Saturday, May 5, 2018


I had been planning to go to the annual Self-Publishing Conference in Leicester for years now, but finally made it last weekend for the first time. It was worth it.

Statue of King Richard, Leicester City Centre

The big thing that I took from the weekend - something I already knew in truth - was that self-publishing is as much about promotion, PR and marketing as it is about writing. 

There were multiple presentations on a marketing strategy, on PR techniques, on social media campaigns, writing a blurb, on book design to attract people's attention. There was a huge focus, not on writing a book, but on how to get people to buy and read the thing.

For many writers, this is an uncomfortable position to be in; if you are someone who is comfortable spending hundreds of hours on your own to be able to complete a book, then putting yourself out there and suddenly becoming a self-publicist - that is not a natural fit. You need to get over your natural reserve and reticence. 

I have had some experience with this, when I promoted my first book, A Year in Lisbon. I did a couple of radio interviews, one or two interviews in local newspapers, and organized a number of events to promote the book. I became more comfortable and confident as the process went on, but I did have to get over a kind of ingrained reluctance to talk about myself. 

More than that, it was meeting other authors that I found inspirational and fascinating. Everyone there had written books or were in the process of writing books, many had already published novels or non-fiction, and everyone was willing to talk about what they were writing. 

There was the writer of historical fantasy that had written a novel set in Poland in the Dark Ages. There was the woman from the Home Counties who had been wanting to publish a book for years and had finally got around to doing it, and was in the process of putting out her unique combination of chick-lit and thriller. There was the woman who I later learned was an MBE, a paralympic gold medalist and a champion archer who was writing children's books as part of her project to promote inclusion in sport. 

There were many others, all with their own projects in their own chosen genres and fields, all with the same goal of trying to get people to actually read what they are writing. It was an atmosphere where writing and publishing were seen as totally everyday things, something that we do as easily and unthinkingly as writing an email or a text. A community of sorts. 

The only slight negative that I would mention is that it turned out that the conference was being run by Matador, which is the self-publishing imprint of the publisher Troubador. This was not entirely obvious before the conference started, but pretty soon it became clear that it was also a kind of marketing opportunity for the Matador company and brand. 

Many of the presenters were Matador employees and their presentations were built around the services that the company offered and what the company could do for potential clients who wanted to self-publish a book. I am not sure if everyone there was so aware of this fact, but we were in many ways paying to have Matador give us a sales pitch. They mostly tried to keep this element subtle, but it was there all of the time. 

That said, I will return, if only for the opportunity to meet other authors. 

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