Monday, 21 August 2017

Facebook: giving authors a human face

Last week, we had a look at how valuable Twitter can be for authors, even for big names like JK Rowling and Ian Rankin. But what about the other social media giant, Facebook? How useful is having a Facebook page to a writer or publisher? And how can Facebook be of help to authors through other means?

We at Sunpenny have a Facebook page where we share our blog posts, promote our books and post other items from our authors. We have a good reach and our posts are shared on several other pages too. In fact, Facebook is used by businesses all over the world as the 'human' side of their companies. It's somewhere customers can get in touch with the company's personnel promptly and directly. Being a business as well, this is what Sunpenny as a publisher does too. However, what about authors? Is Facebook different from Twitter in its purpose and reach?

Perhaps it's worth mentioning that on Twitter, there are no limitations as to who can follow an author or re-tweet their messages. In principle, one author's tweet could read thousands of people who have never heard of him or her before. The potential to reach new audiences is therefore great although much of it is down to chance.

On Facebook, however,  authors' followers are nearly always people who know and enjoy their work or at the very least, have heard of the authors and know what they do - much like the customers of a business. It is a place where readers can keep up with an author's latest news and express their appreciation. In that sense, it is much more focused than Twitter and what in theory can happen is that a reader might discover an author on Twitter, become a fan and then follow them on Facebook.

Does this mean that Facebook is not a place for authors to find new readers, though? No, it doesn't.  Facebook has many other opportunities for authors in the form of 'group pages'. There are Facebook groups for readers and writers of several genres and this can be a valuable way of reaching new audiences. There are groups for crime fiction, groups for location fiction, groups for Christian fiction and groups for romantic fiction. There also groups for non-fiction, especially for memoir writers. Several of our authors belong to such groups and have found they can become known in this way too. That said, there are also groups for writers themselves. It's worth mentioning that writers are great readers and if they like another author's books, they will often be generous in buying, reading and reviewing.

Nevertheless, the key to all social media is not in the numbers of followers, likes and friends per se. It is in the personal touch. Social media is not a replacement for face-to-face contact, but if the author presents him or herself as approachable, friendly, communicative and supportive, both Twitter and Facebook can be a very worthwhile means of interacting with readers and followers when personal contact isn't possible.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Twitter: the writer's best friend?

This week, we are looking at an important online tool to help authors market their books: Twitter. Several of our authors are active on Twitter and it can be an invaluable aid to spreading the word about their books, blogs and other activities.

All writers who want to sell their work have to put some effort into marketing. It doesn't matter whether you are a big fish in a large genre pond or a very small fish in a small niche pond, some level of marketing is required of all authors. For example, well-known writers like John le Carré and Ian Rankin still have to do book launch tours and make public appearances even though their publishers can afford considerable budgets to market their books.

But where does social media come into the frame? And in particular, what value is Twitter to the writer and publisher? JK Rowling, the Harry Potter author, has a huge Twitter following and is a very active Tweeter; so is Ian Rankin of crime fiction fame. It seems clear that they are aware of its value to them as both authors and public figures, or they wouldn't use it. So how does Twitter work? And how can it help the lesser known authors and publishers?

With Twitter, you can reach thousands of potential readers, not only through building up your own followers, but through the activities of others too. It is a little like a pyramid. You start with one tweet (a brief message of 140 characters). This tweet is then re-tweeted (RTd) by a number of your followers, and may then be re-tweeted again by their followers. If, as can happen, your followers have several thousand followers of their own, the potential reach of your single tweet is enormous.

The trick, however, is to be a person and not just a tweeter and re-tweeter. It is fairly easy to build a large number of followers with a little time and effort. Twitter will suggest like-minded followers to you, and you can also find them by using hashtags that reflect your interest in your query field. For example, those who write and read memoirs will often use the hashtag #memoir to find other writers and readers they can follow, and who will hopefully follow them too. Once you start following others, they will most likely follow you back and you can start interacting with them. Such interaction is very important for the Tweeter. People buy from people first and foremost and if you come across as a friendly, generous and interesting person, you will start to build a following of genuinely interested people, rather than just collecting numbers.

Another important key to using Twitter well is to target your tweets, again by using hashtags. Val Poore, whose book Watery Ways focuses mainly on canal cruising, barges and boating, uses the hashtag #boatsthattweet to reach other boaters who might be interested in reading her book. She also uses other boating and travel related hashtags and she is convinced this has helped her to reach a wider audience than she would otherwise have done. Val has a list of boaters that she talks to regularly on Twitter and she has found they have not only bought her book, but are also generous in re-tweeting her marketing tweets, specifically those with the targeted hashtags.

Lastly, a 'pinned' tweet can also be useful as it helps your followers to support you. Make sure you create a tweet that you want people to RT for you and using the action options offered, pin your tweet to the top of your timeline. Followers visiting your page will be able to simply RT this tweet without having to scroll down to find one that's going to be of help to you. Try and change this now and then as your supporters could lose interest if they have to keep re-tweeting the same message.

As with all these tools, however, consistency is the key. It isn't necessary to spend hours a day on Twitter, but some designated time each day can bring its own rewards. Happy Tweeting everyone!

Monday, 7 August 2017

Travel: food for writers

 As we have mentioned before, one of the special features of Sunpenny Publishing and its imprints is its international group of authors. Although we are a British based company, our writers come from as far afield as New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. Even within Europe, we have writers in Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. Within the UK too, we have two authors in Wales, one in Scotland, and others in various parts of England. Location therefore plays a significant role in our range of books and we are proud of being able to bring readers glimpses of different parts of the world through both fiction and memoir.

Our readers can armchair travel to Wales or Zimbabwe, to Scotland or Texas, and to the Netherlands or New Zealand. And the reason they can do that is because our writers are great travellers who explore their countries by land and even by boat.

Debbie Roome, the author of Embracing Change and Broken Shells, grew up in Zimbabwe, spent many years in South Africa and now lives and writes in New Zealand. She loves travelling through her adoptive country and has even written guides for travellers. As she says, what she loves about New Zealand is  "the peaceful lifestyle and incredible beauty of this little country. We have alpine lakes, majestic mountains, hot pools and boiling mud, rain forest, endless beaches, volcanoes and glaciers! Just driving through such scenery inspires me." Debbie has been able to draw on these extensive travel experiences when writing her evocative romances.

Debbie Roome's New Zealand
 Another of our writers who has transplanted herself to a new continent is Stephanie Parker McKean. Of Texan origin, she travelled from her home of searing heat and magnificent arid landscapes to live in the north of Scotland with her Scottish minister husband. Her entertaining and funny murder mysteries, Bridge to Nowhere and Bridge Beyond betrayal have such a strong sense of place, the reader can tread the dusty roads and feel the burning heat of the Texan landscape. Stephanie has a special attachment for rocks as a result: "I love rocks and am endlessly fascinated by them" she says and she finds great solace in building structures and walls from natural stone.

Stephanie Parker McKean, a Texan transplanted to Scotland

Tonia Parronchi's sailing memoir, A Whisper on the Mediterranean is also inspired by her passion for adventure and travel. Imagine taking off on a small sailing boat with a baby and then enduring Mediterranean storms and sea sickness while trying to care for a child in nappies. Such is her love of the Italian islands (and her husband, of course) that she was prepared to embark on a entire summer of sailing from island to island down Italy's breathtaking coast. In Tonia's words: "I can observe (Italy's) nature in minute detail as it unfolds around me, season by season and take such joy in the small changes which consequently make their way into my writing."

Tonia Parronchi with her husband on their sailing boat

Other Sunpenny writers have imbued their books with their own unique sense of place as well, something they have only been able to do through personal experience and travel. Julie McGowan, whose novels The Mountains Between and Don't Pass Me By are set in beautiful south Wales, glow with her love of her country. Suzanne Cordatos is another, and although  her home is in Connecticut, she has travelled often to Greece, the home of her husband's family. Her children's novel, The Lost Crown of Apollo, reflects both her knowledge and her affection for the country. She calls it her 'love letter' to her Greek relatives. 

Suzanne Cordatos in Greece
In fact, nearly all Sunpenny's authors take the reader to somewhere new, somewhere different: Janet Purcell writes about Cape Cod, Valerie Poore's books are set on the Dutch and Belgian waterways; JS Holloway takes us to Zimbabwe; Eugene Barker invites us to share the French Pyrenees with her. And these are not the only ones, for Sonja Anderson takes us travelling to the Middle East, Sandra Peut to Australia and William Wood shares gems of many of the places and countries through which he has travelled.

Janet Purcell's Cape Cod
Travel has enriched the lives and imaginations of our authors and without it, they would not have been able describe the settings in which their stories are centred so richly. For many others, though, such widespread travel is not possible, so virtual journeys through reading can be an exciting alternative. 

To enjoy a taste of our authors' experiences and the countries they love, visit our website at and see our books for some wonderful novels and memoirs set in glorious and exotic destinations.