Stopping Short of an Obituary Notice

by Gary William Murning
Photo created by Julian Povey

The Irish writer Brendan Behan once said that “all publicity is good, except an obituary notice”. Now, whilst I’m not in any way wishing an obituary notice on myself, or any other writers out there, I tend to disagree with this. In the past few months, since the publication of my first novel, my motto has very much become All Publicity Is Good! (Which can sometimes be translated As Any Publicity You Manage to Get Is Good!) Granted, it’s far more satisfying if you’re still around to benefit from it, but make no mistake about it; in the difficult world of book promotion and marketing, just about everything counts.

Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to know a number of writers who’ve offered me advice and guidance along the way, and the one thing all of them have pretty much agreed upon is how important it is for a writer to have a very proactive approach to the promotion of his/her work. Unless you’re a big-name author with a major publisher, the chances are that the marketing budget is going to be fairly small, if not non-existent.

So this was something that was at the forefront of my mind when my first novel was published. And, yes, it was daunting. There are now so many possibilities—so many ways of interacting with people and disseminating information that it is easy to be overwhelmed.

My approach, however, has been a fairly simple one. I talked to people I know—other writers, initially—and did what I could to get some coverage in writers’ magazines. I contacted regional newspapers and, in one case, actually interviewed myself for the local free paper. Lucy at Legend was also really helpful, getting me in The View from Here and Able Magazine.

But, of course, I was very aware that there was so much more I could be doing. Pretty familiar with the Internet and very comfortable with blogging communities, social networks and so on and so forth, I saw that to ignore such media would be silly.

Twitter—the much maligned micro-blogging platform—has been at the forefront of my “promotional campaign”. When If I Never was accepted, I’d already been using this service for six months or so. Keeping up with my blog on a regular basis was starting to become difficult and I liked the idea of having to restrict myself to 140 characters. Through it, I’d already established some good writing contacts, made some great friends and had some fun along the way—and when I heard that Legend was interested in publishing my novel I immediately started tweeting about it. The enthusiastic support and encouragement I received from my friends and followers made me see immediately just how powerful a tool Twitter could be for me. So I built on this, keeping the updates going, chatting, occasionally saying something that some considered “witty” and steadily grew my following.

What became apparent very quickly, though, was that such platforms can’t be used in a simple broadcast sense. It isn’t enough to simply send out promotional bytes. I watched others doing this and saw right away that the vast majority of people would react to this approach in exactly the same way as me; i.e.—they’d stop paying attention. That’s not to say that book details etc should not be mentioned at all. It’s more a case of providing balance. People need a reason to keep following, and simple, repetitive publishing information probably isn’t going to be enough.

Of course, not everyone on the Internet uses Twitter. But you can bet your life that they use something. Whether it be Facebook or MySpace, I knew they were out there, waiting, and so I built my presence on these platforms, too. I didn’t envisage that they would be too useful when it came to getting people I didn’t know interested in my novel, but I did see that they could be used as a handy way of keeping those who already liked my work up to date on new projects/publications. Their impact so far has been fairly small but I have a sneaking suspicion that they’ll come into their own in a year or two’s time. Hopefully!

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned over recent months, I suppose, is the importance of blogs, reader forums, websites such as GoodReads and fReado—and how happy people are, generally speaking, to give you a little free exposure. Bloggers in particular have been incredibly generous. I’m not shy, and I’m more than comfortable with e-mailing blog-owners to ask them if they’d be willing to interview me, and the results have nearly always been positive. Individual blogs may not necessarily have huge readerships, but if you’re featured on enough of them, they really start to have a noticeable effect on sales.

But it doesn’t just happen. It’s true that using the Internet to promote your work requires a fairly significant time investment. You need to keep up with what’s going on, chat to people, help people where you can and be a member of the community rather than just someone who visits occasionally. It can be fairly demanding, yes, but it doesn’t have to impact on your work or life as much as you might think. I’ve now set myself very clear cut off points. I don’t work beyond a certain time. I don’t tweet every five minutes. And if I have nothing to say, I don’t risk making a fool of myself by trying to find something.

What I do, though, I do as regularly as possible. I keep as organised as I can, make a point of trying something new each week, and continually remind myself that this is a long-term effort. There are short-term gains but, as I see it, I’m still laying the foundation for future success.

Success that will not, hopefully, depend on an obituary notice.

Gary's debut book, If I Never, was published by Legend Press last year. Gary is a writer from the northeast of England who enjoys literature, current affairs, music, the arts and sceptical enquiry. 

To visit his site here.
& find Gary on Twitter here.

1 comment:

Darcia Helle said...

Great article, Gary! You offer some excellent advice for using the Internet to market ourselves and our work.