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.


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!

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.


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!

Writers, Amazon Are Coming to Dublin – For YOU!

This morning I have great news for writers who are interested in self-publishing, promoting their books or both, and who either live in Dublin or can get here on Saturday November 19th – BUT you’re going to have to move fast to take advantage of it!


Amazon has teamed up with a host of bestselling authors, publishing experts and to bring a very exciting daylong event to the Davenport Hotel in Dublin city centre on November 19th next: How To Publish Independently With Amazon.

Here’s the thing: if you don’t snag a ticket or you can’t travel here, you can still benefit from the event because – get this – it’s going to be live streamed on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing YouTube channel. The feed will also be shown in libraries across Ireland.

The event will include a wide range of panel discussions and workshops and will be hosted by RTÉ 2fm Presenter and book enthusiast, Rick O’Shea. Sessions will include ‘How To Write a Bestseller’ and ‘An Introduction to Independent Publishing’ and cover topics including editing, cover design, marketing and more. As well as that attendees will have the opportunity to book one-on-one sessions with the authors and experts taking part so they can discuss their specific self-publishing query or problem with someone who’s been there, done that. A number of Amazon team members will also be on hand to share their expert advice on making the most of KDP and CreateSpace.

Authors and experts taking part include Hazel Gaynor, LJ Ross, Mark Dawson, Adrian White, Alison Walsh, Madeleine Keane, Robert Doran and founder Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin who writes as Sam Blake.

Oh – and me!

As regular readers of this blog will know although I have self-published in the past, I am currently on the other side of the fence, getting published. But, I think the ideal situation for any career author is to have a foot on both sides. And even if you’re not interested in self-publishing, there’s so much you can learn from authors who’ve done it successfully – promotion, building an audience, even things like time management – that you can apply to your own career, no matter how your books or other written work gets to readers.

Now, here’s the best bit. This event is completely FREE. Yes, free. But, also limited to 150 places and as I prep this post late on Wednesday night, more than a third of the tickets have already gone. So if you want one, CLICK HERE, quick!

That’s also where you can go if you want more information. Libraries who are interested in hosting a live stream can contact Those of you who want to watch the live stream from home, just set yourself a reminder to tune into Amazon’s KDP YouTube channel on the day.

Good luck!

Are Amazon *Really* Paying Authors Per Page Read? No. No, They’re Not. [Pause] Well…

[Originally this post wasn’t very clear on the differences in lending programmes, and it was pointed out to me that Irish Amazon customers can avail of Kindle Unlimited through the site. I’ve updated the text to improve/reflect this, and thank Kate and Caoimhe in the comments for pointing this out.]

I understand how the internet works. I know what click bait is. If I click on a headline like She Used a Pen To Open an Envelope. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next… or His Dog Pooped In His Shoe and the Shoe’s Reaction was PERFECT, I agree that I’ve no one to blame but myself. But headlines about Amazon paying self-published authors per page read has my blood pressure spiking.

They’re inaccurate because they’re out of context. The truth is buried in the posts themselves no sooner than five or six paragraphs down, but people don’t seem to be reading that far based on the tweets I’ve seen in my stream. And as for people outside the self-publishing world – well, they seem to be missing the whole point of it altogether.

Now, it’s been a while since I wrote a nuts-and-bolts post about a self-publishing thing but [rolls up shirtsleeves, takes a swig of espresso] here goes:

Amazon KDP 101

Let’s recap the basics first.

You publish your book to Amazon KDP because you want it to be for sale in the world’s various Kindle stores. A boatload of tees and cees aside, you get paid either 35% or 70% of the retail price depending on how much you decide to charge for your book. If it’s $2.99 or $9.99 or somewhere in between, you get 70%. If it’s not, you get 35%.

So if someone buys your book, you get paid. Got that?

Good. Now…

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 11.49.21

Kindle Book Lending Programme

When you publish your book to Amazon KDP, you check a box that says you agree to make your book available for lending. You will check this box, because you won’t be able to click the “Publish” button if you don’t – if you want to publish to KDP, you have to make your book available for lending. Makes you wonder why they even ask, right? Well, maybe they’re just being mannerly. Either way, if you publish to KDP, your book is available for lending in the Kindle Book Lending Programme.

This is the system whereby a Kindle user can loan another Kindle user one book at a time for a lending period of up to two weeks. Authors get paid diddly squat for this but, hey, there’s little difference between that and me lending a paperback I bought to a friend, and you might get a new reader out of it. If you’re really lucky, you might even get a new review.

The Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL)

If you are a Prime customer, you can avail of the Kindle Owners Lending Library, or KOLL. This is where Amazon customers who use Kindle and subscribe to Prime get to borrow one book per calendar month from Amazon, for freesies, but it’s free like the hot chocolate and cookies they hand out at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom, i.e. included in the ticket price.

Remember: this is for Amazon customers. And just the ones who pay for Prime.

Authors are compensated for this, which we’ll get to in a second.

Kindle Unlimited

Right. [takes another swig of espresso] This is where things start to get complicated, so stay with me.

In addition the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, Amazon customers can avail of something called Kindle Unlimited. It’s basically a subscription service. For a flat fee ($9.99 a month in the U.S.), Amazon customers can download all the Kindle books they want.

Remember: this is for Amazon customers too.

KDP Select

KDP Select is when you and your Kindle book sidle up to Amazon and seductively whisper “There’s no one else. It’s only you.”

It’s when you, an Amazon author, make your Kindle book exclusive to Amazon and pinky-swear you won’t publish it in digital format anywhere else in the known universe.

In exchange you get some promotional stuff and higher royalties in some scenarios, but most importantly you get:

  • listed/made available to customers in the Kindle Owners Lending Library
  • listed/made available to customers of Kindle Unlimited
  • compensated for any borrows or downloads that may then occur.

This last bit? It was all about Amazon authors.

The Pot of Gold At The End of the Rainbow

How are you compensated?

When an Amazon customer borrows your Kindle book through the Lending Library or chooses it via Kindle Unlimited, they are not paying for it per se. No money exchanges virtual hands; the customer downloads it at no cost to them. But technically Amazon does get paid for it, because the KOLL is a benefit of being an Amazon Prime customer ($99 a year in the U.S.) and KU is $9.99 a month.

So just like Mickey’s hot chocolate in Magic Kingdom (again), it’s a perk you get for “free” that in reality is included in the ticket price.

But what about you, the author? Well, this is where the infamous pot o’gold comes in. Amazon compensates its self-published authors for these KOLL and KU borrows by giving them a share of a finite fund, which changes monthly. As I type this on Tuesday 23rd June 2015 at 9.21pm, the fund for this month stands at $3 million. If you’re a self-published Amazon author, you’ll always know how much the current month’s fund is, because you’ll get an e-mail about it.

How is your share determined? First, Amazon counts all the times that KDP Select books were borrowed from the KOLL or downloaded through KU in a calendar month. Let’s say that in May that was 1,000,000 times and that the fund was $3,000,000. DIVIDE! That means that every time a KDP Select book was borrowed from the KOLL or downloaded through KU – don’t you lurve acronyms? – the action was worth $3 to the book’s author.

So, if you have three titles enrolled in KDP Select (i.e. exclusive to Amazon) and those three titles were borrowed from the KOLL/downloaded through KU 8, 42 and 103 times respectively, you make $459, because you were borrowed/downloaded a total of 153 times and 153 x $3 = $459 if my iPhone hasn’t had a stroke.

Authors have been complaining about there being a “cap on earnings” which some might take to mean that there is a limit to how much you can earn through selling your books on Amazon’s Kindle store because the money comes out of a shared, finite pot. But that’s not what’s happening. What they mean is that there is a cap on how much they can earn from having their books borrowed via the Kindle Owners Lending Library or downloaded via Kindle Unlimited, which is, of course, a different thing.

Because – presumably – more and more books will be added to the KOLL and KU list, and Prime and using KOLL will grow in popularity (it certainly will if they roll it out in more countries – hey! Hey! *WAVES FROM IRELAND*), customers will have more books to choose from and there’ll be more (times) borrowed/downloaded, but the fund might not grow at all. So you might still be borrowed/downloaded 153 times, but because there were 3,000,000 borrows/downloads overall, now your share is down to $1 per borrow/download – and because of all the increased competition, you had to work a hell of a lot harder to earn it than you did your $3 two paragraphs ago.

Or, to put it more simply: in the future, this situation may suck.

Please note: I’m not using the words compensated or downloads to make a political statement. I’m just using it to differentiate from getting paid for actual sales.


Okay. [drains cup of now cold espresso] After all that, are Amazon really paying authors per page read?

No. If you self-publish to Amazon KDP and someone buys your book, you get paid for that book regardless of whether or not they even glance at it on their device.


Remember those “times borrowed/downloaded” we were talking about above? Well, they only qualified as a time borrowed/downloaded if the borrower – the Amazon Prime or KU customer – read past 10%.

In other words, KOLL users and KU customers could do what we all do, which is download book after book to our Kindle and then never read past what amounts to the free sample that we should’ve really just read first, and Amazon – cleverly – didn’t think the authors of those books should get paid for that. (Personally, I agree. We don’t get paid when they download samples. Less than 10% of a book is a sample by another name.) But Amazon have decided to change this.

Now, authors will be compensated for the times their books are borrowed from the KOLL or downloaded via KU based on how many pages the customer then reads of their book. 

Instead of the “read past 10%” thing.

(And yes, before you ask, they’ve come up with a way to “normalize” the length of books to compensate for personal font size choices, etc.)

It will still be out of the aforementioned pot o’gold, or shared fund.

So I ask again: are Amazon really paying authors per page read?

If we are talking about self-published Kindle books that have been enrolled in KDP Select/have been made exclusive to Amazon’s Kindle store and are then either borrowed from the Kindle Owners Lending Library which is only open to Prime customers and/or Kindle books that are downloaded via the Kindle Unlimited subscription service that costs just under ten dollars a month then, yes, Amazon are paying authors by per page read.

But who’s going to click on that?

To reiterate: if I go onto the Kindle store now and buy your book and then never even download it, you will still get your 35 or 70% share of the retail price that I paid for it.

Therefore while “Amazon pays authors by page read” is technically an accurate statement, it is a fragment of a much longer statement that’s been taken out of context to make a prime cut of click bait.

Just Tell Me Why I Should Care – Or If I Should at all

Personally, I don’t really care. I see KOLL and KU compensation as an add-on to my royalties, not my bread and butter. (To be honest, I got more upset about misleading, click-baity headlines than I did about the changes to  KDP Select.) I don’t think it’s a bad thing, being compensated per page read. I’m essentially neutral about it.

The problem, I think, is the shared fund and its ever-decreasing share for you. But I’ve always had the same approach to problems with Amazon: like it or lump it, those are your options. You don’t have to self-publish through Amazon and fudge knows they don’t need us to self-publish through them. So you either play by their rules, or you don’t play at all. Or you play elsewhere. But I really don’t see the point in being annoyed about the terms of a thing that is entirely optional.

But anyway…

If all of this has any bearing on us self-published authors at all, it’s that we should be making every effort to make every single page as good as we can possibly make it, so that anyone who picks up – or clicks open – one of our books doesn’t even think about stopping before they reach THE END. 

But isn’t that what we should’ve been doing anyway?

What do you think of all this?

I know what I’m doing: getting back to Orange is the New Black… 

(Want more self-publishing talk? In Dublin this Saturday? I’ve got just the thing for you.)

5 Ways To Get a Book Deal: Guest Post by Sheena Lambert

This morning we have a guest post from Sheena Lambert, whose novel The Lake comes out today. (Woo-hoo!) Sheena self-published her first novel, A Gathering Storm (previously published as Alberta Clipper) and now this, her second, is one of the first six to be released by KillerReads, an imprint of Harper Collins. Before she started on the champagne for breakfast, Sheena shared her tips on how to get a book deal… 

“So you want a book deal? No problem! The following is a vaguely scientific way of achieving your goal. For the purposes of this post, I am going to assume that you have written a book worthy of publication; a rather weighty assumption, granted, but we have to start somewhere. This is not a how-to on writing a book; this is a how-to getting it onto bookshelves.

So, let’s get started. There are a number of ways of getting a book deal.

  1. Be famous. Yes, famous people get book deals all the time. It’s understandable – it’s a lot easier to market a famous person, and most of us want to read what famous people have to write. So, go and rob a bank, or have an affair with a politician, or become a politician (just for a while – you don’t have to stay that way), and I can almost guarantee that you will be offered a publishing deal for your book.
  2. Be a journalist first. It’s a lot easier to get noticed by the relevant people in publishing if you have a track-record in being paid for writing, and it’s a lot easier to get paid work in journalism than in books. Have you counted the number of debut authors who have day jobs with the Times newspapers? Exactly.
  3. Have a wild past, or make one up. No one is interested in reading a debut novel by Mary Smith who was born and has lived all her life in the same small town in the country. But MJ Smyth, an ex-nun and recovered heroin addict who spent his/her (no one is sure) thirties travelling through Siberia in atonement for past life indiscretions? I’d read me some of that.
  4. A good head of swishy hair. I don’t know why, just believe me that it will increase your chances of publication significantly.
  5. Self-publish first. Yes, fine, it might sound a little pedestrian when compared with options 1-4 above, but it’s a truth that is becoming increasingly apparent – successful self-publishing helps you noticed by the big boys.

The Lake - 3D

This is how I got my book deal. (Did I mention my novel The Lake has just been published by HarperCollins? Finish reading this, and I’ll show you where you can buy your very own copy.) I am neither famous, nor do I have a particularly notable past. My hair is unremarkable to say the least. I have written the odd journalistic piece in my time, but I would certainly not refer to myself as a journalist.

I did, however, self-publish my first novel. Not without a lot of help from Catherine Ryan Howard and her Self-Printed books [ed. note: Oh, stop! *blushes*], I self-published A Gathering Storm in 2012, both as an ebook and in paperback. The book got itself noticed by a major wholesaler in my home country of Ireland, which led to it being stocked and sold alongside traditionally published books in real, live bookshops. So when my second novel The Lake was ready to send out to agents and publishers, I had some credentials: I had a track record of selling and marketing books successfully, I had a following who were keen to read my next book, I had form.

Interestingly, the traditional publishing deal I got for The Lake was not so traditional – rather it came in the form of HarperCollins’s new digital first crime/thriller imprint KillerReads. Instead of arguing against the ebook revolution, HarperCollins have embraced this phenomenal phenomenon with their digital first imprints which publish the ebook, a little like the hardback of yore, as a forerunner to the paperback (my paperback is out on 4th June. Just saying). With a digital first imprint, the ebook is given all the pomp and circumstance it deserves, rather than being treated like the less-loved, problem child that has to be endured.

As a self-published author, the idea of putting emphasis on the ebook felt very comfortable for me, and I’m guessing HarperCollins KillerReads liked the fact that I had experience of digital publishing. No one successfully self-publishes without learning the social media ropes, and that experience was very useful when it came to working with the HarperCollins team in the run up to The Lake’s publication date.

So in the proverbial shell of the nut, self-publishing my first book helped me get an agent for my second, and a publishing deal followed. And I’m not the only writer this has happened to. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear about a self-published author landing a significant book deal with a publishing house. Rather than putting publishers off, having experience of self-publishing can make you and your book a very attractive gamble these days.

So what are you waiting for? Not a six figure deal from one of the Big Six (or is it Five these days?) I hope? Well, of course, that would be nice, but while you are waiting for that, invest in a copy of Catherine Ryan Howard’s Self-Printed [ed. note: I see what you did there…] and get yourself a head start in self-publishing.

Unless, of course, you have swishy hair, in which case sit tight. Those six figures will come to you.”

The Lake is available on for less than the price of the venti wet latte, extra hot please, that I’ll be having in a minute. It is also a great read. The first two chapters are available to read for free here, and you can follow Sheena on Twitter at @shewithonee.

I’m off to buy some volumizing shampoo. Thanks Sheena and congrats! x

Sheena Lambert, The Lake

More about The Lake:

September 1975.

A body is discovered in the receding waters of a manmade lake, and for Peggy Casey, 23-year-old landlady of The Angler’s Rest, nothing will ever be the same.

Detective Sergeant Frank Ryan is dispatched from Dublin, and his arrival casts an uneasy spotlight on the damaged history of the valley, and on the difficult relationships that bind Peggy and her three older siblings. Over the course of the weekend, Detective Ryan’s investigation will not only uncover the terrible truth behind the dead woman’s fate, but will also expose the Casey family’s deepest secrets.

Secrets never meant to be revealed.

Scenes from The Rewrite

As you may know, I’ve been rewriting my novel.

I started on the 11th January and I finished the main* part of the book at 1:17am this morning, after a thirteen hour writing stint that surely put me at risk for curvature of the spine, RSI and deep vein thrombosis.

This isn’t because my agent is some kind of task-master, but because this gap – from the first day I returned to university after Christmas and had handed in my Michaelmas term essays, to this coming Friday when my next two essays are assigned – was the only time I had. If the rewrite ran over, it would clash with my essay-writing. If it ran over again, it would clash with studying for and then taking my exams in May. The summer is reserved for (a) being horizontal, preferably in a sunny place with a view of a pool, a stack of the all the books I haven’t read since last summer within easy reach and (b) writing the first draft of another book. (Sweet baby Jesus.) So I had to put a lifetime’s habit of procrastination and deadline-avoiding to one side and just get on with it.

I’m writing a post for another website on how exactly I managed to do that, but since this blog is but a stretch of hot, black tarmac for some tumbleweeds to run across, I thought I’d share some scenes from The Rewrite this morning, just so you know moi’s little pink blog is still alive.

The Rewrite wasn’t supposed to be too structural, as in none of the major plot points needed fixing. This was more a case of deepening characterization (I LOVE plotting but sometimes I, ahem, forget to flesh out the people the stuff is happening to), ironing out a few rough edges and just making everything stronger and clearer and more convincing.

But you change one thing…

I wasn’t at the end of the second chapter and things were already getting twistier than a Curly-Wurly. So I turned to my forever friends, Post-Its. And then because I needed somewhere to stick them, I printed out charts, one for each act. And then I had to get a calendar so I could keep track of my progress, and then I had to make a calendar for the book so I could keep track of what happened when, and then I had to make a scene list because I wasn’t sure where the B story chapters were going to go and then I keeled over and wondered why my dream wasn’t just to see the Grand Canyon or something, you know, doable.

(Although that was one of my other dreams. And I did get to see the Grand Canyon.)

In the end though, I did it. I have to say that when you have a twisty, complicated plot, writing fast is a huge advantage. Whenever I was forced to take a couple of days’ break, it took me a while to get back up to speed with who was where and why and what was supposed to happen next and what thread I was supposed to be picking back up, but when I wrote everyday, all that stuff just stayed in my head. (Mostly. When it didn’t: Post-Its.)

Now I’m going to leave it for a few days before I do a typo-hunt and consistency check and also, because this book is a logistical nightmare, a list of who knows what when, so I can check I haven’t made any plotting decisions that could only be explained by coincidence, psychic abilities or Oceanic Flight 815.

Then I’m going to put on my PJs, order in and binge-watch the shite out of something.


(Until next week.)

*My book has a main, A story that takes up 80% of it. Two other characters have chapters that are interspersed throughout the main plot, which isn’t really a B story technically speaking but that’s just what I call it for ease. 

Fireworks Walt Disney World

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I wish you everything you wish for in 2015.

Today have posted a blog of mine, Finish Your Damn Book. It’s what I needed to read this time last year, so I’m sharing it with you now.

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Are you writing a book? Been meaning to start? Been “finishing” a novel, whatever that means, for longer that you’re comfortable admitting? Maybe you’re like Badger in Breaking Bad, well able to lead anyone who cares to listen through every plot point of your tale – a Star Trek spec script, in his case – only to end with “I gotta write it down, is all…” If so, then read on.

One afternoon in August 2008 a much anticipated e-mail landed in my inbox. I’d sold my laptop back in Orlando to fund my subsequent adventure in Central America, so I had to check it on the family PC, in full view of half of the family. It was from an assistant at a literary agency in London – let’s call her Helen – who had loved a travel memoir I’d sent her, Mousetrapped, and had pitched it enthusiastically to her boss. I double-clicked. I’m writing with some good and some bad news. Unfortunately we don’t feel there is enough of a market for us to be able to represent Mousetrapped … However we love your writing. What are you working on now? We would be really interested in reading it. Do you write fiction?

Fiction was all I really wanted to write – Mousetrapped has just been an accidental detour – and now here was an agent saying she wanted to read it! Fantastic! Now there was just the little matter of actually writing some…”

Click here to read the full post.

See you next year!