Old Man Writes Another Book
Updated: Jun 1
As headlines go, it doesn’t exactly grab you does it? ‘Old Man Writes Another Book.’ That’s the problem with a second novel, how do you promote it in a way that grabs the attention? For ‘Grab the Attention’ you must as people can only buy a book if they know it is there to be bought.
With a first novel it is relatively easy to find, what I am told is called, a Unique Selling Point. For me it turned out to be publishing my first novel, a spy mystery, at the age of seventy, after a career firmly rooted in science. ‘Inspiring message as author who has released first novel at 70 looks back…’, ‘Local Former Scientist Turns to Novel Writing at 70…’, ‘College Alumnus Releases First Novel at 70…’. You get the gist.
You would think, would you not that your first book is the difficult one? After all you are an entirely unknown author, yet that very fact makes you interesting. Are you about to become the next exciting new author to explode onto the literary scene? Well, there is only one way for people to find that out – they have to buy the book and read it!. With book number two, the novelty has worn off and it really is simply, ‘Old Man Writes Another Book’. Well I suppose I should be grateful that I can, at least, use the adjective ‘old’ to differentiate myself from the herd.
Of course when you are an established author your name itself is enough to guarantee success. At the time of writing, Richard Osman will be releasing the fourth title in his Thursday Murder Club series in three and a half months times. Yet already it is riding high at number 31 in the Amazon Best Sellers list. Number 31. A best seller. And not a single member of the book buying public has read it! Oh to be an established author.
So as you might have guessed, I have published a second book in the Tufton Street series, ‘Unsavoury Business’ and a month after launch it isn’t selling too well. Looking at the Amazon rankings one is tempted to say it isn’t selling at all; I have even thought of buying a copy or two myself just to give some respectability to its ranking. Not surprisingly I have been putting my mind to wondering what is not going right.
The first book of the series, ‘The Death of a Smoker’, was reasonably well received and, indeed judging from the reviews - only four so far but all five star - those who have read ‘Unsavoury Business’ thought it a better book. Off the record, six people have already asked me when I am going to publish the third in the trilogy. A trilogy? That was never in the plan. Current sales of ‘Unsavoury Business; hardly justify a third in the series and I did ask one enthusiastic fan if perhaps, ‘the characters could all just live happily ever after’? The answer was a resounding, and emphatic, ‘No’.
So, what has been different second time around?
Perhaps the first difference that comes to mind is that my publisher has dropped their subscription to NetGalley. NetGalley, however, didn’t lead to any requests for Advance Review Copies, or reviews, of ‘The Death of a Smoker’. It’s hardly surprising my publisher dropped their subscription, and it can’t have made a significant difference.
Have there been any differences in promotion? Let’s divide this into social media and what I would call ‘professional engagement’. Following my publisher’s advice, prior to the launch of ‘The Death of a Smoker’, I created an author web site, on which I post these blogs to give my readers some insight into the author’s mind, and I created accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I haven’t gone as far as TikTok, I just can’t see young people hooked on short videos with audio backgrounds as the sort of people who would be interested in novels about a small offsite MI5 group fighting bioterrorists, and other villains, in the post cold war nineties. Unless there has been a huge swing, in the past twelve months, with potential book buyers now looking to TikTok as their prime source of suggested reading material, no account means no difference to the promotion of ‘Unsavoury Business’.
The least said about Twitter the better. Nothing to do with Elon Musk’s dabbling as the new owner, it just doesn’t work for me. I am a failed ‘twit”. In twelve months I have managed to gather a huge following of twelve people; which, numerically, is slightly more than the number of likes I have received for my original tweets.
With Facebook and Instagram, I have been much better prepared, this time around, and ran a short series of prelaunch publicity posts. Even so, these are all transient posts that quickly disappear into the flood of nonsense that, I am sure, overwhelms all ‘Friends’ and ‘Followers’. So transient are some posts, that I sometimes think Instagram would be better named as Instagone. OK, I don’t have a huge following on these platforms, for example just short of seventy followers on Instagram, but, even so, there are more than this time last year and my promotional posts have been somewhat more frequent and, I hope, more engaging.
So that brings me to the ‘professional engagement’, by which I mean that which primarily is initiated by the publisher – although given social media sites there is some overlap with the platforms already mentioned. Let’s be brutally honest here, the promotional placement of books on bookstore websites is hardly likely to be down to a genuine philanthropic concern of the bookstore to improve the cultural welfare of its potential customers. It’s advertising and it is hard to believe is is not paid for advertising. I also doubt that book reviews in the mainstream press are philanthropic gestures either – when was the last time you saw a small independent publisher’s offering featured in the national press? So with a small publisher, this isn’t going to happen, it’s just a fact of life and the limitation of budgets. In any case it has played no part in the promotion of either ‘The Death of a Smoker’ or ‘Unsavoury Business’. Furthermore, the promotion of ‘Unsavoury Business’ on my publisher’s own platforms has been better than that of ‘The Death of a Smoker’. Not that I had any reservations about my publisher’s promotion of my first novel.
What of placement of books in bookshops? I am inclined to believe that although it might not be entirely altruistic, after all the shop is going to promote what it thinks will sell, there is much more in the way of choice by the bookshop staff. Undoubtedly it is influenced by the promotional material sent to them, and if some items are, shall we say, given additional assistance, for example in busy and rather impersonal airport bookshops, there still remains some degree of choice. I certainly hope so. The Deal Bookshop, my local branch of Waterstones, hosted book signing events for both outings of the Tufton Street gang. The most recent one wasn’t a great success, despite it being the friendliest book shop on the planet. I don’t think anyone who came across the doorstep wasn’t greeted by the staff. Perhaps not a promotional success but it was certainly a rich source of material. There was the lady who did stop to chat who revealed that she didn’t buy books anymore as all her shelves were full. What brought her into a bookshop, I wondered, perhaps the friendliness of the staff? One potential shopper, an elderly lady, didn’t even get as far as coming in. Her companion, a daughter I assumed, announced for all to hear, ‘You won’t like the prices in there, it’s a proper bookshop.’ Maybe it was my looming countenance that actually put her off? Although the event itself was disappointing, the bookshop did ask me to sign all the remaining stock of both ‘The Death of a Smoker’ and ‘Unsavoury Business’, about twenty copies in total, and I can only assume that they are confident they will have no problem selling them.
Like many businesses, book publishers put out ‘hooks’, in the form of press releases in the hope that other areas of the media, radio, magazines, newspapers for example, will latch onto them. Both book signing events were I think in response to such outreach by my publisher. The first time around I landed three radio interviews but, so far, only one has surfaced for ‘Unsavoury Business’. That’s not entirely true, as I was asked, one morning, if I could do an interview for my local BBC radio station that afternoon. Normally there would have been no hesitation, but that was the one day, the first time for a couple of years, that I had been invited to a zoom meeting to discuss a potential expert witness contract with a London based firm of patent lawyers. To make matters worse when I discovered who the two parties involved were, I had to withdraw owing to a potential conflict of interest. My local BBC radio station never came back, but that’s the problem with press releases, another day, another crop to pick from. Former scientific expert turns to novel writing in retirement might be worth following up, but ‘old man writes another book’ isn’t so hot on local interest.
Even with the one radio interview I did record, not yet broadcast, I felt a bit of a fraud. The station involved, Wythenshawe FM, a not local-to-me local station has a show, hosted by their life coach specialist, Amos Madra, described as ‘where we talk to people who have defied all odds, trail blazed the way and given us hope’. This ‘old man’ may be seventy but that’s hardly old enough to count as defying all the odds, but I suppose ‘old man writes another book’ could, just about, be classed as something that gives someone, somewhere hope. I just hope there are some listeners, in Wythenhawe, who defy the current odds and actually buy a copy of the book. The hope, always is, that having read ‘Unsavoury Business’, although it is a stand alone tale, they will be curious enough to then buy ‘The Death of a Smoker’ to fill in the back story.
The only real difference I can see about the two book launches is three radio interviews for ‘The Death of a Smoker’ and none broadcast, yet, for ‘Unsavoury Business’. It will be interesting to see if the broadcast does have an impact on sales, for one thing they do say about radio advertising is that it is highly cost effective. With large audiences you get more bang for your buck (or in this case more bang for my book?), more potential buyer hits than almost any other media. But do I have an identifiable brand?
Branding, my publisher tells me, is important. It is how people see, you, it’s what makes you stand out from the crowd, it’s how you connect to your audience. The books themselves do have a brand image, both covers feature a blue door. It wasn’t intentional, as anyone who has read my blog ‘The Unsavoury Business Choosing a Book Title’ will be aware, ‘Unsavoury Business’ was originally called ‘Jack in the Box’ which suggests a quite different cover image.
So what is my brand? In retrospect, maybe it did become ‘old bloke writes first book at seventy’. In which case the brand was doomed when it became ‘old man writes another book’. Certainly if ‘Unsavoury Business’ had been a Kate Atkinson novel it would be entitled ‘Started Badly, Took a Tumble’. That certainly can be said about my second book signing event as on the way back to the car I did trip over and bash my knee. But then again, if it had been a Kate Atkinson novel it would be selling like hot cakes. One reviewer of ‘The Death of a Smoker’ did describe it as “Just like Kate Atkinson’ though perhaps that was a tad over generous. At least the same reviewer was kind enough to describe ‘Unsavoury Business’ as ‘Another finely crafted novel’; definitely a fan as they went on to say ‘Just hope that the wait for Book 3 in the series is not too long!’
How long will that wait be? Who can tell? If Wikepedia is to be believed, Mick Herron’s ‘Slow Horses’ had such disappointing sales that his publisher declined the next book in the series. Maybe it’s a case of ‘Old Man is Just Impatient’? It can’t be that bad if a) your first novel is likened to Kate Atkinson, and b) sales of the second book (at least this far in) are as ‘disappointing’ as those of ‘Slow Horses’. I read somewhere that it took about five or more years before Mick Herron’s Slough House series took off, but I am a little older than Mick Herron, so maybe a little impatience can be forgiven?
So do I need a rebrand? And what would it be? Perhaps I should venture into TikTok land or even post a video, apparently now called a reel, on Instagone? What might stick in people’s minds? A catchy jingle perhaps? So with apologies to the singer and song writer Tom Paxton……
Take a look, buy my book, right away, sir,
With my novel in your hand, feel your eager mind expand,
Take a look, buy my book, it's just great, sir.