McMini’s latest, as he looked out at the pouring rain and the dark, sub-aqueous sky this morning.
“Mummy, I think the sun has decided not to get up this morning and it is hiding under the covers with its underpants over its head, refusing to come out.”
Very succinctly put. Naturally a long conversation ensued about the specifications of inter galactic underpants as we discussed size, standard of flame retardancy would be required when constructing (make doesn’t reflect the size of the undertaking) underpants for a star.
To be honest, today, I’m feeling a little bit like the sun, myself. I’m doing an event at the end of the week, so I have been having a go at press stuff. I started yesterday – nice and early natch (not). I’ve got something going that reads a bit like this:
“Hello I’m M T McGuire, an author based in Bury St Edmunds and delighted to be taking part in the Fayre this year at Cornhill Walk Shopping Centre (just behind Moyse’s Hall Museum). Come and visit to see the wonderful crafts and gifts made by local artists and while you’re there, why not say hello to me too? You can pet Bob the voiceless Tribble, pick up a free bookmark, and if you want to sign up for my mailing list, your name will be entered a free draw to win a book related mug (no, I’m not talking about the one behind the table).”
It’s very difficult to market a funny book. It’s difficult to market any book actually and as you know I’d kind of decided to give up on the idea. Indeed, my strategy for all marketing has been this:
However, there are people locally who have actually enjoyed my books and with the Fair, sorry Fayre, looming I thought I should at least make a token effort to tell the local folks I would be there.
In this post, I’m going to give you some advice. I’m also going to share a powerful secret: i.e. the many and varied ways I’ve bollocksed it all up so that you don’t have to.
In theory I’m supposed to be good at this. I was a brand manager for a household name company. But when 98% of the population knows who you are you don’t exactly have to try. Everyone is agog to know what your brand’s view on x, y or z is or what it’s doing next. You are, basically, insanely newsworthy AND not only that, but you have half a million quid to throw at making the 2% of the population living under a rock which is unaware of your brand well… aware.
Interestingly, as the brand manager, representative of the corporate heavyweight, I developed various techniques for putting others at their ease, most of which involved humour. In the bus and coach company, they worked. Unfortunately, public passenger transport is not your usual public relations arena. I found that people wanted you to be able to do your job, but if you could be humorous about it at the same time, they considered this a bonus rather than any lack of professionalism. I remember lengthy conversations with a freelance representative from one magazine about a mythical agency we would found together called “we write shite” you get the picture.
Since then, I have learned – possibly to my detriment – that this is not how the rest of the business world works, indeed, it may be that the transport industry doesn’t work like that any more. It’s been 12 years and one child since; a lot of my brain has gone missing and I couldn’t possibly comment. Coupled with my genuine lack of professionalism (cf 12 years: one child: no brain comment) this has not done me any favours.
Yes people, even if you are marketing a humour book, for God’s sake, don’t try to be funny: not until the interview, anyway, then you can be as funny as you like because you’re talking to your audience. I think, if you are able, it’s worth waiting until there’s some point in the press talking to you, too. Until there’s something in it for them. As a very small time affair, I feel quite arrogant and jumped up approaching them now.
Press coverage will not necessarily win you fans but it will put your name in front of a lot of people. However, if you can win yourself enough fans, it might bring you some press coverage anyway. A lot of fans is reason enough for the press to write about you. And if you have a following, your hopeless ditzyness melds magically from unprofessional conduct to cute eccentricity.
If, like I am this week, you find yourself called upon to abandon your concentrate-on-the-writing-and-wait-until-you’re-established-enough-for-them-to-seek-you press policy, here are a few handy hints.
- Make the information as interesting and up beat as possible.
- Target it. Use a press guide like Willings (or Pimms Media Guide if it’s still going). You should be able to find one at your library. Obvious suggestions are to try your local press, if you think they will be interested as well as magazines or new sheets aimed at fans of your genre(s). It might also be worth looking into press dealing with any other area in which you have a hook. In my case, magazines for mothers or families might be the way forward because I’m a stay at home mum. If you’ve written a thriller set in the world of competitive hang gliding, then magazines aimed at people who enjoy hang gliding or are fans of hang gliding might be a place to start.
- Check it. Make sure all the dates, times etc are correct. If you have discalculia, take extra special care to avoid doing what I did and telling everyone that your event on Friday 28th and Saturday 29th November is on Friday the 29th and Saturday 30th. That doesn’t look cool. However, if you have done that. Accept you’ve stuffed up and move on.
- Send it to them. Yes, very obvious this one but you have to be in it to win it. Even if you are pretty sure, in your heart of hearts, that nobody is likely to tell their audience about your event, send in the info because you never know. Let’s face it all they can say is ‘no’… or nothing. But if the information isn’t with them, they can’t magically know about it. Try to imagine ways you can make it useful to them as well as yourself. If they can see an obvious benefit from using it they may be more interested. Avoid doing what I did, though which was suggesting topics I could talk about for a radio interview. I was unsure at the time, because it’s kind of teaching Grandmother to suck eggs, but a day on I am cringing so I reckon it was a bad move. Er hem, there are reasons my publicity for this event hasn’t gone too well and the biggest one, so far is me. Perhaps that could be Thing Five.
- Avoid being the thing that holds it back. Ask nicely: be as courteous, cheerful, pleasant and polite about approaching as you can and try not to do anything dumb.
- Give them time – I have failed miserably on that score too – remember they plan their stuff in advance and so a couple of weeks’ notice rather then ‘oh tomorrow I am…’ is always going to be more effective.
- Be patient. Sure you can follow up (once, possibly twice if they sound interested) but don’t hound them. They’re busy and you are not the centre of their world; they have a lot of other stuff to do, deadlines to meet etc.
- Accept their verdict. They know what their audience wants. If they think that news of your stall/book/appearance/existence is unlikely to be of interest, you’re just going to have to suck it up and accept it. They probably have a much better idea of what their audience wants to hear about than you do.
- If they do give you some coverage, thank them.
So to sum up: firstly, if you have an event on, then, obviously, you must tell the local press and anyone else who you think will be interested. After all, all you can do is ask. However, if you’re an obscure nobody, such as myself, accept that your information may not be used.
Secondly, I believe, more and more, is that for obscure and little known writers, our efforts are best put into writing books, good books that people will love. I’m sure there is a tipping point, I’m sure there is a critical mass at which sales suddenly skyrocket and members of the press start calling us. I’m sure that some people hit that tipping point with their first or second book; through luck, hard work, judgement or all three.
However, I’m equally sure that for most of us, that stuff is years in the making. So you and I, how do we go about it? We just keep going. We do stuff, we courteously advise the press it’s happening, we follow up and we carry on. The best products sell themselves, grashopper, but it takes time. And for all the events, appearances, signings and publicity that you do, the place you’ll sell the most copies of your next book is between the pages of your previous one.
M T McGuire will be at Cornhill Walk Shopping Centre, in Bury St Edmunds, on Friday 28th and Saturday 29th November. That’s the one behind Moyse’s Hall Museum and opposite McDonalds. She will be giving out free book marks and selling copies of books from the K’Barthan Series to anyone who wants to buy them. Should you wish, she can even devalue them by signing them for you. You can also purchase Christmas cards and there’s an alphabet poster on sale. You can pet Bob the voiceless tribble and watch him make a noise like an annoyed lawn mower. If you sign up for the mailing list your name will be entered into a free draw to win a K’Barthan Series mug (not the one who wrote it, obviously, I mean a thing to drink hot bevvies out of).