We took five with author L.J.M. Owen ahead of her publicity workshop for writers, a weekend intensive over 8-9 April. L.J. will help you create a personal publicity strategy to ensure your work finds its audience.
Can you tell us a little bit about your writing background?
It’s rather mixed. I began as a strictly academic writer, wrangling data and statistics into meaningful explanations of archaeological research. After that I spent years drafting urgent public service briefs and preparing detailed legislative instructions. Give me a research topic and I’ll have a paper on it to you by 9am tomorrow!
The creative side of my writing blossomed recently. I had oodles of archaeological information whirling around my head, a passion for promoting women in history and in STEM and a deep-seated love of food, cats and cosy mysteries. I decided to bring them together in a series of Canberra crime novels: Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth. That meant studying creative writing.
My day job involved long office hours, so a regular course wasn’t an option. I fell back on cramming skills learned as a student. Moments of waiting for a phone call or sitting in a doctor’s office became opportunities to study plot, character, storyworld or theme. Ideas for the series sprang to mind continually. I jotted them down, joined them up and wove them together to complete my first book.
One self-published work, two traditionally published novels and a shift to freelancing later, and writing has taken over. This move is heartily endorsed by my feline overlords as I’m now at home fulfilling what is apparently my true purpose in life: cat recliner.
Do you find promoting your work to be one of the hardest parts of being a writer?
Absolutely. Before I launched my first novel on Kickstarter (a crowdfunding website) I thought I had finished the hard yards—writing the actual book. I was mistaken. It became apparent that the toughest job a writer faces is promoting their work to readers.
I threw myself into publicising that first book with a vengeance, thinking I just had to apply myself. The more effort I put in the greater the pay off, surely? Unfortunately not. Book promotion is not always logical or straightforward. In the beginning I probably made every mistake there is to make on Facebook and Twitter, felt overwhelmed by media interviews and became increasingly exhausted.
After three cycles of book promotion and heading into a fourth, however, it’s becoming easier. I’ve sampled most of the publicity options available to authors on a limited budget and have designed a strategy that works for me. I anticipate promoting my books will continue to be hard work, but every time I hear from a new Dr Pimms fan, it’s all worth it.
Can you share a couple of invaluable pointers for the authors who are struggling in the wild world of book promotion?
Number one: it’s okay if you find it hard or bewildering. The majority of writers I’ve spoken to find self-promotion difficult. Most authors would prefer to write books, not tell strangers about them. It’s natural to find promotion challenging.
Number two: your time is precious. As important as it is to develop a publicity strategy that works for you, it’s equally important to identify activities that don’t work. For example, if you’ve given Twitter a red hot go and decided you really don’t like it, then don’t keep using it. Instead, invest your time and energy in an item from your publicity plan that you find rewarding.
As a self-confessed introvert, how do you get past your fear of public speaking?
Prepare, prepare, prepare! Once I feel prepared I can stand up in front of an audience with confidence. Before my first few book events and media appearances I practiced speeches and mock interviews until the words flowed naturally.
I don’t prepare to the same extent these days, but I still experience ‘introvert hangovers’. After too much socialising or extroverting—especially when I’m the focus of an event—I need personal space for several hours to recharge my batteries. To begin with, I fought the need for this quiet time, but now it’s become part of a lovely post-public speaking ritual.
What can writers expect from your upcoming book publicity intensive at the ACT Writers Centre on 8 & 9 April?
The aim is for each attendee to complete the workshop armed with their own publicity strategy and the necessary knowledge to implement it. It’s important that each person’s plan fits in with their available time, energy, money and what they are prepared to do.
We’ll break down the main activities available to a local author in terms of social media and digital marketing, bookseller and library events and traditional media. I’ll walk through the challenges, pros, cons and potential pay-offs of each activity and give examples throughout. I’d particularly like to help other writers skip over mistakes I made in the early days of promoting my work.
Book promotion is hard, yes, but it doesn’t have to be bewildering. After this publicity intensive, writers can approach publicising their own books with confidence.
Dr L.J.M. Owen escapes dark and shadowy days as a public servant by exploring the comparatively lighter side of life: murder, mystery and forgotten women’s history.
A trained archaeologist and qualified librarian with a PhD in palaeogenetics, L.J.’s Dr Pimms, Intermillennial Sleuth series has been described as ‘the thinking person’s cosy mystery’.
L.J. launched the first novel in the series, Olmec Obituary, on a crowdfunding website in late 2014. It was picked up by a publisher just five days later. Described as “the thinking person’s cosy mystery”, Olmec Obituary won a Highly Commended at the 2016 ACT Writing and Publishing Awards.
Book Two in the series, Mayan Mendacity, hit shelves in November 2016.