How do you get a publishing contract as a first-time author? First find a really good story involving a legendary historical figure.
I spent hours and hours combing the internet for advice and despaired more than once when I found too much of it. What did convince me was the Your Writer Platform website – a combination of common sense and slightly overwhelming positivity that changed my mindset about the usefulness of an online presence. Previously I’d shied away from anything vaguely resembling self-promotion, but there was something winningly honest about this website’s approach, so I thought, well what I have got to lose?
I then spent hours planning ideal reader profiles and which website building provider to go with. I sought help from my friend Rachel, who is a social media manager. She introduced me to the two-headed monsters of Twitter and Instagram. I began to enjoy the creative buzz. And crucially, I was desperate to share Morris’s story, which made it a much less immodest activity to promote him, rather than me.
Then came the celebrity/serendipity. On Twitter, I followed the brilliant author and battlefield guide, Paul Reed, whose knowledge of the Great War is matched by his empathy for its victims. He had liked a post by the historian/journalist/telly producer Rebecca Rideal, so I saw it by default. Rebecca was offering advice on getting a new non-fiction book published. I emailed her, and she said she’d be happy to help and would get back to me in a few days.
Whilst I was congratulating myself on having been on Twitter at exactly the right time, I saw I had a new follower who was a commissioning editor at Pen and Sword. She emailed me to stay that she’d seen my website and that Morris’s story sounded like just the kind of book she was interested in. If I hadn’t responded publicly on Twitter to Rebecca’s tweet, I wonder if it would have happened at all, let alone so quickly.
Whitgift School had also done a lot of the legwork for me. The astonishing amount of publicity they had achieved for their Remembering 1916 exhibition (which featured Morris so prominently) enabled me to show visitors to my website that there was a good deal of interest in the story already, something the canny commissioning editor at Pen and Sword would not have missed.
Website building proves that the adage ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ theory is frustratingly accurate. I tried to keep mine as simple as possible. I hoped that the power of the story would be clear, without the need to embellish the site with too many fancy visuals and widgets. Not that I could have added them with my level of technological know-how anyway. Finding and paying for decent images of Great War aviation (with all the copyright issues involved) was a whole new ballgame I couldn’t tackle at that stage either. So I concentrated on the quality of the writing. My website isn’t a design triumph, but I think there’s enough authenticity and enthusiasm to engage the limited number of visitors I could reasonably expect as an unknown author. I used Weebly. And wished I’d stuck to WordPress, as I’d had a simple site hosted with them previously that had been simple to use – I got stuck down a few cul-de-sacs of inertia and frustration learning a completely new interface.
The thing I hadn’t expected with Twitter was its ability to not only connect you very quickly to the right people, but how it can make you friends and stretch your creative muscles in such a fun way. There are many days when it feels like you’re talking to yourself in a desperate bid for attention, but there are other days when it’s exhilarating and encouraging and proves another tired adage true – positive things happen to positive people. I’m not sure how many first-time authors hope to get published without a half-decent online presence and a willingness to engage with these kinds of networks.
It’s very easy to feel intimidated by the quantity of information available online. I certainly did. But it is worth taking time to research as much as you can bear - the salient bits become clear on reflection and you can take from it what you think will be achievable and useful.
Now that the book is with the publisher and I’m awaiting an editor’s gimlet-eyed response, I’m spending a lot less time on social media but I’ll be planning a strategic onslaught in the run up to publication next year.
Not so much a journey of discovery, more of a commute of compulsion
Archives By Date (For Archives by Topic , click here.)