Monday 29 November 2010

Author promotion

There was a time when authors didn’t have to ‘do publicity’. Anthony Berkeley published his first crime novel anonymously. When he used the name Francis Iles, it was two years before people realised he’d written the books – though actually, that was quite a good publicity gimmick, because there was a lot of debate about Iles’ identity. Agatha Christie was famously shy and I know other authors who hate promoting themselves.

But in the modern age, publishers expect authors to do their bit to promote their books. The vast majority of crime writers don’t have massive publicity budgets, so it’s a matter of doing what one can. And this sometimes involves public speaking, something I used to hate. This might seem odd, given that as a lawyer, I’d done plenty of advocacy. But that is rather different.

On Saturday I had the pleasure of speaking at the Nottingham Readers' Day, doing a talk I'd never done before - on Golden Age fiction (hence my current flurry of posts on this subject!) I decided not to over-prepare, but simply to focus on conveying my enthusiasm for the topic, and this seemed to go down pretty well. An added bonus was the chance to meet Gordon Griffin at last - he has read many of my audio books, and done it really well. An example of an enjoyable semi-promotional experience.

Elizabeth Spann Craig’s marvellous blog often has very helpful tips on promotion, and it repays reading by anyone who is uncertain about this area. For my part, early on, radio interviews used to worry me a good deal. So did my first appearances at Bouchercon. I remember reading an extract from my first novel at Toronto in front of an audience including the great Reginald Hill (who had kindly come to offer moral support) and I can still recall how nervous I felt. To make matters worse, I’m naturally quietly spoken, so it’s easy to become inaudible.

But practice does help a lot. I find that I don’t worry about public speaking in the same way now, simply because I have done a good deal of it, and I think I’ve improved my performance from very uncertain beginnings. I’ve also decided that if I can cope with the potential humiliation of appearing on a ‘Mastermind’ panel, maybe I can cope with most public arenas. If public speaking bothers you, I do urge you not to give up on it. Audiences want you to do well, not to fail. If you remember they start out on your side, that is half the battle.


Ed Gorman said...

Years ago a publisher hired a service that guaranteed I'd be interviewed on thirty different radio stations over two weeks. Being good sleight of hand artists they knew how to package their proposal--radio interviews in NYC, Chicago and LA. Not huge stations but respectable ones. The other stations...well, I had (all true) a six thirty a.m. interview at some farm station in Wyoming. The kid (and he was a kid) introduced me then told me he'd be right back after he read some farm news. OK. I grew up in the Midwest. Farm news is important. When he came back he said, "Now your name is Ed Gorman, am I right?" I said yes. "Well I don't mean to insult you or anything but to be honest I've never heard of you." For this I'm up at six so I'll be coherent half an hour later--with only cows as an audience? I made my usual comment that actually very few writers are well known. Then he said "You don't use one of them there pen names do you?" Them there pen names. I knew then he was a Republican.

Anonymous said...

Martin - You've brought up a difficult bur very important topic. You're absolutely right that today's authors really do need to do promotion. It's not always a comfortable thing, but it is necessary. And doing readings and public speakings can be very difficult for writers who aren't accustomed to it. As you say, practice is the thing...Oh, and I agree with you about Elizabeth's wonderful blog. It's a treasure trove for the writer.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Martin, I have a feeling you're a wonderful public speaker...mainly, as you mentioned, because of your practicing it. Although I think you're a barrister? And I know lawyers have that skill downpat.

Public speaking is definitely not my favorite form of promo--I'm much more comfortable with the relative anonymity of social media promoting.

Paul Beech said...

Martin – A fascinating post which begs the question of how far it’s possible in today’s climate for a privacy-loving author to stay in print? Would Dame Agatha, W J Burley or R D Wingfield have been cut some slack or would they have had to develop at least a modicum of showmanship?

Maybe blogging would have been an option for them. It’s great for the reader to have a window on works in progress. Great for the blogger too, having control of how much to reveal about themselves. What a whetting of the appetite it would have been, having a ringside seat during composition of ‘The ABC Murders’, ‘Wycliffe and the Pea-Green Boat’ or ‘A Touch of Frost’! Excellent promotion. But would their publishers and agents have been satisfied? I rather doubt it somehow. I suspect they’d have been looking for something like your Toronto-to-Mastermind progression, don’t you?

Regards, Paul

Dorte H said...

Elizabeth´s blog is indeed a wonderful source for aspiring authors.

I think some ways of promoting one´s writing are daunting, but platforms like a blog and Facebook are great helps. I feel that they are mine, and if people don´t like what I write about myself and my writing, it is very easy for them to sneak off to somewhere else :D

Paul Beech said...

Martin – Having attended a couple of your events, I’d just like to say that Elizabeth is quite right above in supposing you’re a great speaker. You certainly are!

Take the Crippen event five months ago. You spoke without notes for ninety minutes and held us in thrall. You were completely the master of your subject and gave every appearance of enjoying the event as much as we did. A fascinating presentation, rather in the style of the professional advocate but with warmth and humour too, and real audience connection.

Catch you again at some future event – in 2011, hopefully.

Regards, Paul

Martin Edwards said...

Belated thanks for your comments.
Ed - great story, one most of us writers can identify with!
Elizabeth - your blog gives a tremendously positive sense of your personality, and I am constantly impressed.
Dorte - yes, they are good methods!
Paul - you are very kind. I do enjoy giving the Crippen talk.