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 With a Memorable Book Launch

Debbie Young, author of "Sell Your Books!", at her book launch

At the launch of my own book

I love attending book launches and sharing the excitement of the author as he or she unveils shiny new books before an appreciative audience. Even better when the author dreams up a quirky way to make the event especially memorable, persuading more of their guests not only to buy more copies, but to keep spreading the word about their book days, weeks and months later.

This summer, two book launch events particularly stood out for me, in completely different genres – and I’ve been telling friends about them ever since. By chance, both were staged in the same venue: the smart upstairs events area in the Bristol branch of Foyles.  Smart, but neutral – and thanks to clever planning by the two authors concerned, the tone was entirely different for each launch, and totally appropriate to each book.

Acquiring a Taste for the Spanish Civil War

A guest eating tapas

A reader acquiring the taste for a Spanish thriller

Cover of The Assassin's Mark by David EbsworthHistorical novelist David Ebsworth transported his audience to 1930s Spain to get us in the mood for the story of his thriller, The Assassin’s Mark.

Spanish music was playing as we arrived, and we felt even more welcome when we spotted a mouth-watering display of genuine tapas, which looked as if it had been personally imported from Spain.

Smiling all the while, and in front of an intriguing display of genuine artefacts from the era, which he occasionally passed around the audience for a bit of hands-on involvement, David talked at length and off the cuff about the historical and political background to his story. The novel takes place in the unlikely but true-to-life setting of a yellow tourist bus visiting the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War. Spanish food and drink feature quite often in the story as the motley array of bus passengers make their fateful journey, and plying his audience with the same was a great way of involving us at a sensory level. David’s enthusiasm was so infectious that by the end of the talk I was almost ready to buy a ticket for the next trip!

Suffragette Rally

Mark Evans, Helen Hart and Sarah Newman join the chorus

Rallying readers to buy the book

Cover of The Bristol Suffragettes by Lucienne BoyceHistorical novelist Lucienne Boyce took a more formal approach at the launch of her non-fiction account of The Bristol Suffragettes.

When we took our seats, we discovered on each chair a songsheet for the lyrics of the Suffragette movement’s anthem – a hearty rallying cry. Before her prepared speech, wearing a purple and green Suffragette rosette on her chest, Lucienne led us all in a rousing chorus of the song, aided and abetted by Foyles’ Events Manager, who had gamely dressed in the Suffragettes’ official colours of green and purple to add to the sense of occasion.

Although Lucienne’s talk was much briefer than David’s, it was powerful. As we sat comfortably in the middle of modern Bristol, her words took us back to the turn of the previous century when normal Bristol citizens might have found their daily business, in just such a shop as Foyles, disrupted by protesting Suffragettes, hurling missives and making their voices heard. Apparently not even Winston Churchill was safe from their protests when he arrived at the nearby Bristol Temple Meads railway station.

Within moments, Lucienne had completely changed the way we looked at our surroundings, and with the innovative walk map of the Suffragettes’ Bristol provided inside each book, she equipped us to continue the tour after the launch event was over and the singing had stopped!

Inspiring Other Authors

Each author’s creative approach to their book launch, ably assisted by the very helpful Foyles’ team, helped ensure a long queue for book purchase and signing after the event was over. Both events set a great example to other authors in the audience who had their own launches to plan.

Both of these authors’ books were published by SilverWood Books of Bristol. Many thanks to SilverWood Books for the use of their photos here.

What’s the most interesting and creative book launch you’ve ever attended? Please share your experience via the comments form below, and if you’d like to email me any pictures, I’ll add them at the foot of this post. 

For more ideas about how to plan an effective book launch, see Chapter 9 of Sell Your Books!

PS Lucienne Boyce will be putting in another appearance at Off The Shelf on Saturday, as part of a blog tour of her historical novel, To The Fair Land. She’ll be talking about creating atmosphere not only at book launches, but within the pages of her novel too.