Monday, 15 May 2017

How to plan a successful book tour #writetip

by Trish Nicholson

A couple of years ago, after completing a successful writers’ workshop tour in Europe, I shared tips here on how to do it.

In June/July this year, I will be taking my new non-fiction, A Biography of Story, A Brief History of Humanity, on tour to present talks at festivals, bookshops and libraries in the UK. Arranging this different tour boosted some of my earlier tips but also produced new insights, so it seemed useful to write a new post.

When it comes to book promotion, all authors are now expected to do a major part of the work however they are published. Many authors struggle with this side of their career. But a book tour exposes your work to fresh readers, attracts publicity and forges promising contacts for the future.

Publishers arrange book tours for only a tiny minority of their authors. You can join that lucky band by planning your own:

Pick a location:
Competition is so keen that even publicists for bestsellers are scrambling to get their authors into the big national events. But there are advantages at regional and local levels. You need to be smart.

  • Focus on smaller festivals, especially if your book has a connection with the area; you already have local contacts (via social media for example); or you are known in the town.
  • Independent bookshops are often the best bet for author talks/readings – they may prefer evenings so as not to disrupt trade.
  • Most bookshops will host a ‘local author’ or a book set in its locality for a simple ‘meet and sign’ event.
  • Be flexible, some major bookstore chains offer group events for local authors. If it fits your tour calendar – join in, and shine.
  • Depending on the nature of your book, schools, colleges, libraries and interest groups may be happy to host you.

Pitch at the right time:
Start planning early and be aware that potential hosts may work with different time frames. Everyone is busy – make it easy for them.

  • Book festivals generally plan their programmes at least a year ahead, and need details to print their brochures four months beforehand.
  • Bookshops usually plan events 2–3 months in advance and will probably lose your request if you send it much earlier.
  •  If possible, arrange to meet in person, but don’t send emails on a Monday morning or Friday afternoon, and be prepared to send polite reminders.

Offer good value:
Unless you won the Booker Prize last year, simply offering your presence will not get you signed up.

  • Offer a reading, talk, demonstration, Q&A session or whatever fits your book and the theme of the festival or the speciality of the bookshop.
  • ‘Freebies’ help event hosts to attract bookings and make eye-catching displays. And they provide long-lasting promotion: my giveaways are bookmarks and tote bags printed with my book’s cover image.
  • Donating a signed copy of your book for a raffle or competition prize increases its exposure and desirability.
  • Festivals may have their own publicity materials but bookshops and libraries appreciate banners, posters, bookmarks, flyers, and a plate of cakes or wrapped sweets can draw attention to your signing table.
  • Performing for free makes you more attractive and helps self-funded local festivals and small independent bookshops.

Prepare, prepare, prepare:
Before you contact anyone, do your homework.

  • Most festivals have a theme. Research their past events and submission procedures, identify the current theme and pitch your proposal to fit.
  • Bookshops may have a speciality. If you search their sites to find stores that feature your genre, you increase your chances of acceptance.
  • Write a concise pitch – describe what you can offer, what their audience will gain and how it relates to your book (100 words).
  • Write a brief bio (50 words), and a book blurb (100 words).
  • Paste your proposal into the body of an email after a short introductory paragraph – people are wary of attachments from strangers.
  • Well before the event, start building your confidence.
  • Rehearse aloud and time a talk carefully – professionals don’t overrun.
  • For Q&A, identify likely questions and think about your answers.
  • Research venue locations to ensure you arrive on time.
  • Festivals usually let you sell your books – order enough copies.

Publicise your event:
Use social media to publicise your event with blog posts, your tour programme pinned to your Twitter stream, Face Book pages and Pinterest, and promote your hosts’ publicity. Adapt your proposal as a Press Release to local media for interviews or articles mentioning your event.

Show up and smile:
It is not unheard of for even seasoned authors to find only a couple of punters come to ‘meet’ them or hear one of their readings. Even a single reader deserves your smile, your grace, and your best performance. They will never forget it, and for the rest of their lives will tell everyone they know how brilliant you are.

A Biography of Story, A Brief History of Humanity is available from UK bookshops or worldwide from The Book Depository  [TBD link: ]
 Many more tips on writing, publishing and marketing can be found in Writing Your Nonfiction Book: the complete guide to becoming an author. [TBD link: ]
  Find out more about Trish’s books and read her articles at and follow her on Twitter


Bio: Trish Nicholson is a social anthropologist and author of narrative non-fiction and short stories. She lives in New Zealand and is a member of the NZ Society of authors.

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Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Mistakes Writers Make #writetip

“I feel certain this is going to be a great resource for non-fiction writers.”

It was those kind words – written by Lorraine Mace, the host of this guest post – which were the first ones to be left on my blog, Mistakes Writers Make, when I launched it seven years ago with the first Mistake, Believing You Can DIY.

Having at that stage been a tutor for the Writers Bureau for two or three years, I’d been critically appraising the work of beginner non-fiction writers for some time. While showing and telling new writers what to do certainly has its place, I came to fully appreciate that this prescriptive method may not be sufficient or even productive for some learners. It was good constructive criticism that really seemed to move many forward, I noticed: pointing out the errors, and offering guidance on how to correct them, while giving praise for what was being done well, of course.

Not all aspiring writers can or want to enrol on a course, though, and I began to wonder whether a resource dedicated to showing wannabe writers what they might be doing that they shouldn’t be doing would be popular – and might serve those writers more effectively than merely giving them instructions, as many writing guides do (and indeed do well).

The idea for a blog focusing on error sprung from this, and it is still going – although as a writing resource I’m not sure it has ever quite got anywhere near that greatness Lorraine so supportively predicted in its early days! It’s not all about the bloopers, though: the ‘Mistakes’ are supplemented by publishing and other opportunities, product recommendations and book reviews, as well as occasional rants about such hazards as copyright-grabbing writing competitions, which writers have to negotiate.

Some years ago I began to think a more structured guidebook taking the reader sequentially from A to Z might work for those looking for an introductory manual in writing non-fiction. The Mistakes on the blog are not logically ordered – they not only go from A to X to D to P, but since I introduced guest posts they now also take in a few Cyrillic and Greek letters as scenic detours – and whatever Mistake happens to take my whim at any given time becomes the next one in numerical line. Not necessarily ‘friendly’ to a total beginner needing to learn from scratch!

And so the ebooks were born. The first, 50 Mistakes Beginner Writers Make, was published in 2015; the second, predictably titled 50 More Mistakes Beginner Writers Make, just last month.

They start with the basics – generating ideas, approaching editors, researching and crafting an article – before tackling slightly more advanced subjects – dealing with editors, editing techniques, understanding contracts, interviewing skills and much more. I can’t deny that occasionally the books tell the reader what to do – but when they do they do so through the prism of error, to which I think some people (not all) respond better.

Although some of the more important posts on the blog have been included, albeit in updated or adapted forms, most are fresh and new. Several more books are planned. Curiously, the more mistakes you write about, the more you find to write about, and I have come to be really quite fond of errors. The cock-up is not something to be hidden, ignored or denied, but something to be almost celebrated, albeit possibly not repeated. As I say in one of the books, no doubt I make many errors myself in my job, but they don’t seem to be stopping me from doing what I do or want to do, which is to make a living from words.

Perhaps, then, the trick is to correct the ones that are stopping you from doing whatever it is you want to do?

I hope the blog and the books might help you identify those blighters and banish them. If they do, you probably have Lorraine to thank. Had it not been for that first encouraging comment, the Mistakes Writers Make blog might have met an end as grim as that of some of the characters in her Frances di Plino novels ...

Alex Gazzola’s 50 Mistakes books are both available on Amazon.
His blog can be found at

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Sunday, 18 December 2016

A Hokey Cokey Christmas

With Christmas just around the corner, we weren’t surprised when Ángel, our Spanish teacher, explained there wouldn’t be another class until after the New Year, but he insisted we still come to the school on the next lesson day. After a few misunderstandings we realised he was inviting us to an end of year party.

Laden with plates of eats and bottles of wine, most of the class made it the following week, but there was a surprise waiting. It wasn’t a party for the ex-pats only, but incorporated his other students as well.

These were Spanish ladies of mature years, none of whom had been able read or write their native language before starting lessons with Ángel.

Under Franco’s rule Almeria was a province very much out of favour. Girls during this period didn’t attend school. The only teachers they had were their parents, many of whom were barely literate themselves. As a result a generation of ladies had reached their retirement age without ever having read so much as a newspaper article. Fortunately the Turre council had decided to put matters right and the ladies were getting lessons in basic literacy.

The party started in the way that mixed language events always do, Spanish on one side of the room and English speakers on the other. There was no shortage of goodwill, but a distinct absence of conversation. Nothing daunted, the Spanish ladies decided a few Christmas carols would help to bridge the language divide and launched into song. It was a lively and catchy tune. We couldn’t understand the verses, but the chorus was easy to pick up.

Then it was our turn. Nods of encouragement made us bold, but it was at that point we realised none of the carols we knew was blessed with an easy to sing chorus. Our Spanish friends did their best, but couldn’t really join in. When we’d finished they started another one in Spanish and again we were able to sing along. Someone came up with the bright idea of writing the words to the Twelve Days of Christmas on the board, but not only could we not remember how many maids were a-milking, we couldn’t translate it either. The result would have had Santa’s elves running for cover. Off-key, out of tune and everyone singing a different part of the song, it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

After yet another superb Spanish carol, we felt that British pride was at stake. Then someone suggested the Hokey Cokey. Oh well, what did we have to lose? We put our left arms in and our left arms out, in out, in out, we shook them all about. So did the Spanish ladies who’d leapt to their feet. Smiling and singing along, they enjoyed every second of it.

Jingle Bells followed, but they knew more verses in Spanish than we did in English, so we simply repeated the first verse several times. It didn’t matter; the ice was well and truly broken. We ate, drank and made merry with hardly a word exchanged.

When it was time to leave, our new amigas sang a beautiful song of farewell and then the lights went out. We stood in the dark, not sure whether to grope our way out or wait for the electricity to return. The strains of the Hokey Cokey started up again. No one could see, but I’m certain everyone’s arms went in and out.

So, if you should find yourself in this part of Spain over Christmas, do make sure you know that traditional carol the Hokey Cokey.  The locals do.

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