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Bloody Bill Scarlette and the Pirates of Literati

Or, How I Became a Book-Promoting Buccaneer (A look at the promotional side of independent publishing.)

Me as Bloody Bill Scarlette

I’ll just go ahead and say it; I hate the business side of independent publishing. It’s not that you have to know everything about social media, blogging, marketing, formatting, placement, design, layout, pricing, contracting, etc., etc. to do it right (you do), it’s the fact that all of this takes away from my creative writing time. I would much rather be using that time to write my next novel. That’s my passion. All that other stuff is a necessary evil that brings it to fruition.

Fortunately, I have experience and training in most of the above-mentioned areas, and what I don’t know can usually be learned via the internet (though that adds to the time drain). Best of all, a fair portion of my professional career involved advertising and promotions, perhaps the most important elements of independent publishing after writing.

When I published Black Hearts White Bones just over a year ago, I knew exactly how I wanted to kick it off. There’s a neat little shop on Emerald Isle (N.C.) named the Irish Pirate Trading Co. (now Irish Pirates and Celtic Realms) that caters to the Irish and the Pirate in everyone. Though the name is really a reference to legendary pirate Grace O’Malley, it is also an apt description of Anne Bonny, one of the two protagonists in my novel. Having met the owners at the time, Tammy and Rick Lyons, I reached out to them and pitched the idea of having a book signing in their shop. To say that they were receptive to the idea would be an understatement. They welcomed me with open arms and made the event a huge success.

It was here that the dye was cast, so to speak. It didn’t take a marketing genius to figure out that promoting the book where “pirates” gather was a good plan. What I didn’t know is that, these days, there’s a whole pirate subculture out there. There are far more pirates today than existed during the entire 80 years (roughly 1650 to 1730) of the “Golden Age of Piracy.” We’re talking pirate reenactors, emulators, and fans by the millions. There are so many pirate festivals and events, it’s almost impossible to list them all. Not to mention an ever-growing number of websites dedicated to pirates, pirate clothing, pirate weapons, and pirate festivals.

The first pirate event I attended was the Beaufort Pirate Invasion, where local authors were invited to promote their books. I wore my everyday street clothes and felt so out of place I feared I might be placed in a stock or hung in a gibbet. The other authors – who, of course, were dressed as pirates – looked at me with varying degrees of suspicion or sympathy. “Avast there mate! Ye not be looking much like a pirate. We not be good enough for ye, perhaps?”

In truth, the pirate community is filled with some of the best, most friendly people I’ve ever met. At this point I’ve made numerous acquaintances and several real (not just Facebook-type) friends. So, it is only natural that I eventually reached the point where, if I was to keep going to such festivals, I was going to dress up and join the fun.

Adopting names of two secondary characters in the novel, my wife and I now go to pirate events/book signings as Sweets Nightingale and Bloody Bill Scarlette. Whereas some people might think this is a huge leap – from simple marketing to performance promotion – it really isn’t. Writers, by virtue of out art, are pretending to be other people every time we put e-pen to e-paper. We know who and what our characters are better than anyone. As such, the step to assuming the trappings and persona of a character – in my case, a pirate – is a very short one. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Who, in their right mind, wouldn’t want to be 12-years-old again?

(Note: For you murder mystery writers out there, this approach might not work so well.)

Sweets Nightingale & Bloody Bill Scarlette

For other writers who struggle with the promotional side of publishing, there is one other aspect of this approach worth considering. Most good writing is built on the foundation of personal experiences. Performance promotion may take you out of your comfort zone, and that’s a good thing. It all goes into the memory bank where it blends with other experiences and ferments, one day to be uncorked as a fine line (of prose). (See what I did there?)

In closing – and with apologies to Waylon Jennings – I’d like to say; “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys – But Now They Are Pirates, Too.”

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