Selling My Books: Edward Hancox’s Top Tip for Book Promotion

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

Ed Hancox speaking in Foyles Bookshop at the SilverWood Open Day

Edward Hancox speaking at SilverWood Books’ Open Day at Foyles, Bristol

I met Edward Hancox via SilverWood Books‘ Open Day at Foyles bookshop in Bristol in January, where he gave an excellent talk about how he crowdfunded the production of his first self-published book, Iceland Defrosted, a bestselling travelogue about his passion for that country and all things Icelandic. I’d read and enjoyed his book when it was first published, and had never met Ed in person before. Even so, I could tell straight away that he was a personable chap and very much at home in Foyles. So it was no surprise that his top tip for book promotion involves relationship building in bookshops. Over to you, Ed, and thank you for sharing your experience and wisdom with us all.

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.

Edward Hancox: Book shops. Don’t forget bookshops, and especially independent ones. The big chains might not even talk to you (or worse, one actually lied to me!), but I’ve found independent bookstores to be very supportive. My local one – Wenlock Books – has sold over 70 copies of my book. A book shop in central Reykjavík stocks my little book. I’m also stocked in cafés (can’t beat coffee and a good book) and a record shop. The high street isn’t dead – if you support retailers, you’ll be surprised how much they support you.

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

Ed's books on a bookshop shelf

Iceland Defrosted on a bookshop shelf

Edward Hancox: Easy. Go in and say ‘Hello’. Be polite. Buy something. Ask for an email address. Get in touch. Always offer sale or return. Keep in contact. Watch the magic happen

Debbie Young: Why do you particularly enjoy this activity?

Edward Hancox: I enjoy book shops, record shops and drinking good coffee. This is a great excuse to indulge in all three! I also get a huge kick out of seeing my book for sale, as an actual book, from a real shelf, in a physical location. Something that ebooks will never be able to compete with.

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

Edward Hancox: My debut book, Iceland, Defrosted is stocked in 10 shops now, and is doing very well. The support of independent shops has meant a huge deal to me.

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

Edward Hancox: No, I don’t think so. I have the contacts and  confidence now, which would make it much easier.

How about this title for an icebreaker in bookshops?

How about this title for an icebreaker in bookshops?

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

Edward Hancox: Reviews. Urgh. I hate them. I have  tens of wonderful reviews on Amazon for my book, but a single cutting, malicious review can wound me for days. I need to grow a thicker skin.

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?

Edward Hancox: Vine. It’s like Twitter but with 6 second videos. I’ve tried it, but not mastered it. I think it has huge scope and potential – I need to sit down and figure it out.

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

Ed's name on an event poster

Ed shares the billing with an Icelandic pop singer

Edward Hancox: I’m giving a reading at Left for Dead in Birmingham – the record shop I mentioned – on the 10th May. It’s worth mentioning, because I’m appearing with a singer/songwriter from Iceland who I admire hugely. She’s called Hafdís Huld and appears in my book, so the whole thing has a nice symmetry to it!

Debbie Young: That sounds very exciting, Ed. Have fun – and make sure you get a photo of her holding your book for publicity purposes! (I bet you’re going to give her a free signed copy…)

Find out more about Edward Hancox and his bestselling book on his website:


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,

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:

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 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 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 Use a Blog Tour To Raise Your Author Profile & Sell More Books – with special guest Lucienne Boyce

Cover of To The Fair Land by Lucienne Boyce

There are lots of reasons why self-published and indie authors should consider using a blog tour to raise their profile as and author and sell more books: blog tours introduce a self-published book to a new audience who otherwise may … Continue reading

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.

How to Sell More Books: Get Involved with Events

Author and event organiser Lucienne Boyce

In Chapter 9 of Sell Your Books, I cover how to make the most of promotional events, dwelling mostly on book launches. But there are many other events that you can use to reach readers, from the humblest local fete to the grandest literary festival.

My ears therefore pricked up when I heard about a local self-published author, Lucienne Boyce, who had managed to get a gig at one of the most prestigious book-related events in the UK – the Cheltenham Literary Festival, reading her debut historical novel, To The Fair Land ( a great book, by the way – I’ve reviewed it here).

Intrigued, I asked her how she did it – and discovered that this event is not her only conquest. I’m pleased to welcome Lucienne to Off The Shelf today to share some tips on how to use events to help you sell your books.

By the way, Lucienne has generously squeezed this interview into a packed schedule, which includes the launch of her second book, The Bristol Suffragettes, at Foyles, Bristol on 19th June. (Everyone welcome, but do let her know if you plan to come, for catering purposes!)

Q) Lucienne, I was really impressed when I heard you’d been invited to take part at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature, alongside the nation’s literary greats! How did you get that gig?

A) Well, I didn’t really mix with any of the literary greats but it was nice to be in Cheltenham! There’s a stream of events called “Locally Sourced” which features local writers. Submissions are invited via the Society of Authors. You are asked to send a copy of your book and then the Festival organisers decide what sort of event they want to fit you into. A couple of weeks ago, I went to a very interesting meeting of the local Society of Authors group when the artistic director of the Festival, Sarah Smyth, came along to give us a talk about the Festival and also ask for feedback about what sort of events we thought they might include. She emphasised their continuing commitment to “Locally Sourced”, and said they are inviting submissions again this year. It’s another good reason to be in the Society of Authors if you can, not only for opportunities like this but also for the advice and help they can give you on all aspects of writing.

Q) You’re also involved in organising events yourself, in league with local interest and local history groups. Which came first: your love of event management or your writing? Did you consciously start organising events to raise awareness of yourself as an author and your books, or is that just coincidence?

A) Actually, I wouldn’t say I love event management! It’s really hard work and often very frustrating too, chasing people and keeping your eye on the detail – especially when I’d rather be writing! But, like a lot of things that are very hard to do, it also comes with great rewards – the feeling you get when an event happens and people enjoy it is unbeatable. But it’s my writing that comes first and, yes, I organise events to raise awareness of myself as an author. Having said that, I love meeting people at events, I love working with other writers, and I love it if someone asks a question I can answer and then I can feel I’ve been helpful in some way!

Q) How much have these events helped you sell more books?

A) It’s hard to quantify really. I don’t look at it as, “Oh, I’m doing an event and I have to sell x number of books for it to be worthwhile”. Building up a profile takes time, and there are so many facets to it – you want to build relationships with readers, Festival organisers, interest groups and so on, and (although you could say everyone is a potential reader) they are not all the same. If people buy my books, I want it to be because they think they’ll enjoy them, because they’re interested in me as an author, because they’re interested in my work, and doing events is one way of sparking that interest.

Cover of The Bristol Suffragettes by Lucienne BoyceQ) Which events have you been involved with in the last 18 months, and which events do you have planned for the next year?

A) Last year I was in an event in the Bristol Literature Festival with fellow SilverWood author Helen Hollick and HNS colleague Jenny Barden, when we looked at issues around writing and researching historical fiction.

I’m involved in organising and participating in events as part of the Historical Novel Society’s “Meet the Historians” initiative, which brings together teams of historical experts (writers, archaeologists, archivists, etc) and members of the public. The first “Meet the Historians” event was in April this year, when I was joined by Bristol author Lizzie Lane and staff from Bristol Reference Library and the Bristol Record Office to talk about researching local historical place. That event was part of Bristol Library’s “Writing Britain: Bristol Writing” exhibition.

As well as talks, I’ve also done a few local radio interviews, in particular one on International Women’s Day on 8 March on BCfm community radio, when I answered questions about the Bristol suffragettes. It was a lovely day, and it was great to see so many events going on to celebrate IWD. I’m talking about suffragettes again on the Women’s Outlook programme on Ujima Radio on 29 May.

I’ve got quite a few suffragette events coming up. There’s the launch of my new book, The Bristol Suffragettes, at Foyles on 19 June – everyone’s welcome to come to that! A few days before that I’m speaking at the West of England & South Wales Women’s History Network Annual Conference on 15 June. I’m offering a suffragette walk on Sunday 7 July, as part of the Dreadnought South West celebration of the 1913 Suffrage Pilgrimage, and on 13 July I’ll be joining June Hannam (University of the West of England), Dawn Dyer (Bristol Reference Library), and Lois Bibbings (University of Bristol) for an open discussion about the effectiveness of suffragette militancy at Bristol M Shed.

Later in the year, during the Bristol Literature Festival, we have two more Meet the Historians events. I’m very excited about these, especially as I’ll be working with such fantastic speakers! On 19 October Manda Scott, Ben Kane, Professor Kate Robson-Brown of the University of Bristol and Museum curator Gail Boyle will be taking part in an event at Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery as part of the Museum’s “Roman Empire: Power and People” exhibition. Then, on 26 October, I’ll be a member of a panel with Julian Stockwin, Dr Steve Poole, and Adrian Tinniswood about Bristol’s maritime history at Bristol M Shed.

There are details of these and other events on my website  – and most of them are free!

Q) How else do you network to reach potential readers, other than by holding events?

A) I have a website which has information about my books and bits and pieces I hope will be of interest, and some resources which I hope will be of use to people. I also invite contributions to my Bristol Suffragette project and I’d really love it if that caught on and people saw it as a place to share information, comments, news about their own research, writing or stories…it’s really great to get an email from someone who wants to ask me a question or tell me their granny was a suffragette!

I am going to launch a quarterly newsletter next month, which will let people know about forthcoming events, give-aways, work in progress and so on.

I blog whenever time permits. My blogs tend to be researched articles or theatre or book reviews rather than chatty, gossipy pieces, and each one takes a long time to do, so I don’t do as many as I would like. I do use Twitter, but I don’t really use Facebook much at present except for one or two group memberships, though this is something I’m going to review. I’ve also been on GoodReads for a while but I haven’t really explored all the possibilities on there yet.

I’m very keen to reach out to book groups, and I’m currently offering a special discount on copies of To The Fair Land – with an author visit thrown in for free if the group’s interested. I love talking to reading groups: they always come up with such interesting questions and comments.

I’m also keen to give talks in schools about the suffragettes and other topics. I’m surprised that even people who are studying the history of the franchise know very little – if anything – about the Bristol suffragettes, and how active the campaign was in Bristol and the south west.

Q) I was delighted when you set up a book group for the HNS which is local to me, involving not just writers but readers of historical fiction. How is it going so far ?

A) Thank you, I hope you and everyone involved in the group is enjoying it. I think it’s going well. (Ed: It’s fab!) We have group reads, which we select as a group, and I’m also keen to offer events and perhaps even arrange outings as well. We’ve just had our first talk, which was about a re-enactment of the Battle of Marathon, and coming in July is a talk about food in historical fiction. If the weather improves we may try a picnic using historical recipes! The meetings are open to anyone who loves historical fiction, or who just wants to know more about it, and it’s a mix of readers and writers. You don’t have to be a member of the Historical Novel Society to come along, and there’s no obligation to join the Society either. The Bristol Central Library have been tremendously supportive – I don’t think we could have a nicer place to meet. We have our own website with details of meetings, current reading and events.

Q) What advice would you give to other authors thinking of organising events or book groups?

A) For book groups, I’d say do a bit of research first. For example, for the HNS Group, I spent a lot of time looking at what other book groups do – you can start with The Reading Agency, for example. Your local library is a brilliant place to get advice – Bristol Libraries provides a lot of information on-line, but there are lots of other resources. It helps to think about what kind of group you want, and also to get tips on how to run a meeting, how to get discussion off the ground and so on.

For events, the best advice I can give is: be organised, be responsive, be meticulous. Organised is obvious – don’t lose track of who you’ve contacted and what you’ve said to them. Responsive – listen to what the organisers – be it Festival, bookshop or interest group – want. Be meticulous – don’t forget the detail. Who’s putting water on the speakers’ table? What time can the audience get in to the venue? Who needs a projector, a flip chart, disabled access? As Wodehouse might have said, the devil is in the d. The better organised you are beforehand the more you’ll be able to enjoy the event on the day.

And if you are participating, don’t go over time and don’t go off subject either. There’s nothing more nail-bitingly worrying for an organiser than when a speaker takes more time than they’ve been allocated – it can throw out the whole event, and is also horribly unfair on other participants – not to mention the audience, who may have buses to catch or need to rush off to another event or whatever.

Q) Do you belong to any other book groups or writing groups?

A) No, I find I get a lot from the Historical Novel Society both as a reader and a writer – I’ve been in the Society since it was founded. I am a member of the Women’s History Network, the Regional History Centre, and South West Scriptwriters – though frustratingly I’ve not had time to attend SWS for a while.

Cover of To The Fair Land by Lucienne BoyceQ)  I really enjoyed your debut novel and was surprised when I learned your second book was to be non-fiction (but with an equally fascinating theme!) At first it struck me as unusual for a writer to do both, but on the other hand, it makes sense when a good historical novelist will spend a lot of time on factual research. How comfortable do you find that dual role and how natural a mix is it?

A) Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed To The Fair Land.  Ever since I started writing, I’ve wanted to write about the suffragettes, and ideally a novel. In fact, my first attempt at a novel was about suffragettes – definitely one for the “bottom drawer”, I’m afraid! I had another go years later, but I’ve still not found the right story. I do have an idea in mind at the moment, but whether it will come to anything I don’t yet know.

So I’ve been reading about and researching the suffragettes for a long time now, and it occurred to me that if my material didn’t suit a novel, perhaps there was another form in which it would work. Writing non-fiction was something I wanted to try anyway, and since I had all this information it seemed logical to put it together in The Bristol Suffragettes.

In addition, I’ve always wanted to try writing a play, and again it occurred to me that, just as I’d perhaps found a form for some of the factual material, this might be a suitable vehicle for an imaginative element. So I’ve written a play about the Bristol suffragettes, which might work well in schools or for community groups. What I wanted to do with that was build up to the moment of betrayal at the end of the militant movement when, in August 1914, the Pankhursts diverted their organisation’s resources to the war effort. Just imagine how that must have felt to women who’d devoted their bodies and souls to the campaign for years!

As for the mix of roles, it’s a question of how I organise my work really, because in fact I tend to have two or three projects on the go at the same time. So while I’ve been working on the suffragette book, I’ve also been working on a novel. I find the variety stimulating – but the bottom line for me is that the fiction comes first and everything else has to fit in around it.

Q) Organising and attending events must be a great antidote to the isolation of the writer’s life – but to what extent is it a distraction rather than stimulation?

A) I said I’d rather be writing than organising events, which is true, but in fact I don’t regard it as a distraction. It’s part of the job. Not my favourite part perhaps, that is writing and reading and burying myself in archives for days on end. But still it’s part of being a writer, and so far I’ve found that I get a great deal of satisfaction out of an event when it eventually happens. There’s also the sense of achievement – I know few people who find speaking in public easy, but conquering the fear that, as the time for you to start talking draws inexorably closer, is shouting in your ear “Run now – now!” is a very good feeling!

Q) Part of the charm of your first book, for me, was the vivid use of settings that I knew, both in London and in and around Bristol, where you are based. Has that helped you attract local attention in Bristol?

A) I think so. As I mentioned, I’ve been on local radio a couple of times, and I’ve also had a great response to the Historical Novel Society’s “Meet the Historians” initiative in Bristol which I’m organising and participating in. In addition, readers of To The Fair Land have commented on how much they enjoyed being shown Bristol in a different way from their everyday experience of it, and that’s something that as a writer I’m really thrilled to hear. For me, it’s one of the things writing is for, looking at things differently, seeing them afresh – when you write you’re saying, “look here! look at this! this is interesting!” with the same enthusiasm and excitement you see in young children pointing at a snail or a leaf, seeing it as something really worthy of attention – as indeed it is. Though, of course, sometimes you are looking at dark, unpleasant things…

Q) Re your imminent book launch, how did you first become interested in the local suffragette movement?

A) When I first began researching suffragettes I was living in London, and so for a long time I didn’t know much about activism outside the capital. I moved to Bristol in the 80s and began to come across information in the library and so on. One particular impetus was the photograph I mention on the back of The Bristol Suffragettes, which I bought years ago in a market, of a group of local women standing under a suffrage banner. Seeing that really brought home to me the fact that women in Bristol and the south west were involved in the movement. I had to know more about them!

As I got to know more about what went on here, I found that it was something that not many other people knew about either. Whenever I mentioned suffragettes hiding in the organ at Colston Hall to heckle an MP, or attempting to petition the King in Park Street, people would say, “There were suffragettes in Bristol?” Yes, here in these very streets! That’s why I’ve included a map and a walk in the book, because I wanted to share that excitement about how those tremendous events were also played out here, in our city.

Q) Now that you’ve become so immersed in the history of the local suffragettes, can we look forward to a novel in that setting? If not, what are your plans beyond this book’s launch?

A) I’m currently working on a novel set in the eighteenth century about a Bow Street Runner who is also a keen amateur pugilist – Dan Foster. In this story he’s been sent to a village near Bath to find the murderer of a gamekeeper, against a background of violent unrest over land enclosures. I have ideas for further Dan Foster stories and would love to write a series about him. I also have ideas for another non-fiction book about women in Bristol, and for another play, about bluestocking Hester Thrale.

As for the next novel, I have lots of ideas I’m interested in – I keep an ideas folder and it’s stuffed with possible projects that excite me – I want to do them all! But the reality is that I will have to choose, so it’s a question of deciding which of them I am ready to devote the next two or three years of my novel-writing life to. Will it be suffragettes? Or more Dan Foster? Or something else altogether? Come back and ask me in six months!

Q)  You have a very busy, varied, interesting life and it’s no surprise to me that you’ve engaged the services of an assisted publishing house to get your books out there – and I’m sure it must have helped to have chosen a company that has a varied catalogue, able to produce books across a wide range of genres. How much time do you think they have saved you? What have the other benefits of taking that route been for you?

A) Hard to guess, but I would think it’s pretty significant. I did look at the option of “doing it yourself” – organising cover design, printing, editing etc myself and, yes, it was largely the time it would have taken me to do those things myself that prompted me to get in touch with SilverWood Books. But it was more than that. I simply don’t have the skill to put a book together, in the same way I wouldn’t pretend I could rewire my own house or make my own shoes. So, I wanted someone I could rely on to provide that professional expertise.

In addition, I think that using SilverWood to take on the project from beginning to end, in the same way a traditional publishers does, resulted in a much more consistent look and feel to the book. It also means I have a quality product which can stand beside any mainstream book, and in the case of some even outstrip them – only quite recently I’ve read two books from traditional publishers that are riddled with silly mistakes which should have been picked up in the editing stage (one from an academic house!). And, hearing about the experience of other writers, I have no doubt SilverWood provide as much, if not more, support with the marketing side of things than some traditional publishers offer.

Thank you, Lucienne, for such comprehensive answers, and good luck with your book launch for The Bristol Suffragettes on 19th June!

To contact Lucienne Boyce about any of her books or events, you can email her here or follow her on Twitter @LucienneWrite.

You can order To The Fair Land here and pre-order The Bristol Suffragettes here.