Selling My Books: Anna Belfrage’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

Head shot of Anna Belfrage

The novelist Anna Belfrage

I first met the Swedish novelist Anna Belfrage via her publisher SilverWood Books. She’s a vibrant, prolific author, fun to be with and full of energy, as you’ll guess from her interview below. She homes in on her excellent blog and blog tours as her favourite way of promoting her historical time-slip novels.

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.

Anna Belfrage: I must come quite clean and admit that the promotional part is the one I find most difficult. I am never sure there is a correlation between being active on FB, Twitter and blogs and any sale of books.

The activity I enjoy the most is to maintain my own blog: (I rather enjoy being able to share my ramblings about everything from history to the universe with people) but from a promotional perspective I believe that being hosted by book-review blogs is one of the more efficient ways of getting your name – and book – out there. Accordingly, I am a big fan of virtual book tours.

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

Anna Belfrage: Since some years back, I had been following the tours arranged by Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, and once I’d worked up the nerve, I approached Ms Bruno who runs this service and asked her to arrange a tour for the second book in The Graham Saga, Like Chaff in the Wind. My role was restricted to writing guest-posts and replying to various interview questions, and I found this to be a perfect balance between what I CAN do (write) and what I need someone else to handle (the actual organising of the tour, contacts with various blogs, etc)

Debbie Young: Why do you particularly enjoy this activity?

Anna Belfrage: Enjoy and enjoy… It’s actually quite nerve-racking, as I never know beforehand if the reviews are going to be good or not. As a fellow writer, I am sure you understand the review-angst, right? Once the tour is in full swing – and especially if the reviews are favourable – the tour gives me opportunities to tweet and share reviews, posts and interviews, thereby increasing exposure.

Debbie Young: With my next book about to come out this weekend, Anna, I know exactly what you mean there about nerves! Which book(s) have you used it for and when?

Cover of Like Chaff in the Wind

Book 2 in the Graham Saga

Anna Belfrage: I’ve used it for books 2, 3, 4 and 5 of The Graham Saga, and will continue using it for any future book I publish.

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

Anna Belfrage: I am doing it for the next book, Revenge and Retribution – in August. But this time, I’m combining it with a Book Blast that showcases the entire Graham Saga. A Book Blast is a promotional activity where you have bloggers highlighting your book(s), in some cases with give-aways, in others just by posting the cover and the blurb. It increases visibility of your book(s).

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

Anna Belfrage: I find the self-advertisement part very difficult. “Yoohoo, lookie, lookie here – I’m Anna and I’ve written a BOOK. Please buy it and like it.” 

This is to some extent due to my Swedish background – in Sweden one does NOT toot one’s own horn – but also because I find it very difficult to consider my books THAT important in the overall context of things.

So yes, I write good books, I write entertaining reads, I write historically well-researched novels that are set in the 17th century and have a wonderful protagonist couple. He’s a die-hard Scottish Presbyterian, she’s a time traveller, and they should never have met, what with her being born three centuries after him. But fate had other ideas, and so here they are, incapable of considering life without each other.

There is plenty of action, plenty of romance, quite a lot of steamy bits, but seriously, will my books make the world a better place? Bring about world peace? Nope – and that makes me somewhat embarrassed to drown the internet with tweets and postings about my marvellous books.

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?

Anna Belfrage: I am rather curious about book trailers. I’m not sure who watches these trailers except for other authors, but some are definitely very titillating and hook my interest completely. I think that if one has a good trailer, it can heighten awareness re the book.

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

Cover of Revenge and Retribution

Book 6 in the Graham Saga

Anna Belfrage: Well, as I mentioned above, the sixth book in The Graham Saga, Revenge and Retribution, is imminent – it will be released on July 1st. If you’re into a book that covers betrayal, death, retribution, love, abduction and time travelling, it may be just up your street. I am personally very attached to this instalment of The Graham Saga – to my husband’s amusement I cry abundantly every time I read it, and he will gently point out that I’ve written it and read it like a hundred times, so I shouldn’t be all that surprised at all the heart-wrenching stuff that happens, should I? Stupid man…

Also, this time round I’m going to try something entirely new regarding promotion. I have decided to use a PR firm to help me plan a short campaign around the book, and I am quite curious as to what the fall-out will be. I am fortunate in that the earlier books of the series are earning enough to finance this marketing gamble, so please keep your fingers crossed. And if you want, I can drop by in some months’ time and share my conclusions with you!

Debbie Young: I’d love that, Anna – just tip me the wink when you’re ready to share! And thanks so much for taking part today. Lots of luck with the new book!

Anna Belfrage is the author of five published books, all part of The Graham Saga. Set in the 17th century, the books tell the story of Matthew Graham and his time-travelling wife, Alex Lind. Anna can be found on Aamazon, Facebook and on her website.


Selling My Books: Jane Davis’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

Photo of Jane with a copy of her book and a glass of champagne

Jane Davis celebrates the launch of her latest novel

I first encountered Jane Davis through two other indie author friends, Dan Holloway and Rohan Quine, when they featured on her blog, and met her for the first time in real life at the London Book Fair last month. We’ve become good friends via the internet, swapping tips,connections and opportunities, which funnily enough chimes precisely with what she has to say in this interview now.  

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.

Jane Davis: I work with a very limited marketing budget, but if I were to isolate the single thing that has worked best for me in terms of expanding my network, it would be interviewing other authors for my blog. Initially, I’m embarrassed to say, I was thinking single-mindedly. I wanted to increase traffic to my website, in the hope that, while learning more about their favourite authors, readers might discover my books. (Similar to what I’m doing here, Jane – no problem with that, it’s definitely a win-win situation!)

And so, after my novel I Stopped Time appeared in The Guardian’s top 30 reader recommended list for 2013, I tracked down all those authors whose names appeared alongside mine. Authors like Linda Gillard, JJ Marsh and Rohan Quine. Most were extremely pleased to hear from me and I think only one turned me down, but that was because he was too busy.

For most promotional marketing activities, it is difficult to measure results, because there is almost inevitably a time lag. Not so with the author interviews. I soon found that authors I interviewed were returning the favour. Reviews appeared. Recommendations. A simple ‘I am currently reading’ post on Facebook. Joanna Penn calls this ‘Social Karma’ and it really does seem to work.

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

Jane Davis: If I have read a book written by an author, or if the interview is quite a coup, I draft a personalised question set. If I don’t know an author’s work (and I’m afraid I don’t have time to read all of the books that are the subject of the interviews), then I send out my standard question set (which is a document I am constantly refining, based on trial and error) with a set of written instructions.

Debbie Young: Why do you particularly enjoy this activity?

Jane Davis: Even if you have a creative writing MA, the only way to learn how to write a novel is by doing it. I wrote my first novel for the sheer hell of it. I wasn’t aware that there were any rules. It was only when I began submitting my work to structural editors and agents that I was told ‘But you can’t do that!’ And every time I was told that no-one was accepting books written in the first person, I discovered a new novel that was written in the first person. Every time I was told that you can’t switch point of view, I found authors who did just that. And so I have found myself at home among the rule-breakers.

I find it fascinating to learn other writers’ approaches. Indie authors are refreshingly honest about their successes and their failures. What drives them on. Their inspirations. And, of course, there’s the techie side, which can be hard work for a luddite like me. I have picked up a number of hints along the way – even if it’s that I don’t have to be doing all of this stuff myself.

Best of all, on arriving at the London Author Fair, standing in the coffee queue, I had struck up a conversation with a trade-published author, and people kept on coming up and introducing themselves. They recognised me. My new author friend’s reaction was amazement. ’How do you know all of these people?’ When I was trade published I also felt very isolated, so I empathised. But the answer is very simple. It doesn’t take an awful lot of effort to reach out. Online friendships are the strangest things. The London Book Fair felt like a reunion with old friends, even though I’d never actually met some of the authors before.

Since then, I am now being approached with requests and offers rather than the other way round. And they’re not just coming from other authors. I have had requests for book talks. I’ve actually been asked to speak as a social media ‘expert’, which seems extraordinary to me! The point is that by increasing my online presence, I have made myself visible. And, as we all know, visibility is key.

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

Jane Davis: To be honest, it has all picked up very quickly. I launched A Funeral for an Owl in November last with very few fireworks. I had lost a lot of money on a book launch the summer before and simply didn’t have money to burn. Save for a price promotion (which I advertised on all of the free sites) and a Goodreads Giveaway, I relied on my existing network – family, friends, beta readers. This included Cleo Bannister (who blogs as Cleopatra Loves Books), a reader I met at a library talk. She contacted me afterwards to say how much she enjoyed my writing, so I invited her to join my team of beta readers. Cleo has been very generous in promoting my books ever since, but I had very few other interviews.

The timing of the launch of An Unchoreographed Life has been a very happy accident. This time around, I had seven interviews lined up, several of which have been re-posted by other bloggers. Of these, my favourite has been with Dan Holloway, which you can read here. An interview with him is like gold dust.

Covers of all of Jane Davis's books

Jane’s complete works – so far!

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

Jane Davis: Tomorrow? I’m still in the middle of this one. Seriously, though, I do feel as if everything I have been building on is coming together. After my fifth release, the books are starting to sell each other.

Apart from reaching out to other authors, my focus is nurturing readers I hope to turn into ‘super-fans.’ If a reader has reviewed more than one of my books in the past, I might contact them and ask if they would like a free paperback. If your marketing budget is low, you are absolutely reliant on reader recommendations. 79% of readers still rely on recommendations from friends. A thank you, an acknowledgement in the books, an invitation to become a beta reader, a preview copy… most of these things cost very little. I’m told that if you have 1,000 super-fans, you never need to advertise.

Ideally, I must admit that I would have re-launched my website, which uses old technology and isn’t optimised for mobile phones and tablets. I thought it would be a simple job, but it isn’t. Swings and roundabouts…

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

Jane Davis: It eats into my writing time. I used to see some of what I did – social media especially – as a waste of time. Now that I’m starting to see results, I realise it isn’t. The difficult is that if you adopt a dandelion clock approach, and when results aren’t immediate, it’s difficult to tell which activity has worked for you. Two years ago, I wrote to all the Surrey libraries asking if they were looking for authors to do book talks. I heard nothing. This year, I have three library talks lined up. The truth may be that results can’t be attributed to any single thing. If potential customers have to see your name in six different places before they buy, the same may be true of other people who can help you. My advice is to try everything.

Actually, I think the worst thing about promoting your books is saying ‘It’s £8.99.’ I have no idea why. I’m selling quality products. They look beautiful. They have been professionally edited. So why is that so hard?  

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?

Jane Davis: I am not a natural risk taker, so I haven’t tried advertising on BookBub or any of the more expensive sites. Now that I have some solid reviews behind me, it might be the time to try, but I’m afraid that any substantial financial outlay is a problem for me. If I can’t see a break-even situation, I usually have to politely decline.

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

Jane Davis: There’s lots in the pipeline. A piece in Surrey Life Magazine June issue, out now, folks!) A possible roadshow with a bookshop. The library talks I’ve already mentioned. And writing the next book, of course. That has to be slotted in somewhere…

Debbie Young: Thank you, Jane, for that insight into how you promote your books – and thank you too for generously sending me two of your novels to read and review. I’ve just recommended I Stopped Time to the Historical Novel Society book group that I attend in Bristol. It’s a very topical book to read right now because part of it is set in the First World War, showing its impact on the lives of ordinary people.



Selling My Books: Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn’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

Photo of Lindsay and Debbie seated at a table chatting

Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn chats to Debbie Young on the SilverWood Books stand at the London Book Fair 2014 (photo by fellow author Joanne Phillips)

Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn is the author I must thank for inspiring this series of guest posts in the first place. I blogged a couple of months ago about her “Why I Write” series, in which she’d kindly included me (read that post here). 

I was pleased to be invited also to her most recent book launch, where Lindsay, an experienced teacher of English and creative writing, was clearly in her element. She entertained a packed hall of potential readers who between them bought nearly every copy of her books on sale there, including her previous novel.

It was therefore no surprise when she revealed that her favourite way to promote her books focuses on connecting with the readers in many different settings, as my interview with her reveals.

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.

Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn: My favourite book promotion tip is to find ways to engage directly with readers. This can be visiting book groups, talks at libraries, and I was once commissioned to write a short story for a particular reading group!

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

Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn: The talks in libraries have come about by various means. I’ll try to keep it brief and give a few examples. When I published Unravelling, I approached a library close to the college where I teach creative writing, (as I knew that would ensure at least a few people attended!), to ask if I could give a talk on it. I met an incredibly supportive librarian, who set up a brilliant event. About thirty people came; they asked lots of interesting questions, and I sold lots of books.

Cover of The Piano Player's Son by Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn

Lindsay’s second novel

When my second novel The Piano Player’s Son came out last year, I went to my local library to tell them about it, and they invited me to give a talk on 23rd April as part of their World Book Night celebrations. I was also invited to another library on 25th.

Recently, I was invited to take part in Warwickshire Libraries’ ‘Fantastic Fun with Words Fortnight’. I spoke at two separate libraries – on both occasions, several book groups had been invited – about my books and being a writer. Both were lovely evenings with wine, cake and, again, some great questions. Not only was I able to sell books, I was also paid to do those events!

As well as talks, I enjoy visiting book groups who have read one of my novels. This is a more intimate opportunity for readers to question you about your characters and their motivations. It’s especially rewarding when a particular character’s actions generates debate. At a group I went to recently, one of the members said ‘I’m talking about them as if they’re real people.’ I couldn’t resist replying ‘They are, aren’t they?’

Debbie Young: Why do you particularly enjoy this activity?

Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn: First, after spending so much time alone with my characters and their stories, it’s wonderful to meet readers who know those characters, have shared in their lives, and have opinions about their actions. Second, by engaging with readers, I’m promoting myself as a writer. As well as discussing individual books, readers are always interested in the writing process: Where do you get your ideas? Do you write every day? Do you have to wait for inspiration? The best promotion for books is word of mouth, and if readers feel they have shared in your creative process, they are more likely to become your advocates.

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

Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn: As I’ve outlined in question 2, I’ve used it for both my novels. It’s probably most effective in the first year or so after publication, but when I discuss my most recent novel The Piano Player’s Son, I inevitably also talk about Unravelling which was published nearly four years ago.

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

Cover of Unravelling by Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn

Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn’s debut novel

Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn: I’m always open to suggestions for improving promotional activities – I don’t feel marketing is one of my strengths – but, hoping not to sound too complacent, I feel these activities have been successful.

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

Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn: I’m not a very good sales person. The thought of cold calling fills me with horror, so I don’t like anything that smacks of ‘selling’. In a crowded world, where so many seem to be shouting ‘Look at me’, ‘Buy me’, ‘Listen to me’, ‘Watch me’, my inclination is to hide away and write. But my books deserve better – there’s no point bringing them into this world and then abandoning them to their fate. So, I’ll keep trying to champion them.

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?

Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn: So far, I’ve resisted Twitter. Everyone says it’s great for writers. Last year, I even went on a day course on how to use it, but when I see all those tweets, my brain freezes over. I don’t think I can face it.

But something I haven’t tried and would like to do is Pinterest. As I live in a world of words, I’m attracted to the visual aspect of it. I think it would be interesting and fun – two words I definitely wouldn’t apply to Twitter!

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

Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn: After a difficult time with my next book (where I reluctantly had to come to terms with the fact that I had two narratives jammed into one), I’m now excited to be moving forward. The story I’ve decided to tackle first once again involves family relationships – like my two previous novels. It’s about the clash between personal ambition and family responsibility: in the current culture of self-fulfillment at all costs, and the prevailing wisdom that if you want something enough, you will achieve it, the story involves the fallout if the drive towards one’s own goal is pursued to an extreme. The provisional title of the novel is Phoenix.

Thank you so much, Debbie, for inviting me to share my experiences of promoting my work on your blog. I’ve enjoyed answering your questions and remembering how rewarding the events I’ve described were. The positive side of promotion!

Debbie Young: Thank you for taking part, Lindsay, and I’ll look forward to the launch of Phoenix!

I’ve reviewed both of Lindsay’s novels on my author website – click the title to hop to the review:

To find out more about Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn and to read her always interesting and inspiring blog, visit her website:


Boost Your Self-Publishing Skills By Attending Events for Writers

Launch party for Sell Your Books!

Enjoying my own event for writers – the launch of “Sell Your Books!”, with the SilverWood Books team and some author friends

With the New Year just a week old, many self-published authors (or aspiring ones) are busy planning the best way to write better books and sell more copies. While there is plenty of information to be had online and in book form, make sure you add attending “real life” events for authors as part of your plan for 2014.

Attending book launches, writers’ workshops and seminars, literary talks and festivals adds something extra that solitary learning cannot achieve: it puts you in touch with real people. No matter how much time you spend online, you’ll never get the same buzz or inspiration as meeting and chatting to writers and trainers face-to-face.

Book Launches and Author Events

I’ve often written on this blog about book launches and post-launch talks, and how inspiring those can be. It’s always worth attending other authors’ launches if you can, (find out why in this post). So make a point this year of tracking down any that are near you, and go along. Don’t be shy – put yourself in the author’s shoes and you’ll realise they’ll be glad to see you!

Most book launches have the virtue of being free to attend, although you may feel morally obliged to buy a copy of the book that’s being launched. The disadvantage is that they tend to be a bit one-way, with you hearing the author speak, rather than entering into a discussion. A more interactive type of event is needed if you want to engage directly with authors and publishing experts.Therefore do keep an eye out for paid seminars and courses near you which will offer you a much more interactive learning opportunity.

Seminars & Workshops

A good starting point is to ask at your local library and bookshops, and to check the website of any author services companies in your area. The best companies will be doing their best to offer ongoing learning opportunities to their author clients and to potential new authors who seek information about the best way to write and sell their books. The hosts will be very glad to see you if you attend, so don’t hold back if you’d like to go for fear of being “sold” to. There will be no obligation to buy. Not only do such events offer you the opportunity to get inside information from indie publishing experts; they’ll also enable you to hook up with new writer friends, to your mutual benefit.

Recommended Events, Coming Soon

  • Bristol – with SilverWood Books

SilverWood Books on sale in Foyles, Bristol

Some of SilverWood’s authors’ books on display in Foyles, Bristol

Living within easy reach of Bristol, I’m looking forward to attending a series of three events to be held at Foyles’ Bookshop, Cabot Circus, by author services company SilverWood Books, based in the city centre but serving authors all over the world.

On Wednesday 15th January, Silverwood’s Publishing Director Helen Hart and the successful self-published novelist Sandy Osborne, policewoman and author of the bestselling Girl Cop, will be holding a small, personal event called Publish That Book! It’s perfect for aspiring writers to discuss the craft of writing and self-publishing a novel, with specific reference to their own work-in-progress.

On Saturday 25th January, SilverWood will hold an Writing and Publishing Open Day, offering a free talks by experts on all aspects of self-publishing, from writing to production to book promotion. You’ll have the chance to chat informally to the speakers and many successful indie authors who have published their books via SilverWood’s services. I’ll be one of the speakers, on the topic of “how to increase your discoverability online”, so if you come along to that one, do come and find me to say hello!

SilverWood’s third event will be on Thursday 13th March on the subject of Writing and Publishing Your Memoir or Autobiography, with successful ghost-writer Tom Henry. I’m particularly interested in that one, as I’m currently working on a travel memoir myself.

Places at all three events are free of charge, but advance booking is essential to secure a place, as space is limited. Click on the title of each event for more details.

(Incidentally, Helen Hart, director of SilverWood Books, commissioned my book promotion handbook, Sell Your Books!, and I’m currently writing a companion volume for them, The Author’s Guide to Blogging, I’ve made some really good friends among their authors, and I can highly recommend their services to any author seeking assistance with their self-publishing tasks.)

  • Norfolk – with Rethink Press

cover of How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss by Lucy McCarraher

Workshop leader Lucy McCarraher’s book

On the other side of the country, in East Anglia, author services company Rethink Press is staging a fiction writing day-course, led by my friend Lucy McCarraher, whose super book How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss I recently reviewed on my author website. An experienced novelist whose debut novel was shortlisted from 47,000 submissions to the Richard and Judy Book Club Award, Lucy McCarraher certainly knows her stuff! This course will take place on Tuesday 14th January and the original price per person was £89 – but tell her that you heard about the course from Debbie Young’s Off The Shelf blog and she’ll give you a specially reduced rate of £60 – and you’ll also get a free copy of her book! Read more about the course here.

Writers’ Retreats

Surely every writer’s dream course is a writer’s retreat – a writing-themed holiday which devotes a week or more to your development as a writer. Think of it as an investment in your career, as much as a holiday – although if you pick the right venue, it will also double up as an excellent alternative to your usual summer holiday. They are usually held at geographically remote, peaceful spots, to allow you to focus on your learning.

As with any specialist event, places on the best writers’ retreats will be limited, so book well in advance to avoid disappointment.

  • Greece
Photo copyright

Photo copyright

If our current awful wintry weather is making you hanker after a warmer climate, now’s the time to check out what has to be the most inviting Writers’ Retreat that I’ve ever come across – a week on the idyllic Greek island of Ithaca, . The Homeric Writers’ Retreat is so named because Ithaca was home to the mythical Odysseus and Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey. The retreat is run by my friend the novelist, poet, and musician Jessica Bell, also well known for her writing guides. (I reviewed Adverbs and Clichés In A Nutshell – great title! – here.) Just the thought of joining the retreat would surely motivate your writing through the dark days of winter…

Would you like to recommend a good writing event that you know of? If so, please feel free to add details in the comments section below. Whichever writers’ events you attend this year, have fun, and happy New Writing Year!

How to Sell More Books: Diversify – with Guest Author Jessica Bell

Juggling balls

It takes balls to juggle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One way to raise your profile as a writer is to diversify, especially if you are self-publishing your work or being published by a small independent press. As I’ve said in a previous post, the best way to sell more books is to write more books – but that doesn’t mean you should focus solely on writing those books. It’s also worth seeking other ways in which to get your name before readers. This is especially true for self-published and independently published writers, who do not have the presence or klout of a big name publishing house behind them.

I’ve often heard writers dismiss certain networking opportunities such as Twitter by saying “But I don’t want to network only with writers, I want to reach only readers”. This irks me:

  • firstly because any writer who is not also a reader is not worthy of the title of writer
  • secondly, networking with writers not only refines your writing skills but also enables you to share best practice for reaching readers

If that’s how networkophobes want to play it, that’s their loss, but personally, I practise what I preach. I juggle all kinds of writing-related activities, not only writing short fiction (my first love) and blogging (a close second), but also creating WordPress websites for authors, writing about book promotion (see my handbook for the self-published author, Sell Your Books!, and reviewing every indie author’s book that I read.

Like most authors, I also have a day-job (part-time, in my case), working for a fabulous children’s reading charity, Readathon. Even better if you can engineer your day-job to feed into your writing. I’m lucky: in my world, all roads lead to books.

Meet a Master of Multi-Tasking, Jessica Bell

Head and shoulders of the author Jessica Bell

The ultimate multi-tasking writer, Jessica Bell

When I encountered the versatile and multi-tasking Jessica Bell on the fab Facebook forum of the Alliance of Independent Authors, I felt as if I’d met a kindred spirit. I was also hugely envious of her location: Greece, where she alternates between her base in Athens and her writing retreat workshops on the Ionian island of Ithaca. As well as writing fiction and non-fiction, poetry and songs, she pens articles for literary magazines, is co-editor of Vine Leaves, and writes and edits for English Language Training companies all over the world.  Jessica’s most recent publication is the latest in her Nutshell series of mini writing guides for authors.

With all that going on in her life (when does she ever sleep?!) she is an object lesson in how diversifying writing-related activities enables an author to reach a wider readership than if she focused solely on her novels and poetry. I was delighted that she could find time to join me here to talk about her lifestyle.

Q) Jessica, I thought Sell Your Books! was slim, but the books in your Nutshell series are positively snack size, resembling a partwork magazine. Personally, I find this a really practical format for authors who want to improve their craft but have no time or energy to read a big tome about it. (What author doesn’t comfort-buy bigger style guides that never get opened or acted upon? Just like recipe books and diet guides!) But why did you take this approach rather than combining all the tips into a single book?

A) You know how in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, she says that in order not to be overwhelmed, a writer needs to focus on short assignments? She refers to the one-inch picture frame on her desk and how that little picture frame reminds her to focus on bite-sized pieces of the whole story. Basically, if you focus on one small thing at a time, the story will eventually come together to create a whole. I believe the same applies to learning the craft of writing. If writers focus on one aspect of the craft at a time, the process will seem less daunting and piece by piece it will come together.

Cover image of Adverbs & Cliches in a Nutshell by Jessica BellQ) Will you combine them into a single volume once you’re done, or will this be an ongoing series ad infinitum?

A) The plan is to release one book every six months, and I’m hoping to write at least six, so it will be a while yet before there is a single volume. But once they’re all written and released, yes, a box set is definitely an option I’ll be exploring. But that could be another two years away. We’ll see.

Q) I was slightly surprised that you’d grouped adverbs and clichés together. Like all careful writers, I avoid clichés like the plague (ho ho) but hadn’t considered adverbs to be necessarily (oops!) undesirable. Are they really equal crimes of laziness?

A) Before I answer this, writers need to understand that they aren’t always going to be a problem. You don’t need to go overboard trying to eliminate every single adverb in your manuscript. Because sometimes, they just work. Same with clichés. They serve a purpose. Especially in dialogue. Of course, it also depends a lot on your character’s voice. Because they come naturally, we frequently utilize them in everyday speech (see?). But in fiction, too many adverbs weaken prose. It’s considered “lazy writing,” because it means we don’t have to show what’s happening.

If your manuscript has too many adverbs, it most likely means that the emotion you felt while writing it is not going to translate to the reader in the same way. Because the way in which one experiences things isn’t always the same as the next person. As writers, it’s your duty to make readers experience your story from a unique point of view. Your point of view. Adverbs stunt this.

Q) I loved the hands-on format of the book, prescribing set exercises for the reader, each sample to be read and considered four times, in four different ways. Is this the sort of activity you include in your writing retreats? If so, did the books evolve from your experience of running the retreats? If not, where did you get the idea for this format?

A) No, this idea didn’t come from the retreats. I make a living as an editor/writer of English Language Teaching materials for various publishers worldwide, so I guess “breaking down” the language is a technique I’m used to incorporating in ELT lessons. It’s effective there, so I thought, surely it’s going to be effective with fiction too.

Q) Can you tell me the themes of the next books you have planned in this series?

A) I haven’t finalized all my topics yet, because I need to start writing to see which ones lend themselves well to this format. But my list of possible topics include: superfluous words, crafting natural dialogue, subtext and conflict, weaving in relevant back-story, chapter endings, characterization, avoiding stereotypes, making setting count, using the six senses.

Q) Are you promoting each book in the series in the same way or, if not, what have you learned from the earlier launch that has made you launch this one in a different way?

A) Yes, I think I’ll stick to my current marketing plan. Seems to be working well. The only different thing I’m doing this time around is encouraging virtual tour participants to interview me in real time on Facebook and Twitter. I think it’s fun to follow a conversation as it gives people an opportunity to actually engage and interact, rather than just leave a comment on a blog and not really know if I’ll respond. Though I do try my best to respond to everyone!

Q) Turning now to questions about your career, I’m impressed by the diversity of your writing activities and by your energy. Just reading the list of the links in the footer of your email is exhausting! Did you set out to formulate this “portfolio career” approach, or has it just evolved? In what order did they accumulate?

A)  Haha, no I did not set out for the long list. I just had some ideas and wanted to bring them into fruition. My mother always said, if there’s a will there’s a way. (Hey, look, cliché!) If I want something enough, I do it. Full stop. There’s no such thing as failure in my vocabulary. There’s try. And try again. I can’t really remember in what order they happened. I think all my ideas started to come together at once!

Q) How do these activities feed off each other or cross-fertilise?

A) Well, they’re all writing related, so I do try to link them together on occasion. One recent example is the vignette contest my literary journal ran for the chance to win a scholarship to the writing retreat I run. Nice smooth connection there. And both organizations benefit.

Q) I envy you your locations—Athens & Ithaca. How do those settings affect and influence your work? Do you speak Greek and, if so, do you find yourself using more words that originate from Greek? (I once did evening classes in Greek and used to holiday there before I had my daughter, sailing round the Ionian, often mooring on Ithaca, and I loved discovering the Greek roots of English words.)

 A) There is a lot about Greece in my debut novel, String Bridge, but I have to say that Greece had already started to influence me when I was a kid. I must have been about eleven. I remember sitting on a rock by the sea in a little place called Monemvasia. I was so inspired by my surroundings that I needed a way to express it. This is when I started writing poetry. In the end (well, beginning), Greece is what sparked my passion for words.

Also, I would never have got my first job as an editor if I hadn’t moved here. As I said above, I make a living as an editor/writer of English Language Teaching materials. There is no need for this sort of thing in an English speaking country. So I guess, I have Greece to thank for giving me the opportunity to pursue this career path. If I had have remained in Australia, I probably would have focused more on my music.

Yes, I do speak Greek. But it can get a bit rusty at times. Mainly because I work all day with English that I hardly have the chance to use it. Regarding Greek words, um … I don’t think so. Unless I’m hungry. 🙂

Q) Your poems and fiction are gaining more readership and recognition. To what extent has this been fuelled by your other writing-related activities? (I’m trying not to use the clichés “author platform” and “greater than the sum of the parts” here!)

A) I believe that all these writing-related activities mean that I need to be online quite a lot. As a result, I’ve become visible, to quite some extent, through social media. And to be honest, I couldn’t live without it. I’m quite isolated being an English writer in a non-English speaking country, and I need to promote my work to the English-speaking world.

The key to social networking, though, is to engage in conversations, interact with your audience. Saying, “buy my book, it’s great” all the time, isn’t going to sell it. But saying “hey, what do you think about blah blah blah?” and actually eliciting opinions from others, means you are saying something that people are interested in. And if they’re interested in what you’re saying online, then it’s likely they are going to investigate you further. It’s a long process, and hard work. But it certainly pays off.

How’s this for statistics? I’ve been blogging and engaging in social media, pretty much every single day, since March 2010. And only this year, three years later, have I started to see true results. It takes effort, persistence, stamina, but most of all love and passion. Because this ‘being visible’, (and let’s sign off with a good old cliché, hey?) doesn’t happen overnight!

Juggling balls

No caption required 😉 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks again, Jessica, for sharing so many inspirational tips and lessons, and best of luck not only with your latest Nutshell book but with all your many literary undertakings!

To find out more about Jessica Bell, including her latest Nutshell book, please visit her website:

To read my review of Adverbs and Clichés in a Nutshell, please click here.

To network with other writers via the Alliance of Independent Authors, click the yellow and gold rosette in the sidebar on the right of this page.

How World Book Night Can Help Indie Authors Raise Their Profile

World Book Night 2013 logoNeed something to look forward to now that the London Book Fair has finished? Well, you won’t have to wait long, because on Tuesday 23rd April, it’s going to be World Book Night!

What is World Book Night?

Like the better-known World Book DayWorld Book Night is an international campaign aimed at readers, rather than writers.

I’ll describe here how it works in the UK, as that’s where I’m based, but the scheme also runs in the USA and Germany, and it’s gradually spreading further afield.

World Book Night’s prime goal is to celebrate books and reading, turning reluctant readers into avid ones, with obvious benefits for publishers and writers everywhere. But it is not at all a hard-nosed, commercial operation. It’s a generous-spirited, humanitarian campaign which is about much more than a profit motive. As stated on its website, “It’s about people, communities and connections, about reaching out to others and touching lives in the simplest of ways, through the sharing of stories.” Its stated aims are:

  • To raise the profile of reading through a mass engagement project which works at a grass roots level to inspire those who don’t regularly read to do so
  • To place books into the hands of those who don’t regularly read
  • To raise the profile of reading for pleasure through a series of celebratory events
  • To improve literacy in the UK and Ireland
  • To bring communities together

Each year, a cross-section of 20 books is chosen by an independent panel to appeal to all kinds of readers, primarily adults, but some of the titles are also appropriate for  younger readers. Special paperback editions are printed, branded “World Book Night”, including an explanation of the scheme and words of encouragement to both giver and receiver. Designated book givers personally distribute 20 copies each within their local community.

How To Be A Book Giver

World Book Night special editions of Treasure Island

Special editions are produced exclusively for World Book Night

To be chosen as one of the 20,000 book givers, individuals must complete an application form some months in advance, stating how, where and why they will distribute their books. Volunteers may choose which book they are allocated, ideally one that they have read and which has personally touched them, and for which they feel they can be a great ambassador. Successful applicants collect their box of books from one of the bookshops and libraries who have agreed to act as local distribution points (helpfully raising their profile within their community too).

I’ve been lucky enough to be a designated book giver for the three years that the scheme has been running. The first year, I chose Nigel Slater’s autobiography, Toast; last year I had Dodie Smith’s I Capture The Castle; this year I have Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. The children’s reading charity where I work  part-time, Readathon, is giving away Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. (Institutions as well as individuals may apply to be book givers.)

Giving the books away is an honour and a privilege. I feel like Father Christmas, and I know from the feedback I’ve had that the people I’ve chosen to give to have really appreciated and enjoyed the experience. “Too good to be true” is frequently heard from givers and receivers alike – but true World Book Night most certainly is.

On the scheme’s official website, there are moving tales of how receiving a free book like this has changed  recipients’ lives, not only encouraging them to read books, but also boosting their self-esteem and their faith in the wider world. For many, it may be the only book they own, or the first book they’ve read after years of thinking that reading was not for them. Whatever their circumstances, their World Book Night book will be special.

So What’s In It for Indies?

With each annual list of World Book Night books comprising classics and best-sellers, it is unlikely that a self-published or indie book is going to be included – but that’s not the only way that this event helps authors. A large number of related events takes place throughout the country, and you are very welcome to get involved in these – or, indeed, you can create your own. Two years ago, another local book giver and I held our own World Book Night evening in the village hall. It was an informal, free event to which everyone was invited to discuss books and to collect their own free copy of one of the books. We also gave leftover copies to carefully selected people the next morning at a fundraising breakfast held there.

Getting involved in local events like this enables you to raise your profile as someone who loves, reads and writes books. Inevitably, such activity raises the profile – and sales – of your book. Here are some ideas of what you can do:

  • attend a World Book Night event at your local library or bookshop to network with local booklovers (take a few copies of your book with you so you can make opportunitistic sales!)
  • give a reading from one of your books at a World Book Night event
  • give a few copies away as loss leaders
  • hold a raffle for a signed copy of your book in aid of World Book Night
  • run a special promotion for one day only, to mark World Book Night, in keeping with the generous spirit of the occasion
  • get in touch with your local radio station or newspaper to put yourself forward as an interviewee, speaking both as a book giver and a writer
  • write a blog post celebrating World Book Night – see what I did there? 😉 

Whether or not you choose to do any of those things, I warmly recommend you become involved with the scheme, simply because it is an enormously uplifting, life-affirming movement. Taking part will remind even the most discouraged writer of the enormous power of books to change lives for the better. It renew your energy and enthusiasm to continue writing.

For more information, do take time to read through the World Book Night website, especially the case studies, and look out for extensive media coverage on the day too. If you’re interested in being designated a book giver next year, sign up to their mailing list and they’ll invite you to apply in the autumn for World Book Night 2014, when the time comes.

If you’re already involved with World Book Night, I’d love to hear about your experiences! Do leave a comment!

If you liked this post, it’s worth reading my other posts about World Book Day and World Book Night, and about how getting involved in other book-related events can help indie and self-published authors sell more books:

World Book Day for Self-Published Authors (on the ALLi website)

World Book Day for Indie Authors (on the Off The Shelf website)

My (slightly over-excited!) blog post about being chosen as a book giver for the first ever World Book Night (on the Off The Shelf website)

Improve Your Book Sales by Attending Other Authors’ Events (on the Off The Shelf website)