Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Writers=Sales People

In today’s ultra competitive writer’s market, selling yourself is an important factor, like it or not. And I don’t.

Since Tango Man (now re-named Living in the Past) returned from critiquing under the New Writers Scheme,I’ve done the tweaks suggested, re-written the synopsis and have my query letter prepared, ready with a list of agents to approach. Unfortunately, my pen lost momentum when it came to the Biography. After the initial panic, I sat down and deliberated...and cogitated. For hours.

It’s easy enough to scribble a couple of lines that describe who you are but when it comes to showing why you’re someone to read, it’s a different matter altogether. And the trouble is, when it comes to self promotion, I’ve never been very good at that type of thing. Yes, I know, I can hear you all saying this is the girl who was in sales and sales training for most of her working life, and it’s true; I used to be able to sell the proverbial sand to Arabs but when I retired from my job in the Bank, it knocked the stuffing out of me. And with my ever decreasing confidence over the last year as my health problems consume me, (there’s nothing like being unable to do something due to ill-health for making one feel incompetent) it leaves me feeling that there’s not much to sing about in terms of successes .

Am I being hard on myself again or is it simply part of being British? I can’t help thinking that many of us feel uncomfortable with this ‘sell yourself’ aspect of being a writer. My Nan used to say, “No-one likes a big head.” She taught me humility, how to hide my light well and truly under a bushel. However, the trouble is, if I want to progress my writing I’m going to have to sell myself to an agent and publishers, to bookshops and to my readers and having reached this rather crucial stage along my path to publication, I need to do something about it. I need to overcome the biography barrier.

For the last week or so I’ve been searching for inspiration. I read a lot (like most writers) and I thought a good place to start would be the books on my bookshelves. Having analysed the inside covers to crib off the experts, there seems to be a pattern. Here’s what I found: -

Good news – Biographies are only about three lines long, four at most.

Line one tends to be qualifications, highlighting any degrees and certifications the author has. Here’s where a degree in English or Creative Writing comes in handy because I doubt my ‘O’ Level English will have the same clout. Of course, not every author has an ‘Ology.’ Many fiction writers seemed to have been English teachers in a former life, or had careers in journalism. This biography business is about selling yourself; shouting to the world that you are qualified in some way to write what you write. I had to retire from my job as a Bank Manager aged thirty two. No matter how much I fanny about with that snippet, I can’t make it sound exciting. Hmm, I don’t suppose being editor for my local Parish News counts as journalism?

The second line seems to tell why the author is writing the novel/articles/non-fiction book or what prompted them to start writing in the first place. It let’s people know why their work is worthy of attention or if they have an area of expertise.

Okay, so this is where I start to see I might just have a unique selling point - we all have them; we just have to look deep within ourselves. Because if this is where the author makes themselves look attractive to publishers and the market (and even forms the basis for their overall marketing,) at least I can see I have an angle for that non-fiction book about living with Chronic Illness and Pain, or the novel I’ve outlined titled, ‘Smile through the Pain.’

Can you imagine the line, “Debbie is inspired to write for other women, to share her experiences and offer insight...?”

I digress.

This part of the biography is also where the writer tends to note any awards or competitions they’ve won.

Right, I’m back to being negative because I haven’t won any competitions, although last month ‘Baby Blue’ was short-listed and highly commended by Sue Moorcroft for Writers Forum Magazine. Some writers might also include here any publishing successes, however small. Hmm, do you think anyone will be interested in the poetry competition that I won for the Yorkshire Evening Post thirty years ago?

The last sentence of the bio tends to be more personal. For many authors this is where they share with the reader the number of children, pets, and anything else that might be of interest, like where they live. Easy peasy. I can do this one - ‘I currently live in rural South Shropshire with my husband and two sons.’

The final point I will make about the biographies I looked at is that few of them are ordinary. There are some amusing and original biographies around - like best selling Romantic Novelist, Katie Fforde, who on the inside cover of Highland Fling reads:
‘Katie Fford lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and some of her three children. Her hobbies are ironing and housework but unfortunately, she has almost no time for them as she feels it is her duty to keep a close eye on the afternoon chat shows...’

Of course the fact that Katie has more than fifteen best sellers means that few readers give a jot about her writing history. Her success proves her pedigree.

With my limited background, I might learn a lot from Katie’s quirky format. And on that note, rather than writing about my biography, I’d better get on with actually writing my biography. Perhaps, with the help of friends and family I’ll be able to make the most of myself, my abilities and my interests. With any luck, by the time I’ve worked down the list of agents, I might have won something or made inroads into the women’s magazine market and had something published.

What is it they say - ‘success breeds confidence?’

Until another day



Chris Stovell said...

My first comment has just disappeared. Sigh.

What I wanted to say was firstly well done for all the hard work, for submitting your novel to the NWS and tweaking it as suggested - all that shows how serious you are about your writing. I also dislike doing the PR stuff and, like you, am haunted by fear of appearing too big for my boots, however, it goes with the territory now. So don't agonise over the biog - just get it out there and let the writing speak for itself. Good luck. Cx

Anonymous said...

I'm approaching the same stage myself
and have to say I'm rather nervous
about the self promotion. You
shouldn't have much problem my love,
you're an incredible woman.

CJ xx

Exmoorjane said...

Okay, so I think you should absolutely play up the bank manager bit - it's one helluva USP!
I know exactly what you mean about not wanting to sound all bragging and self-congratulatory about your writing....but I do think you hve to develop an ego as a writer...I found posting my stuff on crit websites HUGELY useful - had to get used to bigging up my stuff, to fighting my corner.
Okay, so I STILL haven't got a deal (*sigh*) but I do feel more confident about my writing. (I hope, she says in a small voice!)
You are a fabulous writer, never forget it....

Irish Nomad said...

Fab post Debbie. And well done on making the shortlist for Writers Forum AND for submitting to the NWS. Well, well done. I think self-depreciation is a British thing - thanks for passing it one to us Irish too ;) - and it's at odds with trying to sell your work. You have a lotta, lotta stuff to be proud of though, so don't be shy. Go for it!

Milla said...

hey, you've written the book. That is the thing people are going to read, not the biog. In any case, Magnus Mills was (is) a bus driver. Nuff said. Recently read a novel where the writer could only list barman type jobs. If in doubt keep it really brief. Let the book speak for itself! Can't wait to read it!

mountainear said...

Self-deprecation is a very British trait - you're not alone. We all truly believe that no one likes a smart arse don't we?

Think Jane's right about the bank manager USP - call yourself 'an escapee from the world of finance' perhaps?

You've probably got more to put on a biog. right now than many writers had when they started. JK Rowling for example....Shakespeare....

You'll be fine. Just get that book between covers so I can read it!

Talli Roland said...

Good luck!

I too find the 'selling yourself' so cringe-worthy. It's easy when it's for someone else and difficult when it's for yourself!

Flowerpot said...

Good to meet you Bluestocking! I think we all probably find this bit difficult as most of us are brought up not to show off - or us of a certain age are! I would echo what the others have said - your hard work shows how serious you are. And you've got a commendation? Put that in. Anything is good! Best of luck.x

Sallys Chateau said...

I wonder if its as we get older that we get self depreciating ? especially if life has kicked the stuffing out of you somewhere along the way, you'll find the right balance of words I'm sure. xx

Amanda said...

I find the 'selling yourself' really hard. I think that a lot of writers are quite private people, and so talking about themselves and being on show on websites and blogs etc it quite hard.

Good luck! x

Posie Rosie said...

Oh I hope it all goes well. You have worked so hard...good luck. Posie

Anonymous said...

Hi Debbie, great news on the tweaking front! And well done you for a commendation from Sue Moorcroft - more than many get.

I think selling ourselves isn't an easy task given culturally we tend to very self-effacing and when your confidence is knocked because of illness that's compounded.

But you're a good writer. A useful technique is to practice writing a bibliography by using other people (hubby, your best friend, etc or even famous folk) and then write something for you but treat yourself as another person. That sometimes works for me!

Take care, Rachel

Debs said...

I can't really add any more to the other comments, as I think they say it all so well. We all seem to be the same when it comes to self-promotion, so good luck with your Bio. I love the 'escapee from finance' idea too.

Congratulations for being shortlisted, that's a great achievement in itself.x

Frances Garrood said...

Writers are private people. We do what we do largely tucked away on our own, so coming out blinking into the daylight to sell ourselves is not what we do best. So I can really sympathise, especially as I come from a family of perfomers who cannot see the problem in saying "look at me" (or my work). But very good luck with the novel.

Suzanne Jones said...

Biographies and self-promotion are so hard. Best of luck.


Maggie May said...

It is exciting that you are writing a book and I think it is quite normal to keep playing with it. All artists are perfectionists, I think.

I have browsed through some of your back posts and am sorry about the forthcoming operation.Hoping everything goes well but it doesn't sound as though you will be having the surgery just yet.

Thanks for visiting me.
Maggie X

Nuts in May