Get Your Book Published: Guardian Masterclass, London

The new place/no broadband saga continues, but I’ve found a bit of a stop-gap solution. It involves me getting up extremely early and renting a hot desk for a week or so (a hot desk=a desk in a shared office that usually comes with internet access) but it’s better than trying to keep up with all things blog, Twitter and Facebook using only my phone. Normal service should resume shortly…

In the meantime: a reminder. I’m off to London in a couple of weeks for the Guardian’s Getting Your Book Published Masterclass (and, of course, a mini-spree in my beloved Paperchase!). It’s a great event because it recognizes that in the current publishing climate, there’s no such thing as one size fits all and that, for many writers, a combination of both traditional publication and self-publication might be the ideal path to pursue. All the details are below and hopefully I’ll see you there…


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Writing a novel is tough, but the labours of getting it into print are tougher still. You’ll need to find the right agent and to write a pitch seductive enough to make your work stand out from thousands of other submissions. And that’s just the start.

Literary agent Kerry Glencorse, crime novelist Dreda Say Mitchell, agent Hellie Ogden, self-published success Catherine Ryan Howard, PR expert Tory Lyne-Pirkis and publishing expert Danuta Kean – as well as Liesel Schwarz to tell you what it’s like to go from unpublished hopeful to a major three book deal – are among a the industry insiders who will show you what it takes to go from pitch to publication.

During this weekend course you will receive practical advice on how to find – and impress – an agent, alongside tips on writing trends, networking, self-publishing and much more. You’ll leave the course knowing how to draft the crucial pitch letter and write your synopsis, and with a clear understanding of how to get your book into print.

Dates: Saturday 15 and Sunday 16 June 2013
Times: 10am-5pm
Venue: The Guardian, 90 York Way, King’s Cross, London N1 9GU
Price: £350 (includes VAT, booking fees, lunch and refreshments)
Event capacity: 18 (except keynote where capacity is 36)

Click here for more information and/or to book your place

Thank You, Commander

I know this isn’t self-publishing-related, but being a NASA nut it’s Catherine-related and, hey, this is my blog.

Today Commander Chris Hadfield returns to earth from the International Space Station. His stay there has been, I think, NASA’s biggest public relations win since Apollo 11 landed on the moon. He has just been amazing: tweeting images, recording videos and just generally reminding people, in a fun and inspiring way, that there’s not only a Space Station up there but people in it. The bad news for us—the good news for him, I’m sure—is that he returns to earth today. I’m sure his enthusiasm for manned space exploration and his PR skills will be put to good use here as well, but in the meantime, he has created this truly amazing, wonderful, awe-inspiring, delightful, funny and utterly perfect goodbye gift.

I may be heightening expectations here so I’ll just shut up, but please watch it. You won’t regret it.

Thank you, Commander.

Safe journey home.


I Self-Published: What Next? A Guest Post from Devon Trevarrow Flaherty

Today we have a guest post from Devon Trevarrow Flaherty, who’s just self-published her first novel, Benevolent, and is feeling the post-publication blues…

‘From last summer, when I officially decided to self-publish my first novel, Benevolent, until now, I have gone through many stages of publishing. You could label these stages logically, like “editing,” “cover creation,” or “launching.” You could also label them emotionally.

The current stage is depressed.

Yeah, yeah; publishing your first book and launching it is exciting. For about a second. Because what happens next, when you self-publish, is almost always going to be a resounding silence. The dreaded yellow light. The I-just-spent-months-getting-bloggers-to-host-me-and-herding-people-to-my-reading-and-even-the-newpaper-featured-me-and-everyone-said-they-love-the-book chasm of what next?. It’s not easy. It makes me want to curl up with tater tots and red wine and all six seasons of Ugly Betty. (Okay, so I do succumb, some.) Who knows what’s calling to you? I’m betting it’s not Irish jigs and flowing bubbly, not anymore.


So, really, what next?

In my ideal world, I would spend the next seventy years during the work day sipping tea in my study (I don’t actually have one of those, yet), spending about half of each day promoting my last book and the other half writing the next one. Well, ideally I would be kicking back and just writing away in Tahiti and not giving a fig about promotion, but let’s at least shoot for attainable dreams, okay? And this can happen, as long as some people buy each book along the way. Several thousand, really. And then I have to keep publishing.

Well, I’m willing to keep up my end of the writing-publishing (and even marketing) bargain, as long as a whole lotta someone elses hold up their end of the buying-reading.

The issue is first and foremost one of perspiration. Then one of endurance. (Sounds sporty, doesn’t it?) If you haven’t put your blood, sweat, and tears into your book creating, editing and promoting, you need to move back a step and do that. But now that I have, I am back into the endurance phase. Actually, I never left it and I may never leave the endurance phase, which is why it is called endurance. Every day carries with it the choice to keep working at selling one book and writing another. Let’s face it: on the day of my reading I was too busy celebrating to work. So all emotional phases of writing are wrought with pitfalls.

It is completely normal for a book to lag in sales until it catches one big (or many smaller) wave(s) of interest, somewhere, somehow. In the meantime, you have to keep the book afloat, keep the dream alive. Plenty of days are going to feel like the desert of no- or even negative-feedback. Elongate your perspective and keep on moving, even on the most hopeless of days. If you give up now, it’s true: you’ll never make it. The only way to get to what you want is to thunk one foot down in front of the tentative other, day after day after day.

And here’s what you do next: You continue to be present on the internet, looking for people to try your book or to promote you. You talk about your book, to strangers or to bookstore audiences or to newspaper editors. You do more giveaways, more Tweets, keep blogging. You enter contests, beg for reviews. And you write. That’s what’s at the heart of all this, and that’s what has got me back in the game. I sat down yesterday (trying to ignore the three-star rating that had just blemished my GoodReads reputation), and started in on chapter two of the book I have been waiting to write, all this time. And I loved it! I do love it. That’s why I chose writing as a career. And I’m sure there are a bazillion more times when editing, publishing and marketing are going to feel blah. Thank goodness, then, that I will still have writing.

But love is a tricky word. In my world, love isn’t always a tickly, wonderful feeling. Love is equate-able with commitment. Sure, sometimes you feel warm and fuzzy toward your mom, but most the time you’re just being loyal when you accept her invitation to coffee. That’s love. So you sometimes have writer’s block? You still love writing. You are a writer. Any hey, we’re right back where we were a few paragraphs ago: endurance. Cuz even in-love people get depressed.

Choose each day to be a writer, and you’re already there.’

devonAbout Devon:

Devon is a writer in the Durham, North Carolina area. She is originally from metro Detroit, Michigan. She is a mommy, a wife, a hobby yogi, photographer, painter, and foodie. She has been writing seriously since her very earliest brushes with literature, and has published articles, poems, and photography in literary journals and magazines. She was an assistant editor and freelance editor for 10 years, during which she wrote copy for and contributed to various research materials. She has been blogging since 2008, first with The Green Notebook and then with The Starving Artist. She has started living her dream with the independent release of her first novel, Benevolent.

About Benevolent:

Gaby LeFevre is a suburban, Midwestern firecracker, growing up in the 80s and 90s and looking to save the world one homeless person, centenarian, and orphan at a time. With her crew of twin sister, Annie, smitten Mikhail, frenemy Mel, she’s a pamphlet-wielding humanitarian, tackling a broken world full of heroes and heroines, villains and magical seeds, and saturated with variations of the Northwyth legends.

Beginning with a roadkill-burying nine-year-old and a gas-leak explosion, Benevolent follows Gaby from her formative years; through her awakening (during a soup kitchen stampede); through high school drama; a college career filled with an epic term paper, a building fire, and a protest-gone-bad; to Israel, a land full of romance and mysticism. It all ends back in metro-Detroit with a cataclysmic clash to resolve all good intentions. Accidents abound in Gaby’s life. As does love. And, thankfully, as does mercy.

Meanwhile, Benevolent is woven with tales of The Queen, The Angel, Jaden the Great, and The Sage. Are they figments of John’s and Mercedes’ imaginative stories? Or are they something more? You’ll want to find out for yourself.

Find out more on and

Thanks Devon!

Social Media: Have You Got It All Wrong?


WARNING: This is one of them long ones. Better go get a fresh cup of coffee before you start…

We all know I love publishers. I still hope, should I ever finish The Novel, to be published by one of them. Say silly things like legacy or gatekeepers, or use something as serious and tragic as the Irish potato famine—or rape or Stockholm Syndrome, for that matter—to describe the relationship between the author and the business that has risked its money to get that author’s book to market, and you go straight onto my Naughty List.

(Well, there isn’t actually a Naughty List. Who has the time? I will roll my eyes at you though.)

I don’t believe for a second, for instance, what is pretty much an accepted ‘fact’ by the majority of the self-publishing community: that traditional publishers don’t publicize and/or care about the books they publish. I’ve seen for myself that this is simply not true. The bad publishers might not, but it’s up to you not to sign contracts with them. (Or at least not sign contracts with them twice, or tarnish all publishers with the same brush just because of one experience.) Even if I took away what I’ve seen firsthand, there would still be the evidence of logic: publishing is a business, and any business that isn’t run by morons wants to recoup their investment, i.e. any advance paid, printing and staff costs. They market and publicize and support their product as much as they can because it’s in their interests for it to sell.


Here’s a nice relaxing photo for you this Monday morning. You’re welcome!

Anyway, I tell you this because I want to make it clear that despite my self-publishing background, I ain’t a publisher-basher. But there is one area where some of them do need a stern talking to, and that’s their attitude towards using social media to promote their books. The Big Ones are all over it (that’s probably why they’re The Big Ones) but others aren’t even making an effort, which is crazy as they’re the ones who stand to benefit the most on the internet’s level playing field.

This is something they have in common with a lot of self-publishers, as luck would have it, so let’s talk about this attitude and the reasons behind it here today.

Do any of these statements sound at all familiar?

  • ‘But does Twitter really sell books? So-and-so has 10,000 followers and he only sold 500 books…’
  • ‘Ugh. I can’t be bothered with Facebook and all that silly stuff.’
  • ‘Why waste your time on that when books have sold fine without all this rubbish until now?’
  • ‘There’s no evidence social media does anything except suck away time.’
  • ‘I have NEVER bought a book because someone on Goodreads recommended it to me. NEVAAAH!’
  • ‘Is this over yet? Call me when Twitter is gone.’
  • (From the writer) ‘But I want just to WRITE!’

I talked about this recently in a post called The Author Platform: Are You Being Cautious… Or Just Lazy? But I think beyond caution and laziness, there’s yet another reason why you might be turning your nose up at the idea of using social media to sell books: you might have it all wrong. The phrases using social media to sell books and promoting your books on social networks offer no real, tangible, practical clues as to how one might do such a thing, and once you start throwing around buzzwords like discoverability, the process becomes even murkier still.

So I think it’s time we demystified this whole selling-books-with-social-media thing. Because maybe if we took your average Social Media Skeptic and explained to them, in practical, tangible terms, what it actually means, they’d feel differently.

Using social media to promote your book is not anything magic or mystical. It’s not a hit-or-miss fuzzy cloud from which success only rarely emerges. It’s just the simple act of:

  1. Finding readers who liked a book like yours
  2. Telling them about your one.

As the meerkats would say, simples!


And here’s another one… (Because who wants pictures of Twitter logos? BORING!)

But Wait… Does It REALLY Sell Books?

Yes, it does. It sold mine, it sells the books of my self-published friends, and it’s worked wonders for countless traditionally published titles. But most of the time, we can’t prove it. No one listens to self-publishers because for some reason self-published success is still treated like a total fluke. Even when the author says ‘Well, I did this and then I did this and then sales really picked up when I started doing this’, no one listens. They just think wasn’t he lucky?! And publishing houses use lots of different methods to sell books, so they can’t really say for sure why a certain book was a bestseller, only that, as a whole, the campaign worked. The other problem is that it doesn’t sell all the books, and the skeptics latch on to each Twitter-flavored failure and hold it up as high as they can. If it fails, it means they don’t have to worry about it.

But tell me what, besides Oprah or the New York Times, can be guaranteed to sell thousands or hundreds of thousands or even millions copies of a book? Two books get great media coverage, meet you inside the door of every major bookstore and collect glowing reviews. One ends up selling a million copies, and the other disappears without a trace. Why? Because that’s just how it goes! That’s how publicity pans out. Sometimes it works, and we don’t know exactly why, and sometimes it doesn’t, and we can’t say for sure what went wrong.

The beauty of social media is that, should it fail, the only thing you’ve spent, for the most part, is time.

The other benefit is that what you have done has been targeted to readers who like books like yours. Spend money on a radio ad, for example, and you don’t know who’ll hear it. But get your crime novel reviewed or mentioned on a crime book blog, or reviewed by an influential crime novel-loving Goodreads user, and you know that promotion hit home. People always want to know time-saving tricks for using social media, but social media itself is a time-saving trick, because it cuts you a path to your target market.

Much like Salon’s recent spate of anti-self-publishing articles*, we should also look at these so-called failures a little closer. When someone says ‘I used Twitter and it didn’t work’, is that really evidence that Twitter doesn’t sell books? Were they using it right? Like I said last Friday, it’s like having a treadmill in your garage, failing to lose 30 pounds and then concluding that treadmills don’t lead to weight loss. Did you use the treadmill? Did you eat right? Did you avoid those knock-off Choc Ices from Aldi? I congratulate you if you did, because they’re delicious

We may have wandered slightly off topic here.

Anyway, social media can sell books. I know it can, because that’s how I sold mine—and how countless self-published friends sold theirs (a lot more of them than me), including a few who’ve sold more than 100,000—and because that’s how I now find out about a lot of the new books I buy and authors I decide to try. (Ooh, look: I’m a poet and I… am unaware.) Even if you don’t buy that, you can’t deny that the readers are out there, online. Twelve million of them on Goodreads. A thriving book-loving community on Twitter. And then there’s the fans and subscribers of countless book blogs, author websites, etc. They are there. You can’t deny that. And if you’re a reader, you’ll know that a good book recommendation is the best thing after a good book. We want to hear about the new books. We want to add to our To Read pile. And if you don’t bother telling me about your book, one of your competitors will get in there and tell me about theirs instead.


I want to go to there. 

Engagement, Not Advertising

But it’s not advertising, and so saying ‘oh, so-and-so has 10,000 followers and he only sold 1,000 books, therefore social media doesn’t sell books’ means you don’t get any Pretend Choc Ices.

This is really, at the end of the day, about good content. Create good content, post that content, drive eyeballs to that content, convince me with your cover and your blurb and your advance praise and your writer’s credentials to hit the ‘Buy’ button and—ta-daa!—you’ve sold me a book. And by good content we mean something that stands alone as entertainment or useful information, even if you took away the advertising-a-book-bit.

Examples of this would be:

While we’re on the subject of book trailers, STOP WITH THE MOVIE-STYLE ONES, for the love of fudge. Even if they work, they sell just one book—to me, the person watching it. But make it funny, make it entertaining or make it not really about the book at all, and not only will I buy the book, but I’ll pass the book trailer on.

For example, boring with a capital B:



I read a great line about content during the week (from a graph on Pinterest, of all places): valuable content earns you permission to sell. Write it on a prominent Post-It, people.

Or read this great post on The Creative Penn which talks about this being not social media marketing but content marketing, with social media is just the delivery system.

The Numbers You Can’t Deny

Even if you don’t believe that social media can be used to sell books, here is a number you can’t deny: 12,000,000. That’s how many users Goodreads has. That’s a website where only people who love to read books and share the books they’ve read love to go. Twelve million. And that’s before we even think about the readers on Twitter, or Facebook, or blogs.

And remember: Goodreads, at its core, is about personal recommendations. We follow someone whose taste we trust, we see that she liked a certain book, we think we’ll like it too. Five years ago I would’ve finished a book I loved and told a couple of friends about it. Now, I can share it on Goodreads, tweet about it, blog about it, stick it up on Facebook… Word-of-mouth is still what makes a bestseller. What’s changed is that word-of-mouth now involves a lot more people, and because there’s a lot more people, it can benefit a lot more books.

We don’t know where Twitter and Facebook and all that malarkey will be in five or ten years’ time, but I think it’s safe to say that social reading is here to stay. So at the very least, you should be turning your head towards that.

The readers are out there. They want to know what to read next. And you’re publishing books. You two need to get it on.

I’m one of these readers. That’s why I can say this with a degree of confidence. Nearly all the new books I read (new releases but also authors I haven’t read before) now find their way into my consciousness via Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads or a blog post. Just this past week it happened with Just What Kind of Mother Are You? and My Criminal World, and I’m counting down the days until I can get my hands on a copy of The Silent Wife (which the internet just seems to refuse to shut up about, and tortuously it’s not out until July).

All you have to do is find us, tell us about your book through good content, a book which we should be predisposed to liking because it’s similar to other books we have publicly expressed a love for in the past, and finally aim to convince us, through the book itself (cover, blurb, etc.) to buy it.

No voodoo involved.

(Seriously: 2,015 words. And I wonder why The Novel isn’t finished!)

*Salon are really having a laugh lately. First of all we had I’m a Self-Publishing Failure, and the internet whispers tell me that the guy didn’t have an e-book for sale, and then we had The future  is no fun—self-publishing is the worst, which was about a newly self-published author trying to promote his book through the same channels that had promoted the books he’d previously got traditionally published, like newspapers, TV, etc. which is just stoopid. Trad books=trad media. Self-published books=online media, i.e. the place where nearly all the self-published books are sold. I mean, REALLY. 

What do you think? If you’re not using social media to promote your books, why not? And does selling books this way work on you? How do you find out about the books you read? 

Social Media for Publishers

This day last week I was in Dublin, talking to publishers (scary!) about how to use social media to help promote their books, and why they should. The lovely Stephanie of Publishing Ireland, who organized the seminar, wrote a blog post about it for the Publishing Ireland site, and she’s kindly let me re-post it here so non-Publishing Ireland members can read it.

Come back Monday for my thoughts on the horrifying disconnect between what ‘social media’ actually is and what some publishers/some self-publishers think it is, and more about disused and dusty treadmills… (It’ll all make sense, trust me!)


Yes, even my Power Point presentations are pink. 

Social Media is Just Like a Treadmill Really!

Blaming social media for not coming through is like blaming an unused treadmill, said Catherine Ryan Howard, author, marketeer and social media guru extraordinaire last Friday as she explained the inevitable question of whether or not social media actually helps sell more books. ‘This is a question I get asked a lot’, she said, ‘and the answer is that it absolutely does!’ ‘Having twitter, not using it right and then blaming it for not boosting your sales is like having a treadmill, not using it and blaming it for not losing any weight!’

Social Media for Publishers kicked off last Friday with a motley crew encompassing every sector from digital projects to marketing and editorial as social media guru Catherine Ryan Howard took us through the do’s and don’ts of how to sell your books through social media.

From the inescapable growth of Facebook and Goodreads to newer kid on the block Pinterest (which is by the way the fastest growing social network ever), Catherine offered a practical and no-holes barred approach to making your books more ‘discovereable’- a word which Catherine herself admits a certain hatred of!

Among the key points to take away from the session were simple and time-effective ways to use social media tools- and the right tools!, setting the right tone for your message, and, most importantly, accepting the fact that social media, in whatever tool it comes under is here to stay!

The seminar was very helpful and informative. Catherine’s lively and engaging presentation was excellent; she helped to dispel a lot of misconceptions about social media and provided very useful examples of how different elements/formats of social media are particularly applicable to publishing and, if utilised appropriately, can have a positive impact to create engagement with the book buyers we want to appeal to.’ —Helena King, Assistant Editor, Royal Irish Academy

‘The seminar was extremely relevant- Catherine was articulate and very engaging!’ — Kitty Lyddon, Manager, Assistant Editor at The Lilliput Press

Missed this one? Never mind, we have more seminars coming up in the series over the next couple of weeks. Keep an eye out for our next sessions on Fiction Editing with Rachel Pierce on 10 and 17 May. For more information, go to the Publishing Ireland website or email


Thanks Stephanie! While we’re on the subject of me telling people things, if you have attended one of my talks or workshops, didn’t find it completely awful/a total snoozefest and would consider writing a little endorsement like the quotes above, please write a few lines and send it to me via the Contact page. It’s for a secret summer project of mine… (Oooh, mysterious!)

On another related note, I will be talking self-publishing at the Guardian’s Getting Your Book Published Masterclass in London on June 15-16. Details here

You can also follow Stephanie on Twitter here, and Publishing Ireland on Twitter here. To get new posts in your inbox look for the subscribe button over here —> and probably up a bit. 

Have a good weekend! 

11 Signs You’re Meant To Be A Writer

Yes, things have been a little quiet around here lately, but that’s only because, first of all, I was so busy there for a few weeks that I couldn’t even think straight and then, second of all, once the busyness was over, I awarded myself a whole day off—I didn’t even check my e-mails—and instead curled up with Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother, and that felt so good that I gave myself another day off, and then I started feeling light-headed and strange and had to come back here (here being The Desk), and get back to work. So while I play catch-up with the 391 e-mails from people who still don’t seem to understand that I don’t review books, my lovely blogging friend Laura Pepper Wu is going to entertain you with a guest post I’m sure we can all relate to: 11 Signs You’re Meant To Be A Writer. And let’s play a little game: leave the number of things that apply to you in the comments. Welcome, Laura!

laura‘Since you are reading Catherine’s blog, you’ve no doubt accepted by now that you’re a writer. But just in case you haven’t or if you’ve been having doubts of late, here are 11 signs that you truly are meant to be writing – and always have been!

1. You bust out long emails without even flinching, and even your signature is like a paragraph long. Sometimes you start an email with the words “In a bit of a rush, so just a quick reply,” and still manage to bang out enough text for a Kindle Singles essay.

2. You’re the person who buys 10 postcards on holiday and actually delights in writing them. Oh, and each one has a different story on it, because writing the same thing to all 10 of your friends would feel like cheating.

3. You’ve dreamed of sitting in front of a typewriter/ computer and pouring your heart out on to it ever since you can remember. Whether your first inspiration was Clark Kent working at the fast-paced Daily Planet, or Carrie Bradshaw staring longingly out of her window in her knickers and a pair of sparkly earrings, you’ve wanted to do that forever.

4. You work your thoughts out better with a pen and paper than discussing the situation through verbally. If you’re trying to make a decision, make sense of something, or plan ahead for the weekend, it’s that trusty notebook and pen that you make a grab for first.

5. Staying home on a Friday night with a glass of wine and a good book sounds pretty much like you died and went to heaven.

6. You read the back of cereal packets and think about what you would write in place of the current copy (and think to yourself how you’d do a much better job at it).

7. You’re able to articulate and get your point across far better with written words than over the phone. Whenever you’re given a customer service number, your first question is, “is there an email address I can use?”

8. You’ve actually Googled “Can I expense coffee/ tea?” before.

Laura's newest venture, The Write Life magazine.

Laura’s newest venture, The Write Life magazine.

9. You read everything you can get your hands on, including the free leaflets from the supermarket or the book of coupons from the drug store.

10. You can’t walk past a stationery shop without popping in, “just to have a look.”

11. While you couldn’t give a hoot about playing Monopoly or Settlers of Catan, put a box of Scrabble or Scattegories in front of you and you suddenly get very competitive. That dinner party just got way more interesting.

How many did you nod your head along to? Many of us have wondered at one point or another what we need to do or achieve before we can legitimately call ourselves “a writer.” If that sounds remotely like you, stop that. If you truly love writing you probably know it and you always have, and that’s the only permission you need. Okay?’

Thanks, Laura! My number is 8, and it’ll be 9 in a minute after I Google “Can I expense coffee?”. My favorite part of Sex and the City was when Carrie sat at her little desk to write, but alas, my reality of this involves sweatpants, a tiny box room and a view of suburbia. Oh, well. 

Laura Pepper Wu is a writer and the editor for The Write Life Magazine: a lifestyle magazine for those of us who write. Check it out at Laura is also the founder of Ladies Who Critique and 30 Day Books. Outside of her many writing-related ventures, she spends her time walking her spoiled dog in rainy Seattle, checking out local coffee shops, and learning (quite hopelessly) how to sing jazz. Connect with Laura on Twitter @laurapepwu.