By Serina Huang
Day two of HARDCOPY’s Intro2Industry began with a presentation about everything a writer needs to know about social media, delivered by digital marketing and social media consultant—and author—Patrick Lenton.
Patrick advised a genuine and minimalist approach of building engagement through a quality website and Facebook author page, rather than devoting oneself slavishly and inauthentically to multiple channels. Or trying an overt and annoying sales pitch. ‘You will hear a lot of jerks like me saying you must go on social media,’ he said. ‘But if a book is good, a publisher is not going to say “to hell with this, I want Twitter”.’ That said, he relayed that he once worked for a publishing house who could not choose between two debut authors; the one with the modest social media presence got the contract.
Ever browsed in a bookshop and wondered who decides what books go on the shelf? This year’s program featured a new panel discussion about the bookshop coalface, bringing together long-time owner of Dymocks Canberra City, Alison Kay, and Allen & Unwin Canberra rep Deb Stevens. In Australia, most booksellers can take up to around 70% of stock on a sell or return basis, which encourages bookstores to try new items. That said, with narrower margins, booksellers are looking to stock what is commercially viable. Given the large number of books from which to choose, they rely heavily on the advice of book reps, such as Deb, who tailors recommendations to individual stores.
Gut instinct is important in deciding what will sell. As is knowing the market and the type of books that different bookstores sell. Computerised systems make it easy for bookstores to notice when a book is selling well, so they can order more. A good jacket will also make it easier for a book to jump out off a shelf. But more than anything, an author needs to be prepared to sell the book him/herself.
Deb and Alison viewed writers establishing good relationships with bookshops as integral to success—not only with a view to the shop stocking your book, but also because to be a successful author, you need successful bookstore businesses. ‘If you are writing a book in Australia and you want people to buy it, you better bloody well buy Australian books yourself,’ declared Deb. To which we all applauded with gusto.
How important is a good review—or any review—to the success of your published book? Linda Funnell from The Newtown Review of Books outlined the changing landscape of reviews. There are now less quality reviews carried by newspapers, for instance, as a result of media being syndicated. But there is a growing profusion of online reviews of various quality, including Goodreads and Amazon, and ways for writers to buy reviews or to ghost write their own. Still, there are quality sources of impartial reviews, of which The Newtown Review of Books aims to be. One of my friends from the 2015 HARDCOPY class is now a regular reviewer for them, and they always welcome more writers to submit reviews.
According to Merlinda, she writes because she breathes. Her writing is about survival. She described how in ancient times writing was about survival of the tribe, telling stories about each other and the community. Jessica said that she did not think of herself as a writer for a long time. Then she became an editor and fell in love with that. She began to write after she lost her ability to read due to severe depression. Michael meanwhile fell into writing because he felt a need. He was attracted to journalism because he was good at it. But it was limiting because of norms—and it has to be truthful. Whereas with fiction, you can make something up when it is not working.
All of the writers dealt with sensitive topics in their writing, and discussed the effects of trauma on their body. Merlinda said that intensive research about traumatic events stays with the writers dreams. For others, they were able to learn to adjust their bodies. When in the flow of writing, they lost track of time and it was not uncommon to forget to eat or drink.
The panel also had a long and intense discussion about cultural appropriation—which did not really get resolved. It is a complex and controversial area that had Hardcopiers pondering long after the session had finished.
HARDCOPY is a special initiative of the ACT Writers Centre. The Program is assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.
See Day One recap here.
Serina Huang was part of the 2015 Hardcopy program. She is writing a book on Chinese post baby confinement. She also blogs about mindful frugality, personal finance and super cheap recipes at www.msfrugalears.com, and writes food reviews for The Riot ACT.