AN INTROVERT’S GUIDE TO SELF-PROMOTION by Nicky Slade

I was writing yet another begging letter to a magazine, imploring them, in the nicest possible way, to ‘take me, feature me, talk about Scuba Dancing, look I’ll roll over, and see, I do tricks’ when a friend asked: ‘Why on earth are you doing all this? Surely there are PR people to do this for you?’ I stared at her in surprise: ‘They’ve done their bit, now it’s my turn.’ She shrugged then returned to the fray. ‘But why you? Why do you have to do it?’ To which there is only one possible answer: ‘If I don’t do it, who will?’

That sounds martyred but it’s not meant to be. Because Scuba Dancing was part of the launch proceedings for Transita my book managed to get a lot of coverage not normally open to a first-time novelist. Okay it wasn’t all favourable but I think we’ve thrashed out the Radio 4 Open Book controversy enough to move forward, haven’t we? And I’ve restrained myself from making a wax image of anyone who said anything nasty about my sparkling prose.

Still, Transita, however helpful during and since the launch of Scuba Dancing, have other fish to fry and other novels to push, so, as I said, it’s all down to me from now on. Hence the begging letters. I should mention here that I really do find it difficult and although it may seem hard to believe I’m actually very shy. That said, I’m also able to assume a mantle of confidence born partly by years of pretending not to be shy and mostly by a fair amount of dramatic ability. (As my nearest and dearest has said, the stage lost a drama queen when I didn’t go on it)

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I really do find it painful to push myself forward to complete strangers, in person, by phone, email or snail mail, and say: ‘Read my book, say something nice about it.’ But somebody has to do it and that somebody is me. It’s paying off. I volunteered for the first talk to a writing group and it’s begun to snowball. I turned up at that first talk with a fully typed and punctuated script as prompt but threw caution to the winds and just winged it. It seemed to work and I soon had a booking on the back of it, word of mouth was working: ‘they said you were very good.’ I nearly died of shock! I know I can talk, in fact just try and stop me, but good? After a couple more talks - writing circles, women’s groups, reading clubs - I realised I actually was good. It was a strange and salutary revelation as the only public speaking I had previously done was to stand up in front of twenty-four little girls as Brown Owl when, apart from anything else, I was allowed to sing without rude remarks from my offspring. (It’s not that I can’t sing, I’m not bad in fact, but the kids objected to Mum singing loudly in M & S and B & Q and any other public place.)

So now the talks are coming along nicely and I’m always on the look-out for more - it’s great fun. I do my thing, get a discussion going, sell some books and, at the last one, was wheeled down to the wine bar and refuelled. I did get carried away and wave my arms around (we’re very Italian in my family, specially considering we’re English and live in Hampshire) and over went my glass - not to worry though, I’d drunk most of it. Then another cunning plan started to come to fruition. I’d been stalking BBC Radio Solent for months, and in particular the Breakfast Show presenter, Julian Clegg. We always listen to his programme and I knew he had his Julian’s People on in a regular slot, so I was over the moon when his producer rang to ask if I’d consider becoming one of his People. The first chat went well, though six-thirty in the morning isn’t my best time and I was glad to get through it creditably. ‘Well done,’ said a daughter, ‘You didn’t mumble or giggle.’ ‘No,’ I responded proudly. ‘And I didn’t tell any awful jokes, either.’

The producer made a date for my next appearance and I forgot about it. Then about ten days later I had a call, asking me to join in a discussion - in the studio - about the plight of the small bookshop, as highlighted by Alan Bennett recently. Would I agree to do it? Were they kidding? A chance to push Scuba Dancing again? It was only when I put the phone down that I realised what I’d done. A radio discussion? In a studio? The next day? I’d have to come up with something intelligent and the jokes would definitely have to be kept under wraps.

Together with a visiting daughter and a friend I jotted down some half-way sensible ideas, hastily read the Alan Bennett article online and booked my husband to drive me into Southampton for 7.45 am. I’m not actually human at that hour and the traffic into town is vile, but in any case, I’d have had trouble keeping my husband away, he was dying to get a look into a radio station.

In the end it was fun. That did surprise me, I’d expected to be twitching non-stop. Radio Solent enlisted Giles Lewis to put the small publisher’s point of view and the other guest was a local bookshop owner. I managed to sound intelligent and not like the girl in the Harry Enfield show: ‘I don’t know about that but I do love little fluffy kittens.’ Giles and I also managed to shoehorn in what seemed like dozens of plugs for Scuba Dancing and Transita and when we flagged, Julian Clegg, who is extremely affable, did the plugs for us. I boggled - but preened - when I heard him introduce me as a ‘best-selling, top local author’ but I’m all for a bit of hyperbole myself so I just grinned and bore it.

Since then I’ve been on several times in my regular slot (my, doesn’t that sound grand!), as well as being called in again, this time to discuss mature romance and dating for the over fifties. I also attended the programme’s Christmas party, at seven o’clock in the morning, which was huge fun.

All along I’ve maintained that the ideal reader for Scuba Dancing was the Duchess of Cornwall so, just for fun, I sent her a copy, suggesting she might be amused by the twin themes of mature romance and life-changing experience, as well as the rival claimant to the throne. I was surprised and touched to receive a hand-written note of thanks from her, saying she was looking forward to reading it!

So there I am, a media tart, popping up on Radio Solent to the manner born, appearing in local magazines, corresponding with royalty, and talking to bona fide groups as if I know what I’m talking about. And when I’m on a roll, I can be quite shameless - my latest trick is to distribute bookmarks in ladies’ loos - but only the nicest ones of course!

 

 
 

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