Thursday, 16 July 2009

Jack of all trades


When I was first doing the submissions/rejections thing, I had an idealistic vision of post-publication life.

That is, I thought it would be pretty much the same as before.

I would have a book with my name on it, but other than that I'd still be sitting in the same chair, writing another novel at the same computer. The only differences would be that I'd have a valid excuse for doing it, and if I was very lucky, I'd get the occasional PLR payment enabling me to treat myself to a Wispa.

How wrong I was! It turns out that being an author requires a multitude of skills – and some of them don't have an awful lot to do with writing.

There's web design, for example. Now, I'm not claiming that my website is the epitome of professionalism, but it's sure better than paying someone else to do it, and then having to email them every time I have a whim to change the colours, and wait around for a few days while they're working on a proper author's site or looking for their lost hamster or something.

Then there's designing event posters and flyers, maybe some bookmarks or promotional postcards... and in my case, labels for gimmicky miniature gin bottles. It makes life so much easier to know how to do all this, because what happens when you leave it to a publisher, event organiser or even a techie friend? That's right – nothing.

While computer skills aren't incongruous with being a writer, public speaking certainly is. Way back when I was a sixth-former, I signed up for a Toastmasters International course, dreading it but knowing it would be useful one day. And boy, has it been useful! If I hadn't had that chance to discover I was capable of it, I can only imagine how terrified I'd be at the thought of giving a reading or speaking to a library group. Even for an author like me, hanging by a thread on the shabby coat-tails of the Z-list, that kind of event is a vital part of promoting the book. And yet the paradox is that writing's a solitary occupation not necessarily done by the most confident or sociable people in the world.

Which brings us on to... telephone skills.

It's pathetic, isn't it? Many of us are scared to phone for a pizza, let alone call a festival organiser and persuade them that our presence will pull in the crowds. How can we ever phone a bookshop and beg to be allowed to do a signing? Well, we can't, so we turn to the more sensible, efficient and, most importantly, written method of communication - email.

The problem with email in the world of book promotion is that no one ever answers it. Ever. Not even to say “Get lost, scummy author, I have more important messages to attend to. Yes, that's right, the ones from pieces of toenail dirt.” So the only real option is to stammer into that archaic and frightening contraption, the telephone.

I don't think I ever will ever master the skill of being coherent on the phone, but I find the other non-writing aspects of being published great fun, and more glamorously author-like than I ever expected. The only trouble is, I'm doing so much of all this stuff that book 2 is in danger of falling by the wayside!
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Photo: Muris Kuloglija Kula

17 comments:

Fionnuala Kearney said...

See it all sounds fab Caro! Now that I know you can do it all, if/when I get published I'll pay you to design my web page! Mates rates of course... And you could give me a mini course on public speaking? I, too am crap on the phone so I may have to feel my own way through that one.
But hey, post publishing problems are still somehow a tad more interesting than the submission trail which I begin again in September. So - where do I get my hands on one of those mini gin bottles????

Julie P said...

I hate talking on the telephone too! I'm particularly bad when it comes to answer phones. I really hate then as I forget what I'm supposed to be saying; I stutter; I mix my words up, and I can never remember my own telephone number!!

As for giving a talk in public aaaarrrgghhhh!

Julie xx

Samantha Tonge said...

I am useless with the computer, but quite like public speaking (thank god i re-read that, i'd written pubic speaking which sounds horrific...)

I recently rang an agent to pitch my novel - first time - and put the phone down realizing i'd forgotten to tell them the title or that it was part of a series.

I suppose it's all a steep learning curve - yet another - and practise is the only way to improve.

All sounds very impressive, Caro!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

I guess writers have to be multi-skilled to begin with: creative enough to come up with ideas, tenacious enough to keep at it, punctilious enough to watch the small details, bold enough to express the terrifying. But oh, the telephone. I'd much, much rather write a novel than pick up that blessed thing and actually connect with some stranger. Which is weird, because the though of standing up and giving a reading isn't half as scary.
Would love to try Toastmasters.

Geraldine Ryan said...

Caro - when we met I don't think you said more than half a dozen words. (Too busy drinking!) But you did smile a great deal which made up for it! So I can see that phones might be a bit of an ordeal because they won't be able to see your smile.

I admire your techno ability, being totally rubbish at anything like that but I can see how all this stuff might get in the way of actually writing!

Caroline R said...

I think it is the lack of visual cues that are the problem with phoning, because my hearing isn't brilliant so I try to lip-read a bit when talking face-to-face. I did, however, manage a radio interview by phone for 35 mins recently and it went better than expected - probably because the interviewer was experienced at knowing when to speak and when to listen.

I'm really impressed at you phoning an agent, Sam!!

Fionnuala Kearney said...

Sam! You phoned an agent?!

(Can I have some of what that girl's having?) !

Samantha Tonge said...

Well, the website said you had to phone before subbing. Quite a good idea, really - avoids wasting time all around.

It's like anything, i suppose - once you've done it, it doesn't seem so bad.

CarolineG said...

Caro, I'm in awe of your public speaking and tech competance...and, hmm, then there's the brilliant novel... I hate you! Now let me have some of that gin :-)
Great post!

sarah fox said...

I heard Caro being interviewed on the radio - she really is very good at this 'speaking' thing. I think she could give us all lessons...a whole new venture!

Sarah

Caroline R said...

That reminds me, I was going to contact the radio station to ask for a copy of the programme, but I forgot!

emmadarwin said...

The remote radio thing is weird, though, isn't it. It makes you realise how much you depend on visual cues to make a conversation smooth, doesn't it, when you don't have them. It sounds as if it worked really well.

I don't mind the public speaking thing at all but I haven't been brave enough to phone a festival organiser yet. And I don't think I could ever, ever have phoned an agent. Respect to everyone who does!

Rosy T said...

I've never phoned anyone, ever, about anything book related - much too scary. I do letters or e-mails (mainly letters) and get nowhere. Or with bookshops I just go in and ask for an appointment to speak to a manager. Face to face I can do!

But it's the 'cold calling' aspect of lifting the phone that I hate - if someone rings me I am happy to burble away - and can manage radio interveiews similarly, without too much panic.

But - lift the receiver and dial an agent's number, Casey (or a festival organiser's number, Caro) and get coherent words out when someone answers? As Emma says: respect.

The Write Woman said...

Caroline, I feel so much better after reading your post! I've always hated making phone calls too - even after spending almost my entire working life as a medical secretary, dealing with calls from anxious and irate patients (or maybe because of that??). I learned to cope: I was even told I was good at it. I can do patience and sympathy, but what I find really hard is self-promotion, especially over the phone. Like you, I prefer e-mail, but you're right - most of them get ignored! But isn't it exciting when once in a while we actually get a REPLY! x

The Write Woman said...

PS - I love your website!

Samantha Tonge said...

Write Woman, i used to be a doctor's receptionist in another life, and i reckon that's helped me on the telephone - i think dealing with ill/irate members of the public prepares you for anything, telephone-wise!

Caroline R said...

Thanks WriteWoman - glad you like the site! I used to work in an NHS complaints department dealing with ill/irate people too and I think that's partly what has put me off using the phone!

You're right -it's very exciting when someone actually answers an email!