Promoting Your Books on Social Media - Only Connect.

This is one of a series of occasional posts about the more practical aspects (or should that be pitfalls?) of writing and publishing. 

For many years, I wrote for radio, TV and the theatre before turning to fiction and non-fiction. I'm traditionally published, but I also know something about self publishing, and have published several backlist titles and collections of short stories under my own imprint: Dyrock Publishing. I've taught creative and academic writing for years, from one off events to long courses. For most people, even after publication, discoverability* is the biggest problem. 

How do people hear about your book?

This post has been gnawing away at me ever since I tried to say something about using social media on one of those big professional Zoom meetings, only to have a man interrupt me with such casual rudeness that I'm still irritated about it. Not just because of the rudeness, but because I could see a genuine need for advice in the group - and could see, moreover, that some people were going about it in the most counterproductive way. 

The debate in this particular group turned to the use of social media for promotion: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Goodreads and various other platforms. The variety is confusing, and the demographics of each platform tend to change over time. There's no point in me reinventing the wheel and trying to describe to you what each site does best. There's plenty of information out there already and the best advice I can give you is to set aside some time, and have a look for yourself.

One thing struck me about the debate though: so many people, in a meeting aimed at writing professionals, said that they 'didn't like social media'. 

Now, that's fair enough. There are some social media sites with which I have a troubled relationship, in the sense that I find them not particularly user friendly. Or in one case, a bit of a bear pit. But you can't say that you want to learn how to promote your own work without spending at least some time engaging with one or more social media sites. If you feel so strongly about this dislike that you avoid them altogether, you're going to have to employ a publicist. There is a piece in this season's Society of Authors magazine, all about getting the most out of 'your publicist'. I found myself wondering just how many writers, even traditionally published writers, actually have them. Publishers do what they can, but publicity budgets are small, unless (paradoxically) you're so famous that you don't need the publicity. And if you're not famous to begin with, publicists don't come cheap. 

The second thing that struck me about the debate was just how many professional writers seem to think that landing on - for argument's sake - Facebook, and plonking down 'buy my book' posts and nothing else, will make people want to buy the book. There is nothing more off-putting than the Facebook 'friend' who never engages with you, or anyone else, until - fanfare of trumpets - they have a book to sell. 

So here's the big secret that is no secret at all. 

If you're going to use a site like Facebook, and are hoping that at some point people will be interested enough to buy your books, you have to actually engage with those people. 

It's fun. Some of them will be old friends you'd maybe lost touch with and that's a bonus. Some will be new friends. Some will be people you've met online and find that you like. Chat to them. Post photographs, Make them laugh. Make them cry. Let them admire your dog/cat/garden/recipe collection/model railway/full size Dalek made from egg boxes, or whatever else you love. Like their pictures. Reciprocate. Enter into debate. 

Join a few groups, not just to promote your book, or even primarily to promote your book, but to meet like minded people and to contribute. You don't have to give your whole life history away and you don't have to spend hours on there. You just have to engage and enjoy it. Ask for research help if you need it. Facebook is wonderful for this and in my experience, people are generous with their expertise. 

Then, if and when you have a new book coming out, some of these nice, interesting, witty people might be inclined to buy it. And if they don't, well, does it matter? It's the equivalent of a big, friendly book festival event, where there's a willing audience, whom you're happy to entertain, followed by a good question and answer session during which people often enlighten you, at the end of which, some of them will probably buy a copy of the book. Except that on social media, you don't need to wait for an invitation.  

Dip a toe in the water. Find one or two social media platforms that suit you.  Facebook is good for books as well as all kinds of other interests, so if you want to start somewhere, that would be the one I'd recommend. But other platforms are available. Watch for a while. Chat about this and that. Post some pictures. And eventually, yes, talk about what you're writing. Because people will often be interested in whatever went into the creation of the book. I know I am, where other people's work is concerned.

Only connect, as E M Forster would have said. 

 *This word, discoverability, when used in a recent publishing trade journal, seemed to cause a good deal of angst among a few men on social media. They wasted a huge amount of time and effort, trying to denigrate it. Ironically enough by using very long words in opaque sentences, presumably to demonstrate the elegance of their prose. It's a perfectly good word. And if you're a serious writer, aiming for publication, you need to know about these things. 


Three Cheers for Citizens of Nowhere - and My DNA Agrees.

Citizen of Nowhere.

Back when ex British Prime Minister Teresa May called those of us who objected to Brexit 'Citizens of Nowhere' it struck a chord with many of us who saw it as a compliment rather than the insult she intended. I would still rather be a citizen of nowhere than a citizen of an increasingly xenophobic little island with delusions of empire. But I don't expect everyone to agree with me.

I've always felt that I didn't quite belong anywhere. Or - more accurately - that I belonged almost everywhere. So in Ireland, I felt Irish. In Poland, there seemed to be a significant part of me that responded to Polish culture, art, food, music - something quite viscerally Polish. Working in or visiting Scandinavia I felt at home. But this has, over the years, also made me feel oddly homeless. Or at least completely a-patriotic, if there is such a word. So when Mrs May hurled what she saw as an insult, I think many of us seized on the phrase with a sudden leap of joyful recognition. That's exactly what we are. Citizens of Nowhere.  

Back in the early spring, a friend came along for a glass of wine or two in our garden. She had just had a DNA test from My Heritage (other sites and tests are available). She has a Scottish Italian background and the test had not only confirmed what she already knew, but identified a few other interesting elements to her DNA. 

Reader, I tried it for myself. 

Test Kit

Because I'm in the middle of researching and now deep into writing a new book about my Polish family background, The Last Lancer, I opened an account with My Heritage, and when a 'special offer' popped up on the site, I couldn't resist giving it a try. In due course the neat box arrived complete with the test kit: a couple of glass phials, swabs, an envelope and precise instructions. 

Basically you have to swab your cheeks, put the business ends of the swabs in the phials, seal them and post them. I was a bit surprised to find that the packet was heading for Texas, complete with special customs stickers. My only advice to anyone who is about to send off their test would be to pay a little extra for track and trace. My packet spent weeks in the post.

However, just when I was despairing, I got the message that it had arrived. I could follow its progress through the various testing stages, until last week, the email I'd been waiting for dropped into my inbox: my DNA results were ready. 

I already knew that I'm Irish, Polish and quite likely Scandinavian via my Yorkshire grandfather. If any of those were missing, I'd have been very sceptical. I needn't have worried. There were a few surprises but in fact most of them served to confirm things I had long suspected to be true - and the rest were fascinating. 

The Results

I am: 35.4% Irish, Scottish and Welsh - which in my case almost certainly means Irish. My grandmother Honora was of Irish parentage on both sides, and those parents were Irish as well. I've written about that side of the family in a book called A Proper Person to be Detained

I am 17.5% Eastern European. As the site says 'People of Eastern European descent trace their roots to Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and Hungary. The early Common Era saw the region largely populated by Slavic and Baltic tribes with later Roman, Mongol, and Ottoman invasions.' Not unexpected, given that my father's family, whose surname I still use, were from the Polish part of what is now the Ukraine and - as I've discovered in the course of my research - had been settled there for hundreds of years. 

I am also 17.2% Ashkanazi Jewish, something that I had always suspected but never known for sure. Ashkanazi Jews originally migrated eastwards escaping persecution in Germany and France. They were a close knit group - but perhaps not so close knit as all that. My Polish grandmother's surname was Szapera, and although she came from a Polish Roman Catholic family, my father believed that the family had originated in Hungary. I had long wondered if at least some of those relatives may, at some point in their history, have been Jewish. 

I'm 12.8% Scandinavian. So my big auburn haired grandad Joe, who came from a family of lead miners in Swaledale, almost certainly was, as we suspected, a genuine Viking, a descendent of those early settlers who arrived on our coasts and moved inland, leaving their place names and their DNA behind them and then staying in the Yorkshire Dales until the industrial revolution drove them towards the big cities of the North. 

I'm 7.4% English. As the site explains, that might include people of Celtic descent too, those who were in England before the Anglo Saxons came along. More likely though, is that those Swaledale forebears who had moved to the big cities, married outside that narrow Dales demographic, where, as I discovered when I researched that side of the family some years ago, a single surname cropped up everywhere in a few small communities. A much needed stirring of the gene pool, I reckon. 

There is 1.1% Baltic DNA in there, which might be expected, given the proximity of that region to Poland and the Ukraine.

There is 4.4% North African. I'm intrigued. But of course those Norsemen did a lot of trading with North Africa, and people from North Africa have migrated just about everywhere, over many hundreds of years, so perhaps it's no big surprise after all. It always irritates me that politicians and their complicit media talk about 'economic migration' as though it was somehow criminal. But it's how most of us got where we are today, including those very politicians who deride it. 

Much less surprising is the 2.7% Central Asian, given the close trading and migration connections between Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Oddly enough, my Polish grandfather died in 1942 and is buried at Kenimech near Bukhara on the Silk Road, but that's a sad story for another day.

And finally there's 1.5% Nigerian, which is again hardly surprising with such an ancient culture - and may well be what many people worldwide find in their DNA as well. 

So there you have it, as the chefs say, when presenting the audience with a well cooked dish.

Not only was the test pretty accurate, according to what I already know, but with a few intriguing surprises thrown in. 

It also confirms what I have long suspected. I am a proud citizen of nowhere. 

Or should that be 'of the human race'? 

Oh, and mongrels are the greatest. 

Too Much Hype

Out now in paperback

I'm a voracious reader and depending upon length, I can get through a couple of books in a week. I read most of my fiction on my Kindle Paperwhite, late at night or in the early hours of the morning, with the light off - so that I don't disturb my longsuffering husband, although the thud as the Kindle slides onto the floor when I fall asleep has been known to wake him up with a jump. 

Except that for a few weeks now, I haven't been able to find anything that I really want to read. Which is crazy when you think about the number of books published each year. 

Partly, I put it down to the fact that, having galloped through all of Fred Vargas's brilliant Commissaire Adamsberg novels, I'm feeling bereft without him. 'He' being Adamsberg. I know Vargas is female. But it's like the end of a love affair. Nothing quite matches up to the beloved, so everything I've tried to read since, with a few notable exceptions, has seemed a bit 'meh'. 

If you don't know these books, you could do what I did, on the recommendation of my good friend Alison, who first introduced me to this writer: begin with the magnificent, magical Ghost Riders of Ordebec - captivating pretty much from the first page - and then go back to the beginning of the series. 

I may just have to read them all again, I'm missing Adamsberg and his world so much. 

Since I finished the last one, trying to read more slowly to prolong the pleasure, I've tried for a couple of months to find something equally involving, thought provoking and multi layered. I've searched and I've downloaded samples. And I've become ever more frustrated and angry.  

Hyperbole. That's the problem. 

Every book from the major publishers is now touted as the best thing ever. The over-promotion is almost bound to result in disappointment. Right now, at the tail end of a particularly grim period, I find myself looking for well written fiction, good storytelling, believable characters and a reasonable mix of triumph and tragedy. I don't need the best thing since sliced bread. I just need something well made and satisfying. 

Last night though - and I'm naming no names - I came across a fairly new crime novel that had been praised to the moon and back. I downloaded a sample. I've learned the hard way about being tempted into buying something without first reading a chapter or two, unless I already know and love the author. It's one of the benefits of reading on a Kindle that you can do just that, and then go on to buy the book with ease. Even at 2am. 

Except that when I opened the sample, instead of finding the first chapter, I found ELEVEN PAGES (I counted them in a rage, and I don't use a particularly large font size on my Kindle) of quotes telling me how wonderful this writer and his books were, just in case I was in any doubt. Now all publishers and self publishers add a few positive reviews to our books. I've just checked a couple of my traditionally published titles and there's a page of well chosen quotes. Even Ice Dancing, above, just out in paperback, has a single page. It's normal. But they're meant to reassure the potential reader, not browbeat them into submission. 

By the time I had waded through page after page of turgid and exclamatory praise, I wasn't very well disposed towards the book itself. I read on a bit to see if it matched the promotional overkill. It didn't. It was ordinary. And a bit glib. There was a certain satisfaction to be had in deleting it, but I'd rather have had a really good read. 

Still, all is not lost. I've gone back to Poldark - I read the first two books during the winter, and now I've turned to Book Three. What a relief to lose myself in vivid, well structured writing, great storytelling and above all engrossing characters - the kind of book you look forward to reading and then enjoy so much that you can hardly bear to put down. That magical, enviable sense of entering a world of someone else's creation - one that Vargas's quite different, but still wonderful Adamsberg novels gave me too. 

If you haven't already read them, do try them.