This is an “Ethical” Way to Sell Your E-book? I Disagree [UPDATED]

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***Last updated Saturday 31st March 2012 2pm GMT***

Yesterday evening I received an e-mail to info[at]catherineryanhoward.com from a person I didn’t know. I’m always suspicious when this happens because if a stranger is trying to get in contact with me, clearly the Contact page on this very site is the way to go. But if you want to send me a message from your e-mail account, that’s not going to work, so you either trawl the internet looking for mentions of my e-mail address or you put “info” in front of my domain and hope for the best. The suspicion arises because of the answer to the question why must you send me a message from your e-mail account? It’s usually because you want to send me an attachment and/or include me in a mass mailing. Both of those say “I’m selling things!which, when you do it in an e-mail to a person you’ve never communicated with before, is called spam.

So I was suspicious before I even opened the message. Then I read it.

“Subject: Loved your book

Just checked out your book on Smashwords, Catherine and you’re so so talented. Do you have any suggestions for a budding writer like me? What has worked and what hasn’t? Tried FB, Twitter, even book marks. I just don’t want to waste my time on things that don’t work. I just read a couple EXCELLENT books on it. One was recommended by my friend called “Effortless Marketing”:http://amzn.to/EFFORTLESS I got it cause Mark Coker the Smashwords guy endorsed it and cause it’s free for the next 24 hours anyway. And it was surprisingly really, really good. Do you have any other books you’d recommend?”

(That text was copied and pasted from the e-mail; all mistakes sender’s own.)

I clicked on the link, and ended up on a listing for an e-book called Effortless Marketing: How I Sold Thousands of E-books, Landed an Agent and a Book Deal in Just 10 Minutes a Day Using Message Boards by someone called Jeff Rivera.

Now maybe I’ve been reading too many crime novels recently, but nothing about this sat right with me. First of all, the message was sent to my e-mail address instead of via my Contact page. That alone suggested spam, or at least something suspicious. Then there was the subject line—”loved your book”—even though the message seemed to imply that the sender hadn’t read it, but merely “checked [it] out” on Smashwords. (And if they had read it, they’d know I generally don’t do anything to promote my books that a traditionally published author wouldn’t do AND I don’t believe in selling books to other self-published authors, and therefore I avoid message boards.) Then there was the total focus on selling books as opposed to creating them, the odd mention of book marks (?!) and the late-night infomercial line “I just don’t want to waste my time on things that don’t work.” (I can just see that guy from Amazing Discoveries in his terrible wooly sweater, consoling the actor playing the part of a frustrated audience member. “Well, now you don’t have to!”)

But it was the completely out of the blue book recommendation—complete with link!—that really set alarms ringing, especially since it just so happened that it was free to download for Kindle that very day. There were the capital letters (“EXCELLENT”), the forced casualness (“that Smashwords guy”) and the odd timeline—free for 24 hours, but the sender has already found it, downloaded it, read it and wrote to me to recommend it? Somebody’s been a busy bee, eh?

The sender’s name was Mogoli Angelberg. When I googled it there were only about five results returned and none of them were very illuminating. The top one, however, was this (click for larger image):

A profile page for Mogoli on something called The Gatekeeper’s Post, of which Jeff Rivera—author of Effortless Marketing— is both founder and editor in chief.

So.

This was my reply, in its entirety:

“What hasn’t worked is spamming people with e-mails in which I pretend (badly) to be seeking information when what I’m obviously doing is trying to get people to download the book my “friend” recommended. –Catherine”

The truth is, I often get e-mails of this type. I must look stupid or something. Regular blog readers will know that this is the first time I’ve called anyone out about it (although rest assured each one I receive does get filed in the “Don’t Do This” notes section of the new edition of Self-Printed). But this one was so blatant and presumed me to be so stupid that I just had to say something.

Right up top on the book’s Amazon listing is an endorsement from Smashwords founder, Mark Coker, that reads:

“Jeff Rivera provides honest, ethical advice for how authors can leverage message boards to attract readership and build platforms.”

I’m guessing there’s no mention of spam-disguised-as-praise-and-queries e-mail in Effortless Marketing; I’m certain Mr. Coker wouldn’t have endorsed it if there was. Perhaps Mr. Rivera is unaware of this e-mail campaign. But if he isn’t, he should be. And he should make sure that it’s stopped.

Because the very last thing this effort could be called is ethical.

What do you think? And have you ever received anything like this?

UPDATE #1 | 27.03.12: As I suspected, I’m not the only person to receive this e-mail. See Ashley’s comment below.

UPDATE #2 | 27.03.12: Julie Cohen has also received this e-mail. It seems to be coming from Smashwords—i.e. the people behind it are trawling through Smashwords looking for authors to send it to, presuming they’re self-published and interested in selling more books. Considering how many authors are on Smashwords and that only a few hours after posting this, at least 3 people who also received it have read this post, I think that points to potentially hundreds of recipients.

UPDATE #3 | 28.03.12. Oh boy. It’s now 10.30 a.m. GMT on Wednesday 28th March, or about twenty-four hours since I first posted this. In that time, between comments, tweets and e-mails, 19 other people have told me they’ve received this exact same “Loved your book” message. Considering that this group consists of people who received it and either knew me or took the time to Google the sender’s name, found me and were motivated to leave a comment, I think that points to a huge number of potential recipients. More than one recipient found the message in their Spam folder, which also points to a mass mailing.

I also received a very interesting message from a self-publisher who prefers to remain anonymous for personal reasons. (I know this self-publisher, believe he has no reason to lie and therefore am trusting that this is the truth. However I must of course concede that this did not happen to me; I’m merely repeating it.) Several weeks ago this self-publisher—let’s call him Bob—received a message from Jeff Rivera, the author of Effortless Marketing, entitled “Loved your book!”—the same title, of course, as our spammy message.

The message began with praise, just like the spam message does, but then went on to invite Bob to read an interview Rivera had done with a big-name author who had turned to self-publishing. Bob didn’t reply. Later Bob received another, similar message from Rivera. He didn’t reply to that either. A week after that, Rivera sends him another message saying (I’m paraphrasing): “Hey, I think I deleted your most recent message. Can you re-send?” Suspecting that Rivera is “just trying to sell” him something, yet again, Bob doesn’t reply.

Sending messages into the abyss doesn’t, apparently, deter Rivera, who sends Bob another message shortly thereafter. This one promises Bob a “top secret” list of agents and editors who are foaming at the mouth looking for self-published success stories (um, obviously I’m also paraphrasing there, but you get the idea)—in exchange for a review of his book. Needless to say, Bob didn’t respond to this either. But his curiosity was piqued, so he downloaded Effortless Marketing, which was free for Kindle at the time.

Now I have a personal rule about not revealing the content of books like this, but suffice to say that his “effortless marketing” method has a lot in common with the spammy messages we’ve all been receiving, according to Bob (it just moves it to a message board/private message setting), and among other terrifying advice, suggests using Fiverr.com to find an editor. I was also pointed in the direction of a thread on Kindle Boards where Rivera, back in August 2011, told his fellow authors that if they had had self-published success, he could help them get a traditional deal. In it he says “Ask Joe Konrath or Karen McQuestion if you have any questions” [about his or his offer’s legitimacy]. What does that mean?! Presumably he wants you to think that Konrath and McQuestion, two of the world’s most successful and most visible self-published authors, will vouch for him. But that’s not what that line says.

Let me be clear here: this is not intended in any way to be an exposé, or an attack. I really don’t care what this guy is up to, whether or not his book is good or if this “Mogoli Angelberg” even exists. I think people should make their own buying decisions, I couldn’t give a crap either way, and, anyway, this isn’t that kind of blog. But as soon as I read that message, I knew something was wrong with it. I knew something wasn’t right. After Googling, I was positive something wasn’t. And because e-mail happens behind the scenes and spamming operations like this can go unnoticed, I decided not to let it go. I decided to blog about it. And I think that’s my right, considering that I was a recipient of the e-mail.

Regular readers of this blog will know what my stance is on selling books. This isn’t a game. This is a wonderful opportunity for writers who previously had no hope other than the magic “yes” from an agent or an editor. Now we have the world at our feet—or at our keyboards, anyway. We should never abuse it. (See my infamous guest post on Taleist, Why Self-Publishers Need to Start Minding Their Manners, for more info on that.) We should be honest, and work hard to find readers and convince them, through transparent methods, to buy our books. Organic growth is the only growth that works, the only growth that matters. Yes, you might manage to sell 100,000 or even 1,000,000 books by some form of Jedi mind trick, but what then? What happens when people read your crappy book? What happens when you release your next one? The only way to sell books is to write good ones, and then let people know—in a way that’s acceptable to everyone—that they exist.

It drives me ten kinds of cuckoo when people try to sell books by any other method, but the red mist descends when they try to sell them that way to me.

UPDATE #4 | 28.03.12

UPDATE #5 | 28.03.12 I’ve been informed that the Amazon.com listing for Effortless *cough cough* Marketing has received 3 one-star reviews from people who have received the same message, word-for-word—and I know this because I went to read the reviews, and two of them have the message pasted in. I read it about five minutes ago, and just now when I went back to copy and paste the URL, there was a new 5* star to add to the 20-odd 5* reviews already on it. This is amazing, considering the book was published six days ago, on March 22. What’s his secret? Apart from the spam, none of us are privy to what lengths exactly Mr. Rivera has gone to to promote this book, but I think we can all agree on one thing: he’s sure making a huge effort.

UPDATE #6 | 28.03.12 This saga now has its own thread on Kindle Boards! I would URGE anyone following this story and/or concerned about this issue to read through the posts on this thread. [*waves to everyone on that Kindle Boards thread*]

UPDATE #7 | 28.03.12 Jeff Rivera has posted an update on his site in which he responds to the “Mogoli Angelberg” spam debacle. I don’t want to keep dragging this on and on, but I’m afraid I have to take some issue with Mr. Rivera’s explanations.

He seems slighted that we, the recipients of the spam messages, didn’t immediately contact him about them and instead complained about them publicly – on blogs, Twitter, Amazon, etc. Of course, if something like this was happening in my name and I was unaware, I would wonder why, when I found out, that someone didn’t tell me sooner so I could have done something about it. I totally get that. But it was only by sharing that we’d received this weird message that it became clear it was not a one-off, but a spammy mass mailing.

Secondly, if you look at the Twitter screenshot above, when someone did approach him about it yesterday, his answer was “I’m not sure what you mean.” Yes, if he wasn’t sending the e-mails, he wouldn’t have known what the tweeter meant. But the tweeter specifically mentioned the name Mogoli Angelberg. If he is known to Mr. Rivera, as he statement claims, wouldn’t that have raised alarm bells with him then?

Moreover, in his statement Mr. Rivera says he found out about this because he saw the spam-related negative reviews on his Amazon listing. Such reviews on Amazon.com are all dated March 27th, yesterday. As you can see in the screenshot above, the tweet was sent to Mr. Rivera on March 26th, the day before that.

The endorsement from Smashwords founder Mark Coker has also been removed from the Amazon.com listing.

Finally, I was sent a link to this statement via e-mail. But when I went to Mr. Rivera’s home page, I could find no trace of it. I had to go back to the e-mail and copy and paste the link just to re-locate it.

(On a personal note, yes, I’m a girl. Yes, I’m relatively young. Yes, my blog is pink. But I’m not stupid.)

UPDATE #8 | 28.03.12  Jeff Rivera has also taken the time to comment on this post, below.

(The Final!) UPDATE #9 | 29.03.12 So, this turned into something, didn’t it? Wow. I hope you made enough coffee to get all the way down to this bit. The thing is, I’m so glad I posted about this and helped, in a little way, to expose shady practices of people who prey on my fellow writers and self-publishers, but Catherine, Caffeinated isn’t supposed to be an episode of 60 Minutes. Therefore, this will be my last word on the matter, although of course please feel free to comment, move onto Kindle Boards where this has got VERY interesting indeed, and spread this around so we can alert as many people as possible to this kind of crap.

Jeff Rivera posted a statement on his blog and has left comments below, but his explanation is that an employee of his sent these messages. He’s fired him, he apologizes, end of. But he completely ignores all the other things about his practices that have come to light during this and seemingly has no intention of addressing them.

For instance:

  • If you believe that Mogoli Angelberg exists, I have a time machine disguised as a remote control that I want to sell to you. He’s been on the internet since 1997, apparently, but has fewer Google search results than my stapler. The Kindle Board thread also has screenshots that, to me, look like evidence that Rivera and Angelberg are the same person. One is a posting on a message board where, signed in as Mogoli Angelberg, Jeff posts and signs his own name. If Mogoli was an employee working on Jeff’s behalf, wouldn’t it be the other way around?
  • The same thread highlights an e-mail Rivera sent offering a list of agents and editors supposedly looking for self-published authors IN EXCHANGE for a review of his book. Effortless Marketing, published on the 22nd of this month, already has more than 30 5* star reviews.
  • Some very clever person on the Kindle Boards thread has been examining how many times the link in the spam e-mail has been clicked. It points to a spam operation on a massive scale. Even if Rivera is telling the truth, (i) how could such a huge undertaking have been conceived of and executed without his knowledge? and (ii) why would anybody but the author be motivated to do such a thing? My conclusion is that it couldn’t have been and no one would.

So that’s it. I hope your cup of coffee lasted this far. I’m off to make another, and tomorrow this blog will return to its normal fare. If you have anything you’d like to add, I’d suggest you pay a visit to the Kindle Board thread listed above, or comment below. Tootles for now.

(This Time It’s Really the Final) UPDATE | 31.03.12 I really was done with this whole thing, but Jeff Rivera has pulled his book and posted another statement, and since (i) people are still coming here to read this post and I want those people to have all the information and (ii) the statement itself needs addressing, I’m afraid I posting another update…

You can read the statement in full here, but here are some highlights:

  • “I wanted to personally thank the thousands of writers who downloaded my eBook, Effortless Marketing this week and the over 34 four and five star reviews I received.” This week, potentially thousands of writers were spammed about Jeff’s book, and we know that he contacts people offering them things in exchange for reviews.
  • “And I want to thank those who helped make it the #1 Marketing Book on Kindle.” It was free.
  • “I also received interest from a traditional publisher about the book as well and what’s funny is that I didn’t approach that publisher at all. They approached me!” You’re right, that is funny.
  • “Unfortunately, due to the campaign of bizarre false accusations about me supposedly spamming people about the eBook even when I explained what happened, I’ve decided to pull it off the market for now.” I presume by “bizarre false accusations” he is referring to the majority of people not falling for his explanation that “Mogoli Angelberg” is an employee of his who conceived and executed this entire spamming operation without his knowledge, despite Mogoli having no independent internet presence or any online proof that he has ever existed at all, and e-mails from Jeff and Mogoli coming from the same source and being worded the same way. His explanation doesn’t explain anything, and he hasn’t even attempted to explain—or even address— why he approached writers offering lists of agents in exchange for reviews, or why he does things like advertising a query writing service that charges $450 upfront, and then another $450 when you get ten responses, which Jeff guarantees (see below). It is bizarre.

  • I pray that those who went out of their way to do so will not experience that type of negativity in their own lives.” You don’t need to, because I would never do something as stupid as this. And if he’s referring to me, I didn’t go out of my way to do anything. I received a suspicious e-mail that insulted my intelligence, and when Googling the information in that e-mail led me to believe that someone was conducting themselves in a manner that brings down all self-publishers, I decided to post about it to see if anyone else had got the same thing.
No, Really. This Time I Swear… Someone just sent me a link to a rather relevant “daily inspiration” post from Jeff’s blog, in which the image below appears. I know, it looks like it must have been doctored or interfered with since this whole spam saga began, but it’s not at all. This is actually on his blog. I’ve taken a screenshot in case it disappears.

The phrase “You said it, not me” comes to mind…

If you received a “Loved your book” message from the complimentary Mr. Angelberg, please let us know in the comments below.

The “That’s My Book on the Shelf!” Moment by Mark Hayes

This fine Monday morning (is that… could it be… do I see sunshine?!) I am treating you, dear blog readers, to a very funny blog post by bestselling author Mark Hayes. (I know. The pyramid stack of Ferrero Rocher will be coming out next.) Like a certain highly caffeinated girl who likes pink, Mark is another twenty-something Corkonian who left the grey skies of Ireland to pursue what some might say are fanciful dreams in the States, even eventually writing a book about it—only he went to LA, his dreams involved getting his sitcom made and he appears to have far more manageable hair than I do. (Although LA is technically in the desert, isn’t it? So it’s not like he had humidity challenges.) Mark began blogging about his experiences, and was soon approached by an Irish publisher about turning that blog into a book. The result, RanDumb: The Random Dumb Adventures of an Irish Guy in LA hit #1 on the Amazon.com humor charts, and at time of writing has eighty-four glowing five star reviews on there.

Now Mark has just released the follow-up, Randumb-er: The Continued Adventures of an Irish Guy in LA. In the extract he’s treating us to today, he describes the, er, “magic” of finally seeing a book you wrote on the shelves…

Even though RanDumb was released into the open a while back and was now running free like a demented headless chicken, I had yet to see or hold a copy. Publishers told me to go check it out. In all the bookstores. Mighty. At least that’s one dancing plus! Particularly since as far back as I can remember – about nine months – it has always been a dream of mine to be a published author. Ever since my buddy Dave Buckley asked me one day on Facebook chat:

‘You’re obviously going to turn your blog into a book, are ya?’

Hmm. Now there’s an idea… Finally, after all that time, I was now going to see my first ever book on the bookshelves of a real-life bookstore! Mighty. Also a bit strange, I imagine. Anyway, first shop I try: Waterstones. Favourite bookstore growing up. Seriously never imagined that I’d have a book in here one day. This is going to be kind of cool! I wonder where it might be? Mosey around by the front window. New releases – No sign of it. Tut. Disappointing. Check in memoirs – Nothing. Hmmm. Comedy? No. What the funk? Alphabetical order? No sign of me? Where the sweet Jesus is it? Publishers said it was definitely out!

By now my ideal situation – me walking into the shop, seeing my book all over the shelves everywhere, posters on the windows, the whole place just plastered in RanDumb – was clearly not happening. At least I wouldn’t have to deal with the horde of people freaking out when they realised that it was me on all those posters. So at least that was avoided. My scenario was at the other end of the scale: No sign whatsoever that my book even existed. Only one thing to do. Time to be chump. Queue up in line with everyone else. And ask if they have it…,

“Hi, just wondering if you have a book called RanDumb in stock? New book. Just out. I hear it’s mighty. Ha ha.” (wink)

Cashier checks her computer. Looks at the screen. Looks at me. Squints at the screen. Back to me.

“Is that you?”

“Ha, yeah. It’s my book. That’s me on the cover.”

Mark (left) sees the finished product for the first time—in a loading dock. Oh, the glamour!

For some reason saying this brought weird embarrassment. As if I needed to be on the cover so people would believe it’s me? Not too sure.

“You wrote a book?”

“Yeah. Managed to pop one out of me. Do ye have it in store?”

“No, not meant to be in for another month or so it says here. Who told you it was out?”

“My publishers. Sweet Jesus, they’re brutal. That’s why I’m back in Ireland. Book tour, book launch, you know yourself, all terribly exciting. Kind of.”

“I’ll pass on the message that it’s out now so, if you like?”

“Yeah that’d be grea- ”

Shouts to another cashier across the room,

“GERALDINE! This guy says he wrote a book. Claims it’s out now but we’re not meant to get in until next month. Should I order it sooner or will I bother?”

Sounds like I’m shopping for a new brand of tampons. Mighty. Either way, Geraldine doesn’t care. Shrugs her shoulder.

“I’ll order it sooner so. Should be here next week maybe. Come back then. Congratulations too. Must be very exciting to be a new author. Well done!”

“Yeah. Thanks. It’s better than I ever dreamed. Well I never really dreamt about being an author growing up but I suppose I would’ve imagined it that you’d be treated the same as a Greek God or a Roman Emperor – like Zeus or Augustus Caeasar, that kind of thing. You know, people would serve you grapes and fan you with palm leaves and you just stroll around in your toga, half naked bodies everywhere, all because you’re now a published author and your book’s on shelves. That’s how I imagine Iwould’ve imagined it I suppose. Living the wonderful life of an author. Amazing! Although my book is quite clearly not yet on the shelves, so maybe that’s why all that hasn’t happened yet. Ha ha, I think I’m rambling, what did you say your name was – Fionnuala. OK so Fionnuala. I’ll be off. I’ll call in again next week. You should read it as well. In fact, EVERYONE HERE SHOULD!”

Long.

Silent.

Pause.

Big hand gesture to the room. And then I got the funk out of there. Left feeling a tad chumpish. Walking aimlessly down the main street in Cork. Yearning for some grapes. That went well. Bloody publishers. Cluelessness grows by the day it seems. Imagining people having a right old laugh at me as they walk by me on the street. Ah funk ye all!

All right, cop on. Not to be deterred: I’ll try Eason’s up the road. Subtly make my way in. Head down, collar up kind of approach this time. Nothing in the window. Nothing at the front. Nothing in the middle. Tut. Wander down the back. Past the pens and school supplies. Irish section. Scan the shelves. Nada. Should I ask this girl who works here if they have it in stock? Probably not. Funk it, just ask her,

“Sorry, just wondering if ye have- Oh you don’t work here? My bad, apolog- ”

And then I saw.

It.

Third row of a double sided shelf in the middle of the aisle, opposite side of the shelf facing out. My face. My book. A part of my soul! On a bookshelf. Available to buy. In a real life bookstore! A day I’ve dreamt about for a full nine months. A moment I imagined would be pretty mighty ever since I first started writing the book. It’s my book! I’m on the cover! Oh Betsy! Success!!! Picked it up. Jesus. Feels beautiful. Hand vortex that almost drove me fully mental. You little dancer. Opened a page. Flicked through. Smelt the book. Unreal. Took a longer one. Even better. (New book smell is savage!) Looked at the cover again. Then the back. Another smell. Face buried between the pages. Hmm. What should I do now? Actually, no – I know. Time to take a photo of me and my book. Proof! Out with my camera. Subtle self-portrait snap. Horrendous photo. Who cares?! OhsweetLord: Thisisamazing! Duu!

Look around. Chuffed. See who I could share my joy with. Few old people staring at bookshelves. One really old guy just looking at the wall,

“High five lads! Look, my book! Although actually, how come it’s on the third shelf down. One away from the bottom shelf. Almost on the floor. That’s not so amazing now is it?”

Interrupted by a girl who actually works in the shop,

“Are you OK?”

“Oh yeah, I’m OK, not lost, thanks. Just came in to see a book. Ha-ha, yeah, that’s my book. Just out. You should definitely read it. Oh you’re busy, no worries, cheers, thanks.”

My brief minute of joy came plummeting back down to earth. Makes me very self-aware.Next set of emotions are weird. Back away from the book. Fear of being caught out – Fraud! Fear of people not liking it – Whures! I wonder if anyone here has read it already? What if they didn’t like it? I know: If people like it, I’ll take full credit. If not, dodge on. Deny I know anything about it. Call me Peter. Hmm. How about I just lurk here and listen? See if anyone says anything about it. OH MY GOD WHY DID I WRITE A BOOK!?! I silently scream while nodding at the old man now slowly shuffling past me. Next emotion is pure annoyance. Inner me and outer me start to go at it,

“Brand new release!”

“How come it’s not up the front?”

“Why is it back here in the… Travel Section?”

“Never happy.”

“Can you not just be happy?!”

“Although in fairness, you’re right, it is hidden down the back here.”

“Well then grow some balls and get it moved up the front!”

Find a different girl who works in the shop. Slightly older lady this time. Far more excited about the fact that it’s my book and I’m now in the shop,

“How can I help you, Mr. Hayes?”

“Well, just wondering if you could maybe move RanDumb up to the front of the store? Window display perhaps?”

“Of course we can, Mr. Hayes!”

Sound-Lady grabs a basket. Throws every copy of RanDumb into it.

“Follow me!

Let’s just move this Dan Brown one over here.

Sorry Russell Brand, you’ve got to go too.

This Corkonian needs his room to shine.”

Makes my book the most prominent of all. Turns to me,

“How does that look now for you Mr. Hayes?”

“Looks mighty!

Upper middle row of the front shelf in the store.

Eye line territory. Golden grail. You’re too kind!”

“Could I have a photo with you next to the book? Can I call you Mark?”

“Ha. Of course. I insist!”

Strolled out feeling a lot more pumped up than Waterstones. Wave goodbye to everyone. Sound-Lady waves back. Chest puffed out like a rooster. Start getting my cock-a-doodle-duu strut on. Stevie Wonder’s Superstition starts playing in my head. Slight twirl as I walk down the street. Fingers clicking along. What a mighty day! Feel someone tapping me on the arm,

“Hello.”

Some randumb younger girl holding out my book,

“Here, is this you?”

Maybe not so bad being on the cover after all.

“Yeah, it is! Da-da dung-dung da-da-diddle-dung, da-dung dung dung duu- Pardon?”

“Will you sign it for me?”

“Ehh…”

Thought it was a wind-up. Surely. Don’t think I’ve signed an autograph before. Checked. Looked around. Any candid cameras? No. OK. Seems legit. Took out my lucky pen. Wonder what I should write? Well, my name, of course. Signed that. Rambled out some more gibberish as a personal message:

“What a mighty dayaduuu for you! Book on!!!  – Mark Hayes”

Could’ve done with tipex. Fun times though. Book groupies. Or broupies, as I now call them. They exist! Finish my gibberish message. Hand the book back to the girl. Corner of my eye I see the Sound-Lady from Eason’s running down the street. Shouting out,

“You have to pay for that!”

Girl runs off. Book in hand. Gone. Leaves me standing dumb.

“Why didn’t you stop her?”

“Pardon? What do you mean?”

“She just stole your book. What were you doing, you had it in your hands?!”

“I was, eh, signing it for her. Sorry. I didn’t know.”

Now-Not-So-Sound-Lady rolls her eyes. Walks away, shaking her head. Final thing I hear her mutter…,

“Fecking eejit.”

So I go back and pay for the stolen book. Wuu. More of a muted walk out of me now.Superstition only being hummed quietly. Checked a few more bookstores on the way back to my car. Some had it. Others weren’t getting it in until next month. Good work by the publishers it seems. Confusing people is a great way to sell the book! Not to worry though. I’m sure it’s going to get mightier from here on in. Come Monday I’ll be on my book tour. Ha. Time to tell everyone about the world’s newest literary classic. Pretty soon I’ll be selling millions. People clamouring to read it. All in awe of my unique writing style. Betsy! Can’t wait. Finally. Delighted. Now everything’s going to be absolutely perfect! I’ve made it – Haven’t I? Right? Yeah? Wuu!

Ran.

Dumb.

On!

Thanks Mark!

Mark’s blog, Enough Talk, More Writing is here, his Twitter account is here, and you can find his books on Amazon.com and on Amazon.co.uk

Why You Need Some “Self” in Your Self-Publishing

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As you know, my least favorite self-publishing related word is gatekeepers. But did you know that my least favorite self-publishing related combination of two words is Big Six? Or that my least favorite self-publishing related combination of three words is one-stop shop (as in “Look at our shiny website! We are a one-stop shop for all your self-publishing needs!’)?

Well, you do now, and one-stop shops are what I’m going to talk (read: rant) about today.

I think I’m just going to put random coffee pics in all my posts from now on. SO much easier than looking for book pics… 

The typical one-stop self-publishing shop goes something like this. You, via the magic of a shiny website, find a self-publishing service called—let’s just say—ProperlyPublished.com. (Is that a real domain? I’d better check!). They promise to publish your book for you, as in produce a crop of glossy print copies, sell said glossy copies on their website and make your book available to bookstores. They will take care of the whole shebang: editing, typesetting, design, printing and ISBNs. All you have to do is submit your manuscript, then sit back and relax. Oh, and pay them the equivalent of a few mortgage payments. But then you can sit back and relax, and perhaps look forward to the “10 FREE copies!” of your book they’ve generously included in their offer.

Sounds great, right? Of course it does. Especially if you’re not a techie, or don’t have the time/coffee reserves to do this kind of thing yourself.

And maybe it would be great for you, but I doubt it.

I don’t think you need someone else doing everything for you, and I especially don’t think you need someone else project-managing the publication of your book. I’m positive you don’t need to be paying someone else to self-publish you. (And how, pray tell, is it self-publishing if there’s no “self” involved?) Self-publishers have never before had so many tools, advice and information—free tools, advice and information—at their fingertips, and yet new one-stop shops are popping up all the time.

I don’t think you should be tempted by them. I would go so far as to say you should avoid them, because using a service like this will, generally, have you paying through the nose for sub-standard work. Instead, you should project-manage the publication of your own book, finding and enlisting professional partners (editors, cover designers) as needed.

Let’s start with the paying through the nose bit. I don’t want to name any names, but I picked one popular one-stop shop self-publishing company (which I think is a fair example of how things look across the board) and compared it to using CreateSpace (in the way I do) to produce a standard length paperback.

The One-Stop Shop
  • Publishing package: $1,900

This includes interior design (i.e. typesetting), cover design based on template, up to 4 electronic proofs and 1 bound proof copy, 100 copies of the finished book. Your book will be listed for sale on the service’s website and “made available” to bookstores and to you, for ordering stock. The ISBN will be supplied (owned by the service) and copies of the book will be filed with relevant national libraries*. Your book will probably be available on Amazon.com, but there’s no guarantee. No mention of other retailers.

  • Cover designed from scratch: Add $450
  • Ordering personal stock: $6 per book

Total cost to publish paperback with original cover and get 200 copies**for yourself: $2,950

Using a POD Service (e.g. CreateSpace)
  • Publishing package: N/A
  • Pre-publication costs: We have to find an editor ourselves, so let’s say this will cost us $1,500
  • Cover designed from scratch: Let’s give a generous budget to the cover design we’ve sourced ourselves, so $400
  • IBSN: Free
  • Proof Copy: The cost of one book, so $3.50
  • Expanded Distribution: $25 (You’re on Amazon.com—that’s a given—but this will get you on other sites too)

Total cost to publish paperback with original cover and get 200 copies for yourself: $2,628

So at the moment there’s only about $300 in it, which is a pocket of loose change in the scheme of self-publishing things. But let’s use my own self-publishing costs, for Mousetrapped, instead of a theoretical budget. (Mousetrapped was a 232-page paperback measuring 5.5 x 8.5 that I published with CreateSpace and got an original cover for, which was copyedited but not structurally edited or proofread by a professional.)

  • Copyediting: $1,000
  • Cover design: $200
  • ISBN: Free
  • Proof copy: $3.63
  • 200 copies: $726

Now our total is down to $1,929 and some change—and that’s my point. If you use a one-stop shop, there is no negotiating. You pay the total advertised, and that’s that. But if you do it yourself, if you become the project manager of your self-published book, you can shop around. You can invite bids. You could even barter. Maybe your cover designer will give you some money off if you agree to run an ad for him or her on your website or something. But there’s no scope for anything like that with the one-stop shop.

And what if you don’t want 200 copies? What if you don’t even need or want the 100 you’re supposedly getting “free”? (Which I just think, by the way, is the biggest joke ever. It’s like Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom. You pay nearly $50 for a ticket that gets you into the park for a few hours, and they tell you you’re getting “free” hot chocolate and cookies. Um…?) Say you just want 25 copies. Well, use CreateSpace and you’ll end up paying just $1,293.

A bigger issue, for me personally, is what you’re paying for. You really don’t know. I’ve seen two books from the same one-stop shop in the last year or so, one paperback and one e-book. In the paperback there were no misspellings or typos that I could see, but it hadn’t been edited at all, at least not in any kind of professional way, and there were blank lines here and there for no reason and at least five or six sentences that stopped mid-page. The cover was about as good as a CreateSpace Cover Creator cover, and it looked so self-published it may as well have come with an alarm shouting just that. The e-book had misspellings and other typos, and again, was filled with formatting errors. The impression I was left with was that there was just no attention to detail, and I don’t see how there could be on a conveyer belt system where books are coming in and out all the time, and the customer base is mainly made up of people who are unsure about how a book should look.

These companies tend to work around templates. They’d have to, or their business wouldn’t work. If you are offering a service for x price, you aren’t making any money by sitting down with each and every author who comes your way, talking to them at length about what they want and then going away and spending hours and hours creating and then fine-tuning just that very thing. You wouldn’t be able to charge flat rates if you did, because every book is different. So in order to charge flat rates, you pre-design a bunch of book types, and then get your clients to fit into them somehow. Same goes for the cover. (I’m guessing this has something to do with why books produced by these companies always look self-published to me.) Now I don’t blame them or even admonish them for that—if I was in the same business, that’s exactly what I’d do. Otherwise you’d be a kind of bespoke book-producing boutique, and you’d have to charge astronomical prices. But I do admonish them for the hyperbole they fill their sales pitches with, crap about control and choice and “working together to realize your vision” and all that nonsense. They always talk about what your book “deserves”. It’s very easy for a writer who has just come round to the idea of self-publishing to get taken in.

CreateSpace offer a similar package, and although I’m recommend you go with them for your self-publishing adventures, I would never recommend that you avail of any of their services, for the same reason. I love, love, LOVE them—I love the books they make, how little they charge for them, their customer service, etc.—but I would never go to them for their editing, typesetting or design services. You just don’t know what you’re paying for. There’s no guarantee of quality. And from what I’ve seen, you’ll get a better result if you go looking for individuals to do the work yourself.

Above are two self-published covers. The one on the right (the horse) is a cover CreateSpace put on their website as an example of an “original illustration” cover. It costs from $949. The one on the left was done by Design for Writers (see this post) and although I don’t know how much it cost, I’m betting it wasn’t a third of what Mr. Horse did.

And what about when the book goes on sale? How much do you make then? Well, with the same one-stop shop used in the example above, you’d get around 70% on the profit (i.e. NOT on the list price) after a $2 “handling charge” is deducted. So let’s say your book was selling in a store for $14.95, and the bookstore was taking a 35% cut. I figure you’d be collecting a little over $5 from each sale. I don’t know how much you’d get from an Amazon sale. With CreateSpace, you get about $5 from an Amazon sale (using the example of Mousetrapped) and less from “expanded distribution” sales from other online retailers. So that’s little difference there between the two—but there is a big difference in the cost of the book to you. To buy a copy of my own book costs me $6 from the one-stop shop, but only $3.60-ish from CreateSpace. Many self-publishers go to companies like this because they want stock, but if that stock is twice as expensive as it would be from CreateSpace, why bother? I wouldn’t.

They say “We make self-publishing simple!” Self-publishing, if we’re talking about an e-book and a POD paperback which is what most self-publishers are talking about these days, is already simple. If you can’t do something yourself—editing, cover design, even formatting—you’ll get a far better deal by sourcing the people you need and paying them individually, than you’ll be handing over wads of cash to one company who claim to do it all. You’ll have much more control if you do it yourself. You’ll get, in my opinion, a better product. And you won’t end up with boxes of dusty books under the stairs, which is what this whole digital self-publishing thing is about avoiding in the first place.

In my opinion, your self-publishing needs to have some self in itWhat do you think?

*Filing copies of your self-published books will national libraries is an exercise in ridiculousness.If your national library actually began receiving copies of every self-published book not only for sale in your country but available to buy from there too, they’d change their tune on their policies pretty quick, I’d imagine. Except they wouldn’t be able to reach their desks because they’d be piles and piles of POD-d books in their way. I’d never done it and you don’t need to either. **Paying only for 100, because 100 of them are free. Both examples exclude shipping costs. 

Mick Rooney at The Independent Publishing Magazine both reviews and ranks self-publishing companies, if you’re interested in learning more.

Why It Doesn’t Matter Whether or Not Your Book is Good

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[Today’s post should come with a warning: I’m not sure I’ve got my point across clearly. It’s a very hard thing to explain. But hopefully you’ll get what I mean, and take it in the spirit with which it was intended. Or else you’ll think I’m saying something I’m not, and freak out. Either way, it’s probably best to have coffee first. This one’s a long ‘un.]

In the last month or so I’ve done two self-publishing workshop thingys, one at Faber Academy in London and one for Inkwell Writers in Dublin, both of which required the building of a pink PowerPoint presentation that boiled—or at least, attempted to boil—everything I know about self-publishing down into two handy sessions, one for the caffeine-induced enthusiasm of the morning and one for the post-lunch slump of the afternoon. Doing this, I realized that (i) PowerPoint presentations take far more time to make than you could ever imagine and (ii) some of my views on self-publishing have significantly changed over the last year, including some views I harped on and on about in Self-Printed.

So between now and the sparkly new second edition of Self-Printed, coming sometime this summertime-ish (I refuse to be any more specific than that!), I’ll be blogging about these new ideas, starting today with this controversially headlined post about why I don’t think it matters whether or not the book you plan to self-publish is good.

(Yes, I did just say that. But please, kindly read the rest of this post before you start leaving ranty comments in the box below. Thanks.)

Once upon a time, I told would-be self-publishers that their books had to be good. Absolutely, positively and with no exceptions whatsoever. I didn’t want anyone self-publishing crap, or even just mediocre stuff.

Because first of all, what was the point? There was none. Just because you could didn’t mean that you should. (As Dr. Malcom tells Hammond in the Jurassic Park Visitors’ Center dining room, incidentally.) The point of books is not just that they were written. Besides, self-publishing is a business, with you as the entrepreneur and the book as your first product. Wouldn’t you make sure if instead of a book you were selling, say, lightbulbs, that those lightbulbs worked before you put them on the shelves? Wouldn’t you make sure that they were good? Of course you would, unless you were a chucking-money-down-the-toilet enthusiast with a black belt in shamelessness.

Maybe you weren’t interested in money, and instead you were in the midst of setting up a delightful picnic of rainbows and cupcakes on Unicorn Meadow, to which you’d invited all of your favorite writerly dreams. Dreams are lovely, and anyone who knows me knows that I’m a big believer in having them—but also that I’d never charge anyone €2.99 (or any amount) for the privilege of seeing mine come true, and not much else. That kind of thing is called vanity publishing for a reason.

And most important of all, you self-publishing crap might cost me sales. Do you know how hard it is to get someone to read a self-published book? We may have lost some perspective what with us being self-publishers ourselves, and being surrounded by blog posts, articles, tweets, etc. about self-published books doing well, but the answer is it’s extremely hard and, when it comes to the vast majority of constant readers in the world right now, practically impossible. I don’t have to explain to you why and, if I do, then you must be only half-way through your lunch back in Unicorn Meadow. But let’s say that one of us manages to break through, and get someone who never, ever, ever wanted to read a self-published book to read a self-published book, maybe even accidentally. If it’s a good book produced by a professional self-publisher that’s been through the standards of book production (editing, cover design, etc.), then our new convert might buy another one. Maybe mine. But what if it’s a terrible book that reads like a Google Translate malfunctioning, looks like a HTML sneeze and has a quote from the author’s mother on the cover in Comic Sans? Now this self-publishing toe-dipper has just confirmed what they thought about self-published books all along, and you can guarantee that they won’t be buying any more. Maybe the book they would’ve bought next would’ve been mine. If that HTML sneeze was yours, you’ve cost me a sale. You have indulged in some irresponsible self-publishing, and you’ve messed it up for more people than just yourself.

So for all these reasons, I told you that your book had to be good. Otherwise, there was no point in even researching things like promotion, because once your early readers left nothing but one-star reviews, your title would be dead in the Kindle water. To find out whether or not your book was good, I recommended either trying to get it traditionally published (for feedback; full manuscript requests would generally confirm that there was at least something there) or paying a manuscript assessment service to tell you both the good and bad news. Whatever you did, you had to do something. You had to make sure that your book was good.

We have go ba-ack… and find out what the whispers were about. And why those particular numbers were the important ones. And how you can time travel using water and sunlight. And why Walt was important. And what’s the deal with Christian Shepard. And why women couldn’t give birth on the island. And—

But this argument had holes bigger than the plot of Lost. (Still bitter about that? Two years later? Me?) It was easy to find exceptions to the rule.

Take for example The Bad Writing, Big Selling Club. Dan Brown is probably the name that pops up the most frequently. He isn’t a particularly good writer—and is, in fact, renowned for not being a very good writer at all—but yet he’s sold millions and millions of books. Thus the Bad Book Self-Publisher concludes that although their book isn’t very good, it is definitely better than Dan Brown’s, so it’s gonna sell. Or that it’s at least as good as it, so it has a chance. Or that Dan Brown is proof that it doesn’t matter what sort of crap is between the covers, people buy books no matter what. So, bad books sell.

Last October I relocated to Nice, France, for six weeks. I have thus far managed to resist the lure of a Kindle (ironic, I know) and had a 20kg luggage limit, so I relied on the tiny English language section of the local FNAC for reading material while I was there. Pickings were slim, to say the least. One week I picked up The Swarm by Frank Schatzing, translated into English from the German, partly because it sounded really interesting and partly because it was approximately the size of a brick and seemed as if it’d last me a while.

It was to good writing what the coffee you get served on airplanes is to Nespresso. There was so much badly handled exposition that “badly handedly exposition” would’ve made a good subtitle for the book. Nothing actually happened for at least fifty pages, and the science wasn’t so much interwoven as it was dumped in a steaming heap in the middle of each page. The characters had about as much depth as a puddle on the bathroom floor after someone’s had a shower, and for most of the book the reader had absolutely no clue what was going on. (And before you protest, these problems were all unrelated to the translation.) But I read it. I kept reading it. It was inexplicably riveting. And after a while, I even found myself enjoying it. Why? Because even though it wasn’t Shakespeare—or even Brown, or even correct English, half the time—it had something that kept me reading and ultimately gave me an enjoyable reading experience. So it did it matter that the book wasn’t, strictly speaking, good? No, because the book had something else, something that kept me turning the pages.

(And for the record, I loved The Da Vinci Code. I don’t make a habit of not liking things just because lots of people do, or because it’s “cool” to knock it.)

Coffee, and this was in Nice. Relevant, no?

So that was one plot hole in my Good Books theory—and then there was the reverse of that: the Great Writing, Not Selling Club. Every year we’re shocked to see how little some snooty-literary-award-nominated books have sold by the time the shortlists are revealed. I think it was 2011’s Booker that had some sales in the 800s. Yes, only eight hundred copies sold of a book experts agreed was one of the best books published by an Irish or British writer that year. (Of course they all did alright afterwards, but that’s not the point.) Recently I sat in on a talk by an editor at a major publisher of top quality literary fiction who said that the majority of her authors never earn out their (already small) advances, and that if it wasn’t for literary prize money, they’d have to shut up shop. So, good books don’t necessarily sell.

My point, 1,500 words later, is that whether or not your book is good is not what’s most important. What your book needs to have is appeal. Without appeal, your book won’t sell no matter how “good” it is. And with enough appeal, your book will sell even if you aren’t a great or even very good writer. Appeal is a terribly difficult thing to define, or at least it’s a terribly difficult thing for me to explain to you in words that make any sense. But in its most basic sense, if your book has appeal is has something that makes people want to read it. This may be useful information, an intriguing plot idea, or an author who already has a very large following for their writing elsewhere. It might just be a good product description or a snappy blurb. Or it might be something you can’t quite put your finger on, or quantify at all. But it’s the appeal that bridges the gap between someone finding out about your book, and that same someone buying it.

And before you self-publish, you have to make sure that you have it.

A well-written book does not equal appeal. It’s just not enough. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you don’t have to be the next Jonathan Franzen (thank fudge for that—I’d hate to hate Twitter) or Zadie Smith to win a readership and make a living as a writer.

Take Twilight, for example. Prior to reading it, I had zero interest in vampires. (Even now, my interest only extends as far as Eric Northman.) I never read YA, except for Harry Potter which arguably was in a genre all of its own. I only relented after hearing so much about the series, and by the time I got around to reading it all four books were already out. And I absolutely loved it. While I was reading it, it took over my life. Edward was suddenly occupying far too many of my thoughts for a fictional character. (Just as well he wasn’t technically a teenage boy.)  Then I lent it to my best friend, and it took over her life too. We both read all four books within a week just because we couldn’t stop; it was like the literary equivalent of crack cocaine. But why was it? It wasn’t particularly well-written, and it also, when you think about it, promotes the idea of giving everything up—college, your family, your life—for a guy, and doing it at the age of 18. Our previous shared read had been Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Pale View of the Hills, and we are certainly not the kind of girls up for giving up anything for anyone, least of all boys.

(As if. So, like, anyway…)

But we loved it. I’m guessing it was for the same reason that women the world over fell for the books: because they instantly transported us back to the heady days of being a teenage girl, and being a teenage girl in lurve. Life-altering, appetite-quenching, drowning in hormones love—except without the awkwardness, rejection, spots, etc. Thankfully. And that’s its appeal. It had nothing to do with vampires, and everything to do with the good bits of being a teenage girl. (It didn’t hurt, of course, that the adorable and devoted Edward Cullen was thrown in for good measure.) The way Meyer writes had very little to do with it outside of her ability to invoke memories of adolescence love; afterwards I picked up her only non-Twilight book, The Host, but only made it a third of the way through before I abandoned it. That one didn’t hold any appeal at all for me.

You might argue that if a book is written well, people will want to read it. Well, ask a literary fiction editor where their Rolls Royce and diamond shoes are for more information on that.

As I said this whole appeal thing is hard to make any clear points about (clearly!) but if I’m just confusing you, think of it this way. If you read blogs and/or are on Twitter, you are bombarded every single day with news about books. Books about to be published, books just published, books that have been out for months and books that have been out for years. Traditionally published books, self-published books, cult favorites and mega-sellers. Books, books, books. But do you run out and buy them all? Hardly. But every now and then I bet you Google the name of one of them to find out more, and a few clicks later you’re buying a copy with your credit card.

So what makes the difference? Why don’t you buy all the books? (Aside from the fact that we’re not millionaires.) Why don’t I buy all the books Oprah’s Book Club newsletter tells me about once a week? They must all be good, because Oprah says so, but it’s not just because I can’t afford it. It’s because whatever I glean from the blurb, the cover design and the information I have about the author, some of the books end up appealing to me and some of them don’t.

So what does all this mean? It means you may have a perfectly well-written book that isn’t selling, and that might be because despite your talent, no one wants to read the kind of book you’ve written. It would also explain why books that aren’t as good as yours are selling more, and why books that are brilliantly written aren’t selling at all. Your book doesn’t have widespread appeal, or at least doesn’t have any that’s on show. If it’s not on show, you have to find it. If you don’t know if it has any, find out. Pitch it to some readers and gauge their reactions. (Readers. NOT your mother, or even your friends.)  If it doesn’t, move on.

(This is all linked to something I’ve discovered about self-publishing—that, by default, nobody gives a rodent’s arse about your book—which I’ll be blogging about at a later date.)

Now of course, the aim of the game should be to self-publish a book that is both good and has appeal. That is the ideal. But I’m here to tell you that if you’ve only managed the good book part, your work is not yet done.

(Sorry!)

Does all that make sense? Or do I need to move to a stronger strength of coffee?

The Girl Who Came Home: A Guest Post by Hazel Gaynor

Welcome to another week on Catherine, Caffeinated! While I recover from making Mother’s Day dinner on three hours sleep thanks to the Australian Grand Prix (Sky Sports started coverage on the new dedicated channel at 4.30am—although I should’ve just stayed in bed until the race started at six, because Sky Sports F1 is total rubbish. But anyway… ), my friend Hazel Gaynor is going to amuse you today with the story of her book, The Girl Who Came Home. With a stunning cover, timely subject matter and glowing reviews stacking up, I just know this e-book is going to be a huge success. Here’s Hazel to explain how it came to be...

“So, I did it. I finally took the plunge and self-published my novel, The Girl Who Came Home, on Kindle this week. It’s an exciting, nerve-wracking, exciting, terrifying, exciting experience! So, why Titanic? Why Kindle? Why now?

Ever since I was a child, I was amazed by the story of Titanic: the ship, the people who sailed on it and the unimaginable scale of the disaster. From the age of about twenty, I’ve been saying I’d love to write a novel, set on Titanic. People nodded politely. ‘Of course you do,’ they said, patting me on the back. When I was 27, I cried buckets as I watched James Cameron’s epic movie and fell in love with Titanic all over again. ‘I’m going to write a book about that one day,’ I said. ‘Of course you will,’ my friends replied politely, patting me on the back. The dream never went away – I knew I would do it one day.

When I was made redundant in March 2009, I finally set about taking my dream of becoming a published author a lot more seriously and last year (after various ups and downs, failures and successes in my writing endeavours), I started doing some serious research into Titanic – not realising at the time that 2012 would be the centenary year of the disaster. It seems I had got serious about writing this book at just the right time. I mentioned the idea to my agent, who encouraged me to write my book.

I soon became completely immersed in Titanic’s fascinating history, absorbing every detail of the event, from the deck plan of the ship to the handles on the dinner knives to the moving accounts of survivors. Then, I stumbled across the story of a group of fourteen Irish emigrants who left their homes in Mayo and sailed together on Titanic. They are known locally as ‘The Addergoole Fourteen’. I was so moved and inspired by their story that I wanted to write about it. Going back to the notes I’d been keeping for the previous fifteen years and using the new research, The Girl Who Came Home was written over the following four months in a blur of early mornings, late nights, twenty-minute bursts while the dinner cooked, a five hour flight to New York and snatched hours on a Sunday morning while my husband took the children swimming (they are great swimmers now!).

The completed novel was submitted to publishers last summer. Feedback was positive and very complimentary – but that elusive contract wasn’t forthcoming. I was devastated and went away to lick my wounds. I couldn’t bear to see anything about Titanic for months afterwards.

Having read the book, my mother-in-law encouraged me to keep trying to get it published and friends suggested self-publishing. I thought about it, put it off, suffered from crippling self-doubt, thought about it some more, edited my manuscript and just before Christmas 2011, decided to self-publish. I set about self-publishing the novel on Kindle. This in itself wasn’t the easiest of tasks, being a bit of a technical luddite, but buoyed by the self-publishing success I’d seen of fellow authors (Catherine Ryan Howard and Mel Sherratt in particular, I stuck with it.

The Girl Who Came Home – A Titanic Novel was published on Kindle this week. You can click on the link to read the description, or I have also taken the liberty of copying it in below!  I am so proud to see it up there with my name on it. The stunning cover (even thought I say so myself!) was designed by Andrew at Design for Writers and he did an incredible job, capturing the era and the mood of the book perfectly. The image of Titanic on the cover is from a painting by Belfast artist Jim McDonald, who very kindly gave me permission to use his beautiful work. You would be surprised to learn how tricky it is to get an image of Titanic – such is the stuff you learn when self-publishing!

From here, I can only hope that my novel does well and that self-publishing turns out to be a good decision. I am so passionate about the subject and feel a real sense of responsibility to tell the story of the thousands of people who travelled on this incredible ship with the passion, sensitivity and respect they deserve. Undoubtedly, Titanic’s legacy will live on long well beyond this centenary year. And I suspect our, and our children’s, fascination with her story will only grow stronger over time.

Of course I am still chasing the dream of being traditionally published and am already well under way with my next novel which is set in Victorian London. But more about that another time.”

The Girl Who Came Home is available now on the Amazon Kindle Store. Click here to download from Amazon.com and click here to download from Amazon.co.uk

The Girl Who Came Home – A Titanic Novel (the blurb!)

Inspired by true events surrounding a group of Irish emigrants who sailed on the maiden voyage of R.M.S Titanic, The Girl Who Came Home is a story of enduring love and forgiveness, spanning seventy years. It is also the story of the world’s most famous ship, whose tragic legacy continues to captivate our hearts and imaginations one hundred years after she sank to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean with such a devastating loss of life.

In a rural Irish village in April 1912, seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy is anxious about the trip to America. While the thirteen others she will travel with from her Parish anticipate a life of prosperity and opportunity – including her strict Aunt Kathleen who will be her chaperon for the journey – Maggie is distraught to be leaving Séamus, the man she loves with all her heart. As the carts rumble out of the village, she clutches a packet of love letters in her coat pocket and hopes that Séamus will be able to join her in America soon.

In Southampton, England, Harry Walsh boards Titanic as a Third Class Steward, excited to be working on this magnificent ship. After the final embarkation stop in Ireland, Titanic steams across the Atlantic Ocean. Harry befriends Maggie and her friends from the Irish group; their spirits are high and life on board is much grander than any of them could have ever imagined. Being friendly with Harold Bride, one of the Marconi radio operators, Harry offers to help Maggie send a telegram home to Séamus. But on the evening of April 14th, when Titanic hits an iceberg, Maggie’s message is only partly transmitted, leaving Séamus confused by what he reads.

As the full scale of the disaster unfolds, luck and love will decide the fate of the Irish emigrants and those whose lives they have touched on board the ship. In unimaginable circumstances, Maggie survives, arriving three days later in New York on the rescue ship Carpathia. She has only the nightdress she is wearing, a small case and a borrowed coat, to her name. She doesn’t speak of Titanic again for seventy years.

In Chicago, 1982, twenty-one year old Grace Butler is stunned to learn that her Great Nana Maggie sailed on Titanic and sets out to write Maggie’s story as a way to resurrect her journalism career. When it is published, Grace receives a surprising phone call, starting a chain of events which will reveal the whereabouts of Maggie’s missing love letters and the fate of those she sailed with seventy years ago. But it isn’t until a final journey back to Ireland that the full extent of Titanic’s secrets are revealed and Maggie is able to finally make peace with her past.

The Girl Who Came Home is available now on the Amazon Kindle Store. Click here to download from Amazon.com and click here to download from Amazon.co.uk. Thanks Hazel and best of luck with your book! 

REPLAY: Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

[This is last year’s St. Patrick’s Day-themed blog post, but since a lot more people are reading this blog than there was this time last year, I’ve decided to drag it out again. Plus, it’s Saturday. When have I ever blogged on a Saturday, eh?]

To celebrate being one of the only countries in the world whose national holiday is celebrated, loved and adored by millions of people who don’t even live here and whose connection to us is tenuous at best, I thought I’d present to you five Irish things that I celebrate, love and adore.

1. Our Writers

A nation of storytellers… especially fantastically funny and talented lady ones! I’m currently reading The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes, the reigning Queen, and I’ve got Ella Griffin’s Postcards from the Heart coming up next. I’m on the e-mailing list for Oprah’s Book Club updates, and this week she was nice enough to feature 10 Irish Writers You Should Know (which includes Edna O’Brien) as well as Maeve Binchy’s Minding Frankie in her reads to look out for in March.

[2012 UPDATE: As it turns out, I’m reading an Irish writer this St. Patrick’s Day as well! Anna McPartlin.]

2. Tayto Crisps

Ah, to explain Tayto Crisps. Well, first of all – for you non-Irish-or-UK folk – by “crisps” I mean “potato chips”, but here in Ireland we could never say Tayto Crisps, because Taytos (or Taytoes?) is enough. Nothing else tastes like their cheese and onion flavor which they invented, thank you very much, in the 1950s. Recently they opened a theme park here. Yes, a theme park. The best way to eat Taytos is to take a bag of their cheese and onion, a bar of Cadbury’s Dairymilk chocolate (the real stuff, not the crap Hershey’s make and they brand as Cadbury’s in the US – yuck!) and eat them together, i.e. a square of chocolate followed by a few crisps. I can tell you this because I’ve done years of research in the area.

3. Dylan Moran

Before he was selling Black Books on Channel 4, he was a stand-up comedian here in Ireland and I was lucky enough to see him in Cork’s Opera House so long ago that I think I was in secondary school at the time. He’s everyone’s favorite chain smoking, seemingly constantly drunk laugh-inducer, and in this clip he explains the great mystery that is the “Irish Face.”

4. Barry’s Tea

Barry’s tea is not only made here in Ireland, but here in Cork. And not only here in Cork, but about five minutes down the road from where I live! Quite simply the best tea ever, we drink umpteen cups of it a day. Every day hundreds of envelopes leave Ireland via the postal service, stuffed full of Barry’s tea-bags and headed to Irish ex-pats all over the world. I’ve sent and received a few of them myself. You can actually buy actual Barry’s tea in the States, where it comes in a green box, presumably to push the Irish thing. (It comes in a red box here.) Pictured above is the actual box of it I found in a Goodings in Orlando.

5. Section 195 of the 1997 Taxes Consolidation Act

Otherwise known as the Artists Exemption. Once upon a time in Ireland, money earned from writing was tax-free. Then Irish writers started making a lot of money (think a famous blonde chick-lit author who sells millions of books all over the world) and the government decided to cap it, at €250,000 a year. Then things got bad, and it went down to €125,000. Then things got really bad, and it went down to €40,000. But the good news is that most of us scribes aren’t making that kind of money, so the Artists Exemption is still a good thing.

Well, it is something I celebrate, love and adore.

I also really liked this article by Reuters, 17 Bizarre but True Facts about Ireland – but is not having post codes really that bizarre? Really? And I think Guinness is a stout…

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Video Friday: Shakespeare & Company, Paris

I have a confession to make. Paris is my favorite place in the world but, in all the times I’ve been there, I’ve never been to Shakespeare & Company, one of the world’s most iconic bookstores. This is a travesty, I know—and one I will rectify at the earliest opportunity—but it’s just that every time I’ve been there, I seem to have been there with someone who hadn’t visited the city before and we had limited time. (Or I’ve been there with someone who hadn’t visited Paris before, I had limited time and I was there mainly to attend a Harlan Coben signing in La Defense.) Therefore I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower more times than anyone should, but I’ve never been to Shakespeare & Co. This wonderful video is the closest I’ll get to it for the moment:

Visit the Shakespeare & Co. website here (the homepage is currently a beautiful tribute to George Whitman, the owner, who died in December aged 98) or read about what it’s like to live in the bookshop in Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co., a memoir by Jeremy Mercer. And although I’d warn against it, if you want to fuel your writing-in-Paris daydreams, invest in a copy of Eric Maisel’s A Writer’s Paris. You’ll be saving for a Parisian studio apartment rental before you reach the last page, I promise/warn you.