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 your 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!