Monday 19 March 2018

How can an author avoid turning into a greasy self-promoter?

By Candy Gourlay


I say that meaningfully. I have been absent from Notes from the Slushpile for some time.


I missed you! But my failure to blog is good news because it means I have managed to resist a constant compulsion to blog. I've had a tough few months of deadlines, and not blogging means that I have been writing.

Candy Gourlay holds up a copy of her picture book Is it a Mermaid?
My first picture book! Can you tell that I'm pleased?
The final edits and tweaks to my very first picture book (with illustrator Francesca Chessa),  Is it a Mermaid?, were finished before Christmas. An advance copy landed in England last month. The rest are on their way in a boat from China, and should be here in time for the 5 April publication date.

I spent the Christmas holidays and the first week of the New Year working on copy-edits to my new novel Bone Talk, the uncorrected proofs of which are this minute bouncing through the letterboxes of reviewers. It will be published in August 2018. Thrilled and terrified at the prospect!

Here I am signing uncorrected proofs (advance copies) to be sent to reviewers.

At David Fickling Books: left, Jasmine Denholm, PR and Rights Assistant and right, Carolyn McGlone, PR Manager

DFB Editor Anthony Hinton going over Bone Talk proofs with a fine tooth comb. 

I also wrote a short story for a small Christmas anthology (I'll tell you about it later this year).

And once I finished with the proofs of Bone Talk, I spent the rest of January and the whole of February writing another book (but I can't talk about it just yet).

After all that ...  I was done. No more writing books for me! (At least until I start working on my next novel in a few weeks time.)

It has been bewildering waking up in the morning and having no book to write. Though I have no shortage of things to do,  the absence of a book project makes me feel like a jigsaw puzzle that is missing a piece.

With two books coming out this year, though, my work is cut out for me. 2018 will be all about promoting my two new books.

I'm not the only one. My Facebook feed is a constant stream of book launch party invitations. All my friends seem to be in book-launching mode! I was about to blog about a Launch To Do list when I spotted that  Natascha Biebow (whose wonderful The Crayon Man, about the invention of the crayon, will be published soon) had already blogged about hers.

Natascha says she is tempted to crawl under a rock rather than promote her new book.

I don't blame her – sometimes, looking at my Facebook feed, it feels like the whole world is out promoting themselves. Promoting is a megaphone and a tinny bellowing in one's ear. All those tweets of 'Buy my book', all those sly posts casually linking to a purchase page. The last thing anybody wants to do is add to the cacophony.

Writing about self promotion many years ago, as publishers began to wake up to the power of the internet and self promotion, I begged readers, be human, be human!

But how does one raise awareness of one's book without coming across as obnoxious?

With my own Year of Promotion looming, it's an issue that nags at me. The trust people used to have in social media is fast declining as we hear stories of fake news and stolen data. In this divisive, embattled climate, coming across as a greasy salesman will not sell any books.

In this divisive, embattled climate, coming across as a greasy salesman will not sell any books.

Perhaps I ought to stop pondering social media tools for a moment. Perhaps it would help if I stepped away from Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and remind myself about what really matters ... the book.

It is easy, in the desperate rush to help your book sell more, to forget what your book is all about. To forget the years you spent writing it, the daily struggle to lay down words, to know your characters, to live their journey on the page.

Remember these things because they are part of your book's story – the story you are going to tell the world. It is story that the world wants, you see. And every tiny element of your campaign – whether it be the biography you post on Amazon, the presentation you craft for your school visits, the pitches you write to get to appear in festivals, the myriad emails you compose to beg the help of friends and influencers, the content you post on Facebook – should be telling that story.

My publisher, David Fickling Books, tries to create a sense of the special by wrapping uncorrected proofs in a paper wrapper printed with the words 'where good stories begin'. The proof becomes more precious somehow. A collector's item. A row of uncorrected proofs (advance copies) on the shelf of my publisher, David Fickling Books. Note that they are numbered with Bone Talk at No. 26

If you can capture that first, honest impulse that led to the creation of your book, if you can convey the powerful drive that sent you on your journey to publication, then your audience will see you as a storyteller, not a self-promoter.

And there's nothing more compelling than a good story.

It was a lovely surprise to find Bone Talk listed in The Bookseller's
100 of the most exciting books published between April 2018 and March 2019. Eek!

On 24 March, Candy Gourlay will be speaking at SCBWI's Picture Books: Discover and Be Discovered seminar where she will be discussing the challenges that confront picture book authors and illustrators in marketing and promoting their work. Her first picture book, with illustrator Francesca Chessa Is it a Mermaid? (Otter-Barry Books), is out in April. Her third novel, Bone Talk (David Fickling Books), will be out in August.


  1. TWO books? in a year? Oh my goodness, Candy!
    Let's have a joint bookshop event and *ahem* cross promote our books!
    As Evolution is out in August, too.
    Thought I'd just casually slip that in ...

  2. I can't wait to read Bone Talk - CAN"T WAIT!!!

    1. I have this odd worry about uncorrected proofs. I made a lot of changes at this level and I'm convinced the advance readers will not bother to read the actual book!

  3. Great post, Candy. Really looking forward to reading Bone Talk - and big congratulations on the publication of your first picture book - I dream of that! Warning: advert approaching - Looks like we'll be sharing a book birthday on 5 April! Huzzah!

  4. Hooray for two books! TWO Books!


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