Promoting a Modern Novel or Trying to Make Sense of the Universe

Catherine McNamara interviews three authors who have worked with or are working with an independent publisher.

First off is Charlie Hill whose novel ‘The Space Between Things’ came out in October 2010...

What sort of expectations did you have when you signed with a small publisher?

None really.

You’ve written for newspapers such as the Times Literary Supplement, the New Statesman, the Independent on Sunday. Did you use these contacts?

I tried. But due to a combination of my over-exuberance (in the run-up to the launch of your debut novel, it's easy to forget how to approach the national press) and editorial indifference, none of them bit...

How important was a web presence and social networking for you? How effective did they prove and what other methods did you use to reach your audience?

I got in touch with Hay and other festivals, encouraged local cafes to take a punt on stocking the thing, harassed mums at local baby groups... Marginally more successful than any of this was my leafletting (The Times called my novel a 'celebration' of the suburb in which it was set, so I stuck that on a flyer and did the whole postcode.)
I'm a bit sketchy when it comes to social networking - I make do with a free website and a rather pre-Twitter approach to 'friendships' on Facebook - so it's difficult to draw any conclusions from the effectiveness or otherwise of my web presence. I do think that you can spend too much time on it though. I can see the value of Facebook pages and Tweeting and - at a pinch - working to build a following for a writing-related blog, but trailers on Youtube? It's an obsession at the moment, for both writers and their publishers and the only thing writers should be obsessed about is their work. Place a short story in a decent mag and the interest will come; it all comes back to the work, after all.

What were the highs and lows of your publishing experience?

I was disappointed that the McKitterick Award had no shortlist last year. Seems a bit of a missed opportunity, given that the prize is dedicated to raising the profile of both The Society of Authors and the writers they represent. Am I deluded enough to think that my book would have made the cut? Quite possibly. But that isn't the point: had you heard of the prize? Nah, me neither...

Looking back on your publishing experience, is there anything you would do differently a second time around?

I probably wouldn't, on balance, have sent out those abusive emails to the editors of the TLS and the New Statesman, the organisers of the Hay Festival, The Society of Authors etc etc

Next up is Sue Johnson whose novel ‘Fable’s Fortune’ came out in August 2011. Sue’s second novel, ‘The Yellow Silk Dress’ is out in 2013

How do you sell a well-written book? What are the trickiest things you’ve had to deal with?

I think the key to selling anything is persistence - without being pushy. I know from experience that people need to see or hear about something a number of times before they act on it - therefore layers of low-key advertising are more effective than one big splash.

I've not had to deal with anything particularly difficult. The only slightly irritating thing has been a few people assuming that I've self-published because they've not heard of Indigo Dreams Publishing. They have now been re-educated!

Have you been happy with sales? Where have your sales been greatest – Amazon or other online channels, or from bookshops? Have you also aimed to attract an overseas audience?

I have been happy with sales - and also with the reviews I've had, which have all been five star. My sales on Amazon have been good and I seem to have a following in America, Canada, Italy and Spain. I am looking to increase this when my next novel is published. I've done a few book signings in Waterstones, but my best results have been through direct sales following talks for the Women's Institute, Libraries and literary festivals.

Are readings worthwhile?

I enjoy doing talks and readings, so that aspect of promotion doesn't worry me.

You are active in teaching creative writing and participating in literary festivals, and have a great passion for your craft. How do you balance your love of writing with the need to pay the bills?

I run a lot of creative writing workshops in Worcestershire and other parts of the UK and also provide a critique service for writers ( . I am a Home Study Tutor for Writers' News magazine. I buy clothes in charity shops, drive an old car and I don't have a television, but I manage to pay my bills and visit inspirational places to fuel my writing. I wake up most mornings with a sense of excitement about the day ahead - so I consider I am a lot luckier than most people, even if they do have more money.

You have a second novel coming out with your publisher so obviously the relationship must be working well. What have you learned in your promotion of ‘Fable’s Fortune’ and how will your efforts differ with ‘The Yellow Silk Dress’?

Indigo Dreams have been great to work with - and very supportive. When my second novel 'The Yellow Silk Dress' is published in 2012/13 I am hoping it attracts as many positive comments as 'Fable's Fortune' – and that this translates into sales! I will certainly be putting in a lot of effort to make sure this happens.

Do you think your experience is representative of other authors working with small publishers?

What I like about being with a small publisher is the opportunity to engage more with my readers. I'm working hard, but having a great time too.

And last up to bat is Poet Alison Lock whose short story collection ‘Angel Delight’ will be out in 2013.

You’ve worked with your publisher before with a poetry collection and have contributed to anthologies, how do you think it will be different promoting your own short story collection?

Before my poetry collection was published I had had single poems and stories in anthologies but I was really thrilled to win the Indigo Dreams Publishing Collection Competition. It gave me the boost I needed and I must say that having my own book published has been amazing experience. I organised my first launch at the theatre where I am part of a script writing group. Amongst my first audience were my fellow writers and I received good support. I felt quite shy about reading my poetry in public for the first time so this was a good way to begin. Since then I have read on several occasions to a variety of audiences and I now feel more confident about the launch of my next book – a collection of short stories.

Though interest is slowly increasing, short story collections are usually regarded as poor performers in the market place. Are you daunted by this?

I know that traditionally short story collections have been viewed as the poor cousin of the novel but I do believe that this is changing. I think it is partly due to the proliferation of social media sites and digital platforms that give people easy access to short fiction - for instance; I have some stories with Ether Books who publish on iPhone. These can be downloaded onto a mobile phone and read during a train, tube, or bus journey or perhaps during those moments when a little fiction is just the thing.

What is your target market and how to you plan to reach them?

Some people like short stories but there are others who are just not interested and will never consider picking up a book of short fiction. Short stories are ideal for those who have a busy life style where there is never time to indulge in the reading of lengthy volumes. Probably the main way of reaching this market and gaining interest is via the internet; posting updates on Facebook, joining networks such as LinkedIn. I will consider embarking on a blog tour during the run up to the launch.

Are you on Facebook or Twitter? Do you blog? What do you think of new sites such as Pinterest and Scoop that keep cropping up?

I do have my own website ( ) where I can post my news or events. This is linked to a page on my publisher’s site where people can purchase my book. Facebook is a good way of finding out about events and keeping in touch with others with similar interests and I like its immediacy. It is good to feel in touch and to let others know about what you are thinking or doing. I understand that Pinterest is used like a pinboard where you can pin up your images and ideas for others to see. All of these things are good for communicating your work and ideas but sometimes I find I am overwhelmed by the possibilities. It would be easy to spend more time on them than actually writing.

It’s been said that many writers are poor readers of their own work, or not great performers before an audience. And yet some such as A.L. Kennedy are known to be famously entertaining. Do you think that is a skill an aspiring writer needs to cultivate?

I think you can cultivate your performance skills but mainly, it is something you learn by doing and getting feedback. There is bound to be a limit depending on your own personal and material resources. I think that to be the kind of person who is good at writing, marketing, publicity and performing you would have to be superhuman. Some of these skills come with experience but it is the writing that I am most interested in. It might take longer but I’d like to think that if my writing is good enough then eventually people will appreciate it and buy my books.

Editor's Note: Catherine has also has gone the independent publisher route with her women’s commercial novel ‘The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy’  being published on 16th April.

Top picture credit:  tomt6788

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