I recently came across a snippet of a quote from Letters to a Young Poet. It struck a chord, so I went looking for the original and found that, in the first of the letters, the author advises his reader to

Find out the reason that commands you to write… ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And… if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity…

I take this to mean that if expressing your thoughts and imagination as the written word is a compulsion that’s with you at all times… then you’re a writer and need to incorporate this fact into your life. Perhaps, like me, you fill up journal after journal with thoughts and observations. Perhaps you write for your own pleasure and self-expression… perhaps you have book contracts to fill (or aspire to). Maybe you’re a freelancer and have targets to achieve or a blogger with weekly blogpost deadlines you’ve committed to. Whatever your style or medium, if you write because, like me, you must – then you’re a writer.journals

There’s another part to the equation, of course, and that’s the reader. Having someone (or many some ones) read your work adds another dimension to it. They provide feedback that, whilst fraught with possible dangers, enriches the writing experience. This requires finding and developing an audience (other than your nearest-and-dearest).

So, for those of us who don’t have a commercial publisher behind us, how do we do this? Two very scary – although hyphenated – words: Self-promotion.

Many writers (including me) find that we stall out at this ‘look at me’ stage, feeling self-conscious at the thought of big-noting ourselves. Certainly, my social/family background impressed upon me that this simply isn’t something that one does. (It’s not nice to boast, dear.)

But, unless there’s a marketing team behind you doing all the hard work, how do you get people to read your blog/book/work if you’re not going to promote it? Short answer: you won’t.

I pondered on this  at great length – both before and after publishing Girdle of Bones – and concluded that blogging is a very useful tool in this arena. It allows for a level of self-promotion that can initially feel almost anonymous. But, as time goes by – and my audience grows, I feel increasingly connected – and surprised.

Anyhow, this is the short list of self-promotion tips I came up with, garnered from a combination of experience and research:

  • If you don’t have a blog, start one. If you do, then provide a social media sharing option to encourage your readers to share. I use the social media feather plugin on WordPress – it’s free and it works well.
  • Write good stuff. Or, more precisely, always strive to write better stuff – ideally, the very best content you can.
  • It’s a good idea to try to get your readers/audience to react to your blogposts – and to be interactive with those who do. Ideally, this generates chatter on a topic, which makes it more visible, which generates chatter, which…
  • Don’t push your barrow to hard – it puts people off. Instead, keep your content interesting and be responsive to reader/audience comments.
  • Social media. Yup, it’s here to stay so just hop on board for the ride. Base your choice of platform/s on your mythical/actual audience. If they’re into Facebook, use that. Choose one or two others (e.g. Twitter and Instagram) and update reasonably frequently – this helps to keep you in the public eye.
  • And then there’s Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – this is something I’m new to, but it’s doesn’t appear very labour intensive. I’ve installed the All in One SEO Pack to see how that goes.https://wordpress.org/plugins/all-in-one-seo-pack/
  • Use a free keyword tool  to see what comes up when you enter key words or phrases relating to your blogpost topics. Some combinations of words get more hits – so try to use variations of those in your posts and title if you can. This will make it easier for a potential reader to hunt you down and join your community – or, as I think of it, my pack 🙂

Simples, right? 😛

A friend recently suggested that I launch a Reddit IAmA as a way to make information about my memoir on hip replacements more widely available. Probably, like me, you already know that Reddit is a social news and sharing website. Perhaps you also use it from time to time. If so – or if you aren’t a Reddit-er, then perhaps your first question would also the same as mine: wtf is an IAmA?
reddit ama
Essentially an r/IAmA (I Am A… Ask Me Anything!) is a forum in which to host an online interview session. The interviewee (or Original Poster / OP) puts their topic up on Reddit, with an invitation to the community to literally ask them anything. Anything. On or off topic. It’s up to the OP as to whether they answer all the questions – there’s no obligation, but answering the questions is what generates interest.

‘All you need’, my friend said, ‘is to have a topic that’s uncommon, but central to your life, and that you know a metric crap-ton about. You have that. If you do it well, a r/IAmA might spark interest in the Reddit community and prompt questions (and answers) that might actually prove useful to people – and generate interest in your book.’

Well, since my crap-ton is indeed metric, it sounded plausible – so I decided to look into it. First step was, of course, to finally sign up to Reddit (instead of simply piggy-backing on Himself’s account) and then look into their requirements for launching an AMA.

Hunting around online I came across the reddit: the ask me anything guide, which is very useful. Those that know about such things indicate that the trick is to plan ahead, to talk to the moderators about scheduling the launch of the AMA and, most importantly, to frame the headline so that it’s both brief and compelling. Right.

This is about when I figured out that I’m a bit of a wuss and can’t quite commit to actually doing it… so, instead, I’ll put it out here and see what happens 🙂

Hi , I’m Nik Macdougall.

I fell off a 100 foot cliff and had 9 hip replacements over 35 years. AMA 🙂

A friend contacted me this week to ask how to get hold of a print copy of my recently published book, Girdle of Bones. Since it’s supposed to be available on Amazon, I went hunting to see if I could locate it for her.

My interwebs hunt was no more successful than hers. Whilst I did find the eBook version (and some great reviews – thanks, folks), I too failed to find the print version. Much frustration and a follow up with Amazon solved the mystery. They’ve tucked it away on their direct print site, making it a tad had to find. If you’re interested, you can track it down here.

Anyhow, in the process of hunting for Girdle of Bones, I happened across an interesting blog on the same subject (joint replacement). It was put together by Steve Blanchard, a retired engineer and photography enthusiast living in Berkshire (Massachusetts), to record his joint replacement journey.

Steve’s blog presents a detailed account of the nuts and bolts of total hip replacement surgery. It’s a first-hand account from the perspective  of someone who has had both hips replaced, and his experience overlaps with my own in many respects. I imagine that he found the process of keeping the blog and updating his progress cathartic – it certainly was for me when I documented my own story.

The way Steve imparts his information show’s the difference in our story-telling outlook. I came to mine from a sociological perspective, embedding the information in a memoir format. Steve’s engineering background has informed his, making it more detailed and analytical. This includes the way he discusses everything from why one might have a hip replacement to pre- and post-operative issues, exercise and pain management.

For anyone about to embark on surgery and wanting some specific, detailed information on the joint replacement experience, I’d suggest that it’s well worth taking the time to have a look at Steve’s blog and following his journey. The information has been well thought out and Steve has been very generous in sharing so much detail.

steve blanchard hipblog

After publishing my epic tome as an eBook a few weeks ago, I decided to go the whole hog and also make it available in print. So, as a new kid on the block, it seemed like a good plan to hunt down some appropriate how-to info,  layout guidelines and a book template.

Pro-Tip: For anyone setting out on the formatting journey,  I’d suggest you check out sites like the book designer for some really helpful pointers instead of reinventing the wheel. Do this before you start your layout decisions as it’ll save you time in the long run.

I confess I’m a kick-the-wheels-and-double-check-things sort of person so, once I’d uploaded the formatted text file and added my fabulous background cover image to one of the Create Space (CS) cover templates, I went ahead girdle_layout checksand ordered a proof copy of the book. I wanted to be able to recheck every page for errors and to actually see what people would be spending their dollars on before I went live with publication. Besides which, the idea  of having a physical copy in my hands was very compelling 🙂

When it arrived about 10 days later it was so shiny and book-like and real that I got a major case of the warm-and-fuzzies just looking at it (and still do). In some ways simply holding it in my hands was enough, and I could have called it a day right there. But the whole point of ordering it was to check for errors – and I’m really glad I did.

Considering how much time and effort I’d put into the layout, I was (very) disappointed at the number of issues I appeared to have either overlooked or been unaware of – and was grateful to have the opportunity to fix them.  Most were minor, largely to do with the joy of using a Windows product, and simple enough to correct. My biggest newb mistake was my margins. I’d selected 3cm all round, but realised that it’s really much more visually pleasing for the top and bottom margins to be slightly different (to each other). For a print layout, it’s also important to have the inner (gutter) margin wider than the edge margin – unless you’re intentionally providing space for reader annotations!

Pro-Tip 2: Be sure to order a proof copy of your book and go through it meticulously. Check everything while you’re about it, since the gremlins seem to have a bad habit of sneaking the odd gotcha in. When you find issues, tag them with post-it notes and then go back to the electronic version of your document and resolve each and every one. Note: this takes a while and is best done when mind and eyes are fresh – not at 2am when the puppies are finally asleep and some quiet time is finally available!

Asleep at last!

Once I was satisfied, I uploaded the revised file for conversion and this time launched the online review option. To my surprise I found that CS appeared to havevery ‘generously’ introduced a few additional anomalies to the layout, such as adding in a couple of blank pages and losing my page numbers on even pages. This was irksome, but gratifying in a way since it confirmed my suspicion that many of the layout errors I’d found in my proof copy (coincidentally, missing page numbers and the insertion of several blank pages) were externally inflicted.

After triple-checking the master document – and even printing it to pdf – it was obvious that the errors visible on the online viewer weren’t of my making. So I shot off a query in to CS. The reply was illuminating, if disappointing:
“The interior reviewer is an automated system, so when you upload your file it goes through a slight conversion which from time to time does not translate very well. As you have indicated that your original manuscript on your PC does not present the issue, I recommend converting this file to a PDF and thereafter upload the PDF document… I have found that a PDF document translates better on the interior reviewer.”

I’ve an idea that this is CS for ‘oops‘ or even ‘we messed up‘ and ‘try this instead.’

The conversion to high quality pdf was not without its own minor host of issues, and the online help from CS was of limited use. Fortunately the comments on the community forum, on the other hand… were useful, and I’ve finally had confirmation from Amazon that Girdle of Bones is now available in paperback. And there was great rejoicing!


The postman knocked on the door this morning, delivering my mail in person instead of trying to stuff it into our rather small mailbox. He does this from time to time, but it’s a courtesy that always takes me by surprise. This is mostly because our previous Postie tended to simply lug the parcels over the wall into the garden – where they might only be discovered days later… sometimes by the dogs, often after the sprinklers.

Waving my thanks, I scuttled back inside to quell the dogs and check out the mail. At the bottom of the pile was a small carboard covered package addressed to me.  This was an unexpected surprise since most packages that arrive are for other family members, so I was super-curious as to what it might be.

A quick rip and tear later – and there it was: an actual physical book with my name on it… my proof copy of Girdle of Bones, a week earlier than expected. Huzzah!

*does happy dance*   *a lot*

I’m still grinning – and no matter how many little layout glitches I come across as I go through it, I suddenly feel terribly grown up and like a real-proper-actual author 🙂

girdle-the book proof