3. Contracts, Production, Promotion
(vii) PUBLICISTS & JOURNALISTS
A book published in Australia competes against overseas titles that often arrive trailing clouds of glory, already with the hype of big sales and success. It’s a struggle to gain media attention, and more and more of a struggle as newspapers cut back on the number of reviews they carry.
The person who struggles on your behalf is your in-house publicist. Behind the scenes, your publicist will create and send out flyers, send out review copies, phone and re-phone newspapers, magazines and radio stations. Much of the procedure is standardised, working from a list; but remember that ‘your’ publicist is a great many other authors’ publicist too. It’s a low-ranking job that ought to rate more highly.
Your publicist will ask you to supply material and make yourself available for interviews. No reclusive authors nowadays! You should aim to be not only non-reclusive, but out there and involved.
The first step is to put yourself in the shoes of a journalist. Whether in print or on radio (forget TV!), a journalist wants a story to catch the audience’s attention. Human interest counts, real-world connection counts, but your book for its own sake doesn’t. You need to give the journalist what s/he wants, while selling your book on the side.
It’s hard for fantasy writers who work out of their imaginations. Real-world connections are easy if you’ve written a realistic novel that includes a character with an eating disorder or a background of drug gangs in Sydney. Journalists are used to dealing with such angles; they’re not used to dealing with portals or floating cities or new versions of magic.
With the Ferren books, I soon learned that my best hook was angelology. Not the special future developments in my trilogy, but the traditional lore concerning the orders of angels and the levels of Heaven. Journalists were more interested in the research behind the books than the books themselves. (It’s true, the research was fascinating, the only time I’ve really loved researching.)
With the Wolf Kingdom quartet of fantasies for children, what came to the fore was the tale of my twenty-five years of writer’s block. It wasn’t a new story, but suddenly it was the flavour du jour.
With Worldshaker, the alternative history background to the novel was more of a hook than the novel itself. Namely, the historical fact that, when Napoleon had defeated all the powers of Europe except for England, an engineer called Mathieu-Favier approached him with a well-developed scheme for digging a tunnel under the English Channel. Napoleon gave the scheme serious consideration, but decided against it.
In the Worldshaker world, Napoleon decided for it, leading to a totally different state of reality a century and a half later. The tunnel is my point of divergence, or POD in alternate history jargon. It’s not central to the novel itself, but it appealed to journalists.
The Worldshaker world is also the world of its sequel, Liberator, and my latest steampunk novel, Song of the Slums. In fact, Song of the Slums is in a period of my alternative history closer to Napoleon's tunnel. But I think I'll have to come up with something new - and I'm guessing the 'real life' angle that'll go down well is the fact that I'm actually basing the experience of the steampunk band (who create rock n roll a hundred years before its time!) on my own experience as a muso in a band.
Journalists are madly busy people. Any material you supply for them to use will be much appreciated. Just don’t expect them to have read the book! Some will, and that’s a wonderful bonus. But be prepared to enthuse and entertain regardless.