ON THE NOBLE ART OF BLAGGING
One question I’ve been asked a lot this year is how I’ve managed to get coverage of myself as a writer, so I thought I’d do a blog about it. Sadly, the main advice I’m going to give is to seize opportunities – and my main message is going to be a huge, heartfelt thanks to those who have given me a chance, supported me, or even just lifted me when the road seems long.
So, the bad news. You are one writer amongst thousands out there. Each has worked hard on their book, each wants to promote it. Mostly, each is doing it in the same small channels. ‘Word of mouth,’ is king, we get told – but what if no one is reading? How do we get word of mouth? How do we compete against internet-savvy authors who know more about Amazon than we do, or seem more able to promote?
For me, the answer has been through people. I used blagging in the title, but that makes everything seem seedier than it should be, as if we’re asking something for nothing, or crawling over the twisted, broken bodies of our fellow would-be best-sellers to promote ourselves. That’s not how anything works, and it shouldn’t be how writing works (we want readers. Readers are diverse. Therefore we want diverse writing to bring readers. Therefore successful writers are every writer’s friend.)
No, for me, blagging is something else. It’s having the confidence to ask if people would consider supporting you. It’s being prepared to give back what you can (I’ll come to that.)
So, my Top Ten Blagging Tips:
Be polite. Don’t be an entitled arse with a book out. That spoils it for everyone. If you’d like a review, ask nicely. If the reviewer says no, thank them. Reviewing is a thankless task – so many requests, only so much time. At least be nice about it.
Use the appropriate medium. I use twitter and facebook private messenging a lot. The person has to agreed to be followed by me, so it’s not too creeper-stalkerish, and both encourage short, quick interactions. Also, the message stays on your history so you can see if someone has already been approached and declined or ignored you, and you can avoid asking again. In fact:
Don’t be creepy or stalkerish. Be professional. Be polite. Ask, get your answer, say your thanks, and back away.
Don’t be afraid to be a wee bit cheeky. From time to time, I’ve met people on facebook groups, or in the community, and I’ve chanced my arm a little. Mostly, it’s been met with humour, or been ignored. If the first, it might be a connection that goes somewhere, if the last, default to Rule 3 (now known as Golden Rule 3) and back away.
Ask for support. Most writers I know want to support up and coming writers. I’ve found this a generous world. They also know how hard it is, and are, I find, happy to give a helping hand.
Don’t waste people’s time with rubbish. You will, by and large, get one hit at any of this. If your mss is full of errors, hard to read, or shouldn’t be out there, don’t ask. I trad publish and self publish and I apply the same effort and finish to both. They’re both my product with my name on them, I don’t want either to let me down.
Be prepared to give back. Everyone needs support. Retweet what you can, share if you have a profile. If you have any platforms that might be useful, offer them. A few ideas to start with – sites always need material, consider a guest post. Bloggers have to come up with something new all the time – posting there gives them a day off. Authors need exposure – offer an interview. If you read and enjoy something, consider a review (but think long and hard about giving a poor one.)
Take your opportunities. A while ago I decided to set up a blog interviewing female sf writers. It would give a medium, I thought. I asked around and lots said yes. I sent out my first eight interviews and one person responded. One. To a sitter of a promo activity that would have taken an hour to do and that they had asked to be on. I stopped asking after that as I simply don’t have the time to chase it up. If someone asks for an interview, I say yes. If they want me to do a guest post, I thank them and come up with something. If someone new appears with a review or interview site, I say yes because they’re starting up and they need people to say yes to give them a chance (blagging goes both ways.) If a new publisher needs a short and it’s low pay – I say yes, and am glad they thought of me. Give back, as far as you can, time allowing.
If you achieve something, tell people. I found myself on Ellen Datlow’s recommended reads for 2015. I didn’t go on and on about it – a couple of posts and a few shares – I’m aware others are on it multiple times (Pat Cadigan, I’m looking at you…). But I mentioned it when I next asked someone for a review – because it shows I can write. It shows a short story, at least, made sense to someone who absolutely knows what makes a good short. If a good review site features you, shout it out. No one else will promote you. Your publisher, if you have one, will promote your book. But you’re your own brand – go forth and shout about it. (And your publisher wins by people finding out about it.)
Shoot for the moon. If you don’t ask, you won’t get. See rule 1 and the golden rule 3, for sure. But ask. I didn’t expect my polite enquiry to a local convention to end up with me reading in front of Joe Abercrombie and Pat Cadigan. I didn’t expect to be on a panel with them and the fabulously fun and clever Sarah Pinborough. But I asked, and I did. The worst thing anyone will say is no.
Good luck with it! I know some of this suits the extrovert writers, but some can be done by anyone – an online interview is done on your laptop. Blogs require nothing more than words – and you’re a writer, aren’t you?
And yes, this is all work. It takes time. And you’d rather be writing. (Heck, I have a story I’m itching to get back to as I type this.) But you spent hours over the book, didn’t you? And you’ll spend hours over the next. Why release it and let it sink? Put the same work into interacting with people, be open for opportunities and make the most of them, and enjoy the connections to the wider writing community. And then, blag. Politely. Because no one else will do it for you.