I have a book coming out.
Not a new one; no, it’s worse than that. It’s the same book I published last year, but in paperback form. I mean, it’ll be cheaper now, which is good. More people will be able to afford it. But the problem is that my audience – my passionate, loyal audience who take such great care of me – have heard all my nonsense about it before. I don’t want to test their patience. After all, most of them have bought the book already.
What to say about this book? There are a number of established approaches, and vast majority of them are annoying.
We’ve all come across the guy who suddenly follows you on Twitter (along with 120,000 other people); when you follow back, a direct message pings in, saying, Hey Fan! Buy my book! We’ve all come across the author who spends 90% of each year squeeing that she’s so blessed and thrilled and over-the-moon, and that OMG-she’s-actually-crying-here. We’ve seen a new comment arrive on an Instagram photo and thought, ‘ooh, real human contact!’ only to discover that it’s a bot saying, Great content! Check out my feed!
We’ve all wished these people a slow, lonely death. Or maybe that’s just me.
But then, I sympathise with them – just a little bit. Because I have to talk about my new book, and I’m trying very hard not to be annoying. Obviously, I would like people to buy my book. I worked hard on it. I lavished it with the best moments of my attention. This book, in particular, says important things about me and my life that I would like people to understand. Since the first edition came out, I have received countless letters from readers who told me it meant a lot to them to have that information out there. That’s made me feel like more people should read it.
There are other factors, too. I like writing books. In fact, it’s vital to me. Writing makes my brain feel right. I’ve worked all my adult life – and for most of my childhood – to become good enough at writing books to get them published. I would like to carry on publishing books into the future, please. To be allowed to do that, I need this book to work on a basic level. I need for it not to bomb. I need to not look like a terrible bet.
So what I would really like to say is this:
I humbly present you with my book. I think you might like it, and I’d be ever so grateful if you’d consider buying it. I’m embarrassed to ask, and I wouldn’t do so if it wasn’t important to me.
But, honestly, that probably wouldn’t work. It would disappear into the fog. At the very least, I’d have to repeat my message a few times to make sure that as many people as possible would see it. But would they share it? Not sure. I need them to share it, because that’s how the message gets out. To sell the book – to more than my friends and family – I have to escape my own audience and talk to their networks. I have to find things to say that are interesting enough for them to want to share. Failing that, I have to rely on their generosity, and hope they share because they want to help me.
But most of it is out of my control anyway. What makes a book sell? Probably not the author bleating about it on Twitter, although it’s a start. It’s copies in bookshops (usually discounted), the Amazon algorithm working in your favour, a subject matter that captures the interest of magazines and newspapers at that exact moment in time. Pre-existing networks being ready to receive your book; the author’s personal contacts. Publishing buzz. The right cover. A concept that readers understand at a distance. The advocacy of one, powerful person, or word-of-mouth of many. Just one of these things, or all of the above. Even with them in place, it still won’t always happen. The world is scattered with authors who wrote really, really great books that didn’t break through.
But a few times this year, I’ve been told off. I’ve sat at author events and been asked, Why didn’t you write about it in this newspaper? Why didn’t you appear on this show? Why don’t you give a reading here? Why weren’t there posters on the Underground? If I were you, I’d be pushing my books around from door-to-door, begging people to buy them.
Trust me, if you’re a reader feeling frustrated that your favourite book hasn’t received the attention it deserves, then the author is feeling that ten times over. But it’s really not all that simple. Pitches to the media and festivals are often ignored. Advertising campaigns cost thousands, and publishers will only invest in them when they’re pretty sure they’ll recoup their investment. I will not even discuss my feeling about selling books door-to-door.
Do you remember that moment in Sex In The City when the speaker at a dating conference tells Charlotte to ‘get out there.’ Carrie stands up, takes the mic, hugs her friend, and says ‘She’s out there!’ Honestly, most authors are out there too. They are doing everything they can. It’s exhausting and often cringingly embarrassing, and we are always, always trying to tread the line between being enthusiastic and informative, and being downright repellent.
I’m not saying this to moan. It’s a glorious game, and I’m glad to have a stake in it. But my god is it terrifying. I am but one, small person with many limitations (most of which are detailed in my new book; did I mention I had one coming out?), and I’m doing what I can. All I want to say, really, is that when you see me wittering on about my book, it’s probably ineffective, and might even be a bit annoying. Forgive me. It’s all just a displacement activity; something to quell the anxiety. It seems better to do something than nothing.
If you love a book and want it to fly, here are a few things you could do, and why:
• Write a one-line review on Amazon and give it five stars (it’s quick, free, and the more reviews a book has, the more likely it is to come up in searches)
• Order your copy from your local bookshop (this will make the bookseller aware that it exists, and that there’s demand)
• Order it from your library (libraries buy lots of books; and authors get about 8p for every borrow)
• Tweet about it, Facebook it, Insta it (research shows that readers hear about a book at least 3 times before they buy)
• Recommend it to your favourite blogger/podcaster (this links your favourite author to new audiences)
• Email your local lit festival or bookstore that hosts readings, and tell them you’d love to see the author make an appearance (they might not have heard of us!)
• Invite the author to talk to your reading group or other network (we’re mostly delighted to be asked, and can always Skype if it’s far)