In Your Suggestions I Trust

By the end of the month I hope to have decided whether to self-publish one of my novels. I’m leaning toward doing so, as an e-book only. Granted, that means my family won’t be able to read it, as we don’t yet own an e-reader, but then again, it’s not as if they have the slightest inclination to anyway. (Last year, when we were donating a bunch of my daughter’s old books to her school library, I was going to include copies of two nonfiction kids’ books I’d written a dozen or so years ago. My daughter asked me not to, though: “What if one of my friends reads them and doesn’t like them? Then I’ll feel bad.” Yeah, my family’s supportive like that.)

Rather than buckle down and read all the necessary nitty-gritty about the self-publishing process, I’m leaping ahead and wondering how to market the book. I’ll get in touch with blogs that review e-books, of course, and with our local newspapers, and the newspapers in North Devon, England, where much of the book takes place. But then what?

I could make a book trailer, I suppose. I’ve written about book trailers in the past,  but I’m not yet convinced that they actually help sell books. One of the most entertaining trailers I’ve come across, for John Wray’s Lowboy (a fabulous novel I tout every chance I get, like now), featured comic actor Zach Galifianakis as Wray being interviewed by Wray himself. But while it was a hoot (“Do you consider—” “No not really”), it offered virtually no information about the book. Sure, it's had nearly 43,000 views on YouTube, but how many of those viewers—42,000 of whom were probably Galifianakis fans, subsequently read the book?

YouTube also has videos of Wray giving a reading on the New York subway, which makes perfect sense in that much of Lowboy takes place on the subway, and he in fact wrote much of it while riding the subway. I wrote much of my book, Trust, in a b-and-b in Ilfracombe, Devon, where I lived my first summer in England. Much as I’d love to go back to Devon to film for a trailer certain locales that figure in the book (the b-and-b, where the protagonists, a young schizophrenic and an expat writer, first meet; the restaurant where Steve tries to kill himself; the Pannier Market in Barnstaple), I don’t think my nonexistent budget can swing it. Then, too, there’s the fact that not only do I have a face for radio, but I also have a voice for the silent movies. (Exhibit A.)

This blog post is, I guess, a request for help: If you have any ideas for how I might spread the word about Trust, I’d love to hear them.

And in case you’re interested, here’s the elevator pitch (assuming it’s a long elevator ride) for Trust:

A young schizophrenic from rural Devon and an American expat writer of chick-lit would appear to have little, if anything, in common. When Steve and Cat meet, however, in a faded resort town on the Bristol Channel, it's because both have made an escape of sorts. Steve has slipped away from his sheltered accommodation in hopes of weaning himself off his antipsychotics, with their numbing side effects; Cat has moved from London, where she has lived for seven years, in the wake of a divorce and suffering from writer's block. They develop a tentative friendship that deepens even as Steve is hospitalized following a psychotic break and Cat begins dating Alex, a London radio producer. But will Cat's relationships with both Steve and Alex survive her decision to return to London and bring Steve with her? And will Steve have enough trust in Cat—and in himself—to move beyond the only life he's known? Steve and Cat narrate the story in alternating chapters, providing distinct views on their motivations and perceptions.

(The photo above is of a street in Barnstaple—or Boutport, as I call it in Trust—similar to the one where Steve's sheltered accommodation is located.)

Using Twitter (and Liz Jones) for Good, Not Evil

The Liz Jones in Somalia Twitter feed is a brilliant example of the immediacy of the medium and its unique marketing and messaging possibilities. It’s also damn funny.

Liz Jones, for those who have managed to avoid the British rag the Daily Mail, is a columnist best known for her almost mind-boggling self-absorption. (This blog tallies just a few examples.) Several months after writing ad nauseum about her severe financial straits, which she admits are due largely to her insistence on buying designer garb, exotic vacations, and gourmet treats she can't afford, she penned a detailed account of her £13,145 facelift. Her weekday column is appropriately titled “Liz Jones Moans,” and among her targets are parents who take photos of their offspring, people who use laptops on trains, working women who decide to have children, barbecues, women who can’t afford to hire a cleaner but fail to maintain a spotless home, public transit, and women who fail to sport flattering hairstyles.

To put her in perspective for New Yorkers, she makes the New York Post’s Andrea Peyser look like a font of empathy and human kindness.   

So when the Daily Mail opted to send Jones (“I drive a BMW and never use public transport. I always have the central heating on full and walk around in a T-shirt. I frequently order films on Sky Box Office, watch them for five minutes, then change the channel”) to report on the famine in Somalia, outrage predictably ensued. 

Just days after word of Jones’s assignment hit the media, a blogger who frequently takes aim at the Mail under the handle DMReporter launched @LizJonesSomalia and began posting tweets that are a bit over the top for the real Jones (“Awful nights sleep; the sobbing outside my hotel window was so loud. Without my duck-feather duvet I wouldn't have gotten a wink over 8hrs.”), but not by much.

Just five days after its July 31 launch, the feed has more than 7,000 followers. More impressive, it has already raised nearly £10,000 for the Disasters Emergency Committee’s East Africa Crisis Appeal simply by encouraging Jones haters to donate £2 apiece.

Besides being a wonderful example of how to turn lemons (or rather, a sour-as-a-lemon human being) into lemonade, Liz Jones in Somalia shows that an ad hoc campaign implemented in immediate reaction to an event can generate response—and that Twitter is an ideal conduit for this sort of effort. Followers retweet and beget other followers, who in turn spread the word via Facebook, blogs, and other social media as well. DMReporter himself/herself is encouraging cross-pollination by linking to and referencing @LizJonesSomalia in his/her regular feed, Tumbler account, and the like.

It’s also an example of how to latch on to an anger-inducing subject to produce positive results. We tend to skirt around associating ourselves or our brands with anything remotely negative, for good reason: It can be difficult to control the anger away from ourselves and toward our target. But by offering the audience an alternative to the negative—in this case, using the galvanizing power of Jones for good instead of evil—Liz Jones in Somalia provides a catharsis of sorts for its followers. And in exchange for this sense of relief, the followers reward the provider of said relief with goodwill and loyalty.