight and tell the world how fantastic and fascinating your writing is, and what a wonderful charming person you are.

I know.  You’d sooner walk across hot coals and sell your child/cat into slavery.

Well, nonetheless, the books don’t sell themselves, and being prepared to get out there and meet the public in all their various guises really helps, whether that is in person, touring your work round bookshops and libraries, or setting up a blog, or being interviewed on your local radio station. THIS is how books become word of mouth best-sellers.

I have cast iron evidence. My first book hardly sold at all, because I was too frightened to do the publicity my publisher wanted from me. The second book pretty much sold out because I did it anyway, fear not withstanding… and I ENJOYED it. (not a lot, but it was bearable and I discovered I LIKE talking about my writing.)

The popular image of the writer, secluded in her attic/ the library with her notebooks, gazing at the view from her window or the riveting ancient text that has inspired her work, is desperately out of date, but some of us (me included) would MUCH rather be doing that, than spending time on Facebook/ Twitter/ Tumblr/ Whatever, inviting people to make contact and talk about their work and READ it, and the idea of facing a microphone or camera and having to SPEAK…

How to cope? Why would you want to?

How I did it is: I thought about who I needed to be, and in what circumstances I can pull that off, and I wrote myself a character who is the relatively thick-skinned, witty, charming, outgoing person, I can be when I’m really comfortable, and I put her on, coat-like when I need her. She’s been really useful for my publishing face too.

That doesn’t help with the white noise that hits when I’m asked a (to me) stupid question live on air. What does help is preparation. Interviews are fairly predictable, you will almost always be asked – what do you write/ where do your ideas come from/ what’s this book about? Although you might want to respond – haven’t you read it? Your interviewer is actually trying to help – the viewer/listener/reader hasn’t read your wonderful scintillating work, and the interviewer is getting you to persuade them to do that. If you do get asked something that throws you – say what a good question (flatters the interviewer gives you time to think) then answer as gracefully as you can, and don’t be afraid to say I hadn’t thought about that, or I don’t know!

Why am I explaining all this?

I’ve made the difficult decision that I won’t publish people who won’t support their work. I haven’t the time or energy (or money) to promote every book as though it were my own. If you can’t get behind your book, why would I? With an anthology it’s not so bad because there will be 20 or so authors to spread the load – although it’s hardly fair on those who will schlep around libraries reading to expect them to support those who won’t.

How can I support the diffident writer?

I really do get it! As I said, that was me once upon a time. That’s why I’ve got Arts Council funding for a series of workshops for writers, that aren’t about writing – you’ve missed the performance one, but…

FRIDAY 23/9/16 (that’s this week!) 2-4pm Canada Water Culture Space £12  we have: Handling the Media with Rosie Wilby, who broadcasts at Resonance FM, and is also a comedian.

SATURDAY 24/9/16 at The Albany, Deptford, 11-1 we have marketing for writers basics, and 2-4pm marketing for writers advanced, with Yen Ooi of marketing for creatives specialists Think Create Do.

These workshops are heavily subsidised, you would expect to pay £35 or more on the open market. At the moment we have no takers for the basic marketing, so we are cancelling it if we don’t get at least 4 bookings by midday Thursday. Tell your friends! (if we get 3 bookings, we’ll transfer you to the advanced course, or return the booking fee) The other courses have some space left, but if you want to come, you need to get booking.

 

 

 

 

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