Are YOU the very special writer The Inspiration Project is looking for?

Just popping in this morning to tell you TWO pieces of very exciting news.

You  may recall a few weeks ago, Carmel Harrington, Hazel Gaynor and I launched The Inspiration Project, a writing retreat with a difference. Amazingly, all 20 places sold out within the first 72 hours. Today we are delighted to announce a second event on 2-4 March 2018. You can find out more or book your place on The Inspiration Project site.


But-but-but: we have even MORE exciting news than that! Today we announce The Inspire Me Scholarship. One place on that event in March is reserved for a very special writer and it could be YOU.

From The Inspiration Project:

Here’s the best part: this place has been paid for in full by an Irish author, who wishes to remain anonymous. Isn’t that incredible? We are so grateful for this generous donation, which will allow one writer the time and space to focus on their creative goals alongside people who can help them achieve them, without the complication of financial pressure.


  • A place on the Inspiration Project, 2-4 March 2018. That’s 2 nights B&B in a luxury room at the Seafield Resort & Spa, Ballymoney, Gorey, Co. Wexford, a welcome drinks reception, one evening meal plus full use of Seafield’s award-winning Oceo Spa, as well as a full day of our ‘Inspiration Shots’ coaching sessions, one-on-one mentoring and time and space to write throughout the weekend. The Inspiration Project doesn’t end when you leave, as you’ll also get post-event inspiration top-ups and the opportunity to showcase your work on our website. (Value €449.) For more information see About the ProjectAbout Us and our FAQs page.
  • An additional €100 towards expenses. As the Inspiration Project founders, we were so touched at this anonymous author’s incredible generosity, and want to help with any additional expenses, such as travel, or meals outside those included in the event fee.

Now all we have to do is find a deserving writer to give it to.


Applicants must be aged 18 or over and we welcome writers at all stages of their careers. All we ask is that you are serious about developing your writing and committed to chasing your writing dreams. We want to hear from people who will benefit greatly from attending our event, but who possibly could not attend without the assistance of the scholarship.

Click here to apply. Submissions close at midnight GMT on Wednesday 29th November. Good luck!

A Book is Born

I don’t like to make declarative statements about things being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – it’s all  so subjective, at most we can say I think a thing is good or I think a thing is bad – but Sex and the City 2 is demonstrably a terrible movie. Its tagline could’ve been No demographic not offended. But I bring it up because of an early scene – before the ladies head to the Middle East to amp up the offence to include casual racism – where Carrie receives her first finished copy of her new book in the mail.

Carrie Bradshaw’s writing career has never exactly been portrayed with gritty realism. She was able to afford an amazing apartment in New York City, $500 shoes and vintage Chanel on the proceeds of a short column in a tabloid newspaper. All you ever saw of this labour was her getting to wonder about things while sat in front of a laptop at a desk that was never messy. No scraps of paper, no scattered pens, no research books, no cold cups of coffee, no Post-Its crumpled up or stuck to the wall. Not to mention the fact that her book launch apparently had the budget of a Hollywood premiere…


But that scene where she gets her finished copy (just the one, another fiction) has always stuck with me because there is some truth to it. No, we may not be in high heels, a sequinned dress and full make-up when the postman rings the bell and grunts something about us having a parcel. And that bell may not be outside the door of a million-dollar NYC penthouse apartment that belongs on the cover of Architectural Digest and contains no evidence whatsoever that someone holds down a job as a writer in there. But there is some truth in it.

Because when an actual, proper copy of your book arrives, all memories of the mess and stress and cold cups of abandoned coffee that went into writing it do magically go away. Because it was all worth it, for this. And your desk might well be tidy because you’re still in the honeymoon phase of the next book, when you can just sit down and type, and there isn’t yet a trail of cryptic handwritten notes along all routes leading to your desk (After the party? Simon as opposite chair? CACTUS/NOTICE!), and you’re still remembering to actually drink those coffees. And your shelf by your desk is clean and tidy, prepped for this new, longed for arrival, and after you add your new book to it and then stand there, gazing at it adoringly for a while, you feel as good as you would if you were in high-heels, a sparkly dress and a full face of make-up.

(Well, not heels for me. But you know what I mean.)


UK/Ireland cover to the left, USA cover to the right. I heart them both. 

I don’t have finished copies of The Liar’s Girl yet, but in the last week or so I’ve received proof copies of both the UK/Ireland and USA editions. This is the first time you get to see your book as a book and not just text on a screen or in a pile of loose page proof sheets. And all the stress of writing it, all the late nights, the months and months of going to bed every night feeling like I hadn’t done my homework – I’m Second Book Syndrome, how do you do? – all of that has gone away.

And, like a glutton for punishment, there’s a part of me that can’t wait to go through it all over again.

In other news, all 20 places on our first Inspiration Project event in Seafield SOLD OUT in only 4 days! We were gobsmacked by the response and are currently organising a second event as quickly as we can, so stay tuned for details on that. There was more good news when one of our founders, Carmel Harrington, was shortlisted for the IBA Popular Fiction Book of the Year for her novel The Woman at 72 Derry Lane. And I had a great time at the Dagger Awards last week, and massive congratulations to Chris Whitaker who won the John Creasey/New Blood Dagger for his fantastic Tall Oaks.


I’m going to be giving away a proof of The Liar’s Girl on my Facebook page very soon, so make you’ve ‘liked’ it to be in with a chance of winning it!

Introducing… The Inspiration Project!

For the last couple of months, Carmel Harrington (The Woman at 72 Derry Lane, Cold Feet: The Lost Years), Hazel Gaynor (The Cottingley Secret, Last Christmas in Paris with Heather Webb) and me (um, Distress Signals and that one with ‘girl’ in the title that’s coming out in March) have been plotting and planning something we are so, SO excited to finally reveal today: The Inspiration Project!


What the fudge is that, you want to know? Well, I’m glad you asked!

The Inspiration Project is a writing retreat with a difference. This is an opportunity for you to check out of everyday life for a weekend and check in with your writing, in a place where you can think big and dream even bigger.

So often when we were trying to get published we repeatedly heard how difficult it is, not to mention how tough it is to make a living from writing. While it certainly isn’t easy, we are proof that it can happen as we have all made the leap from slush piles and rejection to publishing deals and bestseller lists. We asked ourselves, what advice would have helped us before the good stuff started happening, and what did we learn after our books hit the shelves? With this in mind, we’ve designed a weekend writing retreat full of real advice, practical tips, inspiration and motivation which we believe will work for writers at any stage of the publication journey.

With 14 bestselling historical, crime and commercial fiction novels between us, we are your writing cheerleaders: New York Times/Irish Times bestseller Hazel Gaynor, Sunday Times/Irish Times bestseller Carmel Harrington and USA Today/Irish Times bestseller Catherine Ryan Howard.

We want you to dream, dare, do – like we did. Spend a weekend away with us and your writing, and get the time, the tools and the drive to pursue your biggest writing dreams.

Here’s the where/when/what/how much:

  • Seafield Hotel & Spa Resort (4*) in Ballymoney, Gorey, Co. Wexford
  • Friday 12 January – Sunday 14 January 2018
  • The price includes 2 nights B&B in a luxury spa resort, a drinks reception, a full day of our ‘Inspiration Shot’ coaching sessions, one-on-one mentoring, lots of time to write and more
  • We are offering a special early bird rate of just €349 per person (full price is €399) if you book before 21 November.

earlybird1To find out more or to book your place, visit our lovely new website.

Bits, Bobs and Page Proofs

A lot’s been happening over here at Catherine’s Desk, so I thought I’d cobble together a bit of a mish-mashed blog post to update you on them.

College starts at the end of this month and as it’s my final year, I’m going to be busy, busy, busy. Especially since I will also be writing a new book and already have lots of events and fun stuff lined up. So last week I took the opportunity to escape to one of my favourite places, Villefranche-sur-Mer, for some last minute summer sun. We stayed in a spot I’ve never stayed in before which offered ridiculously fabulous views out over the bay, and every morning when we woke up, we discovered a new massive cruise ship had arrived in the bay. Distress Signals in real life…

Two bits of great news on the Distress Signals front: the book is going to be published in Germany (hooray!) and in the USA in mass market paperback at the start of January (hooray again!). The American edition also has a fancy new cover with two elements that make me want to pinch myself.

(It felt like) I was writing The Liar’s Girl for so long that it’s still hard for me to believe she’s finished, but she is – and I have the page proofs to prove it! This is when my publisher sends me the typeset pages of the book for me to have one last look over before they head for the printers. In many ways, it’s strange to think that in just a few short months, I’ll have two thrillers out there in the world. (What?!)

In weird but wonderful news, my desk made its debut in the Irish Times Home & Design supplement the Saturday before last as part of a feature about small but beautiful spaces. Big thanks to Sophie for making my 34 square metres (yes, 34 – that’s not a typo) sound amazing and to Eoin for making it look that way. Thanks also for just the one chin in the photo – MUCH appreciated! And yes, of course my desk is always that tidy and I write on a typewriter and I wear a dress and full make-up and no glasses when I write… Yep. Totally. You can read the article online here.

I mentioned that college is starting soon, and our terms are 12 weeks long. Three months is also how long it should take me to write 90,000 words if I write an average of 1,000 words a day. (I learned a LOT writing Book 2 about what works for me and what doesn’t, and I’m excited to take those lessons into Book 3. Yes, I am still basking in the glorious optimism you’re awash with just before you start a new book.) In related news, I seem to waste a lot of time on a daily basis. So when I heard about the Best Self 13-week planner, I couldn’t order one fast enough. I’ll be using it for the next 13 weeks starting next week (says the procrastinator) and I’ve high hopes for it. I’ll let you know how I get on.

And finally, if you live around these parts, I have no fewer than three events coming up the weekend after next.

More info about these events and ticketing information is available at the links. So, that’s the lot for me for now. How are you?

Self-Published Books in Bookshops: An Alternative View

Recently I blogged about how I believe, all things being equal, self-publishers shouldn’t bother with brick-and-mortar bookstores. If you talk to almost any mega-seller, uber successful self-published author – the kind who has made it into the headlines – bookstores don’t tend to even be on their radar, and why would they? One or two non-fiction exceptions aside, even the best outcome is just not worth the effort required. For novels, I just don’t see the point all. You can go back and read that post here. 

But they ARE exceptions. The two most common are (1) you have a book with a local interest, (2) you have a book that only really works in physical format, e.g. a photography book. So today I’ve asked Lorna Sixsmith, an Irish writer whose books fall into the category of These Really Should Be For Sale in Shops, to tell you about her experience.

Welcome to the blog, Lorna. Tell us first a bit about your books. 

Thank you Catherine, my books are funny non-fiction farming books. Would You Marry a Farmer?, How to be a Perfect Farm Wife and An Ideal Farm Husband may sound slightly like marriage manuals of the past but they aren’t. They show what farming life is like and give plenty of tips for impressing your other half, your in-laws and your neighbours, all with tongue in cheek humour. The feedback I’m getting is that one person in the family starts to read bits aloud and before long, they are chatting about how similar they are to the circumstances in the book – usually with lots of laughter. That’s partly why they sell better as paperbacks than ebooks, they are used like coffee table books to dip into at times too. Those interested in social history enjoy them too – both for the insight into farming life but also for the research into farming lives in the past.

How did you self-publish them, i.e. did you use CreateSpace to create your stock?

While my books are available on Amazon’s CreateSpace, my own stock of books were printed locally by Naas Printing. It is a risk doing a large print run (and I know some authors use CreateSpace, FeedaRead and other print on demand services and order by the boxful) but I ran a crowdfunding campaign for my first book Would You Marry A Farmer?. It gave me the confidence to do a print run of a thousand books.

Why approach bookstores? Was that always part of your plan?

No, not at all. I had planned to sell my first book from my website and from some local farm and gift shops, and perhaps a few local bookshops. I hoped to sell the first print run and thought that would be it. Indeed, I was so unprepared that when Ryan Tubridy [ed note: host of one of the most listened to radio shows in the country] interviewed me about the first book a couple of weeks after publishing it, I never thought of contacting bookshops to say “Ryan Tubridy is interviewing me, would you like to stock my book?” Ridiculously daft especially as it was so near to Christmas. I contacted Argosy Books and Easons, Ireland’s two wholesalers, in the new year. Argosy stocked it from February and Easons from May. Once I realised that my books would sell reasonably well, it made sense to increase sales by getting my books stocked in bookshops.

Please take us through the steps involved into getting into (Irish) bookstores. 

I was lucky in that I didn’t have to visit bookshops on an individual basis as the two main wholesalers stocked my books. However, that is only half the battle as bookshop owners still need to know about your book to order it from the wholesalers. I relied on press coverage and direct emails to bookshops to increase awareness and orders.

I’d suggest that anyone thinking of trying to get bookshops to stock their book, get to know the staff in local bookshops while you’re still writing it. Buy books in there and converse with them occasionally on social media.

What do you need for the bookshop to say yes to stocking your book? It must be professionally edited and formatted with an attractive cover and well written blurb. It really should be almost impossible for anyone to tell the difference between it and any traditionally published book in that genre. I didn’t quite achieve that with my first book (my blurb and back cover was a bit lacking) but am pleased with my latter books. The book also requires an ISBN (purchased via Nielsen) and a barcode.

You also need to know that your book will sell. Bookshops won’t want it taking up shelf space if it isn’t selling. It has to earn its keep. You’ll increase your chances of getting it stocked if you can say that you have press coverage coming up such as an interview on local radio or a feature in the local paper.

When contacting either of the wholesalers, you’ll need a marketing plan with evidence of existing sales and press coverage to date. I had heard that existing sales of 250 books was a helpful starting point when approaching the wholesalers but I’m not sure if that is true or not. The chief buyer at Argosy had heard my interview with Joe Duffy [ed note: another very popular Irish radio host] – Liveline devotes one programme to self published authors just before Christmas each year – and said she was going to contact me which was nice to hear.

Authors should be prepared regarding their pricing. Wholesalers take 55% and in my experience,  individual bookshops take 35%. I think 35% is fair, they need to make money for stocking your book on their shelves and creating the sale. It’s important to know your costs so you can work out your profit if you sell via the wholesalers. There’s no point in getting the sales if selling them at a loss.

What are the advantages in being in bookshops?

Some believe that vying for shelf space in bookshops is a waste of time for self published authors and yes, perhaps many would be better concentrating on increasing sales on the online platforms such as Amazon and Kobo. Much depends on the genre though. I suspected, and as it turns out I was correct, that my books would sell in much higher numbers in paperbacks than as ebooks. My sales on CreateSpace far exceed the ebook sales.

While it is nice to be able to say your book is available in all bookshops, it’s just vanity if they don’t sell. It can be hard to get attention as your books won’t be placed on a centre table or within a 3 for 2 offer. Hence, you need readers to go in looking for your book (remember that people tend to need to hear about something seven times before they buy!) as well as browsers finding it on the shelf.

Having your books in bookshops gives them kudos and credibility. Some people do buy on impulse when they see a book in a shop, they like being able to flick through before making the purchase. A lot of readers expect to see books in bookshops. Not all like reading them as ebooks.

Approximately half of my sales have been via the wholesalers. The other half have been sales from my website, in gift shops, UK farm shops and I take a stand at the Ploughing Championships each year. I’ve been lucky with getting interviews during the Ploughing week each year which really helps.

What are the disadvantages (if any)?

I’m not sure if I’d describe them as disadvantages but there are certainly things that authors need to be aware of before they rush into it. No author wants to be left with 500 books in their attic for evermore.

The retail price of your books needs to be comparable to traditionally published books in that genre but if printing books in small volumes, it may be a challenge to make a profit if giving wholesalers 55%.

There is an element of risk in preprinting a large volume of books but there’s nothing like making you work on your marketing than seeing boxes of books in your hallway or spare bedroom. Just don’t print so many that the task seems impossible.

Much depends on the genre of your books – if you believe that your crime or romance novels will sell well as ebooks, then concentrate on marketing them as such.

If stocking bookshops individually, there’s a lot of work involved in maintaining records, invoicing, delivering books (as well as the cost of delivery). I stock some farm shops in the UK on an individual basis and some gift shops here and yes, it does take time. I tend to supply on a minimum order (as it’s just not worthwhile supplying a shop with three books given the postage costs) and on a sale or return basis. I’ve only have to take books back on a couple of occasions.

Payment isn’t as prompt as, for example, with Amazon. It’s a minimum of three months before payment is received from the wholesalers and it can vary with individual shops. Yes, sometimes I’ve waited up to nine months for payment but there aren’t any bad debts so far. To be fair, I’m not the best at sending reminders and some bookshop owners prefer to sell the vast majority of the books before they pay.

How does the profit margin compare to online sales (both of POD paperbacks and e-books)? Is it worth it?

I sell so few as ebooks that I just look on those sales as little monthly bonuses. I make the most profit on sales from my website. I’m currently offering free shipping on all website purchases.Sales to gift shops and farm shops deliver about 20%  more profit than sales on CreateSpace and sales to wholesalers deliver about 20% less than CreateSpace sales. However, of course, I don’t have any work to do with CreateSpace sales – no printing, no posting, and this is an advantage. There’s no risk of returns either.

For me, it has been worth it with about half of my sales coming from nationwide bookshops. Total sales to date are almost 3,000 of Would You Marry a Farmer?, almost all of the print run of 2,000 copies of How to be a Perfect Farm Wife have been sold and over 1,000 of the newest book An Ideal Farm Husband.

What advice would you give to a self-publisher wondering if they should approach bookstores?

Be prepared. Ensure your book is as professional as it possibly can be. Do your sums – know your retail price and what margin you’re prepared to give them. If possible, tell them about upcoming press coverage. Being a familiar face in the bookshop should help your case too.

If they say it’s not for them, don’t take offence. Be polite and gracious.

See if you can collaborate with other authors for any events in bookshops. One that worked well for me was arranging a “Rural Reads” evening in a local bookshop with other authors of rural / farm related books, we also secured an hour long interview on the local radio show’s farming programme.

Lorna’s books Would You Marry A Farmer?, How to be a Perfect Farm Wife and An Ideal Farm Husband are available in all good Irish bookshops, Amazon and from her website. Shipping is currently free worldwide on all purchases from her website.

Thanks, Lorna!

The Liar’s Girl: Blurb Reveal

My desk is a very busy place at the moment, mostly because I can’t stop adding things to it (see my latest crafting project in the black frame below and more shenanigans on my Instagram) and partly because I felt as if I’d been struck by lightning while I was in Paris with the Bestest Book Idea Evah (disclaimer: they all feel like that when they’re new, I know) so I’m working on a synopsis for that and also fretting about all the books and articles I should be reading because my final year in college (FINAL? What?!) starts in a mere month’s time.

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 15.03.13

So this is just a short post to say, ‘This is what my next thriller, The Liar’s Girl, coming March 2018 to both sides of the Atlantic, will be about.’

So, um, this is what my next thriller, The Liar’s Girl, coming March 2018 to both sides of the Atlantic, will be about:

PicMonkey Collage

Her first love confessed to five murders.

But the truth was so much worse.

Dublin’s notorious Canal Killer is ten years into his life sentence when the body of a young woman is fished out of the Grand Canal. Though detectives suspect a copycat is emulating the crimes Will Hurley confessed to as a teen, they turn to him for help. Will says he has the information the police need, but will only give it to one person – the girl he was dating when he committed his horrific crimes.

Alison Smith has spent a decade building a new life. Having moved abroad, she’s confident that her shattered life in Ireland is finally behind her. But when she gets a request from Dublin imploring her to help prevent another senseless murder, she is pulled back to face the past, and the man, she’s worked so hard to forget.

[Dum-dum-DUUUUMMM noise optional.]

Find about more about The Liar’s Girl here, or sign up to my newsletter to make sure you don’t miss any more news. And please do check out my Instagram for More Things From IKEA No One Really Needs.

Now, back to drinking coffee while staring at the screen work…

Why Self-Publishers Should Avoid Bookstores

Recently I was asked to write a sort of factsheet that would act as a starting point for Irish writers considering self-publishing their work. It was a really interesting experience for me because since I signed a traditional deal back in 2015 – Distress Signals was published in May of last year and my second thriller, The Liar’s Girl, will be out next March – I haven’t really spent too much time thinking about self-publishing. So it had been a while since I had to commit to paper (or screen) my feelings on it. Would my advice be different with the benefit of these past two years? Is there such a huge difference between sneaking a peek behind the curtain and getting to go play behind it that my views would change completely? Is there anything I said three, four or even five years ago that I would never even dream of saying now?


Shakespeare & Company, Paris. 

Well, not really, no. The factsheet turned out to be a very (VERY) condensed version of my ‘how to’ guide, Self-Printed.* But while once upon a time I might have said it’s probably not a good idea to aim to get your self-published books into bookshops, now I’m saying don’t. Don’t do it. At all. Because I can tell you, from what I’ve seen over here on the other side, bookshop shelves are a battleground even for the biggest publishing houses, and it makes little to no impact unless you’re on a lot of them. As an individual, you and your book just can’t compete there.

And if you try to, you are negating the biggest benefit of self-publishing as it is today: the fact that you can sell hundreds or thousands (or even millions) of copies of your book without having to invest in stock. That’s why self-publishing exploded like it did back in 2009(ish): because POD paperbacks and e-books came along. Before that, self-publishing meant sourcing a printer who’d take your money in exchange for a print run of your title – hundreds or maybe a thousand books – which would then live in boxes under your stairs and whisper despair to you every time you passed by, the layer of dust on them growing thicker and thicker. When you decide to self-publish with the aim of getting your book stocked in physical bookstores, you are rejecting this wonderful technological advance and saying you want to go back to the not-so-good old days when self-publishing meant digging yourself a hole of debt with no guarantee you’d ever get to climb out of it.

It just doesn’t make any business sense. Anyone I know who managed to get their book into physical stores didn’t make enough of a profit to justify the time it took to do it, and they all spent months – years, some – waiting to get paid. Some never got paid, they just got the books back. If your goal is to sell books, why spend your time and money so inefficiently? (And hey, your goal should be to sell books. Novels need readers. Getting readers = selling books. If you’re writing just for yourself, or purely for pleasure, or as a pastime, stay doing that. To publish is to start a business, and why bother if you don’t care about whether or not it’ll succeed?)

In my experience, it’s very hard to convince newbie self-publishers of this – and I totally understand why. I often say I didn’t grow up dreaming of seeing my book on a Kindle. We have this idea that it’s not really publishing unless it’s publishing as we know it. But to think this way is a mistake. Self-publishing can do so many wonderful things for you as a writer. You need to embrace what it can achieve and focus on that, instead of trying to force it to do something it wasn’t designed for.

Anyway, the point of this post is that this morning I came across one that makes this point so much better than me, and it’s written from the point of view of the person standing between you and the bookshop shelf: the bookseller. Anyone who tells me they want to get their self-published book into brick-and-mortar stores will be pointed in the direction of this in the future.

You may bristle, but remember, this is based on this bookseller’s own experience with self-published authors. They may not be like you, but they’ve pretty much ruined it for you already. You can say it’s not worth my while even trying to overcome this or you can say I’m going to do everything I can to overcome each of these hurdles but either way, you need to know what’s up. Have a read.

Self-Published Authors – 20 Tips from a Bookseller:

You’ve written a book.

Congratulations, I mean it, and that’s coming from someone who:

  1. is completely incapable of writing a book and
  2. counts eating a whole tube of Pringles in one sitting as a typical life achievement.

However, if you are thinking of bringing your self-published book into my bookshop, you might like to consider the following:

→ Read the rest on The Secret Bookseller.

*Self-Printed is no longer available. The last edition was published in 2014 and as I am totally against people giving advice on things they themselves have not done, I haven’t updated it since and won’t be again anytime soon. Rather than charge money for something out of date, I pulled it. All the blog posts it was based on are still around here somewhere, on my blog.