When I attended Bloomsbury’s excellent ‘Self -publishing in the Digital Age’ conference the other week, it occurred to me that there is a glitch inherent in this whole new age of publishing: What if you like writing – you may even be a great writer – but you aren’t the kind of person that likes to blow your own trumpet?
I know many writers who fit that description – who quail at the thought of socialising in large groups or being pushy. And, as I sat in the lecture hall listening to speaker after speaker ramming home the importance of engaging in conversation with readers on the web – through blogging, tweeting, and social media of every kind – I wondered about those writers out there who feel that they would rather jump into a vat of worms than engage in this kind of activity.
Writers aren’t known for their extrovert qualities. That they’ve chosen a profession that involves working alone at home says it all. But here’s the thing: you can write for yourself alone, or for an inner circle of hand-picked individuals – I’m not knocking that – or you can put your head above the parapet and have a go at self-promotion.
One of my favourite childcare authors, the Australian Steve Biddulph, who always takes a child-centred and sensitive approach to child-rearing, surprised me at first when he took a robust stand on the issue of young kids and shyness. The child who clings to your skirts and hides behind you needs to be gently but firmly persuaded to look the other person in the eye and greet them politely. Social skills have to be learned, like holding a knife and fork. So it is with self-promotion in the digital age. Here are a few tips I gleaned from the conference:
- Spend roughly half your working day marketing your book, including online social media activities
- Use the 80/20 rule: promote your book for twenty per cent of the time; offer help to others and general conversation for the rest. No-one likes socialising with a ‘taker’ – you need to give as well.
- It can be fun for a writer to condense their ideas into pithy little tweets
- You cannot create a bestseller without putting energy into ‘handselling’ and finding your readers. Only after the first thousand copies have been sold will sales start to snowball as the word-of-mouth effect takes hold. Until then you’ve got to work at it.
- If you find a mainstream publisher, don’t get lazy. You have to hand-sell and socialise just as hard.
- Give it a go. Don’t say you hate it before you’ve even tried!
If it doesn’t come naturally, just ‘act it’. Think of all those shy actors and comedians on the stage. Just put on your social ‘hat’ and get out there – online and off. Your book deserves to be read!
Wanda Whiteley, former Publishing Director at HarperCollins, is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Manuscriptdoctor.co.uk, a literary consultancy