Coverage and Uncovered

Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell has a new book out in September. I know this because Radio 4’s Today programme kicked off by announcing that the writer was trailing his new novel by putting a short story out on Twitter.  A four-minute interview, not to mention numerous plugs throughout the show, gave David Mitchell lots of lovely prime time exposure so that he could explain why he wasn’t ‘a social media animal’, didn’t want to be seen as a ‘gimmick chaser’ and, er, to promote his new book.

Well, good luck to David Mitchell, or his publicist, for garnering so much attention, but I do wonder what made this particularly story so newsworthy. Twitter fiction isn’t news, as any of Joanne Harris’s followers will tell you (and her #storytime treats are exquisite). And although Twitter used to be about conversations, it’s now overflowing with authors flogging their books prompting me, one morning when I could see nothing but promotional tweets, to write this haiku:

Twitter streams gleaming
With shoals of shiny fishes
Sweeping out to sea.

According to recent figures published by the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society, authors’ incomes have fallen dramatically, so it’s not surprising that we’re all trying to raise our profiles. Actually, looking at those figures, I can only aspire to even the lower levels of those earnings, so I’m as keen as anyone to come up with innovative and interesting ways to make readers discover my books so that I can keep on writing. Some of these methods, like my Pinterest Boards and Spotify playlists, are useful tools in themselves and help me build my fictional world as I write a novel. Others, like guest blog posts and the occasional short story, are time-consuming, unpaid work which I hope will attract potential readers’ interest or even, perhaps, a four minute pre-recorded soft interview on Today.

Well, you might reasonably say, you’re not David Mitchell. True, I’m a woman who writes romantic fiction, but my novels are far from ‘churned out’ – a label which seems to be frequently applied to genre fiction that’s easy to read. My writing ‘voice’ is often playful, but look beneath the surface and you’ll find plenty of serious issues. There are references to alcoholism, homophobia, neglect of the elderly, rural deprivation, isolation and emotional abuse to name a few, but my personal pact with my Choc Lit readers is never to leave them with the feeling that they want to sleep with the light on and to always end on a happy, up-beat note.

I write slowly, waiting for the characters to reveal their inner natures and carefully, mentally listening to the rhythm of the words as I form each sentence. Oh, and my characters happen to have sex. I’ve had a couple of comments about Follow A Star being a bit saucy, but I never include a sex scene for the sake of it but because of what it says about a couple’s relationship. Cathy, for example, the heroine’s mum in Follow A Star, has been terribly hurt in the past. She’s miserable about ageing, hates the thought of losing her looks and sees sex as an affirmation of her youth and vigour so likes to show off a bit. For me as a reader, explicit sex scenes with graphic descriptions of bits and bobs are a bit of turn-off and potentially disrupt the flow of a story unless they’re written very skilfully. As a writer, I try to make those love scenes all about the characters’ hopes, fears and expectations – albeit, with a sometimes seaside postcard dash of humour. I may not be a ‘literary’ author - so I’m never going to get that Radio 4 interview - but I work hard to make sure that every one of my novels is as good as I can make it.

And as literary writers are forced to mingle with the rest of us on social media, they might even find it a rewarding seam in terms of engagement with their readers. I’ve had some wonderful comments from people who’ve enjoyed my novels. But it would be nice to hope that one day I’ll earn a living from my writing too.

The painting is Bad Moon Rising by Tom Tomos


Jane Lovering said…
With you all the way! It does seem that you have to be at the 'top of the tree' to get the promotional opportunities that make your next book even more likely to get picked up by people... But I guess we just have to plug away and one day, we too, may become 'overnight successes'! Best of luck with your efforts, Chris! x
Chris Stovell said…
Many thanks, dear heart, for supporting me in my ranty hour! x
Laura E. James said…
I'm with you all the way, Chris. To write a novel that is accessible to all, that is universally understood, takes as much skill as creating a literary piece.
Chris Stovell said…
Thank you, Laura. As Jane says, we'll just have to keep plugging away.
Mandy K James said…
Very well said, Chris. On day our ship will come in. When it does, we'll climb aboard and sail away on a sea of deferred gratification. Oh yes of course we could perhaps make more money writing 'cotton wool'( lots of puff but not much substance)stuff as I call it, but I agree that writing meaningful, yet entertaining stories are much more rewarding.
Liz Harris said…
A really interesting post, Chris, and one that will resonate with a great many authors of quality commercial fiction. it certainly does with me!
Frances said…
Chris, I'm delighted to report that my very own copy of Follow A Star has been delivered. I am already up to Chapter 5 and am thoroughly enjoying the story and seeing how your characters get to know each other.

I do agree with all that you've expressed in this post.

May I also mention that I was vastly disappointed with the well-received book, The Goldfinch. It seemed very over-written to me, and the timeline seemed unreal. I had to stop reading it and return the book to the library. Of course, other folks disagree!

I did love reading Cloud Atlas, but could not bring myself to see the movie.

Taste is a funny thing.

Please let Tom know how much I like his Bad Moon Rising.

Sally Malcolm said…
I heard that interview too, Chris, and had to chuckle at the author's protestations that he was somehow using Twitter in a way that lifted him above the publicity scrum. I guess it if makes him feel better about it.. ;)

But there's no shame in writing stories that entertain and leave people feeling happy. The world is a grim enough place - what's wrong with a little feel-good fiction?

BTW - I'm reading Follow a Star and loved that you included a sex scene with an older woman. That's not something you often see in any media. Good for Cath - and good for you!
Chanpreet said…
It's funny, as a reader I know that the books I love have taken lots of time, hard work, and tears. I know that goes for any book in any genre.

I know it's hard not to pay attention to everyone else, but you've got to do you and forget about everyone else. If you compare yourself to others you'll end up unhappy and miserable.

Besides Chris, I love your books. :)
Chris Stovell said…
I'm away from home connecting via a hot spot . Just signed and seen your responses - thank you all!

Mandy, here's to the ship coming in.x

Liz, thank you for your fellow feeling and for commenting.

Frances, thank you so much for buying Follow A Star and for your very kind comment. I have to say - without being unkind - that I'm reading a prize winning literary novel which reads like creative writing class exercise. I can see the craft but can't engage with the characters. my loss perhaps. X

Sally that's what made me foam at the lmouth a little bit too!
And so true about the news being grim. A little light relief is surely no bad thing. I'm quite fond of Cathy.... Can't why....
Chris Stovell said…
Wise words, Chanpreet - I just couldn't help feeling a bit miffed at something that wasn't really newsworthy getting so much air time! However, I take great comfort from your kindness. Thank you!
Chris Stovell said…
Pesky touchscreen keyboard .... Can't think why, was what I should have typed, Sally!

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