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Friday, September 7, 2012

Lessons from the Launch: Guest Hijacker Gwynneth White

          Our hijackings have been taking us all over the world and today we're off to South Africa with our guest  Gwynneth White, who discusses launching a book and some of the marketing involved.


My first novel, Pledged, has just been officially launched on the digital platforms. Your first novel, I hear you say. So why should we listen to you, rookie? Good question. But maybe I do have something to offer because I’ve been on both sides of the publishing fence for a very long time.

My first non-fiction travel guide, co-authored with my husband and business partner Andrew, was published in 1994. That book, now long out of print, hit bestseller status within six weeks, selling over fifteen thousand copies in two years. I don’t say that to boast – we got lucky, catching a wave of interest in overland travel to remote, uncharted destinations. It opened a huge market and it allowed us to visit some of the most beautiful places in Africa.

So, my first tip: read the trends and try to be first. Not easy. As I say, we got lucky.

After our initial success, we steamrollered onto the next project. But just weeks away from publication, our publisher went under. Thankfully we managed to prize our titles away from the liquidator, but that didn’t really solve our immediate problem. Our livelihood was tied up in writing and filmmaking. Neither was enough on its own for us to survive without the other.

That was when we chose to do the unthinkable. We took out a bank loan – terrifying – and self-published our full colour, hardcover book. Talk about a learning curve . . . I still get heart palpitations when I think about it. (Please note: this all happened back in the ‘90s when self-publishing was career suicide, and it would have been better to hack off your own arm than to admit to such an offence) The book’s production costs were dizzying, and the effort to get the bookstores to take us on as vendors, frantic, but we did it. And our book sold, and sold. Those sales inspired us to start a publishing business and we are still producing and selling full colour, non-fiction books in 2012.

Was that success thanks to aggressive marketing?

Not really. Andrew was just uncompromising on quality. Our books had to be the BEST we could produce. (He’s a Virgo, and believe me, they can be pedantic perfectionists. He’s also a cult follower of Steve Jobs, so there’s a clue) Andrew’s doctrine is simple: if it’s worth doing, then it’s worth investing in. Only the best research, writing, photographs, editing, covers, and printing would do, so we spent money to make money. The strategy paid off then, and it pays off now.

Tip two: Make your book look so good (both inside and out) that people just have to have own it. 

So how did we market?

Fourteen books and countless DVDs later, Andrew has become a recognized expert in his field. He now has his own TV series, which obviously helps sell product. But in the early days, did we Twitter? No. Own a Facebook page? Didn’t exist. Blog? I beg your pardon? Never heard of it.

We did the odd book signing, sent a few copies to the press and magazines, recorded a couple of radio interviews, and then waited for word of mouth to kick in and move books for us.

In all honesty, I must admit we are also helped a by a sales rep (yes, we have one). He fights against the other publishers for the best spots in the bookstores for our products. Often, however, you only get that prominent spot after word of mouth has kicked in. It was a conundrum in the 90’s and still is today.

But instead of lying awake worrying about where our books were stashed in the stores (Amazon rankings in today’s world), we continued to work, writing the next book or shooting the next movie to ensure a constant supply of fresh material to sell. And we’ve made a good living for almost twenty years doing just that.

Tip three: An artist is only as good as his or her last piece of work. And trust me, the word of mouth machine has more to talk about if you have more than one product on the shelf – virtual or physical. It creates a momentum of its own.

So, obviously, given our self-publishing background, when the time came to release Pledged, my young adult fantasy adventure, Andrew merely slapped a digital arm onto our existing business and set about learning the new art of digital publishing. Three months ago we sent Pledged out into the blogging world for a massive blog tour launch.

And then I forgot everything I had ever learnt about publishing . . .

Do I have the second book in the series almost complete and ready for editing? No, but I’m an expert at Twitter. And my blog is stunning. Did you know that my characters from Pledged write it for me? And I religiously followed Pledged’s every move as it make its way across cyberspace for its launch. And I get new Facebook likes everyday. And I can sit on Goodreads for hours, just staring at the number of people who have marked my book ‘to read.’

Hmmm . . . and how much rent does all that activity pay? Not much, to be sure. Will it get the word of mouth machine working for me? Maybe. But if I don’t have a second book for all those Facebook ‘likes’ to read, then it’s all been a complete waste of time.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that you don’t market. The world has changed since the 90’s, and the ‘odd book signing’ just won’t cut it anymore. But, like all good things, it’s about balance – a lesson I’m having to learn in this age where the internet can be far more alluring than solving a plotting problem in my book.

Tip four: Never loose sight of why you’re using Social Media. You use it to promote your books, but you only have books to promote because you’re a writer. And what do writers do? They spend the majority of their available time writing.

Somehow I forgot that in my eagerness to create the all-important ‘platform’. Platform? What a horrible word. These are people we’re talking about. People we hope will become as passionate about our characters and our stories as we are. And that, I momentarily forgot, doesn’t just come from Twitter follows and Facebook likes. It comes from real people being genuinely touched by our written word. Real people who love our work and will seek out our books regardless of whether we Tweet about them six times a day.

So if, like me, you are spending 80% of you time marketing and only 20% writing, then maybe it’s time to disconnect from internet because something is very wrong with that equation. You cannot market what you haven’t produced. Remember tip three – the more books you have, the more people talk about them, and the more money you make. Simple mathematics.

So how should we market so we can still write?

Leverage. You only have so many hours in the day and you can’t do everything. So get someone else to do the marketing for you – the way we did in the 90’s. Only now, in 2012, you have literally thousands of enthusiastic people eager to tell the world about your books – for free. So help them do it. By ‘them’ I mean the book bloggers.

My diversion into the world of social media has taught me a valuable lesson. The book bloggers are as dedicated to promoting their blogs as we are about marketing our books. They will happily review a good read, posting their thoughts on Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, etc. Most will gladly host giveaways, promoting you on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter. Bloggers relish good character or author interviews - and any other interesting content you can dream up that will make their blogs appealing.

Making all this marketing magic happen is as simple as asking. Obviously you also have to provide free review copies and prizes. Then you undertake not to threaten the blogger’s life if she gives you a bad review - after all, books are subjective, and not everyone likes everything. (You smile . . . trust me, it’s happened)

To my 90’s conditioned logic, this kind of marketing sounds like a better deal than giving away thousands of free books on Kindle Select in the hope that someone, somewhere may actually read it, and then be inspired to write a review. And it certainly beats spending all day Tweeting the same tired message to the same long-suffering handful of followers.

Final tip: Work smarter, not harder by using all available resources.

Pledged went ‘live’ on the 1st September and my next book is not yet ready for release, so folks, this is goodbye. Thanks for reading this post, but I’m off to do what I love most – write my novel while my blogger friends market my book. And so we all win. Life doesn’t get much better.

Gwynneth White

I have spent my entire life living in a parallel universe of make-believe characters, only coming back to reality for long enough to check that no one burnt the house down in my absence. A few years ago I decided to commit some of those ‘friends’ and their stories to paper. The Soul Wars Saga is the result of those efforts. Before that I co-authored two non-fiction travel books – The Complete Guide to 4x4 Trails and The Ultimate 4x4 Guide. Both books became instant bestsellers in South Africa where I live. And before that even, I studied a degree in African History and Politics at the University of Stellenbosch. When I’m not writing, I am a wife to Andrew and a mom to Stephanie, Erin, and Kate, our teenage daughters. My family and I live in a small town outside Cape Town with two dogs, a cat, a horse, and some neglected fish. Now that you know a little about me, I would love to get to know you. Please befriend me at:

Twitter: @GwynnethWhite



Pledged is available at:


  1. Wow, that's a lot of information in one post! Time management - working on it. Clones would help, but I really don't have those yet...

  2. It's funny how much the marketing game has changed since the 90's. Yes, I think most writers have the issue of 80% marketing and only 20% writing. I suffer from that in waves.

  3. Oh gawd. Now I feel guilty. I just finished the first draft of my first book and have been cooling my jets for a while... I guess I'd better get off my keester and get writing number two... why does your post remind me of when you have your first baby and everyone around you starts bugging you about having baby two before belly bump one has even deflated.

  4. what a delightful story of success, warm greetings to South Africa up from central Europe :)

  5. Excellent, excellent advice coming at just the right time for me. Thanks. :)

  6. Marketing madness going on here for the next week and I needed to see some encouragement. Great post. Off to write! (After I fold the laundry, make coffee, and wash dishes)

  7. Thanks so much for coming out to talk to us Gwynneth, your post was incredible enlightening about the publishing business. Here's wishing you the best of luck with your new novel.

  8. Inspiring story and a lot of great information. Too often I forget that writing is the most important link in the chain of my career as an author.

    Thanks for hosting, Arlee! Good stuff.

  9. It was really interesting to read about your personal publishing story. Great advice!

  10. I really enjoyed your post. Packed with great information and a very entertaining look back at your publishing adventures. Will spare a few minutes to connect with you and then it's like you said, back to writing!

  11. Amah-zing information packed post Gwynneth :)

  12. So much great information and a nudge I needed. I'm currently very much guilty of the 80% marketing 20% writing problem right now. Must adjust. Thanks for the reminder.

  13. Thanks for the kind comments. I needed the post too to remind me of priorities :)

  14. Great content here. And selling that many books back in the early days of publishing is a huge accomplishment!


  15. Thanks, Gwynneth, and you too, Arlee. I've just spent the last 3 years promoting and promoting and promoting, and my God am I tired of it. Your approach makes good sense, Gwynneth, and I appreciate that. Every little bit helps.

  16. I think one of the most valuable ways of learning about the industry & the different methods one can use, is to hear from people who have already done it. Thanks so much Gwynneth for sharing your story. :)

  17. Great post! And great advice in that writers need to write. By having other blogers help promote our books we can reach audiences we could not otherwise reach with little effort.

  18. Gwynneth, thanks for a very informative posts.

    A big thank you to all who stopped by to leave a comment.


  19. Wow, awesome post, Gwynneth. Thanks so much for talking about then vs now, it's really interesting to see how things have grown/changed. heading over to visit your blog!


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