Reach New Readers By Sharing Stories on Wattpad

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Here’s a quick and easy way to reach out to new readers for your published books – or to get constructive feedback for your work-in-progress. Simply post free samples on Wattpad – the hugely popular social media site for readers. … Continue reading

Selling My Books: Peter St John’s Top Tip for Book Promotion

Every Writers’ Wednesday, a successful self-published author shares his or her favourite book promotion tip here.

Peter St John's headshot

Introducing Peter St John, author of the Gang series of novels

I was introduced to English novelist Peter St John by Helen Hart at SilverWood Books and I had the pleasure of meeting him at SilverWood’s super Open Day event in January at the Bristol branch of Foyles.

A couple of weeks previously, I’d enjoyed reading Gang Loyalty, one of his charming novels about a young boy evacuated to the English countryside during the Second World War. His book chimed particularly with me because my own father was also an evacuee who had told me tales of his own war-time experiences.

Peter has taken an original approach to the standard questions on this weekly spot, involving one of the characters from the “Gang” series of books, Jenno Bryce, who has her own special presence on Facebook and Twitter to fly the flag for Peter’s books.

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

Peter St John: My Public Relations Officer, Jenno Bryce, is a feisty lass from my “Gang” series of novels who is not afraid to speak her mind. Unlike me, she has an outgoing, devil-may-care attitude, useful for making contacts. The main problem is that we do not always see eye to eye on matters concerning ethics and tact. She also has her own idiosyncratic ideas about what constitutes correct English grammar and spelling, but to keep the peace I have learned not to criticize. After all, if it weren’t for her, where would I be with my promotional activities?

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

Cartoon of Jenno

..and meet Jenno, his PR Assistant!

Peter St John: In fact Jenno does most of it. I simply draw attention to various themes that might be of interest to potential readers. Jenno is good at thinking up aphorisms on these themes. She usually suggests a drawing to go with them, but leaves me to create the pictures which I do using Microsoft Paint.

She sometimes grumbles about the quality, but as I accept her grammar, she has to accept my drawings. I haven’t yet had any (well, not much) adverse feedback from the great internet public on all this, but that’s because most people are kind and tolerant.

The results of our joint efforts on text and pictures are posted daily, in various forms, on Facebook, and Twitter. Some finish up at irregular intervals on Jenno’s blog, and some even become illustrations in the “Gang” series of books.

Debbie Young: Why do you particularly enjoy this activity?

Peter St John: Apart from disputes between Jenno and myself, which are usually lighthearted and never (well hardly ever) acrimonious, the activity is enjoyable. It brings pleasurable contact and interchange with many people across the world. Jenno huffs and puffs sometimes when she thinks she’s not getting enough of the limelight, but that’s not to be taken too seriously for she has an optimistic outlook most of the time. She doesn’t bear grudges.

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

Peter St John: Jenno and I have worked at this on a daily basis for almost three years, and have produced nearly a thousand illustrated “Jennoisms”. Some are directly linked to the six novels in the “Gang” series, others have an indirect connection in that they sometimes portray one or other of the characters which appear in the novels.

On four occasions, Jenno has brought together some of her illustrated aphorisms to publish them on Smashwords as an e-book. These collections include a few references to the “Gang” books. They could thus be considered a form of “soft” publicity. On the other hand, the four books can be downloaded free of charge. These, with a picture on every page, are:

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

Peter St John: There have been a few difficulties associated with employing a character from my “Gang” books as my Public Relations Officer. This is chiefly because Jenno necessarily remains confined to the time frame and context of her World War II village of Widdlington.

Even so, now that Jenno and I have got used to working together and have achieved some small measure of success in attracting followers and fans, I would not really want to do what we do any differently.

All six “Gang” books are available in Amazon Kindle format. This is in no small part due to Jenno’s cheeky optimism.

Each of the Kindle “Gang” books is illustrated.Four of the six books, have now been published in paperback by SilverWood Books. Three of them are illustrated with around sixty drawings each. A fifth, “Gang Warfare”, is due soon.

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

Cartoon of girl holding up sign saying "I'll like you if you like me"

One of Peter’s pet hates

Peter St John: What I like least is the clamorous jostling competition for statistical signs of “success” in terms of number of “followers”, number of five-star reviews, position in Amazon “rankings”, sales figures, and so on. These have little to do with the craft of writing. This is often coupled with requests for “likes” and/or shares.

I find the syndrome of:” If you like me, then I’ll like you,” disturbing. If I like somebody’s work, I’ll say so without prompting. If I don’t like it, I’ll say nothing.

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?

Peter St John: I find very appealing the idea of talking to young people about our rich English language, and arousing enthusiasm for using it to express ideas, emotions and images. As I live in a French-speaking part of the world, it is not easy to put this idea into practice.

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

Peter St John: All the books in the “Gang” series have been published in paperback, but the original publisher of the first three has gone out of business, so two of them are out of print. This situation is being remedied by SilverWood Books with new and illustrated editions.

The latest, Gang Spies, was launched early in March with a book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sOdqudc5-Y. I am also pleased to announce that another, Gang Warfare, is in course of preparation and should be ready for launch in the early summer.

This I hope will be followed before long by “Gang Rivaly” to complete the current series. A description of the series may be found on the website: http://www.peterstjohn.net/index.htm.

Girl bashing over the head with her banner a boy holding up a banner saying he dislikes her

That’ll teach her!

Meanwhile, a plot outline has been prepared for a brand new seventh book in the series. A tentative title is Gang America. The intention is to describe the dramatic impact, on Jenno’s English village of Widdlington, of the coming of the United States Army Air Force at the end of 1942.

Thank you, Debbie, for inviting me to be a guest on your blog.

Debbie Young: It’s been an absolute pleasure, Peter, and I’m looking forward to reading more of your books. Goodness knows what Jenno will make of the American visitors!

Peter St John was born in London, at a time when worthless shares, and workless men littered the streets. His baptismal gift from two of the apostles was hard to live with in a Church-run orphanage destroyed in 1940 by Hitler’s blitz. He was evacuated from the ruins to the countryside, where the Nazi aim again missed by a hair’s breadth.“Grammar” school was “Granpa” school: young men at battle replaced by oldies… and bright young women.

As an eager Air Force pilot, Peter navigated the winds, envied the birds, and learned the “arts” of war.Back in Civvy street, Peter discovered marriage, fatherhood and Australia. He studied engineering and put letters after his name. Aimed for the moon at Woomera, but hit the rusty desert instead. It’s bloody hot, mate, in the sun; bloody cold at night. It’s bloody deadly too at times, but strewth, so bloody lovely.

Came Sputnik, and the Cold War space-race. Peter rocketed to lend a hand in Europe, and discovered Paris, languages, and ELDO*. An office on three continents; one in sweltering French Guyana. Who’d volunteer for Devils Island except to rocket into space? But Europe’s leap to orbit was crippled by political irresolution.** So back he went to Australia where Peter now daily took “the liberty boat from shore” to reach the Navy’s concrete HQ “ship” in Canberra. But the bold project for which he strove never saw the sea. His ship was again scuttled by politics.

Disgruntled and unemployed, Peter set off for Parliament House, where miraculously he was offered a job helping Senators peer critically over Government’s shoulder, and bring Parliament’s Standing Committees to the people. Heady stuff. And then the PM asked him to join his staff! But soon the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva called, requesting participation in strengthening parliamentary democracy around the world. Six challenging years for Peter…

And so to fiction, with his first novel published in 2007. This has been followed by seven more. Peter lives in France where he is president of a cultural association active in the promotion of creative activities. He has a son, two grandsons, a great-grandson and a great-granddaughter.

* The long-defunct European Launcher Development Organisation.
**Subsequently re-activated as the European Space Agency with the highly successful “Ariane” project.

Find out more about Peter St John on his website www.peterstjohn.net and more about Jenno via her blog www.jennospot.blogspot.com


FOR MORE TIPS FOR SELF-PUBLISHED & INDIE AUTHORS:
 

How Author Newsletters Help Sell Your Books – with David Ebsworth

The Assassin's Mark book tour logoI’m delighted to welcome David Ebsworth to Off The Shelf today for a stop on his global tour promoting his latest historical novel, The Assassin’s Mark, which was one of the best books I read last year. Dave’s going to tell us today how he uses his author newsletter to keep readers informed about his work and to prime them to buy, recommend and generally spread the word about his historical novels.

But first, a little more information about The Assassins’ Mark

Anyone who knows Dave will recognise that he’s a bit of a globetrotter, whether whizzing around the internet or in real life, carrying out meticulous first-hand research for his novels and reaching out to new audiences for his published books. (Well, that’s his excuse!)

David Ebsworth, Debbie Young & Helen Hollick at Foyles

Dave at his talk at Foyles, Bristol about The Assassin’s Mark, with me (centre) and historical novelist Helen Hollick

I was lucky enough to attend one of his author talks about The Assassin’s Mark at Foyles in Bristol last summer, and his detailed, passionate account of how he came to write his novel and the history behind it was full of infectious enthusiasm.

I thought I had a reasonable knowledge of the events of the Spanish Civil War, having studied it at school and read Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, but Dave uncovered the most extraordinary facts that played a central part in his novel. Who knew that Franco organised tourist bus trips around the battlefields while the war was still going on, in American-style yellow school buses? The hero of The Assassin’s Mark, a British press reporter, goes along for the ride, and soon he has a murder to report on.

For more about the novel, read my review here – or visit Dave’s website, www.davidebsworth.com.

But now back to the subject of how to use author newsletters to sell your books, with Dave’s providing the perfect case study…

My introduction to Dave actually came via a recommendation for his newsletter from our mutual publisher SilverWood Books, when I was researching my book promotion handbook, Sell Your Books! Publishing Director Helen Hart suggested I check out Dave’s newsletter as a model of direct author marketing.

Having read one issue, Dave won me over, and I immediately became a subscriber. His newsletters are so pleasant to read that I open and read every issue all through, immediately on receipt – and not many messages in my inbox get that treatment! 

So, Dave, over to you to share your top tips about author newsletters…

How long have you been writing a newsletter and why did you set it up in the first place?

Well, thanks for hosting this, Debbie. I set up the newsletter in January 2012. My first book, The Jacobites’ Apprentice, was due to be published and I had started looking at ways to market the novel. Helen Hart at SilverWood had advised me to subscribe to the free newsletter called The Book Marketing Expert produced regularly by Author Marketing Experts. Apart from all the other excellent book promotion and publicity tips offered, it struck me that a newsletter of that sort was exactly what I needed myself – mainly because I was sold on the idea that I needed  a more intimate and “one to one” contact with friends, family and supporters than I could achieve through a blog.

How often do you send it and is there any particular day or time that seems to work best for you?

The newsletter goes out on the first of every month, come rain or shine, at about 7am (UK time). It took me a while to realise that there wasn’t really a “best time” for this since lots of my readers are scattered across time zones from India to the USA, so I simply picked the hour that suited my own work schedule best.

How do you manage the mailing list – do you use MailChimp or something else?

I get a lot of stick for this, but actually I manage the whole list myself. There’s nothing wrong with MailChimp at all, but I like to be able to reassure subscribers that I use no third-party provider whatsoever and that the addresses are all “blind copied” so that nobody but myself sees them. With all the fears that exist just now around online security, I feel happier doing it this way. So I simply type up the newsletter, mail it to myself and BCC it to a batch of recipients – normally around 40 at a time so I don’t fall foul of any spamming controls. It takes 2-3 minutes for each batch, no more than that. And the whole process takes me less than an hour.

What software do you use to format the newsletter, or is it a simple email?

It’s a simple e-mail. I use Comic Sans or similar, and just add a bit of colour to some of the headings. Then, after I finish circulating, I also post to my website. You can see it here: http://www.davidebsworth.com/page4.html

Copy of The Assassin's Mark with matching bookmarks

More great marketing materials from David Ebsworth

After you’d initially set up your mailing list and newsletter format, how much time do you spend per month managing it?

It varies. Subscribers end up on the list in two main ways. First, whenever I do an “event”, I always make sure (of course!) to have my Visitors’ Book with me and I specifically invite people to write down their e-mail addresses. That bit’s easy. I just add them when I get home – only a few minutes work.

But second, I monitor my presence on Goodreads a lot. So, whenever I arrange a Giveaway on Goodreads, lots of readers “add” the book to their own lists. Last time, there were around 600 who “added” my second novel, The Assassin’s Mark. There’s a facility to message each of them, although you have to be careful that this also does not fall foul of the anti-spamming guidelines. So I just send a brief thank-you for adding my book and ask whether they’d like to also receive my newsletter. From my experience, around 10% say yes.

It’s a very time-consuming process, and the Goodreads in-house security system will only allow you to send a limited number of messages each day. I just stick at it until the job’s done – maybe an hour each day for a few weeks. But obviously that’s only a couple of times each year.

How do people react to your newsletter? Do they email you back with a reply? Do you notice a boost in sales or website hits after you’ve sent one out?

Because it goes out as a personal e-mail, with only me and the recipient showing on the address lines, it seems to encourage responses. People will “chat” with me about something in the contents, exactly as with any other e-mail. And I often have a genuine “call to action” in there somewhere. I usually struggle, for instance, with titles for new books so I’ll ask subscribers to “vote” for various choices – usually with very positive results. I can’t honestly say that I’ve seen any boost in sales from the newsletter (I’m not that good at monitoring sales figures anyhow!) but certainly an increase in website hits.

What are the three biggest benefits for you of running a newsletter?

First, it helps me to both drive and monitor my activity. In other words, it gives me a chance to list both what I’ve done over the previous month, as well as what’s coming up in the following few weeks. If I struggle to fill the newsletter, I know I’m not working hard enough! Second, it helps me to spread the word about forthcoming events on a one-to-one basis. Third, it’s my favourite way to engage with readers and supporters – once again, at a very personal level.

What is the most surprising result you’ve ever had from one of your newsletters? The most gratifying? The most negative?

I have to be honest and say that I can’t think of a single negative result since I’ve been running this. The most surprising, gratifying and amusing, I suppose, was the response to a “call to action” I made about Goodreads listings. I guess everybody knows about Goodreads, and that the site has a Listopia section. So you can look up the books that readers have voted to include, for example, as “Best Historical Fiction”, “Best Romance” and so on. I’d not really looked at these very much but somebody drew my attention to the fact that my second novel, The Assassin’s Mark, was showing on the “Best Books about the Spanish Civil War” and at number 10. Well, that was OK, but I thought we could do better, so I invited my readers to look at the list and, if they wanted, to vote for Assassins.  

As a result, it’s now number 1 – ahead of both George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway. This doesn’t mean much in terms of pure book sales, but it’s a wonderful tag line, isn’t it? “The Assassin’s Mark – Voted by Goodreads as the Best Book ever written about the Spanish Civil War”!

How much has the mailing list grown or fluctuated since you set it up?

I had just 25 subscribers when I started, and the list has now grown to almost 600. And I’m pleased to say that I’ve only ever had one person unsubscribe.

What would be your three top tips to any author setting up a newsletter of their own?

First, keep it simple but informative – no waffle. Second, try to make it entertaining – a modest amount of humour goes a long way. Third, make sure you engage with readers through realistic “calls to action.”

What are the most popular elements of your newsletter? Do you run any subscriber-only offers? Do you give subscribers sneak previews of events and releases?

Anecdotally, I think the most popular elements are the “calls to action” since I think readers quite like to feel close to their authors. To “know” them, almost. And I certainly give subscribers sneak previews of events. But I’ve only recently started to think about subscriber-only offers. Mainly this is because I have badly neglected Twitter as a marketing tool, but have recently been persuaded to use this a bit more. So I’ve brought in some help from an organisation called PubShelf who are beavering away to boost the number of my followers. At the moment, I’m putting on an extra 100 followers each week, but I really need to drive these towards my books – or, better still, to my newsletter. As a result, my website www.davidebsworth.com now has its own Giveaway page. A series of tweets will direct people there to receive free copies of exclusive short stories (my own, naturally) and all they need to do to receive them is sign up for the newsletter. Simples!

Why do you need a newsletter as well as a blog?

Because I’m hopeless at maintaining a regular blog, of course! Seriously, I have huge admiration for those authors who manage to maintain their weekly or bi-weekly blogs but I’m just no good at it.  I tried – really I did! And, to be fair, I do still blog as often as I can, both on my website and on Goodreads. But the newsletter is simply more manageable for me. And, as I’ve already said, I feel as though it gives me far more two-way personal contact than I’ve ever experienced from the blog alone. There must be a thousand-and-one ways to improve on this model but, so far, this one has worked very well for me.

Thanks, Dave, for that detailed and inspiring account of how you’ve made such a success of your author newsletter. There are lots of inspiring ideas there, and you make it sound relatively painless and easy, provided the author is prepared to invest the necessary time. Good luck with the rest of your book tour, and I hope it brings you many new subscribers, as well as book sales! 

If, after reading this interview, you’d like to sign up for David Ebsworth’s newsletter, please feel free to drop him an email – you know he’ll be glad to hear from you! 

To read my review of The Assassin’s Mark, click here.

How To Make Your Author Website Easier To Find Online

Row of self-published books on a shelf

How easy are you and your author website to find online?

An author website is an essential marketing tool for any writer, whether your books are self-published or commissioned by a trade publishing house.

These days, readers and reviewers expect to be able to find an official website dedicated to every author, and if you don’t have one, you’ll disappoint your reader. The absence of a website or any other online presence that you’ve devised yourself (Facebook page, Twitter profile, your author page on Amazon etc) also means the reader will have to find his information about you elsewhere. Sources devised by a third party are unlikely to be as accurate or comprehensive as those you compile about yourself!

Maintaining Your Author Website

So if you’ve set up an author website – well done! Your next trick is to regularly update it, not only to ensure that it has your latest information available, but also because frequent updates to a website will make it more likely to be selected from the seething hordes of other websites whenever anyone searches for you online. 

The internet is a big and crowded place, growing by the day, and clearly search engines can only show up so many websites in answer to every search. There are few searches these days that don’t run to many pages of results, listed in the order of priority that the search engine thinks fit. Your challenge is to make search engines choose your site over others – and the more common your name, your book’s title and your genre, the harder it is to rise above the masses.

How Search Engines Work

Search engines do not have an easy job, though their instant response to any request might make you think they do. If they have access to thousands of websites that appear relevant to the word or phrase you are looking for, how do they prioritise which site appears on that all-important first page of results?

Although the algorithms they use change constantly and are closely-guarded industry secrets, it’s safe to assume that search engines give priority to: 

  • large sites (the bigger, the better) i.e. with lots of pages
  • frequently updated sites (the more often they’re updated, the better)
  • sites with more inbound links, i.e. where the site’s URL (website address) is featured in lots of other places on the internet
  • sites with lots of daily hits
  • sites that have more frequent mentions of the particular search string that you’re looking for

They assume, quite reasonably, that sites fitting these criteria are likely to be the most helpful to the searcher. If a search string relevant to your website and your book appears on lots of other sites that are bigger, longer-established, more often updated and accessed than yours, then they will be given priority over yours. If you’re an author with a very modest website of just a couple of pages and not many visitors, your book’s mention on an online bookstore’s vast website can reasonably be expected to appear higher up the list that your own site.

Searching for Authors’ Names

Cover of "Ancestors" by Rob Collins

Less competition for “Rob Collinge” than the more common “Rob Collins”

This is when it’s helpful to have an uncommon name. As Debbie Young, it’s taken me nearly 4 years of blogging on my personal blog, www.youngbyname.me, to rise to the top of the Google search under “debbie young”, even with around 300 blog posts. I’ve been jostling with a Rabbi Debbie Young, a local councillor Debbie Young, an astrologer Debbie Young and a Jamaican poet D’bi Young for years.

Not that a very uncommon name is necessarily the answer – at least mine has the advantage of being easy to spell. When I set up a website for the author Rob Collinge last year, I was partly pleased that his name was unusual (there’d be so much more competition if he was the more common Rob Collins), and partly anxious as to whether people would guess how to spell his name if they’d only come across it by word of mouth, rather than seeing it written down. 

The good news is that there are plenty of things that you can and should do to increase the chances of your author website being listed further up the search engine’s pages:

  1. Keywords  Include the most likely key search terms throughout every page of the site, without disrupting the text (search engines will penalise your ranking if you overdo this). Mention your name and your book title frequently, spelled out in full – “Debbie Young” rather than just saying “Debbie” or “Young”, and “Sell Your Books!” rather than “my book” or “SYB!”
  2. Links  Ensure that wherever else online you are mentioned, you add a link to your website. Where your book is listed in online stores, add your website details (on Amazon, for example, you can do this by setting up an AuthorCentral page).
  3. Social Media If you have accounts on social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc, write posts there with links back to your site.
  4. Emails & Online Comments When commenting on other websites and blogs, include your URL in your signature, and also in the footer of all your emails.(Set up a template to make it easy.)
  5. Updates Keep updating and adding to your site. The more pages and the more frequent updates the better. Add new reviews, reader feedback, plans for your next book, events, photos – anything that is relevant to your work as an author.
  6. URL Meet searchers halfway – make your URL (website address) easy to find! Put it on your book covers, bookmarks, business cards, and anywhere else it might be seen by your readers. That way, they won’t even have to use a search engine to find you – they can just go straight to your address! 
  7. Blog Add a blog to your website. Every extra blog post helps lure in the search engines. A website with just a few pages and no blog will always be lower profile than a big one with lots of pages and a new blog post every few days. 

The Author’s Guide To Blogging

I realise that last point may sound daunting to many authors, who may be wondering how to set up a blog, what to blog about and how to sustain a blog long term. Because I believe passionately that all authors will sell more books if they blog, I’m currently working on a book to answer all those questions and many more. The Author’s Guide to Blogging will be published in April 2014 by SilverWood Books, and I hope that it will help authors everywhere raise their profile online. To be kept informed about this book, click the “Follow” button to get new Off The Shelf posts by email. For free previews and the chance to win copies on its launch, just sign up for the Off The Shelf Newsletter by sendng a request via the Contact Form.

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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. 

How to Sell More Books: Network! with Guest Author Chele Cooke

Photo of Chele Cooke, author of "Dead and Buryd"

Social networker extraordinaire, the author Chele Cooke

With social media now an established part of modern communications, self-published authors have at their disposal a huge armoury of networking weapons to raise the profile of themselves and their books. But which to choose?

Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and GoodReads are currently the best known, but not every author feels comfortable with all or any of those. There is also the worry that if any social media currently in the ascendant may be be a bubble that is about to burst – who uses MySpace these days?

When most writers have day jobs and find it hard enough just to make time to write as much as they’d like to, it’s important to decide which of these – or of the many other networking choices – is right for you and your book.

I recently came across a debut fantasy writer – on a Facebook forum, as it happens – who impressed me with her particular approach to networking, including some routes that I confess I’d never heard of (showing my age here, perhaps!) She joins Off The Shelf today to talk about how she is using social networking not only to launch her debut sci-fi/fantasy novel, Dead and Buryd but also to foster her development as a writer.

Debbie: Hello and welcome, Chele Cooke! I first came across you and your book via ALLi’s private Facebook forum to which we both belong, and you immediately struck me as a natural networker. But you told me that you presence on Facebook is only the tip of your networking iceberg, and that you’re also very active in “RPing”. I had to ask you what that was! What exactly is RPing, how has it fostered your development as a writer and how is it now helping you spread the word about your writing?

Chele: It’s very nice to receive such a wonderful compliment right off the bat, as networking is something I’m usually quite worried about. As the new kid in school, so to speak, it can often be worrying that you’re coming off as pushy or asking too many questions.

RP (or Play-by-Post Roleplaying) has proved a massive influence in my writing. I started RPing as a young teenager, and it sparked my interest in writing and stories as a whole. Writing alongside others fosters a feeling of cooperation, as plots don’t always go the way you’d planned. I became used to changing ideas at the last minute and finding different directions to take things, which really helps me come up with a number of directions to take my writing now. If I feel that something isn’t working properly, I can change it.

The RP community is also incredibly enthusiastic about new ideas and when people decide to take their writing further. Different RP sites need to advertise themselves in order to gain members, and advertising my own writing is rather similar. I find that you have to be unafraid to catch people’s attention, but not too pushy as to annoy people. It’s a game of balances.

Debbie: In a way, RPing sounds similar to writing fan fiction, which is a great way of refining your writing and making new like-minded writer and reader friends. What part did fan fiction play in your development as a writer?

Chele: There is a well-known phrase that ‘you need to learn to walk before you can run’ and I am a big advocate for fan fiction for this reason. There are a lot of different aspects to learn when you start writing, from characterisation to setting, from grammar to plot timing. For a new writer, trying to take on all these things at the same time is, at best, tricky. By starting out in fan fiction, I took out some of those elements and focused on things like plot and sentence structure. The setting and characters (for the most part, I did have a few original characters in there) were already laid out, so I could focus on them less. Doing this meant that when I was ready to move on to my own original fiction, it was less to learn all at once.

Some of my fan fiction should probably be burned and never looked at again, but I have a number of stories that I’m incredibly proud of, and are still available online. In fact, I still get new notifications of people selecting them as a favourite, or leaving a review on pieces I posted years ago. I think they’re pretty good obscure advertisements for my new writing.

Debbie: Another social media that I’ve shied away from myself, and always wondered whether I’m missing something, is Pinterest, of which I gather you’re a big fan. How have you used Pinterest and what does it offer that other social media can’t?

Chele: I think RP and fan fiction have really bolstered my appreciation of a medium like Pinterest. These are often incredibly visual, with people creating graphics to advertise their work. As these are mostly non-profit, you get very used to searching the internet for images that represent part of your work. That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing with Pinterest, giving readers a visual insight into my writing.

There is a big similarity between Pinterest and Tumblr, in which they are both very image based, but I personally find Pinterest easier to use for an advertisement purpose. You can collect all the images in the same place, especially if you’re working with multiple books, where as Tumblr is completely chronologically organised.

I think the important part with any social media platform is that you enjoy doing it. If you don’t enjoy it and updating it becomes a chore, it isn’t going to be as enjoyable for readers either. I really enjoy using Pinterest, and I think that shows.

Debbie: Coming back to the more commonly used social media, Facebook and Twitter, how do you use those two to promote your work?

Chele: Currently, I’m using Facebook and Twitter a little differently than I usually would because Dead and Buryd has only just been released, so much of my social media has been geared toward that. However, on a day-to-day basis, I use social media to let people know about me far more than I broadcast my writing.

I find, and this goes for face-to-face networking as well as online-based relationships, that if you go into it with the intention of making a sale, people will quickly lose interest. Nobody wants to hear ‘buy my book’ screamed into a vacuum thirty times a day. I tend to focus my tweets and statuses more to my life. Sometimes this involves writing and where I am on a project, but mostly it’s things that I find interesting or amusing, little tit bits from my day. I find that if people are interested in me, they’ll be more likely to be interested in taking a look at my writing.

Cover of "Dead and Buryd" by Chele Cooke

Now on tour: Chele Cooke’s debut sci-fi/fantasy novel

Debbie: This post is appearing as part of a blog tour celebrating the launch of your debut novel. How did you go about setting up your blog tour and how is it going so far?

Chele: I’m finding blog touring very interesting, but I’ll admit, for a first-time author, it has been a little difficult. Blog touring, it seems, relies on connections, which I haven’t had all that long to create within the author and book blogging community. I think I probably would do better next time, when I have more of a background to my writing.

In general though, mainly I contacted friends and people I know through ALLi. There is a great feeling of cooperation, especially in groups such as ALLi, so I spent a lot of September hosting guest posts on my own blog, helping others the way they planned to help me. There have been a few hiccups with missing days, but I’m not letting it get to me. Hope for the best but plan for the worst, I guess.

Debbie: Of all the networking facilities that we’ve discussed here – the various social media and the blog tour – if you had to choose only one to promote your book, which would it be and why?

Chele: That’s a very tough question, because I use all of them for different aspects. I think that if I had to choose only one, I’d have to go with Facebook. There are so many little communities that you can become a part of, not simply for advertising, but because I find the conversations genuinely interesting. Plus, Facebook has the added bonus of being able to post a variety of different content, whether it’s texts, links, or images. Everything you post is right there, instead of linking you away to something else.

Of course, I’d rather have my selection of mediums going on. It’s far more interesting.

Debbie: Thank you so much, Chele, for that fascinating insight into how you’re using the combination of social media that suits you best. I really enjoyed your book, by the way! Good luck with the rest of your blog tour – I’m sure it will be a great success!

  • For more information about Chele Cooke, visit her website, where you’ll also find her many social media links!
  • To read  my review of Dead and Buryd, click here.
  • If you’re interested in finding out more about ALLi (the Alliance of Independent Authors, to which I also belong and whose blog of self-publishing advice I edit), click here.