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Category: Confessions of a First-Time Novelist

  1. Chapter 13: Blog Tours - What's the point?

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    Last weekend my debut novel completed its very first Blog Tour - a 3-Day Blitz organised by Rachel's Random Resources. I wasn't sure what to expect, I didn't know much about the book blogging community, but I thought I would give it a go. Today, after a whirlwind weekend of sharing, tagging and 'liking' I have my thoughts on the validity and outcome of putting my precious work out there via this relatively new form of marketing. Authors take note, especially independent ones...
       First: Book bloggers are true champions of literature. Read that again and repeat it out loud! None of the bloggers on this tour got paid, so they are free to review with honesty. Be glad of that. They love books. That's why they do it. If they love your book, be proud and share that review. If they didn't love it, listen to the reasons they give, take it on the chin and be grateful for a review that's honest. Let's face it, friends and family will love everything you do...unless you have some family issues! I was extremely chuffed to have received one 3 star review (which was actually brilliant and very well considered) and all the rest were 4 and 5 stars. All the reviewers had clearly taken a lot of time and trouble to read the book, think about it and write down what they thought. If you don't want people to be honest, and if you don't appreciate that reading and reviewing takes time and effort, DON'T bother doing a blog tour.
        Second: Nothing is guaranteed by the good Blog Tour organisers. If they can't find anyone to blog about your book, that's not their fault (and you will probably get all or most of your money back anyway). The minimum that bloggers on a tour are required to do is either review your book, host you as a guest on their blog or simply promote it, depending on what has been agreed in advance. Often a blogger will do more. They might copy and share the review on Goodreads, social media or on a retail website where readers can buy your book. This is an extra generosity on the part of the bloggers. They don't have to do this. If they do, why not take the time and trouble to 'like' or say 'thank you' where you can? But if you're expecting each blogger to share their post on every social and retail platform and, essentially, do your advertising and marketing for you, DON'T bother doing a blog tour.
        Third: If you're only interested in measuring things in terms of book sales, DON'T bother doing a blog tour. The chances are you'll be disappointed, at least initially. I haven't noticed sales jumping, but I have noticed lots more people marking my book as 'To read' on Goodreads, who probably wouldn't have heard of it at all without those bloggers.  The purpose of a blog tour is to get people reading and talking about your work. All independent authors out there know how difficult it is to get books beyond their immediate vicinity and out into the big, wide world. Blog tours are essentially global...because they're on the interweb! On Saturday a famous Hollywood actor 'liked' a review that a blogger on the tour had posted on Twitter. Now, I'm sure nothing will come of it, but I was pretty chuffed all the same!
        Fourth: Don't forget that book bloggers have lives too and, as difficult as this might be to take, your book is not as important to them as it is to you....I'm sorry you had to hear that! If a blog post you expected is late, or doesn't turn up at all, or is only 1 star when you expected 5, don't start stalking the blogger or giving them a hard time. If their post doesn't show up at all, contact the Blog Tour organiser rather than getting nasty with a blogger, who is actually doing this voluntarily. The chances are they have a very good reason for not being able to post so give them the benefit of the doubt. So, if you can't accept that bloggers' time is as valuable as your own, DON'T bother doing a blog'll only annoy them!
        Fifth: Now, I can't prove this with hard facts, but I can take a good guess at how many hours my Blog Tour organiser spent on my tour, including all the organisation beforehand, putting together a banner, co-ordinating 30 bloggers and 1 Blog Tour virgin author, sharing and tweeting and re-tweeting all the blogger posts, while being patient and friendly with me the whole time. If my hourly wage rate guess is correct, all I can tell you is that this 3-Day Blitz was extraordinarly good value for money. I've compared prices with other recommended Blog Tour organisers and, if they work as hard as mine did, they're all amazing value for money. The reviews and coverage I got this weekend were worth far more than I paid. So, if you're looking for something for nothing, i.e., you believe that Blog Tour organisers should do it for love, DON'T bother doing a blog tour.
        Sixth: If you've read all this and have decided to throw caution to the wind and go for it yourself, do remember to do your research and find a Blog Tour organiser that's right for you. Some might specialise in certain genres (if they say this, they mean it!), other have different packages available depending on what you need. Most importantly, ask around, read the testimonials on the websites (they're true - I know, because I wrote one!) and listen to the recommendations of friends. I might not be your friend, but I can heartily recommend Rachel Gilbey at Rachel's Random Resources, who organised my blog tour with impeccable professionalism. I also know authors who have recommended Anne Cater at Random Things Through My Letterbox. Both ladies offer different packages to suit your needs, and they both love books as much as you do, so that's two places you can start. 
        Am I glad I did it? Yes, I am.
        Would I do it again? Yes, I would.
        Is there any point in doing a Blog Tour? (...I think you know where this is going!) Yes, I really believe there is.

  2. Chapter 12: It's oh so quiet!

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    When it's all gone quiet, I'm thinking about writing. When it's all gone really quiet, I'm writing. When it's all gone really, really quiet - I'm asleep! At the moment I'm just over 30,000 words into novel number two, and that's why I've gone really quiet. It's the novel version of one of my theatre plays, and it's really interesting (and a little bit tricky) to take a piece of theatre and write it as prose. The two 'disciplines' (that word is deliberately in quotes, because I don't have much of it!) are completely different and it feels like I'm meeting the characters for the first time, and it's fascinating to discover more about their lives. Just thought I'd let you know where I've been. Now, back to the writing - shhhh!

  3. Chapter 11: Flying the nest - and the art of letting go

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    Now that novel number one (Sleeping Through War) has flown the nest, I find myself musing on thoughts of possession and freedom. The feeling of creating anything - a book, a song, a knitted scarf - is absorbing and exhilirating, but when it's finished I realise how important it is to let it go. Only that way will our creations have a chance to live, although nothing is ever guaranteed of course. The alternative is to be so in love with the results of our labours that we build cages to keep them in so that we may look at them for our own satisfaction, like butterflies under glass. Sleeping Through War is complete.  I will not go back and polish or re-write. It's been released into the world to fend for itself, as all grown-up things must. It's sitting on the shelves of bookshops, it's being borrowed from public libraries, and complete strangers now have it in their hands to make of it what they will. I understand now that it's no longer mine, and mine alone. Its characters and voices are coming to life inside other people's minds and I will never know what they look like as they grow. Does it matter? Only if I choose to possess and imprison that which I created. I see that we do it with so many things: My book, my garden, my child... getting so stuck on the ownership of things that we don't notice that our lives are being owned by that which we possess. Too deep for a Thursday morning? Okay, so here's a way to free ourselves from the shackles of what we have created: Create something else! Let go of what you've done, wish it well on its journey out into the world, and make something new. And on that note, I'm 30,000 words into novel number two. Because, let's face it, the best part of it all is being in the process of creation. The end result is for others, should it be their pleasure to share it. 
    Book launch

  4. Chapter 10: From Bookseller to Book Launcher!

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    It’s fair to say that most people who work in bookshops primarily do so for one reason. It’s not for the glamour, or the adrenalin rush, and it’s certainly not for the wages! It’s because they love books. That’s it. I know, because I was a bookseller for Waterstones for almost ten years.
        In my humble opinion, booksellers are often the most over-qualified and arguably some of the most passionate people you’ll meet in retail. They know their stuff and they read an awful lot of books. If a bookseller likes a book, they will tell their customers all about it – they can’t help it! – and their recommendations will certainly help to sell your book. When you see a ‘bookseller review’ online or in store, it means they actually read it and enjoyed it; not because they’re the authors’ best friend, but because it was a good read. Customers will trust that.
         I left Waterstones a couple of years ago to pursue my writing career full-time. I must confess that I’d looked along the fiction shelves more than once to see where my novel might sit (usually between John Le Carré and Angela Carter, to my delight).  So, when I chose to publish my debut novel, Sleeping Through War, with Matador, I couldn’t imagine a better place for my first book launch than my old shop.  The manager was more than encouraging and we fixed up a date for the launch to coincide with the official publication date. We planned it together and she was as enthusiastic as I was. She’d already read Sleeping Through War after I’d dropped a copy in for her and, to my relief, she loved it! Even before the launch, Matador were ready with finished copies and the next time I popped into the shop, there it was – right next to Angela Carter!
         Planning a book launch as an author was a new experience for me. I’d worked at book launches, signings and author talks behind the scenes, but thrusting myself centre stage was pretty daunting. Where do I start? What do I say when all those eyes are looking at me? Then an American author friend of mine gave me the best advice ever about self-marketing. She said: “Don’t try to be clever. All you have to do is share your love for your book with other people.” Read that sentence again…it’s simple but it relieves stress massively.
         Think about your book, where it’s set, what the subject matter is, and plan your launch around it. Sleeping Through War is set during 1968, so I trawled the internet for images from that year because I wanted a context for the book that people could see when they walked in.  I found lots of amazing pictures and prepared boards around the shop, which worked really well. It brought people into the world of the story as soon as they arrived. There are three narrators in the novel, so I asked two other people to read short extracts with me, which really brought the words to life. I’ve been a playwright and theatre director for some years, so it was natural for me to want to ‘animate’ the words with real people.
         At 6pm the doors opened and both friends and strangers started to arrive. Even more people than I expected. I’d made posters for the event, had bookmarks printed that people could take away with them, publicised the event on social media and local radio, and it worked. After all, you only get out what you put in, like everything else in life. We had glasses of wine and nibbles ready, and somebody even made delicious, book-themed cupcakes. After a short introduction, some readings and time for a couple of questions, people actually started buying the book and I happily signed copy after copy. The atmosphere was relaxed, people were happy and I was in my element; surrounded by books.
         One person that I’d never met before told me that she’d come along because she saw it advertised on Waterstones’ facebook page. She said she’d made a bucket list and ‘going to a book launch’ was on it. She’d never been to one before but enjoyed it so much that she planned to go to many more. And that’s what it’s all about. Book launches should be enjoyable, interesting and, above all, inspiring. They should inspire readers to read and writers to write.
         Of course, a bookshop is not the only place to hold a book launch. What about an autobiography at your old school; a book about fishing by a riverbank; a historical novel in a museum…? You can be as inventive as you like. However, for an old bookseller like me, there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a pile of my paperbacks in a bookshop.
         So, next time you’re in a bookshop, look along the shelves to find where your book might be sitting one day. It can happen.

    Book launch