So, you’ve realised your dream and your book has been picked up by a publisher. You’re eagerly awaiting the release, finally getting your hands on the printed version, the result of months of re-reading, editing, smoothing of edges and many last-minute changes of heart about a character’s name or the colour of their shirt. The big day comes, you may be lucky and have a book launch; it may coincide with an event to showcase your work; or it might just appear on Amazon to little more fanfare than a media release and a few social media posts. You thought the hard part was done. It’s only the beginning.
I can only speak from my experience, which is quite limited, and I must stress that writing football books is my passion, not my job. In March 2019 my first two books were released at the inaugural Football Writers Festival in Jamberoo. I was able to sell my books on the day, and appeared on a panel with other football writers to promote this unusual concept of Australian football fiction. In the lead up to that day, I was advised by my publisher, the excellent Fair Play Publishing, that I would need a social media profile. Having a Facebook account in my own name wasn’t enough. Authors and writers tended to hang out on Twitter, so with trepidation I took my first steps into the somewhat murky depths of the 140-character-limited social media platform.
Twitter is a wonderful playground for misinformation and the venting of spleens. It also has its fair share of baddies, who delight in ripping others down at the hint of an error or a slight kink in the armour. There are also lots of people who want to be followed for no other reason than to increase their followers by one. That’s where the mute function comes in extra handy, if you follow someone back and your timeline is suddenly peppered with their nonsense. I’ve never actually blocked anyone, apart from blocking direct messages from people who are clearly not who they say they are. Twitter can also throw politics around, depending on who you follow, and there’s not a single good word said about any politician out there, whichever side of the fence they’re on.
On the flipside, you can connect with likeminded people on Twitter and make it quite a positive place, a place where news breaks before it hits the mainstream media, and you can often get useful opinions in reply to a well-worded Tweet. The main reason for joining Twitter was, I guess, to be part of the football writing community, and to share interests with football people in general. In the beginning it was good for announcing the publishing of the book, the appearance at the festival and to show that the books were real and were being consumed. It was then a place to post photos I had received of readers with the books, giving them an international flavour – “Hey, I’ve been there” or “Hey, I know that person reading that book!” So Twitter has become part of my very sparse marketing arsenal, and I secretly enjoy it.
So what else have I tried? Without listing everyone, I’ve had a piece written in the local paper, back where I grew up back in England. I’ve had an article in the local paper where I now live in Sydney. I’ve contacted the one and only bookstore in my home town to no avail. I’ve appeared three times on local community radio, twice with the Lone Ranger on 2RRR in Sydney and once with Matt Christie of Plenty Valley FM in Melbourne. There have been podcasts for the publisher and with the writers festival. I’ve sent many books around the world in an attempt to get a shout out or a photo, or even someone to read them. It’s not a cheap exercise either. The best football bookstore in the UK, the Back Page Shop in Newcastle Upon Tyne received a copy of the first two books and promptly misplaced them. I sent in a friend who worked close by to get a photo in there instead with another copy of the books.
Probably the biggest coup was getting a story on nufc.com at the time of the release of Jarrod Black Guilty Party which sent the stats for this blog off the charts. I sent a book to Gateshead FC’s Heed Army, which figures heavily in the first story, and they gave it away on air on their podcast show. Darlington, the other team that figures heavily throughout the books, didn’t seem too interested. I did a book giveaway at a NUFC Sydney event before they played Liverpool at Cheers Bar in Sydney. Books went to journalists and reporters both in the UK and Australia.
Two successes have been Football Book Reviews, who have reviewed all four books, and My Football Books, who wrote a fantastic review of Jarrod Black Guilty Party. Recently I had a very positive review on the UK blog Edge of the Area which was a buzz, and there was a very early review on Goal.com. The books have been offered to many other podcasts and blogs, typically with no reply at all. Hopefully this continues to be a great source though of positive vibes for my writing, and I’d love to get more comments on each of the reviews.
My local football team, the West Ryde Rovers, have been awesome. I had a book signing in the park in 2020, and loads of people have bought or read the books. Feedback has been fantastic. My daughter’s club, Gladesville Ravens, ran a piece on their social media about the latest book, Anna Black – This Girl Can Play and that led to a few parents buying the book for their daughters. Sydney FC went the extra mile and ran a promo on their website (it’s still here) which was a fantastic way to get the word out and to get the latest book into the hands of actual players.
The main source of reader reviews remains Amazon. Getting a review on Amazon is probably the holy grail, although now that the rating system now includes ratings without description or name, there are mystery reviews that show up and you don’t see why the reader liked or disliked the book. I even managed to cop a one star rating for one of the books that was evened out by a five star rating with no review the next day. All looks a bit dodgy to me! The thing that surprises me is when a new book by a new author gets tons of Amazon reviews within the first few weeks. It’s been two and a half years and four books, and I’m still on about ten reviews with Amazon. What’s the secret?
So, the struggle continues. Anyone who reads the books tends to have something positive to say, but converting that positivity into reviews or ratings online to entice others to follow is not easy. If only I could get a famous footballer to endorse one of the books, or if someone with profile in the media would read one of them and tell the world. That’s what we’re all looking for. The more people read the books, the more I want to write. I must be doing something right, as we’re talking about a fifth release now with the publisher.
So, just remember, when you’ve finally got your hands on a physical copy of your book and the world seems kinda rosy, you’ve got a punishing task ahead of you to get the book in front of readers. Be prepared for a rocky road ahead!
Thanks must go to all the readers who have taken the time to leave a comment on the reviews, on Goodreads or even on Amazon. I hope you’ve enjoyed the Unashamed Football Novel series so far, and you’ll continue to talk about it and recommend it to your friends. And if there’s anyone else I should have mentioned, I apologise wholheartedly!