Selling My Books: Carol Cooper’s Top Tip for Book Promotion

Every Writers’ Wednesday, a successful self-published author shares a favourite book promotion tip here on Debbie Young’s Off The Shelf blog

Carol Cooper headshot

The multi-talented, multi-tasking author Carol Cooper

I first met Carol Cooper via the Alliance of Independent Authors, of which we’re both Author Members, and soon discovered that as well as writing novels, she has a busy and successful career as a GP, a medical journalist for the UK’s top-selling newspaper, and lecturer to medical students at the prestigious Imperial College London. Oh, and she’s had lots of medical and healthcare books published too – phew! I thought I was busy till I met Carol…

Back to her burgeoning career as a novelistI really enjoyed her debut novel One Night at the Jacaranda (which I’ve reviewed here).

I’ve been very grateful to her for the support she’s given to my own book about diabetes, Coming to Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, (she’s given me permission to quote her review: “It’s a lovely uplifting little book, full of insight, wit, and practical know-how. I think it will appeal to anyone with Type 1 Diabetes and their family. Health professionals would also find it useful. The book is beautifully written. A little treasure as well as a ray of hope.”

She also beta-read a short story of mine about a GP, helping me get my facts right about an important plot point. “The Art of Medicine” is published in my new collection of flash fiction, Quick Change.

I’m therefore delighted that Carol’s somehow managed to find time in her busy life to stop by Off The Shelf to share her top tip for book marketing.

Cover of One Night at the Jacaranda

The new cover for Carol Cooper’s debut novel

Debbie Young: What’s your favourite book promotion tip? It doesn’t need to be the one that sells the most books – it could just be the one you most enjoy.

Carol Cooper: My favourite tip is based on exploring the world around my novel, which I think is advice I first heard from writer Jonathan Gunson.

So on my blog Pills & Pillow-Talk, I write occasional posts in which I let characters out of One Night at the Jacaranda to have new adventures.  Dan, Sanjay, Karen, and the rest of them are all fictional, but I know them pretty well by now so they’re friends.  It would be rude not to invite them round occasionally.

The posts are like some of the extra material you might get when you buy a DVD.  I can’t tell you how well they work to sell books, if at all, but I believe that as I’m selling almost exclusively online, then online is where I should concentrate my efforts.

Debbie Young: How do you do it? Please give brief instructions!

Carol Cooper:  I write each post from a character’s point of view, in the third person.  Using the present tense makes the text feel more like a blog post and helps distinguish it from events in the book itself.  I’ll add some photos, which usually also find their way onto my novel’s Pinterest page (http://www.pinterest.com/drcarolcooper/one-night-at-the-jacaranda/).   As each one is a mini-chapter in that character’s life, it’s short like most of my posts. And I try not to let the characters interact too much. There’s no point giving the plot away!

Debbie Young: Why do you particularly enjoy this activity?

Carol Cooper: I enjoy it because it’s creative and it’s directly about the material in the book, so I don’t feel I’m giving up writing time for promotional activities.   It also means I can add a few topical touches.  There’s one post where GP Geoff visits his grandmother, who’s now so dotty that she’s put up Christmas decorations in the bathroom (it’s not Christmas).  He muses about a new online cognitive test, so I included a link to that test.  And in a post last September called Female, 38, Seeks Altruistic Single Male, Laure has read new research showing that men who do charitable deeds make more desirable partners.

Debbie Young: Which book(s) have you used it for and when?

Carol Cooper: So far I’ve only used it for Night at the Jacaranda, but I’m looking forward to doing the same for the follow-up novel once I’ve finished it.  I don’t want to write any scenes that might end up in the story, or, even worse, contradict the story.  Of course, one can do much the same for non-fiction.  Say you’ve written a parenting title.  You could write a post on, for instance, keeping your toddler amused on a car journey.  As it happens, I have authored childcare books, but I wouldn’t actually do this on Pills & Pillow-Talk as I wouldn’t want my fiction and non-fiction sitting cheek by jowl on the same site.

Debbie Young: If you were doing it again for another book tomorrow, would you do it any differently?

Photo of large ornate outdoor clock

The clock in Marylebone, London, where the action kicks off at the opening of “One Night At The Jacaranda”

Carol Cooper: I suspect I would do much the same.  A friend of mine includes interviews with some of the characters, which is a good idea too.

Debbie Young: Which part of the book promotion process do you like least?

Carol Cooper: It eats into precious writing time (bet you’ve never heard that one before!).  I usually say I also dislike acting cold-calling or acting in any way like a salesperson as it’s far too brash, but the truth is that I’m not averse to stopping a woman I see in red heels, telling her that her shoes are just like the ones on the cover of my novel, and giving her a promotional postcard to prove it.  I think promoting a book is all about using and creating opportunities whenever you can, as long as it doesn’t feel icky.

Debbie Young: Can you name one promotional activity that you’d like to try that you haven’t tried yet – or tried but not yet perfected?

Carol Cooper: There are many activities that I haven’t perfected!   Next time I’d like a book launch.  As a traditionally published author, I never got book launches either.  Publishers tend to save their resources for books from big names – do I sound bitter?  Anyway I’ve seen the fun they can be, and of course you can post photos and blog and tweet about your launch, which all helps create a buzz.

Debbie Young: Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers now? e.g. news of your next book or event.

Carol Cooper: I’m working on the follow-up to One Night at the Jacaranda, which will also be set in London.  Then there’s the prequel crying out for attention too.  It will go back about 15 years, to when Geoff was a medical student.  I also have plans for a novel partly set in Alexandria, where I grew up, and it probably won’t be chick-lit.

Debbie Young: I’ll look forward to reading both of those, Carol. I never knew you grew up in Alexandria – how interesting! Thanks for sharing your favourite book marketing advice here today, and good luck with all of your many books.

Carol Cooper: Thank you so much, Debbie, for inviting me onto your blog to share my thoughts.  I’ve really enjoyed your questions.

Debbie Young: I’m sure you’ll want to find out more about Carol Cooper and her work – so here’s a link to her website again so you can hop straight over there: www.pillsandpillowtalk.com

FOR MORE TOP TIPS FOR SELF-PUBLISHED & INDIE AUTHORS:

Girl Cop’s Case Study of a Successful Book Launch Event

Cover of Girl Cop, chicklit novel by Sandy Osborne, police officerIt’s been my privilege to be in at the birth of Girl Cop, Sandy Osborne’s terrific chick-lit novel. This feel-good tale of romance in the police force is given an extra dimension by its setting – the beautiful World Heritage City of Bath.

Sandy is a local police officer turned writer. I first met her last autumn, just before her debut novel was published. After enjoying an advance review copy of the book, I set up her author website to coincide with her pre-Christmas publication date. For the official launch, we had to wait a little longer – till mid-January at the prestigious Waterstones in Bath.

Despite having a demanding day job, a young family and the usual pressures of Christmas upon her, Sandy worked her regulation socks off to prepare for her big day. Was it worth all the hard work and sleepless nights? In the words of a slightly astonished senior bookseller at Waterstones, it was “the best attended local author book launch in my 25 years of selling books in Bath!” Very impressive – and that’s before I’ve mentioned that she sold over 100 books that night!

Girl Cop and Burmese Days on same shelf at Waterstones, Bath

Osborne & Orwell – police novelists reporting for duty!

Two weeks later, Sandy Osborne’s books are still flying off the shelves. Much to the author’s amusement, Girl Cop is now displayed in Bath Waterstones on the same shelf as the works of the most-discussed writer of the moment: George Orwell, in whose honour Penguin Books has just launched the national Orwell Day (21st January). By chance, George Orwell was also once a policeman, serving in the Burmese colonial force. This  experience inspired his own debut novel, Burmese Days. I’m sure that, like Orwell (one of my personal writing heroes, by the way), Sandy Osborne will have many more writing successes to celebrate.

Just about down from Cloud Nine now, Sandy has kindly agreed to share her experience in a guest post here, to help other writers engineer a great book launch event. So now, over to Sandy…

Sandy Osborne, author of Girl Cop

Sandy Osborne

OK – I had brazenly walked into Waterstones and asked if I could have a book signing for my soon-to-be released, self-funded rom com Girl Cop – The Life and Loves of an Officer on the Beat. It was mid November and I got a cool response from the events manager.

“We don’t do book signings any more,” she told me (too many weirdos apparently), “but we might be able to do a book launch.”

Well, I was a bit cool at that. A signing would have meant I would have an audience who didn’t already know about the book – a launch would be invited guests who did already know about it. But this was Waterstones in Bath and I wasn’t about to turn down any kind of publicity there. I said I was thinking about a date in January. January was fine: the run-up to Christmas was apparently too busy to consider and she immediately warmed to me.

January was fine with me as this would give me time to build up my marketing strategy. I wasn’t quite sure what that marketing strategy was going to be, but at least I had time to do it!

I then had the dilemma of whether to start selling the books before the launch or waiting to release it on the night. I made the right decision to release it before, as it made some good sales as Christmas presents. It made a particularly popular Secret Santa gift, being in the right price range too.

Waterstones were happy to lay on  soft drinks and nibbles, but I had to provide the wine. Well, my girlfriends wouldn’t go if there wasn’t any wine on offer! So I started shopping around and found an offer in Asda on some decent Australian. I held my breath and forked out for three boxes each of red and white wine. Gulp!

Then I turned my attention to my display. The cover of Girl Cop is shades of blue (of course), so I bought a large piece of navy blue crushed velvet material to use as a tablecloth. It looked stunning against the books. I fished out my old Dr Marten boots (the ones mentioned in the blurb on my fliers!) and buffed them up before putting them in the middle of the display surrounded by my books, fliers and bookmarks. Nice.

OK. Glasses hire. Free from Waitrose. More soft drinks and nibbles as a back-up to those Waterstones were providing. I was hoping for a good turnout!

Helium balloons would look nice, I thought, and they’d help create party atmosphere. I phoned around for quotes and when I told suppliers that I was donating to charities from the sales of Girl Cop, I got a special rate. I asked one of my charities for their balloons, which by my good fortune were navy, then I added sky blue and pearlescent white. Perfect.

This was starting to remind me of organising my wedding! Except I didn’t hassle the local press to attend that! The press gave me some coverage beforehand and although they couldn’t attend on the night, they  suggested sending a piece and a photo to them afterwards, which I have done.

Bath Waterstones winidow display for the launch of Sandy Osborne's Girl Cop

In the window of Bath Waterstones

A trip to Digiprint produced 20 copies of the cover to line the staircase to the first floor where the launch was taking place, some A3 posters, and launch invite fliers for an A-board outside the store on the night. Done.

The week before the launch I went to find the event manager again.

“Is there any chance I can have a window display please?”

No chance. Apparently Waterstones window displays are prescribed nationally.

“That’s a shame, because I have a life-sized cut-out of me in my police uniform.”

“‘Oh well,  in that case we might be able to do something.” came the reply.

I spent Saturday morning dressing my window in Waterstones Bath, no less!

I was worried my guests would arrive, buy a book, help themselves to a glass of wine and then be twiddling their thumbs, so I created three display boards. The first was all about my charity links with a mixture of materials that I had requested from the charities or had put together myself. Secondly, I compiled a storyboard about my publishing journey – how I  got started in the writing world and my ideas for the book. Finally, I did another about my career, from PE teacher, to policewoman, to writer, complete with hockey stick and truncheon!

I sent out invites via post, text, email and with my Christmas cards, and I followed them up in the week before the launch. I didn’t ask for RSVPs. I recruited four friends to meet and greet and run the bar.

As the day dawned I felt giddy with excitement and nerves. I had prepared a speech and ordered a bouquet of flowers for the mum of my late colleague whose collar number I had used as my love interest.

The glasses needed picking up, as did the balloons. I needed to get all my display boards in and all my props. With the assistance of my helpers, donation bowls and email collection lists were in place, and I managed to change into my black trousers and white shirt just  as the first guests started to arrive. This was it – it was really happening!

Well, the people just kept coming!

“The most well-attended local author launch in my 25 years as a book seller in Bath,” said the senior bookseller from Waterstones!

I had invited everyone I knew!

Whilst I was sat at the signing table, my son kept coming up to me and saying “Mum, this is immense! People are queuing for you to sign their books all the way down the stairs!”

I couldn’t believe it either. After bleating on for years to all my friends that I was writing a book, they all turned out to help me celebrate its eventual release!

Over 150 people turned out for me on a cold January evening and I sold over 100 books.

And they laughed in all the right places during my speech! Amazing.

Thanks, Sandy, for sharing your valuable experience. (Your speech, by the way, was masterful – plenty of laughs but not a dry eye in the house!)

And of course this is just the beginning for Sandy, who is now taking bookings for other author events, kicking off with a talk to the Ladies’ Lunch Club at the prestigious Bath Priory Hotel on Thursday 28th February. For more information about Sandy’s book, do take a look at her website: www.sandyosborne.com. And of course, like any author, Sandy will be very grateful for any reviews! (11 x 5* reviews on Amazon so far, and counting…)

 

The Challenge of Chick-Lit

(New post of book promotion advice for authors in the chick-lit genre, helping self-published or independently published women writers and novelists)

Cover of Can't Live Without by Joanne PhillipsIf you are a chick-lit writer, there are blessings and there are curses, from the book promotion point of view.

First, the blessings. Chick-lit is hugely popular. There are literally millions of women who read this genre, often voraciously, so there’s no shortage of potential readers. Plenty of these will be happy to read it in any format: hardback, paperback or e-book. Lots of women keep an e-reader in their handbag or have a Kindle app on their smartphone, reading to while away the wait at the doctor’s, the school gate or the hairdressers.

The curse of the chick-lit writer is that you are not alone. You are a minnow in a vast ocean of competition. Chick-lit novels by your rivals are everywhere, not only in a prime place in your friendly neighbourhood bookshop. A very select few populate the cut-price bookshelves of the supermarket; they’re given away free as cover-mounted gifts on magazines; they’re crammed into charity shops and remaindered bookshops. How’s a girl meant to sell her book around here? The chick-lit novelist has to work very hard – and smart – to secure even the smallest share of this massive market.

Get it right, and you’re on to a winner, because women who have enjoyed your book will almost certainly tell their friends, whether face to face over a coffee shop cappuccino or on Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads or whatever else is their favourite social network of the moment.

Where to Begin?

For a self-funding, self-published author, it would be prohibitively expensive to try to target the whole of this nationwide market – and that’s without a thought for the rest of the vast English-speaking, chick-lit reading world. So where should you begin?

First, stand back – and breathe. Try to distance yourself enough from your book to deconstruct your carefully crafted novel into separate strands. Then take each of these strands as a starting point to identify a small  and specific sector of the total market. Exploit each strand in turn for all its worth, before moving on to the next one. In time, those segments will add up to a greater whole, and word of mouth will carry news of your book further afield than you might imagine.

I’ll demonstrate just what I mean by dissecting one particular novel in this crowded genre: Can’t Live Without, the debut novel of Joanne Phillips. I’ll extract three separate strands below and bullet point the promotional ideas that they trigger.

Setting

Caldecotte Lake, Milton Keynes

Caldecotte Lake, Milton Keynes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The novel is set in Milton Keynes, and the author writes lyrically of some local landmarks that play key parts in the plot. Now, I think it’s quite unusual for an author (or indeed anyone) to declare such affection for this new(ish) town that so often serves as the butt of comedians’ jokes. (I come from another one of these myself – Sidcup – and I know how much I appreciate it when someone praises the suburb of my birth!) I reckon this theme would go down well with the local radio station, the local papers and with any official organisation that exists to promote the area as a place to work or live. So, task list:

  • approach the radio to offer a reading of the salient parts and an interview about how and why the author came to write about the place (especially as she doesn’t live there now)
  • write a press release or news story about it and send to the local papers with the offer to provide a signed copy for a readers’ competition, maybe on the theme of whoever can write the best ode to MK
  • research the local council, any local trade organisation, chamber of commerce, town website, etc and explore any similar opportunities there
  • see if you’re allowed to post a link on the town’s Facebook fanpage – yes, it exists and it has 22,000+ likes, so a post on there will appear on 22,000+ people’s timelines!
  • approach the local Lions or Ladies’ Circle or similar and offer to do a talk and a reading at their next meeting, signing copies for sale at the end
  • find out whether there are any local tourist attractions such as museums that include souvenir shops and offer to provide copies for sale in the book section – the Milton Keynes Museum (yes, there is one!), Bletchley Park, etc.

Achieving any of these tasks will in itself  create another news opportunity, after the event, to be presented to the local media – so that’s a double whammy, then!

Industry 

English: An image of a top estate agent in Roy...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The heroine works in an estate agency and there are lots of scenes to do with housing.  It’s a more fun read than I’ve made it sound there, sorry! One of the key men runs a very successful agency and is far from being the flash stereotype in shiny suit and company car, speaking fluent euphemism. This portrait of the industry would be refreshing to anyone employed in it and I think they’d like to hear about it. Second task list:

  • research dedicated estate agents trade press and websites and approach them with a story about how the book celebrates it as a profession
  • if the author has ever worked in an estate agency herself, there could be an interesting press interview  there

House Fire

A residential smoke detector is the most famil...

A residential smoke detector is the most familiar piece of nuclear technology for some people (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story opens with a house fire, gutting the heroine’s house but not physically harming anyone. Even so, this is an issue to be handled extremely sensitively to guard against upsetting anyone who has lost loved ones this way. The heroine then has to rebuild her life, starting off with the list alluded to in the title of the things she Can’t Live Without. I would avoid tackling the more serious issues involved here because it is a light-hearted novel, not an epic tragedy. But even so, I am sure that it could be presented in a way that would intrigue and engage people. Task list number 3:

  • Take a look at the various websites that include a discussion forum for women, such as Mumsnet or Netmums. A discussion thread on the theme of “What could you not live without?” is just the sort of question that they post on their Facebook pages and Twitter to draw people in. (The author has thoughtfully provided a blank list at the end of the book for the reader to create their own list!) This kind of  website usually has a books section, so approach its editor to see if you could build up a feature including a profile of your book and maybe an interview. If you’re feeling really brave, go straight to the top and pitch it to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour producer! Or try to get it trending on Twitter against a relevant hashtag such as #ICannotLiveWithout or #ThingsToSaveInAHousefire
  • Approach insurance companies who have experience in helping people recover from household fires – and who, of course, are eager to sell household insurance (which this book’s heroine neglects to have). Maybe you could offer to produce a survey, easily done via your established readers with a little help from MailChimp or SurveyMonkey. (Why do these services both have primate themes, by the way?!) It’s the sort of material that would be a gift to them, PR-wise. Survey stories are  meat and drink to news reporters, easy fuel for witty headlines and jaunty stories. “In a house-fire, 95% of women aged 20-40 would rather save old letters from ex-boyfriends than their wedding photographs”, maybe?
  • Create a themed gimmick for an online give-away competition on Twitter e.g. free smoke alarm with the 1,000th copy sold!

Over To You

Cover of chick lit novel Girl Cop by Sandy OsborneThis is by no means an exhaustive list of the many facets of Can’t Live Without, and any decent chick-lit novel will offer up similar opportunities upon careful dissection. If your book is in this genre, I hope this case study will provide a useful template for you to follow. Treat the marketing challenge as a game of Cluedo. Think laterally.  Is your book a case of Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Revolver or Professor Plum in the Conservatory with the Lead Piping?

Once you start thinking along these lines, you’ll find it hard to stop. Supposing I tell you that a little later this year, the novelist Sandy Osborne will be making her debut with a chick-lit novel called Girl Cop, inspired by her own experiences as a police officer in Bath, where the novel also happens to be set? I think you’re getting ahead of me already…

Joanne Phillips’ debut novel, Can’t Live Without, is now available on Amazon, where it is collecting an ever-growing number of 5-star reviews. You can read her fascinating account of her journey from aspiring writer to published novelist on her website here.

Equally promising is Girl Cop by Sandy Osborne, to be published towards the end of 2012 by SilverWood Books. I’ll post a link to where you can buy this book as soon as it has been published!