Goodreads Giveaways: An Update

Back in August 2014, I blogged about Goodreads giveaways and what I thought was best practice for authors interested in using them as a means of promoting their books [Goodreads Giveaways: Don’t Do What You’re Told]. Since then, Goodreads has made a number of significant changes to their giveaways and so it’s high time for an update…

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WHY BOTHER?

Let’s get one thing out of the way first and fast. Every time I blog or tweet or talk about this – or any other book promotion idea – there is the inevitable, ‘But does it WORK? I haven’t seen any evidence and until I do, I’m not going to bother.’

That’s nice, but repeat after me: with very few exceptions, there are no guarantees when it comes to publicity. There. Are. No. Guarantees. Publicists, self-publishers and the sales and marketing departments of major publishing houses can execute identical PR campaigns for two different books, only for one to become a bestseller and one to disappear instantly without leaving a trace. This is just how it goes – and it’s not confined to the book world. Any time you have a consumer product and a buying public you’re trying to flog it to – movies, new flavors of Coke, apps – you are faced with this conundrum. With the exception of using things that come with a built-in traceable clicks-into-action component, asking ‘But does it work?’ is akin to demanding to know ‘How long is a piece of string?’ We can’t answer it. At best, we can say Books that did well did this, so possibly it works, but we don’t know if it was this specifically that was responsible for the book’s success. 

Where to then for your book promotion plans, if we don’t know for sure what works and there are no guarantees? We must turn to common sense and evaluate if, on balance, it is worth doing a particular thing.

If I were to write three laws of book promotion, the first would be to not annoy anyone with your promotional efforts. The second would be to aim, above all else, to inform people that your book exists who didn’t know it existed before, and do it without breaking the first law. I’m still working on the third one, but it’ll probably involve cupcake-related bribery. I’ll let you know.

In recent years some big players in the publishing industry started to move away from putting ‘spend’ behind things like Tube station ads. The thinking was that although thousands of eyeballs would connect with these ads every day – thus satisfying both the first and second laws – there was no way to know who those eyeballs belonged to. Were the eyeball-owners part of the target demographic for the book? Were they even readers? There was no way to tell. And since Tube ads cost a small fortune, it seemed too big a risk to just throw them up there and hope for the best.

Compare this to running a Goodreads giveaway for your book. Potentially thousands of eyeballs will land on your book’s cover, but you know for a fact that these people are avid readers. Better yet, you know that the majority of them share what they read online – they’re members of a social network built around books, where users track what they read, share their recommendations with other users and leave reviews. How many of them you can reach is not dependent on how many Twitter followers or Facebook fans you have, and you have exactly the same opportunity to reach the site’s users as the major publishing houses who also use the site. The cost of this to you is some time, a few copies of your book and the cost of packaging them and shipping them to the winners’ addresses. What other deal in book promotion land is as good?

So, clearly, I think Goodreads giveaways are great and that you should do them. But I don’t think you should do them the way Goodreads suggest you should and, thanks to a raft of recent changes, you shouldn’t do them the way I said you should back in August 2014 either. Not entirely.

A Quick Recap

Back in 2014 I decided to take a good look at Goodreads giveaways to see if I was making the most of them for myself and for the books whose campaigns I was working on. I did something I’d never done before: I went and read what Goodreads told me I should do to make the most of their giveaway system. They advised that you should run your giveaway for a month and to give away as many copies as you could. But then, in their own slideshow, they included this graph…

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…which clearly showed a significant spike in entries at the beginning and end of the giveaway, and nothing coming even close in between.

Remembering that our aim is to inform new people that our book exists, this graph gives us vital information. Yes, it’s nice that the people who follow us on Twitter, Instagram, etc. enter the giveaways and show interest in reading our book, but they knew about us and it already. What we really want our giveaway to do is to reach people who had never encountered us or the book before. This is why entries that come from the site itself – as opposed to, say, us tweeting a link – are so important.

And they seem to be mostly happening at the start and end of a giveaway, which makes sense when you visit the Giveaways page and see that they’re divided into ‘Just Listed’ and ‘Ending Soon’ charts. So doesn’t it also make sense that you’d want to have as many starts and ends as possible? One month-long giveaway only gives you one of each.

Then there was the idea that you should give away as many books as you could, presumably to (a) make your giveaway as attractive to users as possible – more books mean a greater chance of them winning one and (b) more users receiving a copy of your book meant more reviews of it eventually posted on the site. But here’s the thing: I don’t give a tiny rodent’s arse about the winners posting reviews.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s fantastic if they do. But Goodreads themselves say only 60% of winners – on average – post reviews of the books they receive and in my experience the number can be a lot lower than that. Regardless, it’s not something I can control. Winners are encouraged to review their prizes, but they’re not obligated to. (Totally fair.) What I’m interested in is, above all else, informing new people that my book exists. I’m interested in getting as many entries as I can. And scrolling through the giveaway charts back in August 2014, I saw no evidence that offering fewer prizes led to fewer entries. So why give away more books – read: spend more money – than I absolutely had to?

Ultimately, my takeaway was this: forget your single, month-long giveaway for as many books as you could offer. Instead, give away 1-3 books at a time in a number of shorter giveaways of varying length. That was the best way to maximize entries (eyeballs) I thought – and it was. It worked.

So what’s Changed?

The biggest change is that now you can only list a giveaway that starts 7 days or more in the future and that giveaway has to run for 7 days at least. 

I’m guessing this change was to make things easier for the poor Goodreads team who had to manually approve every giveaway before it went live, and if I recall correctly only had 72 hours or something to do it in. You could also make a giveaway a day long if you liked, increasing their workload even more.

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You could never set-up a giveaway when you were already running one for the same book, so in practice this means that now:

  • Your giveaways must run for a week at least
  • Your giveaways must have a week-long break in between.

Neither of these things change my advice. A week is still shorter than a month and I don’t see what difference having to have a week-long break in between them could possibly make. If anything, it improves your chances of reaching the maximum number of eyeballs, as you might have users who only check in once or twice a month.

Goodreads have also let go of the idea that their giveaways are just for books that are new or coming soon. Before, you only had two ‘year’ options under release date: this one or next. Now you can give away a book published twenty years ago, if you like, so long as it’s a brand new copy of it.

Another significant change is that while before you had 6-8 weeks to get your prizes in the post, now you only have 2-3 weeks to do it once you’ve received the winners’ addresses. (Goodreads pick the winners and then tell you where they live.) Plan accordingly.

Once upon a time I’d run a giveaway and then, once it had closed, send messages to the ‘losers’ offering them an e-book edition instead. (You can only give away print books on Goodreads.) This was very time-consuming but it did increase the number of reviews the book would end up with. But now I’m saying don’t even dream of doing this. It’s a big no-no. I’ve heard that sending unsolicited messages to users can get you kicked off the site. One woman apparently got in trouble just for sending messages to the winners to check they got their books. I find this strange considering users can opt out of receiving messages and there’s a limit (10, I think) on how many you can send in one day so it’d difficult to go totally crazy, but hey, them’s the rules.

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Let’s talk a little bit more about those eyeballs.

A Goodreads user logs in, navigates to the Giveaways page and is met with the ‘Ending Soon’ chart by default. They spy your book and – there it is! EYEBALL CONTACT ACHIEVED. Mission accomplished. So if 732 people enter your giveaway, that’s 732 new eyeballs in your book promotion bag. 732 people now know your book exists who, potentially, didn’t know it existed before. Right?

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WRONG.

It’s at least 732 people.

Whenever you enter a giveaway on Goodreads, the action gets included in your ‘update feed’ which, depending on when they log in, your Goodreads friends will probably see. (It’s what they see by default when they log in – the ‘Home’ page.) This is a screenshot of mine when I logged in today:

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So C.M. McCoy, author of Eerie, can count both Sherry and me as New Eyeballs reached today. I am a New Eyeball even though I may not have entered this particular giveaway.

(Will I take any action on this? Will I buy the book? Who knows. C.M. McCoy doesn’t know and – here’s the thing – they can’t know. And we’re not wasting our time trying to micro-manage down to the level of things we can’t control and can’t possibly determine, before or after the fact. We can control how far and wide we cast our net, so that’s all we’re focused on right now: MORE EYEBALLS.)

Here’s another thing: whenever you enter a giveaway on Goodreads, there’s an ‘Add to my To-Read shelf’ checkbox that’s checked by default.

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And as soon as a giveaway is listed for a book that you’ve marked as ‘To Read’, you get an email like this:

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(Yes, I did mark my own book as ‘Want To Read’. For research purposes, naturally! And that Hunger Games thing is totes adorbs, as the kids say that I started mocking them about and now find myself using in everyday speech non-ironically.)

So I log onto Goodreads and browse the giveaway lists to see if there’s anything I might be interested in. I spot Dead Secret by Ava McCarthy and it seems like my kind of thing, so I click ‘Enter Giveaway’ and I leave the ‘Add to my to-read shelf’ box checked, because I do want to read it. Me = an eyeball. But also = eyeballs are the Goodreads friends of mine who see this action pop up on their ‘news feed’ when they log into the site. And if I don’t win and Ava lists another giveaway, I will get an e-mail about it straight to my inbox, prompting me to enter the new one. (Why wouldn’t I? It’s just one click.) In this way, effectively, every giveaway after the first one comes with a mailing list of people who you know want to win a copy of that book. If you only run one giveaway, you fail to capitalize on this.

So What Now?

So while those 2,000 words of blog post were mildly interesting, your coffee’s gone cold now and you just wanna know: what should you actually do?

Well, I think you should:

  • Let go of the idea that this is about getting reviews from the winners – this is about informing people that your book exists (*screams* EYEBALLS!)
  • Definitely run at least 2 giveaways – I like 3-5 over a period of 2-3 months
  • Give away no more than 1-3 books at a time
  • Keep your giveaways short (I like 7-10 days), vary them in length and have them starting and ending on different days of the week (i.e. not always starting on a Monday and ending on a Wednesday. Mix it up.)
  • Don’t bother promoting your giveaway at the beginning and end of it (e.g. on Twitter, Facebook, etc.). This is when Goodreads will do it for you, so why bother? It’s more important for you to do it in between
  • Don’t contact Goodreads users directly for any reason at all

A disclaimer: the first Goodreads giveaway of Distress Signals is live right now and it’s three weeks long. But this is because of the new ‘2-3 weeks to get prizes out’ thing – we won’t have the prizes until February, so I either had to push the end date to the end of the month or not start a giveaway yet. I chose the former. Also it’s only open to the UK and Ireland despite what I said in the August 2014 post about self-publishers restricting the countries their giveaways were open to – they got Angry Dinosaur Face – but Distress Signals isn’t self-published and we have to play by the territory rules. We can only give this edition away in the countries in which it will be published.

But once this first giveaway closes, I’ll be running a few shorter ones with the goal of getting as many entries/eyeballs as possible. I might also try a Goodreads ad campaign because they claim this really amps up the number of entries a giveaway gets. LET’S SEE. I’ll be back once I’m done to let you know the numbers and we’ll see where we are with Goodreads giveaway advice then…

Have you run a Goodreads giveaway? Yay or nay? What would be your advice? 

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We Need To Talk About Territories

As it keeps coming up in comments here and on Facebook, I think we need to take five minutes to talk about territories.

When you self-publish, the availability of your book is a simple thing. Is it available in e-book? Yes/no. Is it available in print? Yes/no. When will I be able to buy it? On the day I’ve decided that it’s coming out, which is probably the same day I manage to publish it to Amazon KDP and it goes live on all Amazon sites.

But if you ask me ‘when can I buy Distress Signals?’…

Well, that depends on where you live.

Traditional book deals are done by territories. Publishers don’t just buy the right to publish your book, they buy the right to publish your book in certain countries. For foreign languages, this is simple enough to follow, i.e. the right to publish in German means the book will be published in Germany, and so on. But for English language rights, the situation can be more complicated than that.

The deal I signed with Corvus/Atlantic was for British Commonwealth excluding Canada.  In practice, this basically means that Distress Signals will be published in Ireland and the UK, and will be available in Australia and New Zealand too.

Unless I get another, entirely separate deal with a North American publishing house, it will not be available in North America.

This doesn’t just mean that if you live in North America and go to your local bookstore, you won’t see it on the shelves. It means that you won’t be able to buy an e-book version of it either. When I go onto Amazon.co.uk (there is no Amazon Ireland), the only Kindle books I see are the ones that are available for me to buy, which are the ones that have been published in Ireland/UK and “worldwide”. Some people here have their Kindles registered to Amazon.com – when us Irish folk got our Kindles first, that was our only option – so the selection they see is different. If you live in the States, when you boot up your Kindle to go shop for new books, you are only seeing the books that have been published in the States and “worldwide”. No one is seeing all of the books.

Anyone who regularly enters Goodreads giveaways for traditionally published books or who is a member of Net Galley will have encountered this before, as both prizes and digital ARCs are generally confined to the countries or regions in which the publishers have the right to publish the book, which makes sense.

I have spent a lot of time since I revealed the cover explaining this to people, even though this was – I thought – common knowledge. What I’ve realized is that self-publishing has blurred the territories lines to the point where people either have forgotten about traditional publishing’s territories, or never even realized there was such a thing. We follow self-published authors, they publish their books, we buy them. We can go on Amazon, no matter where we live, and pretty much find whatever self-published book we want. This is because the vast majority of self-publishers publish worldwide, and why wouldn’t they? I always did.

The thing is, it’s better for me that I didn’t sign a deal for ‘world English rights’ – which would’ve made an e-book universally available – because that means I still have additional rights to sell. It may seem silly that books are only published in some places and not others, but from an author’s perspective, it can be a good thing. When you come from a self-publishing background you might find you have that “But HE wants to buy it!” knee-jerk reaction to a lack of availability in a particular place – as in, you panic because you know there’s a certain person or group of people who want to buy your book but can’t, and all you can think about are the lost sales. I know this feeling because I used to have it. But this isn’t about the number of people in the States or elsewhere who might buy this book in May if they could – it’s about how many multiples of people like them the book could potentially reach if, at some stage in the future, a U.S. deal was done. In other words, it’s better to hold out.

I do have writer friends who signed deals for particular territories and then, after publication, self-published the title in e-book in the territories in which they hadn’t secured deals. This is always an option, but it is way too early in this process – like, years too early – for me to even start thinking about anything like that.

In the meantime, if you really want to read Distress Signals – and, of course, I hope that you do! – there is nothing stopping you from buying print books that have not been published in your country from online retailers. I do it all the time with US releases that aren’t available here (and sometimes I do it just because I prefer the American cover design. Terrible, I know).

The Book Depository currently has Distress Signals available to pre-order at 10% off and it offers free delivery worldwide with no minimum order. (It also has a terrifying ‘x days to go’ countdown clock above the pre-order button. *starts shaking*) If you don’t live in Ireland, the UK, Australia or New Zealand, you could order it from them and pay a similar price, all in, to what you would’ve paid had you walked into a local store and bought it.

It’s also available for pre-order on Amazon.co.uk. (Just the trade paperback, for now. E-book coming soon.)

By the way, if you do live in Ireland or the UK, the first Distress Signals Goodreads giveaway is open now. (Side note: Goodreads have changed almost everything about their giveaways since I wrote my Goodreads giveaway post, so stand by later this month for a new, updated one.)

Thus concludes our five minute talk about territories. So was this news to you or did you know all this already? If you did want to read a book that you couldn’t get in e-book and had to order in print online, would you still bother? Let me know in the comments below…

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UPDATE: I really thought this was clear, but already the feedback I’m getting makes me think it’s not. I think the problem is that we’ve introduced self-publishing to the mix, so let’s do this: pretend for a second that self-publishing doesn’t exist.

In this world, the only way for a book to come into being is for it to be traditionally published. And the only way for a book to be traditionally published is for an author who has written a book to be offered a book deal, and for the author (and her agent) to agree to take it. [This is a very reductive description of the process but this blog post is already long enough as it is!] So it’s not that the book is going to be published everywhere and the author gets to decide who wins the rights to publish it in each place or even if it’s going to be at all – it’s that the book is going to be published only in the places where the author is lucky enough to be offered a deal.

So if you get a UK deal, hooray! The book comes out in the UK. If you don’t get any other deals, your book will only come out in the UK.

Dare I reintroduce self-publishing back into this fictional world? So because you can self-publish into specific territories, if your book was only being traditionally published in the UK, you could – theoretically – self-publish it in all the other countries, because you haven’t sold off those rights and so they’re still yours. But that’s a complex decision with lots of variables, pros and cons, and it’s my Plan B by some massive distance.

If you are pursuing publication or you’d just like to know more, Carole Blake’s comprehensive From Pitch to Publication might be of interest to you. It was published in 1999 so don’t expect up to the minute info on e-book royalties, etc. but it’s still a highly readable primer on how all this publishing business works.

Hello 2016! I’ve Been Waiting Ages for You

Can you believe it’s 2016? I certainly can’t. When I got my book deal (have I mentioned that…? #sarcasm) I was telling people, “It’s out in June. Like, next June. June 2016.” The reaction from civilians, i.e. those not involved in writing or publishing or book-making in any way, was always “What? What the hell takes so long?!” Then, come July 1 last, I was able to say, “The book is out in June.” Then I started saying “May” because the date got brought forward, and as of today I can finally say, “My book is coming out this year.” Time is flying forward at violent speeds.

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YEAR IN REVIEW ⇒ (prologue) The Surprising Thing About Rejection, or What I Learned in 2014 → (February) Scenes from the Rewrite → (April) How To Finish Your Damn Book

I’ll admit it: things got away from me a little bit this year. Up until May and then again since the end of September, I’ve been at college full-time. English Lit, you won’t be surprised to hear, involves a crapload of reading. This was something that, once upon a time, I was looking forward to. I imagined myself curled up on my couch, or comfortably ensconced somewhere among the stacks of the college library, or sitting cross-legged on the floor of the university’s designated bookshop, having some kind of delirious metaphysical experience with a classic title, one I just wouldn’t be able to believe I’d reached the age of thirty-something without ever reading before.

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YEAR IN REVIEW ⇒ (May) I’ve Been BURSTING To Tell You: I Got a Book Deal! → (June) Being On Submission Syndrome → Are Amazon Really Paying Their Authors Per Page Read? No. No They’re Not. [Pause] Well…

Leaving aside for a second the fact that I would never sit cross-legged in any kind of retail space, this has not yet happened. Not once, and we’re up to the start of the last century, set-texts-wise. I applied to do this degree in part because I realized, sometime in late 2013, that for the previous eighteen months I had only read new books. And I mean new – either released recently enough to still be in the “New” section of the bookshop, or not even out yet (that I’d got in proof form). I used to joke that Orwell’s 1984 was as far back as I went, and only because when he wrote it, he set it in the future.

YEAR IN REVIEW ⇒ (July) A Short Story About Scarpetta → (August) How Many Drafts Did You Do Of Your Book? [Freshly Pressed!] → Something Nice From Nice

But as of right now, I’m not sure I didn’t have the right idea the first time. Awful, I know, but it’s difficult to make any kind of connection with a novel when it’s 500 dense pages long and you have a week to read it, digest it, read around it and prepare some sort of intelligent response to present in class – times six modules – while all the while trying to write a first draft of The Dreaded Second Novel in five months when The Exciting First Novel had a couple of years to percolate – as well as eat and sleep and stuff.

And yet, I’ve already seen all of Making a Murderer.

I’ve seen half of it twice.

As a crime writer I could say it was for research, but I’d only be kidding myself. The truth is I made time to watch it, even though it didn’t advance my progress on any of the extremely pressing items on my To Do list. The truth is that there is plenty of time to do all the things we really want to do. The challenge is making sure that none of that time gets away from us, and that we want to do the right things, the things that will make a difference in the long run.

But how do we do that? To be honest, I don’t know. But in 2016, this is my game plan:

  1. Get one up on my procrastination problem
  2. Track and plan (related: buy stationery)
  3. Stop being busy, talking about being busy, reveling in my busyness, etc. Be calm.

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YEAR IN REVIEW ⇒ (September) Book 1/2: Full Steam Ahead → (October) What Could Happen If You Worked As Hard As You Possibly Could? → Where The Crying Happens → Book 1/2: Cover Reveal → (November) The Worried Writer → Book 1/2: Proof Copies //

January on this blog will be all about those three things. Speaking of this blog, my friendly WordPress end-of-year e-mail report thingy says I blogged a mere 17 times in 2015. That. Is. Shameful. For context I blogged 30 times in 2014, 81 times in 2013, 117 times in 2012 and a whopping – and rather unbelievable – 235 times in 2011. There was no annual report for 2010 but I do know that when I copied all the posts from that year into a Word document to make a bound copy of my year in blogging, it amounted to more than 100,000 words.

Do you see a pattern? That’s a trajectory I need to reverse – that I want to reverse. Consider me already brainstorming ways to do that, but if you have any suggestions for topics, features, etc. do let me know in the comments below. (Sorry, but I don’t mean guest posts. I mean things I can write.)

BOOK12newlogoAlso, you may have noticed that things are looking decidedly blue around here. Sadly, RIP Catherine’s Pink-Soaked Blog. Pastels and polka-dots don’t really say “crime/thriller writer” and that’s what my website needs to start saying now. Blood splatter and an author photo which comes with an overtly threatening expression aren’t my thing, so the blue is a compromise. Book One/Two also has a new blue logo and I have been having fun buying blue things for my Instagram props box.

A reminder: if you have a copyright notice on your blog, update it now.

So, we have a brand new year. What are you planning to do with it?

Merry Christmas!

After a crazy few months, I’m taking this next week as an opportunity to do absolutely nothing at all except for (a) lie on the couch and (b) read books for pleasure for the first time since… Well, I’m not sure. September, maybe?

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By the time the New Year rings in, the first draft of Book 2 will be done (or very nearly almost), and life – and this blog – might be able to return to some kind of normal.

See you then!

The Worried Writer

Happy Thursday!

I’m about to crawl into my writing cave for a ten-day Ultra NaNo type thing but before I do, I want to point you in the direction of The Worried Writer podcast. Specifically the latest episode, which features a long, giggly interview with me.

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I really enjoyed chatting to host and fellow writer Sarah Painter about all things writing. Some of the topics we talked about include:

  • The name of my (fictional) self-help/productivity versus procrastination book, Don’t Start Until It’s Already Too Late.
  • The benefits of being traditionally published and why I think that ultimately, neither self-publishing nor getting published offers control (Oooh, controversial!)
  • Why I think I didn’t get a book deal until I deserved to – and what I was doing that made me feel like I finally did
  • How I pitched a winning idea for Book 2 to my editor… without actually having an idea for Book 2
  • Why if you claim that you only write for yourself but you’re also chasing publication, I’ll probably give you some side-eye…
  • The MASSIVE, PARALYZING, COLD-SWEAT FEAR that prevented me from submitting my work for ages – and how I pushed through it was dragged through it by writer friends (and why it doesn’t stop when you get the deal – sorry!)
  • Why luck can suck it
  • What you need to tell yourself when someone tells you won’t or can’t achieve your dreams.
You can listen to the episode here, or find it on iTunes.

NB: This was recorded a few weeks ago and so I refer to the publication date of Distress Signals being in June. But it’s May now. MAY!

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If you have a listen, do let me (and Sarah) know what you think in the comments below…

Where The Crying Happens

I love seeing where other people work (My Writing Room is my favourite feature on Novelicious) so today I thought I’d share what mine looks like.

That thought had nothing to do with the fact that I’m knee-deep in Book 2 and don’t have time to write an actual blog post, of course.

Nope.

I used to live in the most gorgeous apartment. It was lovely, and it was relatively big. Open spaces, full of light, a balcony perfect for coffee drinking and contemplating, and a whole wall just for my bookcases.

[gets teary-eyed just thinking about it]

Then, for some reason, I moved to Dublin, where the same rent was just about enough to cover a telephone box. I live in a studio apartment, essentially, although there is a door between the teensy kitchen and the main room. (Thank fudge – some of the places I went to see came with the added benefit of being able to reach the microwave from the bed. Hmm…) This means that everything has to be very organized, not take up much space and look nice, because I’m looking at it all the time.

So here it is, where the magic crying happens…

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  1. Excellent writing advice from Hemingway (and a birthday present from my friend Iain that came all the way from the famed Powell’s Books!)
  2. My Erin Condren life planner, filled with stickers for added procrastination. You can get one here. I recommend that you calculate the price based on the daily cost, i.e. divide the price by 18 (months) x 31 (days, on average). There. That’s much better, isn’t it?
  3. I keep this photo of eight-year-old me two-finger typing on the typewriter Santa brought to remind me that this is all I’ve ever wanted. (See it here.) I stare at it a lot when I have a synopsis to write. In front of it is a small blue deckchair encased in an acrylic cube, that reminds me of one of my favourite places: Nice.
  4. A blanket. I am always freezing. (Plus it disguises the fact that the chair does not match. MY EYES.)
  5. Coffee. Obvs, as the kids say.
  6. My vision board. I’m into the law of attraction, but not because I believe that you can order what you want from a magical universe like a drive-thru window. Instead, it’s because I think focusing on your goals or dreams does just that: it focuses you on your goals and dreams. Bonus: it takes AGES to go through piles of old magazines and Pinterest looking for images that appeal to you, and longer again to cut them out and glue them to a sheet of cardboard, and as you know I’ve never met a procrastination activity I didn’t like. (I’ve blurred out some of my loftier goals and dreams because, you know, hashtag potentially mortifying.)
  7. The Dreaded Draft Calendar. Ideally I have to finish a vomit draft of Book 2 around mid to the end of November, in order to stay on track with its delivery date and get my college assignments done. This is a constant reminder of how terrifyingly little time I have left. Yeah. So I should probably go…

Where do you write?

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What Could Happen If You Worked As Hard As You Possibly Could?

Fact: I’ve never worked as hard in my entire life as I did last year.

(Because I’m a student, I now think in academic years, so I mean the period between  September 2014 and the end of May.)

Here’s another fact you might not know, one you might be surprised to learn: I had never worked hard before that.

Never.

In the last few months I’ve given this revelation a soft launch, telling a few people who know me in real life that I never worked hard before this past (academic) year. They have reactions like scoffing, eye-rolling, etc. ‘Yeah, right,’ they say. ‘Don’t be ridiculous.’ I admitted to one person that I’m the laziest person I know and she said, ‘Lazy? Lazy? That’s not a word I’d associate with you at all.’

Well… Surprise!

I find it odd that people think prior to September 2014 I was a hard worker, but I must acknowledge that I’ve had a hand in spreading the lies. I constantly tell self-publishing authors that they’re not going to get anywhere without a lot of hard work – and that’s true. It is true that I did a lot of hard work. All the social media stuff, the million little things that go into self-publishing a book (or three), the speaking engagements, the blogging, etc.

But that is not the same as working hard. It’s certainly not the same as working as hard as I possibly could. I know it’s not, because it didn’t involve any real sacrifice.

Between March 2010 and March 2014, the list of tasks above was my full-time job. I did it for a few lazy hours a day, usually starting mid-morning. During the day, I was usually free to drop whatever I was doing and go out for coffee, or to see a movie, or basically to do whatever I wanted. At night you could usually find me watching TV with my laptop balanced on my knees typing a blog post or an e-mail or whatever, but that was more a habit than a necessity. There were times when self-imposed deadlines had me at my desk before dawn or into the night, but these occasions were few and far between. I had no other responsibilities. I was living with my parents. I never missed anything I wanted to see on TV, and I wanted to see a lot of things. Sometimes I even made a big flask of coffee and brought it upstairs, into my bedroom, so I wouldn’t have to walk all the way downstairs to achieve a caffeine refueling. That’s how lazy I was.

Things were going well – my self-published titles were keeping me in coffee grounds and ink cartridges as planned, I’d established a sideline career as a public speaker and a major publishing house had invited me to do well-paid freelance work for them that tied in with what I was doing for myself already – but they weren’t going as well as I wanted them to go. No where near it.

I still hadn’t got a book deal and, crucially,  I still hadn’t finished the novel I hoped I’d get a book deal for.

Almost all of the writer friends I’ve made over the last few years are now published writer friends. For a while there it felt like every single person I knew had a book deal. (Except me.) But whenever good news broke, I had to acknowledge that the person it was about was a person who worked a lot harder than me. Maybe they’d been getting up at 4:30am for well over a year now, to write before work. Maybe they’d been staying up until 4:30am because they couldn’t write during the day in a house full of kids. Maybe none of us had seen them in forever because every spare minute was spent adding to their WIP’s word count. They got what they wanted because they deserved it. They’d worked as hard as they possibly could.

Ricky Gervais has said that The Office was the first thing in his life he ever really worked hard at. I often wondered what would happen if I worked as hard as I could. My brother acts, and often he and I would say it aloud to one another: what could happen if we worked as hard as we possibly could?

In the end, I forced my own hand. I applied to do a four-year BA in English as a mature student, a move that would require a move to Dublin from Cork. I didn’t expect to get in so when I did, it suddenly meant that my novel had to get finished now, before the luxury of spare time completely disappeared. I got an agent during my first mid-term break, so I had to do a rewrite during term-time alongside all my classes, getting through my reading list, keeping up my freelance work and sleeping and eating and all that. Even my beloved TV fell by the wayside, and I didn’t read anything for pleasure for almost nine months. Actual sacrifices were made as opposed to me just “being busy”.

It was completely and utterly exhausting – after I delivered my rewrites I instantaneously developed a horrific flu and went to bed with Netflix for three days straight – but it was also exhilarating. Mostly because I knew it was going to lead somewhere, because I knew I was working as hard as I possibly could. I always thought I loved wasting time – Sweatpants & Sofa Time, to be specific – but it turns out I feel infinitely happier when I’m not wasting any time at all.

I also felt a seismic shift in how I approached my writing. Before, I’d have taken out my diary and looked for the blank spaces in which I could fit some writing time. Now, all time was writing time by default and everything else that I absolutely had to do – and only the things I absolutely had to do – would be squeezed in around it.

The most (pleasantly) surprising thing was the momentum that builds when you work like that. It got easier and easier to sit down at my desk and get going every day. I went from refusing to do anything unless I had a whole, clear afternoon, to scribbling sentences while the kettle boiled.

I have another crazy (academic) year ahead of me now: I have to deliver Book 2 by April, Book 1 comes out in June and I’m into the second year of my degree with its lecture schedule, reading list, essay assignments and, just after Book 2’s delivery date, exams. But now that I equate success with working as hard as I possibly can – and not a smidgen less – I don’t think I’d have it any other way.

What could happen if you worked as hard as you possibly could? What already has?

What do you think? Do you agree/disagree? How can you tell if you’re just doing hard work, or working hard? What’s the difference? Let me know in the comments below… 

(The featured image is of my Erin Condren Life Planner, which has changed my stationery-addict life. Find out more about her amazing products here.)