Attention Seeking by Jan Needle

Jan Needle
          All writers are different, but all writers want people to read their books, preferably in sufficient quantities to finance the odd bit of high-life (like putting filly con carne on the menu occasionally. Sorry – not my joke, I got it off Facebook.)

          Now, some of our AE members are a lot more energetic and knowledgeable about promotion than I am, or ever will be. To name a couple at random – John A.A.Logan and Julia Jones. Follow them for any length of time, and you see two people who are working their socks off at far more than the original grind of writing. They enter competitions, they follow other people’s blogs, they review, they respond to comments, they make comments themselves.
          I don’t know John (although I’d like to – I love his writing) and I do know Julia. Love her work, too – and she also has a fantastic boat. What a combination!
          I don’t know how much of a payoff they get for their terrific energy, even for the prizes and accolades they win, but it will work out to great advantage in the end, I’m certain. They deserve to be read, and read and read.
          And get rich, of course…
          Which leads me neatly on to me. All my creative energy goes into writing the bloody things. I read the blogs by the energetic crew who promote, and enter things, and write to people, but I haven’t got the nous to emulate them. Or maybe I’m an idle git.
          So – how about this for an idea? Last month I told you I was redoing my thriller Kicking Off to make it a bit less raw and stomach-churning. Now I have, and it’s almost ready to go up on Kindle. The original version will be taken down, of course, and the new one will have a flash across the cover declaring NEW EDITION.
          But before this happens, I’m putting up a pretty full taster – for FREE (that magic word). People will be able to read and absorb the essence very fast indeed, and will – I hope – want the full monty as soon as they are offered it (for the price of five sevenths of a pint of Joseph Holt’s best bitter!)
          Both the digest and the full book will also trail the next one in the series about Rosanna (The Mouse) Nixon and Andrew Forbes – which is called The Bonus Boys, and is ready to go.
          I’ll do what I can in the way of promotion, naturally. Which means I’ll mention the whole thing on my Facebook page and Twitter. What more can an idle and confused technophobe do? Starve to death on David Cameron’s doorstep? (He’d notice, obviously…)
          It really is a key concern for us virtual authors, I feel. How to get noticed. So, that’s my current plan on the thriller front. Anyone got any other ideas/suggestions?
          This is how the start might look. (It's been cleaned up a bit to keep this site a wee bit shock free):

‘A Car
Smash on Speed’ – your FREE short cut to a world of 
 violence and corruption

          Before it became an ebook, film-maker Roger Graef (The Police, Closing Ranks, The Secret Policeman’s Ball) said of this thriller: ‘A compulsive read that feeds your paranoia.’

          Convicted murderer Jimmy Boyle (A Sense of Freedom, Pain of Confinement: Prison Diaries) said: ‘I found myself being drawn back into that twilight world again, despite myself. I was grossly entertained and thrilled.’

          The Times: ‘Reveals a Britain regressing to the dark days of Dickens.' Guardian: Compelling for its vivid, racy narrative…chilling authenticity.

          Apart from all that, though, it’s quite a simple story. Freelance investigator Andrew Forbes is working with a Customs agent friend to crack an international drugs scam. Unfortunately the government – and the CIA – are desperate that they don’t succeed. Forbes, who lives on a very seedy London street, is under surveillance by two very seedy secret service men…


           'What I can't see,' said Paddy Collins, 'is what he gets out of life. I mean, for Christ's sake - a Porsche in a street like this, I ask you. And it's never moved, in two months to my certain knowledge. What's he got it for?'
       The fat man did not reply. They had been in the street for three hours now. Three hours and seventeen minutes, to be precise. He eased his buttocks on the driver's seat. He sucked his teeth.
          The fat man and Paddy Collins had a grievance. The target had a Porsche, they had a Corsair. It was meant to be inconspicuous, but it was old, a ghastly vomit-green, and quite possibly the only Corsair left running in the south of England, perhaps the world. As inconspicuous as a sore green thumb, and they were stuck in it.

          'I'm bored,' he said. 'News time.'
          Paddy Collins turned the radio on, and they listened in silence for a while. For the third day running the main news was the jail siege, somewhere north of the Border, somewhere where the savages ran around in skirts, and that was just the men. According to the reporter, there was snow on the ground up there. Snow on the ground, and snow on the roof where sixty-seven prisoners were standing, dressed in overalls and blankets. Collins shivered.
          'Mad,' he said. 'Insane. They ought to bring back hanging, didn't they, as a human kindness? Or transportation, to a warmer clime.'

          These two men were bored, but on the prison roof, a young life was just about to end, a strange event that would bring about their own deaths not much later. But on the night the protester fell, nobody seemed to notice. He was surrounded by Scots hacks – hard bitten, hard drinking men. And all oblivious. Only the Mouse took note…Rosanna Nixon.


          When Rosanna Nixon finally went into the back room at Eliot's, an ironic cheer arose. She was known to many of the Glasgow crew as young and inexperienced, with a degree in five eighths of sod all. She was quiet and a trifle superior, and she had Bleeding Heart written all over her. In her granny coat and boots, her woollen hat pulled down so far it almost touched her dripping nose, she did not even look worth trying to get to bed.
          Later, though, when they'd got a few big ones inside them, they were friendlier. This involved mocking her unmercifully, but in a jocular way, about her absurd belief that the Buckie Jail siege mattered, or that anybody really cared.
          'Forget it, hen, God's sake!' yelled a man called Angus. 'They bastards up there are just thickarses. The government'll see them freeze or starve to death before they lift a finger. Damn right too.'
          'How is it right?' yelled Rosanna. She had to yell because the bar was full, and everyone was drinking whisky in full-throated cry. 'They've been brutalised! Conditions in Buckie are appalling!'
          Those near enough to hear her yelped with laughter. There were prison officers in Eliot's now, their shifts at the barricades over. Policemen, too. Many of the journalists were chatting to them, happily, hoping to pick their brains for usable quotes and bankable opinions.
          'Tell that crap to the lads!' roared Angus. 'Them on the roof are cavemen! You're wet behind the ears!'
          Sandy Hamilton, slightly younger and less drunk, decided it was time to be nice. With four large Grouse inside him, and a pint or two of lager, he felt irresistible. His eyes were wet with lust.
          'I'm on your side, darling,’ he shouted. 'The way ah see it—' He stumbled as he tried to move in on her, and much to Rosanna's astonishment, Angus then became proprietorial, taking her roughly by the upper arm.
          'Hey hey there, Sandy,’ he warned. 'I saw her first. Back off.'
          Rosanna jerked her arm free, spilling half her whisky. Both men immediately tried to buy another for her, but the Mouse had had enough. As she pushed her way towards the door, she heard her esteemed and valued colleagues talk about her.
          ‘Aye, Rosanna, Rosanna Nixon. She’s a graduate, know what I mean?’
          ‘I surely do. Knows damn all and full of bullshite. She dresses something different, eh?’
          ‘So she does. She’s called the Mouse. Nice wee pair of tits, though.’

          From her hotel bedroom, Rosanna discovered, to her distress, that she could still see the roof of Buckie Jail. She stood at the window for several hours, on and off, watching the huddled black shapes, picked out sometimes as moonlight slid behind the chimney stacks. The fringes of their kingdom were illuminated constantly, and harshly, by batteries of mobile arc lights.
          One of the men she watched, although she did not know it then, was called Jimmy McGregor.

          It was Jimmy who got pushed, or fell, or was maybe targetted when the SAS went in. Targetted with a new device, a sort of super-Taser, targetted and – sadly? – killed. The man behind it was a politician, young and upward thrusting. He was aiming for the top. When Forbes and Rosanna finally team up, he is one of the men they have to fight. Not the most evil, though, and certainly not the most dangerous...


CallyPhillips said…
Methinks you do protest too much. Pretty good promo there Jan. It's up to US now. We need to get behind you and promote this via OUR social networks and outlets and stuff. That's the way it really works - everyone working for each other in the way they know best how to do. I'll be reading/reviewing and generally bothering people about it soon. Promise.
You aren't really an idle git. Not as long as you keep the idea 'from each according to his ability to each according to his need' in mind eh? You have so many followers on FB that you just need to sneeze and the world catches a cold. As we say up here 'gaun yersel' big man' (actually, you need to be 200 miles south for that one!) We just say 'fit like loon?'
Dennis Hamley said…
I too am rubbish at promotion. I've put it down to being a lazy, ignorant old git and was rotten enough to put you in the same category. But now it seems as if I'm the only one left. It will take me some time to come to terms with that. Oh, how I agree with you about John and Julia - and many others of our AE friends. You've given me a wake-up call, though sadly I've had lots of them but just turn over and go on sleeping.

But the taster of Kicking Off is brilliant - as I would have expected - and that's a really good idea. But let me get this straight. You mean your free taster will be on Kindle (or whatever)? I didn't find that quite clear. Your estimate of the price was pretty impressive, although I don't think we can get Joseph Holt's down here? How does the price compare with Old Hooky?
Chris Longmuir said…
I'm rubbish at promoting myself as well, so you're not alone Jan. and I agree with Cally, we should all help each other. And for my contribution Jan, you'll have a mention in one of my posts as Crime Writer in Residence for the Edinburgh Ebook Festival. You too, Dennis. The post with Dooms and Death is already written and the book read! Still have a lot of reading yet though as I work my way through my reading list.
"All my creative energy goes into writing the bloody things."

I think what you said there is the key, Jan, and that is how it should be.
Two very successful indie authors, J A Konrath and Dean Wesley Smith, have long said that just writing the next good book, and putting it up on sale, is the best promotion possible...

In my case, I had NO capacity for self-promotion whatsoever...the idea horrified me, went against my nature absolutely.
So, I put "all my creative energy into writing the bloody things"...books...for 22 years, novel after novel...and never saw any of them published (not having the self-promotion gene at all!)
13 times during that period I did stuff a short story into an envelope and send it off, and those were published...but that required no self-promo...

Then the time came to epublish The Survival of Thomas Ford 14 months ago...I was sure I would do no self-promo...but then I saw that the book sat, unread/unbought...

I'd written 6 books in 23 years, with no self-promo...
Now that one had been epublished, was I just going to do nothing with the opportunity?

No, by mid-January, I found myself naturally entering a season of promoting the Ford book...I didn't think of it as self-promo, I was promoting a book that others had believed in, agents, film consultant etc, editors at publishing houses too...

I promoted the book probably just about as hard as I'd seen those professionals push it for over a year, trying to get it published in London (not that I actually SAW, from my perch up here in Scottish Highlands...but they were on phone to me...)

It was just time to do it.
After 23 years of zero self-promotion...concentrating on writing only...I could see the wisdom of spending a year or so trying to learn how to find readers online for my work.

The results really amazed me...32000 downloads...a hundred or so reviews...several thousand pounds/dollars have readers for my books after 23 years of only having books and no readers.

I find this an incredible situation and the door is certainly potentially open to anyone who wishes to try their luck.
Again, I had ZERO interest/aptitude for self-promotion/book-promotion this time last year.

I still don't really think of anything I did as self-promo though...I just bumbled around the internet, looking for wee ways here and there to contact potential readers.
Still not sure what worked and what didn't, I tried so many little avenues.
It was fun too.

(Interruption there, while I repelled a cold-call tele-sales call...the Universe has a sense of humour!)

Having a free extract from KICKING OFF is a good move.
I will now Tweet it!

Jan Needle said…
Thanks for all your comments and offers. Probably a wee bit premature as the digest is not quite finished and then it's got to be put up on Kindle. Matti is investigating how long it can go up free and all that sort of stuff, then it'll be go. i wrote this blog post to keep my friends and colleagues in the picture - I think Cally's right about us being real friends as well as virtual - and to see if people thought the digest thing was a good idea (or just another bit of displacement activity!)

I know what you mean, John, about not being a self promoter, but I suspect you might be underestimating what you've done. Not ALL my energy goes into writing the bloody things, of course - I have to practise my mandola, whistles and accordian (and mouth organ, and baritone ukelele, and auto-harp, and even der verstunkene nose flute, god help me) - and I'm almost clear enough to do a small bit of work for Dennis that I offered well before Christmas - it'll be there soon, old thing.

But the key remains getting out there, and I'm pretty sure it requires much kicking. 32,000 downloads sounds like damn good boot work to me. Thousands of FB 'friends' on the other hand, Cally, I suspect means five eighths of three fifths of the proverbial.

Might I suggest that anyone who tries something that palpably works should share it with the rest of us? I bought one of Cally's four shifted copies yesterday, see. And idle git that I truly am - I'd going to read it! And if I don't like it, I'm going to hitchhike to Turriff and cop a lend of her ATV! Now that IS displacement activity!

PS Sorry about the peculiar typographical layout of the blog. It looked perfect in preview. And I didn't put the picture of me up, honest. The plan was to highlight Julia and John.

PPS Have YOU got a boat, John?

PPPS Smack my wrist...

Debbie Bennett said…
I've just sent a post off to the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival blog site (to which I occasionally contribute) saying something very similar - the best way to sell books is to write more books. It's working for me.
Jan, I don't even have a bicycle...(though I do have ambitions to one day purchase a bicycle, not having owned or ridden one for 30 years now!)
Bill Kirton said…
Apart from saying the promo idea sounds good to me, Jan, I need to establish my own credentials as an idle git. I think idle needs qualifying though - I'm idle when it comes to avoiding things I don't like doing. I'm not idle when it comes to writing, but the business of promoting and selling holds no charms. I'll take your word for it, John, when you say it was fun but I'll need some persuading. On the other hand, it's a necessary evil. Good luck, Jan. I'll join the tweeters and FBers in plugging it.
Hmm...I think I made it fun for myself by never thinking of it as promoting or selling...just thinking of it as a privilege that I had been afforded an opportunity at last to get my work to readers online (after 22 years of not being able to get my books past the agent/publisher stage)

That was why I did that post in May last year here, Fending Off the Next Dark Age...about John Kennedy Toole, Mikhail Bulgakov, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa...who had done the writing, but had also had a desire to be published in their have their novels published...but this opportunity was withheld from them.

So when the opportunity to have readers for my novel arrived 14 months ago, I realised it was a privilege, a blessing.

What had been real torture was when I had two literary agents, and a film consultant (the one who had discovered Slumdog Millionaire no less...all my friends thought then I was a "sure thing"...even my agent did and said so!)...the real torture was watching THEM trying to promote and sell my work, over an 11 year period if I count from my first literary agent's contract, and get nowhere...

Compared to that...the opportunity to promote, sell, find readers...whatever we call a paradisiacal blessing.

In the attempt over more than a decade to make me a "paperback writer" in the UK, the agents/film people/editors/famous authors who supported me had only encountered failure...and they had no explanation for it, not even for themselves...

But, as an ebook novelist, the door was open, if I wanted to do the else was going to do it for me...

I suppose what I mean is:
It was fun 14 months ago to suddenly have the OPPORTUNITY to promote/sell my novel in the UK/USA/Australia/India/Japan etc

A lot more fun than the previous 22 years of having no way at all to get my books out to readers.

It's not something I want to be cynical about.
For all I know, the opportunity could be over next month, the door closed again, so I want to appreciate it when it is there.

NOT FUN to me, is writing book after book after book after book after book after book...for 22 years...and seeing none of them published.

That's where I came from 14 months of course the sudden opportunity to publish/promote/sell/interact with readers...and interact with fellow writers like your good selves (until last year I had not even met/talked to any fellow writer for what? 17 years, unless you count the one day in 2002 I was invited/paid to read a story at the Edinburgh Book Festival) this opportunity is a Golden one to me, absolutely precious.

Yes, including the promoting/selling, Bill!

Though each thing has its season...
I wouldn't try doing much promoting in a serious writing phase...or while getting ebooks ready for publication...which I have to do with 4 or 5 soon, the next phase!

But I had that long 22 year phase of all-writing/no promo or selling...wilderness years I was bound to enjoy the last 14 months of promo/ a counterbalance, if nothing else...though again, what I'm trying to emphasise is that, for me, it's been far more than that, it has been a privilege.

Feels like someone threw me a lifeline 14 months ago.
Jan Needle said…
Dennis asks for the details. I might need/guidance/opinions/advice. My scheme at the moment is to put the digest - say fifteen thousand words - up on Kindle for free. For a couple of weeks, if that's permitted. Presumably with the first edition removed from Kindle. So that the taster will be a free-standing, cost-less (as the Germans say - so much less ambiguous that our priceless!) 'novella'.

It will contain a clear indication that the full-length NEW EDITION will be up within a couple of weeks, plus a lead-in extract to The Bonus Boys. All books published at £1.80 ish. When the new Kicking Off is up, the digest will hang around for a while if that's allowed, or disappear. I'm open to suggestions as to the quality of that idea. Maybe just disappear?

Then, out comes The Bonus Boys. I'm firing in the dark here, so any reactions will be more than welcome. They don't have to be on this forum. My email is

And you must be able to get Holts somewhere in the south, surely. It would be most unfair if not...
Dennis Hamley said…
Jan, I'd forgotten all about the little task I set you. I'd assumed you'd decided the book was crap but didn't like to tell me. Well, in your own time, mate. I'm known for my extraordinary powers of patience. And I'll be watching the progress of your taster carefully. I've never seen Holts don here and God knows I've looked.
glitter noir said…
Very interesting. The teaser was terrific, Jan, and I'll look forward to reading the entire book.
glitter noir said…
My last comment was a little terser than intended. Self-promotion's something we all need to at least try to get a better grip on. For those who are the best at it may share a few scraps from their tables while they keep the great feast of their tricks to themselves. I'm squarely on Cally's side here: not just for ourselves for all indie writers, we do need to band together and help each other out.

Further to John's story: it took me twenty years of rejection before I could see my first book through a combo of commercial property, good outline and query, persistence, timing--and all out Tootsie gall. But my story doesn't end there. Partly because I lacked any marketing skills whatsoever, my career ended after five short years. And that led to twenty more years of nothing but rejection. So you could say I have strongly vested interest in improving at self-promo AND helping my brothers and sisters.
glitter noir said…
Second paragraph: should read 'before I could sell my first book'
Bill Kirton said…
I now understand exactly what you mean by fun, John, and wil, try to embrace it in the same admirable, grateful spirit that you've shown. Thanks for the enlightenment.
glitter noir said…
Just gave you a big Twitter shout-out, Jan, putting my Tweet my mouth is. :)
Jan Needle said…
Thanks for that, Reb. But shouldn't you try to get some sleep!
Wendy R said…
Sympathise with much that you say Jan. All the (very useful) shouting out can take so much energy that there is little energy left over for making sure the actual writing is of the highest standard - very important in the indie publishing world I think. I do like your extract. It has a good edge and is very engaging. w
glitter noir said…
Can't sleep, Jan. Too many foxes in the hen house. And too many good fights to be fought. All the best.
julia jones said…
Dear Jan, Can't think of anything intelligent or helpful to say. You know I liked Kicking Off very much and I'm looking forward to the new version. You are a generous and supportive friend and anyway I wouldn't have joined AE if you hadn't suggested it and that would have been a big loss to me. So thanks again
Jan Needle said…
Reb, you need urban foxes. They clear out the hen house on a regular basis, and you can sleep!

Julia - you are intelligent and helpful merely by being my friend. Thanks
glitter noir said…
Thanks for the delightful response, Jan. Apparently, I've been chasing the wrong sort of urban 'foxes' around. Time to let the ladies go, for now, and get a real hen house cleaner!

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