As the late, great Samuel Johnson once said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” It’s all well and good writing a book, how the dickens are you going to get anybody to read it? More to the point how are you going to get them to pay for the undoubted privilege?
At this point I confess that if I was forced to live on my earnings as a writer, I would be writing this from shanty made from pallets and cardboard, situated nicely overlooking a rubbish tip. This is not the blog of somebody who is offering to show you how I made my first million. Indeed looking at my sales, it might well be worth reading this blog only to know what not to do.
Strangely enough I have tended to avoid spending money on promoting my books. This is not merely because I am congenitally mean, but because I do my research. When I see a website offering to ensure I sell thousands of books, I just go onto Amazon and look at one of the books they are promoting. On Amazon every book has an “Amazon Bestsellers Rank.” I merely watch that rank. To be brutal about it, on Amazon.co.uk it takes one book sale to lift the book from 220,000 up to 60,000. So if the book the website claims to be promoting doesn’t have a rank above 10,000, they’re a waste of time.
I went down another track, I decided to blog. Now this blog, the Jim Webster, books and stuff one, started off as somewhere to promote books. I will tell you something for free here, nobody cares. But if I write about my experiences with cattle, sheep and border collies, people are interesting. So actually I rarely do book stuff here. On the other hand, I accidentally created a character, Tallis Steelyard, a poet. As he is a writer, then obviously he has to have a blog. His blog I do differently, each blog post is a Tallis Steelyard short story/anecdote.
Now there’s a lot of writing there, so every so often I collect up blog posts and publish them. So far there are three novella sized ebooks about dogs, quads and livestock. With the Tallis Steelyard blog, there are eight novella sized collections. These always have, ‘and other stories’ in the title so you can recognise them. This way I can just about justify the sheer amount of writing time that goes into blogging.
But what about promoting these books when they’re published? Well obviously I mention them on Goodreads and Facebook. You might have noticed me, one of the tens if not hundreds of thousands of writers trying to get noticed. I decided this wasn’t a particularly successful strategy.
Then I discovered the blog tour. I did a couple in a conventional format, where you as the writer answer a number of questions so the person reading the blog feels they know you. But to be honest, if I do too many of these, I get bored. I shudder to think how the reader must feel. So I decided to do something different.
Because with the Tallis Steelyard blog I had a number of bloggers who liked my work, (I knew this because they would comment on the various stories, reblogged them on their blogs, and bought the books.) I decided it might be fun to work with them.
So I contacted each of them and offered to write a Tallis story for their blog. Quite a lot of bloggers jumped at this opportunity. As any blogger knows, the blog is a maw you are doomed to feed for all eternity, and if somebody offers to feed it for a day, then that’s an offer you struggle to refuse. As an aside, even when I’m not running a blog tour, I’m always happy to write a story for a blogger. Obviously two or three years later the story will inevitably wash up in one of the collections of stories, but it’s for their blog, and whilst I’ll reblog it, I do it from their blog to give them the publicity. Indeed for those bloggers who do like to give writers questions, answering as Tallis Steelyard can be fun, because I can always have him work one of his stories into the conversation.
So I did a few tours like this and they went pretty well. Normally a tour is somewhere from a dozen to fifteen blogs. What I realised is that one of the Tallis Steelyard story collections normally contains somewhere from twenty-four to thirty stories. So every two blog tours I do in effect writes another story collection.
Once things were going well, obviously I had to tinker with it. One or two of the blog tours had a theme. In one, the stories followed Tallis as he was temporarily exiled from the city of Port Naain. Each was a standalone story but they were in some sort of order. Actually it didn’t matter if you missed one or read them out of order, but the theme brought the tour a sense of unity.
Then being grossly overambitious it struck me that actually a novella has about a dozen chapters. So why not write a novella and use it as a blog tour (to promote another novella) and at the end of the tour, you’ve published two books.
Trust me, this way madness lies. But fortunately I was very lucky in my bloggers. I asked people, not because they were ‘important’ (although some of them have an awful lot of readers, whilst others are just starting out) but because they loved Tallis.
So they’re willing to put up with the fact I’m not the most organised of people. In spite of me, we managed to put out a novella and all the chapters came out in the right order!
Since then I’ve done it a couple of times, and people have asked me how I do it. Well the writing of the book is different. You’ve got to tackle it differently. Each chapter will be a blog post. So each chapter has to make sense if read on its own. Not only that but each chapter has to have a natural ending. I know a lot of people who feel cheated by stories ending in cliff-hangers, which mean you have to buy the next exciting episode. So I try to avoid cliff-hanger endings, but somehow want to ensure that whilst the reader is satisfied with the chapter, they do want to read the next bit.
The other thing you have to ensure is that something interesting happens in each chapter. It’s a bit unfair to a blogger to give them a story that consists entirely of plot exposition or back story.
Anyway, it’s really up to you to decide if I was successful or not. Here is ‘Tallis Steelyard, enemies and how to make them.’
This appeared, in its entirety, as a blog tour. (Which has just finished.)
Another novella which first appeared as a blog tour was ‘A measured response.’
This novella is interesting in that it had two endings. One where the blog tour ended, and Benor the protagonist has seen the villain arrested. But then I added a couple of extra chapters after the tour was over that appear only in the novella, which take things a little further as it is discovered that they’d arrested the wrong person and Benor has to help catch the right one.