After I self-published Mousetrapped in March, my mother developed an annoying habit. Now, every time she comes across a story about a writer who self-published, a writer who wrote a book like mine or an Irish girl in her twenties who didn’t even read books until last Tuesday but after a chance meeting with a top literary agent in the queue at Tescos now has a seven figure deal and her own Littlewoods commerical, she hands me the paper and says, “Did you see this?” and sometimes follows up with a “Wouldn’t you do that?” We read a lot of newspapers in our house – The Examiner and the Evening Echo every day, the Cork News and the Cork Independent every week, the Sunday Independent on… well, Sundays, as well as a selection of “community newsletter” type publications – so you can see how this might get old over time.
A fortnight ago – was it a fortnight ago already?! – I shuffled into my bedroom, exhausted after a twenty-four hour trip home from Orlando (thank you again for that, Delta Airlines), to find a piece of torn newsprint tacked to my notice-board. It was a paragraph about Stories You Wouldn’t Tell Your Mother, a new book by Dublin-based John Ryan (no relation!) that he self-published with OriginalWriting.ie.
Having used a no-risk, Print on Demand service myself (Createspace), I’m always fascinated to hear from successful self-publishers who brought their books into the world by other means and, while my own mother knows all too well what went on during my backpacking adventures (the sole reason for keeping a travel blog of that journey was to assure her of our continued aliveness), I was interested in reading more about Ryan’s, which took place more recently and on the other side of the world.
Stories You Wouldn’t Tell Your Mother began life as a blog chronicling John’s backpacking experiences in Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the United States, and the writing carries this episodical form into the book version. Wandering on and off the beaten path, John gets to experience the highs and lows of travel, exploration and adventure or, in his words, “avoiding nightclub brawls and Mongolian swingers, befriending local thugs and drugs… making decisions for which your own mother would disown you… this book has been compiled for anyone with an interest in travel or fermented mare’s milk vodka.” It’s a fun read that, if I’m honest, had me eyeing a path to the nearest USIT office.
(I also laughed when I saw my beloved John Mayer mentioned. I wonder if he knows his music is in not one but two infamous travel memoirs written by Irish writers. And that I still want to marry him, even after what he did to Taylor Swift…)
But, ahem, anyway. John (Ryan, not Mayer!) was happy to answer a few of my questions about his self-publishing adventures.
Tell us about Stories You Wouldn’t Wouldn’t Tell Your Mother.
I decided to go travelling in 2007. I had just turned 30, was settled in a job and was already in my own apartment a few years, but I wasn’t happy. Dublin had changed and not for the better. Pre-recession, manners seemed to be dropped as larger pay checks were picked up. I decided I’d had enough and bought myself a round the world ticket. Stories You Wouldn’t Tell Your Mother started as a blog while I was travelling, turned into an article when I got home and grew into the book that’s out now. It addresses the many reasons we might give ourselves not to leave our comfort zone and describes what could happen when we take a chance.
What made you decide to self-publish? Did you attempt to get traditionally published first?
From the start I wanted to self-publish but I did send out submissions to the few Irish publishing houses that will accept them without having an agent, mainly to see what feedback I might get back. I think in general I’d be a little stubborn and when I believe in something I want to see it through all the way. I felt in the end if the book didn’t turn out the way I wanted I would just have myself to blame. It also meant I would be involved in the whole process which appealed to me, rather than sitting back and trusting someone else who most likely wouldn’t have the same interest in what you were doing. I also came across quite a bit of literary snobbery, people who believed that if you didn’t achieve the big publishing deal your book had no right in a book store. I can’t understand this attitude and it served only to spur me on.
Your book was published by OriginalWriting.ie. Tell us a little bit about the process, costs, etc.
I had a good look around online at the different options for self-publishing but Original Writing appealed to me the most because they are situated in Dublin. I wanted to be fully involved and after speaking to them, this is what they encourage. It really is ‘your book – the way you want it’ and since they have been in the business awhile they were always on-hand to give advice. Once my final draft was submitted I had the final product back in about 6 weeks. They’re standard basic package is €1595 and all the details can be found on their website.
What did you do to promote the book?
I think the most important thing you need is a good press release. I drafted my own which included a photo of the book and myself, details about the author and an invitation to the official book launch. Also at this stage I had managed to get Eason Wholesale to distribute the book for me, which meant it would be available nationwide. This was important as I felt there wasn’t much point in getting a lot of media coverage if it was only available online. The catch 22 here is that Eason won’t take it on unless there is media coverage so I had to have as much press and media lined up around the same time.
Apart from the printed media getting press releases I also sent them out to radio stations. Straight away I was invited onto Newstalk as a travel advisor, The Dave Fanning Show on 2fm followed that. The week of the book launch I was on the Afternoon Show on LMFM and the week after I was on The Inbox on 98fm.
I have also printed up business cards of the cover of the book with the ‘Facebook’ logo on the back to promote the Facebook page. I find these very handy and I can see the page steadily grow which means awareness of the book is growing.
I’m not finished yet either, more press releases with follow right up to Christmas. I knew this would be the hardest part but it’s all worth it when someone comes across the book and lets you know how much they’ve enjoyed it.
As a self-published author, what’s the best thing that’s happened to you during or as a result of this process?
Apart from the radio interviews that have taken place I was also featured in the Sunday Independent’s Life magazine. It was a full page interview and photograph and being Irelands most bought Sunday newspaper I think I got really lucky!
And the worst?
The attitude to self-publishing still annoys me. A lot more work has to go into self-publishing and that’s not including writing the book itself! We’d all love the big advance that a publishing house can provide and the marketing campaign that would surely follow but to go down that road yourself, using your own ideas and income, I think is quite special.
The second thing that has annoyed me is the monopoly I came across in distribution. There are only a couple of companies in Ireland that can distribute your book nationwide, the biggest being Eason Wholesale. Because of this they take 52 and a half % from the book price. I think this is scandalous. If you are a big publishing house, printing off thousands of copies your printing costs will be considerably low but in the self-publishers case you will most likely be looking at a few hundred copies print run each time. This of course pushes the price of printing up which as you can imagine doesn’t leave much left over for the person putting in all the work.
If self-publishing continues to grow I would like to see this addressed and a more reasonably deal been done. To put us in the same bracket as a big publishing house is outrageous.
What’s the one piece of advice that in your opinion no self-publisher can ignore?
If you’re in this for the money you’re doing it for the wrong reason. The odds at the moment are stacked against you. If you don’t believe in what you have written you’ll fall at the first hurdle. It is by no means an easy slog and rejection or a bad review can be just around the corner. You can’t write a book that everyone will love though, but you can know who your market is. You need to be clever with you PR and marketing and constantly finding ways to promote your own work.
What’s next for you and your writing?
Ah, and now you give me a difficult question to end with! The next few months I will continue to do as much as I can to promote and of course sell Stories You Wouldn’t Tell Your Mother. I work two jobs so I really need to plan properly because I don’t have the time to waste. A lot of people are asking if there is going to be a second book so the seed is starting to grow in my head! I think, like the last time, it will start as an article and then take on a life of its own. Of course, I’m not finishing travelling either but I have nothing solid planned just yet. I’d also like to get back into music; it’s where my writing started in the first place. I suppose you can never know what’s in store for you, a lot like travelling the world, and that’s what keeps it all interesting…