Recently, I’ve been exploring Twitter, seeking out Colony members and Crime genre authors and literary agents who like crime novels. I intended to use this personal account to make contacts and to promote myself and my Cornish Detective series in a non-pushy way.
My Twitter presence morphed from a Facebook Author page called Paul Pens, which is based on threads I started on The Colony. Last autumn, I started a Facebook business page devoted to my Cornish Detective series. Why not give my fictional hero a Twitter account too?
I searched for advice online, finding this dated article:
There are a lot of Marvel and DC superheroes and fictional heroes tweeting away, as are Homer J. Simpson, Charlie Brown and Lord Voldermort, so I may join in with Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle.
Several authors I know have commented that being a writer spoils the pleasure of being a reader. We’re constantly examining the author’s technique, finding ideas to steal to adapt to our work and, maybe, feeling intimidated and inadequate.
It’s impossible when reading, to not wonder how much the author’s opinions are revealed by their characters. There are various terms used for this, such as mouthpiece, surrogate and stand-in. More writerly is a chorus character which dates back to Ancient Greek plays in which one of the functions of the chorus was to comment on the action.
Ayn Rand uses the character of John Galt to speak rambling monologues to expound her theories on Objectivism in Atlas Shrugged. J.K. Rowling has said that Hermione Granger was based on herself as a girl, and various other characters in the Harry Potter series had their origins in people she knew.
Such self-insertion can lead to the author appearing in idealised form. Stan Lee turned up in cameos in the Marvel comics. Philip K. Dick named a major character after himself in Radio Free Albemuth. W. Somerset Maugham writes The Razor’s Edge as a minor character drifting in and out of the story making comments about the actions of the key players.
We previously discussed You In Your Book, but, how much do you express your own attitudes towards things by what your protagonist says and does?
My crime series is set in Cornwall. The main character is the son of a farmer, who sold the family farm to become a copper. Plots often include rural crime. The new story features, as a sub-plot, an arsonist torching barns in the night. It’s impossible not to mention Brexit: my detective’s attitudes reflect my own.
I’ve reflected who I am by my characters commenting on loyalty, assisted suicide, violence, sexuality, illegal immigration, slavery, human trafficking and drug laws.
How much do you let readers in to who you are through your stories?
Self-promotion is essential for an author. Whether you’re fortunate enough to have the support of a book publisher or if you’re going it alone with self-publishing, the reading public wants access to you.
This means blogging, having a website devoted to your books, running a newsletter and making pithy posts on social media…all to get your name circulating and maybe sticking to the memory banks of potential readers.
Many writers are reclusive, shy even and not given to making a fuss. But, it helps to be able to blow your own trumpet when necessary, such as for a book launch. It may come across as arrogant, which we’ve discussed before, but unless you’re a household name such as J.K. Rowling, Margaret Atwood or E.L. James, it will only be a flash in the pan, a brief round of publicity before you can return to solitude to write your next book. All the same, you should maintain contact with your fans with a newsletter. You’re not a cicada emerging every 2-17 years!
These days we’re expected to establish ourselves and our books as a brand. Potentially, this means being typecast as a certain style of writer. Should my Cornish Detective series be successful, I doubt that my Ghost or Western stories would be automatically accepted. This is how pen names come about.
Ideally, readers would be able to name you as one their favourite genre or literary authors. But, how many times do they need to see your name and/or the name of your main character before they remember it? Having a catchphrase might help. Mine is: A country copper with a strange mind, a weary heart and quick fists—what could possibly go wrong?
Repetition is the key. If you can afford paid advertising, then great, but simply mentioning your story at appropriate moments should help to spread awareness. On my writing blog, I occasionally allude to my crime novels, not being too heavy-handed, just enough to show that I’ve got skin in the game.
It takes multiple exposures to a product before it registers in a consumer’s mind. The Rule of 7 applies. Anything you post online should be linked to other content. Make it a habit and it won’t feel boastful.
Apologies to The Stone Roses for stealing the title of one of their songs from their breakout album, which I acquired yesterday at a car boot sale. I hadn’t listened to it for a while, but I wanna be adored made me think about how we sell ourselves as writers. Lead singer Ian Brown wrote the song to admit that he’d sold out, by going for a more commercial sound—to be liked by more music fans.
In the 21st-century, we’re expected to share details of our lives as part of the process of marketing our writing. Having a blog and a website devoted to our books is practically compulsory, expected by one’s literary agent, publisher and readers. And, what about your social media posts, where you scintillate and captivate new readers?
No one likes a grouch, however good their writing. You have to play nice, at least occasionally when interviewed, if you’re going to improve sales of your books. Some people are naturally charming while retaining a depth of intelligence that shows they’re not being smarmy. I think of J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, Ian Rankin, Walter Mosley and Jeanette Winterson when I say this. I’m sure that you can think of other examples of accessible authors who you enjoy hearing talking about the creative process.
I’ve spent most of 2019 building an author platform, attempting to come across as nice, for want of a better word, as well as someone worth reading. Having spent the last decade living in a flat at a petrol station, socialising and dating not at all, my life has been devoted to reading and writing. I have lots of imaginary friends! The concept of being adored is laughable, but whether I self-publish my Cornish Detective series or I get picked up by Hodder & Stoughton’s The Future Bookshelf publishing opportunity, I need to ingratiate myself with potential readers.
Some will hate my books, others will think them OK, while a few may adore them. And me?
It would be a strange situation to be in, where your fans believed in you more than you believed in yourself, demanding more and more from you.
Best not to take yourself too seriously. Neil Gaiman put it well in an interview:
“You have a very open relationship with your fans.”
“Yes. We have an open relationship. Obviously, they can see other authors if they want, and I can see other readers.”
We’ve previously discussed You In Your Book, where you, the author, make a disguised appearance in your story, but what about channelling personal experiences?
It’s the best example of the advice to ‘Write what you know.’
I’ve written about bereavement, depression and a suicide attempt all drawing on personal experience. It’s also been my fate to have been poisoned, stabbed and shot, so I’ve used those extreme situations to add authenticity to stories.
I’ve had several confrontations with sharp weapons. Many stab victims report that they didn’t realise they’d been stabbed, until they saw the knife and escaping blood, as the blow feels like a punch. Which it does. I used that experience in my last Cornish Detective novel, in which my protagonist is run through from behind with a sword blade. He traps the blade with his elbow and hand (suffering more wounds), to prevent it being withdrawn for another attack.
It’s not just the intensity of life-changing events that personal experience adds colour to, but also how the aftermath affects behaviour as the victim recovers from trauma. My fictional detective is spiralling into depression in Book 1, having lost his wife in a traffic accident. By Book 2, he’s a functioning zombie dosed to the gills on antidepressants and suffering panic attacks, as he tracks down a serial killer. These are both feelings I’ve experienced, so it was good to put them to use.
Not that readers would necessarily appreciate such verisimilitude. Also, I’d be unlikely to talk about my experiences in blogs or interviews. As science fiction author Stephen Leigh said:
‘That’s the essential goal of the writer: you slice out a piece of yourself and slap it down on the desk in front of you. You try to put it on paper, try to describe it in a way that the reader can see and feel and touch. You paste all your nerve endings into it and then give it out to strangers who don’t know you or understand you. And you will feel everything that happens to that story — if they like it, if they hate it. Because no matter how you try to distance yourself from it, to some degree you feel that if they hate it, they hate you. Which isn’t the truth, you understand. At least you understand that in your head…but not always in your heart.’
Before publishing a story and being criticised, we might mangle our hearts as we edit our carefully created writing. I’ve posted this poem before on Paul Pens but it’s worth reposting, especially for anyone lost in the ignominy of editing:
In The Desert
In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter — bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”
While researching marketing and self-promotion, I saw a novel idea about how to deal with newsletters and comments to and from adoring fans (who dey?), which is to give your protagonist their own email account.
Sounds weird, but I’ve already got a Gmail account in my discarded pen name of Augustus Devilheart, to take messages, newsletters and subscription updates from anyone to do with writing and publishing. Google being Google, this led to the strange situation where I received a message from them, asking “Paul Whybrow do you know Augustus Devilheart?”
Not content with haunting myself in this way, I’m waiting to hear from my main character Detective Chief Inspector Neil Kettle—perhaps asking me why I haven’t begun writing his latest investigation—I left him in a coma at the end of Book 5 The Dead Need Nobody, completed at the end of 2018.
While writing my books, I’ve had my eye on creating a tourist trail based on the locations of my Cornish stories, though it’s hard to think of merchandising opportunities…mugs, calendars, tea towels? Having an email address might make people think my literary hero is a living person.
It’s weird to think that readers might one-day email Neil Kettle, but who knows?
Have any of you made your protagonist real in some way?
As I emerge from reclusiveness, to share myself and my crime novels online, it occurred to me that part of my self-promotion campaign should include personal appearances.
From reading how debut authors achieved success, one of the best ways of getting anywhere is attending literary festivals and residential training courses. It’s not as if writers, editors, literary agents and publishers wander around looking like their job or wear helpful placards hanging from their neck.
The second question commonly asked, after learning a stranger’s name, is: “What do you do?” I’ve long referred to myself as a writer, simply because it’s what I’ve done more than any other job. It’s how I’ve thought of myself, even when working in a factory, as a dispatch rider, teacher and librarian.
After being a hermit in a hovel for ten years, I’m pondering on how to be a public performer. I’m a long way from being shy—and the world of books is genteel—but how do I infiltrate it? Maybe my ambition is showing on my face, somehow, for three unexpected incidents yesterday set my brain whirring.
Firstly, I bumped into an old lover. She lives locally and though we don’t socialise, we’ve chatted amicably enough on the street. Back in 2013, when I mentioned to her that I was returning to creative writing full-time, she was dismissive, saying I’d never make money at it—which I already knew would be hard. Puzzled by her negativity, I later recalled she’d written a memoir that she couldn’t find a publisher for. This time, when she asked about my writing, she was joyful and encouraging that I’m going to begin self-publishing my Cornish Detective series this summer. A pat on the back beats a kick up the arse, so I felt buoyed up.
I wandered into the library. The assistants know I’m a writer and have been helpful offering advice about Cornwall Libraries policy on buying books by local authors. I’ve shared some of my experiences about querying agents, editing, blogging and putting myself out there on social media. The librarian smiled at the requested titles I’d come in to collect, which were three books in the ‘For Dummies’ series about Facebook, Instagram, GoodReads and Twitter. Although I’ve used social media for twenty years, there’s a big difference between being a casual surfer and using it to run a business. She asked if I’d be interested in talking to their readers’ group, which meets once a fortnight to discuss a set book. Sure, said I, panicking about how to describe being a writer without sounding like a merchant of doom!
Wondering if my status as a writer could grow from grassroots, I went to shop for food at the Co-Op supermarket. At the till was an employee I’ve talked to about writing. When writing my last novel, which features thieves who use a bulldozer to steal the ATM from the foyer of that very supermarket, I’d spent time eyeballing the security cameras and monitor screen hanging from the ceiling as a deterrent. The assistant looked at me suspiciously, as if I was about to rob the place, so I explained why I was being nosy.
Since then, we’ve chatted about writing and publishing, as she totalled my bill at the till. I said I was about to self-publish the first two novels, whereupon, she asked for my profile name on Facebook, offering to promote my crime series via several book groups she runs. I was very surprised. I’m hopeless at asking for help, preferring to assist others, so receiving three boosts to my efforts inside an hour gladdened my heart.
I’d better get on with things. People think I’m a writer, even I feel like I’m a bumbling impostor at times.
How do you handle being a writer with your family, friends and the public?
In rejigging my online presence, via a blog, website and various social media accounts, I’ve had to describe myself in profiles of different lengths.
As with anything to do with writing, self-publishing and self-promotion little words can carry mighty weight. From the story itself to the title, to tags chosen to describe the plot and onto an author’s biography, there are writing experts who’ll coach you on what to use and what to avoid saying.
I freely admit that I’m nosy about finding out details about a creative person’s life. The internet could have been invented for me: I’ll read the Wikipedia pages for all of the stars in a film that’s on television, before moving to the director, cameraman and sound recordist. Contemplating the idea that some reader will be doing that with my bio is disconcerting.
I’ve often wondered how relevant an author’s upbringing and career history are to their books. I see the significance if their parents are writers, as with Kingsley and Martin Amis, James Lee Burke and Alafair Burke, Stephen King and Joe Hill and Alice Walker and Rebecca Walker. But, what difference does it make if a writer’s parents were aristocrats or servants? My father was a noted industrial photographer, so I grew up in a house full of cameras and photographs, but did that make me more observant? Would I write differently if Dad was a plumber?
What about an author’s work history? I’ve done something like 50 different jobs, including career ladder professions, wage slave factory worker, manual labourer and charity volunteer on nature projects, street art, community centre and counselling. Such variety has given me an appreciation of what people do to earn a crust, more so than if I’d been a truck driver for 40 years.
How about a writer’s romantic liaisons and marriages—always of keen interest to prurient readers—was the person who wrote the book promiscuous or a prude? A lot of authors’ bios on the back flap of their novel end with something like ‘She lives in Brighton with her husband, two children and three cats.’
That should be enough, surely?
One factor that readers apparently consider, is how experienced or knowledgeable is the author to write about their subject? In my writing genre of Crime, there are some noted writers who were policemen, profilers, lawyers, probation officers or criminals. Would I sell more books, if I confessed to burying my first two wives under the patio? I’m joking!
I posted my bio on this blog. My profile is similar on my Cornish Detective website and social media sites
I think it’s important to open up and let readers into your life and way of thinking if you’re going to foster loyalty to your books. Along those lines, I’ve written articles explaining why I wrote that particular Cornish Detective story, which will be open to readers leaving comments on my website. In the internet age, we all think we deserve to know about someone’s life. How many reclusive writers manage to stay unknown these days?
I’m happy to interact with people that way, and further down the road, if I have any sales success, there may be public appearances and book signings. I would never want the level of recognition which makes authors household names, with fandom that intrudes, as with J.K. Rowling, Anne Rice and Stephen King.
Some authors adopt a whimsical approach to their bios:
“Lemony Snicket has ridden the rails, gotten off track, and lost his train of thought. His investigative research has been collected and published in books, including those in A Series of Unfortunate Events and All the Wrong Questions.”
“Eric Carle invented writing, the airplane, and the internet. He was also the first person to reach the North Pole. He has flown to Mars and back in one day, and was enthusiastically greeted by the Martians. “Very strange beings,” he reported on his return. He has written one thousand highly regarded books; a team of experts is presently attempting to grasp their meaning. “It might take a century,” said the chief expert. Carle is also a great teller of stories — but not all of them are true, for instance those in this book.”
“Laurelin Paige is the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today Bestselling Author of the Fixed Trilogy. She’s a sucker for a good romance and gets giddy anytime there’s kissing, much to the embarrassment of her three daughters. Her husband doesn’t seem to complain, however. When she isn’t reading or writing sexy stories, she’s probably singing, watching Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead, or dreaming of Michael Fassbender. She’s also a proud member of Mensa International though she doesn’t do anything with the organization except use it as material for her bio. You can connect with Laurelin on Facebook at facebook.com/LaurelinPaige or on twitter @laurelinpaige. You can also visit her website, laurelinpaige.com, to sign up for emails about new releases and a chance to win a $100 Amazon Gift Certificate in a monthly drawing.”
How do you feel about putting yourself out there as a writing personality?
Is anything from your past going to help you sell books?
Feeling clueless about what to say? Reedsy has a free author bio template:
A revealing article penned by indie author Alastair Crombie describes
how he attempted self-marketing as an unknown writer.
I’ve not found any other methods that work reliably for newbies.
I’m not sure there are any. The cold truth of the matter is that
instant success belongs in the fiction we write and not in the facts
“And the final lesson I learnt: living with disappointment. I know most authors recognize the feeling.”
year, I’ve been navigating the self-promotion trail, which is
something I wish I’d began six years ago, before writing my first
Cornish Detective novel. If you’re new to writing, I earnestly
recommend beginning a blog (with a newsletter) and posting regularly
on social media. The trick is to get your name known and also to
collect email addresses of subscribers who may, one day, buy your
whether you self-publish online or you publish traditionally through
a book company, you’ll be expected to have an author platform, so
best start now!
When I returned to creative writing in 2013, I knew it would take at least five years to get anywhere and so it has proved. It helps that I’m stoical (and bloody-minded!). I had some experience of publishing and being a writer from selling short stories and magazine articles in the 1970s and 1980s, realising that you were only as good as your last published piece—and that it needed lots of luck to get that into print.
I’m glad that one of the first writing guides I read was How Not To Write A Novel: Confessions of a Midlist Author by David Armstrong. Originally published in 2002, what he says about surviving as a non-bestselling author is even truer today. The hardships and ignominy are worse. There are affordable copies available on Amazon and eBay and Kindle:
confirms that it’s a long, hard slog to get anywhere as a writer.
Wannabee authors might well be put off starting.
present, I’m wrestling with the hydra of converting my books to other
formats, those most commonly used by e-reading devices, which are
PDF, MOBI and EPUB. This is to make my manuscript flowable, able to
automatically fit different-sized screens. Previously, I’ve
self-published on Amazon and via Smashwords, which rather spoilt me,
for they have meatgrinder software which does the conversion for you.
I should have used Smashwords again, even though I’ve unpublished my 45 titles on their site, to promote them via Draft2Digital. Instead, out of some daft sense of behaving honourably, I attempted to do the job by using Calibre, checking what the converted story looked like with Adobe Digital Editions
The main problem has been that the formatting I’ve used sometimes gets removed by Calibre, resulting in unwanted spacing between sentences and paragraphs. Trying to establish my own house style, I’d used Celtic symbols as section breaks, like this:
Calibre didn’t like that at all, substituting a capital ‘O’ for the key I’d pressed to insert the Celtic Knot. Smashwords meatgrinder did the same thing. This meant I had to remove them all, which took several hours…as did adding them last week. Note to self: stop being a clever dick!
After cleaning the manuscript of extraneous design flourishes, I put it through Smashwords meatgrinder again, which gave me a clean-looking story, complete with an attached book cover. There are still problems with the MOBI conversion done by Smashwords, which is the format used by Amazon for their Kindles.
Smashwords and Amazon don’t play well together, each insisting that any manuscript submitted doesn’t mention their rival. I’d listed my 45 previously published titles at the end of the book, linking them to Amazon, which gave Smashwords an epileptic fit! Removing them improved the MOBI reformatting results, but Amazon’s own meatgrinder will probably do a better job.
Of course, if I had the money, I could pay someone to run a campaign promoting me and my books and to convert my books to other formats, placing advertising strategically, but I don’t, so I’m doing everything myself. Paying for services is no guarantee of success. I’ve read some horror stories of people investing their life savings to promote themselves as writers, selling very few books and facing penury.
I’m 80% towards completing what I planned with blogging, having an author website, designing book covers, reformatting my five crime novels and posting on social media. I’m going to put in a couple of weeks of 12-hour days, to ready things for launching the first two stories in mid-July.
Although it’s taken thousands of hours of work to get to this point, I’m truly not expecting anything much to happen. I’m not a celebrity who’s chosen to write a book (or have it written for them), so I’ve no free promotion that way.
I’m just a nobody trying to be a somebody.
What might help raise my profile, is to do interviews with the local press and radio stations, which I’m loath to do, but needs must when the devil drives. EMOJI Cornwall Libraries have a policy of buying books by Cornish authors and those set in the county, so I’ll make some sales that way (including eBooks) as well as introduce local readers to my name.
What problems have you faced in self-promoting and self-publishing?
What worked for you?
And, what was a waste of time and money?
If anyone needs advice on what I’ve written about in this post, please contact me (before my brain melts).
I might have made the mistakes, so you don’t have to.
Lots of differing opinions in the article, about how worthwhile having a strong social media presence is when it comes to getting published. Followers online aren’t necessarily going to buy your book.
It caught my eye, as I’m in the early stages of establishing my author platform, with a view to returning to self-publishing. My blog on writing is almost ready to go live, after which I’ll build a WordPress website devoted to my Cornish Detective novels.
(Me waiting for a train full of readers!)
I’ve long had a jaundiced view of Facebook, though I’ve had a personal page for 16 years and a business page for four years, which I’ve done nothing to. Facebook was once useful to promote sales by advertisements, but many writing gurus reckon it’s had its day:
Marketing experts are favouring mailing lists generated by subscribers to an author’s blog and website as the way to go to generate sales. I was mulling over how much time to devote to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, when the latest newsletter from James Oswald arrived. I’ve mentioned him several times before, and his success story continues to inspire me:
He reveals his attitude to social media sites. He’s removed his presence from Facebook, owing to their stance on sharing users’ data. He doesn’t see the point of Pinterest (where I started 27 boards) and admits that he became addicted to Twitter—to no real purpose of serving his writing or book sales. I’m amazed at how many intelligent creative people have admitted to this addiction, so it’s something for me to be wary of…I’ve only made one introductory tweet when I joined three years ago. Oswald has suspended his Twitter account and relies on communicating with readers directly, by a CONTACT ME email link on his blog, but, as he runs a livestock farm, the animals take precedence. He says:
all else, though, Twitter is an enormous time sink. Struggling with
deadlines, I often find myself nipping back to the site for a quick
look ‘while I gather my thoughts’. It’s a kind of addiction, and one
I can do without.
To that end, I’ve logged off the site, and am keeping my distance for the moment. I won’t delete it like I did Facebook. My publisher would have a heart attack if I abandoned social media entirely. My daily Blipfoto uploads automatically, as will notification of this newsletter going out. I will return to posting occasional Highland cow and sheep pictures, too, now that lambing is over. But until Inspector McLean book ten is delivered, my presence will be much diminished. Newsletters are the new thing, honest.’
Interesting, that he favours an image sharing site called Blipfoto, which I hadn’t heard of…where he posts pics of his sheep and cows. I may join:
The only tactic I believe in
when it comes to social media, is to link everything that you do,
driving readers towards your sales points. (Makes them sound like
I’m going to be following
James Oswald’s example by giving my first novel away for free,
following up with the second in the series at a reasonable price.
I’ve got three more written and edited, so feel like I’m in a strong
position—but that’s only so if readers like them. I favour his
reliance on newsletters. I’ll use Twitter to make contacts, network
and to tweet the occasional witticism.