The last few weeks have been both amazing and exhausting as I have negotiated the promotional path to the release of my first book. Here is a taste of the experience…
Take 49: TikTok to success
I am not from the TikTok generation. I am not so much a digital native, more a digital documentary viewer. So when my editor, Nicci, suggested that I record some videos for the platform to promote my book leading up to its release date, my stomach did a backwards somersault with two twists. Especially as a quick bit of mental arithmetic led to the realisation that I would have to create fourteen of the things. Nevertheless, I determined to have a go, driven on by my editors confidence that I could do it.
Armed with the first quote from my book, I strode out of my office at work, determined to find a pleasant spot on campus to record. Big mistake. Lunchtime, on a sunny day, in a busy college, under a flight path was never going to lend itself to serious recording. I tramped around the college, until I found a spot near the back fence. I waited for the football match, and its accompaniment of enthusiastic language, to end. Then I popped in my ear pods and held up the camera confidently.
Over twenty takes later, I finally felt I had something I could put online. I mean, how on earth do they do that on TV? All I had to do was speak a sentence or two to camera. I couldn’t remember words and lost the ability the pronounce the alphabet. Attempts to hold up the text on paper were abandoned when I realised that it was reflected in my glasses. I couldn’t take the glasses off, as I couldn’t make out the controls on my phone. After 30 minutes, I felt like I had run a marathon.
That video was uploaded the same day, the rest were uploaded daily, and shared on Twitter and to various relevant groups on Facebook. My ordinary self started to worry, in a very British way, that people would quickly tire of seeing them. My AJ author self told me to just suck it up, this book wasn’t going to promote itself.
I also recorded a joint TikTok conversation with Nicci, who was promoting a new release of her own under her pen name of Robyn Nyx (https://getbook.at/LetLoveBeEnough). She is a very well established author and it was an amazingly generous offer that I will always be grateful for. Having said that, I am hoping that somewhere she saved all the outtakes so that I can share them with my family. I don’t think I have laughed so much for a long time.
Nicci popped it up to TikTok, but this time promoting it. I was astounded a few days later to see that it had garnered over seven thousand views! My little videos largely averaged about 250, but I finally understood why she had thought they would be a good idea. TikTok might not be my natural home, but it is an invaluable tool for a debut author and I will continue to use it, however many takes it takes.
Queer the Shelves: Keeping it personal, how not to sell a book, and for my next trick I shall juggle a microphone.
The weekend before the book was released, I attended the Queer the Shelves LGBTQ+ Book Festival at the Waterstones in Nottingham. I had been asked to attend as my author self, to promote the book. Advance copies of it were going to be on sale. Lee came over from Germany to help out with the audiovisual needs of the event, and to support me. I have never been so glad to see her. She has been my rock though all of this, and I needed her steady presence more than ever.
For a really detailed account of the event, you should read the brilliant blog written by my partner, Lee: https://globalwords.co.uk/a-recipe-for-happiness-by-lee-haven/
However a few moments stood out for me.
As we prepared the room on the first morning, Nicci reminded me I had still to open my book box. So, in a corner of the event room, I laid out my Helion Band fleece. Then I knelt down to open the box while she and her wife, Victoria, and Lee watched on. Even though the room was bustling with authors, I felt like we were in our own private bubble. The three people with me who had been there from the beginning, and without whose support I would never have got this far. It was an intensely personal moment. I cut open the box and pulled out the book on top. My book. A real physical object with my face on the back. Nicci, filming the moment, asked how I felt. I had to search for the words, but my beaming smile probably said it all. The moment was over too soon and it was time to open the doors. But it will live with me forever.
After two years of lock downs, the event room was soon packed with people eager to reconnect without using Zoom. Lee was in complete work mode, so I busied myself at first making sure she had everything she needed. In truth, I felt shy about approaching people, even though I had boldly donned a special t-shirt with an image of my book emblazoned across it. Eventually, luckily, someone found me. A young woman looking for help with choosing titles. I pointed out some that matched what she was interested in. She was mostly interested in sci-fi and fantasy, but it never occurred to me to promote my own novel.
Then she peered at my t-shirt and blurted. “Is that your book?“
I nodded and, with a fair amount of umming and ahhing, acknowledged that I was indeed the author. She took over, asking what it was about. Five minutes later she returned with a receipt having dashed off to purchase it. Stunned, I grabbed a gift bag I had prepared in the unlikely event that anyone would actually want to purchase a copy. Handing it over, I thanked her for buying my book. I mean, really thanked her. It meant the world to me. I had sold a book. A whole one. I wandered around for the next thirty minutes, telling people with a dazed expression that I had sold a copy of my book. The other authors, far more experienced of course, congratulated me, patted me on the back and celebrated the moment with me. They understood the import of the moment, a rite of passage for any author. I can’t express how much their generosity and kindness meant.
On the second day, I had to do a reading. In my usual organised way, I hadn’t prepared for this before the festival. Instead I spent an intense thirty minutes the previous day at the back of the room, silently mouthing a possible selection of scenes while timing them. Now, sat the front of the room, a camera trained on me and the other authors reading, the adrenaline started to flow. The room disappeared and I found myself nervously fiddling with my book while the first author read. I even had to be quietly reminded by Nicci to try and look as if I was listening. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to listen, all the authors present had good voices. But all I could hear was white noise, as my brain ran over and over again what I was going to read.
Finally my moment came and I started to open my book, clearing my throat.
“Could you use the microphone, please?” Nicci said.
Now, I could see her point. On a panel the day before I had, according to Lee, got quieter and quieter. I had become inaudible to the back row as I struggled to say something vaguely intelligent. On the other hand I am not renowned for my dexterity, and would never have chosen to hold a book and microphone at the same time. However, this was no time to argue and I picked up the microphone gingerly as if it was a bomb. The room was silent. “Hello?” I said into it.
“It’s not switched on,” someone said.
Beginners mistake, I clicked the switch. “Oh…hello?” A couple of chuckles indicated that I had done something right.
Now, what was it Lee had said. Hold it close or hold it away? I couldn’t remember, so I just held it where it was. The first few sentences flew by and my confidence was growing. Then, to my horror, I realised I had to turn the page. Creaky static ominously emanated from the room speakers as I attempted to hang on to the ruddy thing, turn the page and not drop the book. Why hadn’t I been born with three hands? Finally, I succeeded and read on, only for two pages later to have to do it all over again. Then it was all over. I switched the microphone off and placed it back on the table, body slumping with relief. Only then did I become aware that the audience were applauding, and smiling at me. I beamed back at them, finally back in the room.
My book is now released. I have had some wonderful reviews and people are actually ordering copies, and reading pages, which I can’t quite compute. I woke up this morning to discover that on Amazon.com, under the LGBTQ>Science Fiction category, I was number three on the new releases list! I know it won’t last, that the market is constantly flowing with new books, but for a few minutes I looked at the screen and felt on top of the world. Here I am, an unknown author with a debut novel, and I had caught the attention of enough people to get on that list.
I couldn’t have got here with out the help and support of my editor, Nicci, at Butterworth Books. I would never have been able to write it at all without the support of both her and her wife, Victoria, at Global Wordsmiths. They saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, and pushed me to achieve what at times seemed impossible. I can’t thank them both enough. My wonderful family, great friends and even my work colleagues have all cheered me on, keeping my spirits up when the writing was difficult. And of course there is my beloved, Lee, happy to stay quiet in the background, but there for me always. Her book is also in the pipeline, and it is going to rock the world! Onwards!