Friday, 24 July 2015

"Published? Wow! Now you're really living! Aren't you?"

My agent has a wiser and cooler head than me. When he told me I had interest in my debut novel The Damned from the publisher Duckworth Overlook, he slipped the news into an email, the fourth item down, as a hidden rather understated line.

It was probably the best way to tell me. Otherwise I might have done something stupid like run naked through the village screaming the news from the top of my voice. Well, after you've wanted something for 20 odd years, you'll celebrate in whatever way you can when your plans finally come to fruition.

The publishing world is a very cool, understated place, in every sense. From my experience to date, books attract good-hearted, considerate, methodical individuals, who are most usually a pleasure to be around.

Literary professionals dress understated and cool, probably entirely unintentionally but that's because they don't need to try to be cool. They are just intrinsically chilled, laid back, and have a natural penchant for style and verve in all its many guises.

(Don't worry, this blog does have teeth - it's not a diatribe for how wonderful the world of publishing is.)

So it's easy sometimes to forget that publishing is a business, just like any other. You have budgets, and you have timescales, targets and expectations. For a debut author, with your dreams of setting the world on fire with your explosive new work, you quickly realise that if you're going to turn this crackling flame into a raging inferno, you need to pour a lot of kerosene onto the flames yourself - kerosene that you have bought. Because unless you are literary royalty, you're not going to get any special treatment. And if you are literary royalty, you probably don't need special treatment because your armies of fans will buy your book anyway. Go figure - and see 'Go Set of Watchmen'.

After I secured a deal with my publisher, I was warned by friends who had friends who'd been published to prepare to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty. I was told that when you get published, the hard work really begins. I knew they were probably right, but I didn't know how right they were.

The backing of a recognised and highly regarded publisher certainly helps a debut author (helps any author), but it's not a clincher. It helps to get your book into the hands of some reviewers, gets your phone number onto the contact list of a few interviewers, gives your book an initial boost and a certain gravitas - which lasts precisely two weeks. After that, get ready to get dirty.

It's you and your name which makes the waves, and if you're a first time author, you're usually in a tiny boat making very small ones. And to fashion yourself a bigger boat to make bigger waves which shake the buying public, it falls to you to market yourself beyond what the publisher has budgeted to do. As I said, publishing is a business and there's only so much in the pot to spend on each author - and how much the publisher is willing to pay to market the author comes down to a myriad of different things, but mainly if they think the book will sell and sell well.

After all, it's a business and you invest in something if you expect a return.

This means that if you want your book to fly off the shelves, or turn Amazon's servers hot with the number of ebooks being downloaded, you have to do everything you can to get your book seen and bought.

I've treated the entire process as if I am self-publishing, going after interviews (hard), speaking to influential people who are the opinion formers (harder still), talking to the press (impossible), and staying very active online - Facebook, Twitter, this blog, my own web site. You have to wine and dine, luxuriate and charm, you have seek people out, use your contacts, put together social media campaigns, all of which means PAYING for things yourself. It really helps having a well recognised and respected publisher like Duckworth backing you, but it's still a difficult and costly business to promote a book, which is why publishers can only do so much.

There's currently a campaign running in social media I myself have put together and paid for out of my own pocket. I'm happy to do so. It's something that needs to be done. I need to get my book's cover in front of people. I need to get people to recognise its name (The Damned). I also know that I will lose money with this campaign. I can see how much each click through to Amazon is costing me and even if every person buys the book when they click through to it (unlikely), I'm still losing money! But it's about getting your book out there in front of people. It's about visibility, jumping up and down and making people aware you exist. You have to do what you can, where you can, to give you and your book half a chance of becoming a hit and the only way to do that is to make people sit up and take note.

Perhaps running naked through the village is not such a bad idea after all?

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