Pagan Malcolm has always dreamed of becoming an author – she began writing when she was just five years old, and even handwrote and illustrated a twenty-page story in year four, convinced that it would be her debut. ‘[It] was a blatant rip off of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ she admits in retrospect. But after years of practice Stuck On Vacation With Ryan Rupert emerged at the end of year nine, and by the time Pagan was in year twelve the first query she ever sent landed her a publishing contract with her manuscript Lanterns in the Sky. With a seemingly solid writing career ahead of her, Pagan turned down her university offer after she left high school.
Unfortunately, life is no fairy tale and her publisher Lycaon Press announced it would close not long after. This left Pagan with a suddenly stalled career, landing her in waitressing instead. Living in the regional Whitsundays in Northern Queensland and coming from a financially disadvantaged background, Pagan had to reconsider her career trajectory as an author. Networking was impossible with the closest writing centre being fourteen hours away in Brisbane, and writer’s festivals and internships in the big cities were out of her price range. However, this was only the beginning of the journey towards the hard-won success of her company Paperback Kingdom. (The book did eventually find another home years later at Parliament House Press, but after going through rounds of rejections.)
When Pagan decided to have another shot at publishing, she self-published Stuck On Vacation With Ryan Rupert without a marketing strategy. She rarely used social media and did not work on building her presence in the market until after her book launch. While it was, as Pagan says, a ‘fatal mistake’, it was also an extremely valuable learning experience for her. Her greatest tip for emerging authors is to reach out to their audience as early as when still writing their book. ‘It takes time to build connections,’ Pagan says, but if you reach out to readers on platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, ready with teasers and eye-catching graphics, you will capture the interest of readers. A pre-existing fanbase adds great appeal to your book when approaching publishers because they know that your book has an audience. The internet and social media can be a writer’s greatest asset, and having an online presence in today’s market is crucial. Things like cross-promotion on newsletters, guest features, virtual book launches and social media take-overs are extremely successful marketing methods that authors can drive on their own.
Learning from her mistakes and determined to succeed, Pagan started researching everything about marketing – and fell in love with it. ‘One time I even scrolled back through Kim Kardashian’s Instagram,’ she says, ‘all the way to the start to find out where the exact moment was that her social media presence shifted and blew up.’ She stresses that marketing isn’t just for authors who are self-publishing – the most common misconception that authors have about marketing is that a publishing house will take care of it for you. ‘Even the most famous authors will take ten minutes out of their day to respond to fans on social media.’ To market yourself effectively, Pagan suggests sticking to your author brand: the feeling that people get from an author’s presence and message. The way you present yourself on and offline affects how you attract your target audience and your subsequent book sales. ‘If you write dark fantasy but you’re branding yourself as a cute, contemporary author, you’re not going to attract the right people.’
Tired of working full-time in hospitality and having no creative energy at the end of the day to write, Pagan combined her newfound love for marketing and her desire to create a supporting community to establish her own business, Paperback Kingdom. When asked if she always saw herself becoming an entrepreneur, she replied, ‘Heck no!’ Before binge-watching courses on Skillshare and teaching herself economics, she thought that bad mathematics skills also equalled bad business skills – that economics was more related to cooking than to business. Now, her workday as an author, writing coach and business strategist looks something like this:
8:45am Wake up, make a cup of tea and prep for a livestream.
9:00am Gives a live training session in her writer’s group Happily Ever Author.
9:30 am Check emails, post social media content, do other admin tasks.
10:30 am Blog, send some sales emails, or work on resources for her business.
11:30 am Spend time in writing groups helping authors.
12:00 pm Lunch! Pagan uses this time to watch Netflix or training from a coach.
1:00pm Coaching call with a client, working on their book or marketing strategy.
2:00pm Clock out if there are no other tasks and head out for a while.
6:00 pm Check emails again, prep tomorrow’s tasks, get ready for dinner.
9:00pm Works on her own books and ‘author’ related tasks before bed.
Pagan’s number one marketing advice for writers? Use social media and aim to engage – not to promote. ‘Nobody likes being sold to until you’ve proven why your product is worth buying,’ Pagan says. Engaging is critical to attracting attention and building genuine relationships that will indirectly lead to sales. When thinking about networking in the publishing industry, Pagan recommends having these industry connections on your radar:
- Book bloggers – for building reputation and increasing visibility.
- Other authors – your peers can offer you cross-promotion opportunities to reach new audiences, as well as chances to collaborate.
- Introductory readers – the hardcore fanbase who may have started out as beta readers. You can fully count on their support when it comes to cover reveals, book launches, etc. Pagan suggests sending them free copies or merch as a thank you.
- Real world connections – booksellers, event planners, somebody in the publishing network. Maintain a relationship with them because you never know when you could be asking for a favour.
Pagan credits social media to ‘a plethora of opportunities’ that she couldn’t have otherwise accessed in her regional small town. In her business, she is now reaching out to many fellow authors through social media to offer them the same support that she needed when she was an aspiring author. Pagan built this career for herself before she turned twenty-one, through nothing more than sheer passion and determination. And she believes that you can do it too.
Gladys Qin is a science fiction writer who is studying a Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing at the University of Melbourne. She is a production editor at Grattan Street Press.