Publishing your book: What I wish I’d been told

When my first book was published, the overwhelming feeling after the initial flurry of excitement, was of being alone. Left to your own devices being an author can be a solitary business. In my case, and I know this isn’t true for some authors, I had lots of time to obsess over the book. How was it doing? Did people like it? Was it on sale in lots of bookshops? All perfectly legitimate questions but, not very helpful when you are running through them many, many times a day. I wish I had known not to make the classic mistakes below, so here are my top tips for what not to do after your book is published:

  1. Don’t read the reviews. Of course reviews are important, we all know that. Your publisher will tell you to encourage readers to leave reviews on Amazon or Good Reads or other sites, as it will help the visibility of your book and this is true, however obsessively looking at these reviews isn’t a recipe for a happy author. Try to remember that most reviewers will not have spent agers crafting their review, it will most likely be an off the cuff quick opinion. Some will be good, some will be bad. It isn’t personal. However, reading and re-reading negative reviews will only have a negative impact on you and the way you see the book. So, try not to do it. While the good reviews will undoubtedly make you feel ten feet tall, the bad will have the opposite effect, so steer clear. You’ll feel so much better.
  2. Don’t expect too much from family and friends. While publication day will be one of the most significant moments in your life, for your family and friends it is just another day. Count yourself lucky if you have a super supportive bunch around you, that’s wonderful, but if you don’t then it isn’t a reflection on you or the book. The chances are that everyone is busy just getting on with life. Stop and think about how much interest you take in your friends’ jobs and that may give you some perspective. It is lovely to have your own cheerleading squad who get out there and spread the word for you but don’t expect it.
  3. Don’t check for your book in bookshops. Ok, this is a difficult one. There is nothing like the thrill of wandering into your local bookshop and finding your book on the shelf. When I was on holiday in Australia and discovered The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau in Sydney airport, I was thrilled (and pretty surprised), but in those first few weeks after publication it might be that your book has a limited release. The publishers and retailers may be waiting to see how well it does first before ordering more copies and so combing your local area’s book shops to find your book, only to come up blank, can be a dispiriting exercise and give you a false impression of how the book is doing. My advice would be to check in if you happen to be going in to a bookshop, however don’t go making special trips on a searching mission. Whether you see it in situ or not, won’t make a difference to the book’s overall marketing.
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How much power do you have as a first time author? 

I remember the first meeting I had with my publisher about my book, The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau. The room was full of people including my editor, several members of the sales team, publicity team and the publisher. I was thrilled they had all made time in their schedules to meet and talk about the plans for the book launch. It was a really positive meeting with lots of ideas on how we could all work together to make the book a success. I was pleased they were keen to hear my ideas too, despite me having very little experience of the publishing world. I went away happy.

Over the next few months there was a lot of back and forth over the book and there was no doubt that I was kept in touch with what was happening on my behalf. However, and this is a crucial point, I wasn’t in control of the process, which at times felt like an uncomfortable place to be. As a writer I think you are very used to working alone, toiling over your manuscript before sending it out and then waiting alone once more for any sort of feedback. However, once the initial euphoria of securing a book deal has died down there is the actual business of getting it out there to contend with and to do that you have to put a lot of faith in people you may not know very well. It is the nature of the business and once you have signed that contract you have to relinquish quite a bit of control.

So, in the lead up to the launch I left it in the hands of the experts. Professionals that knew the industry really well and wanted the book to be a success. I checked in regularly, asked if there was anything I could do to help and did as much advanced publicity as I could. And this is one area where you can make a difference. While the placement of your book in local and national bookshops is very much the domain of the sales team, publicity works best when the publicity team and the author work together. My suggestions and ideas were taken on board and when I showed a willingness to use my background as a journalist to develop my own opportunities this was appreciated. After all, the publicity team are usually launching a number of books at one time and anything you can do to maximise the book’s visibility to potential readers is welcomed.

Despite these collaborations, for me the whole process did feel a little uncomfortable. I was painfully aware of my lack of knowledge of the industry, so perhaps at times didn’t push my ideas, as I wasn’t quite sure whether they were realistic or not. After going through the process, for future books I would have more confidence in presenting ideas anyway and wait to be told if I was way off the mark. I also had a distinct fear of being labelled the “annoying author” or the “difficult one” if I contacted them too much. There was no basis for me to feel this way but for my second book I wouldn’t have this fear.

It just goes to show that the first time you do anything is usually scary and you are beset with self doubt, particularly when you have invested a lifetime’s worth of dreams in the moment. The stakes feel incredibly high. My advice to first-time authors though would be to push your ideas as much as you can, as no one is going to be a bigger advocate for your book than you are. Don’t be afraid of what other people will think. Often your ideas will be welcomed or at the very least considered and if they really aren’t appropriate the worst that your publisher can say is no.

How to approach a radio interview

So, I did my first live radio interview about The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau with my local radio station, BBC Radio Bristol. I was really nervous beforehand as, although I obviously know all about the book, radio is one of those mediums where you can’t predict what you are going to be asked. I had sent the presenter a copy of the book a couple of weeks prior to the interview date and then emailed to ask if there was anything particular he wanted me to do to prepare, but was told that it would be a straightforward chat, so no need for any extra special preparation. Fair enough but it didn’t help my nerves…

On the morning of the interview, which was at lunchtime, I just decided to keep myself as busy as possible, which turned out to be a good strategy. For me, the more I focus on something the more nervous I get, so making sure I had a huge list of work to get through helped to pass the time. When I arrived, the producer of the programme put me at ease and explained that I would be interviewed for around twenty minutes or so, much longer than I expected.

I met the presenter briefly a few minutes before my slot and then I was on! I was given a curveball straightaway, as knowing that I was raised in Coventry, the presenter asked me about the city’s history with ska music, which I know absolutely nothing about! A bit before my time! But after that bump in the road, it was surprisingly easy to just relax and treat the interview like a chat with a friend. We covered a lot about my background, career so far and the book of course, and surprisingly having a longer interview slot really did help in getting me into the conversation more. When it was over I felt reasonably pleased with the whole experience. I’m sure I wasn’t the perfect radio guest, but I don’t think I was the worst either and it was very good practice.

So, here are my top tips for any other authors about to embark on their first radio interview:

  1. Make sure you or your publisher send the book to the presenter/interviewer a couple of weeks in advance of the interview.
  2. Contact the programme a few days before to ask if you should prepare anything in particular. Do they have a list of questions they will ask?
  3. Ensure the presenter has a bio of you to refer to – it can help spark off conversation.
  4. Try and relax when you get in the room and treat the interview like you are just talking to a friend about your work.
  5. Take a bottle of water with you, just in case your voice goes mid-sentence.
  6. Enjoy it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Launch day!

It’s been just over a week since The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau was officially launched. I say officially launched as it had been on pre-order for quite a while online, had been available in Hatchard’s bookshop in London for a couple of weeks and I had been previewed in a couple of magazines, such as Town and Country in the preceding weeks. I’d like to say that launch day was all bells and whistles, balloons and cake, however the reality was a bit different, although I did receive some lovely flowers from my family and dinner out with my husband. As an author I really didn’t know what to expect from launch day but, as one friend pointed out, launches today are probably quite a bit different to how they were a few years ago before online sales were so dominant. I think now unless you are a well-known author with an established readership who are eagerly waiting for the next book, then your launch day as such will be more of a soft launch rather than a big event. My advice to authors who haven’t been published yet, is don’t expect too much! Publishers are increasingly stretched and although they do a brilliant job in the lead up, unless you are a “big name” then there is very little left in terms of resources for first time authors to have a fancy launch. One of the questions I was constantly being asked by friends in the lead up was, “What are you doing on the day?” and “Are you having a launch party”. My answer was always to mumble that I didn’t know or I hadn’t decided yet. In truth, for me launch day was just like any other day really, except the kids were off school on half term, so we got up a bit later, played, did some house bits and bobs and I tried not to obsessively check Amazon for reviews! I did receive this alternative cover art from my daughter, which I think is rivalling the beautiful cover that Transatlantic has at the moment:

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On the whole the reception to the book has been really positive. I’ve written pieces for the Sunday Telegraph and The Lady magazine and been featured in online magazine Standard Issue talking about Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers. The book has been picked as one of Stylist magazine’s books of the month and it has been getting some good reviews on social media and on Amazon. What that all means in terms of its overall success I don’t know but despite no champagne corks popping or glamorous parties, this author is happy to finally say it’s out there. And at the moment, that is a dream come true!

 

 

 

 

How to become a published author

I’m obviously not an expert on being a published author, after all I’m only just publishing my first book, but I was thrilled to give Psychologies Magazine the benefit of my experience for this article . It takes you through the journey I went on to finally secure a publishing deal and the obstacles I faced along the way. For non-fiction books I would say the main one was trying to get publishers to take on a project that researched women who aren’t widely known among the general public. Even though over the years I have come across many interesting women who I thought were worthy of further attention, I was often met with resistance from the sales and marketing departments of publishing houses who told me that they would be a “hard sell” to book shops and readers. Equally, I was told that publishers also want to publish books that are new and different but familiar – as an author this is very hard to achieve. However, after many false starts I managed to garner enough interest in Minnie Paget and her buccaneers to secure a deal. It wasn’t easy to find the right women but I hope when people read their story they will be as interested in them as I was.

The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau

So, we seem to be hurtling full throttle towards the launch date of my very first book. I can’t quite believe that I’ve got here and I’m both excited and terrified over what the reaction will be – I guess I will soon find out! The book will be on general sale on 9th February but there are a few advanced copies already at Hatchards in Piccadilly, London. If you don’t know Hatchards it is an amazing independent book shop that has been trading since 1797, making it London’s oldest bookshop. It is a joy to wander around and discover unexpected gems – it’s a must-visit whenever you are in London. I had the pleasure of signing some copies of The Transatlantic Marriage Bureau there on Monday, which was a bit of dream come true. I only hope if I get the chance again I don’t shake quite as much while doing it!

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