Guest Post: The Lucky Ones

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

“Do you know how lucky we are?

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

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

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

Seriously, we have it made.

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

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

Truly, we’re so lucky.

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

What if we weren’t so lucky?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Shannon. Check out: 

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


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


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

Not Easy Money

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

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

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

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

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

A Lucky Break

So how did I start getting speaking engagements?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Much Not-So-Easy Money, Exactly?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Some Practical Tips

About getting speaking engagements:

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

About the presentation itself:

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

About delivering it:

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

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

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

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

[Insert Great Idea for Blog Post Here]

Yeah. So. Um…

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

The Pathetic Excuse

I’m busy with other things.

For example, on my To Do list for today:

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

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

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

You can see my problem.


The Good Reason

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, I’m asking you.

What should I blog about?

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

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

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

(If you want one, that is!)

Have at it.

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Operation Full Distribution

One of my goals for 2013 is to fully distribute all of my self-published e-books.

As it stands, Backpacked is handcuffed to KDP Select, Mousetrapped is on Smashwords but I never re-submitted it to their Premium Catalogue (read: third party retailers) after my last update and although you can purchase a gorgeous ePub or Mobi edition of Self-Printed directly from me (thanks to the lovely people at, the only other place you can get it from is the Amazon Kindle store, although we did have a brief flirtation with Kobo Writing Life a while back.


Why is this? Well, there’s a few reasons:

  • It’s easy to make a good-looking Kindle book. I still format my e-books the way I’ve done it from the beginning, three years ago: by re-formatting the text in a MS Word document until it adheres to a strict set of rules. I’m really good at it now, and sometimes I almost find the process relaxing. (Sometimes…) Ever since I discovered, via a tip in the Smashwords Style Guide, that Kindle conversion automatically indents all your paragraphs and the only way to make it stop is to set the indent to 0.01 inches on the lines you don’t want to appear indented, I’ve found prepping your book for Kindle conversion practically easy. And I like easy.
  • It’s simple to keep track of sales and profits. KDP must have the best-looking user interface of any self-publishing platform. It’s so easy to use: two pages and your book is published. Log in at any time and see at a glance what you’ve sold so far this month, what you sold in total last month and how the past six weeks were for you and your books. Prior months royalties can be scrutinized in a downloadable Excel spreadsheet, and cheques arrive promptly every single month. (In three years, only one KDP cheque has failed to arrive, and it was a lost-in-the-mail situation. They quickly cancelled it and sent another.) My euro sales even go straight into my bank account now. Trying to figure out how many copies I’ve sold via Smashwords on other retailers is like trying to do my taxes with an abacus, and everytime you add another site—be it Kobo, or iTunes Connect, or whoever—you complicate things further.
  • The majority of my sales come from Kindle anyway, so the rest of them don’t seem worth the trouble. Now, I know what you’re going to say: if my books are only available on Kindle, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, it is now. But all throughout 2010 and for a good half of 2011, I was on Kindle and everyone Smashwords could hook me up with, and my Kindle sales were something like 95% of all e-book sales. And this wasn’t because I did such a good job of marketing my Kindle book, because I was never active on dedicated Kindle forums, nor did I advertise with Kindle Nation or anything like that. Kindle just sold my books more, for whatever reason. When KDP Select came along—and the first time I used it, it gave me something like a 150% boost on sales the month after my free promotion—I drained my glass of Kool-Aid. I was all in.

And so, over time, I became less and less enthusiastic about non-Kindle e-book sites. When I updated Mousetrapped, I didn’t bother putting myself through the horror that would be formatting it for Smashwords’ Premium Catalogue. I couldn’t upload the shiny ePub of Self-Printed 2.0 there, so I didn’t bother uploading anything. And I pulled Backpacked—waiting over a month for Kobo to let go—so I could chuck it in KDP Select and promote it as free.

Eggs, one basket, all in.

Up until recently, I wasn’t at all bothered. My Smashwords sales had never lit the world on fire, and who had the time to be checking what people were saying about you—I mean, about your book—on more than the three main English-speaking Amazon sites? But then the tectonic plates beneath the self-publishing world began to move and shift, and so did my thinking.

I’m iniating Operation Full Distribution, and here’s why.

Sales of dedicated e-readers are in decline. This means that nowadays, someone is more likely to buy an iPad than a Kindle, i.e. a device on which they can read e-books but on which they can do loads of other stuff as well. Kindle may be the dominant player now, but will they always be? Yes, you can download the Kindle app for iPad, but iBooks/iTunes’ slice of the e-book pie grows ever bigger. Isn’t it better to hedge your bets and be ready for the day when Kindle books might not dominate?

If one was to be cynical and say that Amazon being nice to us—KDP Select, huge KOLL compensation funds, letting us self-publish on there in the first place—was all just a ploy to get us to fill the Kindle store with titles, many of them exclusive, and to teach their customers that e-books should be cheap so that traditional publishing would, eventually, start to lower their e-book prices too, then one could also say that that job is done. There’s well over a million titles in the Kindle store, and the Top 10 e-book charts on boasted seven traditionally published books for sale at 20p when I checked it on New Year’s Day. They’ve even got agents skipping publishers altogether to publish directly to the Kindle store, and have started publishing books themselves. It’s becoming harder and harder for self-published e-book authors to achieve success, and the odds are decreasing all the time. (Charging sofa change for your e-book so readers will take a chance of you no longer works, for example, because readers can get a book that has been vetted by an agent, editors and maybe even The Sunday Times book reviewer now for less than the cost of your 99c book.) How much longer are Amazon going to need us? And when they don’t need us anymore, what will happen? I feel the tugs on the rug Amazon has laid beneath our self-published feet; it might only be a matter of time before they pull it. Since we don’t know what that world could look like, it might be better to start spreading the risk now.

As Smashwords founder Mark Coker is forever reiterating on the Smashwords blog, sales ranks are very important for discoverability. The higher or better your sales rank, the higher chance there is of you being discovered by a new reader, generally and simplistically-speaking. I’ve been on Amazon now for almost three years with Mousetrapped, and my other books have been on there since they were published. I’ve never “interruppted” their Amazon ranking, and as sales rank history is partly responsible for where the sales rank is at today, that’s a good thing. But how many times have I published/unpublished on Smashwords? Well, um, a few. And each time I republished, I was basically starting from scratch on, say, Barnes and Noble’s Nook store, or iBooks, or wherever. So I wasn’t giving my Smashwords retailers a chance to do as well as my Kindle books. As has been pointed out in many blog posts on the subject of Kindle dominance, self-published authors also have a tendancy to direct potential readers to their Kindle listings more than anything else, and I was as guilty of that as anyone. So now, let’s see what happens when I give it a proper chance.

There’s a but coming though, and it’s in the shape of a dollar sign. I ran Backpacked through KDP Select back in November, and it was downloaded for free something like 20,000 times in the five days. Since then its sales have really picked up, especially on, and borrows are way up too. And when you consider the “bonus” KDP Select fund, it means than whenever a copy of Backpacked is borrowed, I stand a good chance of making as much or even more than I would were it purchased — and my new reader pays nothing outside of their Prime membership fee. This improved sales effect has lasted about six weeks, at this stage, so I’m going to ride it out. That means no Smashwords for Backpacked, for now. Not yet. I make a large part of my income from my e-book sales, and so I can’t be completely experimental with my approach to it. So we’ll see. I’ll keep you updated.

My new book, Travelled, will be released in three e-book only parts this year before the full book is released in e-book and paperback just in time for Christmas, and I think KDP Select could benefit that, if it’s still going by the time it comes out. With three parts making up a whole book, I think it’d be a good idea to run the first part through a free promotion the week the second part comes out, to help snare new readers. So I don’t plan on abandoning KDP Select completely; I’ll still use sparingly as long as it works for me.

But my ultimate goal is, by this time next year, to have every book of mine available everywhere e-books can feasibly be sold. Let’s just give the other guys a chance—a proper chance—and see what happens.

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What do you think? Do you have your e-books only on Kindle, or elsewhere as well? Any good reports from the land of full distribution? Or is KDP Select results keeping you sweet? Let me know in the comments… 

Plans and Goals and Stuff

Happy New Year!

I love fireworks, and here is a video of my favorite fireworks of all, Wishes at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Honestly, nothing can instantly improve my mood like watching this video. Because I recorded it, you can also hear me giggling with pure delight from time to time, and the crowd around me oohing and aahing. (And also cheering because they think it’s over, when it’s not even properly started yet.) The whole thing is about 12 minutes long, so if you just want to skip to the finale, go to 10:45.

So I thought I’d use this, my first post of the New Year, to tell you about what I intend to do with this blog and my whole self-publishing misadventures for the next twelve months, and then you can use the comments section to tell me what you think.

Blogging Bits

1. Write one blog post a week

At the end of every year I use Lulu to make a little hardback book of my blog posts just for me to keep and hopefully look back on sometime in the future with a warm, fuzzy feeling (as opposed to embarrassment and regret), and a by-product of this is I get to see how many words I’ve blogged in the last twelve months. I haven’t done 2012’s book yet, but I know it won’t be anywhere near as thick as 2010’s or 2011’s. I was a lazy blogger. (This wouldn’t be so bad if I wasn’t also a somewhat lazy writer, but we’ll come back to that in a sec.) So in 2013, I plan to write one blog post a week, except for the weeks when I’m traveling.

Or busy.

Or catching up on The Walking Dead.

2. Start a Sunday morning coffee break link fest

As my Twitter followers will have copped by now, I use my favorite social media-related app ever, Buffer, to tweet interesting links when I’m otherwise engaged, not writing and/or watching The Walking Dead. (While we’re on the subject, I’ve “gone awesome” on Buffer, paying $10 a month for unlimited buffered tweets and multiple accounts, and it is so totally worth it.) But there’s an awful lot of interesting stuff out there, and so I have to have some kind of system or I’d waste (more?) hours reading every interesting blog post or article that comes my way. So what I tend to do is check Twitter a few times a day—in the morning while I’m waiting for the kettle, while watching TV, etc.—and I mark anything interesting as a favorite. I also “star” items on my Google Reader and if all else fails, e-mail a link to myself. Then on a Sunday morning I go through everything I’ve marked for the week and read it, buffering what I think other people should read too, while drinking lots of coffee. It’s like my version of the Sunday papers.

But over the course of 7 days it’s a lot of reading, and some things are more interesting than others. So I’ve decided that in 2013, I’m going to post my favorite links of the past week—found in the past week, not necessarily posted—on a Sunday morning, so we both have something to read with our coffee.


Come on, new Scrabble mug. LET’S DO THIS THING.

3. Find the fun again

Blogging about self-publishing and I nearly broke up in 2012. Honestly, I just got so fed up with it. The whole “Why I Unpublished My Novel” post was a low point. I made a business decision—not to waste time on a product that wasn’t selling—and was accused of being shallow or all about the money. Dark corners of the internet told me I wasn’t “cut out” for self-publishing, without knowing a single other thing about me other than that post. I make part of my living from delivering workshops on the subject, and I started imaging scenarios where the organizers would ring up and say, “Nah, Catherine. Forget it. This anonymous person on the internet who hasn’t as much as published a Post-It says you’re not cut out for this, so…” And what’s funny is when self-publishers make bad decisions that are detrimental to the bottom line, they’re accused of being silly romantics who don’t understand that publishing is a business. (?!?!?!?!?!?!) I just felt like I couldn’t win, and I definitely wasn’t having fun.

If I’m doing something in life that isn’t fun, I stop doing it. That’s my rule, credit card bills permitting. So I either had to rekindle my blogging fun, or put an end to it. What had made it fun in the beginning? Figuring out how to do this self-publishing thing, having the proof copy arrive or seeing an Amazon listing of mine for the first time (the night Mousetrapped went live, I stared at it for nearly an hour) and getting messages and comments from other self-publishers saying I saved them time or a migraine. So this year, this pink blog is going back to being about me, to my experiences with self-publishing. There’ll be no commentary on the Us Vs Them debate, analogies involving the Irish potato famine or calls to action. There never was, really, but I felt I might have been creeping towards that place, or that people were expecting me to. So, no. It stops. The blogger who wrote this post is back.

Self-Printing Plans

4. Mousetrapped in hardback

I’m struggling to believe this, but on March 29th Mousetrapped will be out three years. THREE YEARS. What the…? Seriously, where does the time go? Since Mousetrapped basically changed my life, I feel it deserves a little celebration to mark its anniversary, so I’m investigating releasing in hardback via Lulu, perhaps with a new introduction. It will really be for me more than anyone, but I think it’ll be an interesting experiment—and make for good blog fodder. If it goes well, Backpacked might get the same treatment on its two-year anniversary in September.

5. Travelled in bits

As I detailed in this post, my next self-published travel book, um, Travelled, will be released in four parts over the next twelve months: 3 e-book only installments of 3-4 essays a few months apart, and then the completed book in both e-book and paperback just before Christmas.

6. Operation Full Distribution

I’ll be blogging more about this in the coming weeks, but in 2013 I’m taking some of my eggs out of Amazon’s basket and going for full distribution (Amazon, Smashwords, my own website, anywhere else that’ll have me) with all my books. It was this post that really got me thinking and when Smashwords announced that they were starting to accept ePub files, well, logic prevailed. The fact that spent Christmas dumping 20p traditionally published books into Kindle owners’ hands didn’t exactly warm my heart towards them either. (You might not see the 12 Days of Kindle page on Amazon if you click that link; it depends on where you are in the world/whether or not you’re signed in.)


I picked the Erin Condren Life Planner with the most suitable quote. (I hope!)

7. On the road

I’m a very busy girl in 2013. Workshops and speaking gigs in London, Dublin, Waterford, Chipping Norton and London again, it looks like. Last night I was planning a trip in February that will have me on four different flights and staying in four different hotels in eight days. (And I can’t wait for it. Think of my travel document wallet!) You can find out more about all that in this post.

Writing Goals

8. Writers write, don’t they?

2012 was a shameful word count for me. SHAMEFUL, I tell you. If that whole 10,000 hours before success thing holds true, I should be getting published…. hmm, sometime in December 2067. And writers are supposed to write. Talking about it doesn’t count at all, and thinking about only counts a little. (Also not counting: perfect notebook hunting, file re-arranging, index card coloring, how-to book reading, plot planning, etc. etc.) On St. Stephen’s Day—what we Irish call The Day After Christmas Day—I saw Joanna Penn tweet about Rachel Aaron’s book 2k to 10k, so I downloaded it (yes, I read e-books now), read it and then felt something stir deep down inside…. is that…?… do you think it could be…?…that feels like… well, hello there MOTIVATION! Can you even imagine a world where you’re writing 10k words a day? What would that world look like? I think it’d be like the Gumdrop Forest in Elf, but that’s just me…

So I will be writing a lot and, as per Aaron’s advice, keeping track of what I write and how long it takes me to write it. (Blog posts, too. I’ve been at this for about an hour now and I’m up to 1,391 words.) There will be a spreadsheet. There will also be a year planner above my desk, with red marks (a la Don’t Break the Chain) on the days I’ve written, and nothing but white space FILLED WITH GUILT on the days I don’t.

For the record, in the next twelve months I want to:

  • Write a blog post most weeks (approx 60k words, let’s just say)
  • Finish My Current Novel Project, proper draft (totaling 100k)
  • Write A Second Novel, rough draft (100k)
  • Write Travelled, for publication (60-70k)
  • Write a new introduction to Mousetrapped, for publication (2k)
  • Write a new non-fiction project that I’m thinking about, rough draft + proposal (70-80k).

And sleep and eat and travel and finally watch The Killing, of course.

Come to think of it, when’s Dexter back on FX?

9. Writers read, don’t they?

In 2012 I did the Goodreads Reading Challenge, and managed 48 books out of my goal of 52. This year I plan for the same—52 books—but I want to be more organized about my reading, now that a Kindle is involved. I also need to sort out the two Amazon wish lists I’ve had going for years (one on and one on, totaling about 1,500 books) and decide what I’m going to buy in Proper Book and what I’m just going to read in Pretend Book. We’ll see how that goes.

10. Remember why we’re doing this writing malarkey in the first place

My best friend lives in New Zealand and after her recent visit home, we decided to get back into letter writing. She’s not big on e-mail or Facebook (I know—how are we friends?! The answer is, we met when we were 13!) and so we used to send actual hand-written letters, but we hadn’t been too good at it of late. So when I was in London shortly before she came back, I went to Paperchase on Totterham Court Road and bought us both ample supplies of pretty letter writing things, and we’ve got back into it. When I was in Nice I sent her a letter in which I described my novel-writing anxiety… and then went on to talk myself down off the ledge I’d climbed up on. And I did it by telling her the story of why I want to do this whole novel-writing thing in the first place.

In Ireland, you start school around age five, in what we call “Junior Infants.” (Cute, I know.) When I was in Junior Infants, my teacher—who may or may not have been called Ms. O’Sullivan—would sit up on her desk at the top of the class with her legs on a chair and read to us, holding the book open so we could see the pictures. When I’d get home in the afternoons, I’d line up all my Barbies and teddy-bears and basically anything with a face, on my bed, all in rows and all facing front, climb up on my dressing table with my short little legs swinging above a chair, and “read” to the assembled toys, holding a book open so they could see the pictures (which I totally believed they could, because I was convinced toys had a secret life we didn’t know about, which Pixar have since confirmed). But I couldn’t read yet, so I had to make the stories up as I went along. And that’s how I started telling stories.


Me, Christmas morning, age 7/1989 (I think).

Which is what this is all about. Forget, for a minute, the submissions and the query letters and the manuscript formatting and the e-books and the author platforms and the workshops and the word counts and the beta readers and the advances and the twenty-year-old with a seven-book deal and how the latest ghost-written pile of celebrity crap sets your teeth on edge and what the Randy Penguin merger will mean for your writing dreams and your favourite authors. FORGET ALL THAT FOR A SECOND. Or try to. And think instead of what this about, what this is really about, why we want to be writers and entertain readers and see our names on the spines of books.

It’s because we want to tell stories.

And that, more than anything, is what I’m going to try and keep in mind this year.

But seriously—does anyone know when Dexter is back on FX?

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