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RNA Conference 2015: Day Three

A photograph of Hazel Gaynor

Session notes aplenty here.

An earlier breakfast for my last, half, day. I would be leaving after lunch. I met Alison Rose (Rescue Me) in the queue; we’d spoken briefly on Thursday. Breakfast was spent with Charlotte Betts (The Chateau On The Lake), Ann Palmer, and Alison Burke. Betts had some excellent writing advice: she recommends having a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter and to see chapters as short stories.

I skipped the first session in favour of compiling my notes for these blog posts. Having previously met Sally Quilford (The Last Dance) we spoke about the conference and her books – romantic intrigue – over tea. Quilford said she can’t write straight out romance, there has to be a murder by chapter 3. I think that’s recommendation in itself. I also met R J Gould (The Engagement Party), a male romance writer who said something poignant, that men have emotions too – I can’t but agree to that one. After all the romance genre shouldn’t just be about women writers.

I sat in on Hazel Gaynor’s (The Girl Who Came Home) session, ‘Promotion Commotion’. This was an hour very well spent.

Gaynor stated that our Englishness makes promoting ourselves difficult, presenting us with a GIF of a flustered Hugh Grant. Writing the book is just one part of the job – talking it up is the other. You have to tell readers the book exists, and give them a reason to care, to convince them to buy it – but don’t resort to spam!

Alison Barrow of Transworld was quoted: “The author has always been vital for publicity. They know their book best… Be nice to everyone. They might be a future reader.” Be careful of offending, said Gaynor.

Engage rather than promote and engage between books – don’t disappear. Post a variety of updates. Build communities. People are online to be entertained, to be informed, to connect – remember that. Don’t use too many hashtags. Share quotes, use Twitter chats. Share milestones and links to discounts. Be wary of scheduling tweets – tweet manually. Focus on fluid media. Be part of the community. And don’t forget video – Facebook video view counts recently surpassed YouTube.

Attend and create virtual events. Attend festivals. Make use of online magazines; use Periscope to show where you write. Share interesting content that relates to your book. Keep your Amazon profiles up to date and remember Amazon keeps separate copies for the different regions.

Consider who you are online. Be wary of swearing – create a basic policy of what you will and won’t share. Add apps to your Facebook page that show sample chapters.

Pre-publication share your progress, do a cover reveal, get reviews. When the book is released do a blog tour, host giveaways and reader discussions. Make sure you have visuals for blog tours that include a list of blogs taking part.

Make use of Pinterest: your cover, related images of the locations you’ve used, your inspiration. Keep the board secret whilst you write, then make it public when the book is released. Remember fair usage.

Remember the real world: introduce yourself to your local bookshop, offer to work with them. Attend local writing events. Skype with bookclubs and libraries. Run workshops. Attend conferences, festivals, others’ book launches. Write articles for sites and for print.

Be creative: Brigid Coady contacted South Eastern Railways – she’d included them in a book. She became their ‘writer in residence’. Matt Haig asked readers if they’d like to feature in a video for his book, gave them lines to record themselves saying and then compiled them into one presentation.

Tips for pitching to radio and TV:

  • Have a press release ready.
  • Does your book tie into anything current?
  • Make sure you fit the subject and/or type of show, format, and so on.

For radio:

  • Research the station.
  • Listen to the station for an hour before you go on.
  • Think of how long you’ve got and keep an eye on the time.
  • Make sure you mention the book’s title.

For TV:

  • Similar to radio.
  • Be succinct.
  • Mention your book’s title a few times; the host may forget.

At events, Gaynor says to have your elevator pitch ready. Propose speeches and presentations, consider how many people will be there, be flexible to changes and be memorable. And she spoke of articles she’d written: one about the Titanic’s dogs when she was promoting her Titanic-based book; an article on wedding flowers when promoting her book about historical London flower sellers. She talked about the violet festival in France.

“Eighty percent on success is showing up” – one of the last slides Gaynor presented us with, this time a quote from Woody Allen. To say that Gaynor’s talk was enlightening would be an understatement.

I spoke to Julia Wild (Dark Canvas) during the break. Wild is self-publishing her back-list and showed me copies of her covers so far. The covers are feature silhouettes; Wild favours this concept as it allows readers to imagine the characters themselves. Off topic note: Wild has an awesome taste in bags.

A photograph of Daniel Hahn, Eileen Ramsay, Jane Johnson, and Katie Fforde

The last session I attended was ‘The Vision For Writers’ panel on whether or not we can continue to write Happily Ever Afters. On the panel were Katie Fforde, Jane Johnson, Eileen Ramsay, and Daniel Hahn.

The actual world is tough, said Fforde, I like to give readers a safe place to go. She added that writing is no longer a ‘gentlemanly’ profession and authors should be a member of the Society of Authors.

We [publishers, editors] used to buy books because we loved them, said Johnson, we didn’t worry about sales. Her publisher at that time went out of business, unfortunately. It’s cut-throat nowadays, she said, harder to get published if you’re not in a specific niche.

Hahn joked that he can’t choose his endings – he writes non-fiction. Creative industries are healthy in the UK, he said, publishers are still making a profit. But author earnings are lowering. There’s a disconnect between the way there’s more money in the system but authors are seeing less of it. 95 percent of writers aren’t making an income from their work, said Johnson.

Self-publishing suits certain kinds of work and writers, said Hahn. But being able to write isn’t enough.

You have to appeal to emotion. Johnson told of a book in which a camel dies. The camel had been given a name for further appeal, to make it personal. Lots of sad letters from readers came in. “Never name your camel!” said Hahn.

Johnson said an ending doesn’t need to be happy but it does need to be satisfying. If you’re going to kill off a main character, it has to be the right thing to do. The ending needs to be decided and not lazy. The reader’s bought the book, they need an ending. Be wary of ‘go away for your tea’ syndrome, said Ramsay – going for a break and not quite coming back, losing the thread or concept of what you need to do.

I stayed for lunch, which turned into a bit of a picnic with Imogen Howson and Annie O’Neil (Doctor…To Duchess?) because there were no more chairs. O’Neil has some good ideas for Christmas books and has an awesome pen name in the works. And reading the back of Howson’s book… you’ll be seeing it on the blog soon.

I had a wonderful time at the conference. Everyone was so welcoming, the atmosphere brimming with inspiration and the work put into the sessions was fantastic. I thank Jenny Barden for inviting me, Jan Jones, too, and look forward to the numerous books I’ve added to my list.



July 17, 2015, 1:15 pm

Fabulous blog, Charlie – you have an awesome memory for detail. It was great to meet you, you do an amazing job for authors. Take care, julia x


July 19, 2015, 7:18 pm

Very interesting that 80% of acceptance comes from the first impression. And that writing isn’t enough, there needs to be a connection to emotion (I find as a reader that is paramount).

Literary Feline

July 20, 2015, 1:38 am

What a great recap, Charlie! I wish I could have been there for the Promotion Comotion panel. Much of wat you took away from it, I found myself agreeing with, as a reader and book blogger.


July 20, 2015, 3:40 pm

Julia: Thanks, Julia! I used many pages of my notebook :)

Alice: Yes, lovely writing is one thing but it’s never enough as many reviews show.

Literary Feline: It was a really good session. Yes, a lot of it caused me to nod my head; Gaynor’s got good experience and I love that she shared it.



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