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If I'd known then...
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[Today I have a guest blogger, fellow Poisoned Pen Press author Jane Finnis. Like Mary and me, Jane writes Roman historical mysteries. Her first century Aurelia Marcella series is set in the province of Britannia right on the edge of the Roman Empire. Buried Too Deep, the sequel to Aurelia's earlier adventures Get Out Or Die and A Bitter Chill, was published this month, see Jane's website. Jane lives not far from the Yorkshire coast, and recently traveled south for an appearance in Cambridge, where a most interesting question was posed to her. Here she ponders further upon it.... ]

If I'd known then...

I've been travelling this week. June is a lovely time to be gadding about in England - trees and hedges in wonderful green leaf and blossom; gardens a blaze of flowers; weather - well, OK, this is England, so you can't guarantee wall-to-wall sunshine, but as it happened I had sunny days for most of my journeyings. Beautiful.

Of course I wasn't wandering about merely to admire the scenery. That was a bonus. My third Aurelia Marcella mystery, BURIED TOO DEEP, is just out, and I wanted to tell the world about it...well if not the entire planet, at least the mystery lovers who went to the CrimeFest convention in the western port city of Bristol, and then the folk who two days later gathered at Heffers bookshop, in the ancient university town of Cambridge, in eastern England.

Whenever I meet mystery readers, I'm always prepared for a bombardment of questions about my work. "Where do you get your ideas from?" is one of the staples. "Why do you write about Roman Britain?" is another. (One of our small relatives, now grown up so I won't embarrass her by giving a name, once asked me, "Do you write about Roman Britain because you can remember what it was like?")

At Heffers bookshop, the questions were good. There were just two of us fielding them, both published by Poisoned Pen Press; Laurie R King, and yours truly. I was delighted to be appearing with Laurie; she's a prolific and popular mystery writer, besides being entertaining company. The queries were put to start with by Richard Reynolds, who's in charge of crime and mystery at Heffers - books, I mean, in case anyone was thinking it didn't sound a very safe place to visit. I must stop using this kind of bookish shorthand - I sometimes find myself saying things like "I went to a great crime evening on Tuesday," and wondering too late what passers-by must make of it.

Richard posed several deliciously challenging questions, and his very first was something I'd never been asked before: "Can you pick out one thing which you didn't know about being a published author until you became one, and which has surprised you?"

Yes, I can. I never realised just how much we authors are expected to be involved in the marketing of our books, even when we're very new and unknown. Of course I knew that best-selling authors gave press interviews and appeared on tv and radio, and signed copies of their books at bookshops, and sometimes even gave talks. But I thought that only happened once they had become best-sellers.

Not so, I learned. We are all roped in to the selling game, from our first novel onwards; in fact it's a necessary rite of passage to becoming a best-seller. I don't know if I'll ever achieve that exalted status, but I sure as eggs won't achieve it if I don't help with the marketing as best I can.

The traditional image has the writer beavering away in solitary state in her/his study, garret, or shed, writing and re-writing the MS till author and publisher are happy. That's true as far as it goes. But I'd assumed, like most readers, that I'd hand over the finished book to my publisher and say, "OK, that's my bit done - now you go ahead and sell it." That isn't how it works at all. Perhaps it never was. But in this market-oriented age, we're all expected to do our bit to help our books sell.

Authors have different ways of doing this, of course. Whether it's going to conferences, signing copies in shops, speaking to readers' groups, organising an interesting website, running a lively blog, circulating newsletters to keep readers up-to-date...the important thing is to be in touch with readers, so they don't forget that choosing and buying a book is a far more rewarding experience than choosing and buying a can of beans.

As I said at Heffers, all this came as a surprise to me. And Richard was too tactful to ask a follow-up question which I, as a one-time BBC radio interviewer, might have lobbed in for good measure. If I'd known then what I know now about marketing, would it have put me off wanting to be published?

Of course not! I write because I want to, and I want people to read my books, and if that means I get to help put the word about, it's fine by me. I enjoy the chance to make contact with my readers or potential readers, face-to-face when I can, or through the wonders of the Internet. And I reflect on this: the out-dated picture of the author cocooned in her solitary garret has one major drawback - solitary can equate with lonely. Many authors in bygone days used to complain that theirs was a lonely craft. Nowadays, it isn't.

Authors in the 21st century may have a more strenuous writing life than their predecessors did; but there's no doubt in my mind that it's a more interesting life too.

--Jane Finnis

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