I write fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I have been a staff journalist on newspapers and magazines, now freelance – so a bit of everything
What were the difficulties you faced in promoting your books?
I live in a very rural area in south west Scotland. There are only a few bookshops and mostly they are not interested in stocking books from small presses. My non-fiction book, Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women and my poetry collection, Thousands Pass Here Every Day are published by Indigo Dreams, a small independent publisher. This does not excite bookshops! My novel, No More Mulberries was first published by YouWriteOn (now FeedaRead) as a paperback and I have since brought it out as an ebook so the difficulties lie in trying to entice readers to find and buy it when there are so many ebooks published every day.
What are the main methods and ways you follow to spread the word about your books?
Using my knowledge of how local media work, I send out press releases which are more or less ‘good to go’. In other words I write them in such a way the staff journalists don’t have much work to do to send them to the page. When I was a staff journalist I used to see press releases come in which required such a huge amount of work to turn them into a story fit to go in the paper they were often ignored. Almost every time I send out a press release I include in it that I am happy to go and talk to groups who are looking for speakers and book groups and this has helped attract readers.
As each book comes out, I organise a launch event – glass of wine, reading, chat and selling of books. I have never done an online launch though I have attended quite a few and they are great fun though I suspect they take a lot of time and hard work to organise successfully. I am often invited to give talks to community groups (one of the advantages of living in a rural area is that group secretaries are always on the look out for speakers), which usually leads to extra sales. If a book group takes on one of my books that means a few more sales and I enjoy hearing what the readers thought of the book and answering their questions.
I use social media, particularly Facebook and I share a blog, Novel Points of View with four other writers. I have a website which I try to keep updated with regular news items and I add any interviews and articles about my books.
I am also learning to find my way around online sites such as Humanmade and am trying to get my titles out to review blogs. It’s been a steep learning curve and I know of other writers who are much more proficient and ahead of the game in this respect than I am – but I’ll go on learning.
Do you have a certain routine you follow (for example, daily things to do for that purpose)?
Oh, I wish! I have this fantasy in my head that I’ll sit down at my desk in the morning and do an hour or two on promotional work then move on to what I love best, which is writing! I’m afraid my writing life is much messier and more disorganised especially if I have features commissioned and must meet the editor’s deadline – that takes priority over everything else. However, I am beginning to make a weekly ‘to-do’ list of things like trying to contact a couple of a book review sites, blog posts, or a press release and tick them off as I achieve them. I enjoy making nice ticks with a red pen as it makes me feel I have done something!
How much of your time do you spend to promote your books and how much time for writing? and do you think that the efforts you spend in spreading the word about your books takes you from your passion for writing?
Sometimes I feel I have done nothing but promote my existing books and nothing towards creating anything new. Then, I stop the promotional work and focus on writing for a time. A sort of panic creeps in, though, and I feel I better do some more promotional things. It would be lovely not to have to do it. I am a writer and my strengths do not lie in marketing and promotions. Nothing, though, dents my passion for writing – and I would love a few more hours in the day for it.
To what extent you feel you were successful?
I know I have succeeded in increasing sales of my books since I began taking promotion seriously. My first ever book, now out of print, sank without trace after the initial flurry of sales around the launch time because I did not realise I actually had to get out there and do things to encourage sales.
It doesn’t happen overnight, though. I was interviewed and had a double page spread in a national newspaper, which I thought would really boost sales but there was no increase at all immediately afterwards. I think it takes time for the public to register a new author or book (unless the writer happens to be with a major publisher which has a marketing department) so it is important to keep working at it. It’s a slow drip feed! Sales of my novel No More Mulberries have picked up in recent weeks – and it is the book which has been out the longest.
To what extent do you use social networking sites? and can you consider it primary in promotion?
I use Facebook a lot but not always – in fact hardly ever – to push my books. I think it is a huge turn off when writers keep shouting ‘buy my book’ on social media sites. I will post if I am going to do a public reading and usually again afterwards to say how it went and thank the organisers. Usually my posts on Facebook are about developing relationships rather than direct promotions. I don’t tweet. I have signed up for Twitter but haven’t got to grips with it yet.
What are your recommendations for people who share the same talent with you?
Whichever route into publishing you have taken be prepared to dedicate a pretty large chunk of time to promoting your work: website, a blog, an author page on Amazon and use social media effectively. However, I would also say never lose sight of the fact you are a writer and it is vital to keep time to nurture your creativity. The next book will help to sell its predecessor.
Any final words regarding promotion for writers?
Don’t forget the power of word of mouth recommendation. Someone in my Pilates class read my novel, enjoyed it and recommended it to her friends, some of whom also bought it – and, I hope, have recommended it to their friends.
Share the love – pay it forward and support writers who are in the same position as you. Comment on their blogs, buy, read and post reviews of their books. An author got in touch with me after reading on a third person’s blog I had commented favourably about her books. She then read and reviewed one of my books and interviewed me, via Skype, from Canada for a podcast on her blog.
humanmade.net would like to thank Mary Smith for taking the time to share with us these valuable information, insights and experience in promoting her writings.