Anyone who has stumbled across this blog in the last year cannot fail to have been hassled by me plugging my book of sixteen humorous stories, entitled Preposterous Tales from the Newbury Short Story Teller, available here all set in my English home town.
It’s one thing writing a masterpiece (smirk), it’s another thing marketing it, as my Amazon royalty payment of £1.11 in December 2019 will testify. There’s an overcrowded market out there. The recent development of self-publishing means us amateur writers can see our treasured tomes in print, but on the other hand, now everyone can be an author, and probably is.
As someone who is naturally more pully than pushy and probably more ‘you-you-you’ than ‘me-me-me’, then the thought of singing my own praises and promoting my book is as alien as completing my tax assessment and nearly as repellent as paying it.
So, when my good pal and author Chris Fielden launched his hilarious Books of the Bloodless: Volume 1: Alternative Afterlives – available here – my attention was grabbed by its inclusion in an on-line competition called Cover Wars.
From what I could see, this is an American-run site which pits 10 self-selecting books against each other every week. Anyone can vote on-line for their favourite with a quick click, and indeed can repeat this on each of the seven days. Every competition starts and closes on a Sunday at 10am Eastern Standard Time and the winner receives a ‘free on-site publicity’ for the following seven days. A modest prize perhaps, but it all helps. While the pretext of the competition is to judge the best cover, in reality it is more a count of who has the most supporters.
On the morning of 29th December when ‘my’ competition week started, I emailed all my contacts with a brief introduction and instructions of how and how often to vote, while my wonderful wife and campaign manager, Joanne, did the same with her Facebook pals. Recipients were generally kind enough to vote and pledge their daily vote across the New Year week.
When a vote is made the updated score is immediately shown. Over the first few days, it became clear that there were only two of the ten titles going for gold, that was ourselves and an American title: A Good Name by Sarah Courtney.
With the difference in time zones, a pattern emerged that the scores were neck-and-neck at UK beddy-byes time, but come brekkers, the Americans had spent our night time hours voting heavily and taking a good lead, which we clawed back when it was their time to sleep. It soon became pretty competitive and the pace of votes was growing. People contacted us to say they were organizing their lives around their daily vote and encouraging others to do likewise. News of the battle was spreading. I’m led to believe that 350 votes is enough to win the competition most weeks, but at waking-up time on the Thursday, the half way point, the scores already stood at:
A Good Name by Sarah Courtney 45.46% (506 votes)
Preposterous Tales From The Newbury Short Story Teller 39.26% (437 votes)
Cue more hassling from Jo and I as our net was scattered wider. We bothered friends we hadn’t spoken to for years and trawled our email contacts, eager to lure votes from people only there because we might have once ordered furniture from them or raised a question about an item on Ebay. These tactics worked well, and come Friday, despite the increasing rate of votes for both titles, we went to bed a full eight votes ahead. But overnight, our adversary really pulled out the stops and by Saturday morning, day six of the week, A Good Name was sporting a lead of over 150.
A Good Name by Sarah Courtney 50.03% (729 votes)
Preposterous Tales From The Newbury Short Story Teller 38.23% (557 votes)
It was then I learned a valuable lesson. I was ready to concede on a fight well fought, but Jo was having none of it. She went into overdrive. Whatever was happening Stateside, having come this far, Jo was adamant we weren’t going to lose. I picked the right girl there.
On ‘Super Saturday’, as it has now become known, remarkable things happened:
– Ken, the landlord at our favourite Newbury pub, the Old London Apprentice responded to Jo’s desperate call. Being a staunch patriot and always prepared to support good causes, Ken recognised this for what it probably wasn’t: a straight Britain v America fight. With Trump throwing his weight around the day before, taking out Iranian military hierarchy, Ken did his all for pub and country. All his locals were accosted to vote and the many social media groups the Apprentice is affiliated with were called to arms and their votes clicked in.
– In Spain, our good friends, on holiday in a resort with many ex-pats, bothered fellow diners in a restaurant, pleading help in supporting the homeland. Having obtained many votes, but not the personal target they had set themselves, bless them, they took to the streets (calles) and politely accosted innocent pedestrians (peatones) to do the same.
– My youngish pal Graham, piano teacher extraordinaire, started a competition within his student group to vote and spread the word, which yielded an amazing number of votes.
– Emails and Facebook messages were coming in from all over, giving stories of personal efforts and contagion. We appreciated every single one.
Let me assure you that this was all in the rules, which basically allows any form of activity to gerrymander votes. Karma played its part when I snuck into the local library at opening time, before the homeless, drug-fuelled and feckless arrived, to vote from each of the 30 or so internet-connected PCs. The great god of fair play saved my shame by ensuring they had all been disabled from all out-going activities, including voting.
But no matter, apart from the two hours we spent in the Apprentice to assist in Ken’s efforts and drink his fine ales, much of the day was spent at home aka campaign HQ, sending yet more requests and constantly refreshing the Cover Wars site to check on the latest score. By the time we staggered to bed after an emotional day, we were shown as not just clawing back the heavy deficit but were a remarkable 208 votes up.
Preposterous Tales From The Newbury Short Story Teller 50.7% (1,159 votes)
A Good Name by Sarah Courtney 41.6% (951 votes)
Americans had one last day ahead of them to do their darndest. But was 208 a big enough lead? If Sarah Courtney had a Platoon Sergeant half as good as Field Marshall Jo, then who could tell…
Overnight, A Good Name received a paltry twenty more votes. I don’t think the Americans had our large stomach for the fight, tuning their baseball caps the wrong way round on their heads, choking on their ‘grits’ and not even making first-base. Meanwhile the Brits had piled in, drunk their tea, tipped their bowler hats to a jaunty angle and been far too polite to even speculate as to what first-base actually means. The competition ended on the Sunday with the following score:
Preposterous Tales From The Newbury Short Story Teller 59.45% (1,721 votes)
A Good Name by Sarah Courtney 33.66% (971 votes)
AMAZING. What else could we do but go back to the Old London Apprentice to celebrate a fine victory?
We thanked and do thank everyone who took the trouble to vote, whether they knew us or the book or not. The energy raised during the week could have powered the streetlights of the Newbury bypass for a month. It seemed to bring to many a real feel-good factor among folk who I’m sure were genuinely excited about being part of it.
It showed that people are fantastic: that if we can stick together, then wonderful things can be done.
With 1,721 votes, I expect Cover Wars will be sending me a crown and a sash to wear as I am carried aloft through the crowds of Newbury Market Place on a golden bookcase. I’m still waiting for delivery but imagine this is purely down to the US Postal Service and their use of Eastern Standard Time. I’ll let you know.
On a more tangible note, the prize of one weeks free publicity on the Cover Wars site attracted five Amazon purchases of Preposterous, which is a splendid five more than most other weeks. This almost makes up for the six pre-printed copies I gave away to fans and the intrigued during the competition.
An unexpected benefit is that I’ve been invited to be interviewed as ‘Author of the Week’ on ‘proper’ author Esther Chilton’s Esther Chilton’s superb and entertaining blog. I should be on it in January 2020, but in the meantime, please take a look at Esther’s site for fun, interaction and her wonderful books.
Importantly, I think Charlotte’s magnificent cover deserved to win. I may be wrong, but I think it was the only original artwork of the ten entries and what with her illustrations within the book itself. I am very proud of her. Should you wish to see any more of her work, then look here. Well done Boo. I love ya. Dad xx
Finally, a thought for Sarah Courtney, whoever you may be. I’m sure your A Good Name is a splendid book and I hope it does really well for you. No hard feelings, I hope, but you can stick it to Mr Trump!