Monthly Archives: January 2007

Sunday interview: Bernardine Kennedy

Do anything and everything with a smile, says UK women’s fiction author Bernardine Kennedy. She is published by Headline and has her own website and blog.

1. What kinds of marketing have you done as an author?

I’ve done book signings, stock signings, local press interviews as well as other mags where I might fit their readership! Also library talks and book festival talks and panels. I basically do anything I’m offered. Even the local Ladies Luncheon Club and the Salvation Army.

2. What marketing did your publisher do?

They always send advance copies to the press and to magazine editors, as well as to anyone else I ask them to. They also send out very good press releases and will always mail me if they are approached about interviews that might ‘fit’ me!

3. What essential things about marketing did you learn that you wish you’d known from the start?

Most papers and mags are inundated daily with books and press releases so it takes a really good hook to get the reviews and interviews. The hook can be either related to the book or to the author personally.

4. What did you learn during your experiences of trying to market your books?

That although my book may be the most important thing in my life at that time I’m actually just one of the many thousands being published. An author has to work at marketing, it doesn’t just arrive on the doorstep with a grin.

5. What’s the most successful piece of marketing you’ve done?

Probably getting some short stories and features out there around publication date. My name and the book’s title and publication date were mentioned at the bottom. It definitely helped.

6. What advice would give for authors starting out with marketing their books?

Do anything and everything with a smile and get yourself known as approachable. Go into bookshops and introduce yourself when its NOT publication date and you don’t want anything from them. Payback will come at publication time when they remember you.

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Public speaking nerves

Many authors are nervous about public speaking, not least because they may have never done it before. I was quite lucky as I went through the pain of learning how to speak in public when I was at school. I attended a girl’s school up to the age of 16, but the debating society was run in conjunction with several other schools, meaning we could meet and mingle with the opposite sex. It was therefore a popular extra-curricular activity. The first time I rose to make a comment from the floor, the butterflies seemed to be eating my stomach, the whole room had become hot and clammy, and my voice seemed to come out as if it was coming from somewhere else. I felt faint as I sat down.

Nowadays, nerves are usually just a slightly fluttery, light-headed feeling about 5 minutes before I’m due to start. I deal with this before giving work presentations by nipping to the Ladies and having a quiet couple of minutes gathering my presense of mind before venturing forth. Conferences can be difficult, especially when they want to wire you up while the previous speaker is on and there is still some time to go. I prefer it when the PA is fixed, or with no PA at all. I had to address very large halls as a debater without a PA and therefore worked my voice projection up to a good standard.

If public speaking nerves are getting to you I recommend you try a number of things, and see what works for you:

1. Make sure you’re prepared, practiced and use pauses. I used to write it all down on note cards, annotating with pauses. I would then practice several times. Pauses force you to slow down, give your brain a chance to think, and make your words more impactful.

2. Even for off the cuff, have some notes. I now tend to speak mostly off the cuff, but I always, always have notes with me. There are there as a back-up, just in case the worst happens and my mind goes blank. Having a crutch you can switch to, if the nerves are winning, will help and will make you feel better and in control.

3. Slow down and breathe deeply. Nerves can make you feel light-headed and your breathing come in short. Make sure you keep speaking slowly and breathing properly.

4. Before you start, try a mantra. I have a little mantra in French I say before speaking and before walking into rooms with strangers. At the same time I imagine the Three Musketeers when they say their motto of “one for all and all for one” and raise their swords. If they can do it, so I can I.

5. Before you start, distract yourself. Having a quick chat with someone before I start helps me forget I’m about to speak, and therefore seems to help keep nerves at bay. If you don’t feel like waiting in the room while everyone comes in, no one is forcing you to be there – go elsewhere.

6. Check out the room first. And decide where you’ll stand/sit (if you have a choice). If you’re the only speaker, and you want the furniture rearranged – do it! For imformal talks I like sitting on tables combined with a bit of walking around. I don’t like being stuck sat down behind a desk. But if being behind the desk/lecturn makes you feel better, do it.

7. Dress cleverly and comfortably. Authors are supposed to be creative individuals and therefore, you can wear what you want, but I’d suggest wearing something with a bit of flair and colour because being all in dark, drab colours is draining on most people and will mean that your audience looks only at your face. Distracting them with a wonderful jacket, piece of jewellery or high-heels, will take the pressure off a bit.

8. Work towards being warm, inclusive and use open body language. All my nerves go once I know I’ve bonded with my audience. This is because I know they’ll forgive me if I do say something stupid or mediocre after that.

9. Decide whether you want to be interupted with questions or have them at the end. I like being interupted with questions, as this helps me with point 8, but if I have a short slot and a lot to cover, I’d leave questions to the end as that is better than being distracted into losing too much time and then having to rush and/or cut valuable material. I would recommend, until you are used to dealing with questions so that they can no longer throw you, having them at the end.

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Pack is back

Scott Pack is back blogging and reveals what was behind his sudden disappearance.

If you have not come across Scott Pack, you obviously don’t follow the UK book trade, and if you’re a UK author serious about having a career in this trade, you probably should do some reading about what’s going on in the newspapers, trade magazines and blogs. Multiple magazine subscriptions are indeed expensive so if you can only manage one I’d recommend The Author, which always covers any book trade news with potential impact on authors in an intelligent and informative way. The Author is the Society of Authors‘ magazine.

Any international recommendations for required reading for authors – please comment below.

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Tuesday tips 14

Got a tip?

Email me.

Planning. Don’t plan one author gig (today: workshop to creative writing students) after another (tomorrow: talk to writers’ circle about romantic fiction), both of which need preparation time, with a full day of work sandwiched in between, and combine with the delusion that you’ll have time to write up some Tuesday tips for your book marketing blog.

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Sunday interview: Roger Morris

Be realistic in your expectations, says UK crime author Roger Morris whose first novel, Taking Comfort, was published by Macmillan New Writing last year. Roger Morris has a marketing background and used his experience to promote his own book. (Like me!) He blogs at Roger’s Plog.

1. What marketing did Macmillan do?

Aside from sending out a lot of review copies, there were a number of specific things. Because my book has something of a marketing theme. Macmillan came up with the idea of writing to people in the marketing departments of big companies. A direct marketing campaign, in other words. Also the novel starts at Highgate Tube Station, so they produced and distributed a flyer which was handed out to commuters one morning. They also produced glossy postcards for me to send out to friends and acquaintances which my wife Rachel has been active about distributing. They arranged a number of interviews with local papers. Online the Macmillan New Writing website is an important marketing presence, but Macmillan also decided to film ‘author talks’ which were put on our amazon pages. Generally they have been very receptive to ideas, such as the flyer which was my idea.

2. What kinds of marketing have you done as an author?

I started my blog before publication and have used that to help spread the word in advance. I’ve now branched out into MySpace and have a more conventional website for the book. I also made a trailer for the book which I’ve put on a number of hosting sites. I also filmed a ‘virtual reading’ which is on MySpace. I had always been surprised when people actually bought the book after readings so I thought that putting one on the web would be a good way of reaching more people and spreading that effect.

3. What essential things about marketing did you wish you’d known from the start?

I come from a marketing background. My day job is as a copywriter and I have actually worked (freelance) for publishers in a marketing capacity in the past. So I always knew it would be hard. I think that you have to make the most of everything you do. Sometimes the story is not the book, which is annoying in a way. It may be the trailer or the virtual reading. Thing is a lot of people have books out – what journalists are looking for is a bit of a story. Something that distinguishes you from the mass of other authors.

4. What marketing diffculties did you face?

It was always said that Macmillan would not spend a fortune on marketing – but then again I think that’s rare for any publisher. The six of us who were the imprint’s launch titles probably benefited and suffered equally from the attention that was on the imprint as a whole. The broadsheets [upmarket UK newspapers] took a bit of a snooty view of the whole thing and tended to review the books all together. I only got one solus review and that was the Glasgow Herald and I was very pleased with it. The literary blogger reviews have been a different matter. Rather than concentrating only on the business model of the imprint, there was more of a focus on what the books had to offer readers.

5. What did you learn during your experiences of trying to market your books?

I’ve learnt that I am a shameless self-promoter. On a serious note, I wonder if all this effort might backfire and actually make certain readers dismiss the book. “Oh, he’s just a marketing person, not a writer.” I am a writer who happened to fall into marketing. Why shouldn’t I use some of the things I’ve learned along the way to promote the one product I’ve produced myself?

6. What is the most successful piece of marketing you’ve done?

My blog and being part of the online writing community through various writers’ websites. The blog has brought me to the attention of some influential literary bloggers, like fictionbitch and crimeficreader, who have both reviewed my book favourably. Despite having to buy their own copies!

7. What marketing advice would give for authors thinking about being published by a scheme like Macmillan’s?

Be realistic in your expectations. But be proactive too. Try and think laterally – what is your book about? Who is likely to read it? What innovative ways are there to reach that potential audience that don’t necessarily cost a fortune?

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Author gigs are an investment

Last night at a local business ladies evening, which I was attending as Kate Allan, director of Red Wave Communications, I met a lady who said to me straight off, “Oh, I know you! You write books! Yes, you gave that talk at the Town Hall.” I did, and it was about a year ago, and I had to confess that I was also, Kate Allan, author, and I told the group a little about my novels.

Also yesterday I was speaking to a director of a literature festival. “The problem authors don’t realise is,” he said, “that unless you’re a brand name author, you’re not going to pack a theatre out. But then, when we put them in the library and 20 people turn up – the authors complain, saying, you put me in the library and therefore only 20 people came along. But had we scheduled them in the theatre, they’d still have only got an audience of 20.”

My point is: yes, you’ve devoted a day of your life (with travel) to that event where *only* 20 people showed up, sure, but in the music industry, small-venue gigs are a recognised route which work successfully for many bands to garner a fan base. The fact is that many readers enjoy meeting authors, and having an audience of 20 allows that event to be intimate.

You should be thinking of events as investments, investments which can pay dividends.

Dividend 1 – there is an opportunity to earn money from appearances

Dividend 2 – you’ll sell some books there and then

Dividend 3 – some from the audience will see your book later or look it up later and buy it

Dividend 4 – some will actually read your book, like it and perhaps tell friends

Dividend 5 – years later some will still remember the event

Dividend 6 – years later some will be looking out for your next book, and will buy it

Dividend 7 – some may recommend you to another speaking opportunity

Part of getting your book out there, is you, the author, getting out and talking to people face to face about it. Formally and informally. Nearly all authors I work with tell me that they feel shy/ nervous/ uncomfortable/ scared of giving talks and readings. This is normal. I’ll post some tips on overcoming nervousness, and also on public speaking and how to get your author gigs in the first place.

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Self-publishing, a publicist’s perspective

I often get calls enquiring about my publicity services from self-published authors.

Usually, these calls come too late. The author has gone down the self-publishing route, produced a book, tried to market it, and has reached the point where they are despairing what to do about the hundreds (or sometimes thousands) of copies sitting unsold in the garage. These calls break my heart, not just because they represent broken dreams (and probably bank balances), but often there is a great book inside the whole project simply dying to get out. And it’s simply too late.

Yes, it seems a good idea at that point to make the call for some outside help, and I have successfully worked with self-published authors and will continue to do so but the whole offer must be right. The book must be properly edited. The cover and production quality must be up to a standard where book retailers would be prepared to stock it. The price must be reasonably competitive. Yes, as a self-publisher the economics of bookselling mean you’re unlikely to be able to produce a B format paperback with a recommended retail price of £6.99. So, be clever and choose instead trade paperback at £9.99.

Book marketing starts a long time before a book is finished, and unless you are planning a very specialist non-fiction book, or a title you intend to literally hand-sell every copy yourself, decisions like title, cover, distribution, recommended retail price should only be taken after you’ve done your market research.

So while I have kick-started success for self-published titles post-production, I’m much more likely to be able to help you if you call me before all systems are go.

I had a call from a self-published author about a B format paperback, printed on exceptionally heavy paper, with a retail price of £15.99. Worse than that, the novel was actually funny and the author could write. But the cover was completely, utterly wrong.

Another self-published book I was sent to take a look at had a lovely, attention grabbing cover and good enough production quality. The subject-matter was unusual and also the author’s own background. I was concerned about the title, but was quite excited nonetheless that it was a book I could do something with. Until I opened it. It had not been edited, let alone copy-edited. Howling spelling and spacing errors jumped off the page. I couldn’t read it, and the author could not at that stage afford to correct the problem.

The bottom line is this: self-publishing is expensive, risky and unlikely to make you much (if any) money anyway. If you are thinking about it, put your vanity/author ego to one side, do your research and write yourself a business plan, just as you would were it any other business venture. If you’re unsure about about any part of it, get advice. I’m always happy to look at self-publishing proposals and business plans and one the services I can do for you in advance is provide you a tailored book marketing plan with my realistic suggestions, based on experience, of how you might best market and publicise your book.

There is an excellent article on self-publishing from Simon Haynes, author of Hal Spacejock. (Thank you to Grumpy Old Bookman for the heads up).

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