When I started writing (mainly for the schools market) thirty-odd years ago, I was asked to do very little to help the sales along. In fact, once a book was published the one real contact I had with it was the six-monthly or annual royalty statement. If an editor got in touch it was always to talk about the next project, not the ones we'd already 'put to bed'.
How different it is now. It seems to me that at least half the author's time is spent not in writing but in promotion, either directly or in response to something the publisher may have asked for, or sometimes the retailer or a representative from the community. And the range of promotional possibilities is much wider, covering a variety of media, on-line promotion, and personal appearances of one kind and another. The author needs to be much more available to the public, both in person and in writing - this blog, for example.
As a case study, let's take my new novel 11:59 , published this summer by the small independent publisher Wild Wolf. I've set out below just some of the things I have been involved with so far to help promote the book:
* The publicity process starts before the book is published - I have to write a 'blurb' for the back of the book, and am involved with briefing the designer for an appropriate front cover (great job by Peter Fussey). I provide the PR man with my personal media and retail contacts, garnered from previous work.
* Also before publication, I have an opportunity to tell an on-line forum about the imminent arrival of the book, because I have been lucky enough to get through to the semi-final of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for 2010. There is a lively on-line commmunity that discuss the awards and entries (which get up to 10,000 worldwide) so even when I've dropped out of the running, I can let people know that the book will be published by Wild Wolf.
* A week or so before the launch I am interviewed and photographed for The Journal in Newcastle. Good, supportive feature.
* I know BBC Radio Newcastle's late-night DJ Paddy MacDee pretty well. A live interview is right on the money for the novel, whose central character Marc Niven is a late-night DJ on a radio phone-in show, which is where the novel opens. Paddy loves the book, mentions my appearance several times as I'm driving in for the interview, and gives me a generous half hour punctuated only by a couple of songs. Thanks, Paddy. (If you'd like to hear the interview, click on the clip at the foot of this post.)
* Unfortunately our attempts to interest commercial radio in doing something similar fall on stony ground, probably because the BBC got there first.
* Meanwhile my publisher is ensuring book details get into the right databases for the suppliers and libraries, and makes some suggestions about on-line sites I should explore. One of these is librarything.com. I join as a LibraryThing author and they set up an interesting Meet the Author chat. One of the things that come out of this is how difficult it can be to differentiate me from the 40-odd other authors called David Williams listed on the site. Tip for budding authors: call yourself Zebediah Snifferpump or something, not David Williams.
* I have a couple of good library contacts in the region, mainly through promoting my earlier book of stories We Never Had It So Good. This works out well: not only do both Northumberland and Newcastle Libraries order copies of the book, Newcastle also ask me to appear at their forthcoming Books on the Tyne event on 6 November. The publisher will take a stand at the event to sell books, and the advance publicity is good, including a well-designed colour brochure featuring the authors. I have a couple of other library events to do later in the year.
* I am used to doing talks and readings to various groups in the region (WIs, Rotary Clubs, arts groups etc) and there's quite a bit of interest in the new book from that quarter, but I have to be a little careful as the novel is quite graphic in places (one of its themes is human trafficking for sexual purposes) so I'm a little wary about what I'm reading where - don't want to shock delicate sensibilities.
* Actually that whole issue of writing about sex and feeling a little embarrassed by it leads to another slightly unexpected promotional opportunity. Worrying about the reaction of people I know makes me write an article entitled 'Not in Front of the Family' about my experience of showing the ms to loved ones. I offer this article to The New Writer magazine and they accept it for publication for their Winter issue.
* My publisher has arranged a reading and signing in a bohemian Newcastle cafe for three North-East based Wild Wolf authors. A good idea in principle, and we enjoy meeting each other, but we don't meet many readers.
* Quite a few review copies have gone out, like messages in the castaway's bottle, never to be seen again, but I am heartened by an excellent review in The Bookbag.
* My local paper The Hexham Courant has had a review copy too, and I've been interviewed and photographed for a feature, but nothing has appeared after several weeks, which is a bit embarrassing because my publisher persuaded the local bookshops to stock up in anticipation of some local publicity. It's left to me to chase up the journos, and at last it proves fruitful. More positive coverage. Thanks Helen Compson and Brian Tilley.
* Wild Wolf makes 11:59 available as a Kindle edition, which hopefully will increase our chances of overseas sales. I know some authors worry about the impact of the ebook revolution on their future sales, but in general I'm in favour. (How about you - please respond to my short survey at the foot of this blog.)
* Wild Wolf have a Facebook page as well as a website. Paul Anderson, whose job I think it is to keep both updated, does a really good job. For a while, I put up my own Facebook page, but I get irritated by the trivia that passes through the Facebook community, and take it down again. I am, though, thinking of trying again.
* Which brings me bang up to date with something happening tonight - an interview with Wendy Robertson that she will be broadcasting on Bishop FM starting at 7pm. Well, she reckons my bit will be about 7.30pm. Wendy and I spoke at her home about three months ago as she was planning her series on writing, and this is part of the result. Well, I've probably exhausted your patience by now - I hadn't realised when I started this that there would be quite so much to say about the promotional work that goes into the book, at least for the first few weeks. I'd better stop and do some creative writing now - there's a story I've been putting off for three days now.