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When I received the acceptance email from Indigo Dreams, a small UK press, saying that they would like to publish my debut novel, Mesmerised, I couldn’t have been happier. I had sent the manuscript to over twenty literary agents. Standard rejection letters came back in reply. A few agents sent feedback, which made me even more determined to sharpen up the prose and send out again. Eventually, all the responses were personal but unanimous, ‘we love the idea of a novel about the impressionists, but we won’t be taking this on because we don’t think we can sell it.’
The narrative is written in first person, present tense, from the point of view of Dr Paul Gachet, an artist himself, friend and physician to Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Vincent van Gogh and others. The fact that Gachet was a homeopath, seemed to be the problem. Many agents alluded to it, one actually came right out and said, ‘I’ve read the enclosed and you are a very good writer but the last thing I would want to do is represent something that might help homeopathy.’
I knew from the outset that I had chosen controversial material. I also knew that a lot of people have very strong emotions around the subject of homeopathy. But I saw that as a selling point. Obviously, I was in the minority.
At that point I had to make a decision. Either I was going to self publish, a lonely and difficult route, especially when I hadn’t written something that sits neatly inside a best selling genre like crime fiction or sadomasochism. Unlike a friend of my daughter who wrote a series of six books on the latter and sold 300,000 downloadable copies in six months. How did she do it? More on that later.
Or I was going to try and find an independent publisher to work with and give me credibility, which is exactly what I did and although that in itself proved to be a successful endeavour, the hard work had only just begun. Most small presses in the UK expect authors to promote their own work. In fact, according to a friend of mine who works as an editor for a rather large UK based publisher, so do the conglomerates.
About a year before Mesmerised was assigned to Indigo Dreams I started to build a Twitter and Facebook following in both my own name and in Dr Gachet’s. Social Media is time consuming but doable for each and every one of us, the trick is not to use the forums purely to advertise (who likes to sign up to adverts?) but to engage, converse and entertain. Easy. That’s the same as we do in our writing, right?
However, the chance of getting a book review in a national newspaper or magazine for most of us is minimal, but so is a book deal. So on that basis it’s well worth trying. What I didn’t know then, that I know now, is that most of those book critics need to receive a copy of the book about four months in advance of its publishing date before they will even consider reviewing it. Once the book is published, to them it is a ‘dead duck in the water’. As my publishing date was still in question four months before, I hesitated in sending my book out and possibly lost out on, arguably, one the most valuable ways of bringing my novel to the attention of a large audience.
Instead, I concentrated on another idea, one that I instinctively believed to be a great way to publicise my work. A teaser. Having looked on-line I noticed that most book trailers don’t entice the viewer in the same way as film trailers. So, with no money allocated for a budget I set out to make one that did. I wrote to all the film schools in London asking if any of their students would be interested in making a 90 second film to promote my book, and a young Swedish filmmaker responded. Someone incredibly talented who resonated with my work. The result has received nearly 1,000 hits on YouTube and whenever I do book signings, or readings I tend to sell out of the copies I bring along, simply because of this tool. See what you think. Here is a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULJYdmR0Fnw
With only my social media contacts, a blog dedicated to the book and my trailer, Mesmerised shot up to #2 in the Amazon Medical Fiction UK chart last Christmas. Unfortunately, sales have not been sustained at the same level. Which brings me back to the friend of my daughter’s who wrote the Erotica S&M series. She swears that the key to her success is Amazon Meta Data; the keywords you type into Amazon when you upload your book.
I remember some time ago reading an interview with Alexander Mc Call Smith, the author of The Number One Ladies Detective Agency. He maintained that it took two years of constant promotion before his book became a number one bestseller. So, the key thing is to keep promoting using every avenue that’s open, and of course to keep writing, because writing is the real joy and what it’s really all about for an author.