I was delighted when Ian Skillicorn, founder of National Short Story Week, got in touch early this year to ask me to do a second series of The Write Lines podcasts to coinciding with National Short Story Week. Ian is the founder and organiser of National Short Story Week. We first met via Twitter when he to invited me to NSSW’s grand launch in September 2010 after hearing me presenting The Write Lines on BBC Oxford on Sunday evenings. I devised The Write Lines for the BBC after my first two novels were published, opening my eyes to the whole complicated business of being an author – whether aspiring to be published or published for the first time.
Having found an agent who got me a two book deal with a reputable publisher, I knuckled down and started writing. The first novel was published in 2006. It was then that I realised that writing the book and seeing it in all its published glory was only the half of it. The next job was to sell copies of it. And that wasn’t going to happen by magic.
Because my name was reasonably well known from my BBC days, I received a decent amount of publicity in the press, radio and TV in the first week of the book’s release, but I discovered that wasn’t enough. To my shock and amazement, and for whatever reasons, the book hadn’t been picked up by the retail outlets. I hadn’t reckoned on that. And Twitter wasn’t around in 2006 to help draw attention to it. By the time my second novel came out in 2009, I had learned that making use of social media is absolutely vital to get your books ‘out there’. Also, that it helps enormously to have an understanding of the complex way agents, publishers and retailers interact with each other.
Sales figures are crucial, of course, not just for vanity reasons but for your future as a writer. Unless you are an author with a decent sales track record and a respectable backlist, you’re not well positioned for a conventional publishing deal for whatever you want to write next. This is all blindingly obvious to me now, but I honestly had thought that all I had to do was write the books and the publisher would take care of the rest. Naive or what!
So that’s a lot of lessons learned the hard way. So many, in fact, that I realised the path must be just as bumpy for other newly published or aspiring authors. I decided to put my broadcasting skills to use and make some radio programmes – getting the top movers and shakers in the world of publishing and book retailing round a table along with successful published authors who had all learned from their own school of hard knocks. Luckily BBC Oxford thought it was a good idea too and gave us an hour, live, on Sunday evenings.
Since then The Write Lines has taken on a life of its own online and this new set of podcasts was produced by Ian for the NSSW and The Write Lines websites and via supporters such as the brilliant BookMachine. Also available for free download on iTunes, the three programmes examine how authors can take advantage of the way the world of publishing is so rapidly changing.
Theoretically, we writers have more power than ever before. I hope to continue to help us make the most of it.