Now that it all makes (a bit) more sense, I love Twitter – I work alone, and chatting with other authors and bloggers online has given me a wonderful sense of camaraderie with my fellow bibliophiles. One thing Twitter has taught me, though, is that there a lot of people out there who want to do what I am doing, which is an obnoxious thing to say. What I’m getting at is that after six years scribbling away all by myself, with all the trials and tribulations that writing brings, I had forgotten how lucky I was to be doing this job. I was also struck by the perception that getting a publishing deal is the most difficult obstacle for a writer to overcome. News flash: it isn’t.
By far and away the hardest aspect of being a professional writer is getting that finished book into the hands of the right people. It doesn’t help, either, if the author in question keeps having babies and consequently handing in books months after the original deadline (cough, cough, ahem). Of necessecity, marketing and publicity departments have long lead times, and it does kind of help if there is a finished book to read so that they can plan for it! Once the proof copies or advance copies are in, the publicist is faced with a daunting task – bloggers and print reviewers may receive hundreds of books a month: why should they pick up yours? I remember one publicist’s frustration after sending out advance copies of Spirit Hunter, which I published in 2010. Not many reviews popped up, whereas the vampire title she sent out was reviewed everywhere.
Perhaps she was just being kind, and the reviewers just weren’t that interested or didn’t like the title much, but I think there is an element of truth in the trickiness in getting review coverage when the book industry is riding the crest of a genre wave. I find it frustrating when I see so many blog posts from agents telling writers to be original. This is sound advice in many respects – I say it on my own website, so it must be true – but I’ve come to realize that it’s harder for books that don’t fit into any particular genre to make an impact. Although when they do, that impact can be shatteringly enormous – think A Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night Time. Like all sensible writers (ahem, well mostly sensible), I wasn’t thinking about genre when I pitched Hidden Among Us; I wasn’t reading YA at the time and had a horrible awakening when I realized that the passion for paranormal had extended way beyond vampires, but I quickly decided that even though my editor and I had decided the book was YA rather than 8–12, there would be no traditional love story! Even though I’d accidentally written myself into the paranormal or fae genre, I tried to keep it a bit left-field, which reviewers so far seem to have liked.
The real expert on all this, though, is Hannah, my amazing publicist at Walker Books, who has very kindly answered some questions for me. Read on to find out more about getting a book out into the wide world!
“KM: What are the main features of the plan of campaign for Hidden Among Us?
HL: Hidden Among Us is one of the books in our YA campaign, called Ink Slingers, meaning there’s a great internet space for it. Indeed, Katy is one of our ambassadors, meaning that schools can apply for the chance to have Katy as writer in residence, so that she’s available for all those questions about writing that you’ve wanted to ask!
Which is great, because one of my big focusses around Hidden Among Us has been getting Katy into the online book world, interacting with readers, which led to a really fun ‘This is twitter…it’s sort of insane’ session. She already has a successful review blog, but I wanted to forge relationships with readers and other authors. There’s loads of YA out at the moment, and friendships are great for events, chatting through books or asking questions about writing. Specifically, the blog tour I organised for Katy not only takes readers through the process of writing and publishing a book, using Hidden Among Us as the basis, but also ends with an interview with another Ink Slinger author, Zoe Marriott.
HL: I find my problems are twofold and oppositional. I need to able to say what a book is like, as well as how it is different. I spend a lot of time reading around the genre when composing my press releases, so I can confidently talk about my new book’s place in the market. So, for Hidden Among Us, I read Mist and Frost by Kathryn James, as well as The 13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison, to look at other examples of a more sinister version of fairyland and the fae. From there, I need to look at how HAU isn’t like those books, and also what makes it stand out across the whole of YA.
So with HAU I emphasise that not only are these the fairy tales of yore, proper British folk tales, but that the idea is combined with a thriller. I look at the romances in other books and point out that there isn’t romance in HAU, that the emphasis is on family relationships and how fractured families can come together in different ways. This isn’t a poke at romance, romance is great, but for people looking for something different this is a great hook.
This has all shown up in all the lovely bloggers’ reviews – there have been comparisons with the books I read as research, people saying they were getting tired of romance and so this was a nice change, and loads who loved the breaks with paranormal conventions.
Getting it wider is even harder – journalists in national papers will get anywhere up of 50 books a week. Quite often they have ONE slot, and the Walker list on its own wouldn’t fit into that. It helps to talk to journalists direct; my team has met up with journalists to take them through the whole year of publishing so they know what to look out for in the next few months, and we regularly meet with librarians and individual shops too.
Then there’re festivals and events, which are great if you can get them, but are difficult for the teen market. Whilst the internet is filled with enthusiasts, it’s sometimes hard to fill an event at a festival somewhere remote unless your writer is a number 1 best seller or you can set up a panel. This is where friendships between authors are useful – last summer I managed to organise an inter-publisher event in London because I worked partly from the authors that my author already knew.
So there are lots of challenges, but it really boils down to finding the right way for right people to get the right book, at the right time!
KM: Do you think there is any key formula for success, or is it less simple than this, and sometimes a slightly unknown quantity, i.e. with some books taking off as surprise successes and others with larger marketing spends not shifting the expected number of copies?
HL: Nothing is ever simple! Yes, you can have surprise successes, from debuts and even long time authors. For example, Sam McBratney, who wrote Guess How Much I Love You? Had written other books before, but then the nutbrown hares suddenly took off. Once an author has an established reputation it certainly gets easier – for one thing you can move from clamouring for review space to possibly pitching for interviews. Marketing obviously makes a difference – if you can pay for getting your book somewhere, it’s guaranteed people will see it, and you can aim where it goes.
It’s unpredictable, and sometimes there’s an element of using your instinct. But you have to bear in mind the author, the editor, the designer and a myriad of other people when trying to decide just how you’re going to publicise this book and what results you expect. It’s part of the fun of getting a good campaign together.”
I definitely feel that Hidden Among Us is in very safe hands with Hannah! She has a genuine passion for children’s literature and YA, which I think really shows up in her work.