Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Marketing the Intangible - Chris Chalmers

Marketing the Intangible. Or How I Unleashed My E-novel on a Largely Indifferent World.

If anyone ought to have an inkling of how to sell something that isn’t actually there, it’s me. I’ve spent a fair few of my 20-odd years as an advertising copywriter selling mortgages, pet insurance, mobile phone tariffs and a dozen other things that don’t, in any physical sense, exist. And isn’t that also the case with an e-book? Don’t be fooled by that sexy little thumbnail on Amazon – beyond the boundaries of your digitally generated Kindle screen, there’s nothing there at all...
Chris Chalmers, author of Five to One

I was thrilled to be published, of course – it had been a long old slog, as it is for most of us. But when I heard that Five To One had won a debut novel comp run by a digital publisher and was going to see e-print at last, there was no stopping that irksome voice at the back of my head from popping a few champagne bubbles with the words:  Oh, well you’ll not be signing any copies of that then...

It’s true, e-publication comes with one or two drawbacks that the print-endowed are spared... Elderly relatives ask you endlessly when your book’s out in paperback... There’s no wobbly stack of copies to manoeuvre an hour early into readings, so you can bag the best spot on the table... And as you sound out your local bookshop for a little light publicity, they look at you like you’ve just suggested squatting in their window and gnawing on the ankle of a tethered E. L. James. (On second thoughts, they’d probably go for that on grounds of brand-appropriateness – hers, not mine...)

So how do you publicise an e-book? Answer: You take stock of what you’ve got and you run with it.

Non-fiction’s easier, obviously. Write a book about Ju Jitsu and, a few clicks on from Google, you’ve got the email address of every club in the UK and beyond.  With fiction, it’s harder to find your audience. But, as a clever publishing friend of mine pointed out, my novel had one thing going for it: location, location, location... Five To One is set in London SW4, and it traces the path of four lives that converge when a helicopter crashes on Clapham Common at 12.55 on a sunny afternoon.

Aha, Clapham Common! Kindle-Central if ever there was one...

Back on Google and four days later I’m taking delivery of 5,000 full colour, double sided postcards, just perfect for pushing through letterboxes and signing for adoring fans. Admittedly the latter hasn’t happened much, and even the former was stymied by the approximately 30% of doors in Clapham South that sport that very un-sporting NO JUNK MAIL sticker (...Junk? My book? How very dare they...) It’s taken three, day-long expeditions – two sunny, one sodden – but nearly all have now been distributed round those chi-chi streets fringing the famous  Common. How my pavement pounding has translated in terms of sales I don’t know for sure, but I did notice a definite blip in the Amazon rankings within a day or two of each door-drop.

On top of that, I’ve inveigled myself into readings and onto author panels at venues as diverse as the Royal Festival Hall, The Hootenanny pub in Brixton and The Ivy Club in WC2. I’ve had an article in Writing Magazine (where I came across the fateful competition in the first place; hey, it may look like Woman’s Realm but it’s all good stuff...) I’m now on my fourth local radio interview, and continuing to blog, tweet and FB myself into the consciousness of as many people as possible. That said, the social media thing is one area I don’t feel I’ve mastered yet. I’m like a wasp trapped in a jam jar, making lots of noise that I’m not convinced is projecting very far.

And naturally I’ve taken gratuitous advantage of my advertising roots, by touting a 30 minute presentation round agencies called Published at Last – a Tale of 9 Years, 4 Books and the Small Matter of an E-revolution. Ad agencies like a bit of show-and-tell with their lunch on vaguely arty topics from the outside world (it makes them feel less guilty) and, like everything else, it’s a useful for getting the word out... It’s also furnished me with another nifty publicity idea courtesy of a member of the audience – namely, slipping my Five To One postcard into bookshop copies of John Lanchester’s Clapham-set Capital.

I haven’t had the bottle to do it yet, but it’s a good wheeze. And any other suggestions welcome...

Five to One, by Chris Chalmers

About the writer:
Chris Chalmers arrived unexpectedly following a Beatles' concert at Southport Floral Hall when his mum was induced by the stomping. He's travelled to 40 countries, swum with iguanas and proposed marriage in front of 60 elephants. He was also once the understudy on Mastermind (sadly, no one tripped on the green room stairs). His first novel, Five To One is now available on Amazon and he’s currently looking for a home for the next one. More information at


Thrifty Gal said...

Great post, Chris! I know what you mean about the lack of physical product: my 1st two books were print, but my new one is digital and sometimes it doesn't feel like it exists!

Derek said...

Thanks Chris, that reads like a masterclass in promotional work! How did you 'sell' the idea of the presentation to the audience though? Just looking for hints.

I did a book-signing once and three people turned up. One of those people told us that she could write something like we had because 'it looks pretty easy to do'. My co-author and I could have lived with all that, but the shop pre-bought around 50 copies to sell on the day. And the local press showed no interest before or afterwards. I think the angle is all-important. News - even PR - has to have a context and relevance.

Chris Chalmers said...

Hi Derek...

It's not too difficult when the audience is one that partly knows you anyway (I've been in advertising a long time and have so far only approached agencies where I'm known in some capacity).

And in the case of ad agencies, they're rammed to the rafters with frustrated artists of all kinds, so your chances of a bit of interest are quite good!


Caroline Green said...

Have just finished reading Five to One and really enjoyed it!