Like Bees To Honey is my third novel with HarperCollins imprint The Friday Project. That’s three novels with a real life, flesh and blood publisher. Yet, even with three books listed on Amazon and sitting on bookshelves; I still feel this is not enough.
I am not saying that I am ungrateful. In fact, not a day goes by when I am not amazed at my good fortune at being published. What I mean is that ‘just’ having a publisher or ‘just’ having a book published is no longer enough to build a writing career. In bygone years, I am sure writers could secure a book deal and then sit back and wait for fame and fortune to come their way. But those days are long gone and I have quickly discovered that building an audience and attracting potential readers is a joint effort between the publisher and the writer.
Today, a writer’s job does not end when the last word is typed. Instead, as the book goes through production and then print, the role of author switches from writer to a self-marketer and internet promoter. Signings, book events and launches are just the start. In addition to the ‘real’ world, many authors are learning to harness the power of the internet to engage potential readers and try, somehow, to turn them into book buyers.
I have been lucky.
I stumbled blindly into the world of the internet in 2006. This was a blissful time, when the noise was minimal and shouting louder really did make a difference. I set up a blog, posted lots of posts, left lots of comments on other people’s blogs and stumbled my way around connections and interaction. It worked but timing was everything. I rode the wave of the rising popularity of blogs and my efforts paid off, not only did I build a loyal following, but ultimately secured a book deal after being spotted by a cyber-scout.
Four years down the line the online world has changed. Twitter has become crowded, Facebook has grown and as a result the blog’s influence has waned (slightly). I guess the truth is that there is more competition out there. The internet may have evolved but the foundations remain the same.
The single most important piece of advice I can offer is be remarkable in all you do. By remarkable I mean, simply, worthy of remark!
I guess what I am saying is that the essence of online interaction is sharing, be it links, opinion or photos for thoughts. Users of social networks are, well, they are social. When trying to build an online presence being social and spending social currency is important (for social currency think retweet for twitter, comments for blogs and ‘like’ for Facebook). Only by producing content worthy of remark, worthy of sharing, will followers spend their social currency and spread your content. Remarkable and quality have little in common. After all, a cat video is far more likely to go ‘viral’ than a video of a Shakespeare play! For me, remarkable is simply something that will produce comment from others and be shared. This means that you need to build remarkable into the very fabric of what you do and everything you create (be it on Facebook, twitter or on your blog).
I found this ridiculously hard to do and had many false starts and misfires (and still do now!). But, for each novel I have managed to find something that has worked. For In Search of Adam we created an interactive map that allowed fans to add markers for where they were in the world. Disraeli Avenue (a novella based on In Search of Adam) was given away for free online (though I did ask for donation for charity). Black Boxes, my second novel, had a widget that asked simple questions and then took you to another likeminded blog at random. The widget went viral and the verb ‘blackboxing’ spread across the blogs.
The Friday Project were keen to be remarkable with Like Bees to Honey and wanted something special online for the launch of the book. They arranged for the whole novel to be serialised on a stream of blogs prior to publication. This meant that a reader could start at my blog and read the first section before hopping from blog to blog to read the whole book. Thirty-one blogs were involved in all, each publishing a chapter from the book on one single day and each being amazingly supportive of both me and the novel. With the help of twitter, blogs, Facebook and StumbleUpon, word spread online, people had something to say about it (this can be good or bad!). Since then The Friday Project have also commissioned a Like Bees to Honey Hive widget which is encouraging real-world connections, and is inspired by one of the major themes of the novel – the reciprocal nature of help and healing.
So, my advice to new writers is this – even if you have no publisher, or book deal or even a finished novel, start being worthy of remark today. Start building a network by producing blog posts, tweets and Facebook updates that make people want to comment. If you are not yet published, then blog about your publishing journey. Post remarkable items on your blog. Share you cover letter, ask for input on your synopsis, post pictures of the piles of rejection letters, anything that will generate comment. Engage with your readers, take them on your journey and above all be honest. My theory is that a remarkable writer is far more likely to be noticed than an unremarkable one!
Glad you found Caroline’s advice useful Andrea – there is so much out there that it can be really hard to get started but if you can navigate through, then there are plenty of ways to make yourself heard. Best of luck to you and let us know if you come across any useful tips yourself – I’m sure other CompletetelyNovel writers would love to hear them!
I find this to be so very sad. A writer must now dilute their precious time, once spent producing brilliant literature in their field of expertise, to now becoming a social butterfly on the internet.
It seems that nowadays newbies don’t only have to be good writers, but also good at making advertising for themselves. But yet I believe that having written your story in a good way, you can also succeed ‘the old way’.
There are lots of ways to “Toot Your Own Horn” when nobody else will.
My first Book “How to Paint Christmas Windows for Fun & Profit” was soundly rejected by every publisher I sent it to. Their reasons were valid. My Book catered to a very small niche market of artists and crafters.
My backup plan was to borrow money to publish and market the book myself, so I paid a visit to my local Small Business Administration for help with a loan. They soundly rejected the loan. I made my case by demonstrating to my counciler how simple it was to take a person with NO ARTISTIC TALENT, (Him!) and turn (Him!) into an Artist simply by following my instructions.He was impressed enough to refer me to an upcoming QVC Convention where scouts would choose their next 10 products for possible inclusion on their “Christmas in July” television marketing program. By the time the convention rolled around, my book had turned into a Window Painting Kit.
Keep in mind, I still had not had the book printed or professionally packaged the kit. It was still a crude idea.
As strange things go, the unexpected happened. I was soundly rejected by QVC, but a Good Housekeeping writer happened to be there and did a spot interview with me after seeing my live demonstration. She explained, (almost appologized), there was no guarantee my story would ever reach the magazine, but guess what. It did. Something in my story motivated the editor to include me in their “How to Make a Million With Your Crazy Idea” feature story.
The article was read by a popular host of Aleen’e Creative Living. The next thing I know, I have ORDERS for a product I have not yet produced and a 2 year television contract with the biggest craft show on television. I found it is very easy to find funding with a purchase order in hand.
I ended up being the first non-Aleen’s product to ever break records on the show.
I ended up being sought after by QVC and doing 3 shows for them.
I ended up winning the Small Business of The Year Award and also the first recipient of the reward who did NOT receive a penny of financing from the SBA.
The best part about all this is I would never have gotten this far, or made as big a profit on my products if any one of the publishers had said yes.
Back then, 1999, I barely knew how to check my email…..much less market myself on the internet.
They say when a door closes, another opens. In my case it was a Window!
I think it is a shame for some writers that there is a growing need to develop your skills beyond writing in order to be a successful writer (not everyone will have the time!) However, even if you succeed ‘the old way’ and your book is published by a publisher, then as Caroline mentioned, in order to get those sales, it is a huge help if you can market yourself too.
Being social on the web can have extra benefits though, and I don’t think it always has to be in a ‘social butterfly’ kind of way. You can often connect with readers in a more profound way, and gain the kind of connection with fans that before, you could only have by traipsing all over the country (another thing which requires a lot of time).
marketing and publicity. Imagine a newspaper headline “81year old fiction writer Colt,author of ‘A Time for Living.’ stopped a young beautiful teen age girl from being raped” That’s the sort of headline that would get you noticed until you read the next line. " He restrained himself" Crude and unprofessional but still publicity. I must emphasise this is purely imaginary and I would in no way try this sort of tactic. However we need an “edge” to get ourselves noticed. An on line presence is not enough, it helps, but the readers and the purchasers of your book are, in the main, not internet motivated in that way.When writing the book ‘A Time for Living’ I considered the marketing problems and decided to introduce authentic places into the story line. A look at my site, Colt the author, will give you some idea as to the success of this strategy.It involved me writing to all the places mentioned and including small A4 posters for them to display. In this respect, some successes and some failures. I am now in the process of the “follow up” action, whereby I write to them again giving them an idea of the progress, quoting reviews etc and including more posters. It’s a constant chore and writing the second book in the series has taken a little longer because of this However I have found a new site, all-review.co.uk (on Yahoo) where you can send your book for a published review. This may help SA (Struggling authors) to get more publicity and gain more attention. Newspapers, radio stations (local) I have done all this in order to promote and sell. As we all seem to realise, there is much more to writing a book than just publishing and sitting back, waiting for fame. You have to work at it.
You are so right – my view is to write as if 1 million people are going to read it – and when you start getting reviews, to treasure each and everyone of them (even the not so good) and thank as many people as you humanly can
Thanks for your comment Tom, For my next book ‘A Time for Crying’ I spend more time these days promoting rather than writing. Exposure, exposure, exposure is what you need to get your book noticed, ninety percent of my advertising is wasted and I don’t know which is the effective ten per cent . My site ‘Colt the author’ has had over 857 views in the last two months but how many sales have resulted from those views??? I won’t know for some time, you just have to keep going.
A Time for Living
A Time for Crying
A Time for Dying
New to this and just published my book. Loved Caroline’s article because as many of us now know, the road is a hard one, a real slog. Not only writing the book, but then publishing it. Then when the ideas are in my head for my next novel I find I have to enter the marketing arena. Horror – but now in the post-Christmas lull need to get going. Thanks Caroline, it’s so easy to feel it’s all a waste of time and get isolated in a bubble of self-pity. You’ve helped!
That’s a great tip about the review website, Colin. Thanks very much! Being very, very new at this game I need all the help I can get and I’ll certainly make this my starting point.