Friday, August 28, 2009

How to publicise your novel

How to publicize your novel is a question most writers don’t start to worry about until the event is upon them. Let’s face it – there have been too many other things on our minds till then. Like writing the darned thing, finding an agent and getting an editor to be your new best friend. Important stuff. Publicity can wait.

But your publisher has been thinking about the selling of your book from the moment they read the drop-dead-brilliant opening lines: Where will this sit in the bookshop? What commercially successful titles is it similar to? Can I sell the book? Can I sell the author?

The hard truth of being a writer today is this: more books are being written than ever before, more titles are being published than at any time in history, but sales are not increasing. You do the maths.

Perhaps we should be thinking about publicity after all.

So here are some of the best known shortcuts to getting column inches and getting people talking about (and hopefully deciding to buy) your novel.

1) Have had a career as a journalist and therefore have lots of favours you can call in.

2) Be good friends with the author in-crowd so they will give you quotes to put on the back of your book and perhaps even write a review for the newspaper.

3) Be a celebrity. Or date a celebrity. Or get a celebrity to take out a restraining order against you. Or any combination of the above. (Or almost any other sentence that contains the word ‘celebrity’)

And if none of the above apply, how about these:

1) Put in time working with the local media. Keep knocking on their doors. Always say yes to their requests, even if they want you in the radio station to review the papers at 7am and won’t pay your bus fare. (Or be writer in residence in the local bus station for the morning).

2) Put time in working with the libraries and librarians in your region. Readers group after readers group. Year after year. These are your friends.

3) Over-prepare for every presentation. Even if you are giving away your time for free. If the local radio station has invited you in for 5 minutes of comment on the recent spate of fly-tipping, spend hours preparing, researching, rehearsing. Always shine.

4) If your novel wins something in a competition – even if it some small, local affair - start referring to it as an award winning novel. Keep honing and updating your biography.

5) Network with other writers, performers and artists. Go to their launch events. Be generous with your friendship. Support them and they will hopefully support you. And even if they don’t, it should be a pleasure.

6) Make each thing you write better than the last.

7) Have a website so people can find you when they need to.

8) And, yes, keep a blog.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sebastian Faulks, Dan Brown and Publicists

What do Dan Brown and Sebastian Faulks have in common? Perhaps a better question would be what do their publicists have in common? Happiness, I suggest. More column inches than you can shake a stick at. And all for free.

Dan Brown managed to inflame large portions of the worldwide Christian community through suggestions in his book The Da Vinci Code. The story is gripping enough but the prose is ropey and large parts of it seem unedited. If its ideological opponents had just kept their mouths closed it would have been forgotten within a couple of years. But the call of publicity proved too tempting. How many column inches were devoted to the argument? I would hazard a guess that it was many times that which was devoted to, for example, malaria. But then, no one is arguing about malaria. It kills between one and three million people a year. What’s to say?

Sebastian Faulks an experienced journalist himself, knows a thing or two about the workings of the newspaper industry. He must have had a fairly shrewd idea of what would happen when he just happened to mention to a journalist that he’d read the Quran and found it: “a depressing book” and “the rantings of a schizophrenic” and “very one-dimensional”.

Coincidentally, he has a new book out.

Of course, after that the papers were hungry for more coverage and he had a chance to say that he was quoted out of context and that he blamed himself really. “I am not the first and probably won’t be the last to have ruffled some feathers, though I feel sad about this, because my new novel, A week in December, is carefully researched, and, among its main characters, presents a hugely sympathetic and loving Muslim family”.

I can just imagine the publicist’s smile, that dreamy, far-away look.

So - if you are seeing signs of depression or stress in your publicist, the answer is simple. You need to stop messing around honing your prose and get down to work. Burn a flag or break an icon. Perjure yourself and go to prison. Sleep with someone famous and accidentally publish the video on Youtube.

You know it makes sense.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Writer in Residence podcast

As promised, here is the link to the BBC Radio Leicester podcast from yesterday's 'Writer in Residence' extraviganza at St Margaret's Bust Station, Leicester.

The podcast covers the whole several hours of the program. But if you want to cut to the chase, the three sections in which I was involved can be found at:




Just shift the time bar along to find these bits of the show. The final section, at 2 hours thirty-seven minutes, is the bit we did from the studio, in which I read out my composition.

Yarn Podcast 5

Here is the fifth part of the documentary YARN.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

St Margaret's Bus Station

The result of my two-hour writely residency this morning...

St Margaret's Bus Station

Stop to look
at the giant slab of the roof
bright blue
dropped between the ring road
and the dull red brick
of Sandacre and Short Street.

a high ceiling of steel beams
and concertinaed walls of glass
enclose a hall
one hundred and twenty paces end to end.

A room to wait and greet
where place names read like poetry:
Pool Meadow,
Three Pots,
Fosse Park,
St Margaret's.

Is this your drab commute
of diesel exhaust and sausage rolls
served in a greasy caff?
Or the set for Bond or Jason Bourne
to weave and dodge in hot pursuit.
Could it be a brief encounter's final scene?
A final touch
and the scent from a lover's skin.

Writer in a bus station 2

I'm back from a very interesting morning in the company of BBC Radio Leicester, during which I mooched around St Margaret's Bus Station as a kind of writer in residence - or at least a writer in transit.

My task was to produce a short descriptive piece suitable to be read out on radio. And to talk to people milling around waiting for buses. All this was relayed live via the radio car and the ever helpful presenter, Jo Hollis.

Then it was back into the radio car, through the roadworks to the radio station - and a whole side of the place I hadn't seen before. For example, did you know they have a neat turntable just inside so they can get the radio car pointing in the right direction without all that messing around with forward and reverse gears? It's like a kind of low-key Thunderbirds. And then they plug it in to the mains. The radio car, that is, not the turntable.

Writer in residence in the bus station? They need a writer in residence in the radio station. There is so much neat stuff behind the scenes.

Then onto the studio with Tony Wadsworth to chat about the experience and read out my piece. I understand they will soon have the show available to listen to via podcast. When that happens, I'll post up the link.

As to what I wrote, I'll put that up as a separate post.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Writer in a bus station

Sorry for the long absence. I have been having lots of problems connecting to the Internet this week. Thankfully with the purchase of a new wireless router and the helpful intervention of my son, we now seem to be up and running again.

And just in time to report about an interesting morning that awaits me tomorrow. I am to spend several hours at St Margaret's Bust Station in Leicester in the company of a reporter from BBC Radio Leicester. We will be interviewing people via the radio car. And after that we return to the station where I will have to read out some piece of new writing that I am expected to have composed - inspired by the place.

Nothing too long, I have been told. Not on radio. Something descriptive.

Sounds like a recipe for writers' block to me! If you are within the catchment of BBC Radio Leicester, do listen in. (I believe it can be accessed through the Internet.) But if you can't listen in live, I'll be sure to let you know how I get on.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Yarn podcast 4

I'm back from a week at the Baha'i summer school in Waterford, Ireland. Unfortunately I had limited Internet access during my time away, so the blog has been very quiet. Normal services will be resumed in the coming days.

In the meantime, here is another podcast of my documentary Yarn.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Yarn podcast 3

Here is the third installment in the YARN podcast.