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

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

Peter St John's headshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cartoon of Jenno

..and meet Jenno, his PR Assistant!

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

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

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

Debbie Young: Why do you particularly enjoy this activity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of Peter’s pet hates

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

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

Debbie Young: Can you name one promotional activity that you’d like to try that you haven’t tried yet – or tried but not yet perfected?

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

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

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

The latest, Gang Spies, was launched early in March with a book trailer: I am also pleased to announce that another, Gang Warfare, is in course of preparation and should be ready for launch in the early summer.

This I hope will be followed before long by “Gang Rivaly” to complete the current series. A description of the series may be found on the website:

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

That’ll teach her!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more about Peter St John on his website and more about Jenno via her blog