In one of my last blog entries I looked at how we can ensure our writing connects with people, to hopefully affect their lives. I mentioned that the use of specific terminology within the set up of a novel, within the writing making the personal political, and the incorporation of human interest themes have been seen to all be factors in bringing novels to a mass audience and allowing them to really affect lives. But there is a middle stage here which I want to look at in the second part of this blog.
A commenter on my last blog post asked how they can get more reviews for work they had self-published. It was a good question. Let’s say that your writing has been released into the world; self-published as a blog, self-published as a novel on Amazon, or published traditionally. How can you ensure it gets attention, critical appraisal and review?
The obvious answer would be to ‘hire a publicist’! Obviously, many of us can’t or won’t do that, even if it can be the easiest way to connect our work to a large audience. I know people who’ve got great reviews for new work by hiring a publicist. Paulo Coelho, the world famous author of The Alchemist, did not become famous overnight. He used a fortune he had amassed elsewhere to buy his own books from book stores to ensure they kept stocking them, and to hire people to call into radio and TV shows he’d bought his way onto all to ensure repeat appearances. Even if we don’t have Coelho’s means we can ensure that our writing is presented to people in a way that maximises its exposure, as a publicist would. I can’t pretend to know all the secrets of a publicist, but I’ve picked up a couple of tips!
Over the course of my writing career I’ve come into contact with a few publicists. The first thing they are interested in is my life to date, as that can be very useful to getting reviews. The more colourful, varied, and dare I say it wacky your life had been the better that is for them. Whether it is the biography on your blog or the author page on Amazon, make the most of mentioning what is engaging about your past and career. I spent a few years as a singer in a struggling band that were once described in a review as ‘Dickensian pop’ – presumably because I wore a flat cap onstage more than once. It was a sobriquet that followed me around for years. My training as a psychologist was perhaps more useful for publishers to mention in press releases when trying to get me interviews for a new book. It might seem shallow, but the fact is that producers, when considering who to have on a show or featured in a piece, will be thinking of how they can extract an interesting appearance from you. You are more likely to get people reading your blog- or inviting you on their show – if your public biography is engaging and it lends itself readily to questions. I have found it far more useful than a dramatic black and white photo which may or may not make you look a bit like David Brent.
A good press release can really help you. After I had a publicist make a particularly poor press release for a novel of mine, I took work into my own hands and created my own press releases which I sent to journalists. I have done ever since. Anyone can make one and email it to people – even to promote a self-published novel – and it’s a good way to get the word out there and to hopefully get your work mentioned. Here is a shot of most of the recent press release I made for the launch of a book.
As you can see, the press release mentions everyone I’ve worked with to bring the novel to life. The publisher, the launch party (which can be a good way to get a buzz around a new release) the people who’d be performing at the launch party and, most importantly, links to my work. Don’t forget to put an ISBN novel on there if you have a book published or self-published on Amazon.
The second big ‘pull’ is quotes for your work. Can you get an author, minor celebrity, major celebrity, newspaper or magazine – or event a prominent blog to offer a quote of your work? If someone makes mention of your work in passing – even verbally – use it in your biography, if nothing else. The third big pull is to make your novel about something, as people interested in that subject are more likely to become ‘passing trade’. Like many authors, my first novel was very autobiographical and I soon learnt that it was hard to get people interested in the private thoughts of a young man who’d done very little.
The fourth big pull is to make your work contemporary. For instance, during publicity work for my new novel I have been asked to write a blog about my book for New Writing North. As the novel concerns exposing the truth about cover-ups, I made the article contemporary by hinging it around the term ‘post-truth politics’ that has currently been in vogue. When tweeting the article I could then use that hashtag and become part of the recent debate to give the piece more exposure (the article is here).
Whatever the subject you’re writing about there’s always other people who have researched or published on the same subject, and they will have their own following that you should try to tap into. When I wrote a novel about music, I was inspired by certain artists and singers in the North East music scene, and as part of my research for the novel I interviewed them. When the novel was released, to make the most of those interviews I found an online Pop Magazine to publish them (here is an example of one such interview). I made sure that in the biography of the journalist at the bottom of the article my book got a healthy mention!
This article was originally set-off by the commenter who asked how they could get more reviews for their novel on Amazon. To tie my points together whilst answering their question more fully I would say gain a healthy Twitter following, join debates online, promote other writer’s books, share your views on current topics and then there will be people ready to reciprocate and engage with your work when it comes out. If a reader offers a positive comments politely ask them if they’ll turn it into an Amazon review. Most people love to get their voice heard! But ideally, the work to ensure you get a good number of reviews starts before the book gets published. Make your work about something, and during your research connect with, interview, and get interviews published with practitioners in that field. Promote your back story in your online biographies and in any press releases. You (or your publicist) will find it easier to get coverage that’ll do the work for you if people find you (or the process by which you created your work) interesting.
Image: Sebastian Wiertz, Flickr