Updated: Oct 13, 2019
I consider myself very lucky to have met Neil Boom on a writing course in Wivenhoe a year or two back. He, like me, is an aspiring author of fiction. He, unlike me, is an experienced PR consultant working in the insurance world. He is also a very decent bloke because he offered me his expertise in PR for nothing on the basis that it would be a learning experience for him were he to self-publish and promote his own book in the future. Well, I say ‘for nothing’ – it cost me a couple of lunches at the Black Buoy which I had to insist on paying for.
People say there is no such thing as a ‘free lunch’. That is true. From Neil’s point of view, the amount of time and effort he committed to helping me promote my book far outweighed a couple of lots of sandwiches and coffee. ‘Only sandwiches and coffee?’ you might ask as the next words ‘skate’ and ‘cheap’ begin to take shape on your lips. Had there been any skate on the menu at a bargain price or otherwise, I would willingly have stretched to that but Neil said he was content with sandwiches. I was set to benefit greatly from Neil’s generosity with his time as his expertise in PR became clear. And, as you will shortly find out, he had a very good idea to promote my book.
‘So, what’s the book about?’ Neil asked me at our first low-cost, budget meal in the pub. This was not supposed to be ‘a pitch’ but in some ways it felt like one because, despite having got on well on the course, I did not know Neil all that well at this stage. Here was my first real opportunity to show my skills in delivering a slick, professional, engaging, succinct and ear-grabbing reason to be interested in my book. The elevator pitch I had read about – so named because you have to imagine you are in an elevator (in America, obviously) and have 30 seconds in which to convince the executive of the production company / publisher as to the merits of your work – was what was required here. I took a deep breath and delivered it.
By the time I had finished, Neil had munched his way through his sandwiches, strolled down to the river, hired a fishing boat, caught his own not-so-cheap skate, filleted it, cooked it, eaten it and was now busy booking a flight to South America to choose which coffee beans he wanted for his next cuppa. I remember rambling on about quartons, reincarnation, dystopian future, alien names, New Zealand, stories within stories, ‘different from your standard sci-fi’ and many other things. Slick and succinct it was not. Still, I guess you have to be patient to be in PR because Neil sat through it and then told me his idea.
‘We will aim to get you in the national press. It may not happen but let’s be ambitious. This is what I have in mind.’
His idea was to build a story around the lengths to which self-published authors will go to promote their books. I had already sent him a list of things I had tried to date, some of which are what a lot of authors might do: advertising on Facebook and Amazon, building up a social media presence, visiting places to do talks. In addition, I had tried a few less usual advertising ploys. I had stood at the railway station and given out slips of paper encouraging commuters to download my book on their journeys to work, I had delivered leaflets through doors, put up posters at the local university, even stuck a notice to our front fence inviting people to pop in to the house for a book and free signing (surprisingly, not one person from the Mile End area of Colchester wanted a signature in a book they had never heard from an author they had never heard of). I felt I had been quite creative with my social media posts and the blogs I had done (e.g. see my ‘Dog, Log Blog’ , an unabashed exploitation of our friends’ chocolate Labrador). The pest-control man, chiropractor, and dentist had all been subjected to the hard-sell. The dentist was an interesting one. I’m convinced all sci-fi writers invent their alien character names while in the dentist chair, their mouths numb, tongues clamped back and a vacuum cleaner sucking all the blood and spit out. My villain is called Arrix – try it next time you have a filling. It’s the only thing anyone can say.
So, with all that in mind, Neil suggested I visit mainline railway stations in London and leave 50 of my books on outward bound trains with a note asking the finders to read, review and post about my book as it travels to different places around the country. The publicity would come from reader engagement, my own posts about the event and the interest we could garner from local and national press about what I was doing.
We had a plan... except for one major flaw. I had published my book on Amazon Kindle. I didn’t have any actual hands-on, pick it up and turn the pages copies of my book. An e-book was hardly likely to cut the mustard.
To find out if I actually get hard copies and whether I order a ham and piccalilli sandwich this time to see if an actual book will cut mustard, please join me for part 2 of this article soon.