Guest Post: The Lucky Ones

Today we have a fabulous guest post by Shannon of Duolit who’s stopping by in support of IndiesForward Blog-A-Thon. Welcome back, Shannon! 

“Do you know how lucky we are?

Ten years ago, self-published authors were blindly stumbling across the Internet peddling $20 paperbacks exclusively sold on their self-publisher’s website (with some astronomical shipping fees, yes Lulu, I haven’t forgotten) hoping to recoup the thousands of dollars they spent to get the book published in the first place.

Five years ago, self-published authors were trying to get the hang of Twitter (which had just a million users in March 2008, as compared to 500 million now), learn how to format their own eBooks (for distribution through some new thing called Smashwords, launched in May 2008), and get around the growing package fees of the big self-publishers.

Now, here we are in 2013 with a booming marketing resource in social media (Twitter, Facebook, and an author’s new best friend, GoodReads). Even better, the cost to enter the self-publishing arena has been dramatically reduced by the popularity of eBooks. We can now give our readers instant gratification straight to their cellphones, iPads, Kindles, and Nooks (while earning 70% royalties and accessing a worldwide audience).

Seriously, we have it made.

That’s not to say it’s all peaches-and-cream these days. Indies still have to work hard to make it (the definition of “make it” in this case being “Earn enough money to seriously toy with the idea of quitting our day jobs without subsequently having to live on the streets”) but it’s a much more surmountable objective that it was ten (or even five) years ago.

But the new resources at our fingertips also give us the opportunity to go beyond just selling books. We are now in charge of our own legacy. We can make ourselves into the authors we grew up admiring — the authors who inspired us to fall in love with reading and start writing our own tales.

Truly, we’re so lucky.

(Prepare yourself, grab some tissues, this is about to get a little misty for a moment.)

What if we weren’t so lucky?

Imagine what it would be like if you finally achieve your dreams and publish your first book, but you can’t do anything to promote it. You can’t jump on Twitter, make friends on GoodReads, or post weekly blog updates. You can’t meet with book clubs via Skype and discuss their thoughts. You can’t guest post about your publishing experiences. You can’t control your legacy as an author.

You can’t do any of these things, because your book is a memoir of your last seven months of life with cancer.


I was introduced to Julie Forward DeMay’s work, Cell War Notebooks, earlier this month, by Julie’s mother. I read through the book in one sitting (it’s actually a compilation of Julie’s blog, which you can still read here) and was genuinely moved by her unbelievable bravery in the face of something we all hope never to face.

It’s a beautifully written book, funny at times and of course heart-breaking at others. You can check out the paperback on Amazon (all the book’s proceeds go to Julie’s nine year-old daughter).

After speaking with Julie’s family and reading her work, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t shake the idea that Julie could be any of us. We’re so lucky, but with one blink that luck could be gone.

I became determined to take up Julie’s flag and march onward, building the legacy she deserves.

But I quickly realized to make the biggest impact, I needed some help. I need a chain of people wrapped ‘round the world to pass Julie’s flag from blog to blog, telling her story and sharing her book with all of our readers.


Thus we have arrived at today, a very lucky day for Julie, when bloggers all over the globe have come together for the IndiesForward blog-a-thon. A group of us (authors, editors, creative types, moms, dads, sisters, brothers, children, friends) are reaching out, sharing Julie’s story on our own blogs and any others that will have us (Thank you, Catherine, for being one of those generous souls!).

We’d love for you to join the movement as well.

Share something about an inspirational experience in your life and a note about Julie’s story on your blog and spread the word on social media. (We have a pre-made kit at Duolit with all the links, images, and blurb text so all you have to do is copy and paste!)

We’re keeping a running tab of participating blogs on today, too, so make sure to share your link here.

We are so lucky, and today we just want to share a little of our good fortune with Julie.”

Thanks, Shannon. Check out: 

Do You Have An Unanswered Question About Self-Publishing?

Last week I posted [Insert Great Idea for Blog Post Here] and invited you, my lovely blog readers, to suggest topics for me to blog about, because I was out. On Friday I posted Speak Now: Earning Money From Self-Publishing By Talking About It (thank you, Diane) and I’ve decided that, based on your feedback, I will start posting little episodic look-backs at my writing/self-publishing/coffee-drinking journey so far, a kind of Published (or rather, Not Published. Subtitle: *Hopeful voice* Yet?), in keeping with the tradition of Mousetrapped, Backpacked and Travelled. I also plan to blog soon about… well, um, blogging, as suggested by Katharine, Arlene and others, a kind of follow-on to Does My Blog Look Big In This?, which was really just about aesthetics.

Here are some other ideas that’ll be coming up:

  • Using Gumroad to sell files/e-books from your own website
  • Using MailChimp (a great service, but a bit of a tricky user experience)
  • Taking e-books into the real world
  • Social media timesavers
  • How I’m using Pinterest to promote Travelled
  • My absolute favorite plotting books in the world ever

Screen Shot 2013-01-25 at 15.38.17

Another idea suggested by Sheena and seconded by Steph Laura Jones was a kind of “Ask Catherine” corner where readers could ask me anything about self-publishing and I’d answer the questions in a blog post.

Now, if you’ve happened by my Contact page in the last couple of years, you might have encountered one or more of the numerous methods—a list of dire warnings, a huge sign, a check-box that confirmed the sender hadn’t included any self-publishing questions in their message—I’ve employed to deter people from asking me questions. This isn’t because I don’t like helping other self-published authors, because I do. It’s because of the Reverse Rudeness Syndrome such correspondence leads to.

Reverse Rudeness Syndrome occurs when a self-publisher sends me a question by e-mail, doesn’t receive a response to it and then feels that I have been rude to them. Whereas in actual fact, it’s them that’s been rude to me. I must have upwards of 200,000 words on here about self-publishing, which I’ve nicely arranged into accessible categories and made available for free. On top of that, I have a 120,000+ word book on the subject that isn’t expensive. On top of that, I make a portion of my income from workshops, consultations and other services which is essentially a form of question-asking, and people pay money for them. So when a person happens upon my site, spends absolutely no time reading anything on here and instead goes straight to the Contact page to ask if CreateSpace ship internationally (or, my favorite question, “How do I get people to buy my books?”), they’re just being lazy. And they want me to reward this laziness with a sacrifice of the one thing that’s most important to me making a living: my time. So I don’t, because why should I? And then another e-mail comes, admonishing me for not answering the first and reminding me that I’m no big-shot and that I shouldn’t get too big for my boots.

Or if I’m feeling particularly charitable, I answer the question, and then another e-mail comes with a follow-up, and now I have to decide whether to embark on a never-ending e-mail exchange with this person or to stop it now. So I stop it now, and then another e-mail comes, admonishing me for not answering the second one and reminding me that I’m no big-shot and that I shouldn’t get too big for my boots.

And then there’s the people who don’t send me reprimands, but are out there in the blogosphere, quietly thinking I’m a horrible person, when this whole enterprise exists to help other people self-publish.





But there’s another problem: sometimes, people e-mail me with questions that aren’t answered anywhere on here, questions that could do with answering. No surprise, considering the self-publishing world is a-changing all the damn time. But if I open myself to individual questions, it’s opening the floodgates. And if I respond to any of these messages, who is benefiting? Only the individual who sent the message, unless I go on to write a blog post about it. So what’s the solution?

Well, as Sheena and Steph suggested, a kind of virtual suggestion box. *Opens virtual suggestion box*

Screen Shot 2013-01-25 at 15.26.34

You can ask any question about self-publishing you want, even if it’s something you fear is embarrassingly basic (basic questions are totally fine because new people are coming to self-publishing all the time). The small print here is that you won’t get a response other than your question appearing on or being the basis of a future blog post, and if you don’t get a response, it might be because I’ve already written 10,000 blog-posted words on the subject and you just need to take thirty seconds to go look for them.

Please tell me if you wish to remain anonymous, otherwise your first name and Twitter username might appear on this site.

Click on the pink image above to ask your question.

Bring it on!

(Sheena and Katharine, if you’d like free digital editions of Self-Printed 2.0, please get in touch with me. Thanks.)

Let’s Help Send An Irish Girl Into Space, Pretty Please

Anyone who regularly reads this blog or who has made it through the ‘Mission Space’ chapter of Mousetrapped knows how much I love all things space.

The greatest day of my life to date was October 23rd 2007—the day that, aged 25, I got to see something I’d been dreaming about since age 8: a Space Shuttle launch.


Me in my fetching NASA cap, getting sunburned in Titusville on the morning of the STS-120 launch.

Living 4,000 miles from the Cape, teenage me wondered how I could ever manage such a feat, especially since launches were frequently postponed and trying to catch one within a fortnight’s holiday would be almost impossible. I couldn’t have forseen that one day another dream, that of working in Walt Disney World, would have me living only an hour’s drive from Cape Canaveral for a year and a half, with an annual pass to Kennedy Space Centre—the [clears throat] Commander’s Club pass, thank you very much—tucked safely in my wallet, and plenty of chances to catch a lift-off.

Or that only weeks after coming back to Ireland in 2008, I’d meet the astronaut hitching a ride to the ISS aboard that shuttle, STS-120—Dan Tani—in an observatory only ten minutes drive from my home here in Cork.

Or that while living in Orlando, the space section of my nearest Barnes and Noble would convince me that my beloved Shuttle was a mere space bus, and that the real gem in NASA’s crown was the awesome Apollo program, the missions to the moon that should still have us all looking at each other in utter disbelief. We went to the moon! We drove a car around up there! And we did it FORTY YEARS AGO.

Or that I’d get to actually meet a moonwalker, Apollo 16‘s Charlie Duke.

But we’re getting off track here.


We can’t do everything we want to do because unfortunately, we only have one life. (And only one brain, and mine just doesn’t do maths and physics like a NASA employee’s should.) I’m pretty lucky in that I am already sort of living what was my biggest dream of all, being a full-time writer, and there are next-best-things I’m quietly confident I’ll meet in my future, like a seat on a commercial space flight.

(A quick soar into sub-orbital space will do me fine. I’m not going for the weightlessness; I’m after the view.)

But some people are chasing their astronaut dream, and one of them is a fellow Irish woman named Norah Patten.

Norah already has an impressive space-themed CV. She has PhD in Engineering, attended the International Space University in Strasbourg (the dream!) and is currently the Chair of the Space Management and Business Department at ISU. Reading her story, it seems to me that she was just born at the wrong time—if the Shuttle program was still in full swing or the missions to Mars had seriously started, she’d already be in the Astronaut Corps.

So she’s doing her Next Best Thing.

Bruce Willis 001

The funniest thing about my KSC pics is that I seem to have a different hairstyle every time I go… 

The Lynx Space Academy is a competition that will ultimately send one lucky person into space, and Norah is hoping to win that seat. There’ll ultimately be three rounds to the competition, but the first is based on votes. I don’t know her personally (despite what I said in Friday’s post, not everybody in Ireland knows everybody else!), but I absolutely know how much she wants to go to space.

And if she wins this, she won’t just get to go—she’ll get to be, potentially, the first Irish woman in space. Depending on how long this takes, she might even be the first Irish person in space.

Voting for her takes ten seconds. Go to her LSA page, enter your e-mail address and click Submit.

I voted for her, obviously, but I have this blog that thousands of people allegedly read on a regular basis, so I thought I’d share this with you too, in case you’d take a few seconds to help send an Irish girl to space, if only because this Irish girl asked you very, very nicely.

Click here to vote for Norah and here to read more about why she wants to go to space.

For those of you who can’t understand what all my space fuss is about and would like to find out, I always recommend people start with a three-book introduction: Moondust by Andrew Smith, A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin and Apollo by Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox, in that order. I have about a hundred other space book recommendations, but  combined, those are the best Apollo books to start with. Happy Monday!

Sunday Coffee Reads: Week #3

 As I said in my Plans and Goals and Stuff post, Sunday mornings is when I read my way through all the interesting tidbits I’ve come upon during the week: tweets I’ve marked as favorite, Google Reader posts I’ve starred and articles I’ve mailed myself links to while waiting out an ad break. Then I add the ones I think everyone else might find interesting to Buffer, so they get tweeted during the week. (Note: I tweet what I think is interesting, not necessarily what I agree with.) But I thought that this year, I would pick the cream of the crop for a little Sunday morning link fest, so you have something to read with your coffee too…


This week I also went through my albums and discovered that I have an alarming collection of photos of me drinking coffee and photos of coffee cups that I took. The good news is there’s at least a year’s supply. So along with a new group of links every Sunday, we’ll have a new coffee pic too! This was taken in a cafe overlooking Jemaa el-Fnaa, the famously chaotic main square of Marrakech’s medina, in January 2012. Disclaimer for the people who meet me in Real Life and are surprised: I’m not (fake) blonde anymore. I’VE GONE DARK. And shorter. Surprise!

Now to the tweets:

And that’s all I have this week because I was a bad girl and distracted for hours on end by Pinterest. (How do people think of these things?! They should be RUNNING THE WORLD.) So to make up for the slacking, this week I also had a post on about my ambivalent Kindle feelings:

Until next week… 

post footer

Is pink not your thing? Did you know that you get every new Catherine, Caffeinated delivered straight to your inbox? Look for the sign-up box in the sidebar (this way —> and up a bit), enter your e-mail and you’re good to go. 

Speak Now: Earning Money From Self-Publishing By Talking About It

One of the ideas suggested in the comments of [Insert Great Idea for a Blog Post Here] was an explanation of how, exactly, I started speaking about self-publishing at workshops, seminars and other events, and how a tending-towards-reclusive, sweat-pants-wearing writer is supposed to transform, Clark Kent/Superman style, into a polished, enthused and entertaining public speaker for up to six hours at a time, and stay that way while a roomful of people are looking at you.


I can’t really tell you how to start getting speaking engagements, because there’s no simple, five-step process, and anyway—controversial!—not everyone deserves to get them. It’s kind of like writing a book. Just because you managed to write 100,000 words does not mean that that book should be published, and just because you figured out how to self-publish does not mean you should be paid to explain the process to other people. Good speakers not only have the knowledge, they’re good at delivering it too. Essentially, that means that they’re entertaining. This doesn’t necessarily involve cracking jokes and doing a little jig at the top of the room, but it does mean that you can—you must— keep your audience totally engaged for anywhere from one to six hours without them feeling bored, confused or like they’re back in school, and that you have the stamina needed to do it.

Not Easy Money

If that sounds a bit scary, it should, because most of the time the events you’re speaking at aren’t free, and in fact some of them can be quite expensive. This is because it’s presumed that for whatever amount of time the workshop or seminar is on for, the participants are getting to listen to—and ask questions of—an expert. Are you an expert?

Speaking engagements tend to pay really, really well, when you consider the time involved, i.e. €x amount for 90 minutes of my time? Yes, please! and this is why they can seem oh-so-attractive to self-publishers who only have e-book royalties coming in.

Except that’s not what you’re getting paid for. The time involved is not just the amount of time you’re scheduled to speak for, but the years of your life you’ve put into collecting the knowledge that qualifies you to speak, and the hours or days you spent preparing for the talk—which, if we’re talking about a full day’s workshop, could mean weeks upon weeks of devising, designing and practicing the delivery of a PowerPoint presentation. Consider that too.

I may sound a bit doom and gloom about this, but it’s only because I think people have a rosy view of getting paid to talk about self-publishing (or anything, for that matter), and this leads them to thinking they should be doing it when really, they’re not right for it. And who will suffer then? The people who paid to listen to them.

On the flip-side, if you’ve figured out how to do this self-publishing business, you’ve achieved more than most. It’s easy for me to format an e-book from a Word document, for example, but if someone rarely sends an e-mail, it’s going to seem like an Everest climb to them. They might relish the idea of getting a real, live person to patiently explain how to do it, instead of trawling through online articles and books full of terms they don’t understand. So if you are suitable for speaking about self-publishing, you should do it. There’s definitely a demand there, and it can be oh so much fun.

A Lucky Break

So how did I start getting speaking engagements?

I should start by telling you that even though I love to live as a hermit most of the time (as most writers do), I really enjoy public speaking. (I thought this was a bit weird until I met Joanna Penn—of The Creative Penn—and she told me that she’s the same, essentially an introvert who, for some reason, enjoys doing something totally extroverted: talking to an audience. Both of us also need post-speaking crash days to recover from what it takes out of us.) I loved debating when I was in school, and I was good at it, if I do say so myself. I have no qualms about talking in front of an audience, as long as I know what it is I’m talking about.

I should also point out that I live in Ireland, where the old joke of everyone knowing everyone else is actually true. I was told once that maybe 400 people in this entire country work in publishing; it’s not hard to meet most of them once you start going to a few events. So while I might have had a somewhat easy path to professional speaking through making contacts, it would of course be an entirely different mountain to climb for someone living in London or New York.

But anyway. In January 2010, Vanessa O’Loughlin—whom I’d “met” through Twitter—told me that she was organizing Ireland’s first self-publishing event, the One Stop Self-Publishing Conference, in October of that year. Vanessa was already well-established as the head of Inkwell Writers, who organized writing workshops and events in and around Dublin.

At this stage the release of Mousetrapped was still two months away but I said to myself, I’m going to speak at that event. This was totally idiotic as I wasn’t even yet a self-publisher, let alone a successful one, but I promised myself I’d be there, somehow.

Screen Shot 2013-01-25 at 11.19.37

If you go far enough back in the chain, Twitter is responsible for every single speaking engagement I’ve ever done. Click to see a larger version.

Fast forward to October, and I was attending the One Stop Self-Publishing Conference. Attending, not speaking; I’d got a discounted ticket in exchange for agreeing to live-tweet every session of the one-day event. I’d sold just under 1,000 books since March and was hardly setting the world on fire, but in Ireland’s self-publishing sphere, this was an achievement. A week before the conference, Vanessa called to say the afternoon keynote speaker had dropped out, and could I fill in?

So now I was speaking at the One Stop Self-Publishing Conference, just as I’d told myself I would.

Here’s the funny thing: I really didn’t treat it very seriously. I wore jeans, and walked to the top of the room with my notes scribbled on a yellow legal pad. I thought about nothing other than telling my story, and telling it within the time frame: about half an hour, with fifteen minutes for questions. But I had a huge advantage before I even spoke: the person before me had been very technical, and spoke in a bit of a monotone. I’d also noticed that, during the day, the speakers the audiences seemed to enjoy the most were not the ones with the knowledge, necessarily, but the ones who told their personal stories. For example, a professional cover designer had imparted fantastically useful advice, but the self-published children’s book author before her was way more popular with the crowd, even though he “educated” us very little.

I’d been in a room with endless free coffee since 9:00am and I only had my personal story. So jeans or no jeans, I knew I’d do well. And I did. My little 30-minute giddy ramble about my self-publishing experience went down like a six-figure KDP Select Fund bonus, and it was the best feeling ever. I wanted to do it again.

In the audience (and also speaking) that day was Sarah, who I’d hired to copyedit Mousetrapped. Almost two years later, she’d bump into Ben, another Twitter friend and fellow Apollo nut, who had just pitched the idea of doing a social media workshop to Faber Academy. They loved it, and suggested adding a self-publishing element. Did Ben know anyone who could do that? He thought of me, but he’d never seen me speak. When he met Sarah the subject came up, and she assured him that I could do it. That’s how I got to do Faber Academy last year. It went exceptionally well, which is why Ben and I get to do it again next month.

One of the participants at the Faber Academy workshop last year was the lovely Alexandra, a traditionally published author who was looking to e-publish her backlist. A few months later she’d get in touch to invite me along to another London event she was chairing: a e-book seminar for Women in Journalism (UK). So that’s how I got to do that.

And so on and so on. I meet people through Twitter (good old fashioned networking, if you want to be fancy about it); they invite me to speak; me speaking leads to more opportunities. So if I had to answer the question “How do I get speaking engagements?” my absolute shortest answer would be Twitter!

(But then that’s pretty much my shortest answer to everything got to do with self-publishing success, so there you go.)

How Much Not-So-Easy Money, Exactly?

You’ll probably want to know how much to ask for/expect, or even how I much I ask for/expect. Well, I’m not going to tell you. It’s private, and it’s also not going to be of any use to you, because any figure would only be an example of what I get and absolutely nothing to do with you, with your events, your environment, etc. I will tell you this though: if you’re doing this right, you won’t really need to worry about it.


I really believe that if you can, you should aim to get invited by an established company/event/festival/etc. to speak at something they’re organizing, as opposed to organizing your own workshop or seminar. It’s so much easier. And if they’re a professional operation, they’ll tell you the fee, and this fee will be what they pay all their speakers, a kind of standard. A less professional—or less reputable—operation might ask, well, how much would you do it for? Because they’re trying to get away with paying you as little as they can.

I can tell you that in two and a half years of doing this I’ve never been asked how much my fee is. I’ve just been presented with what’s on offer, and either agreed or disagreed to take part. (Actually, I’ve never disagreed, come to think of it. But then I’ve been very, very lucky.)

Compensation for speaking engagements usually falls into one of these categories:

  • Charity. That’s what the organizers seem to think you are anyway, because there’s no compensation whatsoever: no expenses, no fee and no feeding. They might say something like, “We don’t offer a fee, but our previous speakers have really enjoyed themselves.” Um, riiiiiight. How wonderful. But will my credit card company take enjoyment in lieu of this month’s minimum payment, eh? I doubt it somehow. I would only do something for free if it was (i) likely to raise my profile and/or look good on my writing CV, (ii) for an actual charity, (iii) not going to cost me any money in terms of travel, preparation time, etc., (iv) not going to make any money for the organizers outside of their costs and (v) going to be fun for me.
  • Expenses only. I have never done a speaking engagement where I live; almost all of them have been in Dublin (3 hours away by train) or London (an hour away by plane). Therefore I always incur travel expenses. Many events will not offer a fee but will offer reimbursement (or partial reimbursement) of how much it costs you to get there. At this stage in my speaking/self-publishing career, this is perfectly acceptable to me, especially because I genuinely enjoy these events and see them not only as an opportunity to travel but to meet loads of interesting people as well, and talk publishing over free coffee. (What more could a girl want?)
  • Expenses + a fee (AKA cha-CHING!). The best case scenario is that you would be paid a speaking fee and offered x amount towards or a reimbursement of your expenses. When this happens, it’s a beautiful thing.

Whether it’s expenses only or expenses plus a fee, there’s a game to play. Let’s say you’re getting paid €500 for a full day workshop, but that’s it; no expenses. Or let’s say there’s no fee at all for participating in a panel discussion, but they are willing to give you £200 towards the expenses you incur traveling to get there. Well, in both these cases the less you spend, the more you make. (Amount paid – expenses incurred = profit.) And so begins the challenge of budget travel.

I have this down to a fine art by now. Here are some tips for saving on your travel expenses:

  • Book your travel as soon as possible. Flights, train tickets and even hotel rooms get more expensive as availability declines.
  • Pre-pay for lower rates. Most hotel chains offer pre-pay rates which are 10% or more cheaper than what you’ll pay if you book now and settle the bill on check-out. The only downside is that these are normally non-refundable, so make sure you’re definitely going before you book. Failing that:
  • Search for good deals. I love because you don’t have to pay in advance but you can still avail of great rates. But here’s a tip: all the hotels that sell rooms on sites like that have to pay the site a commission. So if you’re feeling a bit cheeky, you could ring the hotel and say you want to book with them direct, and what’s the best rate they could do for you. For example, could they give you the for a standard room, but upgrade you to a superior one? That’s a good deal for them, because you’re saving them commission.
  • Stick to public transport, if possible. Avoid taxis.
  • Sign up to mileage and loyalty schemes. Nearly all hotel chains and airlines have loyalty cards for their customers; sign up for them. You won’t be able to take advantage for a while but one day you might get a free night or a free flight and, hey, you were buying them anyway.
  • Ask the organizers. If this is an event that has run in the past, the organizers will probably have a list of accommodation options, and they might offer a discounted rate for attendees/speakers.
  • Get creative. This isn’t a holiday, it’s a challenge: spend as little money as possible while still being sufficiently sheltered, fed and watered. For instance, on a trip to London a few months ago I made it my mission to spend as little as I thought a person possibly could without hitching and youth hostels. I flew with Ryanair to Gatwick with only carry-on luggage; I took the EasyBus from Gatwick to Earl’s Court tube station (for only £2!!!); I ordered a visitor’s Oyster Card online so I could avail of cheaper tube fares; I stayed in an EasyHotel (a fraction—a tiny, tiny fraction—of the cost of staying anywhere else in London); instead of eating out I got  take-away foods from places like Sainbury’s and Starbucks. Now if I was on holiday, I wouldn’t want to start it with the stress of a Ryanair flight and an hour-long bus ride into London. But I wasn’t on holiday, I was working. And my entire two night London visit came to less than £200, which isn’t at all bad for accommodation + transport + food in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Of course, I ruined it all by spreeing in Paperchase, Foyles, etc. while I was there, but, hey, nobody’s perfect…

Some events pay on the day but most pay afterwards, in response to an invoice you’ve sent them. Remember to keep all your receipts and evidence of your travel expenses such as booking confirmations, etc. I don’t send these to the organizers; I just bill them the amount. But I do say something like “Receipts are available on request.”


Credit: from the Mountains To Sea Dun Laoghaire Book Festival Facebook page. L-R: Vanessa O’Loughlin, me, Adrian White, Arlene Hunt. 

Some Practical Tips

About getting speaking engagements:

  • If you’re unsure whether or not you’re cut out for this, start by simply sharing your self-publishing story with other people. Find an opportunity to just do that. It may be in the form of a short talk (like my break was at the One Stop Self-Publishing Conference) or it may be by participating in a panel discussion where two or three people discuss topics put forth by a chairperson. If all else fails, post your own videos on your website. If you have a popular web series going on, why wouldn’t someone want you for the live, 3-D version? 
  • Say yes to everything, within reason. If you get an invite to speak at an event, find out everything you can about it before you answer. Google is your friend. Does it seem like the real deal? Who else will be there? Have they done this before? If they’ve asked you to speak for free, check: are they charging for tickets to your event? Because if they are, that might be a red flag. Why are they making money when you’re expected to do this for nothing? The main questions to ask yourself are: (i) Will this cost me money? (ii) Is this a networking opportunity? (iii) Is this likely to further my profile? Sometimes you might want to do something just because it seems like it’ll be fun, and that’s fine. Go ahead. But go into everything with eyes wide open.
  • Be good. Almost every speaking engagement will lead to another speaking engagement—if you’re good and impress the organizers and participants. No one will invite back someone who underwhelmed, or who made the workshop attendees’ brains turn to soup. Ditto for being unprofessional late, making diva demands or being otherwise annoying.
  • I’m sure many writers would see speaking engagements as an excellent opportunity to sell copies of their own books, and I’m sure it is—but I never do it. The first reason why is that as a POD paperback self-publisher, I avoid ordering stock of my own book like the plague. Second, I always travel to these events, sometimes by plane, always by public transport, and lugging a box of books there and back is just not feasible. Third, I would feel cheeky trying to sell a €10 or €15 “how to self-publish” book to someone who’s just spent €125 to hear what was advertised as everything I know about self-publishing. Instead, I bring little business cards or postcards so that if people do want to purchase the book, they have all the information they need to do it when they get back home.

About the presentation itself:

  • If you are booked to talk for longer than an hour and you can, use a visual aid. For most people, this will take the form of a PowerPoint presentation. It should serve both as eye-fodder for your listeners and notes for you. (And if you have a brand, extend it to your slides—mine have a pink color scheme.) Arrive in plenty of time so you can ensure that everything is working perfectly before the attendees arrive. 
  • The hardest thing to get right is timing, especially if you’re doing a whole day. Start by dividing the day into blocks, e.g. start to first coffee break, coffee break to lunch, after lunch to mid-afternoon break, mid-afternoon break to Q&A time, Q&A time. Then divide your talk into sections, e.g. Overview, Why Self-Publishing, E-books, POD Paperbacks, Social Media, etc. and match them up with the blocks of time. Try not to straddle a subject across two blocks of time if you can avoid it; you’ll lose momentum and the participants might lose out. I do an initial practice in which I quickly run through the talk—and yes, this involves talking to yourself—but keep in mind that it will always take longer on the day as people interrupt to ask questions, seek clarification, etc.
  • Break up the presentation in the afternoon. Post-lunch, people will be at the most sluggish—including you. I usually talk about book trailers at this point, which allows me to spend half an hour showing funny YouTube videos. A break for my participants from concentrating, and a break for me from speaking. Hooray!
  • Start with an overview. For example, “First we’re going to talk about why you should self-publish, then move onto e-books, then…” etc. etc. This prevents people from asking questions which are going to be answered later on.

About delivering it:

  • I would always recommend that you aim to get invited to speak as oppose to creating your own workshop or seminar. It’s so much easier. There’s already an established company (and so probably an established customer base), they’ll take care of everything from logistics to lunch, and they’ll pay you. They’ll also likely be a great contact for future invites. 
  • Whenever I do a long-ish workshop and always when I do a full day, I tell my participants right at the start that they don’t need to worry about taking notes because the entire PowerPoint presentation and a page of all the links I mention will be on my website from Monday. (These things are always on a weekend.) Then I make a new page on my website, like, upload the PP file and any links, etc. and make it password protected. I give the participants the password and the URL, and then they—and only they—can access the information afterwards. (Why not make it public? Because how are the participants, who paid money to attend, going to feel when they discover that anyone can now see the presentation for free?) This way they don’t stress about writing every single thing I say down, and listen to me instead. Everyone’s a winner.
  • Always, always, always have two back-ups. My presentation may be on my laptop, but just in case I bring it on disk as well, and just in case just in case, I put a copy in my Dropbox folder, which can be accessed from anywhere there’s internet.
  • Tailor your talk to your audience. A writers’ group who have invited you to share your self-publishing experience will probably be okay with an informal chat, but if people are paying serious money to learn everything they need to know about self-publishing, they’re going to want their money’s worth.
  • If you are doing a day-long workshop where lunch is provided for everyone, don’t stay for it. Or at least, don’t stay for all of it. (You do need to eat!) Get away for a while. Go for a walk. Get some air. Check your e-mails. But stop talking.
  • Thanks to a haunted hotel room, I once had to do a full day’s workshop on 2 hours sleep. Two hours! I didn’t think I’d make it, but an emergency raid of the venue’s vending machines got me through. You should always have: (i) water… um, obviously, (ii) a bottle of Lucozade or some other energy drink and (iii) chocolate—a couple of squares on the coffee break, along with coffee of course, makes a world of difference.

Is there anything else you’d like to know about speaking engagements? Were there any surprises in this post? Is this the longest blog post you’ve ever read in your life? Leave your questions or comments below.

post footer

I have four speaking engagements coming up: one in London, one in Dublin, one in Waterford and one in Chipping Norton at ChipLitFest. You can find more details about each of them on my News page.

And here’s another tip: if you don’t know what to blog about, ask your followers. They’ll make great suggestions, and you’ll end up writing nearly 4,000 words about the very first one… This idea was suggested by Diane. Please contact me to claim your free digital edition of Self-Printed, if you’d like one.

[Insert Great Idea for Blog Post Here]

Yeah. So. Um…

This posting a new post every week in 2013 hasn’t quite worked out, has it? I swore they’d never be two Sunday Coffee Reads back to back, but this week there was, and I’ve one very good reason and one pathetic excuse for that.

The Pathetic Excuse

I’m busy with other things.

For example, on my To Do list for today:

  • Add some words to The Novel
  • Add some words to The Non-Fiction Project
  • In a related task, write self threatening note and guilt-inducing word count chart to hang on wall behind computer screen
  • Carefully transfer all the details of Crazy Trip 2013 (4 flights, 4 different hotels, 3 countries, 2 self-publishing workshops—to deliver—and a train ride) to the corresponding dates in my Erin Condren Life Planner in pink pen; jazz up with stickers
  • Drink my own body weight in Robert Roberts Guatemala Blend
  • Tackle a mountain of e-mail I’ve let build up now for approximately a season (is e-mail the adult homework?)
  • Read all my favourited tweets, clear Google Reader backlog and Buffer interesting things accordingly
  • Spend a few hours on secret-ish thing I’ve been hired to do
  • Pack up the latest haul of books to go into my storage unit
  • Write a shopping list (only foods that make you instantly skeletal allowed)
  • Sort through the various bits of paper I’ve strewn around the place
  • Watch 5-6 hours of television
  • Eat
  • Sleep.

Seems like a lot, right? It is. But then yesterday, what I actually did consisted of:

  • Reading a book on my Kindle
  • Watching Got To Dance
  • Ordering hipster glasses from Lookmatic.

You can see my problem.


The Good Reason

I can’t think of any good blog post topics.

I hate posting half-arsed ones, so if I can’t think of a good one—a good one being an idea that strikes, and you think I’ll just quickly make a new post and write a line about this in there so I don’t forget it, and then an hour later you’ve written the whole post and it’s good to go—I don’t bother pretending that I did, or trying to convince myself.

I did start one about my stance against posting your work-in-progress writing on sites where people can vote on its promise, but that got a bit angry so I decided to abandon it, because I’m not being angry in 2013.

Then I had the idea to write a little story, in episodes: the story of my writing life so far. Because when I first self-published, which was three whole years ago now, I’d already been slogging along this road for a good ten years. I was going to give it the Mousetrapped/Backpacked treatment, i.e. let’s look back and laugh, a kind of Published. (Or rather, Not Published.) It would start with me bursting into tears circa 2003 at the news that Cecelia Ahern had got a six-figure deal, and then bring us up to the present day in installments.

But that would be kinda silly, wouldn’t it? And most of you know the story already anyway, me presumes.

Then I had the idea to do Self-Printed: The Blog Post Series, where for as many weeks or months as there are sections in Self-Printed, I post some excerpts of it with links to relevant posts, case studies, examples, etc. But that’s just recycling the book, and it might be boring for those of you who have read it already.

So, I’m asking you.

What should I blog about?

You can vote for an idea above—not the angry one though; that’s out—or ask me a question you’d like answered. Just for the purposes of this exercise, there are no stupid questions. Even if you think it’s pretty basic, go ahead and ask anyway. (People missing out on the basics is something I worry about, because of course new people are coming to self-publishing all the time.) Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

What would you like to see or read about on Catherine, Caffeinated?

If your idea is used or your question answered in a post, you get a e-book edition of Self-Printed.

(If you want one, that is!)

Have at it.

post footer

Sunday Coffee Reads Week #2

As I said in my Plans and Goals and Stuff post, Sunday mornings is when I read my way through all the interesting tidbits I’ve come upon during the week: tweets I’ve marked as favorite, Google Reader posts I’ve starred and articles I’ve mailed myself links to while waiting out an ad break. Then I add the ones I think everyone else might find interesting to Buffer, so they get tweeted during the week. (Note: I tweet what I think is interesting, not necessarily what I agree with.) But I thought that this year, I would pick the cream of the crop of a little Sunday morning link fest, so you have something to read with your coffee too. Here goes… 

And a blog post that has nothing to do with writing and is really only one for the ladies, but it’s, like, the best thing I read online this week:

In other news, Catherine, Caffeinated is on two very starry “must read” blog lists this week. I tell you this not to gloat, but because one of the lists has 27 other blogs on it, and the other has 99 . So if you’re lacking for worthy blog-reading material, these lists are a good place to start. Thanks to for putting this pink blog on their Power 100 List, and to Proactive Writer for including it on their 28 Blogs Every Writer Should Read.

Also, The Book Designer has his monthly E-book Cover Design Awards last week. As ever, the fact that all entries get posted on the site makes for interesting reading/viewing—it’s a great snapshot of both the amazing work self-publishers are doing, and the absolute eye-offending horror others think passes for a book cover. (Really. Sometimes, entries make my cheeks blush in sympathy-shame. YIKES.) See the post here.

Until next week…

post footer