Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Behind the scenes in the Pundy House

I've never had malaria but I can't imagine it's much different from the state I was in following the launch of my attempt on this blog to lure someone - anyone - to review my self-published novel A Half Life Of One.

Nevertheless, despite the fog in my brain, by Thursday 17th - the day after I published the post titled "Squeaky Bottom Time" - I knew that I had at least one firm offer of a book review. That was the good news. The bad news was that the offer came from Maxine Clark, a professional editor in real life and a prodigious reviewer in the literary blogosphere. Ms Clark possesses an intellect of adamantine hardness. Formidably well-read, incisive, honest and totally unafraid to call a spade a shovel I only had to picture her leafing through the pages of my book to feel my insides turning to ice. Swallowing hard, I posted her off a review copy.

By the time Friday came I was wishing I had never written the damned thing. There was no way Ms Clark could fail to see through my amateurish efforts. I was about to be exposed to the world as the literary dilettante I so obviously was. My nascent writing career would be strangled at birth. And rightly so. In publishing the book myself I had been guilty of terrible hubris. My jokey approach on this blog had only made matters worse. I had played the fool too long and only succeeded in fooling myself. She would be doing me - and the reading world - a favour when she put me out of my misery with her withering review.

For the next forty-eight hours as the weekend dragged by I felt like I was on Death Row, waiting for the fateful call. At seventeen twenty-eight on Sunday night it came. I was staring listlessly at my computer as I prepared to write my valedictory farewell to the blogosphere. Suddenly my inbox flashed. I had a new message. From Maxine Clark. My heart sank. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, possibly my last. Farewell dear world, farewell to all my dreams and aspirations. Reluctantly I opened my eyes and clicked the Read button on my inbox.

"I read it and I liked it..."

I wanted to cry. Then I wanted to laugh as I read the rest of the e-mail. Most of all I wanted to get down on my knees and kiss her feet. She liked it. She was going to give it a good review. I had done it. She had written my reprieve and I had survived.

And that's when the trouble really started.

I was so elated that night that I couldn't sleep. My head was spinning so fast I couldn't think straight. All I knew was that I had one good review in the bag. I began to plan the next stage in my marketing campaign. The next big challenge was to interest some booksellers in stocking the book. I started to compose another blog post that I could use as a hook in my bid for bestsellerdom. The result was a post on this blog titled: " ***Press Release*** Onanist publisher announces... "

How I wish I hadn't written that post.

Even at the time I didn't think it was very funny, which is always a bad sign. Its main failing though was that it sent out completely the wrong message. You simply can't promote a book by announcing to the world how few copies you are selling, no matter how witty you are. Not only that, the novel itself is completely devoid of humour. There is simply no synergy whatsoever between the book and the jokey message I was putting out. Just how stupid can a person be? Think about it - I'd just garnered a brilliant review that could have helped me launch the book with a flourish and I had discarded that precious gift from the literary Gods in favour of another dose of my own puerile sense of humour. Somebody should take me out and shoot me. It would be a kindness.

Nevertheless, being the idiot I am, I went ahead and composed the post and published it on the blog the following morning. To deafening silence. Not one single soul was out there laughing at my brilliant wit. The lines to Amazon were not buzzing with orders for the book. By lunchtime I had sunk into a deep depression. I knew I had made a mistake publishing that post. What I should have done was taken Maxine's review and used it as the basis for an information sheet which I could send out to independent publishers.

It wasn't too late. I could delete the ill-conceived post and no-one would know.

Instead I started scanning the web for the e-mail addresses of independent booksellers. Another, this time disastrous, e-mail campaign was about to begin.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Evelyn Whore

A couple of posts back I outlined my strategy for marketing my self-pubbed novel A Half Life Of One. I thought you might like to know how I'm progressing with my first big target: getting the book reviewed.

I guess I could simply have sent the book out to various literary pundits and writers and asked them to kindly review it. The trouble with that approach is that most people with any literary authority either already have a huge pile of unread review copies from traditional publishers sitting in front of them; or, they are the kind of discriminating reviewer who is likely to regard a self-pubbed novel with the same circumspection with which they would view something left behind by a dog in the children's play area of a public park.

I concluded, therefore, that my first priority was to divert attention from the book itself and instead sell the idea of reviewing the book. To do this, not for the first time, I decided to use humour as my sales vehicle. I would write a humorous Post on the blog in the hope that it might pique someone's interest enough to take on the task.

Let me say right away that this is a very dangerous marketing strategy. For a start there is the problem of writing something that is actually funny. Secondly, my idea of humour is not universally shared, especially not by the glitterati, many of whom are pretty seriously-minded intellectuals, or at least think they are. What I think is funny, other people may consider silly, banal, inappropriate or even downright offensive. In fact, adopting this strategy meant I might devalue, or even destroy, my brand before I'd even started. So why do it?

Because I had no choice. The fact is that there are so many books published each year that it is worth almost any risk in an effort to differentiate my brand and get it to stand out from the crowd. It's a shit-or-bust strategy, but when you are a self-publisher you really don't have much choice.

And so I spent a sleepless Sunday night lying in bed composing the post titled "Squeaky Bottom Time". I drafted it out on Monday and spent Monday night and a good part of Tuesday working on it. Yes, that long for that inconsequential little squib. The fact is, it's hard to overstate how important that post was to me. The first real sales initiative in my marketing campaign for the book I've spent half my life writing. To say I was nervous doesn't begin to describe how I was feeling. Worrying over the post I'd lost my appetite, suffered severe mood swings and come Wednesday morning I was living on adrenaline. I could even feel the bitter, metallic taste of the chemical on my tongue. To make matters worse I was light-headed from a potent mix of hysteria and hunger. My finger shook as it hovered over the mouse ready to activate the Publish Post button on my blog. It didn't help that by then I had no idea whether the post was funny or not. Closing my eyes, I pushed the button and prayed.

Nothing happened.

The post was published all right but no-one was reading it. I checked my Stat Counter every few minutes for the next few hours. Hardly anyone was visiting and no-one was Commenting. Not for the first time I was screaming into the void.

I realised that I had to leverage my Post in order to gain some attention. I decided to send out a bunch of e-mails in a desperate attempt to attract some traffic to the blog. Now, let me say right off that I know full well that such bulk e-mails are regarded as Spam and are universally loathed. I felt like a whore for doing it but there was no way round it. I tried to ameliorate my misgivings by telling myself that every writer nowadays is selling something. It is part of the modern writing process. The days when writers like Evelyn Waugh could treat his readers with absolute disdain are long gone.

And so I spent the whole of Wednesday compiling a list of victims, hunting down literary websites, booksellers and even the national press, until my eyes ached. In the end I sent out an initial batch of sixty e-mails with a link back to my blog. Here's what they said:

Subject: How to market your novel even when it's rubbish

Hi Mr Smith

Take a look HERE for advice on how to market your novel.

Don't bother if you're busy tho' - it isn't that funny.


Bill Liversidge
View From The Pundyhouse (blog)

Nervously I watched the stat counter. Within minutes the number of visitors gradually increased. Some of the people I had written to had started to respond. Then a few of my regular visitors popped round and left some friendly Comments. Dovegreyreader - one of the pre-emininent blog reviewers visited for the first time and left a Comment. Even the esteemed and formidable Jenny Diski dropped by with an encouraging word.

Behind the scenes even more was happening as I began to receive a series of encouraging e-mails. A number of distinguished people - including one very famous name in the book publishing world - offered to review the book. I began to feel mightily relieved, even elated. Even though the reviews might savage the book at least I had achieved my first objective. I could see some light at the end of the tunnel.

What I didn't realise was that it was a train hurtling towards me.

But more of that in the next post.

Monday, October 22, 2007

***Press Release***Onanist Publisher announces..

Leading onanist publisher Bill Pundy today released sales figures for the company's major Autumn launch, the psychological chiller A Half Life Of One by Bill Liversidge.

Pundy (59), CEO of sprawling self-publishing behemoth Pundyhouse Publishing Corp, announced to an auditorium packed with financial analysts and leading publishing luminaries that sales of A Half Life Of One were “Holding up well”.

In a generally upbeat sales report Mr Pundy informed his expectant audience that “So far the sale we made to Mrs Liversidge – the author’s present wife – remains firm. To date she has neither returned the book nor asked for her money back.”

Asked why he hadn’t yet bought a copy of the book himself the larger-than-life publisher retorted that such a move could be construed as unethical especially if it skewed the book’s Amazon sales ranking since it effectively doubled unit sales. When pressed further he revealed that he hadn’t read the book himself because he “hadn’t had time”.

Flanking him on the podium the book’s author Bill Liversidge responded in a somewhat subdued fashion to a question about what it was like having his wife read his work. “To the best of my knowledge she hasn’t read it yet,” he opined, “It just sits there on the sideboard unopened, a malevolent presence, a ticking elephant in the room.”

Jock Pundy, the company’s florid Scottish-born Marketing Vice-President further announced that talks were on track to have the book stocked in one of London’s leading independent bookshops in time for the Christmas sales bonanza. “We expect to ship a shedload truckload barrowload small box heavily discounted copy early next week,” he declared pugnaciously.

A spokesman for the bookshop contacted later said that such a shipment would be premature as no deal had actually been signed. Speaking on strict condition of anonymity the spokesman declared however that the booksellers were “Reasonably confident that we can shift a copy of this, er, interesting book over the Christmas period, when a lot of people spend money on things they wouldn’t normally buy.”

When contacted again for further clarification the spokesman declined to say whether he was referring to the book selling out by this Christmas, or the one following.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Squeaky Bottom Time

Okay, now that I've become a full-time part-time publisher I'm finally ready to roll out the first phase of my Harry Potter-lite International Book Marketing Strategy.

Basically, what I need to do first is generate some word-of-mouth excitement in the blogosphere. Enough to entice a few shills actually to buy a copy with their own hard-earned cash. (Note: This book is definitely NOT suitable as a present. Especially if you know - and like - the intended recipient.)

To achieve the necessary level of iPod-like desirability that will send it winging from my hallway and around the globe I'm going to send out review copies of A Half Life Of One to as many of the movers and shakers in the blogosphere and beyond as I can think of.

This is of course a high-risk strategy since the inherent problem with self-publishing - the absence of any objective quality assessment as to the book's merits - is that the book may actually be A HUGE PILE OF CRAP. However, on the off-chance that it isn't and that I'll actually attain literary immortality (as well as the pressing necessity of shifting the daunting pile of unsold books that are blocking up the hallway) it's a step I have to take. After that it's just a question of waiting nervously for the reviews to roll in. At which point it's likely to be me that's doing the moving and shaking.

If you're sadistic enough to think you want to be part of this archaic and inhumane process feel free to e-mail me for your review copy. If you haven't the stomach to pull the trigger yourself, let me know of anyone else who might be bloodyminded enough to want a copy. You need to hurry though. Once the reviews start appearing this could be the shortest book launch on record.

And to think that I entered the publishing racket thinking it might actually be fun.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Unintended consequences

The law of unintended consequences kicked in on Friday when I unexpectedly sold the first copy of my novel A Half Life Of One.

I recognised the buyer immediately. It was my wife. To say I was stunned is an understatement. Somehow I never thought she would want to read the book but apparently the cover sold her. Or so she said. I suspect there was more to it than that. I could see she was a little nervous as she handed over the exact amount of cash. Not as nervous as I'm going to be waiting for her to pronounce judgement on the book though.

My anxiety is further exacerbated by the fact that she's basically a professional reviewer and a tough one at that. She spends half her life marking theses and exam papers. She also reads widely for relaxation. Jane Austen, Dickens, P D James and Ian Rankin are amongst her favourites. I'm not quite sure how I'll fare in such august company.

It doesn't help either that she's going to recognise bits of herself in the book. The wife of the central character is clearly based on her, in just the same way that I am the central character. That being the case, it doesn't help that it's not a particularly flattering portrait. The marriage, too, the catalyst for everything evil in the book, is not a happy one. In fact, it's anything but.


You may find it surprising that I almost never show her anything I've written, especially something as momentous as a novel. The fact is, like a lot of writers I suppose, I draw heavily on life and she's appeared thinly disguised in much of what I've written. Actually, that's not quite true. What I do is take a real-life character or situation and then twist it and turn it until it assumes a grotesque caricature of reality. As far as real life goes, only ghosts should survive. That's the theory anyway.

All the same, even I can see that there are faint, unpleasant echoes of the real world still lingering in the book. People and situations that will bring back unhappy memories. Truths that would normally be left unsaid. Perhaps the best I can hope for is that she finds the thing unreadable and gives up after the first few pages.

If she does I'll happily give her her money back. If she reads on, I have a sinking feeling that I'll end up still paying, one way or another.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Looks familiar

I was walking past the bookcase in the sitting-room today when something unaccountably caught my eye...

I stopped and did a double take. Something familiar and yet unaccountably odd had caught my attention. I peered closer...

The sunlight made it difficult to see but all the same. I squinted. It couldn't be, could it...

I felt a shiver running down my spine as I reached out to touch the book I thought I'd never see...