Blow Your Own Trumpet Week? Yes please!

Earlier this week the BBC reported on a girls’ school in London that had introduced two novel ideas. Failure Week (discussing how to cope with setbacks) and Blow Your Own Trumpet Week (discussing experiences of success and failure), were introduced by the headmistress to help the pupils learn that A) they can’t be successful at everything, and B) to recognise when they have been successful at something and feel good about it.

The article caught my attention because of the words ‘blow your own trumpet’. I’d been discussing this very matter with someone a few days previously – namely how uncomfortable it feels for writers to blow their own trumpets – especially for self-published authors who have to market their own books. There’s been much talk among the online writing community about how much self-promotion is too much, but if we don’t shout out about our successes now and again (such as mentioning glowing reviews from readers etc) then who will?

In an ideal world, we’d all have agents and publishers with shed-loads of cash who’d be blowing our trumpets for us while we get on with our job: writing. But times have changed, marketing budgets have shrunk, and social media is how writers try to attract readers to their books.

Do I love reading a positive review from a reader? Of course! Do I like pasting the link into a tweet and broadcasting on Twitter that someone liked my book? GOD NO! It makes me cringe to my core. It goes against everything I’ve ever been taught. In a word, to someone of a self-deprecating nature like myself, it feels like bragging. And who likes a braggart?

I feel so much more comfortable humorously putting myself down, probably because if I take the piss out of myself, it means I’ve beaten you to it, thereby stealing your thunder and your potential ability to hurt my feelings. An odd psychology maybe, but I’d imagine that’s how many people operate. The only time I ever brag with unabashed enjoyment is to wind up my husband, eg: “I’m gonna thrash you at table tennis, loser! Fifty quid says I beat you 10-nil.” That feels comfortable, but only because my husband knows I’m joking. (Although he also knows I speak the truth – I’m the undisputed table tennis champ of our household, let there be no doubt about that.)

But anyway, I’m digressing. I think Blow Your Own Trumpet Week is a great idea to help people recognise their successes. Sometimes all I can see is the mammoth journey ahead of me – the things I haven’t yet achieved but desperately want to. I rarely look back at what I actually have achieved and take a moment to feel good about it. So today, in honour of my achievements, humble though they may be when compared with JK Rowling, I shall blow my trumpet. Or maybe I’ll just ding a triangle. With extra gusto, of course.

 

Fair game

photo LBF

I first went to the London Book Fair in 2001, clutching my first ever manuscript and determined to hand it to someone in person. I gave it to someone on the Macmillan stand, who passed it on to an editor, who then called an agent I’d had some interest from, who then called me with a lot more interest. I was so excited I was doing cartwheels, but little did I know it was just the beginning of a very long journey, two more very keen agents, several manuscripts and approximately zero publishing deals.

Fast forward to 2013 with three self-published novels on Amazon (and one on the way) and I decide to visit to the London Book Fair again. Not as an author though – oh no, I was far too scared to do that, fearing that maybe a lot of people had tried that approach over the years (handing their MS to a startled publisher on a stand) and that possibly if I had the word ‘Author’ emblazoned across my ID badge, I might send publishers fleeing for the hills screaming, ‘Run! Run! An author got in!’

So, instead I put ‘Copywriter’ on my badge, as that’s what my day job is. And when I asked myself why I was actually going and what I intended to get out of it, I couldn’t really answer my own question. Curiosity, I suppose. I thought maybe I could talk to someone, find out if there’s any chance in hell of ever getting traditionally published or should I just stick with self-publishing as, well, it’s been going fairly well on the whole.

A few weeks before the fair, I was having a closer look at the LBF website and discovered there was going to be an Authorlounge there, with talks and workshops specifically for – wait for it – authors! Holy cow!

So off I went to London Book Fair 2013, where I spent most of the day in the Authorlounge, listening with keen interest to the various different speakers (forgive the poor quality photo above). It was good to hear publishers acknowledge the rise and legitimacy of self-publishing and the fact that they had to deal with it in a less ostrich-like fashion than they did with the emergence of Amazon and e-books. It was also good to hear (from a self-publishing point-of-view) that traditional publishers are investing less in their authors’ marketing budgets and that these authors are having to do a lot of their own marketing, just like self-published authors.

From the very nice people I met and chatted to, I was able to build up more of a picture of the industry and the way it’s going. I sincerely hope traditional publishing never disappears, and that paperbacks and independent bookstores will always be around. But from where I’m standing, self-publishing once again seems like a pretty good place to be. And if I decide to visit LBF14 next year, it will be with the word ‘Author’ proudly printed on my badge.

Planning on visiting the London Book Fair next year? Here are my top tips:

1. Ladies, if you’re going to wear heels, you’re braver than I am. At least pack a pair of pumps for when your feet can’t take it any longer. It’s a BIG place.

2. If you’re taking a lot of stuff with you (ie books) or you hope to come back with a lot of books, you’d be well-advised to take one of those overnight-bag-on-wheels-thingies. Don’t worry, you won’t look like a plonker (unlike people wearing heels collapsing under the weight of their stuffed-to-the-brim trendy bags.)

3. There are plenty of cafés in the exhibition hall. However, don’t confuse the real cafés with some of the private stands that just look like cafés. (Looking for somewhere to sit down, I got drawn to one that had bowls of chocolates on the tables and was politely asked to bugger off.)

4. The Authorlounge hosted by Authoright was packed out, with latecomers having to stand outside in the gangway to hear the talks. So if there’s a talk you don’t want to miss, get there early to bag a seat.

5. There’s a cloakroom there, so you don’t have to lug a heavy coat around with you everywhere. It was pretty warm inside – probably thanks to all those authors overheating with excitement at finally being allowed to join the party. Or maybe that was just me.

Writing – a risky business

Got an idea? A vision for a novel, a piece of art, a business enterprise? Be primeval, be stupid, don’t think ­– act. That’s the advice given by Steven Pressfield in his book Do The Work.

This struck a chord with me the other day when I was wondering whether or not to upload one of my children’s stories onto my blog. I’d already written and uploaded two similar stories a few months ago, and had a very positive response from a handful of friends who have young kids – which always makes the accompanying tumbleweeds from the world at large easier to bear.

Anyway, the reason I was dithering is because I don’t really write children’s fiction. I write mainstream women’s fiction and have been selling my novels on Amazon since February 2012. I’ve never really had any interest in writing children’s fiction, but I make up short stories to tell my kids at bedtime often enough. It was only when they started demanding more stories about the same character – Fartina Gasratilova – that I thought I might as well have a go at writing them down and seeing if anyone else’s kids enjoyed them.

So what’s the big deal about uploading a few children’s stories to your blog? you may ask. Well here I am, trying to build up a credible name as a writer of women’s fiction, and then I go and upload stories about Fartina Gasratilova – a child who suffers from chronic wind – to my blog. The name in itself is enough to make many people cringe. And if I dwell on that thought for too long, the downward spiral of Resistance, as Steven Pressfield calls it, begins.

Resistance takes many forms, including the fear of what others will think. Allow me to demonstrate by sharing a few of my self-destructive thoughts (finally, something I excel at):

Fartina Gasratilova is such a vulgar name – how did you come up that? Because you’re vulgar, obviously. Will other people wonder if you’re writing from experience? Will they think you’re a vulgar, flatulent, toilet humour-obsessed joke? Is anyone reading your crapfest of a blog anyway? Hah! Exactly! So you might as well upload it and eat tumbleweed.

Dingalingaling! Round 2: So it turns out there’s a porn star called Fartina somewhere out there who specialises in…let’s not go there. Bloody great. No wonder I’ve had more traffic on my blog. And why are lots of erotica writers suddenly retweeting my promotions for Package Deal? It’s a beach read, not a bonkbuster! I thought it was generous of them, and then, suddenly the penny drops: Oh My God! My book titles! How have I not seen this before? Package Deal, Hot Property, Pearls… and my latest WIP, heaven have mercy: Blown-Away Man. Aaargh!

So my husband took pity on me and shoved Steven Pressfield’s book under my nose. One of Pressfield’s many golden nuggets of advice is: act, don’t think (clearly I managed to achieve this already with my book titles). Anyway, as I read his book, I pictured myself wearing earplugs and horse blinkers, blindly carrying on with my potentially rubbish ideas, and it felt good. I can’t tell you how nice it feels to have someone grant me permission to be stupid and not give a shit what anyone else thinks. I feel a little more confident now to carry on taking risks. Some will die a sad humiliating death, but there’s no reason why others shouldn’t flourish.

I was further comforted by a documentary on David Bowie on BBC4 the other night: ten years of epic fails before he came up with Ziggy Stardust! Who knew? Nice to know someone as iconic as Bowie made a tit out of himself too, once upon a time.