Tuesday 12 July 2016

Latest on the Book World from #RNAConf16

Pretty scenery from traffic jam on M6 just outside Lancaster
Last weekend I drove up to Lancaster for the Romantic Novelists' Association's ("RNA") Conference. The university campus is huge, and it’s easy to get lost-thankfully there were lots of lovely students around on the Saturday with ‘How Can I Help?’ signs to direct us to where we needed to go.

Because of the driving distance from where I live in Surrey-Lancaster (500 mile round trip) and M6 traffic on the way, unfortunately I missed Liz Fenwick and Brigid Coady’s talk on Author marketing-brand, plan and goals (which I heard was great); and the talks on Sunday too. Here are the main points from the talks I attended:

L-R: Carole Blake, Felicity Trew, Alison May, Iona Grey, Freda Lightfoot
Building Your Writing Career with Alison May (chair), Carole Blake (agent), Iona Grey (author), Freda Lightfoot (author) and Felicity Trew (agent).

I arrived late to this talk, due to the M6 traffic mentioned above, but was pleased to make some of it, as I’ve heard Carole Blake speak a few times, and she always gives very useful advice. Carole will be speaking at the upcoming Historical Novel Society Conference in Oxford, 2-4 September (which I’m doing the publicity for), and I look forward to seeing the panel, The Next Big Thing in Historical Fiction on 3 Sept with David Headley, Jane Johnson, Nick Sayers and Simon Taylor. Carole will also be doing a talk on Foreign Rights and Translation, 4 Sept with Vanora Bennett, and Louise Rogers Lalaurie.

Social media:
  • Carole Blake said that social media is about getting your name recognisable so that it stands out in a shop.
  • Iona Grey said that Twitter is her natural home and feels more like a conversation. Facebook doesn’t feel as natural to her, and she’s discovered Instagram through her children.
What an author shouldn’t do to have a sustainable career:
  • Carole Blake told an anecdote about one of her authors who was rude to a publisher’s receptionist and an editor, and he was subsequently dropped as her client.
  • Freda Lightfoot said not to talk politics on Facebook, don’t be rude to your publisher and keep personal opinions to yourself on social media.
  • Carole Blake said that the more reviews an author gets, the better 
  • Jean Fullerton, from the audience added not to answer a bad review.
  • Carole Blake said that it's harder to get an agent than a publisher, and she advised to get contracts vetted by the Society of Authors, who will tell you which points to negotiate; and not to go with the first agent offer.

L-R: Kate Bradley and Alex Brown
Kate Bradley (Senior Commissioning Editor at HarperCollins) and Alex Brown (bestselling author at HarperCollins): Writing a commercial novel:

Kate Bradley and Alex Brown gave a really interesting talk, packed with information in easy-to-understand language; and I have lots of notes, so here goes…

Kate Bradley said:
  • A commercial novel is one that lots of people want to buy through lots of different channels, such as supermarkets, High Street (WH Smiths, Waterstones to a lesser extent); Amazon, iBooks, Google Books, Kobo. The target audience is fine-tuned depending on customers, for example the audience would be different in Sainsbury’s from Morrisons.
  • Kate has never bought a book as a publisher without thinking about who the end customer is.
  • Commerical is what people are feeling right now: at the moment, there’s a trend for teashops, cupcakes, vintage, cosy.
  • It’s easy to build a familiar framework for somewhere like Paris, than say Lancaster.
  • The term chick lit is being replaced by rom com, but the term rom com doesn’t work for chick lit which isn’t funny.
  • Grip lit is women’s fiction with a dark edge
  • There’s been a shift towards older heroines, and Alex said that in her 40s she found it difficult to write about a heroine in her 20s (I’ve had the same problem, and can understand why, as life for a twenty-something is so different from how it was for me back in the 1990s).
  • There’s a new emerging genre aimed at older readers with books by Dawn French, Celia Imrie and Erica James who are writing about forty and fifty-somethings, books aimed at people with different experiences of life.
L-R: Ian Skillicorn, Katy Haye, Tracy Bloom
Tracy Bloom (author), Katy Haye (author), Ian Skillicorn (publisher at Corazon Books): the business of self-publishing.

Even though this talk was aimed at those interested in self-publishing, there were a lot of tips and good advice for all authors. I follow many self-published authors online, and have noticed before that they are often way ahead with their marketing, and there are many useful blog posts out there with advice by successful self-published authors.

Tracy Bloom, author of No-one Ever Has Sex on a Tuesday, said:

  • You need to go and find the skills in editing, proofreading, cover design, formatting and marketing.
  • Romance works well in self-publishing
  • Design a thumbnail that stands out in a group of covers on Amazon, and the title should stand out
  • Think like a consumer when marketing
  • Find book bloggers who are writing about your kind of book
  • Target those most likely to be interested in your book
  • Build relationships with your readers, this is key
  • Don’t be shy with local marketing, ask friends to read and write an honest review; try local press and radio, find out what makes you interesting locally
  • Send your book to journalists who write about issues in your field
  • Use MailChimp for newsletters and data capture
  • Use Twitter and Facebook Page
  • Use Facebook ads on Facebook Page, test it to see what works; Mark Dawson’s whole model is based on Facebook advertising. Watch his free videos and listen to his podcasts.
  • On Amazon use key words which drive the charts you are in, go for smaller charts first, then go for bigger ones; there’s a whole science to learn about.
  • Keep following what’s going on in the world of publishing, get daily emails from The Bookseller.

Ian Skillicorn, publisher at Corazon Books, which publishes backlists from authors including Catherine Gaskin, said:
  • Keep hold of contracts and refer back to them before self-publishing a backlist
  • It’s never been easier for an author to self-publish a backlist, although it’s not as easy to get a book into a paying reader’s hands.
  • Do you have the time, skills, budget needed? It’s unlikely that a book would become a bestseller without some money used to promote it.
  • Learn from others with podcasts and forums
  • There are tax and legal considerations
  • Use social media effectively, including Facebook adverts
  • In newsletters, ask whether anyone would like to review an upcoming book
  • Reviews are important; ask anyone given a review copy to state that it was given to them by the publisher for an honest review
  • Promote other books in back matter, the part at the end of your book
  • Keep up-to-date with the publishing industry, one of the biggest risks is being left behind

That’s it, lots of bullet points to absorb! 

I really enjoyed the social side of the conference too, catching up with many authors I know online. Click here for my Facebook album, but I'm posting a couple of my favourites here too:

Me and the lovely Adrienne Vaughan
Have to include this one, as we all loved Jean Fullerton's beautiful dress:

L-R: Karen Aldous, Jean Fullerton, Adrienne Vaughan
In other news:

There are three places left (as at 13 July) on my Social Media Course for Writers on 8 October in London. Find out more via my website and email anitajchapman at gmail dot com to book a place.

I shall be focussing on my writing over the summer, so I won’t be around as much on Twitter and Facebook. I have to get my work in progress finished, and start the next one, which I have already planned out. 

Hope you have a great summer, and see you in September, when I’ll be back to report on the Historical Novel Society Conference in Oxford! There are still a few places left for this conference, find out more via the website.

My posts on The RNA Conference 2015:


  1. Brilliant summing up of brilliant conference. Great work and huge thanks for all involved. Adrienne X

  2. Thanks for sharing all you learned Anita.

    1. Thanks for reading, Rosie. I did know some of this already, as I read a lot of blog posts on book marketing and social media; and use some of these ideas with my clients-but it's great to hear industry leaders and those experienced in self-publishing saying the same things :)

  3. Thanks for the great post, Anita – really useful. :-) x

    1. Thanks for reading, Clare! Glad it was useful :) x

  4. Another wonderful, informative post, Anita. : ) Recommended your post re how to use Twitter lists to several friends over the weekend. Might be worth re-posting?

    1. Thanks so much, Rae! Goodness-sorry I missed this comment as must have been on hol when you posted it :)