As I type this, I’ve got a little less than three months to go until publication day.
Two completed manuscripts. Just north of two hundred thousand words, and that’s not counting the tens of thousands more that didn’t make the cut. Hundreds of hours hunched over a laptop or scribbling in a notebook. Once it’s done, it’s done though, right?
I’d been on a number of creative writing courses, read blogs about people’s road to publication, and spoken with authors about how they got their break. I figured if I dived in head first into the crime-writing world, as and when my own break came, I’d know all I needed to about what to expect.
I quickly realised that while all the above had given me a good head start, there was another side to being a writer that I hadn’t fully appreciated; authors play a big part in promoting their books too. I don’t just mean sticking a post on Facebook, or tweeting the link to Amazon. There’s a little more to it than that. I’m still learning a lot as I go, but seeing as I’ve been fortunate enough to get lots of good advice along the way, I figured why not pay it forward, and hopefully save some of you out there some blood, sweat and tears.
Regardless of whether you’ve gone the traditional route, or self-published, it’s not just a case of sitting back and waiting for other people to plaster your book all over the internet.
For social media to work as a promotional tool, you’ve got to extend your reach beyond just friends and family.
Without realising it, I’d actually started laying the foundations for this even before I got my deal. I’d followed some of my favourite authors, commented on, or shared their tweets, posted reviews of books I had read. Some started to return the compliment, following me back, sharing my content, etc. Don’t get me wrong, my followers are still in the hundreds rather than thousands, but my agent mentioned that before offering me a deal, my publisher had commented on how active I was on-line. They also provided some basic guidelines I try and stick to, aiming for an 80/20 split, the 20% being talking about your own work, but the bulk should be commenting on/sharing other people’s posts, or generating your own content.
This goes for on-line and the real world. Social media is one part of it, but a lot of authors have a main page these days, be it a dedicated website, or a Facebook page. I’m lucky enough to have a friend who is a dab hand at building websites and he built me a site (www.robertscragg.com) that goes beyond just a link to buy the book. It’s also the home for my blog, my events page, where to sign up for my mailing list, etc. If you don’t have anyone to build one for you, or the budget to find someone, there are free options like WordPress that will do the job. The way I look at it, the more ways you have to connect with your readers, the better. One author I’ve come across who’s really good at this is Mark Dawson. If you check him out, he has some great advice on how to market your books, build a mailing list, etc.
And not just online
It’s also important to take a break from your keyboard and mingle in the real world when you get the chance. Festivals are a great opportunity to meet some of your favourite authors, both at panels, and in the bar afterwards. You’ll find all sorts of people there to connect with, from readers to writers, and bloggers to publishers. I’ve found the crime writing community to be one of the friendliest bunch around, not to mention that when you spend as much time staring at a screen as I do, it makes a nice change to actually speak to people! This year I’ll be going to Harrogate, Crimefest in Bristol, Bloody Scotland in Sterling, Newcastle Noir, and York Literature Festival, but there are plenty more out there if you’re up for a road trip.
Other food for thought
As fun as the creative side of being an author is, there’s also a business angle to it. I’d never even thought of it like this, but you’ll also need to think about how you want to set yourself up to manage any income. You could set up a limited company, and have any advance/royalties paid through there, or you might prefer to just have anything paid to you as an individual. I realise this part isn’t half as fun as writing a book, or propping up the bar at Harrogate festival, but it’s something you’ll need to consider nonetheless.
As well as income from sales, there are other ways your books can earn money that I’d never heard of before. Every time someone borrows a book from a library, the author gets a small payment. You can sign up for it at https://www.bl.uk/plr and https://www.alcs.co.uk definitely worth a look!
There are some great organisations you can join that either offer help themselves, or access to a community of people you can get advice from. A couple that spring to mind are the Crime Writers Association, or the Society of Authors.
It can be a lot to take in, especially when you’ve been trying for so long to finish a book, but the main thing I’d love people to take away from reading this, whether you’re self-published or went the traditional route, is that there’s plenty of people out there that want you to succeed, and that will be happy to offer advice if you ask. Building your brand as an author, and promoting your book doesn’t have to be a chore.
Connect with other authors on social media, go and say hi at a festival. It’s still early days for me, but I’ve been given so much support by people whose brains I’ve shamelessly picked, that I for one would love the chance to repay the favour!
A note from the Editor
Since Rob has very generously declined to promote his book in this post, we thought we’d do it for him. His book, What Falls Between the Cracks, is out now! You can buy it here