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ACW

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Stuck on a platform, by Veronica Zundel

Although I haven’t a drop of British blood (my parents came from Vienna, my mother’s ancestors were Polish Jews and my father’s were German via Hungary), I have been feeling rather British lately. It’s that self-promotion thing. I’ve realized that most publishers aren’t going to publicize your book for you, unless you’re already famous (what is it that they take most of the profits for, again?) and that you will have to do it yourself. But that’s just not British!

Yes, I know British people hug a lot now, and squeal with excitement, and tell you their true feelings, and call lorries trucks. We are getting more and more Americanized by the moment. But still, it just doesn’t seem polite to keep pushing your book at people on Facebook and Twitter and in real life, or ‘away from keyboard’ as we are learning to say. I’m an extrovert, I like to be around people, but I’m deeply embarrassed to grab them by the lapel and say ‘I’ve written this marvellous book, you must buy it’. Almost as embarrassed as I am to say ‘You need Jesus’ (yes, I am the world’s worst evangelist - although perhaps it would be more biblical in any case to say ‘Jesus needs you’...)

Basically, we are not all born to be salespersons, and I don’t think we should have to be. The bolshie bit of me (what am I saying, the whole lot’s bolshie) wants to say ‘I’m a writer, not a sales rep; I know how to put words together and communicate, selling books is what I
have a publisher for’. But we know that’s not where we’re at any more. The writer has to be editor, proofreader, publicist, speaker and celebrity rolled into one. It’s a lot to expect.

Writing is a solitary pursuit, and sometimes it makes you forget how to be amongst people. How can we modest, humble (I’m proud of my humility), well-mannered desk-labourers become pushy, assertive marketers of our work? I’m not sure I know, otherwise I would have done it by now. And I might have sold a few more books. And lost a few more friends...

And another thing. We have to become a railway station too, and have ‘platforms’. Now I do social media - Facebook is my daily lifeline as I sit alone at my desk, and I have become more or less reconciled to Twitter. But I am about to receive my state pension, and as a ‘silver surfer’ I am only semi-literate - the moment I have to handle a picture I get a bit lost... Besides, I would think it rude to use Facebook, not for relating to friends, but for plugging my oeuvre.

Anyone else feeling like this? Is there some way in which we could help each other? Perhaps we could form a group: Shy Retiring Authors for Jesus. You see, it’s not just about sharing marketing tips; it’s about changing attitude. Can I ever become a marketer?

Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for New Daylight. Veronica belongs to the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and also blogs at reversedstandard.com

12 comments:

  1. It's a tough game ne Veronica. I feel for those who are naturally introverted because part of being an author is getting your name, and those of your books, out there. I am fairly outgoing and can talk to most people so it comes a little easier for me. I think the answer is to find a strategy which works for you and follow that. Thank you for sharing

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  2. This links in with the current discussion on FB about having a Facebook author page. I expect you wrote this well in advance, Veronica.
    You might be interested in a group connected with the Blogging from A to Z in April Challenge. They are http://alexjcavanaugh.blogspot.co.uk/p/the-insecure-writers-support-group.html I am still working my way through the e-book they produced. Sue

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  3. I'm an introvert! What more is there to say - the whole marketing, pushing myself (or my book) forward is my worst nightmare. And how does it fit with humility and not having faith by works (if your book also happens to be Christian) surely God will bring buyers to your door! Or not - it is a tricky balance and being British or having that British attitude is just another hurdle. Maybe bake sales would be a better avenue (but I'd have to learn to bake!)
    Very thought provoking post :) Thankful we have God's grace to cover us as we battle the markets.

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  4. I'm an introvert and I'm British. Every self-promoting tweet etc is agonised over. I have to separate myself from my book, etc, and think about promoting THAT rather than me. But I still get squeamish. The best way I've found is to try and be a blessing in the way you 'promote' - providing a thought or a resource which is helpful in itself, not just a way of 'selling' something.

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  5. Although I love being around people, it doesn't actually help sell books (so maybe we can forget the intro/extro words here!) ... for example, they are all well prepared to tell you that they 'never read novels', 'never read I don't have time', 'never read because I have far too much school marking to do ...' 'find our spiritual reading takes up all our reading time' (all real quotes). I've had an e-newsletter for about a year - no real benefit - and I suppose yes, I don't like to push the books too hard on FB and Twitter, because I find that, from other people, doesn't move me to buy so why shd it move them? Getting known is a mystery. Personality, I suspect, doesn't help much in the purely intro/extra way - but it might if you (and me) can somehow become more interesting to others - my latest thought is, maybe I should listen to them more, then they would want to listen to me - and that would translate as, read my books? Crazy or what?

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  6. I, too am an introvert. In fact I've just bought an e-book called The Introvert Charismatic and I have more paragraphs highlighted on my iPad than not because I identify with it so much. As some of you have said, I hate having to try and promote my book(s) and feel really squeamish about it. Also, I've found that people who are pushy (none of you lot - really) simply incite a resistance in me. Perhaps what we need to do is to buy each other's books. So January could be for all authors whose surnames begin A or B, Feb for C & D and so on. I suppose we'd then have to have W, X, Y and Z together and you and I, Veronica, would not get to sell our books until December. Whaddya think? :) Trouble is, we might need a second mortgage some months. And we'd have to restrict a certain Veitch Smith to either a V or an S month.

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  7. What I do is to share my joy and excitement about a career I love. So rather than sharing about the book itself I share news about book launches, positive reviews etc as a highlight of my life that I would like my friends to celebrate along with me. Someone told me they weren't very interested in the genre I write, but my posts about the book are such fun she's going to give it a go anyway. As far as the classic definition of introvert / extrovert goes, I"m an introvert. I like spending the vast amount of my time alone. But that is balanced by the fact that when I choose to engage with people I"m a good communicator. I am not a sales person. I hate selling 'product'.

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  8. I'm a bookseller. Well, I was: a British bookseller, no less. It's a job I loved: I loved discovering new books (still do, as it happens), loved recommending them to people and making a sale — nothing beats the buzz of a personal book recommendation that translates into a sale; even better when another customer walks in and says, "Bill told me about that book you recommended." Another sale, then another, and before you can say, "Truck or lorry?" you've got a chain reaction on your hands and you're onto the publisher for an entire lorry load.

    Now I stock shelves in a supermarket. So what happened? The Big A. You know what I mean. They cut prices to below wholesale, to less than my suppliers' prices, to the point where I couldn't compete and survive: not to put too fine a point on it, they cut my throat; and if truth be told, I'm still bleeding. Maybe some people do, but I can't get a buzz out of selling a block of cheese or a jar of coffee: there's no personality in groceries. It hurts being an ex-bookseller, sometimes more than you can imagine.

    Here's the reality for you, Veronica: you don't need a "Shy Retiring Authors for Jesus" group. You don't even need marketers or platforms. You need booksellers. You need people like the person I used to be on your case. You need to go back to your publisher and challenge them over what they're doing to the book trade in their respective relationships with the Big A and real booksellers like me. You may even need to challenge yourself, maybe some of your fellow authors over the ways they promote their books on the Big A whilst neglecting the bookseller down the road.

    Don't become a marketer or a railway station. Stick to what you're good at: writing; and put out a shout for your local bookshop (I'd say, "local Christian bookshop", but they're getting like hen's teeth these days). Go further: step onto their platform. Smile sweetly and hand over a copy of your book: "This is yours and if you want to, you can sell it when you've read it. If you like it, I'll come back and do a reading or a signing session for you."

    Job done: it's what booksellers are for. Even better if you can find a bookseller who blogs, facebooks and tweets, of course. Use them or lose them. Just don't mention how your book is doing on the Big A.

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  9. You sum up so much of what many of us feel about the "new way" for authors. As an extrovert, like myself, you love people. They fascinate you and give you energy. I think the best thing to do is to build relationships through your love of people - on FB and Twitter - though I still don't really "get" Twitter - and in real life. And as you do, the whole thing about your book will come up naturally. You won't need to be pushy. I hardly know you but I've been so impressed with the few interactions we have had, and your blog posts, articles in the ACW magazine etc. that I am very interested in buying your book. All the best, Veronica!

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  10. I write from the publisher perspective. I am not one, but I work for one. I have long been involved in the ongoing juggling balance between supporting bricks and mortar shops, on-line shops (including the 'big-A', who most would like not to have to work with, but in reality most cannot avoid), and - increasingly - events. Today I have been looking through a list of 127 titles which are being published in the first 4 months of next year, and selecting which of those will be the 'key titles' which we concentrate most of our effort on. It's not always easy to make that selection. And that 127 title list - it's just one of 8 which I will be working on for the same period.

    Therefore authors who can communicate well, who have 'platforms', and who engage with their readers are hugely important. Whether or not your book is one of the 'key' titles, or not. A major challenge for me these days is how to reach the readers. You might be surprised at how often people DON'T find their books on 'A'. Or in a Christian bookshop. So how do we reach those people, and where are they? Author platforms help. So do engaged bookshops with staff who enjoy reading and hand sell. This is why we are beginning to send out staff reading copies to shops again.

    I know that some authors don't believe that publishers really care much about them, or do much for them. I can say that in my experience this just isn't true. We face lots of the same challenges, just from a different perspective. And contrary to many oft-aired views, the margins which the publisher ends up with are often very small indeed. This week I did a deal with one bookshop for an event. At the end of the negotiations we made less than half what the shop did on the deal. I'm not moaning about it, just pointing out that the perception of the publisher holding all the monetary cards simply isn't true.

    Back to the main topic though. Basically, I would say that PLEASE, talk about your book. You needn't feel you're being too pushy. Yes, if every single post you ever make is about your book, you are likely to lose a lot of friends and followers. But there's no problem at all in the occasional post or Tweet. As well as working in publishing (for over a quarter century now so I've seen a few changes) I am also an author. In a very small way. But I have seen things from the author's side as well as the publisher's. I post about my books. But not too often. :)

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    Replies
    1. That's very helpful. Thank you, Anne.

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    2. Thank you Anne. Very informative. The question on all of our minds now is: how do we make that key total shortlist. Do you accept payment in chocolate?

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