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Self-puffery, common sense, and a golden hare

I asked ten writers ten questions about their relationship with marketing

First up, the amazing Peter Kenny, who is a poet, playwright and copywriter. You can read all about his work here. I first got to know Peter because he’s a co-founder of Telltale Press, where my wife found a home for her first poetry pamphlet. Telltale published Peter’s The Nightwork in 2014. I love the way he uses birds and animals; it gives the poems a mythical feel but then they get merged with moments from the everyday like migraines and the underground. Talking of the underground, as an ex-Londoner, I like the sudden reminders of London places – I feel as if I’m there, walking along through Covent Garden, thinking about the creatures in the poems. Also, there’s a subtext to do with death and dying that reminded me of Ted Hughes – maybe it was the crows in ‘Root and Branch’ that made me think that. These reviews of Peter’s pamphlet say it much better than I can.

Can you tell us a bit about you and your work? What are you working on at the moment?

I’m between projects. I’m toying with ideas for my next play, and trying to interest an agent in a children’s story I wrote speculatively. And I’m always thinking about poetry.

How do you approach marketing your work, on a practical level? For instance, do you schedule it for a particular day of the week, or use a different desk, or make time for it every afternoon?

This is thorny for me. I still make money from working with advertising agencies, sometimes creating campaigns for international brands and their products. So I should be expert at this, right? When part of the product is ‘me’, it all goes wrong in my head. I self-sabotage. I lose confidence at the wrong moments, and question everything I’ve written. The only escape is to imagine that I am not myself. That I’m someone else with an awkward client called Peter Kenny.

On a less dramatic level, some weeks I have what I call ‘Face Out Fridays’ when I send out any submissions I have ready, and contact people and maybe I’m a bit more active on social media, or go have meetings or a drink with someone.

I try to keep social media ticking over all the time. But long-suffering Facebook or Twitter friends don’t just want to be marketed to. When you have something say about your work, make sure you don’t crow too much. Alienating all your allies is a pretty dumb way to start a Brexit campaign.

Some people’s medium is social media, such as Instagram poets, or Instagram Artists. I don’t see it as being any different from writing for the stage or the short story. It’s just a different medium. Comparing yourself to artists who work in that medium means you’ll always fall short.

Some creative people treat marketing as if it’s creation’s evil twin. Is there a way of making friends with it?

By realising that marketing is a part of the creative process, not separate from it.

Do you think about marketing before, during, or after writing, or is it ongoing?

Getting lost in what I’m writing is one of my biggest joys. But there is always the question before you start, is this a sellable idea? Sometimes the answer is I’m not sure, but I do it anyway. I don’t like talking about things I am currently writing. But you should be ticking over with social media etc. It is important to remember that periods of downtime from a marketing perspective aren’t a problem. No brand runs a 12 month a year marketing campaign. There is such a thing as over-exposure.

How do you tend to market your work? (For instance, do you use social media? Do you blog?)

Yes I do. But self-puffery can be counter-productive. I try to ask myself if there’s anything at all in it for the person who encounters it. People like to know you are human, and have shortcomings. Presenting a perfect version of yourself is just annoying.

Recently I started thinking about my own values as a person and as a writer. I found it very useful to ask myself what three values are most important to me. My own answers were: creativity, compassion and courage. Although it sounds a bit wanky, choosing my values has proved handy. If what I’m communicating doesn’t talk to any of these values, then it may be counterproductive. An outburst of bile, while momentarily therapeutic, is not going to resonate with my values. I’m not suggesting one should be dictated to by your values, but knowing what they are has proved useful in all kinds of ways.

Would you spend a substantial amount of time on a piece even if you knew you wouldn’t or couldn’t publish and sell it?

Hope is a powerful thing. 🙂

Do you use any of these for marketing purposes: school visits, workshops, readings, video book trailers, seeking press coverage?

I have done school visits (while working on my children’s book), done readings and have sought press coverage and listings for my plays.

I once heard someone dismiss a career in book marketing by saying ‘he might as well go and sell fridges’ – is selling books really the same as selling fridges?

There are portable marketing skills that can apply to any product. You can use maths to go to the moon or count your change in Starbucks. You’re still using maths.

There’s a lot of marketing jargon around, such as ‘find your niche’, ‘create a sales funnel’, ‘engage with your audience’, ‘create a platform’ – do beginning writers need to engage with it from the start? Has that changed since you started writing?

See through the jargon to the common sense behind it, which I believe hasn’t changed much. What kind of a writer are you? Who are you writing for? Try to communicate coherently, across any medium. This common sense stuff is useful to people at any stage of their career I would say.

Any examples of book marketing you think worked really well?

I quite like when the marketing and the book are seamless. A classic example of this is Kit William’s book Masquerade, one of the first books that had people charging about the country looking for clues and treasures. The book spills out into the real world, and creates secondary stories, news coverage, word-of-mouth marketing and so on as people sought to find the location of a jewelled golden hare.

Read the other interviews here


  1. Nancy Stroer says:

    How nice to read something that makes gentle fun of marketing and yet reminds us of its creative and practical uses. Thanks to both of you!

    1. Louise says:

      Glad you like them! 🙂

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