Some of you might have noticed that I’ve taken a break from blogging, yet I wasn’t seeping port and watching talent shows while lying on a hammock under a leafy palm. In April, aside from scientific adventures, I’ve published a new book, attended London Book Fair, then the Russian Prize awards ceremony in Moscow, flew across eight time zones in Russia back and forth, and translated my debut novel, Mr Right and Wrong, into Russian.
I’ll start with the 6th Russian Literature Festival Slovo, which included talks and workshops by Russian celebrity authors at the Waterstones flagship bookstore in Piccadilly, London. The retro-crime fiction star, Boris Akunin, opened the festival by discussing the profession of writer with a fellow author Jeremy Noble. Akunin mentioned that apart from writing his stories for sheer entertainment he’s interested in exploring the phenomenon of villain. Every book of his features a unique kind of villain, and he’s particularly pleased when the reader is confused whom to root for: the protagonist or his archenemy.
I mention Akunin specifically, since he has just released a new fabulous collection of three novellas called The Planet Water, another book in the series about the private sleuth Erast Fandorin, that will be without doubt translated into many languages, and which I have just finished reading. Fandorin’s character is now pretty mature and rounded, but the fate still throws stones at him challenging his worldview. Here we have exotic locations: Caribbean, Canary Islands, Central Europe and Ural Mountains; political intrigue (Anglo-German pre-WWI tensions, the rise of Bolshevism) and, as always, effortlessly readable, yet inventive prose. Akunin does extensive research before writing his retro-detective books, yet he said that he doesn’t read fiction anymore, he’s afraid of being stylistically influenced by other authors. I would argue that reading fiction in a foreign language shouldn’t affect his writing in Russian.
Moving on to London Book Fair, it was a third one in a row I attended. This year it had changed location and was hosted at London Olympia exhibition centre. Most of the time I spent at Author HQ lounge to get the feeling of the publishing industry zeitgeist. The ebook and self-publishing tsunami has passed, the competition is fiercer than ever, and no quick tips to stardom were revealed. It’s all about being the best you can in everything: writing, packaging, and marketing. One common idea was reappearing in talks: authenticity and uniqueness.
As a writer you need to stand out from the crowd, yet to do so genuinely. The audience has acute sense for authenticity. In the non-fiction section presenting her new biography in English, a bearded lady Conchita Wurst, the last year’s Eurovision winner, was talking exactly about that. No matter how controversial her act was, she was sticking to it fearlessly: the act wasn’t a gimmick to attract media coverage but an alter ego of Thomas Neuwirth, a person behind her. The lad grew up listening to Shirley Bassey songs and wanted, like his idol, to sing and perform, and in the end he did follow his dream. A beard on a drag queen is not exactly a novelty. But it worked in this case, because the beard was a symbol of Conchita’s proud-to-be-different persona. So, a tip to note: make sure your quirky bits are an integral part of your brand not just a gimmick.
The same can be applied to writing. It is about our voice being unique and coming from the heart, not about following trends while pursuing wealth and celebrity status. With millions of authors around, being you is the only viable option.
Now about the technology. LBF2015 once again tackled the problem of standing out from the crowd. New marketing strategies have emerged. And they are all about trying out something new. A proven strategy gets old and inefficient when overused. The on-going novelty is the key.
An author called Karen Healey Wallace presented her self-published book, The Perfect Capital, that won several design awards and sold a thousand of copies, which, considering $20 price tag for a print copy, is a huge achievement. She approached the problem of ‘how to stand out on a bookshelf at a bookstore’. The overall galley-copy look and smart typography makes her book an eye-catcher. It could have been yet another generic looking self-published literary fiction novel that no bookstore wants. Publishing books is like dating: you want to look your best and wow potential partner on the first date. Only then, you’ll get the chance to reveal your rich inner world later on.
I find it useful to interact with professionals outside my field: it broadens your perspective. For that reason, I’ve attended Julia Harvey’s talk on ‘marketing tips for tech start-ups’. A lot of that applies to self-publishing, as it’s a form of start-up. Lessons I learned, which were beautifully illustrated with some real life business cases, can be summarised in bullet points:
- Be passionate about what you do because your passion translates to your customers
- Do the tweaking, keep testing things, constantly learn what works and what doesn’t, because in this overcrowded industry nimble authors, who are not afraid to experiment, win.
- Following that, use analytics tools such as Google Analytics, to see what’s working and what’s not. Collect as much data as you can, you will be surprised how useful it may turn out later on.
- Interact with people, build networks. Writing may be a solitary thing, but self-publishing doesn’t have to be. By networking you’re spreading the word about your brand and creating for yourself more opportunities.
You may contact Julia at @marketingjulia or #7startupsecrets.
One of the things I am interested in as an author is reaching international audiences. I have a book translated into Chinese and published in China last Christmas. So, I attended a talk about engaging the Chinese reading audience (more readers than US and Europe put together), and the information it contained could be applied to audiences speaking other languages.
If you have your author website, it’s also good to have:
- Key message in multiple languages
- Meta-data optimised for Chinese visitors (or other audiences)
- Small tools for foreign visitors
- Localisation integrated automatically, for instance, redirection to country-specific Amazon book pages
- Local partners who will help to spread the word about your book (product).
So, LBF ended but left plenty of food for my thought.
Those of you who are passionate about the news of Russian literature, will be interested to know that after LBF I flew to Moscow where I’ve attended an award ceremony of Russian Prize (Русская Премия), annually celebrating works of the authors living outside Russia but writing in Russian.
The award is organised by the Yeltsin Centre with participation of Naina Yeltsin, the Russian ex-first lady. The winners were:
BEST POETRY – Jan Kaplinsky (Estonia) for Белые Бабочки Ночи
BEST SHORT PROSE – Yuri Serebryansky (Poland) for Пражаки
BEST NOVEL – Alexei Makushinsky (Germany) for Пароход в Аргентину
If you live outside Mother Russia, you can submit your own precious writing in Russian here to be considered for the next year’s awards.
And finally, ta-dah, I reveal the teaser Russian cover of my debut novel, Mr Right & Mr Wrong. I’m now looking for a publisher in Russia, fingers crossed.
I hope your spring was no less eventful.