How To Sell More Books: Develop A Great Author Platform

Novelist Ali Bacon

Ali Bacon, author of “A Kettle of Fish”

“Develop an author platform” is one of the first pieces of book marketing advice that just about every new writer will hear.

When I first heard it, years ago, it put me in mind of someone standing on an upturned wooden crate at Speaker’s Corner in London, shouting to get their message across. In fact, that’s not too far from what it actually means: having a central spot on which to set out your wares, raising your head above the crowd, and an obvious place where people can find you if they’re looking for you. These days, the focal point of the author platform is likely to be your own website, with arms radiating out from it into social media and other online networking routes.

I’m delighted to welcome novelist Ali Bacon to Off The Shelf today to explain how she has grown her own author platform, at first almost without realising it, to the point that now, in some quarters, it seems like all roads lead to Ali Bacon. Here she is to answer my questions:

The writer now standing at platform …

Debbie: Now seven years old, your blog is one of the longest-standing WordPress websites that I know. How has your website evolved to reflect your changing status as an aspiring and then published author?

Ali: I started to blog back in 2007, partly for fun and also because of an instinct that in the increasingly digital world, it would be good to have an online presence. As an unpublished author it was also a way of finding an audience, and, if I’m honest, I’d also say that knowing I could publish a few paragraphs every week gave me a raison d’etre at times when the fiction-writing muse had gone totally AWOL.

It was only later that I ran into the concept of a platform and realised I had one! By then, I was aware of the need to extend my audience. In a ‘spare’ moment I also set up my St Andrews blog, again for my own satisfaction, but also because I had never tapped those connections.

For a year I was also a member of an online writers’ cooperative called Love A Happy Ending, whose aim was to promote our writing collaboratively, which was a big help. Meanwhile I had joined Twitter (hoorah!) and (more reluctantly) Facebook, which I use to network and also to promote blog posts.

In short, I don’t know that my own blog has changed very much, but I’ve tried to extend its reach through online networking and using other social media. Now I’m also developing the Bristol Women Writers website, a group project which I think is a good model for writers who haven’t quite made the big time but want to make an impact.

Debbie: Writing a blog is one thing, making sure people find it and read it is quite another. What are your top tips for attracting readers to yours and what have been your most popular posts or topics?

Ali: Good question! It’s quite a while since I checked my blog stats, but the results are interesting. Book reviews/discussions (which grew from a dearth of other ideas!) have gone down well and may explain why I now get sent review copies by some publishers. Guest bloggers are also popular (who have doubtless brought a following of their own), and occasionally I’ve engaged in a topical writerly debate (e.g. using Scrivener software, and a controversy surrounding the YouWriteOn website), with good results. Referring to a celebrity – especially an actor with a female following! – always gets a spike in hits, but, to be honest, I usually just choose what’s on my mind, rather than rating the likely popularity of a post.

My one main rule for blogging is always to reply to a comment. I think if someone has made the effort to respond, you should not be so rude as to ignore it. No point in gaining an audience only to lose it again! Rule number 2, by the way, is to avoid too many exalmation marks!

Debbie: You’ve done an amazing job to keep a blog going for seven years, but constantly adding new posts can be exhausting, as well as diverting the author from writing their next book. How often do you think an author ought to add a new post to their author blog to keep those visitors coming? Is there such a thing as too many/too frequent blog posts?

Ali: I once ran a golf blog for which I was paid to write two posts per week, and I used to regard that as the norm, but now I post weekly, if that. I do think there are limits, not just to my time but also that of readers. And I can now keep in contact with my audience via Twitter, which is of course, strictly speaking, a micro-blogging facility. In fact, considering what I’ve said about comments, these days the interactive part of blogging is moving, I think, to other media: I might comment on a post via the author’s Twitter or FB account rather than on the blog itself. (Same rule applies of course – always reply.)

Debbie: I’m a WordPress addict, and I evangelise about it to any friends who might be considering setting up a website, but you are much better qualified to judge than I am, as you have a background in IT training. Why do you think WordPress is a good system for authors?

Cover of A Kettle of Fish by Ali BaconAli: I trained as a librarian and then got hooked on online stuff when so much of my work ‘went digital’. I’m not at all techie, but I did move to a job in IT support, which is where I learned about Blogger and WordPress. I saw straight away that even the free version of WordPress could be developed into something that looks and feels like a ‘real’ author website, without the expense and without involving a third party. I have learned it bit by bit and I think it’s easy, but I’ve heard lots of writers say they find it too complicated. I think it’s important that anyone creating a blog should be in their own comfort zone, or as close to it as possible, otherwise they won’t enjoy it. Blogger is probably easier to learn for a complete beginner.

Debbie: You’ve said you fell in love instantly with Twitter, and you now have over 1,000 followers and 10,000 tweets for @AliBacon. What do you think of Facebook, and what does that offer that Twitter can’t? Are you adding any other social media to your armoury,  such as Pinterest or Google+?

Ali: As a confirmed Tweeter, I didn’t like Facebook at first, which I saw it as rambling, gossipy and visually messy. However, as time goes on, I find that I often get more of a response from posting on Facebook (and you know how that massages the ego!) than on Twitter, and I am perhaps reaching more readers than writers. They both offer great ways of communicating one-to-one via messaging without resorting to email which might feel like intrusion. I also like the Facebook groups: interacting in different communities via one interface – brilliant! As for other social media, I am on LinkedIn but don’t use it actively. I have also joined Pinterest which I suspect has huge potential but I simply don’t think I can afford the time to get hooked, which I almost certainly would – unless I give up something else. Finally the LAHE community advised me that Goodreads was a must – so I have joined, but find I just can’t give it much attention. (Here’s a link to Ali’s Facebook page.)

Debbie: Many new authors are anxious because they cannot master all the tools that might help them build their author platform. What would you advise a debut author adrift on the ether, wondering where to prioritise?

Ali: I think right now for a complete beginner, I might suggest Facebook and Blogger as a good start. Where they go from there would depend on their interest and aptitude. In fact I see some authors using Facebook for what I think of as a ‘full’ blogpost. I don’t really like this approach as I expect a Facebook status to be brief, but it is an option. There is also a generational thing. For younger people, Facebook is a given and needs no introduction. Many older writers are very nervous of social media because of all the adverse press re privacy and might be more comfortable in the more solitary confines of a blog.

Debbie: It’s too easy these days to focus on the internet for building your author platform and forget more traditional routes, such as print media, physical events and meeting people in person (as we did recently for coffee – and how refreshing that was!) What are your favourite offline alternatives for raising awareness of your work – or are those a thing of the past?

Ali: Having spent so much of my writing life online, I really have to kick myself into the real world where I find it much harder to push myself forward. An object lesson was a feature article in a local paper, which got a great response from all kinds of people, including my hairdresser who had no idea I was a writer. I find straight promotional events can be a bit of an ordeal and prefer to be engaged in some kind of activity. I recently ran a writing workshop in a local library and will also be at a Bristol Literature Festival event for new writers this Saturday along with the Southville Writers group. I’m happy to talk about subjects that interest me rather than just about me, and think I need to spread my wings a bit in that area. I’ve just been offered a regular column in a local community magazine, delivered free to the neighbourhood, which I think is a great way to get known.

Debbie: And finally… you’ve clearly been working extremely hard for the seven years – gosh, that sounds positively Biblical!  But your writing activity started even earlier. You’ve had a terrific novel published, A Kettle of Fish (see my review here), set in your native Scotland, and also many short stories and articles. To me, that sounds like the very definition of success – is that how it feels to you? And what are your next writing ambitions?

Ali: Yes, I have achieved a lot of what I set out to do , even if it did take what seemed like a long time, and I have to stop and remind myself of that. But it’s funny how our ideas of success change over time. Ironically, I remember years ago thinking how wonderful it would be to be asked to read my work in public, and now I find it’s something I don’t particularly enjoy. Maybe now I’d like to hear it read by a famous actor or actress (now let me think which one!)

Someone said recently that success is incremental, which I think is very true. Few of us will leap suddenly on to the big literary stage, but I feel I am now on a small local one and that feels quite gratifying for now. Of course, I still have long-term ambitions, of which the principal one is still to finish my next novel and have it picked up by one of the big boys of the publishing world. Of course, by the time that happens the whole publishing world (and my own aspirations) may have changed beyond all recognition …

Thanks Debbie for such thought-provoking questions. Very much looking forward to our next meeting – in the real or virtual worlds!

Debbie: My pleasure, Ali – and as it happens, that next meeting will be tonight, as I’m coming along to the launch of a new anthology produced by the Bristol Women Writers group called Writers Unchained, written to mark the 400th anniversary of Bristol’s public library service. Full report on that event to follow shortly!

If you’d like to see my return match on Ali’s author blog, click here to read my guest post on her site. 

Does Book Marketing Begin at Home? How Author Relatives May Help You Promote Your Self-Published Book

Author Anne Renshaw

Like mother….

Author Joanne Phillips

…like daughter

With so much talk in the news lately about the rights and wrongs of parents helping their children get a step up on the career ladder, I wondered what difference it makes to an author to have a parent who writes.

I couldn’t quiz the two sets of writing relatives that first sprang to mind – Charles Dickens and his great-granddaughter Monica Dickens, Anthony Trollope and his descendant Joanna  – on account of the elder of each pair not being available for interview. Instead I asked another author whose name popped up in my Amazon search for Ms Trollope – the lovely Joanna Phillips, author of Can’t Live Without and The Family Trap. Her mother, Anne Renshaw, recently launched her own debut novel, A Grave Inheritance. I’m delighted to share their responses below.

Q) Having followed your writing career, Jo, since before you published your first novel, I was excited to learn that there was another novelist in your family – your mum! Do you discuss your writing together or do you operate independently?

Joanne: We do discuss our writing and have for years, bouncing around ideas for plot lines and characters. I’ve always valued my mum’s opinion and she’s a great listener – ideal for when you just want to hear yourself talk through an idea, which may well come to nothing. But in terms of the actual writing, we do operate independently. I don’t show my writing to anyone until it’s ready for beta readers, but I will sometimes ask for advice from my mum on various aspects of the story.

Anne: Joanne and I discuss our ideas and book titles, and discuss whether a main character would be best written in the first person for greater impact.

Q) Although your book was published first, Joanne, who was the first to actually start writing a novel?

Joanne: Mum wins hands down on this one! She’d been writing long before I was born 😉

Anne: I began writing a children’s story for Joanne and my eldest daughter Dawn when I was in my late twenties. In serial form, each story had the same four main characters, a teenage boy and his younger sister, the boy’s best friend and his uncle. They had a Saturday job helping the uncle clean his ramshackle old house, full of antiques, and had adventures through a large gothic style mirror they found under wraps and hidden on the top floor. The stories were entitled Curio’s Magic Mirror.

Joanne: I remember that! And I still think you should write and publish it!

The authors Anne Renshaw and Joanne Phillips (seated) with big sister Dawn

Authors on the sofa, with Jo’s big sister Dawn

Q) Were you both keen writers from your school days, or have you come to it later in life? 

Joanne: I loved English at school, and I’ve always loved inventing stories. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have imaginary conversations in my head! I listen to my daughter now (she’s five) acting out both sides of a conversation when she plays, and I realise that what I do is just an extended version of this, and that it’s something I’ve always done. I had good comments and grades from my English teachers, but I don’t remember creativity in writing being actively taught at school, not the way it is now. Even at five my daughter is learning about setting and structure of stories! I always knew I wanted to write – and was told quite often how difficult it was to make a living from writing, which was one of the reasons I went into hairdressing. University wasn’t on my radar at sixteen, but now – at 43 – I’m doing an MA in Creative Writing and making a nice income from royalties, even after only a year of being published. So I guess the short answer is, my love for writing was always there, but I’ve only managed to realise my dream recently.

Anne: Yes. English was my best subject. My family were great readers (still are). Of course, when I was a young girl, television had only recently come on the scene, and I remember it being a momentous moment when my father came home with a small black and white TV.

Q) I assume you both write under your married names, although I suspect many of your readers will know that you are related. With that wonderful thing that is hindsight, do you think it would have helped you to sell more books if you’d written under the same surname, or did you consciously decide against that, to ensure you were considered on your own terms? – a tricky challenge for the children of famous people!

Joanne: Well, my maiden name is Tasker – Mum remarried, so Renshaw is her married name now, and Stephenson her maiden name. I did think of using Tasker, though – I think it’s a very striking name – but the problem is, I just don’t feel like Joanne Tasker any more. I also considered a pseudonym, but figured I had enough identity problems without confusing things even further 😉

Anne: This was never discussed. Joanne is her own person, and I don’t think it would have helped her sell more books. Her first novel, Can’t Live Without, was a huge success long before mine was published.

Q) Although your debut novels were in different genres – Jo’s a light-hearted contemporary women’s novel, Anne’s a mystery spanning a century – it strikes me that you are now converging, with Jo’s next book to be a “cosy mystery”. Is that the case, or will Anne’s next novel be digressing into a different genre?

Anne: Definitely not. My next novel is also crime/mystery with an element of historical. A few characters, Amelia Farrell and DCI Peter Montrose, from A Grave Inheritance contribute, and it is mainly set in the same vicinity.

Joanne: Yes, I’d agree Mum’s books are very different from mine. I don’t really do historical, but I am excited about the mystery element in my next book. After that, I’ve got plans for all sorts of genres – I’m going to be a hopper, I think!

Q) How has it helped you to be related to each other? Do you share social networks, retweet each other, share best practice, etc or do you work in isolation from each other?

Joanne: Oh, I do everything! 😉 Only joking. Mum has come to the world of social media late in the game and is still getting used to how it all works. She does retweet me and share my books with her friends and contacts, which is fantastic. I tend to help with the more complicated stuff, for example I set up a free promotion for Mum recently, listing her book on all the relevant sites ahead of time. I think because I went into publishing first, I’m always one step ahead and happy to share what I’ve learned. More than happy – it’s a privilege to be so involved in my mum’s career as a writer because I know more than anyone what it means to her.

Anne: We work (write) in isolation from each other. I’m addicted to Joanne’s blog though, and I have re-tweeted on occasion.

Q) As you’ve been working in different genres until now, has it helped you to “confess” to being related, or does it confuse or irritate readers who expect your books to be very similar?

Joanne: That’s a good question, and I don’t really know if it has or not. I know that lots of my readers and loyal blog followers bought Mum’s book, and many of them have absolutely loved it. I think it helps that the cover styles are quite different (even though my cover designer, Chris Howard, did them all), and the blurbs make it clear what the reader is getting.

Anne: It could be irritating for one of Joanne’s readers to buy my book expecting it to be in the same genre, and vice-versa. The information given on the back of the paperbacks and on Amazon enables readers to check first to see if it is for them.

Q) Your both being authors is a gift of a story to local newspapers and radio stations, particularly if you live geographically close to each other. Have you milked the publicity opportunities here yet?

Joanne: We haven’t, Debbie, and we should be ashamed of ourselves! Really, it’s just down to time – there is so much to do and so little time. Since Mum launched her book, I’ve published the follow-up to Can’t Live Without and have been busy promoting that and now I’m working flat-out on the first of the Flora Lively mysteries. I will get around to writing some press releases from that very angle… one day. Maybe we need to pool our resources and hire a publicist to do some of this stuff 😉

Anne: I haven’t yet, no. I’ve had a lot of ill health since January, and also a house move, so everything has been put on the back burner, so to speak. I am intending to send a press release to our local newspaper soon, and it would be great it Joanne and I could share this opportunity.

Joanne: Well, I’m happy to delegate all that to you 😉

Q) Do you both share the same tastes in your own reading matter? Can you please each name your favourite authors for relaxing reading; the writers who are your greatest influence; the book you’d most like to have written yourself.

Joanne: My favourite authors for relaxing reading are Anne Tyler, Linda Gillard and Edie Clare, and the writers who have influenced me most are Anne Tyler, Carole Shields and V S Naipaul. The book I’d most like to have written myself is definitely A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler. To me, this is the perfect novel, and was the inspiration for my wanting to become a novelist.

Anne: I love mysteries. Historical, adventures and crime. My favourite authors are Nora Loft, Bryce Courtney, Sebastion Barry, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and of course, Joanne Phillips!

Q) Let’s play “inheritance books”! I am frustrated when my ten year old daughter resists the books that I most enjoyed in my childhood, though she often takes an interest in them once I’ve stopped trying to get her to like them. (She’s come round to Alice in Wonderland and Teddy Robinson after some resistance; I’m still working on The House at Pooh Corner and  The Moomins!) Anne, which of your favourite books have you tried to encourage Jo also to love (whether now or when she was a child)? Jo, if you could choose just one book that you’d like your own daughter to read and treasure, which would that be?

Joanne: Tough question! One of my favourite books is Here Be Dragons by Sharon Penman, and I would love for my daughter to read and enjoy this as much as I have many times. But really, all I would want to pass on to her is a love of reading, and the urge for creative endeavour, whatever field or area she felt inspired in. I couldn’t assume she might enjoy something just because I did, and often children will reject something wonderful just because you like it! But if she can discover the joy and escape to be found in fiction, I’ll be a happy mummy.

Anne: Joanne loved Enid Blyton’s books as a child, and I never had any difficulty getting her to read and love books. I haven’t tried to encourage Joanne to read a specific book. We have different tastes in literature.

Authors Anne Renshaw and Joanne Phillips

Celebrating each other’s successes

Q) What advice would you pass on to other writers who have another author in their family?

Joanne: Be supportive but not competitive. Recognise your differences and embrace them – there is more than one way to do something well, or right. Remember you are not necessarily going after the same readers, but even if you are it’s fine!

Anne: Value the support and motivation you give to each other.

Q) Are there any other writers lurking in your family that I don’t know about? And are there any signs a younger generation of writing talent in your family?

Anne: My mother (who passed away in 2008 aged 102), loved to write poetry. I have a little book with all her poems in which I treasure.

Joanne: My mother-in-law has always written, and she has a novel I’ve tried to convince her to self-publish. My mum is proof that age and technical know-how are no barrier to a successful indie career, but not everyone is as brave 😉 And yes, my daughter is definitely showing signs – she’s already written, and illustrated, her first book called The Three Hedgehogs! She goes to ‘book making’ club at school once a week, and really gets it that I’m an author.

Q) It has just struck me that the theme of moving house features in all of your books, both of you – A Grave Inheritance starts with a removal, Can’t Live Without & The Family Trap feature relocation and estate agents, and I gather Flora Lively runs a removals business! Do you share nomadic genes?

Joanne: Wow, what an amazing observation, Debbie! Yes, we do have nomadic genes, I think. I’ve moved house many times, Homes Under the Hammer is my favourite TV programme, and I’m fascinated by the whole moving and starting afresh thing. But I’d never noticed the theme before. And the removal business really interests me, how you come into contact with people in such a personal but transient way. Expect many more novels exploring these themes!

Thank you, Joanne Phillips and Anne Renshaw, for sharing your story on Off The Shelf. You can find out more about each of these authors at their official websites here:

Cover of The Family Trap by Joanne Phillips

There’s no family trap for this author or her mum

Cover of A Grave Inheritance by Anne Renshaw

A rather nicer inheritance for Joanne – a talent for writing

Joanne Phillips’ website

Anne Renshaw’s website


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: 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.


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!


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!