The Fine Art Of Book Promotion

Hooray, finally, it’s out!  Our short story collection – LOVE, LIES AND OTHER DECEPTIONS – is for sale on Amazon, birthed perhaps with more of a raspy mumble than a shout.  Oh, we’ve mentioned it in our newsletters, blog posts, blasted a multitude of tweets on Twitter, posted the news on our personal and professional Facebook pages and offered it at a special launch price of 99 cents.  Our review team has received advance copies and so far we’ve garnished five reviews, happily all 5 star.  And so off goes another book baby into the big wide world.

Which begs the question – how do you get your book noticed? When our first novel, How To Survive Your Sisters, was launched by Arrow, the publicity department handled everything, arranged radio interviews and a Daily Express two-page spread.  We had a brief glorious taste of the celebrity author life, flowers from editor and agent, champagne launch parties. We sat outside Waterstones signing copies as Lorraine’s American (and born salesman) husband, Gary, dragged unsuspecting passers-by over to our little table.  Alas, the whole thing coincided with the stock market crash and despite good reviews, our sales, although respectable, could hardly compete with the massive despondency that hit the publishing world that year.

Our third novel Looking For La La was also our first self-publishing venture.  Boy, were we innocents!  It was only when our agent asked us where were the reviews, where were the blog posts, that we realized we had to take control of our destiny.  Luckily that book had an interesting back-story, based on a lipstick-imprinted anonymous love postcard Pam’s husband received through the mail and which Pam, like any dedicated author, had promptly used as inspiration for a murder mystery. We contacted all the chicklit sites and started a whirl of interviews and blog posts.  We also put ‘La La’ out on free, joined a zillion Facebook ‘free novel’ sites, redid our web page, started developing a Twitter following. Our previously undiscovered novel shot up the Amazon charts and we became much more media savvy, not to mention befriending some wonderful bloggers who still support us today.

Recently though we’ve been questioning which efforts produce results and which aren’t worth the time. Does anyone pay attention to those ‘free book’ Facebook groups except for other authors hoping to promote? We don’t think so. Is it really worth paying for any promotions, except, of course, for the highly-competitive Bookbub? Some things you do because they’re fun, like Lorraine’s party for a hundred plus friends to launch To Catch A Creeper, where everyone dressed up as cat burglars and had a whoopee good time, although with all the alcohol consumed, not too many remembered to buy the book. Professional book tours provided a hell of a lot of action but also a lot of work, writing endless original and witty copy. And when sandwiched between a YA vampire story and a slice of steamy erotica, you have to question if the audience you’re reaching is the one you want!

Still we can all agree that promotion is important and glowing reviews most important of all. But how to get them? We just finished a free stint of our novel Million Dollar Question with over 20,000 downloads.  Will that lead to a jump in sales now that it’s back at full price?  Or a slew of new readers?  When we find out, we’ll let you know.

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‘My next book’ – all three of them

Question: which of these statements is true?

Answer: they all are.

How can that be? Because what constitutes ‘my next book’ depends upon the context of the conversation.

  • Just for the Holidays – ‘is my next book to be published’. (18 May 2017 in ebook, paperback and audio, if you’re interested. And you can order it here.) This is also the next book to be promoted, which will involve me in writing blog posts, social media, radio interviews etc.
  • Give Me Till Christmas – ‘I’ve just sent my next book to my editor’. (9 October 2017 in ebook, 2 November paperback, audio tba. I was a little shocked to be told last week that you can order this, too.) This will be the next book to be edited. Structural edits first (ironing out all the plot lines that aren’t quite working etc.); next come line edits (minutiae and punctuation etc.); finally the proofreading.
  • The Summer of Finding Out – ‘I’m just about to begin researching and planning my next book.’ (Scheduled for Summer 2018) This will be the next book to be written, in between the promo of Just for the Holidays and the editing of Give Me Till Christmas.

In case you’re wondering, I am no special case. Many novelists work in this way. Personally, I love it. I choose to see it not as a pressure but as an affirmation that I’m a commercially published author. I don’t groan when I’m asked to do promo because whoever has asked me is helping me to sell my books. I don’t go into a huff when I receive my editorial notes, line edits or proofreading because we’re all working to produce the best book I can. (That sentence is grammatically incorrect on purpose – a team works to produce my book. How cool is that?)

Lest you think I’m polishing my halo, there are things I don’t react well to – spurious interruptions, people wasting my time unnecessarily, unreasonable people etc. etc. Here’s a recent example:

Phone rings. I answer. It’s the bank, asking to speak to another member of my household, one who is out of the house during the working day. This is the fifth time in two days that they’ve called with the same request. The first four times, I pointed out politely that the person is not here because he doesn’t work here but I do. Please, could the bank stop these calls? They’re interrupting me. On the fifth occasion, I’m half way through a difficult scene and my temper snaps along with the thread of what I’m trying to write. I find myself rising vertically from my chair. ‘Look! I keep telling you that he doesn’t work here! I DO! Look in your records for his daytime number and RING HIM THERE! It’s DAYTIME! I’ve told you and told you and told you this and you persist in interrupting me! I’m self-employed and I’m TRYING TO DO MY JOB! Why don’t you GO AWAY AND DO YOURS? And if you’re stupid enough to ring here again with the same request I’m going to take all my money out of your bank and put it somewhere else. Plus, I’m going to speak to your supervisor and tell him or her that you’re stupid! Right?’

And, you know what, she didn’t ring back and I was able to get on with my next book.

Putting the ‘commercial’ into commercial fiction

Take two novels: each has lively, interesting characters, each is well written. Each has a theme – let’s say, a love triangle. Each explores the strengths and weaknesses, desires and motivations of the main characters. Yet one is described as ‘literary’, the other as ‘commercial’.

What underpins that distinction?

A year or so ago, a friend urged me to read Jonathan Franzen’s hugely lauded book, Freedom, which I listened to on audio. It was, at heart, about a love triangle. It was very long, extremely well written in the sense that the prose was admirable and his exploration of character profound, yet it seemed to me to amble through various people’s lives and come to no very interesting conclusion. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t either like or care about any of the characters and at the end of the book I was left thinking, ‘Why?’.

Read a great thriller, action novel, romance, sci-fi or any other genre novel, and your reaction is likely to be very different. The characters will leap off the page and into your heart, and whatever situation the author has set up for them to face, you are likely to will them to find the Holy Grail, escape the hit squad, marry the hero, get to Mars and back, or whatever. And you probably won’t stop reading until they’ve succeeded. It’s called PTQ, or Page Turning Quality. (More people like to be entertained in this way, incidentally, than tackle ‘deeper’ but less highly paced prose – that’s why genre fiction is described as ‘commercial’.)

What underpins the difference?

literary novel structure

My diagram a bit simplistic, but this is a basic representation of the structure of a literary novel. Events more or less flatline until near the end, where the author takes us either to a happy resolution or something either sadder or more ambiguous. In between, hopefully, you will be bewitched by magnificent prose, get deeply acquainted with the main characters, revel in glorious settings and more.

By contrast, here’s what the structure of a ‘commercial’ novel looks like:

commercial plot graph

Again, this is very simplified, but you can at once see the difference. Tension drives the action forward to ‘the darkest moment’. There will be many setbacks along the way, but the narrative thrust will be clear – we will know what the hero or heroine is desperate to get, and will take the journey to their goal with them, along all the ups and downs. The ending doesn’t need to be happy, but it does need to be satisfying.

Most readers won’t analyse books in this way, of course – they just know what they like!

What do you think makes a book special?

 

You are invited to a wedding

I am so in love with this cover.

I’m really excited to  invite you all to a wedding in Coorah Creek. Wedding Bells by the Creek is the fifth book on my Coorah Creek series.

Isn’t the cover just lovely? It really captures the spirit of the book.

The novella picks up the story of The Creek and its residents after the events in Little Girl Lost – the book that won the Romantic Novel of the year Award for an Epic Romance. I realised there had yet to be a wedding in The Creek – and what is better than a Spring wedding?

Here’s the blurb….

How do you forgive what you can never forget?
Helen Walsh has never stopped searching for the daughter who ran away from home when she was just fifteen. Now, her daughter has found her. Face to face with the woman her child has become, Helen longs to be forgiven for her mistakes.
Ed Collins has walked Helen’s path, and he knows that she needs more than her daughter’s forgiveness. He would help her if he could.
Ed’s wife Stephanie returns – thirteen years after she deserted Ed and their young son. Now Ed is being asked to forgive. Steph was his first and only love… but are some things impossible to forgive?
In the tiny outback town of Coorah Creek, secrets are hard to keep.
What will happen when Ed learns the truth about his wife?
And as Helen plans her daughter’s wedding, dare she dream of her own?

I’m so please to send this story out into the world. It’s available for pre-order now, and will be officially released on May 2nd.

Clichés

As writers we know we must avoid clichés ‘like the plague’ and make sure we come up with exciting new ways to describe the heroine’s ‘peaches and cream’ complexion and the hero’s ‘rugged good looks’.

It was ‘the longest journey starts with a single step’ which set me off. It was how someone had begun his memoir. He had asked me to read and critique it. What he really meant was for me to read his work and tell him it was wonderful but by the time I’d underlined a dozen clichéd expressions in the first few pages I couldn’t oblige. He had had some amazing and exciting life experiences, which would make for a terrific memoir but he’d somehow reduced most of it to clichés and stereotyped descriptions. Every time he referred to his mother, he called her ‘me dear ol’ mum’. Every single time.

When we discussed his manuscript a couple of things became clear. One, he didn’t understand the concept of a cliché and two, even after I had explained, he was still not going to change that opening line for anyone – it said exactly what he wanted to say. That’s the thing about clichés, isn’t it? What once was an original, clever, telling expression becomes a kind of shorthand, the meaning of which everyone understands having heard it or read it countless times.

A dictionary definition: A cliché is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning, or effect, and even, to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.

Salvador Dali said: “The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.”  A clever statement – but not original. Dali swiped it (tweaking it slightly) from a French poet, Gérard de Nerval who said it first.

The expression, in its original form, ‘a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’, is attributed to Lau Tzu, Chinese philosopher and father of Taoism. It would have been considered a clever analogy then, now in the context of my would-be memoirist’s beginning it seems lame and unoriginal. I wonder what Lau Tzu would think if he knew how his comment is used – overused – today.

I wonder if any of us will ‘coin a phrase’ so fresh and clever and original it will be used by other writers for years to come.

I discovered (Wikipedia and other online dictionaries) the word cliché comes from the French word for a printing plate cast from movable type – which is also called a stereotype. When letters were set one at a time, it made sense to cast a phrase used repeatedly, as a single slug of metal. Cliché came to mean such a ready-made phrase.

And have a look at this wonderful site which lists hundreds of clichés and over-used expressions. http://suspense.net/whitefish/cliche.htm I love the comment regarding clichés in the intro to the collection: ‘They make for great book titles, but lousy writing’.

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Image courtesy of Pixaby

Which ones ‘set your teeth on edge’?