‘Write Drunk, Edit Sober!’

Mike to speak at the self-publishing conference

That philosophical gem actually came from Ernest Hemingway. However, In advance of this year’s Self-Publishing Conference (Saturday 7 May) Troubador have interviewed me about my upcoming conference session and my own writing philosophies...


With more than thirty years’ involvement in the PR and communications industry, along with experience in the media as a news presenter and senior journalist, Mike Bodnar is well-placed to help self-publishers self-promote.

Accredited in public relations, he’s worked with prime ministers and chief executives, scientists and stars, and has interviewed such notables as Rowan Atkinson, Spike Milligan, and Douglas Adams among others. (Even Jeffrey Archer, though he prefers not to talk about that!) Having recently launched his travel book, Against The Current, he has personal experience of the challenges of first-time self-published authors, and has some valuable advice and tips to share!

Your book, Against the Current, describes your time spent travelling through the inland waterways of France on a boat. Was there a particular moment where you thought, “I should write a book about this”?

I’d been blogging regularly about our adventures (read: challenges, disasters and flirts-with-danger) from when we first bought the boat in France, and was receiving positive feedback from followers. Knowing there was an audience waiting for the next instalment made me realise that there might just be a book to be written, and there was!

Why did you decide to go down the self-publishing route?

This isn’t the first book about a couple who’ve sold their home and gone to live on a boat – there’s a library-full of such tales – so I decided I wouldn’t bother approaching an established publisher, and instead would self-publish.

I wanted to see if the book would be popular, whether it would find a market. Then, if it did, I would be in a stronger position to approach a mainstream publisher. I also like it that self-publishing carries a lot more respect today than it used to, and is much less of a vanity thing. I’m not embarrassed to have selfpublished; I’m proud!

What one piece of writing advice has stuck with you through the years?

When writing, my advice is to be personal: write to someone, not at someone. I find it much easier to write if I believe there is a person I am writing for – not a market, not so even an audience, just someone who I need to excite, entertain or explain to. While writing, I become that person, so I try and entertain myself, wow myself, make myself laugh or cry. (Another good piece of advice, though from Ernest Hemingway rather than me: ‘Write drunk, edit sober!’)

What challenges did you face when you first started out with self-publishing?

Self-publishing was – and still is – a new field to me, but I’ve learned a lot in a short time. I was frightened when a speaker at the 2015 Self-Publishing Conference said, ‘When self-publishing, you need to ask, how much can you afford to lose?’ That was sobering, but I now understand what he meant, and it’s not just financial; it’s also self-esteem. One of the biggest challenges is maintaining a strong belief in yourself and your product, especially when you’re putting a lot of effort into marketing and promotion with seemingly little reward.

Reviewers sometimes don’t acknowledge your book, bookshops can turn their noses up at self-published works, or the media ignores you completely despite your witty, inspirational press releases. It can sometimes feel like you’re getting nowhere, but if you give up that’s exactly where you will get: nowhere.

What is the number one mistake authors make when trying to promote their books?

Authors who do manage to score media coverage – TV or radio interviews for example – do themselves no favours at all if they don’t perform. The media is all about entertainment – so as an author you need to grasp this amazing opportunity and be entertaining, informative, and memorable. Also, if you’re going to hold a book launch, the same applies: be engaging.

Your audience wants to be charmed and informed. Choose riveting passages from your book for readings, and give a back-story to your work so that those attending the launch learn something the general public isn’t party to. Endear yourself to your market. Make them feel special, and hopefully they’ll return the compliment.

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