So your book is published – congratulations! Depending on how and by whom it was published, it may be several months since you last looked at it, but it’s time to pick it up and get to know it all over again.
If you are lucky you might have had some help with publicity from your publisher, but no matter how big that publisher is, its resources are limited and its attention will inevitably move to newer titles. So it’s up to you to try to keep your book in the public eye, which, daunting though it may seem, can be good fun as well as a chance to get creative in a different way! And do you know what, I’ve often found that the personal approach works the best anyway.
So, where do you start? It might help if I use one of my books as an example. Bedpans and Bobby Socks is the true story of five British nurses – one of whom is my mother Gwenda - who in 1957 left the UK to work in Cleveland, Ohio, before embarking on a series of adventures round the rest of North America in their old banger.
The four surviving road trippers live in four different parts of the UK and Ireland, so one of the first things I did was contact the local press in each of these places – who all seemed to agree that eighty-year-olds with colourful pasts make good copy!
Most professions or pastimes have their own publications, so whether it’s psychology or chicken-keeping that features in your book, there will be at least one journal devoted to it. I managed to interest British and American nursing magazines in the tale – one ran a book review while the other had a perfect slot on its back page for a first-person nostalgic piece.
Before we go any further, it goes without saying that a copy of Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and a well stocked newsagent are your best friends here. Do your research before you start firing off emails. You need to get an idea of the tone of the publication, the sections within it and any regular slots that might be seeking contributions. The latter are a gift, and it can be surprisingly easy to make your own material work when you know what the strapline is going to be. Basically, you should know exactly where in the publication your piece will be sitting.
As Cleveland was the setting for part of the book, I contacted the biggest daily newspaper in the city which – amazingly! – splashed with the story. (I still can’t believe it - perhaps it was a quiet time for news.) I also emailed the local papers in all the places the crew had visited on their road trip – some of which had written about them fifty years earlier. For others it felt more apt to use their American friends as a way into the story, for example, ‘Retired teacher Mary Ann Jones never imagined that lending a tent to five British nurses in 1958 would see her featuring in a book fifty years later!’
Next I trawled through classic and American car magazines to see if they ran human interest stories amongst all the technical stuff. Some did.
National papers are the hardest nuts to crack as they are looking for something current or that puts a new slant on the news. It pays to be switched on to world affairs so that you can pounce if a subject in your book suddenly becomes ‘hot’. So, a story about the NHS might afford the opportunity for a piece about the experiences of Gwenda and co in its fledgling years. Another way to make a story suddenly relevant is to link it to an anniversary - papers love anniversaries! – so whether it’s 25, or 50 or 75 years since someone was born, or died, or did or didn’t do this, go for it – the possibilities are endless.
Aside from the actual content, consider whether there is an interesting story to tell about how or why your book was written. As I had shown little interest in my mother’s American tales when I was growing up, only to be blown away by them fifty years later, this seemed good material for women’s magazines, the female pages in the nationals and weekend supplements, who all like these confessional stories. (“The mother I never knew!”). Once again, get to know the pages where your story might work best. After a few attempts, I finally got a piece published in The Mail on Sunday’s YOU Magazine two years after Bedpans was published.
It goes without saying that you should email the editor of the page you are targeting in person (find out their name if you don’t know it), write a succinct proposition and a catchy subject line. It’s hard work – as hard as writing the book in the first place. But every small success makes it feel worthwhile.
Barbara Fox is also the author of ‘Is the Vicar In, Pet?’ and co-author of ‘One Girl and Her Dogs’ with Emma Gray. Her new book ‘When the War Is Over’ is out in April 2016. She blogs about her books here and here, and can also be contacted via her ‘Barbara Fox books’ Facebook page.