Dandelions and Bad Hair Days will be published in the early autumn of this year. That is great news and I am looking forward to seeing it in print and using it to raise awareness of mental health issues and raise funds for nominated mental health charities.
However, whilst emailing round to all the wonderful people who have contributed to what is not only ‘my’ book – it being an anthology of prose and poetry written by more than 20 people who have experienced aspects of mental ill-health – someone raised the issue of marketing. Being helpful, and having published his own book, he wanted to know how I was publicising Dandelions. He was concerned that after it was ‘out there’ so to speak, there would be an anti-climax.
I have been blessed with the people who have been excited by this project. It isn’t only those who have written for it who have been so supportive. Editor Rin Simpson and her sister Ingrid Smejkal from Ingrid Eva Creative who designed the cover without charging, although she spent a lot of time on it to get it just right; wonderful Sarah Cruickshank of Sarah Cruickshank Admin Solutions who has offered her time to help me with communications and marketing. But he does raise an interesting point.
Do I really understand what it takes to get this book in front of people and ensure they want to buy it? And as a person who experiences anxiety at the most inopportune and occasionally unexpected times, how do I get the confidence to do what almost every author has to do now – sell themselves to sell their book?
It is easy to sit here putting together Facebook pages and websites. Sarah has helped me with mailing lists and videos. I have a Twitter hashtag or two (#dandelionsandbadhairdays and #DABHD). Publicity will hopefully come from the mental health charity SANE, who have it with a view to offering a foreword from their CEO and a quote from a supportive celebrity for the cover. This is all being done at zero cost – there just isn’t any money in the pot (one of my dilemmas is whether or not I should seek a corporate sponsor so a few free books can given out…) I am using social media as far as I can and asking contributors to do the same and when publication draws closer I will get the press releases done. But then…..
A picture in the paper with a short press release? No problem (as long as the photo is taken by a kind friend who has used soft focus). But radio? Even local telly? I attended a recording of BBC Radio 4 Book Club earlier this week. It was wonderful and I made a couple of comments. They were OK, but what came out of my mouth bore no relation to what was in my head. I jumped when the mic boom went in my face, realised I had drunk another woman’s wine and then kicked my own over on the carpet. Nervous? Yes – and it wasn’t even about my book…
The same goes for a launch – it will be great to do a ‘Virtual’ book tour. I am looking forward to writing for other people’s blogs, if they will have me, and making sure I can promote their work as they promote mine. However, how do I go around local bookshops trying to get to meet managers and convince them that if they give me space amongst their shelves to sign books I won’t be one of those sad-looking authors who just sit behind a table behind a pile of books doing the Guardian crossword? I have to organise a public book launch party; great – I love a party. But won’t I have to stand up and speak? And how can I have a party without spending money, getting tiddly and having a panic attack – running away to the Lake District shouting ‘leave me alone I want to go and work in a cafe in Keswick and forget I’m a writer’?
And social media and Facebook. What does one do? I read somewhere that it isn’t any help to follow lots of other writers, especially ones who are forever plugging their books. How many of those books do you buy? Why will any of them buy yours? In my head I extend this to anyone I follow and who is good enough to follow me (there are more than 1400 kind people, most of whom are genuine types who have no wish to show me their breasts or sell me paper clips). Why would they want to buy Dandelions and Bad Hair Days? Won’t they get fed up with hearing about it? Will they ‘unfollow’ me thinking I am just spamming? How many times a day do I tweet? Do I schedule tweets? What about Facebook? How can I write sensibly in more than 140 characters and make sure I am not distracted by a ‘quick’ game of ‘Bejewelled Blitz’? What if people HATE the book and tell everyone? All my insecurities are coming out – I want to be liked; I don’t want to be a nuisance; I don’t want to upset anyone; I don’t want to procrastinate (but will).
Do all writers feel like this? Whether you are with a big-name publisher, a small one like Dotterel Press who are publishing Dandelions or self-publishing, you have to do lots of marketing and promotion. Being seen, getting out there, doing your bit is all part of the job – it is after all your work and there aren’t many jobs where you can get someone else to do everything for you. Even HM the Queen has to get up and go out there whether she feels like it or not.
It is something of an ironic dichotomy (if such a thing is possible, grammatically or in reality) that to raise awareness of a book about depression and anxiety, one has to risk becoming depressed and increasingly anxious. I know what triggers my episodes of low mood and am sufficiently aware of aspects of my personality that are fragile – confidence in myself being at the top of the list. I am a little fed up when people who assume they are immune to mental ill-health say that all you have to do is to start believing in yourself, believing the positive things people say, appreciate you are liked and respected. Listen to Westlife, read chick-lit and cheer up. It isn’t that easy and once you are in the circle, it can be terribly vicious….
It is what makes me a little cynical when celebrities like Kerry Katona or Catherine Zeta Jones come out as bipolar. How do they explain a need to be in the public eye all the time and how do they deal with the flack that inevitably comes their way?
But mercifully for me, I do have all these lovely people willing to help me and to help the Dandelions project. Sarah has helped me set up a MailChimp account so I can be confident that I have a mailing list that won’t feel like ‘cold-calling. (Do sign up by the way – I won’t send out loads of emails – just important ones) Rin Simpson of The Steady Table writers group has supported me with the editing process. I really can’t thank everyone enough.
But like anyone else who wants to get a message out there, I have to put myself out there too. Maybe I should have my hair done with some wild blue streaks, buy a new , bright top, get my nails done and get on with it. Any other tips gratefully received….