Using The Internet To Catch The Attention of Potential Readers

Andrew Crofts, one of Britain’s leading ghost writers and supposedly the inspiration behind Robert Harris’s novel The Ghost, argues that authors should utilise electronic media to sell and promote themselves. His books include The Freelance Writers’ Handbook: How To Make Money and Enjoy Your Life , Writing Handbooks: Ghostwriting, as well as Sold, The Little Prisoner, Betrayed and Shattered. His website is

If you are about to publish a novel what can you do to catch people’s attention when there are thousands of competitors coming out in the same year, many of them competing for exactly the same readers?

At the beginning of the publishing process, when the adrenaline of the deal is still racing through everyone’s veins, there is often the hope that the publisher will find some magic formula for achieving this. Everyone is always very optimistic at early meetings about what can be achieved with public relations and maybe even a bit of advertising spend, but in the end there is a limit to how much time and budget any publisher can allocate to any one title if word-of-mouth doesn’t cut in pretty quickly. That means it is up to us authors to ensure that our books do not sink without a trace simply because of all the competition. With the growth of the electronic media, of course, we are all empowered in ways that never used to be available to us.

At the same time the problem has grown all the more acute in recent years as more books are published and potential readers have less time to listen to what we are trying to tell them.

So how do other industries meet this challenge? The same problems have troubled the film industry and the music industry for years and they have developed “trailers” and “promotional videos” for just that purpose. MTV pointed the way some years ago with its use of promotional videos as entertainment, and the Internet has provided the vehicle for the publishing industry to follow in their footsteps.

I have a novel coming out later in the year. It is called “The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride”. It is the memoir of a fictional young soap star who becomes a national icon. All Steffi’s dreams come true when she lands a starring part in the country’s biggest soap opera, has a number one Christmas single and wins a Bafta. The whole country falls in love with her but heartless media revelations blow apart everything she ever believed to be true about her family and about herself. Her real mother turns out to be a woman who has not been treated so kindly by the celebrity machine.

The young soap star is the narrator of the story, so the material lends itself well to a treatment in the style of Alan Bennett’s famous “Talking Heads”. Fortunately I have a daughter, Olivia, of the right age and description (not entirely co-incidentally, I confess), who can “be” Steffi McBride. She kindly agreed to take the part. The resulting ten-minute film was then posted onto YouTube, and a website was created.

The idea is to start building a buzz on-line a good few months before publication, to make people curious to find out what happens to the character they have now actually heard talking and can put a face to. I hope that Olivia has humanised the character and that the words she has spoken will have whetted the appetites of potential readers enough to make them want to buy the book when it appears on the shelves in front of them. If an author can do that, then the publisher (Blake in this case) has something they can build on when publication dates approach and their promotion machine gears into action. They have a story they can talk to journalists about and a character who is already familiar to at least a proportion of the potential readers.

So, watch this space!