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Marketing your novel online

 23 February 2012

Comedian and magician John Lenahan generated interest in his novel by podcasting chapters and gaining fans online. He shared three tips for aspiring authors in a digital world.

1. Get it written

"A couple years ago I read a book about writing novels, and it said if you write a thousand words a day, you can't not have a novel in seven months.

"The model now is to get out there so people know about you."

"It then went to say 'It won't necessarily be a good novel, but it will be a novel'.

"So I tried it. I made it my priority for the day and wrote a thousand words a day. And at the end of it, I had this novel called 'Shadowmagic' which I kind of liked.

"I didn't try very hard, I sent it around to a handful of publishers. I started realising that getting a book published is a job in its own right. The book sat in a drawer for a while.

"Then I took a writing course, which was great, but nobody liked my book. They all looked at a humorous fantasy adventure as a Beano magazine or an Archie comic book or something."

2. Adapt your marketing methods

"Then I found this website called podiobooks.com. Its authors read their own works on the website and you podcast it. You serialise it like old-time radio week after week.

"Just because I have a shiny cover and people say nice things on the back doesn't mean that it's going to sell."

"It went just ballistic on the website. Instantly fan mail poured in. It was just amazing, it gave me faith in my writing again. By the end of it, I ended up with 20,000 subscribers.

"Out of the 300 books on the website, mine was voted number one. And then publishers started getting in touch with me.

"There's been a lot of authors who've had books out for a while by regular publishers and then have given it away for free. It's anecdotal evidence, but it has improved their book sales by giving it away for free.

"The model now is to get out there so people know about you. You can't just get a review in the Sunday Times and then become a bestseller, it just doesn't work that way any more.

"So if you're creative, give it away. Really, give it away until you gain a status where you can monetize it. And how you monetize it? Well, that's the big question.

"I'm a big fan of marketing myself, because who else is going to do it? And I have a big enough ego to be able to say to people 'I'm really good.'

But saying that, that wasn't the case with the writing. I really did, when I podcasted it, think that I was mistaken, that it really wasn't very good. And it was finding the audience out there that just gave me hope."

3. Don't get ahead of yourself

"If you're creative, give it away ... until you can monetize it"

"The other secret is to be realistic about the writing market. All you have to do is walk into a bookstore and realise just how many books are out there.

"The percentage of people that make a living wage writing these books is pretty low. I'd probably put it in the bottom 10-15 percent.

"So just because I have a shiny cover and people say nice things on the back, doesn't mean that it's going to sell.

"I don't see giving up my day job much, but it would be lovely to make a living wage writing fantasy novels, that's a wonderful idea, because you could do it anywhere, really."

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