“How Do You Do” Marketing? Book-signings or Bust..

gary with Leighton I write in English and live well away from cities in a foreign country, so there’s not much call for book-signing events or any of that sort of thing anywhere near me – but “now” seemed to be a good time to get into it.

Right now I’m away from relative seclusion in sunny South-West France and I’m back in Australia for several weeks then on to Fiji for a couple more. A lot of the trip is doing research for the two new novels I am now working on – a sequel to BEGINNINGS, my time-warping, historical novel about Spain and the Basque people (by the way, the e_book is now on special discount of 0.99c for a short time),  and a more personal memoir about growing up in Australia in the 1950s-60s …. and about dogs  ———-  but enough of that.  Now, I’m taking the opportunity to do some active marketing as well – mainly “book-signing” and “book-reading” events.

I embarked upon these marketing appearances with some trepidation.  Like many writers, I have a horror of casting myself as a salesman, PR person or networker. Somehow it didn’t fit well with my social and political conscience – but now I believe I was wrong. I’m keen enough to tell people how to make the world  better place… so why not tell them about my fiction and other writings.

Indeed, I’ve written lots of academic and professional books but never has a publisher ask me to do any appearances, book-signings or networking. I gave papers at professional conferences and thought that was enough – I probably didn’t even really care about book sales. My readers bought my books because they needed to not because they wanted to – and therein lies the difference. So over the last couple of years, I’ve come to accept that these marketing activities just have to be done …. and indeed should be done. At first, I started by throwing myself into twitter , blogging, author pages on Facebook, AboutMe sites etc.  That’s all time-consuming enough.  So I never got into the business of “appearances” at book-signings, book readings and speaking events. But taking this on has meant facing a bit of a “learning curve”, at least for me.

Preparing or Winging It?

Now I’m not averse to speaking in public but even my short career as a trial lawyer and then a university law professor didn’t prepare me for doing ‘stand-up’ comedy, nor even for pitching my own creations to present and potential readers.

Everything I did before was about “preparation”. You don’t go into a trial without a heck of a lot of preparation and you don’t give a law lecture or present a paper at a professional meeting without being fully prepared … otherwise you risk embarrassment or even worse. But book promotion appearances aren’t the same. Here you speak from the heart not the head. You talk about your own creation, what motivated you to do it and where you wanted it to go and where it led you. …. It’s really about making a connection, not making an argument. It’s as much about ‘who you are’ as ‘what you say’. So I took a different tack and just spoke from the heart.  Hey, that shouldn’t be so difficult, should it?  But it goes against decades of professional training.  Judges, students and other lawyers don’t care how you feel about things… they want to know about the case in question and the law that applies to it. So, did this “non preparation” approach work?

My first event was a book-signing at an occasional lunch function for survivors of my old High School Alma Mater – Brisbane Grammar School – and I was surprised by the warm reception, interest and how keen some people were to  have their copies of BEGINNINGS signed. It was a semi-public event but pretty “laid back” and amongst relatively familiar company .. so a good start.

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The next event was an appearance and signing at a privately hosted evening cocktail-champagne party on the Gold Coast – Australia’s version of Miami, for those unfamiliar with it. Mostly, there were new people present. A lot of fun. And I was to talk about my writing, my motivations for writing BEGINNINGS, what it was all about and then I had to follow it up with a “reading”. Well, again nothing was prepared and in view of what I said above about my background, it was certainly hard for me to contemplate just doing it, though a bit easier to carry it off.  I can’t really be sure what it was that I said or will say next time, but the response was good.

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Lots of applause, compliments and interest!  So maybe it worked! But when it comes to reading, aloud, for an audience, even if it is your own writings; that doesn’t come easy …. and I’d recommend at least a little bit of preparation!

My support act – and I had invited him – was the writer of “Bar and Barbecue Humour”, a series of slightly ‘politically incorrect’ joke and humorous story books, Rumford Kindling – a pseudonym of course – but you can get his books on Amazon.  A few jokes and funny stories was a wonderful way to wrap up the formal part of the event – if you’re not afraid of having the limelight stolen away from you by a comedian.

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Autographing Books and Dedications?

It certainly is a pleasure and an honour when someone wants you to sign their copy of one of your books. A cynic might say that maybe they’re hoping that one day, when you are famous, it’ll be worth a lot of money.  But I look at it differently. It’s just another symbol of what I was talking about about… making a connection between the reader and the author.

But you might ask: how do you autograph a book?  Exactly where is the best place to sign it?  I usually use the back of the front cover. There’s quite a few guides on these questions. But it can make a difference and autographing can be embarrassing. Of course, it helps when you have met the readers before or if you know them socially …  but not if you can’t remember their names – though you can always ask glibly: By the way, how do you spell your name again? And as long as the answer isn’t B..I..L..L  or something equally uncomplicated, you’ll probably get away with it.  Then, what do you say in a dedication – though perhaps that’s not the correct term for the little extra you write above and beyond the signature?  If I don’t know the person at all or haven’t really had a chance to meet them, and can say: A great pleasure to meet you! or Wonderful to see you again, all I have been able to come up with is hoping you enjoy the book!  Any other suggestions would certainly be welcome!

And Are There More Events?

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Yes, soon off to Fiji and another couple of appearances at book-signing or book reading events at a couple of tourist resorts.  That will be interesting.

Finally, I’ve been fortunate to have these events set up for me, and for that I am truly grateful.  But here’s a few tips and ground-rules for anyone thinking of hosting a book-signing for themselves.  Better still, here’s how to maximize the impact of the event.

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Serialized Version of “BEGINNINGS” now available – First Instalment FREE HERE

The serialized version of             BEGINNINGS: Where A Life Begins  …. Tales of Survival and Revenge ….      is now available on AMAZON and on LeLivroBeta   in 6 (six) instalments.                                                  EACH INSTALMENT IS A STAND-ALONE SHORT NOVEL.

Click here to GET THE FIRST INSTALMENT FREE !!!!!    from LelivroBeta.    So only if you like it do you move on to the next instalments!!!

BEGINNINGS : Where A Life Begins …………………..An epic action-packed novel set around the escape of a talented but troubled young mother and her unusually perceptive daughter from the violence of fascist Spain at the end of its bloody civil war and their struggle to make a new life in southwest France. The next two decades bring war, Nazi occupation, political unrest, the birth of the Basque terrorist movement and the appearance of an undercover Franco military officer seeking revenge for millennia-old grievance. Exploring a vast historical sweep of thousands of years down to the present , it is filled to the brim with powerful characters, violence, romance, true historical detail, multi-layered themes of love, hate, murder, revenge and political intrigue as well as a dose of science, myth and mystery.

A FREE copy of the First Instalment ..  I. GENESIS and REVENGE is now available.  It is the story of violence, heartbreak and the genesis of a bitter cycle of murder and revenge around the Basque country in Spain.  EACH INSTALMENT IS A STAND-ALONE SHORT NOVEL.

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In this FIRST instalment, “I. GENESIS and RESURRECTION”, the story begins with Maria – alone, heavily pregnant and with her baby son in her arms – desperately fleeing the persecution inflicted on her people by the Fascist dictator Franco at the end of the Spanish civil war. On her escape into France, her infant son is the victim of a callous border guard but she and her unborn daughter are saved by an unknown assassin; both actions echoing past and future violence and vengeance. The trauma sends the unborn child’s mind deep into the past where a horrible crime against her ancestors in prehistoric times hints at the genesis of otherwise inexplicable hatred and violence that have often re-surfaced down through the centuries. Back in Bayonne, Maria buries her infant son in a world of self-recriminations. It is only through communion with her unborn child and a new friend that she begins to face life again, but unaware of just how dangerous the birth of her new child may turn out to be.

Just how much do we have in common with our ancestors?

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photo: Courtesy of Cary and Kacey Jordan; http://www.thejordancollective.com/

Ever wondered just how much you have in common with your ancestors?  We all – even young adults – know what it’s like to start seeing our parents in ourselves.  You know …. when you react to something a friend says or you say something to one of your children and ZAP!  You just know that you could hear your mother or your father saying that or reacting that way.  And don’t you just find this happening even if that reaction or expression was something that you didn’t particularly like about your mum or dad?

Of course, you’re going to say that we spend so much time with our parents that it’s no wonder this happens. It’s just learned behaviour.  But we spend lot of time with our siblings too but I, for one, never feel that I sound just like my brother.  No that’s not completely true.  There are times, though they’re pretty rare.  But do any of you think you sound like one of your grandparents?  Probably less often.  Of course, they’re another generation removed and we usually haven’t spent as much time with them as we do with our parents. Unless, that is, we’ve grown up in one of those cultures where both parents are busy working or are absent and we’ve been brought up by our grandparents.

But what interests me a more about this is to what extent we have outward, conscious characteristics or other behaviour in common with our more distant ancestors.  And more than that, just how much of what we are, what we know, what we believe, think and do is somehow traceable back to these ancestors.

Indeed, we inherit our genetic structure from our ancestors and the tiny variations in our DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid),) that make us who we are, can certainly be traceable back to those ancestors.  DNA is the hereditary material present in humans and almost all other organisms. Nearly every cell in a particular person’s body has the same DNA. Most DNA is located in the cell nucleus (where it is called nuclear DNA), but a small amount of DNA can also be found in the mitochondria (where it is called mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA.

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In recent years there’s been a lot of research into Mitochondrial DNA: that type of DNA which is only passed on from mothers to their children.  So, it’s a peculiarly female phenomenon – sons can’t pass it on – and variations and markers in MtDNA are used by scientists to trace maternal genealogy down through the centuries and indeed through millennia.  To some extent, the same can be said for the role of Y chromosomes in tracing male genealogy.  Variations and mutations in mtDNA and Y chromosomes can and do occur from time to time, but are rare.  These variants establish markers that can be a distinct and identifiable element of the genetic makeup of women and men living many hundreds of generations ago, but can be identical with that of many adults and children alive today.

That these links actually do exist and that lineage can be traced back in this way is real, though it seems almost science fiction.

How far might genetic links affect our consciousness?

Now comes the hard part.  All this raises another question: just how complex and meaningful are these genetic links and what are their implications?

Could they be, in some people, the basis for the transmission of some form of knowledge, insight or some degree of genetic memory?  I don’t believe that babies, like that beautiful little one pictured above, are born with minds like an unformatted hard disk drive.  In other words, it cannot be that there is absolutely nothing in a baby’s brain – neither memories nor instincts or whatever you want to call them – just because science has not yet identified them.  And if there is something present in a baby’s consciousness, then leaving divine intervention aside, where-else could it have come from than the genetic databank that they were born with?

If this is so, could we have some awareness or “memory” of the lives lived in the past by other people with whom we have intimate genetic links? This may be merely some insight into those ancestors’ beings or some empathy or identification with them; or possibly, an ephemeral sharing of moments in the lives of those ancestors can exist through these genetic links.  We must ask ourselves: can knowledge and memories somehow be imbued into the genes or the genetic make-up of humans and then passed on over generations?

While we all share genetic links with our ancestors, not everyone is aware of them and some people may be more sensitive to these links than others, just as there are a number of documented cases of children with an uncanny knowledge of the lives of persons who have passed on well before they were born.  Of course when you hear these stories, there are many sceptics and science demands that we be sceptical but it also demands that we keep an open mind.

Ethnic groups with more enhanced genetic links

Now there seem to be certain ethnic groups where this genetic link may be purer, more acute or identifiable and more direct than for others.  Notably these include certain families of Lebanese origin, whose ancestors were the Phoenicians and Canaanites living in the great middle-eastern melting pot of civilization at the time of the genesis of monotheism and other major cultural advances some four or five thousand years ago.  In this part of the world, hatreds and ‘tit-for-tat’ violence have trickled down through generations over thousands of years, perhaps founding many of the apparently irrational conflicts still going on today.

There is also the Basque people from the eastern corner of the north coast of Spain and south-west France, whose ethnic identity and genealogy were insulated and isolated through millennia by simple but significant geographical and cultural barriers.  The unique nature of the Basque language and ethnicity, with their roots in the dimness of their own antiquity may also be emblematic of modern Basque social conflict with its controversial origins and complicated and often fratricidal extremes.

Though these two ethnic groups may be completely different, I posed myself the question:  could they indeed have come into contact and have mixed their genetic material some three millennia ago?  There is evidence to suggest that this may have occurred, given the seafaring exploits and trading empire of the Phoenicians.  And this gave rise to the further question: would the descendants of this genetic fusion be more likely than most other people to have access to whatever memories of their ancestors’ histories and lives that might have been engendered into their DNA?

With all that in mind, I also thought that significant moments in the histories of these ethnic groups, particularly those involving … birth and death, battles and revenge, murder and survival … could provide a telling back-drop and moving social context within which to explore the implications of genetic memory links between women and men alive today and their far-distant, long-dead ancestors.

Well, all of this has been the inspiration for the historical themes and part of the underlying subject of my novel “Where A Life Begins”, which is as much about human identity and what makes each and every individual who they are, as it is about the grander themes mentioned above.  For anyone who may be interested, “Where a Life Begins” should be available within the next couple of months.  I hope you’ll enjoy it.

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Unsure What Historical Fiction Is?

What do you think?  Lately I’ve been looking at the works of writers of historical fiction and what I mainly saw was authors like Elisabeth Storrs who sets her novels in the Etruscan era  and Alison Stuart whose novels are set in the 17th and 18th century England and started to worry that my novel “Where a Life Begins” wasn’t really “historical fiction” because it jumps back and forth between the wartime and post-war 1940’s and 1950’s and several different eras in Spain: Upper Paleolithic; Phoenician-early iron Age, Carthaginian, post-Roman-Visigoth, Christian-Crusades-Inquisition.  So it didn’t focus on just one era of history.  Was this a ‘no-no’? Could I be accused on being an ‘history  dilettante’? Its such a difficult genre to succeed in and avoid criticism.

Thankfully, I started to feel better when I came upon other sources that suggested that historical fiction could be divided into as many as 13 sub-genres (and there are others).  There was the “traditional” one, as mentioned above (though those authors might not agree); the “multi-period epics” that show how a specific place changes over the centuries; the “sagas” that follow families or groups of people over generations; the “western (US) historical novels”; the historical mysteries; romantic historical novels; historical adventure novels; historical thriller; literary historical novels; “time-slip novels” where characters shuttle between eras; “alternative history” novels where history happens differently such as where Hitler’s destiny is altered at an early age; and even “historical fantasy novels“.

I certainly breathed a sigh of relief as I’d been referring to “Where A Life Begins” as historical fiction.  But it still doesn’t seem to fit into any of these categories and so I’ve been “cross-genring”  (I know that’s not a real word) it, as historical/criminological/political/adventure fiction … though some people might even see some science-fiction or fantasy in it – and even history from a woman’s perspective, but I suppose such sub-genres don’t exist in the “real world”.  But does it matter?