This is a snapshot of a campaign to get an enterprising and talented poet published and promoted.
The project started in April 2008 when Oliver Gozzard decided to write a modern sequel to the life of the romantic poet Lord Byron – a full-length thriller in verse. Gozzard wrote it over a two-year period, entirely on train journeys between his home town Lewes and his day-job in London. He then edited it, also on the train, having taken in the views and comments of friends.
I was an early supporter of the work. I read an advanced copy of The Commuter’s Tale in Autumn 2009, thought it a terrific yarn – capturing the spirit of the times- and made some suggestions, offering to help in its promotion. Gozzard and I started with a letter-writing campaign to secure celebrity endorsement for the book, between us sending a sample of the first dozen – of the total of 200 – stanzas to around 25 celebrities and well-known poets asking for supportive quotes.
From the responses, five were selected for use in promoting the book: best-selling author Joanne Harris, TV presenter and journalist Jeremy Paxman, Radio 4 poet Elvis McGonagall, veteran performance poet Attila the Stockbroker, and Norman Baker MP, who, fortuitously, subsequently was appointed Transport Minister before the book’s publication.
The editing process continued through many versions, and in the summer of 2009 the publishing imprint Desert Hearts agreed to publish The Commuter’s Tale. Artwork was prepared, with a superb photo-montage for the cover designed by Daniel Hart with photography by Laura King, and print arrangements made. A launch date of 22 January 2011 was set because 22 January was Lord Byron’s birthday.
In December 2010, once the version text of The Commuter’s Tale had gone to the printers, Gozzard started the online promotion of the book. He set up Commuter’s Tale sites with Facebook (@The Commuter’sTale Oliver Gozzard), Twitter (CommutersTale) and MySpace (Oliver’s Poetry) and started pre-publicity for the book. He also revamped his own site, Oliver’s Poetry (www.oliverspoetry.com) to promote it, and Desert Hearts revamped its site (www.deserthearts.com) where the book can be purcahsed.
A Commuter’s Tale was established on Amazon.co.uk., with the book’s details and ISBN number. High, medium and low resolution images of the book’s cover were also prepared. Viva Lewes magazine, local to the author’s home, was sent a full manuscript for review. An excellent review of the book was published in its January 2010 issue.
Bloggers were also warmed up and several covered the book, including Age of Uncertainty (live interview) – http://ageofuncertainty.blogspot.com/2010/12/after-years-of-running-various.html, The Poet Laura-eate (http://thepoetlaura-eate.blogspot.com/), and World of Urko (http://worldofurko.blogspot.com/2011/01/ollie-gozzard-commuters-tale.html). Reviews were excellent.
The author also blogged about it at Oliver’s Poetry Garret http://oliverspoetrygarret.blogspot.com/
A PDF “taster” of the first 30 stanzas and cover image was also created by Desert Hearts and emailed by Gozzard to scores of contacts. A range of press releases, aimed at different markets, was prepared and sent out under embargo the week before the launch on 22 January. Specific releases were prepared for towns or cities were the author had a personal connection.
The launch, held in the station buffet at Lewes, was well attended and more than covered its cost in sales of the book.
Publicity in the month of the launch included Metro (national), The Scotsman (through a contact of Gozzard), Sussex Express (two pieces), Brighton Argus (page lead), Hull Daily Mail (pag
e lead through contact of author), Scunthorpe Telegraph, BBC Sussex and Surrey (interview with Gozzard) and Bright FM (interview with Gozzard).
Gozzard contacted all the major book chains. Impressed by the level of publicity, Waterstone’s stocked it nationally, meaning it was taken by around 80 stores in cities and towns. Gozzard emailed all the other branches (around 215 of them) with individual notes to the managers. This added around 25 stores, bringing the total to around 105 stores. They all ordered the book through the distributors, Marston’s. Around 20 other outlets were found by Gozzard in Sussex and London. They were either supplied directly by Gozzard or ordered through Marston’s.
Gozzard then toured as many stores as he could, Waterstone’s or otherwise, signing books and asking the booksellers to “face them out” to customers.
The next stage of the campaign is to generate more national publicity for the product.
Review copies were sent out to all national newspaper and literary magazines and all major regional newspapers, and chased up by email, but many reviews have yet to appear.
Online reviews and reader comments have been superb.
Gozzard and I are exploring new angles with which to promote The Commuter’s Tale to national broadcasters and looking for celebrity ambassadors for this extraordinary product.
The campaign goes on…
Comments so far:
What the readers say about The Commuter’s Tale:
‘An uncompromised work of genius’ Chris Mason-Felsin
‘A brilliant and truly stunning piece of work’ John Eckersley
‘Had me hooked and wanting more’ John McJannet
‘Clever and witty, it kept surprising me’ Juliette Mitchell
‘Made me roar with laughter’ Elizabeth Darcy Jones
‘Very absorbing, gripping and engaging – a great read!’ Amanda Banks
‘A book like no other’ Tom Quinn
What the famous say:
‘Shows initiative and humour’ Joanne Harris
‘A rollicking odyssey of joy’ Radio 4 poet Elvis McGonagall (Saturday Live)
‘I support The Commuter’s Tale and wish it every success’ Transport Minister Norman Baker
‘Very entertaining – chunters along like a train!’ TV presenter Matthew Wright
‘I just couldn’t do it justice!’ Jeremy Paxman
What the media say:
‘A thriller in verse’ Metro
‘A dramatic yarn’ The Scotsman
‘I read it in one sitting – on a train appropriately – and really enjoyed it! Loads of pace!’ Kenny Farquharson, Scotland on Sunday
‘Neatly calls to mind the reassuring rhythm of the railway’ Viva Lewes magazine
‘A page turner’ Artists and Makers magazine
‘Poetry in motion’ Sussex Express
‘Highly acclaimed’ Scunthorpe Telegraph
‘Poetic thriller by ex-reporter who angered Philip Larkin’ Hull Daily Mail