The Indie Showcase presents, Helen Hollick

Today’s guest has a special place in my writing life. If it hadn’t been for her, I would never have been where I am today. She has encouraged me at every turn and I’m very pleased to welcome her to the Showcase.

The Big Problem…

by Helen Hollick

‘Write about anything, you, your writing, your books…’ said Richard when I asked him what sort of article he wanted. So I guess my question – and his answer – were both of those ‘how long is a piece of string’ sort of  things. Unhelpful.

I have an ongoing problem. I didn’t always have this problem. Back in the days when I only had my Arthurian Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy ‘under my belt’, as the saying goes, it wasn’t a problem.

Nor was it a problem when my novel, Harold the King (titled I Am The Chosen King in the US) about the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 was published. It started becoming a slight concern when A Hollow Crown (titled The Forever Queen in the US) appeared in print.

And became the conundrum it is now when my series of pirate-based adventures, the Sea Witch Voyages set sail.

Marketing. Spreading the Word. Shouting (politely and not too loud) about the books I’ve written (and a few I still hope to write) that is the problem. To coin a well-known phrase (with apologies to Bill) ‘To do or not to do, that is the question?’

‘Do’ is the obvious answer of course. Without marketing how will readers know what good  books worth reading are out there? Having a book available on Amazon, the Great Bookshop On The Interweb, is all very well, but there are millions of titles on there (even trillions?) How, as  authors do we do so? Yes we, for my problem is the same problem for nearly every writer, especially indie writers, because ‘do’ is easier said than done.

When my Arthurian Trilogy came out, and Harold, I was with a mainstream publishing house, one of the Big Names. But computers and the Internet, back then pre 2000, were new-fangled things. Believe it or not there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no whatever-a-gram. And – biggest shock of all – we didn’t even have Amazon! I know, amazing isn’t it?

The publishers, back then when my first novel, The Kingmaking was published in 1995, took care of the marketing. And boy did I get marketing! They had paid a rather nice advance (for the three books of the trilogy) and, so I thought, wanted their money back plus a lot of profit. Turns out the first bit of that last sentence was true, but not the second bit. Once publishers have had their investment repaid they lose interest, unless you happen to hit the jackpot with a runaway best seller, in which case you become their darling and you get marketed all over the place. Otherwise, forget it. You get a month’s worth if you are lucky, then that’s it. Zilch. Nothing more. If the book doesn’t sell, too bad, once the advance is earned back you are no longer important, and neither is your novel. It’s the equivalent of being shoved away in that old cupboard up in the attic, you know, where you put things you don’t really want any more but don’t want to throw out in case it might be worth a bob or two in about 100 years.

I digress.

For the Kingmaking  I had my five minutes of fame (nope, not even the traditional fifteen). The press were on to me: ‘Author has huge advance’ (not true by the way). The Evening Standard wanted an exclusive so they took me and the family out for the day: lunch, photos, questions. I was invited on to you-name-it-I-was-on-it radio. ‘Wow’ I thought.

Then the publishing company was sold. They were in financial do-do. The Kingmaking, despite the media attention wasn’t a best seller. Part Two of the trilogy was published, Pendragon’s Banner. Barely any marketing happened.  I was told: ‘Don’t worry, we’ll do the marketing when the pocket-size paperback comes out.’ That changed to: ‘Don’t worry, we’ll do the marketing when the third book comes out.’ They didn’t.

Skip to the publication of Harold the King. Ditto above.

A Hollow Crown, not even ditto. No marketing whatsoever. Historical fiction in the early 2000s was no longer popular so the publishing house dropped me. So did my agent. (Who, I must say, had done s** all for me anyway!)

I spent two weeks sobbing, picked myself up… blah blah… and decided to go indie. Which is when I realised that to sell books meant to market yourself and your books.

In between 2006 and now, in 2019, I have learnt a lot about marketing, using Social Media, going to conferences, giving talks, writing articles, running a blog, getting my name (and my books) known.

The rule for self-marketing is: don’t go on and on about how wonderful your books are. Yes of course, every so often Tweet or Facebook with things like: ‘one of the best novels about 1066’ or ‘King Arthur – the man not the myth, what a refreshing change’ or ‘ I loved Sea Witch’ (see what I did there? Banging on about how wonderful your books are is a tad off-putting isn’t it?) So marketing is subtle: write articles as guest posts, blog about the subjects you write about, chat, make on-line friends, take up all your writing day promoting the book or books you’ve already written while being aware that you really ought to be writing the next one…

Ah, is that ‘The Problem’ then, I hear you ask? All this stuff diverting attention from the next book that I ought to be writing, instead of sitting here writing this article for Richard?

Well, no actually, I regard article writing and social-mediaring as all part of the job, and I enjoy it. I get to meet new, nice people, and hopefully sell a book or two at the same time.

The Problem is… which book do I promote next? I can’t do them all at once. Or can I? Hmm maybe I need to think about that…

Oh, I’ve just taken another look at Richard’s guidelines:

“Don’t moan or whinge’ he said.

Does trying to share decision-making about what books to promote and how, in order to try to sell them, but knowing it’s an uphill struggle and that you might be wasting your time anyway, count as a whinge? Maybe not in this case, because I know for a fact that every indie writer has the same doubts… and the same problem…

Hang in there folks. It IS worth it. Honest. (I think.)

© Helen Hollick

Helen lives on a thirteen-acre farm in North Devon, England. Born in London, she wrote pony stories as a teenager, moved to science-fiction and fantasy, and then discovered historical fiction. Published for over twenty years with her Arthurian Trilogy, and the 1066 era she became a ‘USA Today’ bestseller with her novel about Queen Emma The Forever Queen (UK title A Hollow Crown.) She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, pirate-based nautical adventures with a touch of fantasy. She has written a non-fiction about pirates and one about Smugglers In Fact and Fiction, due to be published in 2019. She also runs Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for Historical Fiction.



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Thanks to Helen for a great post. I hope you all enjoyed it.

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Have a great week,



6 Responses

    • Richard Dee

      You’re very welcome Helen, thank you for a great post

  1. Richard Tearle

    What Helen, perhaps modestly, fails to mention but which you allude to, Richard, is her sterling work in helping Indie authors in all ways from pure encouragement to reading through a Ms and making suggestions. I know of a few new authors who have benefited from her help.
    Her tale above is a good guide for Indie authors and her experience is invaluable

    • Richard Dee

      Indeed, and partly why I offer the showcase posts to aspiring and the lesser known authors. Every little helps, as they say.

  2. Inge H. Borg

    As another historical Fiction author, I feel your pain, Helen. It’s hard when there are no bars reaching for the sky (or even appearing as a lonely blip) on one’s Amazon reports.
    But, most importantly, thanks for encouraging us “to hang in there.” So, I am hanging – it might be a thread, but I will.

    • Richard Dee

      Even if it’s by my fingertips at the moment, I’m hanging on!!!

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