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?

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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. 

 

Why Paris Is Always A Good Idea

Rewind to exactly two weeks ago and find me arriving in Paris, getting to live out a dream: to spend a week at the Centre Culturel Irlandais, or the Irish Cultural Centre.

This is a facility for Irish writers, students, etc. smack bang in the heart of literary Paris. Three minutes’ walk away: Place Contrascarpe, where Hemingway had his first apartment in Paris. Five minutes’ walk away: the Luxembourg Gardens, where he frequently retreated to. Ten minutes’ walk away: Shakespeare & Co, the famous bookshop that first published Ulysses. (There’s so much more, but you get the idea.) The centre itself is down a quiet street, where a heavy green door reveals a tranquil inner courtyard. My room was filled with light and offered a beautiful view of a lush, ivy-covered neighbouring building and a rolling sea of Parisian rooftops (just like— Okay, okay. I’ll stop with the Hemingway now.) Ahead of me stretched a week of writing, Paris and streetside cafe cremes. I was giddy with bliss.

I didn’t even know this place existed until last year when, stood at the end of Rue Soufflot waiting for the lights to change, I looked up and saw a sign for Rue de Irlandais. Google told me what was there and why there was an ‘Irish Street’.  Later, I dashed through April rains to meet my writing friend Elizabeth R. Murray at Notre Dame. She was, by coincidence, in the city with her husband, and we talked about our CCI daydreams. Now, she left a comment on one of the photos I posted saying she was headed to a retreat in Iceland soon, for a month. I laughed and said that we might be in danger of propagating the myth that writers live an enviable, champagne lifestyle…

The next day I was up with the dawn. I eyed my laptop but then decided play first, work later. Everyone goes on about Paris sunsets, but I love the mornings the most. I walked from the CCI to the Eiffel Tower via the Musée d’Orsay (with the help of a few cafe cremes), but by mid-afternoon, I was feeling guilty: the copyeditor had sent The Liar’s Girl back to me a couple of days before, and I had to go through the manuscript to check the changes, answer queries, etc. I took a pre-packed sandwich and a Coke back to my room, opened my laptop and got to work, trying to ignore the fact that outside, Paris was waiting impatiently.

I was also trying to studiously ignore something else: that at seven o’clock Paris time, the Dagger shortlists would be announced at an event in London.

The Daggers are awarded by the Crime Writers’ Association and judged by a panel of crime-writing aficionados, and it seems like every crime writer I loved growing up had the word ‘Dagger’ somewhere in their author bio. They’re a big deal to me. As a reader, I was looking forward to them pointing me in the direction of new books to read. As a writer, they weren’t even on my radar.

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Back in May, I spent twenty-four hours at Crimefest. I was home barely thirty minutes when I got a text message from Andy, a writer friend: she was at the Dagger longlist announcement, and she’d just heard my name read out. This was so out of left-field for me I was scared to tweet anything in case it was a mistake, so I waited (and waited and waited…) until official confirmation had been posted online. Yes, Distress Signals had been longlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger award.

(What?!)

Tonight, I would again find out by text message. My friend (and Betty’s of Harrogate buddy) Erin was going to the announcement and had offered to let me know if I’d made the shortlist. Sitting in my room in Paris, I was thinking how awful it was going to be for Erin to have to text me to say ‘Sorry, but…’ but also about the fact that I was a published writer and I was sitting in bloody Paris, for God’s sake, so there was absolutely no need to be disappointed, whatever happened.

The clock ticked closer to seven. I tried to concentrate on my copyedits and pretend not to care. Then I decided that I was so not going to care, I was going to go out. I’d get a drink somewhere, gaze adoringly at Notre Dame  or the Eiffel Tower off in the distance for a while. I stood up, grabbed my bag. I was looking for my key when I heard a little beep: a text message. (Please excuse my, ahem, French response.)

Amazingly, Distress Signals has now been shortlisted for a Dagger. Paris is always a good idea!

You can read more about the Daggers and view all the books on all the Dagger shortlists here.

Guest Post: Why Write A Book?

Today I have a guest post from the lovely Andrea Mara, whose debut, The Other Side of the Wall, was published recently. Dublin is a busy place for book launches during the summer, and unfortunately Andrea and Carmel, a friend of mine, had theirs on the same night, and without some sort of cloning machine I couldn’t make both. I like to support other authors (because I know, quite well, the horrible, gnawing fear that no one will show up to your book launch!) so to make up for the fact that I couldn’t physically go to her launch, I invited Andrea on here instead. Take it away, Andrea! 

Why did you want to write a book?

That the question that came today from my five-year-old, as only the simplest questions with the most complex answers do. (How does sound come out of the radio? How do gears in a car work?)

Why did I want to write a book? It’s a good question, and I don’t know if I have the answer. If the question is simply why do you write? the answer is easy – it’s one a writing friend often gives when she’s asked the same question. I can’t not write.

But that refers to blogging, or general navel-gazing type writing.

If I break the kinds of writing I do into compartments – blogging, features, and fiction – then blogging is the one I truly, truly enjoy and do willingly, or even more than that, do compulsively.

And perhaps that’s logical – blogging is not paid, I have no boss, no word count, no timer, no rules, no deadlines. I’m not beholden to anyone. I can write about anything that comes into my head – how much I hate driving, saying goodbye to my old couch (four of us cried, so it got its own memorial blog post), or the time I got my brows tinted and ended up looking like someone Sellotaped a caterpillar to my forehead.

It is said that if you can make your hobby your job, you’ll be happy for life, and for sure, if you’re lucky enough to do that, work is likely to be a lot more fulfilling than doing a job you hate.

But at the same time, once anything becomes work, it becomes, well, work. If you have to complete it by a certain time, to a certain standard, ready for judgement by one or many people, it takes on a new dimension and might not be quite as much fun. And that’s all very well when it’s a 1,200 word feature for a newspaper, something that can be completed in a few days or weeks, but what about a book? 100, 000 words; life-suspending deadlines; Christmas-cancelling pressure, and no idea if in the end anyone will like it – who would willingly do that? I can see where my five-year-old is coming from.

I don’t think anyone does it for the money. Unless you’re selling seven million copies, you’re probably not doing it for the money, and there have been many newspaper articles recently on just how little Irish authors earn.

I don’t think anyone does it to be famous – most authors aren’t famous.

And I doubt anyone does it because it’s easy – we can unanimously agree it’s not easy.

Perhaps some people do it because they love writing fiction, and they don’t mind whether or not their work is ever published. But most authors and aspiring authors I know (with some exceptions) would like to be published.

Maybe some write because it’s enjoyable. I think it’s enjoyable when you’re in the zone – when you’re knee-deep in a scene and feeling every emotion the characters are feeling and tapping out the drama with your fingers flying on the keys; furiously flurrying, needing to get it all down. But for every day like that, there are days when you sit down and stare at a blank screen, looking for any distraction possible to avoid having to come up with the words.

So why do it?

For me, having turned it over in my mind since my son asked me the question, I think it’s because I wondered what if this is something I can do, and what if I don’t try? What if it’s my thing, but I never find out?

I had a story rattling around in my head – prompted by the many night wakings of my babies, wondering what would happen if I saw something in the middle of the night. I wanted to try writing down the story and see where it would go. What if it was terrible? But then, what if it wasn’t?

And in the end, doing it was easier than not doing it, and wondering what might have been.

Thanks, Andrea!

Andrea Mara is a freelance writer, author, and blogger, who lives in Dublin with her husband and three young children. She writes lifestyle features for Irish newspapers, magazines, and websites, and has won multiple awards for blogging. She attempts – often badly – to balance work, family and writing, then lets off steam on her blog, OfficeMum.ie. When she’s not keeping one eye on the kids, and the other on Twitter, she’s furiously scribbling notes for her next book.

Her first book, a psychological thriller set in South Dublin, is called The Other Side of the Wall. It’s available now in bookshops, and on Amazon.

 

Cover Reveal: The Liar’s Girl

So here they are: the covers of my next thriller, The Liar’s Girl, which is going to be published in the UK/Ireland AND the USA at the start of March 2018. (Yes, both sides of the Atlantic get the book at the same time this time. Woo-hoo!)

PicMonkey Collage

What’s it about? Well, all I can tell you for now is this: ten years ago, her first love confessed to five murders. But the truth was so much worse… 

What about those bridges, eh? Well, besides the fact that I’m thinking of starting a new ‘bridge noir genre’ (not really), fun fact: those are both real bridges here in Dublin. The UK/Ireland cover has the Ha’penny Bridge on it, which goes over the Liffey and is probably one of Dublin’s most famous landmarks, and the USA cover has Huband Bridge, which is on the Grand Canal, right by a house once lived in by none other than Samuel Beckett. (If Irish bridges are your thing, here’s more information about them and eight other beauties.)

I’m off to Harrogate this week, THE crime writing festival, with Writing.ie who will be tweeting like mad from all the events (and, um, the bar…) so if you can’t make it, you can still enjoy it through us. And if you can make it, see you there! x

Coming Soon: THE LIAR’S GIRL

So, news. My second thriller, The Liar’s Girl, will be out in the UK/Ireland and the USA in early 2018 and I’ll be revealing both covers on Instagram on Friday, so if you’re not already following me @cathryanhoward over there, start now!

(That’s also where I share what books I’m reading and sometimes what I thought of them too, if you’re into that kind of thing.)

To make things more interesting, I’ll be revealing each cover square by square. So you might see me post weird images like this:

But then when all 12 weird images have been posted, go look at my Instagram page (in grid view) and TA-DAA!

(That is, obviously, the UK/Ireland trade paperback cover of Distress Signals. I did a test with it.)

The covers will be revealed this Friday, 14th July:

  • From noon for the UK/Ireland cover
  • From 6pm for the USA cover (that’s 1pm Eastern and 10am Pacific – thanks Erin!) 

OOOH, THE ANTICIPATION.

(Mostly felt by me, because I can’t wait to hear what you think of these covers. They’re VERY different to each other but both amazing in their own ways.)

What else can I tell you about this novel? Well, not much because I like being an international woman of mystery. For now, anyway. But let’s just say:

  • It’s another standalone (it’s not a sequel to Distress Signals)
  • ‘Girl’ is in the title but hold your books-with-girl-in-the-title-think-piece horses: she actually IS a girl (or at least she was when the Bad Stuff started happening)
  • It’s set in Ireland
  • It’s set on dry land BUT…
  • … water does feature. (The featured image on this post = BIG CLUE.)

I am currently in the south of France slowly melting into a puddle of Irish Person Who’s Not Used To This Heat. Here’s a picture I took last night to depress you:

Next week, I’ll be heading for Harrogate, THE crime festival of the year, with the Writing.ie gang and between us – there’s four of us, I think – we will be tweeting every event LIKE MAD so do brace yourself for that. If you’re going to be AT Harrogate, do find us and say hi!

Don’t forget – there’s an easy way to stay up to date with my bookish news: my newsletter. Sign up here. I only send a handful a year so you don’t need to worry about inbox overload. Alternatively you can follow me on Twitter or “like” meh Facebook page thingy. (*whispers* Then there’ll be NO escape…. *evil cackle*)

But remember: if you want to see my new covers first, you better be on Instagram!

#IBW2017 And An Epic Bookshop Crawl

Hellooo! Remember me? Yes, yes, I know, I have been terrible at blogging lately. And yes, yes, I know, I seem to be starting every blog post in the last 18 months with an apology about not blogging more often. But I’ve discovered that this writing full-time gig alongside going to university full-time doesn’t leave you much free time, especially when there’s so much good stuff on Netflix. (Have you watched GLOW? No? Go!)

I’m here to tell you the hilarity/mayhem that went on yesterday but before I get to that, I have some news. Distress Signals has been longlisted for the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger! This means a huge amount to me because the Daggers are decided by a panel of crime fiction connoisseurs, and there’s only 12 books on the New Blood longlist out of all the debut crime novels published in the year-long judging period. They include some debuts that just blew me away, like Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land and Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker. So, yay! You can view the entire longlist and the other Dagger categories on the CWA website.

Book 2 has gone off to the copyeditor and I’ve seen the UK cover concept. In other words, sh-t’s getting real. I can’t wait to tell you more about it. Hopefully I’ll be able to soon.

Onto yesterday… This week is Independent Bookshop Week (IBW) in the UK and Ireland and to kick it off yesterday, a number of indie bookshop crawls were organised and Hazel Gaynor and I embarked on one. The idea was simple: visit as many indie bookshops as you can, maybe buy a few books, and tweet etc. about your journey on the way using the hashtags #IBW2017 and #bookshopcrawl. Then, reward yourself appropriately. Hazel and I picked ten shops between the picturesque little village of Kilcullen in Co. Kildare and Dubray Books on Grafton Street, the busiest shopping area in Dublin, bought a packet of Percy Pigs and hit the road.

We hit a couple of bumps – we got to our first shop so early they weren’t open yet (oops!), and the amazing Dublin Pride parade closed down streets between us and our city centre bookshops late in the afternoon – but all in all it was the most fantastically fun day and we got to meet some incredibly enthusiastic booksellers whose love for books and expertise on them was obvious.

Here’s the thing: independent bookshops offer something the likes of Amazon and chain book retailers just cannot. I buy a tonne of books off Amazon, but whenever I go there it’s to get a book I already know I want. I rarely end up buying books on Amazon I didn’t know existed before I got to Amazon. I also buy a tonne of books from chain bookstores, like Eason here in Ireland. They do great deals and if it’s a new commercial fiction title you’re after, you will find it there. I do find new books there, but usually books in genres I already read, i.e. books inside my comfort zone.

But consider what happened yesterday. On our stop at The Company of Books in Ranelagh, we asked the owner Gwen for recommendations to share with our followers, as we had been doing throughout the day. She mentioned a book called You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann, which she said was about a writer and had shades of The Shining by Stephen King. It’s a tiny book, a novella really, and it’s been published by Riverrun in a small but perfectly formed slim hardback, translated from the original German. I was sold. And I would never, ever, ever in a million years have happened upon this book any other way. THAT is the joy of an independent bookshop.

At other stops, Hazel and I walked back out onto the street in awe of how incredibly dedicated, knowledgable and enthusiastic the booksellers we’d just met had been. It was, honestly, joyful. We write books because we love them and it was such a lovely day meeting other people who love them so much too.

(I also bought some books on the recommendation of Frank and Amy in Magpie Books but I’m not going to share them here because they’re research for A Very Secret Project. Oooh, intriguing! I know.)

My crawling buddy Hazel Gaynor was multi-tasking because yesterday was also Harry Potter Day (celebrating the 20th anniversary of the publication of The Philosopher’s Stone) AND International Fairy Day – and Hazel’s new book, The Cottingley Secret, is about one of the most famous hoaxes of all time, The Cottingley Fairies. This is her in Magpie Books, Enniskerry, on the bookshop crawl, wearing a HP T-shirt and a pair of fairy wings. Is she the most on-brand author of all time? I think so! (Find out more about Hazel’s new book and her New York Times bestselling backlist here.)

Independent Bookshop Week runs all this week. I highly recommend you stop into your local indie bookshop without any book in mind and ask the bookseller to pick one for you. You never know what you might discover!

Relive our bookshop crawl adventure on Storify here.

What’s the best book you discovered in an indie bookshop? Where’s your favourite one? Did you do any bookshop crawling yesterday or do you plan to this week? Let us know in the comments below… 

How Do You Track Your Word Count? (And Other Things)

Do not adjust your sets. This really is a new blog post. Yes, new material has appeared on this blog. Be gone, tumbleweeds!

I have been MIA because the last six weeks or so have been crazy. I had three university assignments due on the same day, followed by, oh, you know, 100,000 words or so of a book, followed by an exam that I basically had 24 hours to cram for. (Fun fact: my exam was on the history of the book so I was able to throw in loads of stuff about e-books, and I wrote about Celebration, Florida, for one of my assignments.)

Credit: Kathryn English, Blackstone Publishing

In the midst of all that I also wrote a piece about a real life cruise ship murder for the Irish Times, won an award and, needless to say, watched all of 13 Reasons Why because my motto is No Netflix Left Behind even when you don’t have time to sleep and even if the show is utterly rage-inducing on multiple levels. Side note: roll on Master of None this coming Friday. (I think MON is one of the great televisual shows ever made.)

What else have I been up to, I pretend to hear you ask?

Happy Birthday, Distress Signals

Distress Signals, my serial-killer-on-a-cruise-ship-thriller (nautical noir, we’re calling it) was first published a year ago yesterday, which means it’s been a year since the actual craziest week of my life. You and I can relive all the excitement here.

Credit: Hazel Gaynor

The twelve months since have been tough, trying to write a second novel while also doing a full-time degree and being constantly distracted by the shiny stuff of publication (and, ahem, Netflix), but they have also had so many exciting and happy moments. My launch, getting shortlisted for Crime Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards, finding that one of my favourite bookstores in the world, the Barnes and Noble at Dr Philips in Orlando – where I wiled away many a blissfully happy hour – had DS in stock. (This was seriously, like, the BEST.)

I must say a big THANK YOU to everyone who read, reviewed and recommended Distress Signals to their friends and followers. You are all lovely and deserve to drink only good coffee, never instant. To celebrate, my lovely American publishers have slashed the price of Distress Signals‘ digital edition to just $0.99 – its RRP is $9.99 – but only for a limited time. So if you haven’t read it yet, you live in the States and you’d read an e-book, quick, go! Or if you know someone else who fits that criteria who you think might be interested, tell them! More exclamation marks!

While I was typing this, something ah-maze-ZING happened: Distress Signals slipped into the No. 1 spot on Barnes and Nobles’ NOOK bookstore. In other words, it became the top selling NOOK book. Whaaa…? I may have to frame this.

Distress Signals can be purchased for sofa-change from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and Kobo USA, among others.

Events

For some reason May is like peak events over here. I have three coming up: I’m doing a Marketing and Publicity Workshop with Peter O’Connell for Publishing Ireland next week, May 11 (suitable for both publishing professionals and writers), then I’ll be on the Twists and Turns panel at Crimefest, Bristol, on May 18, and finally I’ll be taking part in the How To Get Published Day at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, as part of the International Literature Festival: Dublin on May 20. For more information on any or all of these, go to my Events page and click on the relevant image.

I’m also going to London next week to hit a few stationery shops, Foyles and Hotel Chocolat, but that’s really just an event on my personal calendar…

Book 2

You guys, as a Youtuber might say, we are almost there. In a couple of weeks, Book 2 will be done*. (Can I just give you some unsolicited advice? If you are an aspiring writer who dreams of getting a book deal, here’s what you need to do the second you type THE END on the submission draft of the book you hope will get you published: open a new document, type CHAPTER ONE and start the book after that. Don’t wait, because if your dreams come true, there’ll be lots of shiny exciting fun stuff that will distract you and your deadlines will crumble to dust.) I can’t wait to tell you about it, share the title, show you the cover, etc. but I can’t do any of that just yet. What I can say is:

  • It’s another standalone thriller
  • It’s due for publication early next year
  • It’s set on dry land and that dry land is Dublin, but water does feature.

*Ready for copyediting.

Book 3 (and How Do YOU Track Your Word Count?)

Book three?! I know, right? How did we even get here? Well, that’s what I’ll be doing this summer: writing the first draft of my third thriller. I have an idea that I’m really, really excited about, as my writing friends will testify to because I’ve been blabbing about it— I mean, um, testing it out on them for months now.

One thing I really want to do is obsessively track my word count. I want to be able to say exactly how long it took me to write this novel. So, tell me: how do you track your word count? I was hoping to use Prolifiko after I read this fascinating article in The Guardian about how long – exactly – it took Wyl Menmuir to write his Booker-longlisted novel, but when I went to look at the app it wasn’t what I was expecting. (And you have to do a five day writing ‘challenge’ to unlock access. Um, no.) Have you used it? Are there alternatives? Any good apps? Or do you rely on spreadsheets, etc?

Let me know in the comments below because I really want something good I can use going forward. Any one who leaves a suggestion/comment on this topic will be entered into a draw for a prize that will probably consist of (a) a signed book, (b) something caffeinated, probably and (c) stationery so I have an excuse to buy some fancy stuff in London. (If you don’t track your word count at all it’s okay to leave a comment saying that. That counts as an entry.)

So, to recap:

  • Sherlock lives— I mean, this blog does
  • Distress Signals is discounted to $0.99 for a limited time – tell your friends!
  • Tell me how you track your word count/novel progress. You might win something…

I just sent out a newsletter. Have you signed up to receive my sporadic musings, eh? You should, if I do say so myself.