Our October blog is a report from our recent Authors North event and is written by the author Katherine Clements.
On an uncharacteristically glorious autumn morning, in the imposing Imperial War Museum, Manchester, I joined a cluster of authors, all clutching Books Are My Bag totes and hovering around flasks of strong coffee — perhaps par for the course at 10am on a Saturday, but we were in for a long day, notebooks at the ready. This was my first Authors North Weekender and I was surprised that the bill hadn’t attracted a bigger turn out, but with Books Are My Bag parties happening in bookshops all over the country that afternoon, authors were in high demand.
The day kicked off with an intensive workshop on marketing and publicity led by Stephanie J. Hale. I’ve heard Stephanie talk before and found her to be a wealth of information and ideas. She walked us through the maze of options for marketing and selling books, nimbly catering for both traditionally and self-published authors, and debunking several myths along the way.
Practical sessions to identify our target readers and understand how our unique personal stories can be turned into publicity were enlightening. These ideas aren’t new, but Stephanie encouraged us to look at things in a different way. As someone who’s reticent to share personal information in the cause of book sales, I was reassured by the key message: find the things you’re comfortable doing and concentrate on them. Authenticity is best, after all.
The same goes for the dizzying range of social media and blogging sites. Stephanie’s advice: there is no ‘one size fits all’ online solution and it depends on you and your book. Choose the channels that most suit you and your audience and see it as a way to interact with your readers.
Many authors shiver with dread when faced with the idea of marketing, but we need to alter our perceptions. It’s not just about selling. Of course, ultimately we all want to shift a few books, but the most effective campaigns will add value to readers in some way, which might lead to a sale or a recommendation. Positive perception and word of mouth are valuable leverage. Any promotion can be an opportunity to establish a dialogue with your readers. And who, as a professional author, doesn’t see the benefit in that?
In the post-lunch slot, rising star Emma Jane Unsworth kept us rapt with a reading from her new novel, Animals, and talked about her career, before and after winning a Betty Trask Award. After a morning focused on marketing and publicity, I couldn’t help notice Emma acknowledge how important her prize win had been in taking her career to the next level. Her encouraging story shows how small presses are willing to take risks, and work hard to market the books they believe in, and this can still work in today’s world of conglomerate publishers and Amazon domination.
Next on the bill were Maggie Gee and Nicholas Rankin, appearing as part of the SoA’s Writers in Conversation series. The famous literary couple gave us an insightful, entertaining and, at times, touching account of their life together. Both were honest about the trials of two writers living and working alongside each other, openly speaking about periods of difficulty and the support that the SoA has given at critical moments in both their careers.
Maggie mentioned the wealth of advice that’s available to new writers looking to get published, compared to a relative lack of ongoing support over the course of a writing career. Of course, this is where writer friends are invaluable, and the SoA provides plenty of practical services and information, but I wonder if there’s a gap here that needs to be filled.
The stand out message for me: when the going gets tough, the crucial thing is to believe in your work, and find others who believe in your work too, whether that’s an agent, a friend or a partner. And most importantly, don’t give up. I, for one, can’t hear this often enough.
After such thought-provoking sessions, a chance to relax was welcome, and the Books Are My Bag party, hosted by SilverDell Bookshop, was exactly that. With a pop-up shop and guests from local literature organisations, it was a great chance to celebrate the things we love about books, both as writers and readers, as well as making some new face-to-face connections – and nothing quite beats that. It made a fun and positive end to a very useful day.
A huge thanks to the SoA for bringing such inspiring speakers to Authors North. Even bigger and better next time? Fingers crossed.
Buy Katherine's debut novel via the Headline website here
Find out more about Katherine here
Connect with Katherine on Twitter @KL_Clements
Books Are My Bag
Read a report of our Books Are My Bag activities here