The Ten Commandments of Writing #9: Thou Shalt Not Be Afraid to Pimp

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Writers are, by nature, solitary creatures. We are not comfortable in crowds. So it’s sadly ironic than nowadays we are expected more and more to get involved in marketing our books. To be expected to do readings and interviews. Most writers tremble in fear at the thought of facing a crowd of people.

The days of the writer holing themselves up in their garrett writing, never seen by the public, while the publisher’s minions run around selling books for them, are, by and large, over. Unless you land a deal with one of the major commercial publishers who have a publicity department – and even then you’ll have to turn up to signings and promotional events they arrange – you will be expected to play a proactive role in marketing. So, set aside your fear of being the centre of attention and get used to pimping yourself.

Every writer should have, at the very least, a blog, a web page and a Twitter account. Many people assume there’s no point in setting up social media accounts until they’ve got a publisher, but there is an argument for getting yourself out there and setting up accounts before you’re published, and at least by the time you’ve got something to sell you’ve built up a following of people who may be willing to go out and buy your book.

None of these things have to cost any money. You can set up a blog on Blogger or WordPress in a matter of minutes, just by choosing a template. There are several free templates available for websites too, that don’t require any programming skills (the one I use is Weebly). Set up a Twitter account and start Tweeting about things that interest you, using hashtags to connect with people who have similar interests. Never underestimate what aspects of your life that you take for granted someone else will find interesting. I take the train into London every day and shuffle around the capital with thousands of fellow commuters, and I’m half asleep when I do it. But occasionally I am reminded that to people that don’t live in London, this is an endlessly fascinating city.

As a writer you obviously want to talk about your writing, but don’t be that person that only ever Tweets ‘buy my book’ because that turns people off really fast.

My most important piece of advice for when you are published? Get yourself some business cards, with your name, your website, an email address and if possible, an image of your book cover. Take them with you everywhere you go, because you never know who you will meet. I have handed business cards out to people on mountains in Peru, and in deserts in Arizona. Every time I get chatting to strangers when I’m on holiday, if I have cause to mention I’m a writer, and the person replies, sounding interested, “oh, what do you write?” I will hand them a business card.

And I learned this lesson the hard way. In 2010, just after the first book came out, I went to the Horror Con in Brighton. I’d packed postcards, and business cards, but we headed down on the train after work, and when we reached the hotel we discovered there was a party in a bar on the pier, which had already started, so we dumped our luggage in the room and headed straight there. Then we discovered it was a free bar, so of course that’s where everybody was. And I had so many occasions to hand out my cards and tell people all about my new book, but they were all back in the hotel room. I’ve never made that mistake since.

Once you’ve got that book deal, there are other things you can do to promote yourself. Host guest posts on your blog site featuring other writers, and get them to host you on their site. It’s mutually beneficial to both host and guest, and it doesn’t cost anything to do it. Go to conventions – as many as you can afford – to meet up with other writers, readers and publishers in your genre. When the call for panels goes out, volunteer for one. Most calls for panel volunteers also ask you to list what sort of panels you want to see, so think realistically about what you could feasibly talk about. Short fiction? Cross-genre fiction? Independent publishing? The road to publication (no matter how far along it you are)? Throw out any ideas you can – you never know what might inspire the panel organisers.

You should also try contacting your local paper and your local book shops to see if they are interested in promoting you, but this is very hit and miss. I had some success with the former, but if you’re with a Print On Demand (POD) publisher, getting your book into book shops entirely depends on the shop’s buying policy. I have found that in the UK, a lot of book shops aren’t interested in taking anything they can’t buy on a Sale or Return basis, and that’s generally not possible with POD. But still, it doesn’t hurt to ask. You might discover that the manager of your local bookshop is an advocate for small presses and is agreeable to organising a signing with you.

In short, do what you can to pimp yourself, when you can. And there will be times when it all seems like a great deal of effort, and when the royalty statement comes in and you haven’t sold much, you will wonder why you bother. But marketing is all part of the process of being a writer, and it’s something that we all have to participate in to a certain degree, no matter how disagreeable it might be.

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