Writing is always a solitary occupation.
It involves long hours perched at your keyboard, mulling over character motivations, the passage between scenes and the veracity of your research. And while writers are wont to complain about the lonely career we have chosen, most of us wouldn’t change it. We’re wired that way, you see; we’re a breed that thrives in isolation.
That said, the few social outlets there are for us writers have always been important.
Literary festivals, in-store signings and book launches are part-and-parcel of the world of books, and the ominous presence of Covid-19 has, temporarily at least, put paid to these excuses to venture beyond the bounds of our writing sheds and dusty studies.
And in so-doing, a very valuable avenue for book promotion has vanished.
It’s hard to quantify the impact of this on the career of writers, publishers and literary agents. Publishing is a complex, multi-layered business, and is about far more than pale-skinned individuals sitting up late into the night creating turgid prose. For a book to be a success, potential readers need to know it is out there, and the ways of getting that word out have become more limited than ever before.
There’s still radio and TV, of course, and the print media hasn’t gone away, but Lockdown and the shutdown of the international film and TV industries has created a very unusual situation: every celebrity from the lowliest Z lister to the most exalted Hollywood starlet has used the downtime to write a book. Which means chatshow schedulers are faced with a smorgasbord of household names, all baying for airtime to chat about the latest volume of their autobiography or their new Lockdown cookbook.
For those of us who haven’t guest-starred on TOWIE, book promotion has moved largely into the virtual realm. If you want to promote your book in 2021, you’d better get familiar with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, because it is there you need to go to peddle your wares.
I’ve just published my third title since Covid struck: No Ceremony for the Dead is the final installment in my True Crime audiobook trilogy, Stories From the Margins. For me, promoting these three releases has involved embracing social media as a promotional tool.
And I haven’t been alone.
I’ve noticed that different writers approach online promotion in different ways.
The ‘story’ facility on the three platforms I’ve mentioned (effectively an image or video that only lasts a few seconds and disappears after 24 hours) is a very effective way of getting the word out about your new book without causing advertising fatigue. If you have any kind of visual flair and can create a motif that will stick in the mind of viewers (particularly one that lends itself to being reused across your promotional campaign) all the better.
Putting a couple of stories up each day will keep your book in people’s consciousness and won’t make anyone feel you’re ramming it down their throats.
The concept of the ‘story’ started on Instagram and is really meant to be a quick visual burst of information, so keep that in mind when creating yours.
Another good approach to selling your work online is to create a trailer or promotional video. This is a more involved process and will require either approaching a media company to create the trailer for you or learning to use software like Photoshop or Moviemaker. The good people at Facebook tell me videos that run for about 3 minutes in length get the best responses and the most views, so that’s a good yardstick when you set about producing your masterpiece.
Finding images and perhaps some music that captures the atmosphere and character of your book can be really good fun, too.
Many writers like to post positive reviews of their books as they appear on Amazon or Goodreads. It’s a bit like saying: ‘look, this person liked it – you might too!’
Somewhat perversely I always get a kick out of posting a few of my negative reviews too (some fellow writers have found my tendency to do this a bit triggering, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s all about taking back my power). And I have to admit, I find some of them quite witty.
I accept that this isn’t for everyone, though.
If you’re going to post a review, particularly one that has been written by a casual reader (by which I mean someone who isn’t a blogger or literary journalist) it’s considered good practice to make sure the piece is well written and doesn’t contain any misspellings that might embarrass the author – while you are focussed on the nice things your fan has said about your book, @grammarnazi21 is only interested in pointing out that unnecessary apostrophe.
And you don’t want your good review to receive a bad one. If you know what I mean.
Podcasts are another really important vehicle for promotion, and most are shared across social media platforms as well as on Spotify, iTunes and the other streaming centres. Behind the Bestseller with our own Sam Blake, Inside Books with Breda Brown, The Stinging Fly with Danny Denton, and countless more, offer writers a vehicle to chat about what they love about this strange thing we all do, and plug their latest writing project.
One of the things most writers are missing, probably more than anything else, are book launches. Platforms like Zoom, Teams and even House Party offer different options to take your book launch to the virtual realm. Paypal and Crowdfunding mean you can ask those who might like to attend to contribute a few euro so you can in turn pay a special guest or speaker who can help you to release your book into the wild.
The most important thing to remember about all of this is that social media is really all about story-telling and communication. Each platform asks you to approach the task in a slightly different way, but it all boils down to the same thing: finding an interesting way to let the world know you have a new book out.
When you think about it that way, it’s not so scary.
(c) Shane Dunphy
About Stories From the Margins: No Ceremony for the Dead
‘I know I has special needs. So does Stanley and Francis and Billy and Josh. People don’t listen to us, ’cause they thinks we’re thick in our heads.’
Charlie works at St Patrick’s residential home, where the walls are so thick no one can hear you cry. He’s asking child protection expert Shane Dunphy for help, before someone gets murdered.
Charlie tells him of mistreatment, brutality and random cruelty, and now Maisie, his girlfriend, a resident at the home, has gone missing. When Shane finds out what has happened to Maisie, he knows he’s uncovered a world of trouble.
Shane works his connections and, together with the ingenuity of the care home residents, attempts to subvert and infiltrate the system and bring the guilty to justice.
Order your copy online here.