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On Being A Professional Novelist, by Helene Young

Jenn J McLeod has shared two excellent posts in June and July about author platforms. I thought she did a great job of setting out the things you need to consider as an author building a brand and then how to grow that.

She very kindly mentioned the way I’ve used my day job as a pilot to anchor my first three novels. Jenn’s post got me thinking about that double-edged sword. My early books were set in the world of coastal surveillance and formed a loosely linked trilogy. I received many wonderful emails from readers who enjoyed the flying sequences and their accuracy. It was heart warming.

My fourth novel was a separate story, which had little to do with aviation, and there was only one small sequence in the air. I did wonder when I was writing it if I would lose some readers who loved the flying as much as the stories. I wasn’t entirely surprised to receive several emails very quickly after release from readers who bemoaned the fact I hadn’t included more flying (thankfully, they all seemed to enjoy the new story).

There’s no easy fix for that as I can’t randomly add flying sequences into stories which are set in a coastal community without an airstrip. It was a good reminder that readers’ expectations can’t always be met, but if you’re going to change genre or indeed setting too much you need to be prepared that some readers may not follow you. A brand with a broad appeal will be easier to manage than one with a narrow focus.

There’s also been a great deal of debate on some of the blogs I follow about the need or the benefit of promoting your books and investing heavily in social media.

Writers Unboxed had an excellent post here:

It resonated very strongly with me. They make the point that at the end of the day even publishers don’t know why some book sales take off and go stratospheric while others languish, never delivering on their potential. All the Facebooking, Twittering or blogging won’t change that. For me it’s important to remember that all that social media stuff is a value add-on to the main game. The main game is writing the best possible book you can, submitting it in good shape on time to your publisher, or to your editor if you’re self-publishing, and then working through the edits to make it shine.

Over the last five years I’ve discovered that I happen to like blogging and I don’t mind chatting on Facebook, so they are the things I chose to do when I have a couple of spare minutes. Quite often I use it as my five minutes per hour break while I’m working on the main project. Often it relates to something I’m grappling with at the time. Sometimes it’s a photograph with a couple of lines.

I make sure I keep sight of the fact that all the Facebook and Google statistics will only tell me how many people have noticed me chatting away. It won’t tell me whether they are reading and enjoying my books or whether they’ve engaged with me as an author. The emails I receive are a much more accurate indication of that.

Kristen Lamb had a wonderful post about Five Traits of Successful Writers at her Warrior Writers Blog:

Two in particular stand out – self-discipline and perseverance. Writers work alone, unsupervised, and the temptation to idle the time away can be irresistible. The siren call of ‘building your brand’ will take you away from the nuts and bolts of writing that breakout novel, that next bestseller. Stay away from the rocks of the internet and the wiles of those good looking mermaids masquerading as new Twitter followers, block out their calls with your earphones.  Without a great product to sell, all the branding in the world won’t see you on the bestseller list.

My motto? All things in moderation.

Except perhaps for chocolate.


Helene Young’s author website:

Helene Young’s bio page


Wings of FearShattered SkyBurning LiesHalf Moon Bay     Stillwater CreekSavage Tide

Writing Novels in Australia

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jenn J McLeod | Come home to the country... #

    Why thank you, Ms Young. Moderation is the very best advice. My dad has said those words to me ALL MY LIFE!!!!!!

    July 24, 2013
  2. Lol, Jenn, your posts really made me look at my own brand so that was excellent! Hopefully some of the advice I’m sharing in this post will resonate with writers in different stages of their journey.

    Your dad and my dad must have been cut from the same cloth!

    July 24, 2013
  3. Helene and Jenn, you ladies do not know how inspirational you’ve been to me. I’m looking forward to putting what I’ve learned to good use.

    July 24, 2013
  4. So very happy to help, Elizabeth 🙂

    July 24, 2013
  5. What a helpful explanation for some of the mysteries.

    July 25, 2013
  6. Thanks, Mary!

    July 26, 2013
    • Question: How do you find time to hold down (or, in your case, up) a day job…?

      July 27, 2013

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