Wannabe A Writer We've Heard Of? by Jane Wenham-Jones by Jane Wenham-Jones - Read Online

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Wannabe A Writer We've Heard Of? - Jane Wenham-Jones

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Some writers are shy, retiring creatures who like nothing better than to remain in their dusty attics hunched over their latest masterpiece, shunning the limelight. Forced to stumble, blinking, into the real, commercial world, they mumble in self-effacing fashion when interviewed about their literary endeavours and scuttle back to their desks the moment all that nasty centre-of-attention stuff is over.

I am not one of those.

And if you’ve just got your first book deal, are working at getting a book deal one day, are thinking of self-publishing and want to shift a few of the books when you do, or have been published for a while but aren’t selling as many books as you’d like to, then it would be as well if you weren’t either.

Some books fly off shelves and websites all on their own, just by wordof-mouth, without a single bit of advertising, marketing or the author ever being interviewed anywhere. But it’s unusual.

Someone knocking on your front door and saying: Have you got any short stories to sell? Or: Would you like to have your own newspaper column? is extremely unlikely. Being chosen at random to appear on television to plug your latest novel only happens in the sort of dreams one gets after too much garlic bread (the cheese business is a myth – it’s overdosing on bruschetta that gets me every time).

The difficult truth is that there are thousands of new books published every month and tens of thousands more writers wanting their own work to get recognition too. Competition for shelf space and readers is fierce. And, sadly, writing a damn good book, while still essential of course, may not be enough. We live in an age of celebrity and X Factor, publicists and five minutes of fame. If you want to get anywhere these days, staying in your garret is no longer an option.

If you hanker after writing jobs, need better sales figures, or long to be noticed among a veritable sea of new scribes, you need to Get Yourself Out There. Your publisher will encourage this, your readers will like it, you might be downright terrified by the very thought but, hey, it’s got to be done.

Actually, you know, it can be a lot of fun. And, thankfully, it’s never been easier.

There are more radio stations, TV channels, magazines, websites and online stores out there than you can shake a stick at and more opportunities to thrust yourself forward and grab an audience than ever before. Don’t worry about a lack of contacts or the fact that nobody’s ever heard of you or that you’re ‘shy‘. These are trifles.

When I started writing, I was the somewhat knackered, washed-out mother of a toddler who’d lost the art of conversation and whose only brush with fame was when Reg Varney from On the Buses came to open the school fete.

I had never been in a newspaper save being photographed in the local rag clutching a riding cup, aged 11. I knew no journalists, had never met a TV producer, and wouldn’t have recognised a PR opportunity if it had got up and made me an egg sandwich.

All I had was a publishing ambition and a gob on me. Since then, I have, in my quest to sell books, been on radio and TV, appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, held dozens of signings, given hundreds of talks, offered myself for auction and even stood on a box at Speakers’ Corner (not for the faint-hearted).

I have met Terry Wogan, kissed Michael Parkinson (I have to say this was unsolicited and he looked fairly revolted throughout) and spent an hour on stage with Julian Clary (plus Valerie the dog – bless).

If I can do it, so can you. Don’t worry that you don’t yet know what to say on the radio, or how you’d go about setting up a book-signing, what to wear when you give a talk or how to deal with the legions of fans camping outside your front door (we can but dream). You soon will if you read on.

through this in the bookshop, wondering if you really want to spend a tenner to listen to me witter on about self-publicity or whether you’d be better off with the latest Jilly Cooper or Ian Rankin, which is what you came in for.

Jane Wenham-Jones? I hear you snort. I haven’t heard of her.

Maybe not. But, dear reader, look at it this way: You have now…


So you’ve got yourself a book deal? (Or not ☺)

If you’ve just sold your first book, massive congratulations. I hope you have celebrated long and hard while you can, not only because this is a fantastic achievement (just finishing a book is a momentous feat. I have at the time of this sentence only written 7,000 words of this one and am coming out in a light sweat every time I hear the word deadline), but because from now on you’re going to be very busy and there won’t be too much time to sit around quaffing champagne until you get to the launch party (more of that later).

If you’re still writing your magnum opus or touting it about, your turn will come (think positive ☺). This is for you too, because there’s nothing like being prepared (I wish I had known all I know now when my first book came out – it would have saved a lot of time and some far-reaching mistakes) and you may decide to self-publish, or upload an e book in the meantime. In the latter case, ALL the promotional effort will be down to you so take a deep breath and start bracing yourself now.

And if you’ve been published for ages and are still skulking in your study afraid to face your potentially adoring public, it’s time to get a grip.

There are plenty of damning statistics to say that while more books are being published – either in traditional print, print-on-demand or as e books – than ever before, the big sales are concentrated around an ever smaller number of key titles or authors.

There’s lots of evidence to show that if you’re not in a three-for-two deal or flagged up at the airports and piled high in the supermarkets then it’s very difficult to sell in shedloads.

But there are other factors that affect EPOS (Electronic Point of Sale) figures and ‘difficult’ should not be confused with ‘impossible’.

When it comes to promotion, every little helps and whatever stage of the game you’re at, having a grasp of how the publicity machine works will go down well with agents and publishers.

An author who has a good grasp of PR, and is prepared to do pretty much anything to get themselves and their book noticed, is a bonus. says publisher Patrick Janson-Smith, who has worked with some of the biggest names in the business. Book-plugging is a chore, no question, but in this visual, touchy-feely age it has to be done.

Literary agent Carole Blake agrees. Not being media savvy at the outset wouldn’t stop me taking someone on, she says, but it would mean I’d have to coach them strongly once they were a client. Much as I hate to admit how big a part it plays, being media savvy makes a huge difference now.

It really does. You might not be able to force your way into a promotion for publication day or persuade your publisher to flog out for an ad on the tube just yet, but chip away and get your book read and talked about and the buying-public asking for it, and all this might come later.

The first – and ultimate – trick, of course, is to write a really terrific book that everyone wants to read, but the second is to let those potential readers know it’s out there. So:

Tell me about it!

I am frequently amazed by the published authors I meet who shake their heads sadly at the mention of sales figures, yet have never appeared on the radio, or been interviewed in a magazine or given a talk.

Why not? I ask myself. Or occasionally, them.

Nobody’s asked me, they reply. Or I’m not very good at that sort of thing.

Or, once: I don’t have your chutzpah. But believe me, I didn’t always have it either.

Front can be learned and cultivated like anything else. If it helps, remember it’s a two-way process. Magazines have pages to fill, radio stations many hours of airtime. Editors and producers need interesting people who will write and say fascinating things just as much as we need those vehicles to plug us.

Nobody’s going to buy a book that they don’t know exists. And nobody is going to call you up and offer you a platform to talk about it from, if they don’t know you do!

Getting out there, getting known

In order for a stranger to know who you are, they’ve got to have done one of these things:

Heard someone else mention you, listened to you on the radio, read about you in a newspaper or magazine, seen a picture of you, watched you on TV, come across you on the internet, seen one of your books in a bookshop or bought one of your books and actually read it.

You might think, being a writer, that the last two options were the most obvious routes to fame and fortune but unfortunately, as already mentioned, being piled high in the bookstores is no longer a given.

With more and more publishers scrabbling for shelf space for their titles, having your book selected for sale in the supermarkets or on stations and at airports is a cause for celebration rather than to be expected and even if you are stocked in quantity and displayed prominently, the competition for sales is still tough.

So there are two routes you can take. You can sit back and hope that at least a few people will get hold of a copy of your work and will be so bowled over that they tell all their friends who in turn tell theirs, that the news will spread like a rash, that internet orders will rocket, shops will be forced to order it in or increase their stock, and you will hit the best-seller lists by that holiest of grails – word of mouth. (If this happens to you, then hurrah and gosh and I can’t tell you how jealous I am.)

Or you can hedge your bets and give the whole process a bit of a nudge.

Let’s see what you’re made of first…

Quiz – Could you be a Media Tart?

Now add up your score

Mostly As Taking part in a publicity campaign might seem traumatic at first but take it slowly. Begin by striking up conversations at the bus stop or in the doctor’s waiting room (and possibly get some more beta-blockers while you’re there). Practise saying I’ve written a book, you know! In the meantime, hold up a card that says it, instead.

Mostly Bs You show promise but need to think big and bold. Start by dyeing your hair purple and taking up karaoke. It’s all about being noticed. Consider a torrid affair with a member of the cabinet, or a well-placed tattoo.

Mostly Cs You display a good understanding of what it takes to thrust yourself into the public eye. Now work on your individuality and unique selling point. Could you learn sword-swallowing or get arrested for taking your kit off in the middle of the cup final?

Mostly Ds You’re a natural and I can’t teach you a thing. (Only that those who buy the News of the World don’t always read books…)

In the meantime…

If you’ve just got your first book deal, then you’ll have all sorts of things to think about before you can start trying to wheedle your way onto the sofa of your favourite chat show.

For traditional print, there is typically around a year between that heady moment when you get offered a contract and your book being on sale – though this may vary – and a whole lot of stuff has to take place over that 12 months, which you will be involved in to a greater or lesser extent.

There’ll be general editing notes to go through, a line edit, a copy edit and page proofs to check. You’ll be asked about your acknowledgements and any dedication, shown cover designs and your AI (Advance Information) sheet and any advertising material planned. You’ll probably need to supply an author photograph and may be asked to help write the blurb for the back of the book.

I won’t get us bogged down in every last detail of all of these but will talk about the ones that are going to impact on your publicity efforts. So for published authors simply in need of a boot up the backside (kicking butt my speciality), you skip to the bit about getting a fab photo taken (it’s a good start) and I’ll just run through a few things you know already.

The paperwork and other boring bits

Aside from exactly how you are going to take the world by storm there are a couple of other things to think about when you’ve just got a deal. I wasn’t going to get into them for two good reasons.

Firstly, I knew I’d find it tedious and second, literary agent Carole Blake has pretty much covered all the bases in her excellent and comprehensive guide: From Pitch to Publication. Everything You Need to Know to Get Your Novel Published (Macmillan) and I wouldn’t even attempt to compete.

But I do feel duty-bound to issue just one word of warning: what the contract says DOES matter. Even if you think the money isn’t important now, it will be later, and however excited you are, you really mustn’t sign anything at all without getting some proper, expert advice.

I know how you may be feeling – when I got my first publishing contract I was so elated I’d have taken five quid and a half-share in a hamster – but you need to take a deep breath and a little time to make sure you’re getting the best possible deal. And that you fully understand what you’re agreeing to.

If you already have an agent then no problem – he or she will be on the case. If you haven’t, then it’s a good idea to try to get one. This is a subject I go into in some depth in Wannabe a Writer? so I won’t bang on about it again now, except to simply say it’s not so tricky once you’ve got an offer under your belt, and the Society of Authors (SOA) is an excellent organisation to join in the meantime.

They will vet your contract and that alone justifies the joining fee. I didn’t have an agent when I started out and the fourteen page contract didn’t mean an awful lot to me. I was lucky in that it was with Transworld, who, being a big, reputable publisher who adhere to the SOA’s recommended standard terms of contract, made me a fair offer.

But I still got it checked out by the SOA who made a couple of small suggestions for changes in my favour which Transworld agreed to.

Once you are a member of the SOA you will be entitled to all sorts of legal and technical advice at no extra cost and will have access to free guides on a variety of topics, that you can download from their website.

So even if you have got an agent, I should join anyway. You may well enjoy the events and the networking and it’s a place to turn to if you need help quickly. Think of them as the authors’ union. There in case of any crises along the way. And ready to fight your corner if necessary.

The role of the agent

Which pretty much sums up what a good agent will do for you, too. He or she is the one who will haggle about money, take up the cudgels on your behalf should things get tricky with the publishers and who will – if she’s anything like my own dear representative, The Fearsome One – bark down the phone if she thinks you’re not putting your back into it.

Some authors regard their agent as a good friend. Others regard the relationship purely as business. One well-known novelist claims to be so terrified of her agent that she’s begged not to be named.

Novelist Emma Darwin likens her agent to a firm (not strict) aunt while author and columnist Lucy Mangan describes hers as the one person on whom I feel I can offload my doubts and neuroses and ask to dispel my profound ignorance in all business and practical matters without being embarrassed. I think this locates him, slightly worryingly, as something between a therapist and priest.

The Fearsome One – forget any sort of shrink or man of the cloth and think Penelope Keith meets Attila the Hun – likes to bond with her authors via retail. They shop – in the sort of outlet where they spend vast wedges of cash and she is offered a chair, a chocolate and a small glass of champagne – while TFO drops pearls of publishing wisdom you ignore at your peril.

Agent Carole Blake views her clients as professional colleagues I’m working for. It is a bonus, she says, if they become friends too. Many of them are.

But whatever your relationship with your agent, do not expect him or her to be your publicist. This is your job (and if you are fortunate, you will be assisted by a publicist from your publishers too). But in the same way as you should keep those at your publishing house fully informed of whatever you are up to, so it is best to keep your agent in the loop as well.

Because, although he or she probably won’t personally set up events for you, they can help the process along. Everything I know about, I can build on, says Carole Blake. For instance, I know many review editors and festival organisers, so I can help with introductions, or by tipping off an editor or organiser that a nice author is on the way to them.

Agents may come across opportunities too which they’ll pass on if they know you’re a willing candidate for a spot of self-promotion. The Fearsome One has been instrumental in my being asked to speak at events and when she was asked to provide tips for BBC Radio Scotland’s Write Here, Write Now, she suggested they contact me too.

The more agents understand what a whiz you are on the publicity trail the better they can sing your praises to publishers too. And, if all the authors an agent has on the books are equally forthcoming, this can help everyone. Every tip and contact I learn from one author’s career is put into the pot to help all the others I represent, says Carole. It only makes sense to share info.

For my male readers

When I wrote Wannabe a Writer? I intended it to be helpful to both sexes. I was still charged by some, (despite going to the great trouble of giving my views on the rules of football) as having been a bit girly.

This is probably because I am – er – a girl (albeit a middle-aged-old-bagtype one) and am bound, therefore, to look at things from a largely female perspective.

However, I have taken the comments on board and have strived through the writing of this book to keep my male readers in mind at all times. Therefore may I say, before we go any further, that even if you want to ignore the bits about wearing big knickers and using concealer – everything I have to impart is for you too. (And do see page 222.)


What happens next

While the paperwork’s being signed and the editing process is getting underway, other departments at your publishers will be swinging into action too, as they decide how to best package and present both you and your book.

There’ll be cover designs to consider, catalogue entries to prepare, marketing material to be thought about. Those in charge of all this will be in touch when there’s something for you to see and will soon shout when they need some input from you.

But there’s one thing I’d suggest you do even before you are asked and that’s get a good author photo taken. Because even if this isn’t required on the book jacket, you’re going to need one. For your website, for the online profiles you’re going to set up, for Twitter, for Facebook, to accompany any blogging you may do (we will get to all this later). For now, suffice to say that if you do your publicity properly this picture is going to pop up all over the place, so you want to leave yourself plenty of leeway to get it right.

This is not the occasion to get your mate to take a quick snap on his or her camera phone and say that’ll do, and you may need to build in time for the unexpected.

Like your agent giving it the thumbs down. Novelist Claire Seeber, who shares with me the dubious pleasure of having The Fearsome One as an agent, followed instructions to the letter, dressing as she’d been told to and finding a photographer friend, who was also an ex-model, to take her pictures.

Being hugely unphotogenic, I was quite pleased with a few of them, says Claire, I looked almost half-decent. She duly sent off a selection to TFO and waited for the phone to ring. There was a long silence at the other end and then TFO delivered her verdict. This photo of you in white, leaning against the wall? she said. You look like a street-walker.

When I was first asked for an author photo, I didn’t have an agent but I did have a vast spot on my chin. It was so huge, people spoke to it instead of me and I had to delay the photo session until the last possible moment.

So get yours in early.

But read this first.

The author photo

Everything I have to say about the minefield that is the author photo can be summed up in four short words: Thank God for Photoshop.

These days, this magical piece of software would have zapped my spot with one decisive mouse click, but back then it took four inches of slap and some clever lighting to just about bleach it out. It was generally agreed the end result was quite fetching. Or as one of my friends put it, What a lovely photograph – it doesn’t look a bit like you!

A state of affairs I could have done with at the ensuing launch party where pictures in the local paper showed me signing books with an arm like a sumo wrestler’s thigh and the wider consensus of opinion was that I looked six months pregnant.

PhotoShop could have dealt with the extra stomach too so if you’re not familiar with this life-saving software, that can blur wrinkles, erase chins and smooth out blotches, it’s time to make its acquaintance.

However, unless you are a whiz with intricate software and have many hours to devote to mastering its complexities, don’t rush out and buy it yet. The full version of Adobe PhotoShop is expensive (although there is a much cheaper basic version called PhotoShop Elements) and you could lose your life getting to grips with how it works.

Much better to cultivate a nerdy friend who has already mastered its finer points. Personally I wouldn’t know how to do any of the filtering and cloning necessary to attend to my crows’ feet but luckily I know a man who does. And I keep him on speed-dial.

If you have enough dosh of course, you can hire a professional to take your pictures and this is a sound investment. Although, personally, I would advise against one of those make-over/glamour photo companies that promise to totally transform you.

I am used to writers looking nothing like their mug shots and have learnt to keep my face impassive when introduced to yet another Grande Dame, long familiar as a soft-focussed beauty from the inside of a book jacket, who turns out to be an old crone with no lips; but others may gasp.

You don’t want to see