How To Get Published in Just 50 Easy Steps

(Did you miss me? After the craziness of the Distress Signals month-long blogging bonanza, I decided to give you all a month off from me. Well, a month and a bit. Also, since I last blogged WordPress have hidden the ‘justify paragraph’ button from me and it is driving. Me. CUCKOO. I can’t even look at this left-aligned. Oh my God. Deep breaths. Wait! Keyboard shortcuts! YES. Okay. It’s all okay. Everything’s going to be okay. Breathe… Okay. Anyway.)

As of February 1, this little blog is a staggering SEVEN years old. One of the first posts I published on here was a tongue-in-cheek How To Write A Novel in 37 Easy Steps. So, seven years and a bit on, and to break my post-blogging-bonanza fast, I’ve decided to update that – or rather, continue it.

How To Get Published in Just 50 Easy Steps! 

  1. Decide, aged 8, that you are going to be a novelist.
  2. Ask Santa for a typewriter.
  3. Ask your parents for an electronic typewriter.
  4. Ask your parents for a PC.
  5. Spend much of your late teens carrying the first three chapters of your first attempt at a novel, a Formula 1-themed thriller named Chequered Flag, around on a floppy disk. By ‘novel’ read ‘excuse to daydream about Jacques Villeneuve’s abs on the cover of Jacques Villeneuve: A Champion in Pictures’…
  6. Sorry, drifted off there.
  7. Avoid studying for your own Leaving Cert, i.e. the final exams in Irish school, by writing a funny but quite pointless YA novel about avoiding studying for the Leaving Cert. Submit it to a publisher whose office is 5 minutes’ drive from your house, because you think geographical proximity will help seal the deal.
  8. Get rejected.
  9. Tell your parents you need a laptop ‘for college’.
  10. Go to college.
  11. Drop out of college.
  12. Go to NYC for a week’s holiday and think this qualifies you to write from the POV of a NYPD detective. Submit your (god awful) attempt at a detective novel via post to a top London agent and get so swiftly rejected that SAE arrives back at your house before you do.
  13. Stop writing. Pretend that reading books about writing will move you closer to your published novelist dreams in the meantime.
  14. Quit your crappy job working in a greeting card store.
  15. Quit your pleasantly boring job working in an auctioneer’s office.
  16. Take a job in the Netherlands.
  17. Take a job in France.
  18. Take a job in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
  19. Buy John Mayer’s Continuum album and put ‘Stop This Train’ on repeat for 36 days. (This is KEY.)
  20. Go backpacking in Central America.
  21. Start writing a book about number 18 after you return home to Cork.
  22. Find an agent who is interested in said book but cannot represent you on the strength of it due to there being only about 23 people in the whole world who’d be interested in reading it and even less in buying it (probably).
  23. Tell agent you are already writing a novel. (This is a big fat LIE.)
  24. Decide you can’t write the novel because your soul-destroying job is slowly but surely sucking all the life force out of your blackening soul and if you don’t do something about it soon your heart will be an empty abyss of abandoned dreams, bitterness and contempt.
  25. Quit your job – in the middle of a devastating economic recession, for maximum dramatic effect.
  26. Put a MacBook on your credit card, because you simply cannot work under these conditions.
  27. Use your savings to relocate to an isolated and slightly scary holiday home by the sea (in winter, in Ireland) with two coffee machines and your new computer.
  28. Write a comic, corporate satire, chick-litty novel. Describe it The Devil Wears Prada meets Weightwatchers.
  29. Start submitting the novel to agents and editors.
  30. Buy John Mayer’s new Battle Studies album and put the song Assassins on repeat for thirteen days. (No, really. This is KEY.)
  31. Self-publish the Disney book, i.e. Mousetrapped.
  32. Read an article about cruise ship disappearances in a magazine that someone left behind them in a café that your mum was in shortly before she picked it up and brought it home.
  33. Write a book about number 20.
  34. Self-publish that book, i.e. Backpacked.
  35. Get a meeting at a Major Publishing House by way of your friend Vanessa. The MPH don’t like the Weightwatchers Prada book, but they do like your writing. Tell them you’ll write something else.
  36. Writing something else (well, a synopsis and three chapters of it) and send it to the MPH.
  37. Writing something else else (well, a synopsis and three chapters of it) and send it to the MPH.
  38. Write something else else else (well, a synopsis and three chapters of it) and sent it to the MPH.
  39. Go for a meeting at the MPH and get offered freelance work using social media to promote their commercial fiction titles instead. Be very excited about this.
  40. Get an idea for a thriller from number 32. Write 30,000 words of it.
  41. Stop.
  42. Buy John Mayer’s Born and Raised and put the title track on repeat for the entire month of May.
  43. Let a year pass.
  44. Struggle to find anything to play on repeat on Mayer’s Paradise Valley. *tear*
  45. Decide to apply to return to university as a mature student to student English Literature.
  46. Panic when you actually get in, as this necessitates a move to Dublin. Use the panic to push past the 30,000 barrier and finish the thriller. Call it Dark Waters. Start submitting it to agents.
  47. Go to college. Stay this time. Use this as a distraction from the UTTER DEVASTATION OF REJECTION.
  48. Unexpectedly get offer of representation from dream agent while sitting in a coffee-shop near college waiting for your American Genres lecture and looking out at grey and gloomy rain. (Hooray!)
  49. Work with agent’s amazing in-house editor to write a second draft of the thriller. Change the name to Adrift.
  50. Get a 2-book deal. (Bigger hooray!) Change book’s name to Distress Signals. Start buying everything you see with an anchor on it and planning your book launch like it’s your wedding.

If you want to read Distress Signals, check it out here for Ireland/UK and here for the USA. Also if you’re in Dublin this Saturday, I’m chairing a panel on self-publishing at the Irish Writers’ Centre Women Aloud NI IWD event. Get more info on that here.

Also, on a more serious note, there’s an update on the Irish resident accused of murdering his wife on the MSC Magnifica. In a line that could’ve come from Distress Signals, his lawyer has said to reporters, ‘If this was murder, where is the body? Where are the witnesses?’ (There are neither because, of course, this is a cruise ship.) A working theory is that he allegedly stuffed her body into a suitcase and threw it from the balcony of their Deck 11 cabin. You can read more about this terrible case here.

Next time on Catherine’s blog: the Great Desk Redesign of 2017! It involves an actual pink typewriter. AN ACTUAL ONE. 

How Do You Write A Book?

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 Thursday (February 2) and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. 

So Distress Signals is out and Book 2 is almost there. Although writing them were two very different experiences, without setting out to do it, I wrote both of them pretty much the same way (albeit in very different periods of time):

  1. Initial idea. Fun fact: both thrillers were sparked by magazine articles, although in very different ways. Percolation ensued, i.e. I didn’t immediately sit down and start writing.
  2. Post-It Plotting Party. I get a pen and a stack of Post-Its and I write down every idea I have about the book. This could be something big, like what it’s actually about, or something as small as a sentence a character may utter at some point. Then I take a chart of some kind – calendars are my new thing – and I arrange all these Post-Its on it in the order in which I think these events might appear in the book. This gives me some signposts to help lead the way.
  3. Vomit draft. A draft that doesn’t even deserve to be called the first one. A free-wheeling experiment. No editing as you go, no reading back if you can. This is where I figure out 70% of what happens in the book – the ideas come while I work through it. This is why Book 2 turned into a bit of a stressfest: because, drowning in self-doubt and distracted (oooh, shiny book launch stuff!), I pathologically procrastinated and didn’t leave myself enough time to do a truly vomit-y vomit draft. I had to go straight into a first draft, which proved to be a pressure cooker because I had to figure out if I could tell this story and how to tell it at the same time. Never again. Lesson learned.
  4. First draft. I give the book the break and then I go and re-do step 2. Except now that I have a vomit draft behind me, I know enough to plot out the whole book in more detail before I type ‘Chapter One’. This makes writing a first draft – the first one that could be read by someone else as a coherent book, realistically – much easier than writing the vomit one. Once this is done, my agent and editor come in and we start the editing process.

Here’s the thing though: there is no right way to write a book. And I’m eternally fascinated by how other people do it, because I’m always looking for a better way (and a magic pen). So tell me: how do YOU write a book? Let me know in the comments below – and don’t be shy!

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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!

 

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!

My Top 11 ‘How To Write Books’ Books

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 – phew! – means a tiny post. (I’m back at college as of this morning so this is really good timing.) I thought I’d use it to share my favourite ‘how to write books’ books with you, and ask you if there’s any good ones I’ve missed off the list that I need to check out.

I love these kinds of books – or, to be more specific, I love two kinds of these books. The first is the therapy kind, the books that reach down to you in the depths of self-doubt and say, ‘It’s okay. All writers feel this way. It’s normal’ and then pull you back up. I still remember the day that – in a public place – I opened Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers and started reading. Within a few paragraphs, I felt like bursting into tears. It was as if she’d climbed inside my head, had a peek at my innermost (writing-related) thoughts and then typed them up and sent them into her editor. She knew writers and, as she pulled me up out of the self-doubt, I was more convinced than ever that I was supposed to be one.

The other kind I love are the instructional kind – but with caveats. I’m not into creative writing guides that tell you how to come up with everything from a killer title to identikit characters. I feel like ideas are the very least a writer should have. And although I think you can learn to write better, I’m not in the school that thinks you can learn to write. But… I am obsessed with the architecture of plot, the mechanics of good storytelling, etc. and so I love reading books about that – because that’s something I think a writer can learn to do better. Then there’s the books written either by bestselling authors or by other titans of the industry that are full of the kind of useful information you need after you’ve written THE END.

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So here are my picks (from the bottom up and only in the order that I happened to stack them in):

  1. Save the Cat! by Blake by Blake Snyder
  2. How To Get Published and Make a Lot of Money by Susan Page
  3. How Not To Write A Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman
  4. The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Learner
  5. Into the Woods by John Yorke
  6. Bird by Bird by Annie Lamott
  7. Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
  8. From Pitch to Publication by Carole Blake
  9. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
  10. How Fiction Works by James Wood
  11. On Writing by Stephen King

(1) THE book on plotting if you write commercial fiction, me thinks.  (2) Don’t be put off by the title. Although this book is quite dated these days, it still contains the best information I’ve come across for putting together a proposal for a non-fiction book. (3) Possibly one of the most entertaining books ever. (4,5,6) Why are these all named after nature?! (7) Yes, that is her real name. (8) When Carole Blake very sadly passed away recently, the best anecdote I heard was that she was told to cut down the chapter in this about books going to auction, and was shocked to learn that most books don’t get sold that way! Brilliant. (9) About being creative in general and with probably a couple of bits that will grate, but well worth a read. (10) Because it doesn’t hurt to know… and (11) Is there anyone left who hasn’t read this? It’s like the How To Write Books Books Gateway Drug.

Have you read any/all of these? Have you read any other good ones that I’ve missed? Thoughts? Criticisms? Comments about how you don’t remember subscribing to receiving these posts by email (even though you definitely did because I have never signed up anyone up on the sly and also that’s not possible because it’s a two-step process that involves you clicking confirm in an e-mail sent to your address and hey, it’s okay if you want to break up, but you have to do unsubscribe yourself because I can’t do it for you)? I’ll take them all! Keep scrolling and type away. (Translation: do leave a comment.)

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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!

Fireworks Walt Disney World

Writing Goals: Should We All Just Shut The Hell Up?

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 is 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. 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!

So, Monday! The schedule says ‘A very long blog post’. Let’s see how that goes… 

This morning – it’s Sunday, I’ve brought the laptop into bed and I am armed with a vat of freshly brewed coffee – I planned on writing a year-in-review style blog post, one that looked back over the year I finally, after years and years and years of dreaming about it, got published. Except it would have a twist: instead of rehashing all the stuff you know about already (my book launch, the Irish Book Awards, etc.), I’d write about the quieter moments, the ones you don’t know about, like the simple tweet from a random reader that reduced me to tears it made me feel so good, or the Book Awards moment that had nothing to do with the ceremony itself where I was… Actually, come to think of it, a lot of these quieter moments involved tears. But anyway.

I’m not writing that post now. I’ll write that one for Wednesday instead. This morning, I want to blog about not blogging. To share some thoughts on not sharing. To wonder whether or not, when it comes to our writing, we should all just shut the f–k up.

Stay with me here.

I started off half an hour ago typing “A Look Back at 2016, The Year I Got Published” into the title box. I thought about how this blog was born at the beginning of 2010, and how many Januarys I sat down to write a New Year blog post, and how this was the first year I was finally able to say that the one thing I’ve wanted to happen in my life, my dream since I was eight years old, actually happened.

And I wondered what I had said all those other years.

So I went and had a quick look.

I could make a big long list of all the things I want to happen in 2011, all my goals and resolutions and dreams and plans and intentions, but really they all rest on just one thing: I want to get a novel published. It may seem naive to think that this will happen to me, what with the awful odds, etc., but what’s the point of even trying if you don’t believe that you can? You have to believe that you can do it. You have to have confidence in yourself, without being a crazy X-Factor auditionee.

from Happy New Year: What Do You Want to Happen in 2011?, January 2011

Forget, for a minute, the submissions and the query letters and the manuscript formatting and the e-books and the author platforms and the workshops and the word counts and the beta readers and the advances and what the Randy Penguin merger will mean for your writing dreams and your favourite authors. FORGET ALL THAT FOR A SECOND. Or try to. And think instead of what this about, what this is really about, why we want to be writers and entertain readers and see our names on the spines of books. It’s because we want to tell stories. And that, more than anything, is what I’m going to try to keep in mind this year.

from Plans and Goals and Stuff, January 2013

I read Commander Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth just after Christmas, and Hadfield’s take on chasing dreams is wonderful: if you take pride in the every day work you do towards them, if you do everything within your control that will get you closer to your goals on a daily basis and you take pleasure and pride in that effort, you will be happy — even if the dream or goal never materializes, or doesn’t for a long time… [Hadfield] did everything he could to prepare for the opportunity to fly in space should it arise, and enjoyed every minute of it. Then, when his dream did come true, it wasn’t a relief but a bonus.

from A New Year, A New Routine (Or, The Problem With Goals), January 2014

Now, at first glance, you might think to yourself, Catherine gives good January. But I’ve pulled the good bits. These posts – and countless other ones in the archives just like them – are filled with me saying I’m going to work harder. I’m going to get up early. I’m going to write every day. I’m going to do x, y and z to finish project a, b and c and I’m going to do it by this date. I go on and on and on about all the things I’m going to write, how I’m going to write them and when I’m going to write them by, and this is a on-going theme all throughout the SEVEN years thus far of this blog.

But I never ended up doing any of things I swore I was going to do.

Yes, I finished a novel, but the time it took me to write it was 5% actual writing time and 95% moaning about how I should be writing. What if I had just stayed quiet? What if I’d just put my head down and got to writing? Did a constant reaffirming of my goals – on this blog, in various diaries, to my writing friends – get me anywhere, or did it just waste more time?

The hardest working writer I know never talks about her plans in advance. She just does it, emerging every few months to have a coffee with me and tell me what project she’s just finished. Another writing friend who is easily producing a book a year is the same. Both of them also have blogs, but their blogs aren’t a wasteland of ‘New Year, New Me, New Goals’ style posts. I, meanwhile, talk all the time about my To Do list, and yet Book 2 took so much longer to get out of my head than I thought it would. Am I talking too much? Talking about writing doesn’t get any writing done, but we do it because it’s so much easier than writing and it feels like it helps. But does it? Should we all just shut the fudge up and get back to writing?

There is another side to this, and it’s that I genuinely feel that when I read about other people’s writing goals/plans/strategies, it actually does help me. I mean, who hasn’t re-read Stephen King’s On Writing every now and then just for a shot of motivation?  I find Rachel Aaron’s From 2k to 10k (just 99p on Kindle) to be the ultimate commercial fiction writer’s pep talk. This post by Chuck Wendig, Here’s How To Finish That F**king Book, You Monster grabbed me by the shoulders and shook some much-needed sense into me this past week. (Thanks Hazel!)

I guess the difference is between writing blog posts about writing – after the writing is done – and announcing to the world what word count I hope to be at in six months’ time because I think that will bring some accountability and therefore help me get it done. The first one is good, the second one bad. Because it doesn’t help. And therefore writing that – when you could’ve been adding words to your novel – is a waste of time.

As I read over all my previous New Year posts, what I mostly felt was angry. Angry at Past Catherine – at 2012 Catherine, at 2013 Catherine, etc. – for not doing what she said she was going to do. And I felt like if maybe she had spent a little less time blogging about goals, new routines, To Do lists, etc. she might have achieved a bit more, and achieved it a lot quicker. This isn’t me being hard on myself, by the way, but realistic. I could’ve had three novels written in the last three years if I’d put my mind to it. (I know this because in the summer, I wrote three 2,500-word academic essays in almost exactly 24 hours, stopping only for an hour-long nap, and I got good marks on all of them. I can be a writing machine when I need to be, so long as there’s coffee around and horrible consequences breathing down my neck.)

Let’s be clear: I’m not talking about not blogging. I’ll never stop doing that, because I love it and might go insane without it. I’m talking specifically about not writing posts like this and then going off to watch The OA on Netflix, twice. (Because the truth is, that new routine I implemented? It lasted maybe three weeks.)

I guess what all of this is leading to is some advice from me: log-off, do the work, then come back online and tell us how you did it. NaNaWriMo aside, it’s probably best to write your book in private.

Does that make sense? (I have only had one coffee.) What do you think? How do you treat your writing goals on your blog, if you blog? (Or on Twitter, Facebook, over coffee with writing friends, etc.) Let me know in the comments below…

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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Your 732nd 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.

Sunday Morning Coffee Reads

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 is 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… BUT as this really only started on Thursday, this is going to more of the links and less of the digest.

What You Might Have Missed

My 28-day blogging bonanza started on Thursday with a replay of an old post: Being On Submission Syndrome and, if you were following me on Twitter, me running all over Dublin town looking for my own book on the shelf. Then on Friday, a momentous occasion: my first ever (and possibly last ever) video blog. On Saturdays I’ve promised to point you in the direction I something I wrote elsewhere, and yesterday I sent you to Writing.ie to read what I wrote about setting yourself a big writing deadline in 2017.

Sunday Links

Assuming you’re settled on the sofa this Sunday morning with a big cup of coffee, here are some things I’ve come across that I think you might be interested in…

(Two of those I discovered only because of Iain Broome’s Shelflife, a newsletter I highly recommend you subscribe to.)

When Google Reader was still a thing, I read ALL the blogs. Okay, not all of them, but a huge amount. Then for some insane reason Google terminated GR, I just never got into Feedly or discovered any other blog reader that I was as comfortable with. These days, I do still read blogs, but it’s mostly because I see an interesting link on Twitter and follow it. So, tell me, what blogs do you really like to read? Please, DON’T say your own – I’m looking for actual recommendations here, not clearing some space so you can advertise in it (and I will delete any self-promo). If you don’t have a favourite blog, perhaps you’ve read a really good blog post recently and you can point us all in the direction of it? Let us know in the comments below…

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Your 54th 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.