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#TBT: How Did I Get My Agent? (The Answer May Surprise You)

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2 (one week from today!), and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. 

Thursdays are for throwbacks, so a replay of an old post. This one was originally posted in March 2016. 

(What an awfully clickbaity title, I know. Guilty as charged. But I think it will.)

It’s easy for me to answer the question “How did you get a book deal?” I only need two words and those are Jane and Gregory, i.e. my amazing agent. She took me on, we worked hard on revising the book and just five days after she sent it out on submission, we had a pre-emptive offer from Corvus/Atlantic for a two-book deal. My debut thriller Distress Signals will be out in mere weeks and you can find out more about it here.

But how did I get my agent?

Let’s back up a bit. Let’s go back a bit, to about seven years ago. That’s when my journey to publication really began.

Are you sitting comfortably?

I’d always, always, always wanted to write a novel but, despite daydreaming about this full-time and buying every How To Get a Book Deal: No Really, THIS Book is the One That’ll Make That Happen-esque title I could get my hands on, I was missing a crucial ingredient: a good idea for one. In the mid-2000s I stopped worrying about this and went off to have adventures working abroad instead.

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After moving to Orlando, Florida and taking a job in Walt Disney World in September 2006, I started keeping a diary about my experiences that eventually turned into a non-fiction book, Mousetrapped. I submitted it to various agents and publishers, who all said thanks but no thanks. One agent, however, really loved my writing and said she’d love to see some fiction from me if I was interested. At the time I was working an utterly awful job that was turning my soul more and more necrotic every weekday, so I made a drastic decision: I quit my job and used my savings to rent a holiday home by the sea for 6 weeks. (Note: I was living with my parents and had no real financial responsibilities.) I finished a novel – finally! – which was a kind of chick-lit meets corporate satire thing that I described as The Devil Wears Prada meets Weightwatchers.

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I also self-published Mousetrapped. This was back in early 2010 and, being in Ireland, I benefitted from big fish/small pond in a big way. The book did well and I quickly established a blog, Twitter following, etc. I was interviewed on national radio, featured in various newspapers and even appeared on TV. I was invited to give talks and lead workshops and participate in panel discussions at various literary festivals and writing seminars. I even got to do a session at a Guardian Masterclass, to lead the first ever self-publishing workshop at Faber Academy in London and got put up in a dream-like 5* hotel in the English countryside by the (very generous) organisers of ChipLitFest. Because Irish publishing has, like, 50 people in it (okay, slight exaggeration…), I also got to know a lot of people who were in the industry and made lots of great contacts and new friends. The first year I went to the Irish Book Awards it felt like the office Christmas party, I knew so many people there.

One of these new friends was Vanessa O’Loughlin, who founded Writing.ie and works as a literary scout (and who, under her crime-writing alter-ego Sam Blake, is about to release her debut crime novel Little Bones). She loved my Prada/Weightwatchers novel and she gave it to an editor at Penguin Ireland, who called me in for a meeting. They didn’t love that book but they liked my writing, and wanted to see something else. For a couple of years I tried writing Something Else, but I was making a few mistakes, the biggest being writing what I thought would get me published (women’s commercial fiction) and not what I really wanted to write (crime/thrillers).

Looking back, I think I was scared to. It was all I’d ever wanted to do since I was a teenager – what if I couldn’t? Luckily in the summer of 2012 I got a clue and started writing Distress Signals.

In the meantime though, Penguin Ireland had a title coming out that they thought would really benefit from some focused social media marketing and since I’d had success using it to promote my own books, they asked if I’d be interested in trying to make it work for them. I was and it did – and so they gave me more projects. That was in the autumn of 2012 and although I am winding down my work for them now – because, in the midst of all this, I went back to college and got a book deal so I don’t have the free time that I used to! – I have been working for them, freelance, ever since.

Got all that?

So to recap: it’s September 2014 and I’m a writer with a novel that I dream of getting published, who has already successfully self-published, has media experience, does well speaking in public and has been paid to do it, works for the biggest publishing house in the world (after the merger, anyway) and has a proven track record for selling books, not just her own but other people’s too.

Surely, I thought, there’ll be a queue of agents ready and waiting to snap me and my book up. I look so good on paper. Everything is in place. I’m a publisher’s dream.

Right?

Jane wasn’t the first agent I submitted to. I actually had no plans to submit to Jane at all, because it’s like deciding you’re going to gatecrash an Oscar party and then aiming for the Vanity Fair one. The chances of success are better for winning the lottery. She gets 5,000 submissions a year, takes on 2-3 new clients annually and only allows a submission in the first instance of the first ten pages of your work. Plus her roster of clients reads like the Female Crime Fiction All Stars team. I thought there was no hope.

So before I submitted to her, I submitted to a few other agents – more realistic choices, I thought at the time. Below is the actual text of the (loooong) cover letter I sent to them.

(FYI: Distress Signals was called Dark Waters back then and this letter is a couple of years old.)

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Great, right? I was downright smug about this cover letter. I was the mayor of Smugsville.

But the agents I submitted it to? They weren’t impressed. They all said no, because they didn’t like the book that came with it.

On a day in September 2014, I remember very clearly sitting at my desk – where I’m sitting now – browsing the Gregory and Company website. I couldn’t get over the idea of the ten pages. How could they possibly tell whether you were good or not from a mere ten pages? I read over mine and thought they’d never cut the mustard. But… What did I have to lose? So, feeling like I was probably completely wasting my time, I sent in my submission.

Time out here to say something very important: follow the submission instructions to the letter. To. The. Letter. I didn’t send nine pages. I didn’t send eleven. I sent ten, which is what they asked for, even though this left them hanging mid-chapter. I had done my research; I knew Jane specialised in crime fiction. I personalised my letter. I sent it to the e-mail address they specified. I didn’t telephone to ask any questions, I didn’t email five days later to check if they’d got it and I didn’t Google Map their address, fly to London and post a chocolate bar through their letterbox with a note saying, ‘Something to enjoy while you read my submission!’ I just did what I was told. Nothing more, nothing less.

The vast majority of submissions that come into agents’ offices – and for as long as I live, this is something I’ll never understand – don’t follow the agency’s submission guidelines. Even though they’re right there, on the website. I just don’t get it. You’re hoping this person will enter into a long-term business relationship with you, that you’ll become partners at the wheel of your career. That they’ll risk investing time in you that they might never get paid for. And they’ve never met you. All they know is what you present. And you start off by completely ignoring what they’ve politely requested you do?

It reminds me of the time I was working in a B&B and we needed a new part-time member of staff. I put an ad online that asked for people to email a CV and, because the B&B was incredibly busy and we barely had the time to answer the phone to prospective guests, I specified that application was by e-mail only (important because the position would involve a lot of emailing with guests, etc. and the e-mail itself would provide us with an insight into their skills in that area) and that the person doing the hiring would not be at the property itself, so please don’t call. But what did people do? They called. And they called to ask questions that were either answered by the ad or that weren’t appropriate to ask at that stage of the application process. Of all the calls like this I answered, not one caller had a legitimate reason to call. So it may sound harsh but anyone who called got put in the “No” pile – because, by calling, they had proved that they couldn’t follow simple instructions and other people who wanted the job had proved that they could, so…

In summary: follow the instructions. Just by doing that, you’ll already be putting your submission head and shoulders above most of the rest.

Anyway, a couple of weeks after I sent in my submission, Gregory and Company asked me for the full manuscript and a couple of weeks after that, they offered to represent me and I celebrated with Starbucks and champagne. (Thanks, Denise!)

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It all had all been worth it. That’s what I thought. All those years – five of them, at this stage – that I’d spent worming my way into the publishing industry, establishing myself, selling books… It had all been worth it because now I had managed to write a cover letter that had convinced an agent – the agent – to take me on.

Except I hadn’t.

Because Jane wasn’t interested in the cover letter or its contents. When we first met, she asked me a few things that made me suspect she hadn’t even read it, or perhaps someone else on her team had and they’d just recapped the highlights for her. She was only interested in one thing: the book. She made her decision based on one thing: the book. I got a book deal based on one thing: the book.

The other agents rejected me because my cover letter theatrics weren’t enough to make up for the fact that they didn’t like the book. They didn’t “love it enough”. Not one of them said, “Well, I think this is good but I don’t think it’s great… But I’m so impressed by everything you’d done over the last few years and I think you could still manage to flog a few copies of it even if it isn’t great, so… I’m going to offer to represent you anyway!”

Do you see where I’m going with this?

I have had a lot of fun since 2009. But I always had my eye on the prize. Whenever I got an invite to somewhere cool or I met someone important or I was interviewed by a newspaper whose name everyone would recognise, there was a part of me that mentally banked it for the cover letter that I’d ultimately send in with my submission. That’s always what I was working towards. And there was, admittedly, a part of me that also thought, Even if they don’t think the book is great, wouldn’t they still take me on because of all this stuff? I’m such a catch! 

Sometimes I slipped in little puddles of despair and looked around at all my friends with agents and book deals – some of them friends who didn’t have blogs or websites, or who rarely used Twitter – and got annoyed. Why didn’t I have agents and book deals, eh? Hadn’t I done my time? Paid my dues? And then I’d remember the big difference between us: they’d all finished books. I’d been too busy adding to my CV to finish mine.

Maybe you had the thought, when I was on here squealing and exclaiming about getting a book deal or getting an agent, of course she did. She works in the industry and she has great contacts. That’s fine for her but I don’t have those advantages. I don’t have a platform and I don’t know anyone on the inside. 

But I’m here to tell you – and this was as surprising to me as it might be to you now – that when it came to it, none of that mattered. It really didn’t. It was only about the book. I didn’t know Jane and Jane didn’t know me. I just went to the website, got my instructions and submitted the first ten pages of my book, just like approximately 5,000 other people did that same year.

And I’m not the only one whose story is like this. Most of the writers I know, their stories are the same.

(Of course, there are exceptions. Some people meet their agents at novel fairs or conferences or even online. Meeting at conferences seems to be a big thing in the U.S. And I’m guessing celebrity memoirs and celebrity novels aren’t quite all about the book, because at the end of the day the clue is in the name – it’s called the publishing industry – and brands sell books. But we’re not talking about celebrities, we’re talking about you and me.)

For us, it’s all about the book.

So don’t worry about anything else. Just make your book the best book it can be. When you start agent-hunting, you’ll have just as much chance of success as anybody else.

Well, provided you follow the instructions anyway.

(Guys, we just have ONE WEEK left of this blogging craziness! Almost there…)

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Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

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The Truth About My Desk

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. 

I think it was probably sometime in 2007 that I saw Elizabeth Gilbert on Oprah. Eat, Pray, Love mania was about to hit and I already had dutifully purchased my copy of it from my beloved Barnes and Noble in Dr Philips, because The Great O had said so. I remember very little of the actual Eat, Pray, Love episode except for this: Gilbert going up to a lovely little wooden desk on the mezzanine level of her lovely house, carrying a cup of tea, to open up the neat little box of index cards on which she’d written her notes, turn to her computer and get to work turning them into her next book.

The tea was herbal but leaving that aside, I was as much in awe as I was jealous.

Many years later, The Book Show on Sky Arts interviewed Cecilia Ahern and filmed her at work in her office near her home in Co. Dublin. She looked gorgeous and had that healthy, glossy inner glow she always seems to have. Her office was gloriously neat. Her desk had only her computer, a candle and a coffee on it. Actually, the coffee might have been from earlier, so maybe it was only the computer and the candle. The only other thing in there was a shelf with all her published books.

The coffee was decaf but leaving that aside, I was as much in awe as I was jealous.

Scrolling through Twitter a while back, I came across a picture of uber-selling author Jeffrey Archer sitting at his writing desk. It took me a while to actually see the desk because the shot was taken at his house in Spain (I think?) and the desk was in front of a floor-to-ceiling wrap around window that offered panoramic views of the sea. It was magnificent.

I would never get any work done there but still, I was much in— Well, you know the rest.

I too am guilty of this ‘Oooh, neat, pretty desk’ thing. I’ve posted pictures of mine on here. Everything in it was colour co-ordinated, organised and clean. Aside from my computer, the only things on my desk were a cup of coffee, my blue chair and a picture of me as an eight-year-old, tapping away on the typewriter Santa had just brought me.

And it does really look like that a lot of time.

It does not, however, look like that when I’m writing.

I’m at the end of this draft now and when I’m at this point, I do nothing but write and eat and sleep, and I only eat things that don’t need much preparation or clean-up, and I only sleep enough to function at a level a shade more human than zombie. And you know what I’m most looking forward to when I’m done? It’s not sending the manuscript off to my editor and agent. It’s not the sense of accomplishment that will bring. It’s not the guilt-free Netflix binge-watching I intend to spend my weekend on.

It’s cleaning up my desk, because right now it’s like a little episode of Hoarders in the middle of my home. This is an actual shot I took last night, compared to the nice one I posted on here last year (in a previous desk accessories arrangement incarnation):

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On the left, ‘nice’ desk. On the right, actual desk during writing time. Note the crumpled up Post-Its and the paper thrown on the ground. The blankets I wrap myself up in, one of which does not match the other. (I know.) The two cups of coffee. The discarded Milkybar wrapper. The carpet that seriously needs hoovering. The fact that all pretty things have been removed to another location to make room for my calendar-page-plotting map.

Not pictured: the Gollum-like creature who sits there for hours on end. She’s SO close to being done though. And after she cleans it, she’s going to reorganise her desk. She got some pretty things for Christmas to go on it so she needs to move stuff around to make them fit. She’s looking forward to making it all pretty again, just in time for Book 3.

Stand by for Instagram pictures.

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Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

 

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Listen: A Truckload of Good Sense About Writing

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. 

Today is Tuesday which means a tiny post. Now last Tuesday’s tiny post ran to 800 words and we’re just  not having that this week because I’m trying to take things a bit easier. And so I’m just going to direct you elsewhere which won’t take up too many words. Let’s hope.

I mentioned this in my video blog, but I am obsessed with The Bestseller Experiment. It’s a podcast by two Marks – Mark Stay and Mark Desvaux. One of them is a dream coach and one of them works in publishing and can’t say ‘dream coach’ with a straight face. They’ve set themselves a goal: they want to write and publish a bestselling book in just 52 weeks.

Now when I first heard this, I had no intention of tuning in. I thought it was going to a be cynical thing, like those ‘I self-published last weekend and I sold 2 copies’ articles that keep springing up in the online sections of broadsheet newspapers back when self-publishing fever was at its height. But here’s the thing: it’s not like that at ALL. It’s actually great. And useful. And fascinating. And their guest list is amazing. Michael Connelly, Joanne Harris, Bryan Cranston, Michelle Paver and Maria Semple, to name just a few.

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But I want you to listen to one episode in particular: Episode 14, which features an interview with author John Connolly. Lads, I have never heard so much sense spoken about writing in my life. Practical advice, zero notions, refreshing honesty. Honestly, listening to it was like a minty mouthwash to the soul. I was walking through Dublin city centre with my headphones in, nodding away to everything he said. (And although he says he doesn’t do workshops and seminars and things because he’s not into them, I am willing to start a petition to get him to write his own On Writing style book. Because we need it, and it would be amazing.)

I am rationing this podcast for myself, so I’ve only listened up to 14 thus far. All the other episodes are worth listening to as well, of course; ideally you would start at the beginning and work your way through. But if you’re not convinced, or you only have time to listen to one right now, start with that. Toodles!

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Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

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Sunday Morning Coffee Reads (Jan 22)

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals – my serial killer thriller set aboard a cruise ship sailing in the Med – was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post.

Today is Sunday, which means we have a digest of the previous week’s activity plus some cool links I think you should check out.

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What You Might Have Missed

We are more than half-way through our 28-day blogging bonanza. (Thank FUDGE.) This past week I went a leetle bit crazy, blogging exactly 9,001 words, 5,309 of them brand new. (Yes, I have counted.) Tragically there was no video blog this week – I can hear your cries of anguish from here – because I simply did not have the time. I was back at college, I sat through three (very enjoyable) hours of Anna Karenina at the Abbey, and I celebrated the fact that Distress Signals is going to be published in Japan. Oh and every minute I wasn’t doing one of those things, I was writing. Book 2 Draft 2 will be sent off this week. Here’s what you may have missed…

We started the week with a fairly long blog post about, ironically, acknowledgments being too long – Acknowledgements: The Long and the Short Of It.  I think a laundry list of names at the end of a novel is like a sledgehammer to the imagination, reminding me that what I just read was completely made up. I think these roll-calls should be reserved just for people who really, actually, measurably helped you with your book and, since writing a book is 99% time spent alone in your PJs, that can’t be that many people. Right?

On Tuesday I shared my Top 11 How To Write Books books, including one that has a terrible title but great advice, one that will make you laugh until you cry (and then probably just cry) and the one that made me feel like the author had climbed inside my head and copied down my most secret writerly thoughts, it was that relatable.

Mid-week, I posted about The ‘Get Published’ Advice I Wish I’d Listened To. Spoiler alert: it included things like finish your damn book and calm down and don’t rush. Click on the link to find out the rest.

Thursday is for throwbacks, so I dusted off one of your favourites (going by my stats, anyway): How To Do Goodreads Giveaways (And Why You Should). And, bonus: there was a new ranty bit down the end. Ooh, I love a good ranty bit. Don’t you?

We somehow made it to Friday, on which I had to deliver the terrible news: no video blog. But to make up for it, I wrote a whole new one! And it was long!  Why I Wouldn’t Self-Publish POD Paperbacks (At Least To Start With) listed my reasons for sticking with e-books, at least at the start. In the comments, author and self-publishing expert David Gaughran came up with another excellent reason for doing it that I hadn’t even thought of.

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Sunday Links

Here’s a handful of stuff I came across online that I thought was interesting this week:

It is just 12 days to the U.S. publication, according to the little ticker widget thingy in the footer of this blog. Come Thursday I’ll be able to say it’s a week away. What?! You can pre-order it from Amazon.com here.

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Your 85th reminder: Distress Signals is out in paperback in Ireland and the UK now! If you’ve read it already, hunt down someone you know who likes thrillers and tell them that my rent is very, very high. (Or that you liked it, if you did. You know, whatever works.) If you have no idea what I’m talking about and you’re not quite done with your procrastination yet today, you can find out more about Distress Signals here.

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The Dark Side of Fun in the Sun

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: my debut thriller Distress Signals – think: eerily similar disappearances from a cruise ship in the Med – was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post.

Back on schedule today with one I made elsewhere. Back when Distress Signals was first released in May, I wrote a blog post for author Mark Hill about the dark side of the places people like to go on holiday: hotels, campsites and cruise ships. Having worked in two of them I’ve seen behind the curtain of your romantic city break or family fortnight in France, and as you know I plotted murder and other mayhem on the third.

I loved the years I spent working in hospitality, but it wasn’t all fun in the sun. In fact, it was almost never fun in the sun, at least not for me – and that was the problem. In hotels and resorts, you work hard and you work long hours, but the guests and customers you interact with aren’t, for the most part, working at all. They’re all on holiday.

Back in 2005 I worked as a campsite courier on the Western Mediterranean coast of France. Each morning I would pull on my uniform – a fetching green shorts and red T-shirt combination that made me look like one of Santa’s elves only dressed for a warmer climate – and stumble out of my “live tent” (live as in I live here, not live music), heading for the shower block. The sky would be blue, the early morning sun warm and glorious and, en route, I’d pass family after family sitting on the decks of their mobile homes, sipping coffee and pulling apart flaky croissants fresh from the campsite’s bakery.

On my way back, I’d pass these same families heading for the pool or the beach, lugging inflatables, towels and parasols. Ahead of me was typically five or six hours of cleaning the mobile homes and tents that had been vacated that day (in thirty-degree heat), and then another four or five hours of checking new customers into them after that. It could be depressing.

The actual tent I lived in

There was a darker side to being “on site” too. I’d been on numerous self-drive/campsite holidays in France growing up, both with the brand I now found myself working for and others, and I’d always loved them. The adventure of the mobile home or tent; the freedom to roam around the campsite; the fun hours spent at the swimming pool or in the playground or at the Kids’ Club. As a courier, my perspective was very different. The tents we lived in were dirty and broken, as was the “live area” in which they’d been erected. (Scabies was a known scourge on several sites.) As an aspiring crime writer, I always did what I called my Serial Killer Check whenever I stayed somewhere new: I counted how many locked doors a potential serial killer would have between him and me while I slept. On that campsite there were no doors at all, only zips. Anyone could come into or go out of your tent in the night.

Couriers frequently got themselves into trouble: taken to hospital in an ambulance with alcohol poisoning, or to the police station in a squad car because they’d been caught attempting to abscond with the petty cash box. Most were hired straight out of school and had never been away from home before. They barely knew how to look after themselves, let alone the customers… READ THE REST ON MARKHILLAUTHOR.COM.

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Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

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Why I Wouldn’t Self-Publish A POD Paperback (At Least To Start With)

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: my debut thriller Distress Signals – think: eerily similar disappearances from a cruise ship in the Med – was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post.

So, TRAGIC news: there will be no video blog today. I know, I know. I’ll give you a second to dry your tears.

Once I finish this post I will be unplugging my modem at the wall, putting the first wave of John Mayer’s new album on repeat and gluing my arse to the chair in front of my computer for the next 72 hours or so in order to finish the second draft of Book 2. I just don’t have time for transforming into a human girl, filming the blog and then editing and uploading it, because all that takes hours, especially the transforming bit. I don’t want to break my 28-day blogging bonanza insanity commitment, so I am blogging (obvs) but I’m going to do a bit of swapping around. I give you: a normal blog post.

Earlier this week I posted The ‘Get Published’ Advice I Wish I’d Listened To in which I mentioned, as an aside, that if I had my time over again or I was about to self-publish a new project now, I wouldn’t bother self-publishing a POD paperback – at least to start with. I’d be all e-books instead. And then, if they took off, I’d capitalise on their success by also releasing a paperback. (That’s actually something a number of traditional publishers have started doing with their commercial fiction, especially crime/thrillers: e-books first, sometimes months before the book is available in paperback.) Today I thought I’d elaborate on why.

I Got Over The Fear

When you first self-publish – or when you first get published if your publisher decides to go e-book first, or your book is out in one country but not yet in another – you will probably experience The Fear, sparked by a conversation that goes something like this:

Random person: I can’t wait to read your book! Is it out yet?

You: [heart soaring] Yes! You can buy it right now. [whispers] Please do.

RP: Where can I get it?

You: On Amazon.

RP: What about Barnes and Noble?

You: Um… Well, you see, it’s only available in e-book.

RP: Oh, I don’t read e-books.

You: [sound of heart breaking]

See also: you releasing the first book of a series and someone asking ‘When is the next one out? I can’t wait to read it!’ and you panicking and hitting Publish on Book 2 five minutes later.

The Fear is the fear of losing a book sale. You encounter a reader who wants to read your book, who says they will buy it, except they’re not interested in the existing options for doing that. And so you rush and you panic and you start flailing about in a drowning depth of anxiety at the thought that you might be selling more books if only you were selling them differently. One more book, anyway.

To this I say: get a grip. Ignore these annoying people. Seriously. Because these people are not your target. Your target is the people who already love e-books, who gobble them up, who buy several of them a week, who will definitely encounter your e-book because you have a promotional plan in place, and who will definitely hit that Buy button because you have taken the time to write a great book, design a great cover, etc. etc. They are the millions of people we’re interested in. Not reader97481 who leaves a comment saying they don’t read e-books. Why should we care about reader97481, especially since (a) she is absolutely in the minority and (b) we’ve no guarantee she even means what she says? I guarantee you that despite you feeling like these people are just the tip of the iceberg and that if you just published a paperback, you’d be sitting pretty atop all the bestseller lists and paying your mortgage off in cash, this is not what will happen if you do.

We made an e-book. Like it or lump it.

Clearly, I got over the fear. You should too.

There’s No Point

This is the biggest reason for me: there’s no point. No self-publisher I know is selling more paperbacks than e-books, and I only know a very small number who are selling anything significant in paperback at all (and they are all selling HUGE amounts in e-book). So what’s the point? Unless you are a life coach who goes around talking to enthusiastic audiences of hundreds who all queue up afterwards to  buy a copy of your book (and, in that case, you should really go to a printer where you can get a volume discount and avoid POD), you don’t need a physical book because it’s not going to sell enough copies to earn any kind of statistical significance in your self-published book sales. So why bother? If you have money to spend, put it in a Bookbub or boost a Facebook post. Don’t waste it on this.

It’s Much More Work Than It Seems

The thinking behind also releasing a paperback usually goes something like this:

  • I may as well – it’s not that much more work
  • I’ll sell more books because some people don’t read e-books.

As I said above, you almost certainly won’t sell more books – or at least, not enough of them to make this worth it. So scratch that. Which leaves it’s not that much more work or money. 

But it is.

Let’s do money first. If you do your own formatting, I will allow that it’s not that much more money. But it is more of it. Formatting for Kindle is relatively easy and easily a DIY job, but formatting an entire book in MS Word is a whole other ballgame. And while you might get away with making a passable e-book cover for free with Canva or PicMonkey, you won’t get away with it for a POD cover, which has to be specifically sized to your spine and supplied to CreateSpace in PDF with everything where it should be, including your barcode space. Then it really is another chunk of money. And I sincerely hope you are ordering a proof copy and not just letting people hand over money for something you haven’t actually seen yourself, so there’s that too – plus shipping.

And it is more work – but you don’t yet realise how much more of it, because it’s in the future. POD paperbacks complicate things. If you’re in this for the long haul, you’re going to be releasing a number of books (let’s hope). Each time you have a new release, you need to go back and add mention of it to your previous books, e.g. add it to your Also By This Author list, or maybe include a preview or a link. It’s easy to do this in e-book. You just swap out the file. But with the paperback, you have to swap out the file and go through the proofing process again. You also have to deal with editions. You can’t change anything significant about your paperback without it becoming a new edition, and a new edition is a separate edition. It’s a whole new book. New ISBN and so, horror of horrors, a new listing. You might not be able to bring your reviews for the previous listing over. (That seems to be entirely up to Amazon’s discretion.)

And here’s the worst bit: if you make a new edition, an Amazon listing for your name becomes a wasteland of old editions that aren’t available anymore. Now multiply that by all your online retailers. It’s a mess. A paperback also sets a listing in stone forever. For-EVAH. That listing will never disappear because Amazon keeps the listing active in case MarketPlace sellers have secondhand editions to flog. If you just publish e-books, you don’t have to deal with any of this crap. There’ll only ever be one edition and, if you ever want to ‘unpublish’ it or replace it – change the title, for example – the old one will just disappear.

Actually, no, that’s not the worst bit. The worst bit is that when you publish a paperback, you leave yourself nowhere to hide. You create a huge, new space in which you can make a mistake. In which you can look amateurish. In which you can fail to be professional. What I mean by that is this:

When it comes to novels, self-publishers win at e-books. This is because we format them carefully ourselves and/or we pay other people to do them professionally but in both cases, we build them from scratch. Some traditional publishers use a work-flow to create e-books that takes another form, e.g. a PDF, and converts that into an e-book automatically. This, sometimes, creates errors. I can honestly say that I have encountered more errors in traditionally published e-books than I have in self-published ones. But…

I cannot say the same for POD paperbacks. When it comes to making a physical book, you don’t know what you don’t know. You think it’s easy enough, straightforward. Chapter headings, a table of contents, maybe even a jazzy running head. But so much work goes into the layout and design of the interiors of the books we pick up off our local bookshop’s shelves. You don’t even realise it. And that work is done by professionals. By book designers. Working with far more powerful software and years of experience than you. By producing a paperback, you increase the chances that you will make a mistake. That you will look like you don’t know what you’re doing. (I say this from personal experience. I made mistakes. Embarrassing ones. And if it wasn’t for the likes of The Book Designer, I wouldn’t even have known.) Why do this to yourself when, as outlined above, there’s really no point to it?

The exceptions to all this are, of course, books that really need to be published in print, like reference, cookbooks, workbooks, children’s books, YA books, etc. In other words: where the target audience prefers a print book. And you might need a proof for reviewers and/or to giveaway on Goodreads, but in that case (a) you don’t need a cover design, because Cover Creator will do and (b) it’s okay if proofs are just the text of the book without any ‘design’ element. They only need to be readable, not real books.

But for everything else, I just wouldn’t bother. Work smarter, not harder and all that jazz. Yes, you want to hold a physical book in your hand. Who doesn’t? But that’s a personal, emotional decision, not a business one. And this, if you’re doing it right, should be above all else a business.

Now, off to the writing cave with me for the weekend. Send coffee.

dsbb

Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!