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What a fictional character can teach you about being a creative entrepreneur.

 

In my latest novel, my main character, Tabitha Riley, is a terrible example of what it takes to survive as a writer. She lost her job at a main newspaper following an injunction issue, and tries to make ends meet as a freelancer.

 

Is it possible to survive as a freelancer? Sure, with lots of hard work. You have to be out there promoting yourself, making contacts, writing non-stop, taking contracts. And even then you usually have to have another job. Perhaps, if you’ve been working at a major newspaper, you’ll get some regular magazine work, but those cheques aren’t particularly inspiring. 

 

So Tabby relies on her mother, as a twenty-six year old writer. I’m not saying you shouldn’t accept help, a lot of us do, but when you depend on a parental figure for your ‘allowance’, you never quite get the independence that freelancing embodies.

 

But what does Tabby do right?

 

-She knows what she’s worth, and when given an opportunity, refuses to work for nothing. Interning can be powerful if you want to learn a new skill, or get the inside scoop on a market you’re interested in cornering. Working for free doing what you’ve been doing for years? No way.

 

-She knows where her value lies- her audience. Tabby writes a ridiculously popular blog called ‘Miss Twisted Thinks’ where she rants about things. For some reason, this becomes a hit, and a newspaper wants to give her a column. She knows, and the paper knows, that it’s her reach that they’re interested in gaining. Don’t be precious about why people want you, the point is that they do.

 

 

  • She uses social media to create relationships. It’s easy to follow people and never interact with them. It’s easy to feel out of the loop- but twitter allows for those one off ‘favourites’ and comments that you’d feel awkward giving in real life. Bugging your friends on facebook to like your page is a standard way to interact. Remember what Forster said: ‘only connect’.

 

If you want to hear more from Tabby, here’s my novel The Last Word

Or if you’re still not sure, you can read some reviews here

 

@almichael

 

www.almichael.com

 
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Five Ways to Know If a Creative Project is Worth Your Time

As writers, artists and other creative entrepreneurs, we are often asked to do things for free. Or worse, we’re given ‘opportunities’ that turn out to be free labour. From internships to magazine work, freebies are a part of the creative work environment. But how do you know if you’re wasting your time?

1. You’re Getting Paid

Obviously, you’ll decide if it’s worth it- but if you get paid for what you do, that’s a good sign that it’s worth doing. Not only are you making moolah, but being paid is a legitimising factor. It’s a symbol of professionalism, and a mark of respect. And once someone pays you, the likelihood it they’ll continue, as will others who want your services.

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2.Feedback

There’s a reason facebook is so powerful, and it’s not its addictive quality or ability to pander to nosiness. It’s because of the information it holds. People’s likes and dislikes, their hobbies and preferences matter. And they should matter to you. If you get the chance to get feedback, professional or otherwise- it’s invaluable. It can help you hone your skills, get testimonials which can lead to further work. It’s also useful in marketing because you’ll know what your audience likes, and know where to focus your advertising.

 

3.Contacts

No artist is an island, and the greatest thing we can do is find contacts in our field. They might promote your work, they might pass opportunities your way. They might just be someone who works the same way you do, and can make you feel like you’re not so alone. This artistic life can be a bit lonely, and the more people you know, the easier your life becomes. Just don’t get sucked into trying to attend everything- be as supportive as you can.

 

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4. It’s good advertising.

Sometimes doing a freebie is worth it if it’s going to lead to further work. This summer I’ll be running a Write Here, Write Now writing workshop for kids as part of the Finchley Literary Festival. I’m doing this for free. But the hope is that the kids and parents who attend will know who I am and what I’m about, and know where to find me if they want to do further lessons. It’s also a great chance to give out some flyers, talk to interested people, and generally find out who is in the area. Doing too many of these freebies isn’t advisable, as people tend to think you’re willing to work for free. But the occasional work to get you into a new area, especially when you know people in that field are doing well, is very worth it. 

5. You enjoy it!

 

Sometimes, you won’t get paid for doing what you love, but if you love it, it can be worth it. I ran a creative writing workshop every week where only one child turned up. Technically, it would have been smarter to scrap the workshop and focus on new revenue streams, or writing my book, but I LOVED working with this kid. He was excited and talented and really appreciated the time I spent with him. And that excitement invigorated me in the rest of my work. Sometimes we forget about the joy- it’s a necessary component!

 

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Guest Post: Are You Overworked and Underplayed?

Excited to have Steven Sparling from The Thriving Creative doing a guest post today. I was featured on The Thriving Creative on Saturday, and it’s always the first place I go to for creative business knowledge!

 

As creative people, we can sometimes be a little OCD. You know how you get that great idea and suddenly NOTHING will stand in the way of you completing it. You forgo sleep. You skip bathing. You avoid Facebook and email in order to burn the candle at both ends.

And what happens?

Often you see what started out as a really good idea gets the life choked out of it as you surround it like a helicopter parent smothering it will love, labour and attention.

You’ve overworked your creative idea to death.

What went wrong?

You (and your idea) became overworked and underplayed.

Can you recognise the signs of overworking?

Try these on for size.
• are you bored with life?
• does everything feel like an uphill slog?
• do the things that once brought you joy now seem stale?

I’ve been feeling this way lately. Not really wanting to sing. Finding it a chore to sit and the computer and write. Not even wanting to leave the house.

But that feeling has shifted.

I can attribute it to two things.

1. Spring has arrived here in London. We’ve had some nice sunny days lately and I’ve been making a real effort to get outside for walks (I even tentatively started a running programme with the aptly named app ‘from couch to 5K’).

2. I’ve been re-reading The Artists Way by Julia Cameron and doing the exercises.

Every seven years, or so, I revisit this evergreen book. And every time I do it opens up new doors for me. So the question, “are you overworked & underplayed” is Cameron’s.

Her point is that when we get ‘stuck in’ with our creative practice, it can sometimes start to feel like work. When you are trying to meet deadlines, or trying to make things happen on the business front, or paying attention to your website, or keeping an eye on the bank balance (all the things that I advocate at The Thriving Creative http://www.thethrivingcreative.com) it can sometimes make it start to feel like….. well a job…. or a career.

Which it is.

But it’s also an art form. And art and creativity DIE without a sense of PLAY.

What we have to master is the ability to change roles. At times we need to put our adult hat on to update a spreadsheet tracking pending invoices, or to write the web copy for your website, or to make cold calls to potential customers.

But then you equally need to tap into that playful fun inner child and let him or her loose with the crayons and the spray paint and silly hats.

When we’re overworked and underplayed we just get BORING and BORED. And then everything seems like work.

So. Here’s three things to think about:

1. Schedule blocks of time for business work and EQUAL blocks of time for Play. If you spend 6 hours on the business and give yourself 30 minutes to play (or create) you are going to end up back in that overworked and underplayed place. On the flip side (and this is where many artists start) is that you give yourself 6 hours to play and only 30 minutes to deal with the business side — this leads to starvation. So schedule equal times for them.

2. Find ways to sneak play into the business work. Just because you are sorting out your finances doesn’t mean you can’t make a game out of them. Since January, I’ve been using Toshl (www.toshl.com) to track my finances. I chose it because unlike all the other software programmes I looked at, this one was fun. There are monsters, bright colours and funny sayings that pop up. It makes me laugh every time I use it. So I am accomplishing a business task (tracking my outgoings and incomings) while at the same time I am still keeping it fun.

3. Again borrowing from Julia Cameron — once per week get yourself out of the house, or out of the studio, and go out in the world for an ‘artist’s date.’ A time (even an hour) where you do something fun with no aim or objective attached to it. Time where you explore, get stimulated and reconnect with the pleasure of being amongst real people and fresh ideas. It might be a trip to a museum or it might be a visit to a flower market. It can be as high-brow or low-brow as you want AS LONG AS IT’S FUN. [Confession: I still find this one hard to do. I find it really hard to make time for this to happen. But every time I do, it’s like someone has lit a fire under my creativity.]

That’s it. Three ways to bring more fun into your life.

So next time you feel that cloud starting to hover over you and your creative work, know that it’s a pretty clear sign you need to go outside and play.

 

 

Steven Sparling is an actor, writer and teacher. He is a PhD candidate in Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He teaches voice at the London College of Music, leads creative entrepreneurship workshops at Be Smart About Art and has appeared as an actor in the West End, in feature films and on tour throughout the UK and Canada. For weekly insight into creative entrepreneurship and how you can begin to thrive in your creative career, please visit http://www.thethrivingcreative.com and sign up for the free monthly newsletter.

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Writing for Wellbeing Workshop- this April!

 This workshop will use fun techniques to improve confidence, self esteem, and help us access our memories and stories! You don’t have to be a writer, you just have to be open to it!

 

When: Saturday 26th April – 10am-4pm

Where: The Amber Lounge, Underhill Stadium, Barnet, EN5 2DN

Cost: £65 – includes all handouts and writing tools, plus tea/coffee, snacks and a delicious lunch!

Where can I book? 

Right here!

As we like to keep this very intimate, we have very limited places, so please book early. If we don’t have space this time, please email and we’ll book you on the next!

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Sacrificing Stability for Creativity.

 

We make a living behaving like children- creativity is the last vestige of childhood, it remains within a few of us, unhindered by bills and mortgages and the responsibilities of adulthood. We all have the potential for creativity, we’ve just forgotten it in the wake of more present worries.

Yesterday, my father pointed out to me that I would never build a life without a nine to five job. He said life is about sacrifice, and that the way to get a mortgage and a home and the nice things every adult wants, is to get up at an ungodly hour each morning, work at a job I hate, and then come home and enjoy the spoils.

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That made me sad. Mainly because that’s what he’s been doing for over thirty years, but also because lots of people still seem to have this skewed view of the self-employed professional.  

If you are not passionate about the process of your work, then of course you are going to be passionate about the spoils. But I am passionate about the work I do. I will sacrifice the chance at a mortgage, at having extra money, at extravagant holidays and expensive jewellery, just so I can do what I do. So what does that leave me, the realisation that, at least in my father’s eyes, I am not building a career for myself? 

 

Except, a career isn’t built on wages. It’s built on reputation, on success, on recognition, on improvement and growth. Now, of course, profitability comes into it, we need to survive. But the realisation I had was that it doesn’t take much to make me happy- a little flat, enough money for fruit, and the occasional gig or show somewhere, and the fact that I get to write, and I’m pretty darn ecstatic.

 

So, by living happily, am I ignoring my future? No. Everything I do works towards making my name synonymous with what I do. Towards earning what I’m owed, having the confidence in my abilities, building up the experience and knowledge so that I can be the best I possibly can. What is that if not building for my future?

 

My generation is not the generation of mortgages and marriages and money. We are the scroungers, the interns, the jokers, the survivors, and it will be that way for quite a few years more, I’d guess. But the building we do to our futures, the foundations that we are setting right now are in our experiences, our friendships, our loves and our losses. We are beginning to define ourselves right now, as artists and as people. We are always working on our future, no matter what.

So keep building, keep creating, keep dreaming. Because that’s what gets you through.

 

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Andi Says RELAX

 

 

When people ask me what my main strength is, I don’t tend to say writing. I tend to say enthusiasm. I am like a child. Give me a task and I’ll see an adventure. On the right day, I may even jump up and down and clap my hands. I love what I do. I love writing, teaching, reading, editing and helping people learn to harness their gift. But goddamn, it’s exhausting sometimes.

Creative Entrepreneurship teaches us that, as artists, we are likely to get our wages from a variety of income streams. The more strings to your bow, the more you can make. Now, I’m not saying a 9-5 isn’t exhausting, but this whole multiple income streams business makes me look like I’m vibrating on a different frequency. You have to be able to switch between projects pretty quickly, as well as travelling, planning, executing, arranging and looking out for new opportunities whilst making sure you don’t lose the ones you already have. Plus there’s social media, which can’t be ignored. What’s the point of doing all this work if no-one knows about it?

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I wasn’t this exhausted when I worked a PAYE job, and worked for myself part time. And I got up at 5am most days.

This is the question: Should we do many things, and do them well enough, or do a few and do them brilliantly?

When you split your income stream, you split your focus. If you have to teach to make more money immediately, then the novel gets put on the backburner in order to plan a lesson. Do we end up prioritising away the whole reason for this lifestyle?

When your job splits down into five or six different jobs, and then you consider the average tasks that come with being a human- paying bills, grocery shopping, socialising, doing laundry, going to the bank….how do we ever get stuff done?

I think I’ve found the answer. Or rather, I’ve known the answer all along, I’m just incapable of sticking to it:

CALM THE HELL DOWN.

Frazzled, exhausted minds do not do good work. Unless you’re Hemingway. Or Kerouac.

If we are our own boss, we need to treat ourselves nicely. We need to know when to switch off the laptop, put down the pen, turn off the phone, and STOP WORRYING. We need to sleep well, eat good food, exercise. Spend time thinking about things that aren’t work. Stop thinking that we’re not going to survive if we don’t do it ALL RIGHT NOW. Make plans with friends and stick to them, prioritise them over the chance to make a little more money.

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I’m terrible at this. I’m an overachiever, right until I burn out and spend weeks feeling ill and depressed. And then obviously it’s so much harder to get back to work with that attitude. Balance. That is what we need, and what I’ve been searching for. We all know the basics: Eat well, exercise, work, learn, socialise, have fun, create, sleep.

I used to think the busier I LOOKED, the more successful I was. This isn’t true. You think you’re juggling balls and spinning plates like a pro, when actually you look like a run-down jittery maniac running on coffee and determination. No-one approves of that person, because their work is destroying them. That’s not smart.

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So, next week I will be on holiday. Problem being I’ve already agreed to do a proofread on a client’s novel and set myself the task of polishing up one of my novels for perusal by an interested publisher. So I’ve pretty much just agreed to sit doing two weeks worth of work in 5 days. Why did I do that? Because I looked at them and thought ‘Ooh, those days are free!’ THAT IS THE WAY THEY’RE MEANT TO STAY. My holiday is usually for reading and writing, but in a non-uniformed, enjoyable and open way. No goals, just fun. And I’m not saying I won’t be sitting there with a cocktail in hand whilst I do it, but the lesson has yet to be learnt.

We need time to ourselves, to heal and reboot and relax. So I hope you can learn from my mistakes!

 

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Wine Dark Sea Blue- A Look Back at the Book Launch

So, it’s been a while since the book launch for Wine Dark, Sea Blue, and life is still getting back into it’s own little rhythm.

I have been assured by everyone it was a wonderful night. (Am I reminding anyone of Mrs Elton in Austen’s Emma? Where she flatters herself by saying how much other people enjoy her company?) To be honest, I was buzzing around like a bumblebee on crack, so I’m kind of depending on everyone else’s opinions here.

So the UEA INTO Launch started earlier in the day, with a wonderful speech from Professor Sarah Churchwell (Who you can find out more about here). It was so great to hear a writer and lecturer who didn’t know me at all really get what I was trying to achieve with this novel. To have someone who knows good writing understand my themes and narratives, and the point of my writing just made the day for me. 

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Then we went down to Dirty Dicks Pub, where festivities were about to begin! Opening the show was Northern Irish writer Louise Davidson, who has also helped me with work on The DumbSaint Project. It was then followed by a ‘thrown voice’ poetry show by Joe McBride and Joe Shefer, exploring the voiceless poet. We had a spoken word/sound art collaboration with Victoria Karlsson (using Joe McBride’s work- you can listen here). Poetry from Stairwell Books’ Rose Drew. Songs from the excellent Emma Weston, accompanied by Sam Weston. And then onto partying with The Elisa Jeffery Collective!

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So, my advice for a launch?

  • Pre-sign ALL THE BOOKS. Sure, it’s nice to write specific messages, but it’ll take time and make your life difficult.
  • Get someone else to deal with ALL the OTHER SHIT. You will not have the time to greet people, sign books, sell, check the state of the nibbles and make sure the band have leads etc. Get HELP
  • Themed cupcakes are always a winner
  • Provide entertainment but maybe not too much entertainment
  • Maybe trust that when you invite your friends, and they invite their friends, you probably will have enough people!
  • It’s your night! Take the time to enjoy it!
  • Merchandise is fun!
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Wine Dark Sea Blue- Out now!

So, over this last year or so, the goal has been to get published. Yay, level up! The next goal is to sell those books.

Wine Dark, Sea Blue is a coming of age story. It’s about London, the recession, finding comfort in strangers, escapism, loyalty, and never really knowing how to say the things you want to say. It’s about secret keeping, family connections, unsaid truths and making art.

You can buy Wine Dark, Sea Blue from my publisher Stairwell Books. It will soon be available on Amazon and kindle, but please bear in mind, if you want to support the author and publisher, don’t buy hard copy books from Amazon, buy them straight from the source.

I’ll be blogging about the launch party and how it went (fantastically!) but for now, get hold of your copy, and show how much you’ve enjoyed it by posting a pic of yourself with the book, and hashtagging #almichael #winedarkseablue like all these lovely people have done! Get involved!

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How to Make Art and Influence Your Bank Balance

(Or ‘Why I’m Poor’)

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Having been spreading the gospel of creative entrepreneurship left, right and centre, you think I would have figured out how to be a millionaire by now. Sadly not. It still remains that often creative fulfilment and the ability to buy a pair of Louboutins are not aligned.

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I am (technically) quite successful at the moment. I am working, I am getting published, I’m moving into the area of adult creative writing workshops, something I’m absolutely passionate about, and all in all, life is good. To feel creatively content, I think the only qualifiers are that a) you’re writing and b) people are recognising that you’re writing.

However, that doesn’t mean that you’re being commercially successful. Talking to another creative entrepreneur recently, we came to the conclusion that whilst both reaching artistic milestones, and being happy with our achievements; we’ve never been this broke.

How can the creative entrepreneur align this? Surely the idea is to make art, and then sell it and make a lot of money doing it. Or alternately, make two types of art: one for your own enjoyment and one for the monies.

So does being creatively ‘in the zone’ mean that you’re not focusing enough on profitability? Perhaps you’ve just wanted to create something you love. Fair enough. If you haven’t been focusing on your cash cow, maybe you should be considering your target market. How can you maximise profitability on your current project?

Mr BrainWash. From 'Exit Through the Gift Shop'. Biggest artistic sell-out I've ever seen
Mr BrainWash. From ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’. Biggest artistic sell-out I’ve ever seen

I have never written books expecting great wealth. I do, however, lead classes and do workshops and work with kids, and explain the themes in ‘Of Mice and Men’ over and over again until I want to punch myself in the face. These are the compromises we make. I’ve recently been wondering if maybe I could just do a nine-to-five and write in the evenings, like countless writers do. But somehow, that feels like it reduces my sense of legitimacy. Plus, I hate routine. And being told what to do. And sitting down for eight hours a day.

So, as my mother very politely tried to offer me alternatives, I realised one thing: Commit to a career in the same manner you commit to a project. I write a novel knowing that there are going to be certain bits I love (the random scribbling) and the bits I hate (the fourth round of editing) and that it will eventually have a purpose and an end. I may not know what that is whilst I’m writing it. I have a chic lit book I wrote last year sitting in a box, that I may not use for years or so. But I trust that at some point, it will find its purpose. I must look the same way at my career. The jobs I am doing now may not be particularly profitable or enjoyable, or easy, but they are paving the way to their own purpose. I just may not be entirely sure what that is, yet.

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Dear entrepreneurs, we have always said to have an endgame, and find your focus. But sometimes, it’s just about riding the waves and getting on with it whilst you’ve got your creative head on. And that’s fine. You don’t always know the end before you’ve written the middle. Trust that what your doing will either serve a purpose, or it will reach its limit, and be left behind. If we do that, perhaps, the penniless artist will cease to be a cliche, and the business-minded artist will have both creativity and cash.

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How to Plan a Book Launch Party

(Without losing your mind and sense of perspective)

Is there a better reason to write a book than to get to have a big party and celebrate? Well, maybe that the story needed to be told, that you’re a committed writer or a thousand other important reasons. But the idea of a book launch, and the level of legitimacy that offered, really got me through the last face-dragging, eye-rolling, teeth-grinding round of editing.

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But if you’re a new author, or being published by a small press, or self-published, how do you do it? I’ve read articles, surfed the web for ideas, called on all my writer and artist friends, and it’s hard to get a set idea. Especially once family get involved.

I’ve gleaned a few tips from other authors who seem to have the right idea so here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. Make it a damned good party!

You’re there to celebrate an achievement, having created something. Now, the ‘Book as Baby’ analogy has been done to death, and I won’t go into detail likening inspiration to conception, or editing to childbirth (or the desperate hunt of the singleton with low self-esteem to the writer looking for her perfect publisher husband) but it’s something you’ve created. You worked hard. You made something. Finishing a book (and being pleased with it) is a big enough deal. Getting it out into the world for people to read is a bigger deal. So party on! Food, drink, music.

 

2. Make it about you.

It should be something you enjoy. I had the option between a fun pub environment with a band and spoken word artists, and a gallery event with canapes. Now don’t get me wrong, they’re both fun, but take into account your book’s concepts, and what makes you comfortable. I’d much rather be joking about how many glasses of wine my main character drinks than making awkward speeches in a white room. Also, I tend to spill stuff. Plus, there’s things like cost, location, guests to consider. If you’re the kind of author who can eat a salmon-dill crostini without dropping it down your cleavage, then go have a grown-up party!

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3. Don’t Make it All About You

Yes, your friends love you, your family are proud of you, and they will probably do everything they can to help you sell books and celebrate. But they do not want to spend an evening listening to you recounting what made the story arc come to life in chapter sixteen, and how many times you changed the main character’s surname. No matter how much wine you ply them with. Give them a few guest speakers, some music, some entertainment of some sort that isn’t you. Now obviously, you’re going to need to do a reading, but hours of you reading segments of the book is probably not going to sell it. Unless you have a voice like David Attenborough or Stephen Fry.

 

4. Publicise!

Facebook, twitter, flyers, posters, invites. All the basics. Word of mouth, friends of friends. Book groups, writing groups, people in ‘the biz’. Even more importantly, people desperate for a bit of local news, like local radio stations and magazines/local newspapers. Maybe even your old schools/clubs etc. If you live in a suburb of a big city like me, it’s surprising how much they need news. Otherwise it’s all letters from angry people, and articles on changing the paving. Go on, invite them to a party, send them a press release with an invitation and see what happens!

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5. It’s Not Just a Party

By this I mean that if you are a young female author like myself, then sometimes your family get very confused about having a big party in this time of life that is not a wedding. So do as I do, and don’t let yourself get drawn into it. Keep it simple: snacks, drinks, entertainment, sales. It’s a celebration, but it’s also business. If you feel yourself getting too drawn in to colour schemes, floral arrangements and seating charts, go outside and slap yourself in the face. Or do as I do, and desperately scour the internet for people who will tell me how to do this correctly.

 

6. Sell

I’ve read various reports on sales at book launches. Some say it’s just a party and not really good at selling your books, and others have claimed they’re invaluable starters to a brilliant sales target. You need to remember why you’re there. 1) to celebrate your achievement with people who support you, 2) to sell books and get the word out about them. Ideally, get someone else to be in charge of sales (I have bribed friends with wine and everlasting gratitude) and be that person who can talk to everyone. Answer questions, get to know people, be available- don’t ramble on about it for ages, but a chance to chat and actually explain what the book means to you is probably invaluable.

 

7. Merchandise/Neat Touches

I decided to copy an idea found online and print my own bookmarks to put inside the books. These will say thanks for supporting the book, offer more info, website, future possibilities to support etc. It’s a cute way to stay in touch with your readers, give them a little something extra, and publicise. I’m also tempted by tote bags, badges and all manner of other ridiculous things, but I’m a merchandise whore. I also want to make book cupcakes.

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Do what you feel

I haven’t had my launch yet, these are just some thoughts I’ve had whilst planning it. I find a lot of American authors have had great ideas, but some of them aren’t always applicable in the UK. This is definitely a list in progress, and I’ll keep you guys informed as the publication for Wine Dark, Sea Blue looms nearer. In the meantime, you can see my author’s profile over on the Stairwell Books Website. Fun Fun.

Any recommendations or launch night horror stories?