We've all seen what happens when Tweets go viral (for better or for worse). But, I’ve also seen a couple of instances on Twitter where a successful thread or series of tweets have found traction down a different creative path. The first being a riotous Twitter war-of-words between authors Chuck Wendig and Sam Skyes that ended up being made into a comedy horror movie.
The next success is someone closer to home—one of my own followers on Twitter, author Blair Denholm. He first caught my attention through his humorous #vss365 tweets about two NYPD cops, Boyd and Sarge. The hilarious banter between these two characters was something I looked forward to seeing every day.
So naturally, I was thrilled when Blair turned his tweet series into an illustrated e-book! And then, I was just plain nosey to find out what prompted Blair to turn his successful tweet series into an e-book, so I asked him a bazillion questions, which he has kindly answered.
Did you intend for your Boyd and Sarge tweets to end up as a book? If not, when did you realise it could be something?
Hi Emma! Nice to chat with you about my little “side gig”. I started writing Boyd and Sarge simply as a way of flexing my comic writing muscles on Twitter. They were amorphous characters at first. I tried to make them “every cop”, meaning that they could be from America, Britain, Australia, anywhere. I soon realised they needed a bit of grounding, fleshing out. So, I made them a pair of NYPD cops. So much more opportunity for various oddball scenarios that way. The #vss365 word prompts can be difficult sometimes, especially if the person setting it picks something really weird.
Is it self-published or did a publisher/agent pick it up?
Like I said, it’s a “side gig”. A vanity project, if you like. I self-published because I’m impatient. I just wanted to get it out there for the fans who love the characters. I’m not sure the format would appeal to traditional publishing. But hey, if there are any out there interested, give me a call! I mainly write crime novels. I’m lucky in that I have a small press who looks after me in Australia for my Gary Braswell series. I’ve written two of them (one to be released in a few months), with a third to round off the series. There are other books in the pipeline that I’ll do completely independently.
How did you go about finding your illustrator and who did you use for the layout and cover?
I formatted the book myself, which is why it’s far from perfect. Still, it looks a hundred times better in my hands than I thought it would. Plus, the cartoons are amazing! As far as the illustrations go, I put the feelers out on social media to see if there was anyone interested in taking the job on. I was expecting to be flooded with offers, but there would only have been about ten or so. I was contacted by a local Hobart guy, Vince Steele, who turned out to be the ideal fit. Very professional and brought Boyd and Sarge to life perfectly. I’d recommend him to anyone looking for a cartoonist.
How has it been using your existing fanbase for SOLD and your Twitter following to help promote Boyd and Sarge?
I’ve come to learn you can’t trust the Twitter algorithm to get the word out to all your followers. I’m convinced many of my tweets get lost in the sea of others flooding everyone’s feeds. Twitter is by its nature geared to ephemeral experiences. Facebook is a far better avenue for building a reader fan base because its users are more receptive to ads, which I’ve used to good effect. For example, an ad I placed on Facebook a week ago has already garnered me 300 email subscribers, and I haven’t even done my first newsletter yet. I know Twitter has its advertising platform, but I’m loath to use it. From what I can gather, not many authors use Twitter that way.
Do you plan to put hardcopies of it in bookshops?
I’m afraid Boyd and the Sarge will not be hitting the bookstores any time soon. I’ve ordered a few author copies for myself, and will use them as give-aways to get people to sign up to my mailing list, for example. Others I’ll use as gifts.
Any tips of what to do, or what to avoid, for others wanting to try this kind of publishing?
Self-publishing per se is so accessible, I’d recommend it to any aspiring author. Even if you only want to do e-books. The potential is huge. As far as illustrated books go, I think an aspiring writer would have more success via traditional publishing. They have the clout to get books into stores, whereas it’s nigh impossible for an indie writer to compete with the Big 5 that way.
Anything else you'd like to share about how this book came to life?
The best thing about Boyd and Sarge is that the text is written on a daily basis. There’s no word-count pressure, the dialogues just write themselves. If I don’t like a prompt word on a particular day, I can let it slide. Having said that, I often see it as a challenge to shoehorn a tricky, esoteric word into a Boyd and Sarge dialogue. By the end of the year, I’ve got hundreds of sketches to choose from. The hard part—sorting the funny ones from the duds (and there are quite a few of those, believe me!). In any case, I have so much fun writing the #vss365 dialogues, I can’t see myself stopping. Even if another book doesn’t emerge from it.
Thanks for your insight, Blair! So there you have it folks! Yet another example of how to harness the power of social media for positive creative outcomes!
Blair Denholm is an author and translator who has lived in Moscow, New York, Munich, Abu Dhabi and Australia. He has written content for commercial websites and done corporate voice-over work in English and Russian.
His first novel in the Gary Braswell series, SOLD, was released by Clan Destine Press in November 2017. The second instalment, Sold to the Devil, is scheduled for publication early 2020. He is also working on a murder mystery, Revolution Day, based on a horrific crime committed in Moscow in the late 1980s.
You can follow Blair on Twitter.
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