Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Donning Hats and Juggling Acts Savita Kalhan

Why write if it's not to be read?
I’ve been writing for a number of years, almost solely for teens, and so far I’ve had one book published. I’ve written several books, and I have ideas for several more. In my last blog I talked about my need to start on a new book each Autumn. It’s now January and yes, I am deep into my new story and loving the main character, although I’m not sure the main character loves me for what I’m putting her through! Regardless, I’m writing and I know I’ll continue writing until the book is finished when I’ll read it through and edit it, and agonise over it before sending it off to my agent, who will cast her critical eye on it and deliver her judgment, and if it’s a positive one it will get sent off to the publisher who will do the same etc, etc...
But this is just one aspect of being a writer – of intrinsic importance, of course, and you can’t call yourself a writer unless you are prepared to go through all of the above – there are other aspects that might be perilous to ignore.

To be a successful writer these days, several other hats should be donned once the writing has been done. The same is true even to be a moderately successful writer. There was a time when writers did not have to don any other hats – there were people who did that for them. These hats include upping your profile, trying to get (hopefully rave, but no guarantees!) reviews – online and in the press, making sure everyone, including the right people know about them, doing signings, visiting schools, blogging about your new book, blogging about yourself, being active on twitter and facebook, getting interviewed, networking, courting bloggers and librarians, speaking at conferences, and finding as many platforms for yourself and your book as possible. (Even Margaret Atwood maintains an active Twitter profile)
Creating a bit of a buzz for your book is important. The books that find their way onto all the shortlists and often win prizes haven’t got there all by themselves, unless their authors have been extremely lucky. The writers have been doing all the above and more to ensure their book’s success.

Not as many people read my first novel, The Long Weekend, as I would have liked. There are so many factors that contributed to that. I’m putting my hand up and saying that one of those factors was my naivety as a newly published author. No one knew about my book and as I wasn’t shouting it from the rooftops or even holding it up for people to see, things stayed that way. I didn’t know about all the other hats I needed to wear if I wanted my book to reach its readers, I just assumed that others were donning them for me. Consequently my book was only in a few book shops and found by very few readers.

Now I know what I have to do and I have been trying to do that, if somewhat belatedly. I still can’t wear all the hats I’d like to wear, but that’s okay. Some hats are easier to wear than others and are less time-consuming, so I try to wear those. I know I need time to write and to have a life outside of writing! So one of the things I decided to do was to promote my book on the internet, and that’s where I found those wonderful book bloggers from around the world. Luckily for me, book bloggers don’t mind at all that a book has been out for a while because what they love doing is reading good books, and they’re more than happy to review them, and if they like the book they rave about it. They are avid book readers and they’ve built up reputations and followers who want book recommendations.

They love my book, and this has led to a blog tour across the States and Canada in February.

Followed by another blog tour in March, details to be announced here in February:

More people will get to hear about my book and hopefully more people will read it. Finally, my book is reaching its readers.
I haven’t got a new book coming out – yet. But when I do, I won’t be making the same mistakes as I did when my first book came out.

I don’t think I’ve got my head buried in the sand anymore, although I’ve still got a few stubborn grains of sand in my ears. I’ve learnt an important lesson this past year - I know what I should be doing, I know how much I am comfortable doing, and I’m learning how much I want to do and how much I can fit in. I’m finding a balance that works for me.

And, yes, I guess in the end I do write because I want to be read.


catdownunder said...

This is the other part of writing that frightens me. I am not good at saying "Look at me"! It is so good to know that published authors have their worries and doubts and their learning curves in this area as well.

Lynn said...

Thank you for your insights into this other side of being a published writer.

One assumes that once a book has been published, that's the end of the writer's work - and they get on with writing their next book - as it used to be. Amazing how much things have changed. And how difficult that must be, since the marketing/promotional hat is often not a comfortable one for writers to wear. At least it is easier with blogs/websites/facebook/twitter for writers to reach out and connect with potential readers - though is it this ease which allows publishers say 'let the authors worry about that side of things'? (Or is that now the way that we expect to interact with writers, rather than in the less direct, more formal way of the past.)

At any rate, it does work. You've just reached one person who didn't know of your book before reading this post.

All the best with your next book.

Elen Caldecott said...

catdownunder - you don't say 'look at me', but you have got an interesting comment or perspective on most of the children's writing sites that I visit regularly. That's the most effective way to get known, I think: to join in the conversation.
And Savita, you/your publisher must be doing something right, I've seen reviews of your book all over the place!

Anne Cassidy said...

I think one of the problems is that when people (us) try to promote their own book they don't give a thumbnail sketch of it. Having read your blog Savita I still don't know what the book is about.A recent campaign to promote Malorie Blackman's new book (as if she needed it!) BOYS DON'T CRY focused on the STORY of the book. So it informed anyone and everyone that this was about a boy who was just about to go to uni and his ex girlfriend turned up on his doorstep with the baby he never knew he had. That was the hook. When writers promote their books they need to find that hook and then repeat it as often as they can. Example. My new book HEART BURN is about a girl who owes a boy a big favour. If she helps him she might end up in danger. If she doesn't he might end up dead.
So now you know. I'd LOVE to know about THE LONG WEEKEND.

Sue Purkiss said...

This is very interesting - I've learnt something! Thank you Savita, and thank you Anne. Now, a question - how does a blog tour work?

Savita Kalhan said...

@catdownunder - In the beginning it was frightening and overwhelming! And now it can still be those things, but the trick is finding the right balance that works for YOU - I'm still working on that!
@Anne - thank you! I should have said something like:
Eleven year olds Sam and Lloyd get into the wrong car after school. They end up trapped in a secluded mansion at the mercy of a sinister man. Will either of them get out alive?
THE LONG WEEKEND is an uncompromising thriller which will chill you to the bone and have you breathlessly turning page after page. - The Bookette

There's a great review out today that you can read here -

@Sue - A blog tour is arranged by a book blogger - they support each other and many link up to promote a book blog tour. One of the bloggers will co-ordinate the timings and all the blog posts and bloggers involved, send out the interview questions, guest posts, etc to you to complete. The bloggers are very happy to accomodate you in terms of how big the blog tour is, the timing, and its content. And you don't even have to step out of the house for this - it can all be done from home! Initially, sent query emails to a few and the responses I got were all positive, which is why The Long Weekend has been getting lots of fab reviews.

Savita Kalhan said...

@Lynn - Thank you! It is easier to connect with your reader now, but it can be time-consuming depending on how much you're trying to do. Some publishers still do a lot to promote their authors. Others do not.
@Elen - I agree, joining in the conversation is a brilliant way to get your name known, and there are lots of great conversations going on across the internet. I only realised several months ago that I should be joining in. Still, better late than never!

Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

Things have changed so much in the last five years...

I remember as recently as the years 2001 to 2006 (time spent working in house at Macmillan Children's Books and Puffin) how almost all of this was handled for an author by the marketing teams and their PR colleagues. I recall members of staff accompanying children's authors on train trips up and down the UK for book signings, school and library talks, festivals, prize ceremonies, the lot. The in-house people used to spend a lot of money making them nice posters, pencils, badges, whatever to hand out. Sometimes they made their blogs for them. I recall one already nice-looking and young female children's author being given a free publishing house-paid makeover (haircut, make-up, clothes, shoes) because it was thought a more It girl look would help promote the book.

I also heard several industry rumours down the years (and I'm not going to say which publishing house or which list, adult or children's) of members of staff sleeping with the authors to cheer them up before and after a meet-the-public session.

How times have changed!

Miriam Halahmy said...

You've given us lots of food for thought Savita and as an author about to publish I am taking notes!

Leila said...

The difficult part, I think, is reaching readers - children who are going to tell all their mates to read your book, librarians who are going to vote it onto prize lists, booksellers who will put it face out. I wonder how much of that authors can really manage through social media. I don't think I could reach my 9 - 11 year old readers through blogs and facebook and twitter - if they are on the internet they have much more fun things to do than listen to some boring old writer like me tell them about my day! I think character blogs might ahve more potential, as Inbali mentioned in the recent SAS newsletter - or things where they can get involved somehow. I don't know. I'd like to see evidence that all this facebookery and tweeting actually gets people to read/ buy our books... wish someone would do a study!

Savita Kalhan said...

@Miriam - Good luck! Can't wait till your book, HIDDEN, comes out in March!
@Leila - I know, I have no idea how well it works generally, but what I do know is that sales of my book have gone up since I started using things like Twitter. There are lots of librarians and school librarians on Twitter and lots of them also have very good book blogs.

adele said...

Yup! I remember a time when publicity depts did a lot more publicity than they do now! The cheering up of a sexual nature never came my way!!! :)

Savita Kalhan said...

@Sarah - Hard to believe that most writers got that kind of support just a few years ago. As for the rumours of the time - I'm sure there's a book in it...!
Adele - When my book came out I thought publicity depts were still on the case, but I was wrong. Mind you, I think I would much rather be cheered up by a glass of Prosecco in the company of friends!

karen ball said...

What a lovely blog post. I fear publication and how to handle it is like so many other lessons in life - learned only through experience. But that can be little consolation when your book has come and gone. I have to say - what a great amount of information from the comments alone! Blogging at its best - stimulating lots of very interesting debate and sharing knowledge.

Leila said...

Good to know that, savita! maybe I ought to get on twitter after all...