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“The best marketing is to write like a demon”

I asked ten writers ten questions about their relationship with marketing

Reading Memorandum

Vanessa Gebbie is a novelist, short story writer and poet, a writing tutor, an editor, and an occasional writing competition judge. Her website is here. Her latest book is Nothing to Worry About: Flash Fictions ed. by Peter Blair and Ashley Chantler.

I read the wonderful Memorandum: Poems for the Fallen, after hearing Vanessa read in Camden at the end of last year. My first response was a personal one, having been affected so much by my father’s loss of his own father after the second world war, his near silence about it, and his poems that tried to make sense of it. My dad was an evacuee, my great-uncles died in the trenches, and my great-grandfather almost did. I recently lost both of my grandmothers, who were Londoners of different kinds, and had lived through the second world war – through them I can feel my own connection with it.

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Secondly, the direct observation from life and site-specific writing is striking in Memorandum – it created an extra level to the collection for me – because I could imagine myself stepping into the narrator’s shoes and standing in the places the poems describe, making them all the more poignant. The effect of the ordinary and mundane meeting the sacred and ethereal is also conspicuous; I imagined different varieties of weather as I was reading and people walking past the monuments in the background, some without seeing them. Whether we choose to see the effects of recent history in our everyday lives is a pertinent question.

Reading Memorandum reminded me of the sense of collective trauma we have experienced on a cultural level because of the two world wars – and as with any trauma that we attempt to push away, it will reoccur until we face it. These poems seem to be a way of facing it – or (if I can get away with a double negative) a refusal not to face it. It’s easy to read poetry as too soft, too tangential, but these poems give the lie to that, because they offer the chance for healing. Powerful stuff.

I asked Vanessa my ten questions about marketing. Here are her answers.

The Ten Questions

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

I’m a novelist, short fiction and flash fiction writer, poet, editor and writing tutor. Tenth book is out now. I always work on more than one thing at once. Short stories are SO useful, for more than one reason. When people ask “What are you working on at the moment”, I can blather about a collection of short stories, without compromising my more important projects, which may be a more challenging collection that stays under the radar, a poetry pamphlet, or other things! It is, for many writers, not helpful to reveal details of their work.

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?

None of the above. It’s at the back of my mind sometimes, and has to be one of the very very minor reasons I attend readings, talks, give workshops, run courses, answer questionnaires (!) – because it spreads the word. Everything I do is for vastly different reasons, selling meself is waaaaay down the list, I’m afraid. Why? Because people see through it – readers are intelligent!

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

I HATE being marketed to, myself, so can’t overtly do what I hate, to others. But we have to be aware, I think, that nothing will happen with our books, whether with a little publisher or a big beast, unless we engage with the process of spreading the word. It’s a balance. I have friends who bombard with emails, tweets, set up this page, that page, demand ‘likes’, invite you to this and that, and you know they don’t want ‘you’ there, they want to sell a bloody book, or a seat to a play. Readers/engagers with the arts are intelligent, they see through overt marketing, and it can work against you if you aren’t seriously careful.

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

Definitely never, ever while writing. It would close me down. Once a book is accepted, then, that’s the time to share it, gently.

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

I am have left Facebook. I am on Twitter. Teaching is my best marketing ‘tool’ but even that sounds vile. I don’t take many books along, unless it’s a course running over days. I think if people have got to know you, and more importantly,  your work, without having it pushed at them, but rather seeing it in practice – it’s more genuine than carrying around a soap box! I blog, but less and less…

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?

The question doesn’t make sense to me. I write whatever, and don’t think about the future. Besides – how on earth would I know whether or not something would not ‘be published’? I’m not a publisher. I have written many things I personally ‘couldn’t’ publish for personal reasons. They are never ever wasted – always feed in to other things, in different guises.

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

I’d say that spreading the word, or a book sale is a spin off from workshops, for me. It’s not the main thing. The main reason for running workshops, visiting schools etc is to pass on what I love doing to others. Support those who are coming up. I often don’t take books along, or  even if I have, don’t take them out of the bag, if it feels wrong to do so. If people ask if I have books, that’s another matter.

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?

Yes, of course. Books are product, like any other. How are they different?

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?

Aaagh. I have learned through bitter experience that the more overt marketing one does, the less respect you and your ‘product’ gets. I think it has to be an organic, embedded process, and not the be all and end all.

Any examples of book marketing you think worked really well?

My launches have been interesting – in the knowledge that I’m asking friends along to support me and ‘BUY MY BOOK!!!’ I don’t do that any more, but do something else. I try to give something back. One book launch was a charity women’s storytelling lunch for sixty. I sold tickets, proceeds went to a Hospice movement, and everyone got a copy of the book as part of the ticket price. I made not a penny.

The best marketing is to write like a demon. Be a really original, great writer, and get known for that, not for trying to climb up a greasy pole. Climbers of greasy poles only get dirty!

Read the rest of the interviews here

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