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Publicity Boot Camp


The calm before the storm.

On Saturday 3rd May, I was lucky enough to attend a Market Development Skills Workshop at the State Library in Perth in conjunction with WritingWA and the Australia Council. Hosted by Jaki Arthur, Publicity Manager at Hachette, the full day workshop was offered to WA writers with at least one published title to their name. Participants included those I’d seen around the traps before in Satima Flavell, Iris Lavell and Deb Fitzpatrick, as well as other writers I hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting previously.

From the outset, Jaki was keen to have the fifteen precious souls before her see themselves not as the be-all-and-end-all of the book industry, but as admittedly important cogs in a larger machine. Writers were to avoid diva-ish behaviour (surely sound advice for anyone) and to strive to market themselves in an increasing competitive, increasingly lean and mean world of modern publishing. Jaki herself has been working in this world for many years and it was plain to see that she’s a veteran not inclined to fall for the latest fad. Kindles are yesterday’s news, ebooks accounting for a plateauing 21% of the Australian market. And her view on author blogs? Tangential at best. Just don’t email Hachette saying you’re a blog reviewer looking for a handout. I found Jaki’s approach refreshing and I know that many of the other participants were in agreement.

So what pearls of wisdom were dispensed? I was chastised for referring to myself as a ‘literary crime writer’ – ‘suburban noir’ sounds edgier. I did better at crafting a ‘strap line’, which is a 1-2 sentence blurb that you can roll out on command at tête-à-têtes at (or in the vicinity of) the bar. Here’s mine: “Thirsty Work is a suburban noir novel about an alcoholic ex-AFL player, the bottleshop where he works and the dodgy dudes in his life.” Looking at it now, I’m tempted to insert ‘plethora of’ before ‘dodgy dudes’ in that sentence, but I’ll refrain. We were instructed to write biographies of ourselves that didn’t read ‘X was shortlisted for Y award and won first prize at last year’s Z.’ No, our job is to entertain, to offer angles for publicists and other media types to exploit. Thus I was left scrabbling to remember amusing-sounding jobs I’d had to whack into my bio. High school English teacher is decidedly unsexy, but delivery driver for corrupt Romanian fish-and-chips outfit? Yes.

There was more. Big W, I learned, is now the biggest and most influential book retailer in Australia, but they won’t tolerate the words ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’ in books they stock. That’s fucking shit if you ask me. We had to come up with seven themes to describe our work, and here I groaned inwardly, recalling a conversation I’d had with my Year 12s the other day about my dislike of the word ‘theme’. But I tried, and I figured that as long as ‘white trash’ could be considered a theme, then I was all right. The merits of literary festivals were discussed, the consensus being that as long as you are invited and you don’t get turpsed and turn up in your undies, festivals are worthwhile. Oh, and you should read the other panelists’ book(s) before appearing on-stage with them in public. Again, I felt this to be the sagest of sage advice.

It all boiled down to something that no writer wants to hear and yet every writer needs to hear, including me: it’s not all about you. “You’re not a writer,” I joked to one of my colleagues, “you’re a content provider.” We were encouraged to think about who we might consider our nemesis in the literary world, but then to get over itWhat? We’re not to hold grudges interminably? Publishing is a people industry and we’d need to be people people if we didn’t want to end up on some publicist’s blacklist.

Then it was over and people were swapping business cards. Or, rather, people were handing me business cards and I was failing to reciprocate, my business card being non-existent. Another black mark. I left the session feeling energised. No, inspired. Heartfelt thanks to Jaki for bringing the expertise and to my fellow WA writers for bringing their goodwill and good humour.

Categories: My Writing
  1. May 6, 2014 at 10:15 am

    Great post, Guy. Such a good summary of the day. I also groaned inwardly when it came to the 7 themes exercise but it was so worthwhile in the end. My agent had told me that themes were for nobody but the writer so it was refreshing to hear Jaki’s opinion that themes were actually the most important thing when it came to publicity, rather than plot, because themes were the things that festivals and the media could grab hold of. Lots of work to do to follow up but I’m looking forward to it!

  2. May 6, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Hey Guy, good lord did I laugh at this – particularly the Big W para. I think you’d better make sure you insert the word ‘humorous’ in your mini-bio, when you next have the pleasure of describing yourself to a publicist at a bar. Great stuff, and lovely to share the desk with you on Saturday.

    • guysalvidge
      May 6, 2014 at 11:29 am

      Thanks for your comments, Natasha and Deb!

  3. Anthony
    May 6, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    Sounds great, Guy!

  4. jaki
    May 7, 2014 at 10:46 am

    Thank you so much for posting Guy – you have given ME lots to think about – was a great day wasnt it?

    • guysalvidge
      May 7, 2014 at 10:58 am

      My pleasure, Jaki. Thanks again.

  1. May 6, 2014 at 9:33 pm

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