Plenty of bloggers have by now reported on the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival that took place in Harrogate at the end of July. The huge airy marquee gave it a different feel to pre-pandemic years, but the panels were as engaging as ever. One idea stuck with me; the difference between being a ‘writer’ and ‘an author’. The question arose during the very first panel I attended, chaired by Martin Edwards, on the reality of the crime writer’s life. It struck a chord in discussions with fellow novelists in the beer tent.
It may sound like a pedantic point but worth pondering.
Writing is what all novelists do. We do it alone in our study, garden office or at the table when the house is quiet. Some of us write in silence, others choose favourite mood music. Perhaps the cat will drape itself over the keyboard but generally it is a solitary experience. Monks see more interaction during the working day.
Being an author is a different matter, particularly if you enjoy a grain of success. The reading public want to meet you, the author; hear you speak, buy your book and see you sign it with a flourish. There are launch parties, library readings and panels at conventions where you are no longer alone. You need to be nice to people, often for hours on end, and in all this time you are doing no writing at all. If this doesn’t come naturally, your publisher, agent or publicist will drag you forcefully into the daylight. The modern publishing world is no place for the shrinking violet, the reclusive writer who just wants to sit alone in their garret with a typewriter and glass of their favourite poison.
The social whirl of being a published author seems glamorous and the apex of what all those hours hammering out words can achieve. Unless of course you are also a prize-winner, when there’s that black-tie dinner and two minutes in the spotlight to turn the apex of your career into a sparkling pinnacle. Before AD 2000 this was as much as the author aspired to, and as much as publishers expected. Then came the internet, Amazon, and social media and the reset button received a hefty thump.
No matter how much you recoil from shameless publicity, that’s exactly what the author now needs to engage with.
A whole new dimension has opened up. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, chat rooms, blogs, blog tours, Goodreads, Bookbub, and whatever Tik Tok is…the list goes on and on (I’ve embedded links to my own accounts in these lines so you can see how shameless I have become). Engaging with the new reality is especially necessary if you are with a small press, self-published or a new author – and even established authors will be nudged into it by publishers making best use of their marketing budgets. It feels exhausting, and I was far too English at first to engage with this.
When I first talked with the highly successful Rachel Abbott, I was amazed by the number of hours daily she puts into marketing her books. Lately conversations with Karen Charlton have left me deeply impressed by the ingenuity and persistence of her marketing strategy utilising the vectors the internet now offers. Panelist Adele Parks said she interacts with social media perhaps thirty times a day, always in a positive way. Among the writers and readers mingling in the Harrogate beer tent was Paul Gitsham. His long-running series of writer’s tips are a good example of ‘value-added’ blogs in which the reader is not simply hit over the head with marketing.
For every rule there is of course an exception and CWA Gold Dagger winner Mick Herron freely admits he has no internet at home and doesn’t bother with social media. Nobody can fault his success, and indeed it underlines the truth; the budding novelist must first and foremost produce a cracking book before the world will notice that the solitary writer has become an author.