Showing posts with label marketing and publicity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label marketing and publicity. Show all posts

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

DEAR CRABBIT: market the author or the book

Dear Crabbit
We had a brief Twitter exchange this evening. I asked: " Do you recommend focusing on marketing the writer...or the book? "

A bit more info: for the past 2-3 years, I've been blogging. Firstly as a way of promoting my (very) part-time coaching practice (I have a full time day job as well), and latterly as a way of promoting my writing (I've had a small paid writing gig with for the past few months).

Long story short....I now want to focus on promoting my writing. I'm going to convert my main site ( into an "author" site, and am going to set up two other blogs. One will focus on my coaching/careers/personal effectiveness writing....the other on food/health/fitness. Those are the two areas that my writing to date has tended to cluster around.

My logic (such as it is!) is that I can then promote the two blogs to their respective niche areas, backlinking to my author site (which will also have backlinks to any guest posting and article writing I do) and which will focus more on that there's scope for me to develop my writing in other directions without being tied down.

Consequently, I suspect I'll "market" my blog writing sites, and just let the author site be my online "home".
For what it's worth (and I regard myself more as an experienced bumbling opportunist than a marketing strategist,) I think you are doing the right thing. I think those of us who have several different strands to our work, with different (but sometimes overlapping) audiences, have to keep an eye on what we're doing and adapt as we go.

A year ago, I had my new website designed. My thinking was: some people will come looking for me because they've heard of my children's books (and of those, some will be looking for my brain books and others my teenage novels and yet others my younger fiction, or they may want a school event) and others will come because they've heard of my advice for writers. But I'd like each group to know about the other areas of my work. On the other hand, I want them to know exactly where they are and not struggle to find what they are looking for. So, my website has three sections - "rooms" - and all of them link to each other, except that when you're in the children's area you cannot directly get to the more grown-up area designed for writers. (Though you can get directly from the writers' area to the children's area.)

The rules I feel we (and the questioner) should follow are:
  • We need to be easy to find, when people know they want to find us. So, someone looking for Cormack's coaching should get to it immediately; ditto for someone looking for his writing. They should not have to go searching and make many clicks.
  • We should be possible to find even when people don't know they are looking for us. So, someone looking for particular coaching should ideally come across Cormack's coaching site; and when someone is looking for a writer of the sort of books he writes they should be able to find him. (This is harder to achieve and requires good SEO and google-friendly content, but good linking between sites and other sites is helpful here.)
  • When someone comes to one part of our internet presence, it should be easy for them to see that there are other parts, and to feel inclined to browse.
As to the fundamental question of marketing the writer or the book: I'm a writer. I write books. I write lots of different sorts of books but they are all me. They need me. I need them. We are undisentanglable. So, I don't see an either/or situation here.

If you are marketing your book, you are even more a part of the marketing than if a publisher markets your book. You become part of the marketing, inevitably. A lot of books are bought (or not bought) nowadays because of how a reader feels about the writer. I have absolutely no statistics for that but I feel it deeply, from anecdote and instinct. I've done it myself.

Books are not beans. They hold emotions and histories that are not explicit. Their author is somehow part of that, and this is especially true as soon as we begin to talk about our books. Those authors who wish to separate author from book and distance themselves from how their books reach and touch readers are entitled to try to do so and some will succeed more than others. But I don't believe this is what you (the questioner) want and it's not what I want.

So, books and their authors, music and its composers, art and its creators, are best considered as parts of the whole. And if an author has many separate strands of creation, those strands are, it seems to me, best given separate definition and yet strongly linked.

I don't think you can take the book out of the author or the author out of the book.

Agree? Disagree? Specific exceptions? Anything to add?

[Edited to add: although it's gone off-topic, please see the comments below for a useful discussion about fake accounts to review one's own work. This whole topic makes me feel sick. But I'm grateful to Philip for raising it, especially since there's been discussion about it ever since a certain panel on a certain crime-writing festival...]

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Publicity or spam?

I am regularly accused of not being crabbit. I do find this accusation rather offensive, but I understand the reason. Trouble is, when most people meet me I am pleased to meet them, we are drinking coffee or wine, and they are sensible and nice people, otherwise I would not have chosen to meet them. I can assure you that I am very often crabbit, especially when the people I accidentally come across are irritating, foolish, or send me emails asking me to do things which they have absolutely no right to ask me to do. In short, when people invade my extremely busy space in a mindset of ignorance and a total failure to think things through.

I feel you need an example. 

Is it my job to publicise other people's books? Does it say anywhere on my blog or website: "Do contact me at any time with details of your book or project and I'd be delighted to spend any amount of my valuable time constructing a blog piece, complete with links, just because YOU think my 'blog readers would enjoy it.'" No. Nor am I a complete idiot with nothing better to do with my time than publicise your books. Have you noticed that my blog is not a review site? Have you noticed that I do not take guest posts? Well, dear blog readers, I know you have noticed, which is why you don't send me crappy requests like this. But there are a load of people out there, including proper publicists of proper publishing companies, who do not read my blog but send me emails starting,
"Hi Nicola, I love your blog and I've got something your readers will love, too."
"Hi Nicola, I attach a press release for the forthcoming title by O. B. Scure Author. It's a wonderful collection of stories from boardrooms around the world. I know you'll love it so please download the 800-page attachment or click on this link."
Oh, hang on. You want an actual example? Certainly. Here's an actual email correspondence I had last week, with all identifying features removed. Though the publicist herself will certainly recognise it.
Hello there, [FGS don't call me "there". How many other mugs did you send this to?]
Just wanted to send this on the info (see below) about [name of book] again in case you missed it.. [Yes, I certainly missed it, because, as you well know, you never sent it. Or are you saying that the information has been plastered all over the interworld, so marvellous is your publicity-machine, and that I really ought to have seen it and be desperate for more?] We’re just sort of looking for online news pieces and features if you fancy it? ["just sort of"? What kind of writing is that? "if you fancy it"? What, like when I want a bit of fun in between the actual work that actually attempts to earn me a living? Like, you know, sort of relaxation?]
Oh and another little snippet of info, it was mostly recorded at **** Studios in North London - owned by **** of ****! [WTF are you talking about and why should I care about this? Does my blog suggest any interest in that?]
We have tonnes more information on this project so if you would like to know more please do get in touch! [No, I really really wouldn't. Besides, you are putting the burden on me. You are also spamming me.]
Here's a link to ****, an acapella piece that could very well have been performed in Shakespeare's time: [At which point I nearly spilt coffee on my Mac keyboard.]
And a five track sampler of more contempoary [sic] material, featuring the afformentioned [sic] Elizabethan instruments, including **********
Many thanks, [small omission of any recognition that I might be really busy]


Not sure why you've sent me this. I'm a professional author and would be happy to let you know my fees if you are interested, [LOL] but I'm guessing you're looking for free copy [duh], in which case I'm not your woman!

Best wishes
Hi Nichola, [which is not how to spell my name, so thanks a lot for actually reading my blog and knowing anything about me at all before you ask me to do something substantial for you]
Ah yeah sorry we’re not really looking to pay. [*falls on the floor in surprise*] I hope you liked the idea of the project anyway!

Many thanks,
E**** x [We really aren't actually on kissing terms, tbh]
E****, I'm sorry - I didn't and won't have time to read about it. I get sent so many things and to be honest it feels like spam. A lot of authors like me are drowned in this stuff.  Sorry.
No worries :)
This whole conversation really annoyed me. (And similar emails come my way often - I usually just don't reply. This time, I did.) There was absolutely no recognition on her part as to what she was asking me to do. There was no suggestion that I might be busy, no attempt to show that it was actually something substantial that she was asking of me. Normally these approaches at least contain some kind of recognition that I'm actually quite good at what I do, that my blog is widely-read, that there was a reason for approaching me. Does she really think that a professional writer has time or inclination to do this, for nothing? That is, to be clear, work for nothing. Work for nothing on behalf of a project which has absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with my life or work. 

I decided the only way I could turn it into something which hadn't utterly wasted my time was to blog about it, with the strong message to anyone involved in publicity, whether for your own book or the book that you are being paid to publicise:

a) Research who you are contacting. Some bloggers review books or have guest posts; others don't. If they don't, don't approach them.
b) Don't be all pathetic and pseudo-friendly with your kisses and smileys - be professional.
c) Ask yourself why on earth an author (as opposed to a book blogger) would have any desire to spend a great deal of time publicising someone else's book? A total stranger's book at that.
d) Engage your brain. Please. Just a bit. 
e) An email sent to a load of people who you haven't genuinely and honestly decided would be happy to receive the email is spam. Spam spam spam spam spam spam spam. 

In short: consider whether your desire for publicity has turned you into a spammer.

So now you know what makes me crabbit.

Well, that's one of the things. More later! 

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

On publicity, publicists and doing it yourself

Nowadays, almost all authors have to do much of their own publicity. This is not necessarily a bad thing and, by and large, not something I particularly complain about, although a preferable option would be for me to lounge around being sent bottles of champagne by my grateful publishers and for readers to be queuing up outside every bookshop, desperate to buy my books even if I don't get out of bed.

Monday, 20 February 2012

The 90/10 promotion rule: what to do with the 10%?

I said a while ago that I favour the 90/10 rule for self-promotion on social media. In other words, if you spend 90% of your time there being generous - offering my three pillars of Friendship, Information and/or Entertainment - people will allow you to spend the other 10% promoting yourself, whether that means mentioning that you have a book out or telling your friends about a nice review, or whatever.

But, what can we do with that 10%? In other words, do I have any suggestions for using Twitter to promote your book without bugging the hell out of people? (And please see How Much Promotion is Too Much for that thorny topic.)

Non-writers, please turn away now. You don't want to know any of this. OK? You go to Twitter to have fun and sometimes chat to writers. You do not go there to be sold to. And this, indeed, is the one question all writers should ask each other before they do any self-promotion:
Is there a single person anywhere on Twitter who has gone there wanting to be sold to? NO. So be very very careful how you do it.
But here's what you might do during that 10% time. I haven't done all these things but I know others who have.
  • In the lead up to publication, generate excitement by occasionally mentioning publication date or tweeting that you've seen the cover (attach a pic) or something.
  • If you are doing a blog tour, once (or at most three times) a day, tweet the link to where you are that day. This is a favour to your blog host as much as anything.
  • You could tweet short quotes from your book.
  • Consider setting aside one day a week to tweet about your book. For example, Catherine Ryan Howard did #MousetrappedMondays. (For her book Mousetrapped, obvs.)
  • If your book has an underlying theme, find the organisations linked to that theme, and get into conversation with them, or about the theme with other interested users.
  • CAREFULLY (ie modestly) tweet when you find a review or any other mention of your book.
  • Tweet if you get a bad review, too - this shows you as a self-effacing person who can laugh at herself. (Don't be bitter about it and do avoid encouraging anger on your behalf.)
  • You could have a Twitter party on launch day. It's cheap and you don't need to dress up! Or buy drinks for anyone...
  • Link to any articles you write, on your own blog or anywhere else.
  • You could (if you can keep it up) open a Twitter account as one of your characters and tweet in character. However, there's no point unless your character has some followers, so you need to plan this in advance.
  • Advertise any events you are doing.
  • Have a giveaway or advertise a competition - if you need more space to provide details, explain in a blog post and link to that. Everyone likes a giveaway. Make the deadline really short because otherwise people won't buy the book in case they win it...
Anyone else have any good ideas?

And never forget - 10%.

And be nice :)

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

All writers should self-publish

No, I haven't gone entirely mad. Or even, I venture to say, a tiny bit mad. Nor have I started to believe the self-publishing-is-the-answer-to-everything and the publishing-is-completely-broken rubbish.

I am, as you know, a published (more than 90 books) author who has also ventured into self-publishing, and who is enjoying it. I dare even say succeeding, though John Locke need not watch his back. But my steps into self-publishing do not mean turning up my nose at traditional (hate that word but... ) publishing: yes, I still want to be published by publishers. Pretty please. And, especially, to have my books in proper bookshops.

And I believe all writers should self-publish.

I'll rephrase that: I believe that all writers should self-publish something. (Unless they have worked in a publishing company themselves.) 

Why? Because I think that self-publishing teaches us a great deal, if we choose to listen, and I believe it teaches us a great deal about how difficult publishing is.

Actually, no: publishing is easy. Anyone can publish a book and publishing ebooks is child's play. (Literally; I heard of a teacher whose primary pupils publish their own work to Kindle, actually doing the publishing bit themselves.)

Yes, publishing is easy but selling is hard. And it's the selling of our books that causes published writers so many gripes about their publishers.

That's why I think we'd all benefit (and our future publishers would benefit) if we tried to publish something ourselves. Our increased understanding would both make us able to contribute better to the marketing process with our future publisher and more appreciative of why disappointments do happen. Also, we'd be more realistic and professional-sounding in our pitches. No longer would we believe that our lovely book was certain to sell tens of thousands if it really wasn't. Our ideas, our pitches, our writing, our consideration of our readers - all these would, I venture, be tighter, more professional, more likely to be realised.

I'm quite prepared to admit that what I've learnt through publishing Tweet Right, Mondays are Red and Write a Great Synopsis leads me to be a little less harsh on publishers who have made mistakes, either in their decisions to publish (or not publish) or in their failure to sell as many copies of an author's books as they should.

It's harder than we think to reach those readers. Only when we've tried to sell something in a market where there are hundreds of thousands of competitors can we truly know how hard it is. We become, I think, more connected to the reader who buys our book, buys it from us, not from some middleman.

So, yes, self-publish in order to learn what it's like on the other side.

But does this mean I'm letting publishers off the hook? Oh, no! I'd also like every publisher to try to write a book. I'd like them to know what it feels like to put our precious oeuvre, perhaps the work of two years or more, into someone else's hands and watch it sink and vanish, as most do. I'd like them to deal with negative reviews and poor sales, when we only have that one book to earn our crust with that year. Don't get me wrong: I love what I do and I choose to do it, and the same can be said for almost all of us. I do NOT want you to get the violins out. Nevertheless, it's harder than most publishers think. It's more emotional, more raw, more distracting, more damn gutwrenching

And both writers and publishers should understand a little more of the challenges of the other.

Friday, 13 January 2012

How much promotion is too much?

I was asked this on Twitter the other day. The reason the conversation arose is that a successful writer has been bugging the pants off people on Twitter. (Please, if you know who I mean, do NOT identify him on my blog. I have no desire at all to embarrass the poor chap. Besides, I hear there are more than one bug... Erm, person who bugs.)

Poor chap? Hang on! His book has done fantabulously well, so surely his bugging-people-on-Twitter strategy worked? Why should he feel any embarrassment?

Let me tackle this, before I move on to talk about how much promotion is too much.
First, we have no idea at all whether the bugging strategy worked. We have no idea if it was even a strategy. For all I know, he was just being over-excited. Importantly, we also have no idea whether he'd have sold as many or even more if he hadn't bugged pants off people.

BUT he has sold stacks and stacks of copies, so he really shouldn't care if he's annoyed anyone, should he?

Well, here I come to my second point: it depends whether he (or any writer who crosses invisible lines) minds what people think. And that is entirely up to the individual; everyone's skin is of a different thickness. So, I will not say he or anyone "shouldn't" have crossed the lines he crossed. I will not say he should be embarrassed.

But I would be.

And this is at least part of my main point, moving on to the wider question. "How much promotion is too much" depends both on you, the writer, and on you, the reader.

Everything is a judgement call. Every blog post, every tweet, every Facebook status update, every email to a festival organiser pitching an event. Every time you tell a personal friend about your latest short-listing, every time you say "me" or "my book", every video trailer, every pile of postcards you order from Vistaprint. Every quote you add to your email signature; every new review you put on your website. All of it, every single time, is a judgement call.

But how do we make that judgement? Are there any objective measures? What things turn people off? Well, probably not exactly objective but there seem to be some general lines that a decent number of people would agree on. Let me tell you what my own guidelines are. They are the lines which I try not to cross and the crossing of which by others bugs the pants off me, to the extent that I'm highly unlikely to buy their books or want to help them in any way. (Like anyone, I may occasionally get over-excited and accidentally put my toe over a line - I would then try to pull it back immediately.) They are the guidelines which I sense many others follow and approve. You don't have to follow these guidelines  - you have to find what's comfortable for you.

So, here are my guidelines:

  1. Give far more than you ask for. In other words, if your blog/FB timeline/Twitter feed is mostly giving people information, support, or entertainment without asking anything, it is fine if you sometimes plug your own work or ask your readers, colleagues and friends or "followers" to consider doing something for you. (Bearing in mind other points below.)
  2. I've heard a 90% rule given - 90% of your online activity should be giving, and then you can use the other 10% for blagging. (Bearing in mind the points below.) I've also heard a 60/40 rule from marketing professionals, but I definitely prefer the 90/10 one, which is for mere humans.
  3. Be generous in your praise of others. Be nice. And if you can't be nice, be silent.
  4. When you ask people to do something (such as read a blog post or click a link or buy your book) do so generally and openly, not individually or privately. (See below.) If you make it general and don't address your message to anyone specific, you make it easy for people to ignore it, which is as it should be.
  1. Ask a stranger or slight acquaintance to do ANYTHING for you. (This is where complaints came in.) Not even the smallest thing. Not even to retweet your tweet. So, on Twitter, never send a DM (private message) to someone who is not genuinely a good friend to ask them to do even the smallest thing. Even to do something you think is fun. (Someone said, "But surely you wouldn't mind if I DM'd you to ask you to do something you'd enjoy?" Only I can be the judge of what I would enjoy. You don't know me, so don't assume.)
  2. (Don't) Forget that no one loves your book as much as you do.
  3. (Don't) Forget that there are eleventy million other books for people to buy.
  4. (Don't) Assume that all your friends will buy your book. They can't all afford to and they can't afford to buy all their friends' books, especially if they are writers, because writers have many friends who are writers.
  5. (Don't) Ask people to review your book, except as a very general and light request. I'm cautious about doing this at all, as I think it can sound needy, but I will occasionally in a very careful and tentative way. Also, again very occasionally, if someone privately tells me they absolutely loved one of my books, I might cautiously ask if they might possibly have time to write a quick recommendation on Amazon (or something) but I would also make it very clear that I absolutely wouldn't mind if they didn't. I will make it easy for them not to.
I think it all boils down to three things:
  1. Don't do what you don't like others to do.
  2. Give far more than you expect to receive.
  3. Never ask even a tiny favour of someone who you don't feel is actually your friend. Especially if that person is busy.
As I say, these are my guidelines, which I recommend to you. I admit that I might sell more books if I crossed more lines, but I would be uncomfortable. I'd rather have my modest sales but feel reasonably comfortable that most people are not being totally bugged by me. I hope! (NB I'm sure, logically, that I've pissed some people off: it would be pretty hard never to cross anyone's lines. But I carefully watch out for what annoys me in others - and I do have a fairly low tolerance - and actively try to avoid doing the same. It's all any of us can do.)

What about Facebook (your Author page, not your personal FB profile) and your own website?
Ah, now this is where you can do much more. People come to your FB page or your website to find out about you. They expect to find links to reviews, newspaper articles, videos of you, or news of awards and short listings. So, putting those items as prominently as you like in those places is absolutely fine, though I would never advocate cockiness or boasting. Saying, "I've been shortlisted for such-and-such" is not the same as saying, "I'm a totally fabulous famous author. Kiss my feet, losers." The point that makes your FB author page or your website a place where you can play by different rules is the element of choice that the visitor has in coming there and why they came: to see you and find out what you've done.

I stressed that I'm talking about the FB Author Page, not your personal page. This is a matter of opinion, but I know that I and many writers and readers who I respect don't like their social space overwhelmed by promotional updates. So, my advice is to keep your "normal" FB page social, soft, supportive, and to do your promotional stuff on your Author page. It doesn't matter if it sometimes overlaps, but I really think the 90/10 rule is best applied to social networks. I think it's fine to post links to your blog sometimes though, as long as that's not all you do. Just don't do the "Ooh, look how freaking successful I am!" thing. Apart from anything else, there are a lots more writers amongst your friends who are feeling very vulnerable and you just trod all over them. They won't thank you.

Back to Twitter, where this began: personally, I think the writer who was being discussed has used Twitter very successfully. Good on him. But I don't like using Twitter. I like enjoying it. Therefore, I can't in all honesty recommend the bugging-the-pants-off-people approach. Even if it works for him. 

What do you think? Do those guidelines make sense? What else bugs you? Or what doesn't?

PS I can't tell you what I'm doing today, because that would be blatant self-promotion. I may casually drop it into conversation on Twitter and hope people will notice. Mind you, if I actually WIN the thing... No, shhh, woman. You just crossed a line. Or did I? What do you think?

Thursday, 22 April 2010


Indulge me while I hijack my own blog briefly, please. See, it's that time of year again: book promo time. As in mine. Not the one I mentioned yesterday - I haven't written that yet. (Note to self: DEADLINE.) But the one that's published on May 3rd.

All I'd like to say to you today, in a calm, subtle and measured way, is that some of you may not know (if you've been asleep) that I have a new blog starting, especially for the new book.

Ahem. I've just committed the first mistake of an author with a book coming out. Did you notice? Basic, absolutely damned basic.










First rule: mention name of book at all opportunities

So, the book is called WASTED. Some of you have already read it and everyone who has commented has amazingly loved it. The latest fab comment / review is here and my publishers say there's a terrific buzz about this book, which has come from readers, not any clever tricks by marketing people. Readers have more power than anyone in the writing and publishing process.

Anyway, you need to know that I am about to go on tour till the end of May, but fear not: I will still be here, by magic. Yep, it's a blog tour, so I will still be here for you and this blog will experience no hiatus. I would not leave you, really. You will find me all over the place, thanks to the fabulous organisational skills of my charming new assistant, Catherine Hughes, she of this blog's readership. (Check out her own blogs here and here, btw.)

And the blog is here. I mention it today because it launches properly tomorrow and I'd love you to be there. Sign yourselves up as followers and you get a weekly chance to win a copy of the book. Or just pop by each day for entertainment and enlightenment - a new post every day. During the next few weeks there will be many opportunities to win books - some of them requiring skill (writing competitions) and some pure luck. See, the book is all about luck, chance, randomness, fate, risk, causal determinism, and the odd spot of quantum physics.

There's something for everyone. Well, not everyone. Not people who don't like a challenging, different read. Not people who don't like to think. And not people who don't enjoy a good time.

I have written a post for every day for the next six weeks. A flipping marathon, but Catherine is a hard task-mistress.

Now, I have one small thing to ask. If by any chance you end up reading Wasted, and if by any chance you like it, could you please say so, kind of a little bit loudly? Possibly even on Amazon? (And if you don't like it, could you possibly be very, very, very quiet?)

Whatever, please join me over on the blog. I'd love to get 100 followers before launch day.And Catherine would be pleased with me, which is quite important, too.

THANK YOU! And sorry for giving you no publishing advice at all today.

Monday, 18 January 2010


One skill that authors need to learn is the ability to see into the minds of the editors and agents who will read their proposals. (Another skill is the ability to understand sales and marketing departments, but I'm afraid this skill eludes me. There are some lovely people in them but their minds are beautiful mysteries.)

Since I am neither an editor or an agent, I bring you the words of some real-life ones, so that you can begin to hone your editor-whispering skills.

First, The Top Ten Questions Dutton Editors Ask Themselves. They are somewhat vague, but still a very good starting point. Absorb them till you think like that about your own work.

Second, for something even vaguer, but essential because it's about that all important gut-instinct, here is wonderful blogger and US lit agent, Rachelle Gardner on why she says yes or no to a book. It's worth highlighting the essential part of the post:
"You know how sometimes you're reading a book and you don't want to put it down, and you're really frustrated that it's time to go make dinner or put the kids to bed, and you just want everyone to leave you alone so you can read your book? And whenever you're doing something else, you just want to be finished so you can get back to reading your book?

"But other times you're reading a book, and it's easy to put down. You find yourself distracted. You go check your email, or see what's on TV. Or fall asleep. Not that you can really define anything bad about the book, it's simply not holding your attention. And when you have some time to read, you debate whether to go back to that book or not."
I believe that if we remember that the agent or editor has to love it that much, just like any reader, we will a) improve our work by working harder to capture and hold our readers and b) understand better why a tecnnically good piece of work may be rejected. One thing I tell my clients at Pen2Publication is that we should read our work aloud, imagining that our audience consists of people desperate to go to the beach / pub / bathroom.

Finally, here are two fascinating ones. Lit agent, Janet Reid, lists the reasons why she turns down MSS, with stats. And editor Betsy Mitchell [I think that's the right name!] reveals her own list of reasons for rejection. Some of these reasons are worth a whole blog post each. They may get one, later.

One the the most interesting reasons, I thought, was this one: "Writing quite good, but this isn't the story to launch an author with."

The reason that caught my eye is that it's another facet of the point I've often made: we don't just have to write well - we have to write the right book. Not just the right book for the market, but the right book with which to launch a career, to make a splash, to attract attention.

Open your eyes, writers: think like an editor or agent and you're more likely to hook them. Editors and agents are trying to think like readers, so what you actually have to do is think like an editor or agent thinking like a reader.

If only sales and marketing departments consisted of these readers, things would be so very simple.

Friday, 6 November 2009


One of the most ignorant and annoying things that a frustrated unpublished author can say to excuse constant rejection is, "Kuh, publishers  -  they're only in it for the money, of course." What? So you thought they were in it for a free passage to heaven?

Publishing is a business. So is writing, though a weirdly unprofitable one. Yes, many of us are passionate about writing, so passionate that we do it for peanuts; and many publishers are passionate about publishing good books. But tell me why a publisher should deliberately pay to serve your passion?

Anyway. That's quite enough crabbit for one day because I would now like to introduce you to a woman who is passionate about publishing but who is learning just how difficult it is to survive in it, let alone become rich on it.

Her name is Lynn Michell and she is the woman behind one-woman band, The Linen Press. (Oh, for goodness' sake  -  I've just realised why Linen...) I'd like you to listen to her and then tell me that publishers are only in it for the money. The Linen Press has been running for two years and has published four books. I am not giving you Amazon links, though that would earn me some pennies  -  I'm just showing you the covers and if you'd like to buy one, or find out more, you could (I suggest) do so on the sales page of The Linen Press:

Right, let's talk to Lynn. (And do ask her questions or make comments afterwards.)

Me: How and why did you do this crazy thing called publishing  -  and on your own?

I had run writing groups for many years and had often mulled over the possibility of helping women writers reach a wider audience. The final push came when 92 year old Marjorie Wilson, wearing pink and purple and with three pairs of glasses round her neck, joined our group and I discovered a rare, lyrical voice.  Her memoir of Edinburgh at the turn of the century had to be published. I set up The Linen Press and Childhood’s Hill was its first publication.
Me: I wouldn't know where to start. How did you know or how did you learn?
It has been a huge learning curve for me.  I naively thought publishing was about reading manuscripts and choosing beautifully crafted, thought-provoking books which would sell themselves.  My role model is The Women’s Press.  Remember those striped spines that used to have a stand of their own along with Virago?  As a new writer I worked with Kathy Gale, then MD, for seven years. She always called manuscripts ‘projects’ because she worked painstakingly with her authors until she was satisfied. That is how I work.  I take on a manuscript that shows promise but requires a lot more editing and re-drafting than any big publisher would offer. But the book world has changed and now I dare not take on a writer unless her book has a strong selling hook and unless she can help with the publicity and sales. Stephanie Taylor, author of The Devil The Device and Me, is currently giving readings, talks, and approaching shops so it’s very much a joint effort between publisher and writer.
Me: What about the money side? People seem to think that publishers roll away with loads of profit. Can you spill the beans??
The financial challenge for a small publisher is formidable.  Let me give you some figures:

 - One book costs £4 to produce because I do small runs of 1000. I refuse to compromise on quality and I use environmentally friendly paper and ink.

 - I charge £10 a copy

 - Amazon takes 60% and I pay £1.75 to replace the book. If you do the sums, that's £6 for Amazon, plus £1.75 p&p, and the £4 production costs, so I am actually paying Amazon £1.75 for every book they sell. If readers ordered from my website I would make £6. [Good God  -  sorry, I can't help interrupting. That's horrible.]

- The big book stores charge me 50% mark up get a book onto one of those tables where people stop and browse. If I sell a copy, I make £1.
Me: if you're passionate about publishing, and you're certainly not going to get rich on it, you must have clear ideas about how to direct that passion. How do you decide what to publish?
Because we are the newest, smallest publisher on the block, I rely on my slush pile. So how do I pick the ones to read? First, despite the clear guidelines on my website, I get submissions from men, and children’s stories and chick lit and other stuff I say I do not publish. Second, I can usually tell from the introductory letter whether the accompanying chapters are worth reading. Third, I want a synopsis - not the plot chapter by chapter - but a synopsis, and if a writer does not know what a synopsis is then she too gets passed over. I am looking for writing which makes me think: ‘Ah I’m in good hands here. This person knows her craft.’
And when I get a professional letter, a good synopsis and some engrossing, beautifully written chapters I am fired with enthusiasm.  That excitement never goes away. I love the working bond that develops between myself and my writer.  I am personally involved at every stage of the production and am as proud as the author when I hold it the book my hands. The Linen Press has integrity and passion.  I hope we survive.
I am quite humbled by that, to be honest. It would be so much easier, wouldn't it, to focus on big-selling stuff, commercial books, the ones that tick all the boxes for flying off the shelves? But just as we don't all write those "commercially sensible" books, not all publishers publish them either. So, for all our sakes, and the sake of the future range of literature, we should support these small presses and spare a thought for the struggling publisher as well as the struggling writer.

Now, some of you will be thinking, "Struggling writer or struggling publisher: stop being so foolish and go and earn some real money! After all, no one's forcing you to do this." Well, then where would we all be? Getting Katie Price in our Christmas stockings, that's what. Euuwwww.

I am currently torn between buying Stephanie Taylor's book on The Linen Press website (because more money will go to author and publisher) and buying it from Waterstone's, (because then Waterstone's will be more likely to re-order it and notice it.) No, I'm not torn. Not at all. 

Do check out Stephanie's website. And the domain name that I want to kill her for.

I should declare a semi-interest here. I met Stephanie, Lynn's newest author, some months ago, though I had no idea she was published by Lynn who would later contact me through my blog. Stephanie is delightful and her book LOOKS stunning. I want it. And I am going to insist that neither Lynn nor Stephanie sends me a free copy, because the absolute least I can do is buy it.

Do you have any questions or comments for Lynn? I know she'll be happy to answer them. And I could very easily get Stephanie to drop by, too.

Good luck to both of them and very good luck to The Linen Press.

Friday, 16 October 2009


You may have noticed that I've never had a guest post on this blog. I guard my territory jealously, you see. But I know what I don't know, and one thing I don't know about (but am fascinated by) is ghost-writing. So, imagine my pleasure and surprise when the UK's most famous ghost-writer walked through my walls recently and tapped me on the shoulder. After I'd regained my equilibrium and stopped shivering, Andrew Crofts and I got communicating entirely without the use of a ouija board, and he very kindly agreed to share his knowledge AND answer your (sensible) questions.

First, a bit about the man behind the ghost:
Andrew Crofts is one of the country's leading ghostwriters. He has ghosted over 80 books in the last 20 years, a dozen of which have been Sunday Times number one bestsellers. He is also the author of "The Freelance Writer's Handbook", (Piatkus), and "Ghostwriting", (A&C Black). The latter was quoted extensively by Robert Harris in his recent thriller "The Ghost", which has just been filmed by Roman Polanski with Ewan McGregor playing the ghost.

Andrew is currently writing a series of inter-related novels for Blake Publishing about modern fame and the price it exerts on those who pursue it. The first in the series was "The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride", to be followed early next year by "The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer".

Rather than do a full-scale interview, I decided just to focus on four things, aspects which I thought you might like to hear about.

ME: You had a background in business writing before you had your first ghosting commission  -  do you think it would be possible for an unproven / unpublished writer, however competent, to become a ghost-writer? And do you have some basic advice for how to go about building a platform from which to get that first contract? Maybe you could also say what specific skills a ghost-writer needs as opposed to another sort of writer. (I don't ask much, do I?)

"I think any writer could learn how to ghost if they felt the role would suit them.

"From the day I left school I was doing any kind of freelance writing I could get, including business writing, women's magazines, fiction, the lot. The best way to start ghosting is to find someone who you think has a book in their head or their filing cabinet and then offer to write it for them and take it to publishers and agents on their behalf.
"You could start small. If, for instance, you know of someone who runs a particularly successful local garden centre you could suggest that they do a book on plant care. You then produce a synopsis, explaining what would be in the book and why they would be a good person to write it, (and maybe persuade them to agree to sell the book through their outlets). You then head off to the publishers with it. If that doesn't work there is always the possibility of self-publishing it for them.
"Once you have one or two books under your belt you can approach publishers and agents and tell them that you are a ghost and that you are looking for commissions.
"It will not happen overnight, but with perseverance it will eventually work.You could also start out by offering your services as an editor and then gradually take on bigger and bigger briefs until you are eventually writing the entire books.

"To be a successful ghost you need to be totally non-confrontational, endlessly patient and willing to get no glory at all. Imagine how you would behave if you were Barack Obama's speech writer; most of the same rules would apply."
ME: You are well known as being incredibly proactive on the marketing and platform-building front  -  is this something you happened to be good at or did you have to work at it at first? What were you starting points or skills / advantages that you built on?


"I find marketing very interesting, (I used to write a lot for publications like Marketing Week).

"Imagine you are a skilled carpenter. You decide to spend a year creating a truly wonderful piece of furniture, an absolute masterpiece. All through the year you are starving, begging and borrowing just to stay alive long enough to finish your masterpiece. At the end of the year you are thousands of pounds in debt, which means you are going to have to charge a fortune for this one piece in order to recoup your finances. What if no one wants to pay that much? What if no one wants to buy it at all?

"So many writers take exactly that approach to their careers. They produce the beautiful novel that they want to write, and then wonder why no one else wants to pay them the going rate for the time they have invested.

"Supposing that you, the carpenter, took a different approach. Suppose you went round asking people what they would like you to do for them? Would they like a coffee table that will take you just a few days to make? How about a new front door, or a garden bench? Maybe they would like a complete fitted kitchen? That is marketing, as opposed to selling, and it is exactly the same approach that authors need to take if they want to make a living from their craft.
"Ask the publishers, (or anyone else you can think of), what they need and then provide it for them.
"Once you have a regular income you can then schedule in a bit of time to create your beloved masterpiece, and you will at least have made a few potential contacts when the time comes to try to sell it."
ME: And now you are writing your own fiction. The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride was published in 2008 and the Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer is out early in 2010. Tell us how this came about  -  something you'd wanted to do for a long time or something that came to you one day? And tell us what sort of a writing journey that has been.

"Every so often over the years I have had an idea for a novel which I have found irresistible.
"My current obsession is with instant fame. I have worked a lot with celebrities and with people connected to television shows like Big Brother, The X-Factor, EastEnders and Richard and Judy. I also have a daughter who is an actress. I find the whole idea of mass-media celebrity fascinating.
"I also wanted to write something that the actress daughter, (Olivia Grodd), could use as a showcase on YouTube. So I created the character of Steffi McBride, a young girl who almost accidentally becomes the nation's darling in a soap opera, only to have her life ripped apart by media revelations about her past.
"One of the revelations is that her mother is not who she thinks she is. Her real mother, (Maggie de Beer), is a show girl/vice girl/ page three girl from the seventies who sold her soul, (and gave up her child), in exchange for a shot at being famous. Maggie's story consequently followed Steffi's in a prequel coming out next year.
"Olivia made the video and appeared on the cover of Steffi McBride, which garnered us a few more column inches, and her younger sister, Jess Crofts, is now appearing on the cover of the prequel. 

"A few years ago I wrote "Maisie's Amazing Maids" which was a book with a ghostwriter as the central protagonist. Because I could talk about ghosting I was able to promote the book far more widely than you usually can with fiction, (chatting to Mariella Frostrup on Radio 4, that sort of thing)."
ME: Again, you're marketing the fiction incredibly proactively  -  and using your daughter's talents along the way! How is this marketing different from what you've done before? 
"This marketing campaign has really been an extension of what I have been doing all along. The idea is always to get a book talked and written about as much as possible in order to draw it to the attention of as many people as possible in the hope that they will be tempted to buy it.
"When I am selling the concept for a ghosted book to a publisher I have to use all the same marketing techniques.
"It took me a very long time, for instance, to persuade publishers that the public would actually like to read stories about children overcoming adversity, (the sort of books that are now taken for granted and dismissed by the very grand as "misery memoirs"). Each time a new story came along I had to go the rounds yet again, sometimes with an agent, sometimes without, trying to convince publishers that my subjects had a worthwhile story to tell. The marketing process always involved writing powerful synopses/selling documents.
"Thankfully, once you have had a few number one bestsellers, people become more willing to listen."
Andrew, that was fascinating, thank you!

OK, class, let me give you my observations about what Andrew said, and then hand over to you for comments and questions.
  1. You will notice that Andrew has worked incredibly hard at all this. He has had to have not only writing talent and skills, but also determination, energy, intuition, adaptability, and (crucially) a very clever combination of confidence and yet absence of arrogance. He has learnt along the way, by listening and tuning in to what publishers want. And has in doing so carved out a very successful space in the writing world. This has not fallen into his lap.
  2. The marketing has not become less as he has had more books published  -  this is an author who (very like me) loves and values his books enough to want to put every possible effort into their success. He has not expected people to do things for him.
  3. Why did he write these novels? Because he's hugely interested in and fascinated by the topic. He used the word "irresistible". But he has also picked something which others may find irresistible too, because he's tuned into what people want. That's an essential combination and one which we'd all do well to remember.
  4. Doesn't this sound like a man who loves his job?
  5. What you don't know is how quickly, efficiently and helpfully Andrew sent in his answers to my questions. The point being: efficiency and professionalism impress. And impressing people with your efficiency and professionalism is always valuable. Not that I'm paying him anything...
  6. Don't you just love this line? "Thankfully, once you have had a few number one bestsellers, people become more willing to listen." What can I say?!
On behalf of everyone, thank you so much, Andrew, for calling by. I'm now off to add Steffi McB to my wishlist.

Questions? Comments? Or are you all off to haunt someone?

(Andrew does have a fulsome website on ghost-writing and aspects of his own work, so I ask you to visit it before asking something, as we don't want to waste his time with things he's already said.) 

Tuesday, 13 October 2009


As a hilarious antidote to the info in my previous post (below) about what to expect from a publisher, do read this piece in the New Yorker. Actually, if this did happen, you should be rather grateful. This is attention of the highest order. (Thanks to various twitterers who tweeted it.)

Then, do come back here this evening for details of a chocolate + Halloween themed creative writing competition, on this blog only: a chance for you to hone your chosen writing voice / genre in a piece of flash fiction, with TEN prizes generously donated by Hotel Chocolat. Yes, Hotel Chocolat. Thank you, lovely chocolately people.

Monday, 12 October 2009


Let's get positive today. Imagine you're about to be published  -  hooray! I see the frisson of excitement rippling across your face. You can't stop grinning!

Of course, you'll grin when it happens. You may well do some leaping too, but ideally in the privacy of your garret, since an author leaping is not usually a pretty sight. But what else can and should you expect on P-Day? Specifically, what should you expect from your publishers?

This post was prompted by a question in the comments after Networks and Platforms  -  Must I? David Griffin asked about advance copies and who was responsible for these, author or publisher? That's a simplish question (answered below) but it leads to other issues about expectations. 

So, what should an author expect? That is not to say that this will always happen, but you should expect it, with details and extent depending on the nature of your book and publisher. And how useful the activity would be. (Not how much you'd love it to happen...) 

Important things to get into your head:
  1. Publishers want to sell as many copies as possible. Obviously. They have borne all the cost and they want to recoup it, quickly and fully, and more than fully. So do you. You are both on the same side. Never forget that, even in the dark moments when you wonder what the hell they're doing. (Note to lovely Walker Books: of course, I have never wondered that in your case.)
  2. That does not mean that money will be thrown around. Nor should it be. Every book has a marketing budget. That budget may be zero. A zero budget does not mean zero publicity / promotion, however. Also, some things must be done regardless of marketing budget. (Advance copies being one).
  3. The budget and effort expended will relate to a judgement about how useful that spend will be for THIS book. It will be pointless to chuck masses of dosh at a TV campaign which your potential readers won't see. Yes, it will make you feel glorious, but that feeling will soon fade when you sell no books and your publisher makes a loss and stops liking you. 
  4. You must work with your publisher. Take a look at some of the stuff I did around the publication of Deathwatch in June this year. (There are also two posts above and one below that one, but that gives you a reasonable idea.) I worked my butt off, broke a world record, made two videos (myself, at zero cost, though using a fab screensaver which my publishers made in-house), sold loads of copies and generated goodwill. I nearly died. Everyone was happy because we squeezed every ounce of value from the budget and we worked together perfectly. This is not always easy  -  it requires tact and respect, on both sides. I am lucky. But I worked. Boy, did I work ... Chocolate supplies in Scotland dipped that month.
  5. You don't ask what the budget IS  -  you ask what it will allow. "Do we have a budget for...?" And if we don't, go back in your box and think of something cheaper. Cheaper is not less good.
  6. Marketing costs money, but publicity and promotion need not. Clever people don't need lots of money to sell something. So, don't measure your potential success by the size of your marketing budget.
 What's the minimum you should expect  -  and ask for if it doesn't seem to be there?
  1. A structured plan. My main publisher, Walker Books, sends every author, at least six months before publication, an outline of what will happen at each stage. One of these stages allows the author to meet the marketing team. (If it's a very "small" book, say part of a publisher series rather than an author series or stand-alone, this won't happen. But you should still be able to be involved.) If you have an agent, make sure he/she is there at the meeting and has seen the plan.
  2. A request from your publisher for you to provide relevant info  -  list of contacts, ideas, things you feel happy doing (eg talks)
  3. Six-three months before pub date, your publisher should decide the details of promotional activity. Eg, lists of newspapers, magazines, events. At this point, contribute your ideas (tactfully ...)
  4. The publisher will provide, at their cost, a certain number of copies of the book to send to potential reviewers and booksellers. These will be Advance Reader Copies (ARCs). They may be "proof" copies  -  ie not the real version but a cheaper one, usually with a plainer cover, and not proof-read. But proof copies are expensive and don't always cover their costs  -  if yours is a book that hard-pressed reviewers are unlikely to choose to read, for example. So, publishers may produce a version more like an MS (so, a pile of A4 sheets vaguely bound  -  I hate this. I have done a lot of reviewing for the Guardian newspaper and I only once chose to review a book sent in this format  -  it's just not compelling when you've got 200 beautiful books to choose from). Or the publisher may simply order lots of real copies of the book extra early  -  my publishers ordered hundreds about 6 weeks before publication. These advance copies can be used when appropriate and costs tailored to demand. As to how many  -  it depends how many they can use. A hundred to a thousand. In answer to David J Griffin's question about this, wonderful Lynn Price helpfully replied with the US perspective:

    David, any trade publisher - small fry like me, or large like Random House - sends out about 100 - 200 ARCs (Advance Reader Copy) to reviewers, bookstore managers, and media.

    Any publisher over here in the US who says the author must do this is more than likely a Print On Demand company. ARCs are an upfront expense that PODs can't risk because trade magazines won't review them.
    NB: What you should absolutely NOT expect is your publisher to ask how many copies you plan to buy  -  see the excellent recent Writer Beware post here. You may buy them at author discount, and you may give those away, but a) you should never be encouraged to and b) you should never, ever, ever, be asked to sell them. That is not your job (though, by agreement with your publishers, you may choose to. I think I need to do another post about selling author copies  -  it's not simple...).

  5. The publisher will send them out, at their cost. Whatever the size of your publisher, it's worth asking to see the list of who has received advances. And add to it  -  you give the publisher the names, they send them out. Obviously, you can't just use this to get your friends free copies  -  this is all solely to generate sales. Remember that. Be canny.
  6. The publisher should work hard to get you any relevant media coverage. But be realistic  -  is your book important enough as a story? It's not enough that you've written a great book  -  what's the story behind it? An example I've used (often...) is the story of a school helping me promote or write a book. Think about it: AUTHOR WRITES BOOK is not a news story, but AUTHOR TRUSTS KIDS WITH BOOK LAUNCH is. 
  7. You should also expect inclusion in the publisher catalogue for that season/month/whatever.
  8. And a press release to go out with review copies. (I strongly recommend that you ask, very tactfully, to see this and perhaps have some input. You are unlikely to be shown it otherwise, and it will have been written by someone who very possibly hasn't read the book... I have seen some terrible, truly terrible press releases. (Not you, lovely Walker Books  -  don't be paranoid!)
  9. Events  -  again, this will depend on your book and you, but the publisher should make an effort to get some "gigs". Any help you can give will be crucial. Events will probably be local, at first. Your publisher should, where possible, pay travel expenses for these peri-publicational events  -  but you will need to ask. And they may not be able to, or offer you fewer gigs if they see you'll need expenses  -  so, think about what you can do yourself at minimum cost. At the very least, they should organise all the book-selling (including supply) at these events.
Things you can't take for granted but could discuss:
  1. Marketing materials  -  expensive and not always well-used. Posters, for example  -  where are you going to put them? Children's and teenage authors like me can use posters very well, as schools love to paper decaying library walls with them. But other authors may not use them well. Bookmarks  -  again, expensive and not always going to generate sales. (Consider getting your own postcards or small cards / stickers made with a cheap on-line company such as vistaprint.)
  2. A launch party? Not necessarily. Again, they don't usually convert into enough sales, though they make authors happy. You'd be surprised how many launches are organised by the author, though with support from the publisher. Organise it yourself and ask for a publisher contribution.
In your dreams:
  1. Flowers, sparkly wine, chocolate? Dream on! Of course this sometimes happens. A card signed by the whole team is one of the loveliest things to get on pub day, and is quite normal. But don't be offended if it doesn't happen.
  2. Anything expensive if it's not likely to translate into sufficient sales. Be realistic. It may sound reasonable to say, "But the more you do, the more books we'll sell." Yes, but a) that doesn't mean that the more money you spend the more likely you are to recoup costs and b) the publisher has other authors and other books and you are not the only fish in the sea.
(For your interest, but at a slight tangent, blogger and author, Caroline Dunford, blogged here at the weekend about her very recent launch and publication. It is an eye-opener for those of you who are dreaming of your launch and signing! A great insight into the mind and emotions of each of us in this position.)

Also, do take a look at this vg post from the BookEnds literary agency. 

In short: all writers have to promote their work, and knowing what to expect from publishers is the important first step. It's not just debut writers: if you want to know how enormously successful writer, Andrew Crofts, goes about working with his publishers to sell as many books as possible, come back on Oct 16th, because I have an interview with him. Andrew is the UK's top ghost-writer, with many huge best-sellers  -  being known at all as a ghost-writer speaks volumes for his success on the platform-building front! He contacted me recently and introduced himself. By chance, I'd been wanting to do a post about ghost-writing (not something I know about, though it fascinates me) and wouldn't have had the courage to contact him, but there he was, contacting me and saying nice things (fortunately). In his interview he gives fascinating advice about the business of being a writer and talks about his move from ghosting into his own fiction. If you think that getting that elusive first deal is the end of the story, mountain climbed, sigh of relief time, you're in for a surprise... 

Andrew's interview is going out on Friday 16th, 8pm UK time. Can't be earlier as I'm away doing more talks again and my train doesn't get back till then. I don't want to miss your comments and questions for Andrew. Join us there, and if you have any questions, he's most kindly agreed to answer them ...

Monday, 5 October 2009


It would be possible (though not for me) to write a book about Twitter. However, it would be pointless, because it changes so fast. There's also plenty of help on the internet, so I'll just select salient points from an author's perspective. I am a fairly new Twitterer, or at least newly converted to its value, and I am sure there are other ways to use it. But I don't want Twitter to take over your life or mine  -  remember, we are artistes, dahlings, not birds; and our real writing must come first.

I know from your comments on my post about blogging that many of you are sceptical about Twitter anyway. I won't evangelise about it, just tell you why I like it and how I do it.

If you haven't read my recent post about whether and why authors need platforms, please do. And the one on blogging was part of the same trio of posts on author pre-, post- and peri-publicationary marketing. (Yes, I did just invent that word, but you are welcome to use it if you can get your tongue around it.)

It's free, fast, instant, and doesn't have to be time-consuming. It's perfect for the self-employed who want to keep up-to-date with what's going on in their industry, who want to make contact with people of similar interests, and who want to raise their "platform".

Your experience of Twitter will be determined largely by the people you choose to "follow". If you follow 500 people who tweet boringly 50 times a day, you will see hundreds of mind-numbingly dull tweets and gain nothing. If you select people who have interesting things to say and who come up with useful links, thoughts and blog posts (which they link to), you'll have a great time, make contacts and learn loads.

  1. If you don't use Twitter, your life will continue unabated. By avoiding Twitter, you are not condemning yourself to obscurity.
  2. Twitter is a tool to make contacts and keep up with what's going on in your chosen areas, but it is not the only tool. There is no rule that says authors must Twitter.
  3. I find it very useful, fun, and not at all time-consuming. It is much less time-consuming than blogging, and is in some ways easier. (Yes, and completely different.)
  4. You can do it just on your computer or also on your mobile. Doing it by mobile/cell-phone certainly opens up more use for you, but obviously it depends on your tariff and internet allowance. I use an iphone which makes it stupendously easy, but then the iphone makes life stupendously easy ...
If you use Facebook, you may wonder why you need Twitter. I use Facebook purely socially, for fun and friends. I use Twitter for professional reasons. It's part of my working day. A small but important part. You can link Facebook to Twitter, though I don't because it can be annoying for FB friends who have chosen not to be involved in Twitter.

Think of a dog. Facebook is the equivalent of a dog lying on its back by the fire being scratched between the ears and luxuriating at the end of a hard day's squirrel-chasing. Twitter is the equivalent of a dog going for a quick walk and sniffing at absolutely everything to see what's been going on in the neighbourhood since its last walk. Twitter, one might say, is about pissing and sniffing. Apologies for that but I can't think of a better way to put it.

TWITTER BASICS  -  really basics (skip this if you already know what Twitter is):

  • People follow you and you follow people.
  • If you follow someone, you automatically see their "tweets". (A tweet is a message, up to 140 characters long). Twitter consists of nothing but tweets. 
  • Tweets can contain links and pictures. These are formatted in a special tweety way.
  • People who follow you see all your tweets.
  • If you follow someone, you and that person can also send each other Direct Messages (DMs). No one else can see a DM. (I hope...) No one can send you a DM if you aren't following that person.
  • Unlike Facebook, anyone can follow you without your permission. (Though you can block people.)
  • Twitter is very quick to access  -  much quicker than sending an email. You can choose to have it on in the background while you're working, or just access it when you want. There are various Twitter platforms or "clients" to choose from, and I'll speak about one (Tweetdeck) below.
  • Spambots (robots) have invaded Twitter; so, some people who follow you will be trying to sell things  - don't follow them back. Block them.
HOW TO START and how to continue
  • go to and sign up. It's free and you can change your profile later.
  • you'll see an option saying "find people"  -  one option is for Twitter to trawl your email address book. It will come up with all your contacts who are on Twitter.
  • you're started!
  • you choose which of those names to follow; then you can find who they follow, and follow them in turn
  • on your Twitter page, explore the small number of options on the right  -  particularly the one where it says @your name  -  here you can choose to see all tweets with your name in  -  there won't be any yet because you've just started, but there soon will be!
  • now, consider choosing a better "client" than the basic Twitter page. There are many but the one I use is Tweetdeck, which I explain a bit about below. Those of you who prefer something else, tell us about it.
The wonderful Bubblecow people (Gary and Caroline Smailes) have fantastic advice about Twitter for authors and they know much more than I do. Also, if you follow them (look for @BubbleCow) you'll instantly be able to tap into other excellent Twitterers. A lot of my own followers came after @BubbleCow linked to a blog post of mine.

Here are three of their most relevant posts:
For very clear instructions for beginners
For advanced instructions on everything to do with Twitter (and other things)
For other info, go to their blog and use the search box at bottom right. But please come back.


  • this allows you to use Twitter more easily and fruitfully than the basic page. It has columns, which you can add or remove. The ones I have are the default ones: "All friends"  -  tweets from everyone I follow; "Mentions"  -  any tweet that mentions my username, because when someone uses your name in a tweet they want you to see it, and it's how someone I don't follow can get my attention (because they can't DM me); and DMs. There's also "Twitter recommends" but I deleted that because I don't care what Twitter recommends.
  • I have Tweetdeck open most of the time in the background on my computer but with the sound turned off, otherwise you get a stupid birdsound every time a tweet appears. There's an iphone Tweetdeck App, which is free and I like it, though no doubt someone will tell me about a better one and then my life will be perfect.
  • Tweetdeck also (automatically on the new version, by request on the old version) shortens any URL so that it only uses a few characters  -  important since many tweets contain links to webpages and links which would make the tweet too long. (I am sure other clients do this too).

  • when you first sign up to Twitter, you will wonder why you did. Most first tweets say, "Well, here I am. Now what? Arghhhhhh!!!!"
  • so, it's all about getting some people to follow and to follow you. Take your time. Once you are following someone, you can go to that profile and see who they're following  -  and follow them too. As soon as you follow someone, their tweets will appear on your home page. On Tweetdeck, they'll appear in the "All friends" column
  • think about what sort of things you're going to say. I do not say "good morning all" as a tweet  -  some people do ... Gah. I like it when people have a healthy mix of fun/personal tweets and useful links to relevant sites or bits of writing/book-related news. As well as interesting individuals, I also follow things like the Bookseller, Bookbrunch and Book2book, and people like Scott Pack (@meandmybigmouth). I follow lots of you, too. If you're on Twitter and I'm not already following you, let me know your @name and I will, unless you're incredibly annoying or boring or try to sell me things.
That previous point brings me to publishers who Twitter. Publishers and publicists who Twitter need to be careful. So does anyone else trying to sell things. Especially to me. It brings out the most crabbit in me. (You should hear me when someone phones me trying to sell something.) On Twitter, I get completely sick of people who do nothing other than tell me how wonderful they or their clients are. I have stopped following people for that reason, and am very much less likely to buy their books. If you are going to occupy even a few seconds in my Twitter-life, I want you at least some of the time to interest me, amuse me, entertain me, or inform me in a way I need or want.

Although tweeting is like standing on a street corner and shouting, it is worth remembering that a) there are a lot of people standing there shouting too, so why would I hear you? and b) people standing and shouting tend to get eggs and things thrown at them. I would be the person throwing eggs.

@  -  the @ immediately before a username (no space after the sign) means that that person will see your message in their "Mentions" column on Tweetdeck or equivalent on other platforms. So, you never just use someone's name, because they may not see it. For example, if you mention that Nicola Morgan has just said something fascinating on her blog (it happens) you say Brilliant piece by @nicolamorgan and then you'd insert the URL to my marvellous post. All your followers would see you'd done it, and I would too, even if I wasn't your follower already, because the @ would mean that it would appear in my "Mentions" column. When I saw that you'd done that, I would love you and probably follow you. It's all mutual back-scratching.

#  -  hashchats. Very good idea to get into some hashchats. At designated times, there are worldwide chats on particular topics, such as #writechat, #pubchat (publishers, not pubs, silly). It's a great way to get to "meet" more people with similar interests. You get more followers after joining a #chat. Some #chats are, I think, continuous  -  I have a feeling that an example is #amwriting, where people tweet about what they're writing, but I haven't looked at this yet.

An example of one I have experienced is #litchat, which is Mon/Wed/Fri, 9-10pm London time. You go to, register and follow instructions. Then, the screen changes to a dedicated chat about books, hosted by #Litchat, and (until you choose to leave) the only tweets you see are people all in the same conversation, even if you weren't following them. Like the old-fashioned chat-rooms. Can be a bit mad, can be dead boring, can be stimulating. You'll usually find me, Jane Smith (@hprw), Maggie Dana (@MaggieDana) and Miss Pitch (@pitchparlour) there. We sometimes go off-topic and start bringing wine or chocolate into the conversation, for which we risk being ticked off by the moderator. Bit like being back at school, in my case.

When you like someone's tweet, you "retweet" or "RT" it by either (eg on Tweetdeck) choosing the RT option on the person's icon (avatar) or by copying and pasting it and adding RT + @name to the beginning. This then becomes a tweet of yours. People like to be RT'd but remember to make sure their @name is there, which is how you credit someone with having done or said something interesting.

RETWEET blog posts with a TWEETMEME button  -  or not...

I have been nagged by Jane Smith (sorry, @hprw) to add a Retweet button to my blog posts. It means that a blog-reader who is on Twitter can automatically send the post to Twitter. Trouble is, I failed. Or, I should say that I failed for an hour and gave up. I followed lots of different instructions but every time the button ended up in a weird place and I started to feel ill. And please do not tell me how to do it  -  I am quite happy having failed because at least I have a life. See, I know where to draw the line. One day, I'll ask Jane or someone to sort me out, but meanwhile I have some actual work to do, as in dosh-earning work.


A really useful thing to do. It means that a) every time you blog, your post automatically goes onto Twitter shortly afterwards and b) IF YOU ALSO insert the html code as a "gadget" on your blog, every time you tweet, your tweet goes onto your blog, so that your blog-readers can see your recent tweets even if they aren't on Twitter. I had some problems setting this up on the two occasions I had to do it, but I persevered and succeeded.

How? Go to and follow the instructions relating to the blog platform you use. I use blogger and it's straightforward once you get the correct RSS feed address. I can't advise in any way other then to say: persevere. Also, it doesn't work instantly, so don't worry if you seem not to have got it to work: wait an hour and then do a test post.

Every Friday is "FollowFriday". This means that if you've liked someone's blog or tweets, you put a tweet saying something like #ff the wonderful blog of @nicolamorgan 4 sensational advice + wit - and then, because it had @nicolamorgan in it, I'll see it, love you for ever and probably #ff you back.

If it does, you're doing it wrong. Well, you can do it wrong if you like, but unless you're a sad idiot you won't want something so ridiculous to take over your life. Because it is in many ways ridiculous. But ridiculously useful and more than occasionally fun too. I spend maybe 20 minutes day on it, split into 30 seconds to a minute at a time.

Bit like my dog sniffing and ...

Twitter is changing fast and anything I've said here may be out of date in five minutes. It's a matter of holding your breath and leaping in, panicking a bit till you come up for air, treading water till you see where the pretty fish and treasure islands are and then just going with the flow. And never, ever labouring such a mixed metaphor again.

Meanwhile, all you Twitterers, do please add any of your favourite tips or clients or #chats in the comments below. What I don't know about Twitter could fill a lot more than a day's worth of tweets, so do add to my paltriness. And correct anything I've got wrong. I'm finding my way, too.

Also, in the comments, tell us your own Twitter name (@.........) so that we can follow you.

Now I must go and sniff around Twitter and see what's been going on in my absence.

(PS  -  remember that I'm away most of this week  -  commenting is tricky from Tuesday onwards, but I'll be reading yours.)

Monday, 28 September 2009


Two days ago, I talked about whether and when authors need "platforms"  -  see here. And I explained what I meant by that prosaic and commercial word. Don't shy away just because you don't like the word. That would be ostrichesque.

There is no doubt that a very good way to start to build a platform is to blog. Many of you already do. Many of your blogs were mentioned and visited during the Blogoffee Party on Friday.

But, newbies, or those who haven't found their blogging way yet, must remember:
  1. There are other good reasons for writers to blog, not just platform construction
  2. You have to blog properly for it to have effect

Good reasons for writers to blog, in no particular order:
  1. The opportunity to make contacts  -  thereby creating a possible platform and leading to unpredictable things, such as an influential person happening to like what you do and promoting you in some small way which could lead to a big way. (You can't/shouldn't be contrived about this  -  just let it happen).
  2. The opportunity to follow other blogs about writing and by writers and industry professionals  -  thereby increasing knowledge of the whole business, making you more publishable and better prepared
  3. The opportunity to make friends amongst other writers  -  an excellent reason and result 
  4. The opportunity to write  -  when you blog you are writing; and writing, writing anything, is GOOD for a writer. More than good: essential
  5. The opportunity to get instant feedback  -  the book you are writing now, even if it is snapped up, won't be published until perhaps two years from now. Your blog posts are published with the click of a finger and read seconds later.
But, how do you blog properly? (By properly, I mean if you want people to read what you write. If it wasn't, you'd just write a private diary. So, "properly" means at least slightly publicly. Of course, perhaps you do just write your blog for private consumption  -  fine, but that's not what I'm talking about here.)

Here are my rules for successful and happy blogging:
  1. have something to say  -  content is king. What you had for breakfast is not interesting unless it is interesting. We all have breakfast  -  why would I spend time reading about yours? People need a reason to read you and people are busy. There are countless blogs they could be reading. If you haven't got something that will hold an audience for a long post, be brief  -  a lesson I should really learn myself...
  2. be yourself  -  since you need to develop a voice and since you have to blog often,  spontaneously, and over many months, being yourself makes it much easier to sustain. 
  3. but, while being yourself, have a theme, a feel, a "brand". (Sorry to go all markety  - call it a personal style instead, if you like.) It is possible to blog about a range of things, but people need to know what to expect when they come to your blog. For example, you expect me to give publishing advice in a more or less crabbit way; in the process, you expect me sometimes to sound off vaguely amusingly and certainly trenchantly, and to go gooey over chocolate, boots and sparkly wine. That's my "brand"  -  it's also utterly me.
  4. have links to relevant blogs on your blog. Do keep them relevant though, or sort them into topics. Again, it's about people needing to know what to expect and therefore why they should spend time with you. Why should they visit? Will they have fun, learn something, connect with others? Or what?
  5. if stuck for something to say one day, post links to relevant things you find  -  videos, articles or pics. You don't need permission to link to anyone else's blog but quoting substantially from another person's words is breaking the law, so ask. Chances are they'll be delighted. A short quote (and there's no definition of short ...) comes under "fair use " (US) or "fair dealing" (UK) and requires no permission, though you must always credit the writer, provide the source and quote 100% accurately. Some bloggers include a message about what permission you need  -  see mine in the bottom right column.
  6. keep your blog tidy and well-organised so people can find what you want them to find
  7. blog regularly. Two to three times a week is good; once a week is acceptable but is probably the minimum if you want to keep your readers growing.
  8. link to Twitter  -  I'll be talking about Twitter next Monday.
  9. your blog should not just be about you, unless you are completely fascinating. Or even, frankly, if you are. A blog has to be more giving than that. This is so important that I will now elaborate:
If you create a blog purely to promote yourself, you will fail. Or at least you will only succeed in promoting yourself as a selfish bugger full of your own self-importance. Blogging is a shared activity, something which should give as much as it takes. If you blog selfishly and self-importantly, you are like those irritating people who stand around at parties a) looking over my shoulder while talking to me, in case there's someone more interesting / useful they could talk to and b) never asking questions because they only want to hear their own voices. Also, these ugly characters may seem very confident and successful but, trust me, their pride and arrogance will destroy them in the end, or at the very least they will make enemies who will snipe at them behind their backs and not buy their books. I have on many occasions not bought the book of an author who behaves like that. 

This sharing aspect means that you must visit other blogs, comment and get involved. What you can't do is go to someone else's blog and jump into the comments with a plug for your blog. This is very bad blog form. If by chance you've just blogged about the same thing, it would be acceptable to mention this, but give due credit and praise to the blog you are visiting. Be very polite. You wouldn't turn up at someone's house uninvited and start telling them about your success. I hope...

I've read (can't remember where) a paradigm of the rules of promotion in this context, which states that there should be 60% take and 40% give. I'd put it the other way round. If you give more than you take, I think this is better in the long run, makes you more friends, and allows for a slow-burn of success. It feels better too. Maybe that's just me but I'd absolutely hate it if people thought I was doing any of this cynically or selfishly.

There's a thin line between promoting your work and showing off. Of course, not everyone will agree where the line is...

But this brings me to a personal point: those who don't know me well may be thinking, "What, so all this apparent generosity on Nicola Morgan's part, all this providing of info for free, actually is all about creating a platform for herself? She's not really a chocolate-loving, sexy-boot-wearing, sparkly-wine-loving, pseudo-crabbit old bat  -  this is just a persona she has built in order to promote herself as a brand?"

Believe three things: 
  1. I really am that person  -  there is nothing contrived here at all
  2. I started the blog for one reason only  -  I wanted to help writers not approach agents and editors in really stupid ways, because I kept seeing them doing it and it really bugged me. I woke up one morning, early, and started, spontaneously, after a particularly annoying incident where some unpublished writers had shown inexcusable ignorance.
  3. I have continued blogging for one reason only  -  I love doing it, absolutely love it. I hope that shines through. But I love meeting people in all sorts of ways  - parties, dinners, meetings, events, festivals. I am, frankly, a communication and contact junkie. It was only once I got going that I realised that I was inadvertently (but happily, I admit) developing some kind of "platform".
None of this is difficult. I only started eight months ago. I knew nothing, just made it up as I went, learning from others, and making generous contacts. I owe a huge amount to two fellow bloggers in particular, Jane Smith and Lynn Price. I think the way we all respect each other and share ideas, where in a non-blogging environment we could be rivals ready to kill each other with our stilettos, is a beauty of blogging. So many other amongst you have contributed too, and I am grateful to you all. I think we have a great community of people serious about writing, at all different stages of our careers.

Still not convinced of the practical point? In the last two weeks alone I have been contacted by seven very decent bloggers who wanted me to do interviews or guest posts on their blogs. Two of the results are here (no need to see both, as they are the same interview on two different blogs). America Reads and What are Writers Reading? Another is going up in a few days and was amusing to do  -  it was Coffee With a Canine, in which my dog gets to eat biscuits on the sofa and tell squirrel-chasing stories. The others are in progress.

But wouldn't a marketing person want to measure increased sales? Maybe they would, but me? Nah, I'm having way too much fun just writing. Yes, if I could be bothered, I could list positive things that have happened, but I'm not going to. I will just say that I have learnt a lot and that value the conversations we've all had here. And if I hadn't sold a single extra book, I honestly wouldn't mind, though I know very well that I have. You've told me.

So, thank you for allowing me to blog at you so lengthily. (Yes, I know, often too lengthily.) And now, get back to your blogs and prepare for publication...

Meanwhile, I'm off to blog about Twittering, to be posted next Monday. And be aware that I'm away all this week so can't easily reply to your comments, but I will be reading them. I have eyes everywhere.