'When I was one I had just begun' - celebrating my debut novel's first birthday

In the immortal words of A A Milne's poem, Now We Are Six: ‘When I was one I had just begun’ – I hope this holds true for books as it flags the possibility of going on … and on for at least six years. If not ‘forever and ever.’

As my debut novel After Leaving the Village reaches its first birthday on 12th October it’s interesting to look back and reflect on what a whirlwind that year has been. This wasn’t the first novel I’d written. Three earlier siblings, complete but imperfectly formed, never made it out into the world so my first published book was infinitely precious. I remember the sense of achievement when my children reached the milestone of their first birthdays. Here, my book analogy diverges from the motherhood experience, because many novels shine brightly close to their birth; sales peak in the pre-order and post-launch phases and wither away as time passes.  I know that’s not true for all books, or for big names, series writer and authors with major publishing houses, but a novel has no guarantee of longevity.

Close to publication day, there was a huge buzz. My publisher, Hashtag Press had organised PR, publicity in my local press and a blog tour. I was invited to appear on BBC Radio Berkshire, I wrote an article for Female First and one of my short stories was published in a Sunday newspaper supplement. I held three book launches – two in branches of Waterstones and one at home. Sales of the paperback were strong and the eBook was ticking over nicely on Amazon and chalking up the first of many five star reviews.

Job done? Actually – no. The work had barely started. You wouldn’t send your child out into the world alone so helicopter parenting won’t work for a debut novel, either. I decided to take my book by the hand and introduce it around in the real world and online.

Exploring social media, finding the right book groups and writing groups to join and meeting bloggers has been a pleasure. The key is to get to know people, join the conversation and make contacts and friends.  It’s not okay to join a Facebook group, ignore their rules of engagement and start promoting your book. In fact, that’s the fastest way to get blocked but once you’ve got to know book bloggers and their preferred genres, you can, politely, enquire about any opportunities to feature. Several bloggers have reviewed After Leaving the Village or offered me guest blog spots and I’ve often noticed a spike in sales afterwards.

In the real world, I pitched to the Literature Officer of my county library service and was asked to put together an author panel with two other writers. We were offered three gigs, with book signings, in different parts of the county, including running a writing workshop, for which we were paid a fee. The county  library also bought fourteen copies of my novel and, since then, I’ve given library talks in a neighbouring county.

I’m a huge supporter of independent bookshops and contacted several within a wide radius of where I live. The wonderful Peter Snell of Barton’s bookshop, Leatherhead, championed my novel. He invited me to a Saturday signing in his shop and arranged for me to be a book club guest at Denbies Vineyard.

Close to Christmas, I tried direct selling – at Bridport book fest and at local craft and gift fairs and  jointly hosted an event, with Prosecco, at a friend’s dress shop in the village where I live. All of these were worthwhile in terms of costs, sales and time spent.

The key to raising awareness of your book is meeting people. Most events lead to new contacts and offers to speak, or appear, elsewhere. A chance meeting at an open mic evening led to an invitation to appear on Brooklands Radio. Other radio interviews came via my local writers’ group and a follow up invitation from Radio Berkshire to be an author panellist on their radio book club. Some opportunities are harder as your fledgling book ages. So how to sustain interest to the first birthday and beyond?

After Leaving the Village is a suspense thriller with contemporary themes of human trafficking, modern slavery, exclusion and digital detox. When I was researching my book, I had support from the charity, Unseen that works towards a world without slavery and they’ve recently appointed me an ambassador. While talking to people at book events, I discovered many people are keen to learn more about these issues. So, I developed a couple of talks and pitched them to organisations that regularly use speakers. Take up has exceeded my expectations and I have bookings for talks and signings, through to April 2020.

It’s been a fascinating first year of life for my novel and here’s hoping it keeps going strong through 2019 . After all, as A A Milne wrote: ‘When I was two I was nearly new.’  And in book terms that means a lot.

You can find out more about my book or buy a copy at the link below:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/After-Leaving-Village-Helen-Matthews/dp/0995780684/

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