Promotion and Relegation

My first, uneasy steps in promoting my novel

So the book is finally out. Hurrah! And a few brave souls have opened their purse, peered behind the cobwebs, grabbed a few dusty coins and bought a copy. Many thanks to them for that, it’s hugely appreciated.

But is that enough? Well, it depends on what you’re asking, to be honest. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not expecting to challenge JK Rowling in the best seller lists any time soon, or even Robert Galbraith come to that, but I do want to push my work as far as possible. Any writer who tells you differently, whatever their initial motivation for putting pen to paper, is either kidding you or himself.

I’ve said before that, when writing Bluebeat Boy, I was keen to give people an opportunity to see the impact Anxiety Disorder has on the individuals dealing with it on a daily basis. And, of course, to raise funds for AnxietyUK in the process. But to do that you need to find a way to let people know that your book actually exists. This is the big challenge for any author, even more so those who choose to self-publish. Double that again for someone attempting this fool’s errand for the first time.

The first step for every newly-published author, fresh from the printers and full of enthusiasm, is the internet. They’ve read somewhere or other just how important it is to have an ‘online presence’ so they get their website up and running, they update their Facebook status, and they start tweeting about their breakfast. This is soon followed by a series of random tweets to their favourite authors and celebrities – highbrow ones obviously, there’s no room for the posh B&B owners from Gogglebox here – proclaiming the greatness of their book to all and sundry. With the aim of subtly encouraging them to re-tweet or perhaps even take a quick look on Amazon themselves. Sweet dreams are made of these.

But then what? Tick tock, tick tock. A few copies are sold, but you’ve no idea if it’s just your mum and your mates, let alone whether the website or the tweeting is having any effect. Okay then, it’s time to hit the local papers.

For me that meant contacting the online home of a family of local newspapers covering, you’ve guessed it, West London. An email was duly written and painstakingly edited, because you only get one crack at this. I was lucky, I got a positive response, and pretty quickly too. Contact was made, further information offered, details exchanged, a time and date for an interview was set. So far, so good.

Only, as you’re probably aware by now, things like this are never that straightforward for me. At this point I was excited by the prospect of being interviewed and generating some publicity for the book, which is the aim of this project after all. But one thing I know with absolute certainty is that it’s better to get things done immediately, before the doubts have time to settle and the anxiety builds. Too late, I’d already made the arrangements for the following Monday. It was going to be a long weekend.

So on Sunday night, the Horsfield Clan dispersed following my parents’ 45th Wedding Anniversary (congrats to them!), and I found myself at home writing down a few ideas for the following day’s meeting. ‘What do I want to say? What needs to be emphasised? What deserves top billing?’ I decided to focus on four things; my motivation for writing this novel, my mental health backstory, the book itself, and AnxietyUK. Pretty soon I’d got a fair few pages assembled. Hmm, these were supposed to be notes not an essay. Time for an edit. Then I showed it to Sarah, got some feedback, made a few more tweaks, and put it away for the night.

The following morning, and I’ve always got time for another edit. Or two. And to read it through a few more times. Then I set off for the interview, my heart fidgeting rather than pounding. Sitting on the train I allowed myself one last peep at my notes, just to recap the key points. I probably looked like I was swatting up for a job interview, which is pretty accurate I suppose.

I’ve always claimed that the Piccadilly Line is the slowest on the network, but somehow today Hammersmith arrived far too quickly. I knew in my heart that I still hadn’t prepared well enough but I disembarked anyway, which is a major improvement on years gone by when I might easily have stayed on board and deliberately missed my appointment. I made my way out of the station, replying to Sarah’s ‘good luck’ text en route, and crossed the road, following the directions I’d been given. I immediately spotted my destination, it’s pretty hard to miss – the red door next to the Nandos. For once it seemed unappetising, no quarter chicken with mango and lime for me, my stomach was already full of butterflies.

A quick glance at my watch told me I was at least ten minutes early, which was very good news. I positioned myself casually at the bus stop, trying to look composed as I mingled with the genuine passengers, and took the opportunity to re-read my notes one last time. Make that twice. And a third time for the tricky phrase about anxiety I can never accurately recall, and then headed to the door helpfully painted red for danger.

I composed myself as best I could, which really isn’t a great claim – I might as well have held my hands above my head as I crossed the threshold. I chanced another glimpse at my notes as the lift crawled towards the third floor, hurriedly stuffing them back into my bag as the doors seemed to abruptly open.

“We normally do these things over the phone but I thought, given what you said about your background, you might find it easier face-to-face.”

Those were the first words I heard from Danya Bazaraa, the reporter who’d invited me along to this interrogation. She said them with a smile. I’m not entirely sure it helped to be honest but it was nice of her to try. I mangled a response, not quite able to get the words out in a coherent manner. Not the best start, but I was there at least.

From there I did my best to answer her questions, to explain my own backstory, to describe Bluebeat Boy, to emphasise the importance of fundraising for AnxietyUK. I tried to cover everything I’d laid out in my notes beforehand. I played with my hands and continually looked out the window. I tried not to squirm when she asked for examples of my OCD-related quirks. But at least I didn’t run from the room, which I have done on more than one occasion in my life.

Danya listened to what I had to say, she filled numerous pages with shorthand, she smiled when I attempted to make a joke. To be perfectly honest I think she went easy on me, but I certainly won’t be complaining to IPSO any time soon. Was I the most fluid interviewee she’s ever had? I sincerely doubt it, but I think I got my points across adequately enough. And the end result?

It’s a good article, thoughtful, and it covers all the main points I wanted to include, so from that perspective it was a successful venture. And, as an exercise, it was a useful one for me to experience. I’ve done it once now so, in theory at least, if the opportunity surfaces again at some point in the future then I’ll be able to see it through.

Hands up! It probably wasn’t a textbook example of how to negotiate a stressful situation, I’m fully aware of that. Far too much time was spent making notes and endlessly re-reading them beforehand. There’s a fine line between being prepared and allowing the old demons to re-take their place. And during the interview itself I know I stumbled a few times. When it comes to handling my OCD I’m still a work in progress.

I’m glad I approached the newspaper, and delighted to have been granted an interview and the subsequent article. Will it result in increased sales of Bluebeat Boy? I honestly have no idea, but it certainly can’t hurt. And I’ve learned a few things along the way, which is probably just as important. If no-one objects too much, I’ll mark it down as a success.

Thanks go to Danya Bazarra (@DanyaBazaraa) at Get West London for taking an interest in my story. You can take a look at it here: