Tag Archives: Marketing

Luck & the Writer

Some of you may have seen author and blogger J.A. Konrath’s recent blog post about self-publishing called Your Marketing Plan Won’t Work.


It caught my eye, as in 2019 I’ve forsaken writing the sixth story in my Cornish Detective series in favour of marketing the first five titles—there’s not much point in baking another cake when the rest are going stale on the shelves!

I like Konrath’s grumpy, unfiltered and confrontational style of commenting on the publishing industry, and recognised much of what he says in his assessment of what worked to sell his own books. He sums up by saying:


My career has been all over the place, and I’ve tried so many new and different things. I’ve learned from my many failures, and if I had to do it all over, I’d tell my younger self:

“One brand, one genre, stop experimenting, stop being a perfectionist, and just write five good books a year in the same series. Make sure they are professionally edited and formatted, have great covers and descriptions, keep length under 75k words, and make sure they have updated, clickable bibliographies in the back matter, pre-order pages for the next release, and newsletter sign-up forms.”

That’s it. That’s the sum total of my years of knowledge and experience.

[read the comments below the article]

Broadly, he agrees with the oft-quoted William Goldman:

Image result for “Nobody knows anything...... Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess and, if you're lucky, an educated one.”

(from Adventures in the Screen Trade)

Like Konrath and crime writer James Oswald my self-marketing is relying on blogging and having a website devoted to my crime series, with a view to building a mailing list of potential readers to send a newsletter to; my social media presence will be minimal. I intend to follow Oswald’s tactic of making the first book free, self-publishing the sequel at the same time at an attractive price—hoping to get the ball rolling.

Who knows if it will work?

As Konrath says:

It still comes down to luck.

Stop worrying. This is all out of your control.

Stop trying to find the answer. There is no answer. No answer, no logic, no reason, not even any scientific cause and effect.

It’s all luck.

I’ve long had a stoical approach to life, which has come in useful over the last six years since I returned to creative writing. Editing and querying require infinite levels of perseverance.

As for luck, I don’t know, for it’s an elusive sprite that lands on some people while avoiding my own arm!

I’ll keep on keeping on, even though I miss writing, for I reckon that building an author platform online will be more of a help than a hindrance. As champion golfer, Gary Player is reputed to have said: The harder I practice, the luckier I get.

How much do you think that luck counts in your writing career?


Dead authors as brands

We’re advised to become our own brand these days, to be as much a part of what readers buy into as the stories we create. This is all part of the relentless marketing that’s needed to get known, and is something that’s alien to most writers, who shun the limelight and work reclusively.

Once an author achieves a level of success that sees their name as recognisable as that of their literary creation, then that’s something publishers will capitalise on – even after the writer dies.

It’s happened with the James Bond series of books, where nine authors have written continuations of the secret agent’s adventures since his creator Ian Fleming died in 1964. These include well-known writers, such as Kingsley Amis, Sebastian Faulks, William Boyd and Jeffery Deaver.

Stieg Larsson’s untimely death has seen some nasty squabbling between his civil partner of many years and his family, about the fate of the Millennium trilogy of crime novels, including the continuation of the series. A fourth Millennium novel is about to be published, written by David Lagercrantz, a chameleon of a writer who specialises in mimicking the voices of others. 


This has caused much controversy, but I can’t say that I’m surprised it’s happened. After all, if J.K. Rowling or E.L. James dropped dead, do you really think that more novels would not appear, using their brand name?

What do you make of this practice? Imagine your own identity as an author being continued after your death – would you be pleased for the ongoing fame (and income for your family), or offended that you were being exploited?

Image result for ghost of stieg larsson
Stieg Larsson

Getting Gooder at Writing?!

Since returning to creative writing in 2013, I’ve learned a lot of new skills and some of them felt like scaling a frozen waterfall using ice axes and crampons. I mean stuff like formatting a manuscript, which made my brain melt as I attempted to understand the instructions in Smashwords founder Mark Coker’s free Style Guide.

It turned out to be easier to learn by actually doing it, submitting faulty versions of a short story to Smashwords’ Autovetter which told me what I’d done wrong.

Aspects of writing that I thought I’d be capable of doing, turned out to be complicated with subtleties…mainly linked to marketing myself and my books. Learning how to write plot synopses, queries to literary agents and which tags or keywords to choose to attract readers of ebooks all had me feeling like I was a trainee psychiatrist, not an author.

Selling anything requires trickery. I don’t mean dishonesty, just something that lures a customer into taking a bite at your hook. It could be termed Clickbait in that however you describe your book, including the tags, cover blurb and cover design, needs to make a potential reader curious in some way.

In learning how to do this, I’ve become very aware of what attracts me to a product, be it a book, DVD or CD. The title of this thread is provocative, for we all know that ‘gooder’ isn’t a proper word, but using a slang word might create more interest than my being correct with ‘How I’ve Improved My Writing’…which sounds pompous. It’s important to choose a story title that intrigues as well as informs.

When I read through short stories and poetry I wrote five years ago, the main thing that I correct is wordiness. Usually, less is more, as keeping things simple lets the reader use their imagination. I’m currently re-editing the first novel I wrote, having not looked at it for eighteen months. Leaving stuff in the bottom drawer always improves my eyes’ focus.

I recall wanting to write a crime novel that had literary elements. This ambition led me into using posh words and ten words where one word would have been better.. It’s stuff like having written: “The knife had left a scar on the fatty part above his left jaw” —the fatty part above his left jaw, what are you one about, Paul? I rewrote this as “He had a knife scar on his cheek” Simpler and conveying the same message.

Overall, I think that I’ve learned how to make my writing more forceful with fewer words…punchier. One of the masters of laconic yet dynamic writing was Raymond Chandler, who apparently laboured for hours to cut back what he’d written, and who said:

Image result for raymond chandler A good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled.

It takes time to distil a story into the written equivalent of whisky. Far easier to dash off what amounts to palatable but weak beer. As Mark Twain is deemed to have said: I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.

Writing a story shouldn’t force your readers into consulting a dictionary. Using pretentious and unusual words can certainly be used to show the nature of a character, maybe a snob who’s trying to intimidate someone. I did this in my latest Cornish Detective novel, where a murder suspect, a snooty art dealer, talks down to the detectives by referring to painting terms such an en plein air and wet-on-wet.

What I need to get betterer (!) at is how to schmooze. Ingratiating myself with literary agents, publishers and readers doesn’t come naturally to me, but it’s onwards and upwards, as these days there’s no choice but to be your own cheerleader. The biggest fallacy about publishing remains true—that a well-written and well-polished manuscript will automatically rise to the top of the slush pile. Your story may shine, but luminosity alone won’t sell it.

How has your writing improved?

Do you look back at early efforts and groan?

What aspects of writing and publishing intimidate you?

Do Writers Look Like Their Books?

You know how it’s said, that people look like their dogs, and vice-versa?

The same can be said of cat owners.

Well, I was wondering if authors resemble the books that they write…could you pick out the sci-fi writers from romance authors and those who pen historical sagas (with a goose quill pen) should you be at a writers’ conference?

I don’t think that I look particularly homicidal, though I’ve been writing crime novels for the last five years. If anything, my long curly hair and beard might lead people to suspect that I’m a sci-fi author or someone who churns out dire outlaw biker thrillers, or maybe non-fiction about counter-culture and rock musicians.

Guessing what someone does for a job is occasionally easy, especially if you’ve hung around with that crowd. It hardly needs Sherlock Holmes’ powers of observation, to identify which people are farmers in a pub bar—their clothing, weather-beaten complexions, footwear and unkempt hairstyles all give them away. I once worked as a barman in an inn that was close to a police station and Crown Court: it was simple to tell the difference between the coppers and the legal eagles, even in plain clothes. There was also a town pub notorious for being fraternised by criminals, and I observed many similarities between ever-watchful and cynical law-breakers and their pursuers, the observant detectives who believe no one’s story.

An author’s appearance can be crucial in helping to market and sell their books. I’ve previously ranted on about how some literary agencies and publishers have a roster of clients that looks like a modelling agency.

All the same, it’s impossible for any of us to escape a tendency to have a stereotypical image of how a genre writer should look. As I contemplate creating an online persona to market my Cornish Detective series, I’ve been wondering daft things, such as should I acquire a long wax-proof coat for my author picture, along with a sturdy walking pole—my protagonist detective has both—for me to be artfully posed on a Bodmin Moor granite crag? Shoot me, now! 

Image result for bodmin moor

These are the sort of things that authors agonise over, as this article about famed photographic portraitist Marion Ettlinger reveals. Sadly, the article doesn’t show her photographs, but here’s a link to her website.

Some of her images hint at what sort of books an author writes, or, at least their stance and clothing suggest their style.

One aspect of marketing that amuses me, is how the dust jacket end flap shows a photograph of the author from 20 years ago, back when his skin was tight and his hair profuse and he didn’t look like one of the Walking Dead. I wonder if the choice is at the author’s insistence (I’m forever young!) or the publicity department is blatantly conning the reading public.

So, do you look like the author of your book?

Could a reader guess that you write fantasy stories?

Do all writers of children’s books look friendly and approachable, open to new experiences—like adult-sized children?

The modern writer has to be a hustler too

This is an honest and rather depressing appraisal of what it means to be a writer these days. Unbelievable how low the income is for a Booker Prize-winning author. The title of this piece is what I’m finding to be true – it’s more about marketing and hustling what I’ve written than actually creating the work.

Image result for book selling cartoon