I’m pretty well all blogged out this week. Besides my own blog, I’ve been writing on those of several other generous authors who have given me space so that I can encourage people to buy Burke in the Peninsula.
Those of you who have been following me through the year will know that that I’ve been busy with the relaunch of the three existing Burke books before getting this one out. It’s been a new experience for me, this venture into self-publication. Emotionally, and in terms of my development as an author (if there is such a thing), it’s been worthwhile. The books that I have published under my own imprint (Big Red) are all doing better than the ones that were left with a traditional publisher.
It’s been hard work, though. Authors always complain that their publishers don’t give them promotional support. Now I’m my own publisher I’ve learned quickly that promotional support is expensive. I’ve read advice that you should start with trivial sums and see what happens and I can tell you that what happens is absolutely nothing. It may be that I interpreted “trivial” too literally, but I’m not about to put down more money with no evidence that ads on Facebook or Amazon are ever going to pay for themselves.
In the past I’ve given talks at bookshops, book clubs, book fairs, and even a Victorian event where most of the audience turned up in costume.
This year, though, talks are off (though if you work for a college that has an educational exemption, feel free to get in touch).
So if I can’t advertise my books and I can’t talk to people about them, what have I done?
I’ve blogged (on my own blogs and anyone else who’ll have me), I’ve tweaked my website, I’ve posted on Facebook and I’ve worked Twitter for all it’s worth. Does this have any effect? Well, as I’ve said, the books that I’m putting all this effort into are doing noticeably better than those left with a regular publisher. Sales, though, are disappointing – partly because, though you might think that the covid crisis would make people read more, it seems to be having the opposite effect. Many people find it hard to settle with a book. Netflix’s share price gives a fair indication of where people are turning for entertainment.
I’ve read suggestions that I need to make my blogs more focused on action points, which I guess means trying to get you to buy the books. Looking back, I’m delighted to see how many people read blog posts that are about my books and who might, I suppose, go on to buy them. (Given that hundreds of people read the blog posts every week and rather fewer buy the books, I’m not sure that that works, but perhaps you haven’t all got round to hitting Amazon yet.) I can’t help feeling, though, that people do like to read posts that are not primarily about selling my books – like the one on the dangers of using contemporary paintings in historical research or my instant summary of the British invasion of Buenos Aires in 1806.
I enjoy writing random essays on the history behind some of my novels and even more random discussions of totally off topic things like tango. The fact that I do enjoy it is one of the main reasons that I have kept going for several years now producing a blog post practically every week. In fact, many weeks I do a book review as well, so that’s well over 60 blog posts every year, sometimes with a couple of weeks off over Christmas and maybe a week away in the summer. I probably write well over 50,000 words a year this way – or much more than half of a book.
Experience has shown that blog posts only get read if you draw people’s attention to them through social media. In my case, my main social media effort is through Twitter. I used to hate Twitter but, over the years, I have made virtual friends there who I would really miss if I abandoned the platform.
So both blogging and tweeting give me some satisfaction, but what I have learned over the past few months is that self-publishing is time consuming and writing those blogs is time consuming too. Twitter shouldn’t be time consuming but I like to engage with people rather than just tweet and run and that means breaking off from what I am doing several times a day and that cuts into productive time quite a lot too. The result is that, looking back, I see that while I have published a new book and republished old ones, and contributed to a new short story collection, organised covers, checked on sales, responded to reader queries, blogged every week and chatted to folks on Twitter, what I haven’t done is written any books to publish in the future.
I feel that now is perhaps the time to take a small step back from all this promotional effort. I’ve noticed that when covid first struck readership of my blog dropped off. (Back to what I just said about reading and Netflix.) With people relaxing after the end of the initial lockdown, my readership recovered. Now, as we get more nervous, it’s beginning to drop again. So perhaps this would be a good time to recycle some old posts from my previous ‘Blogger’ blog. Most of you won’t have read them and I suspect that, even if you did, you have probably forgotten them by now.
I’ll be cutting back a bit on Twitter too. I’ll still post, but not quite as often.
I have some writing-related projects I’ll be able to put more time into and I can work on my tango. We haven’t made a video since May and I’d like to do another. I’ll be able to visit Wales without climbing to the top of a hill so I can update the website. It will be fun. And when I get bored, I’ll come back. (Not that I’ll ever really be away.)
And now, in the spirit of my more relaxed approach to the blog, here are some photos from a summer that, when all is said and done, had some lovely bits.
The Action Point
Do you like exciting stories set during the Napoleonic Wars? (Like Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe stories?)
Do you like stories about British spies confounding the country’s enemies? (Like Ian Fleming’s Bond?)
Do you like war stories?
Do you like Napoleonic history?
Do you like strong, sexy heroines?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘Yes’, then why aren’t you already reading Burke in the Peninsula?
It’s real history – but not like you learned it at school.
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