I attended the RNA Conference for the first time this year and it was fantastic. I was only around for the Saturday, but I still managed to catch up with a lot of friends and the talks were fascinating too. One of the huge learning curves for me since getting published has been self promotion. It’s not something that comes naturally, but it’s definitely expected by publishers these days. There were several helpful talks on this topic, as well as on the publishing industry and writing craft. Here are some highlights:
Jane Wenham Jones – wanna be a writer we’ve heard of?
(If, like me, your answer is, “Yes, but not if it involves making a song and dance about it. I’d rather crawl under a rock,” then you’d have enjoyed this one!)
She focussed mainly on author/book promotion via traditional media. A highlight was her advice on pitching for radio interviews. Naturally, you need to be able to sum up your book’s hook in a tantalising sentence. But she also emphasised the importance of telling your own story in relation to your novel. Why did you write it? Why is its content special and specific to you? You need to make the answer compelling. If you’ve got a great story to tell you’re likely to come across as a good potential interviewee. No pressure then…! Jane took the title for her talk from her book of the same name. I’ve got a copy and it’s a) really useful and b) a complete hoot; I thoroughly recommend it.
Hazel Gaynor – promotion commotion
Again, Hazel gave lots of great advice. A highlight for me was her suggestion to join in hashtag conversations on Twitter that tie in with the theme of your book. It seems like a great way to research a topic, find new inspiration and connect with people who are might share your interests. Hazel’s second novel is A Memory of Violets, and she joined in the #ChelseaFlowerShow conversation as it tied in with her story.
The vision for writers panel
RNA President Katie Fforde, and chair, Eileen Ramsay, talked to writer and chair of the Society of Authors, Daniel Hahn, and writer and publisher, Jane Johnson, about the current state of the publishing industry. The discussion was interesting and often humorous though the guests were clear about the challenges facing today’s authors, including falling earnings, and sometimes a lack of career support. It sounds as though the focus is increasingly on the sales figures for any given book, but Jane Johnson said this is a mistake as it often takes time and luck to establish an author. The panel advised everyone to look at a publisher’s record before signing up, to judge how they develop debut writers. My own publisher, Choc Lit, makes a particular point of wanting to work with writers in a sustained way, and I really appreciate that.
A second key recommendation from this talk was to join the Society of Authors – essentially the union for writers. As well as campaigning to make things fairer for us all, they’re able to review publisher contracts for members free of charge, and offer things like cheap public liability insurance.
Kate Harrison – harnessing reader insights
Kate directed us towards lots of useful resources, amongst them, this section of the YouGov polling site. As the page says, you can search for any brand or thing, and see a profile of the average associated consumer. I searched for Sue Grafton, since I’m a fan, and discovered that her readers enjoy hummus, Eton mess and Radio 4. Just like me, so it must be true… Joking apart, as Kate pointed out, some of the samples are tiny, so the usefulness of the results varies, but it’s certainly interesting, and I found it a lot of fun.
Alison Baverstock – book marketing
Alison’s an academic who writes text books used by the publishing industry and authors. I was interested in her insights into how big publishers work. She talked about Special Sales (through non-traditional outlets), and also tie-ins with other brands, both of which gave me new ideas for small-scale, local opportunities.
Liz Harris – the plot’s the thing
So often the process of plotting a novel is shrouded in mystery, but Liz’s workshop gave some really practical processes to use, whether you’re short of inspiration, or working up an idea that’s grabbed you. She used Macbeth as an example of a structure that introduces all the right themes and tensions in its opening section. It’s my favourite Shakespeare play, and I really enjoyed her analysis.
Liz’s latest book, Evie Undercover, has just been released in paperback.
And here, finally, a warning that came up in no less than three of the talks, so I’d better pass it on:
If you kill off a dog in your novel, expect emails. A lot of them.