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. 

Introducing… MOUSETRAPPED as a POD Hardcover! And You Can WIN Stuff! More Exclamation Marks!

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It’s March 29th 2013, which means that I self-published Mousetrapped exactly three years ago today.

Three years. Three of them! Can you believe it? I know I certainly can’t.

To mark the occasion, I decided to quit slacking and do something I’ve been thinking about doing for ages: I made a POD hardcover edition of Mousetrapped with Lulu. 

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It’s bringing sexy(hard)back. 

Before we go any further, it should be noted that this making-a-POD-hardcover thing should be filed under Things We Do Just For Fun. It’s not a very good business decision. The hardcover edition is expensive to purchase ($33), and I’d say I could count on my hands the number of readers who’d consider buying it. But that’s okay, because I’ve done this primarily for me.

I wanted to see it in hardcover. And I knew as soon as I opened the Lulu box and saw it that it was totally worth doing.

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But this isn’t just the paperback edition with a hardcover. Oh, no. The paperback is 5.5 x 8.5, for starters, so I had to redo the interior to make it fit its new 6 x 9 size. I also had to get Andrew Brown, my cover designer, to make the original cover fit into the dimensions of a 6×9 dust-jacket, with the new addition of inside and back flaps. (A difficult job considering Lulu does NOT provide the same in-depth info CreateSpace does when it comes to making your own cover.) Hardcovers generally have the blurb inside, on the flaps, so the back cover had to be changed too. As you can see above, I stripped everything off it except for the background image. Continue reading

Plans and Goals and Stuff

Happy New Year!

I love fireworks, and here is a video of my favorite fireworks of all, Wishes at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Honestly, nothing can instantly improve my mood like watching this video. Because I recorded it, you can also hear me giggling with pure delight from time to time, and the crowd around me oohing and aahing. (And also cheering because they think it’s over, when it’s not even properly started yet.) The whole thing is about 12 minutes long, so if you just want to skip to the finale, go to 10:45.

So I thought I’d use this, my first post of the New Year, to tell you about what I intend to do with this blog and my whole self-publishing misadventures for the next twelve months, and then you can use the comments section to tell me what you think.

Blogging Bits

1. Write one blog post a week

At the end of every year I use Lulu to make a little hardback book of my blog posts just for me to keep and hopefully look back on sometime in the future with a warm, fuzzy feeling (as opposed to embarrassment and regret), and a by-product of this is I get to see how many words I’ve blogged in the last twelve months. I haven’t done 2012’s book yet, but I know it won’t be anywhere near as thick as 2010’s or 2011’s. I was a lazy blogger. (This wouldn’t be so bad if I wasn’t also a somewhat lazy writer, but we’ll come back to that in a sec.) So in 2013, I plan to write one blog post a week, except for the weeks when I’m traveling.

Or busy.

Or catching up on The Walking Dead.

2. Start a Sunday morning coffee break link fest

As my Twitter followers will have copped by now, I use my favorite social media-related app ever, Buffer, to tweet interesting links when I’m otherwise engaged, not writing and/or watching The Walking Dead. (While we’re on the subject, I’ve “gone awesome” on Buffer, paying $10 a month for unlimited buffered tweets and multiple accounts, and it is so totally worth it.) But there’s an awful lot of interesting stuff out there, and so I have to have some kind of system or I’d waste (more?) hours reading every interesting blog post or article that comes my way. So what I tend to do is check Twitter a few times a day—in the morning while I’m waiting for the kettle, while watching TV, etc.—and I mark anything interesting as a favorite. I also “star” items on my Google Reader and if all else fails, e-mail a link to myself. Then on a Sunday morning I go through everything I’ve marked for the week and read it, buffering what I think other people should read too, while drinking lots of coffee. It’s like my version of the Sunday papers.

But over the course of 7 days it’s a lot of reading, and some things are more interesting than others. So I’ve decided that in 2013, I’m going to post my favorite links of the past week—found in the past week, not necessarily posted—on a Sunday morning, so we both have something to read with our coffee.

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Come on, new Scrabble mug. LET’S DO THIS THING.

3. Find the fun again

Blogging about self-publishing and I nearly broke up in 2012. Honestly, I just got so fed up with it. The whole “Why I Unpublished My Novel” post was a low point. I made a business decision—not to waste time on a product that wasn’t selling—and was accused of being shallow or all about the money. Dark corners of the internet told me I wasn’t “cut out” for self-publishing, without knowing a single other thing about me other than that post. I make part of my living from delivering workshops on the subject, and I started imaging scenarios where the organizers would ring up and say, “Nah, Catherine. Forget it. This anonymous person on the internet who hasn’t as much as published a Post-It says you’re not cut out for this, so…” And what’s funny is when self-publishers make bad decisions that are detrimental to the bottom line, they’re accused of being silly romantics who don’t understand that publishing is a business. (?!?!?!?!?!?!) I just felt like I couldn’t win, and I definitely wasn’t having fun.

If I’m doing something in life that isn’t fun, I stop doing it. That’s my rule, credit card bills permitting. So I either had to rekindle my blogging fun, or put an end to it. What had made it fun in the beginning? Figuring out how to do this self-publishing thing, having the proof copy arrive or seeing an Amazon listing of mine for the first time (the night Mousetrapped went live, I stared at it for nearly an hour) and getting messages and comments from other self-publishers saying I saved them time or a migraine. So this year, this pink blog is going back to being about me, to my experiences with self-publishing. There’ll be no commentary on the Us Vs Them debate, analogies involving the Irish potato famine or calls to action. There never was, really, but I felt I might have been creeping towards that place, or that people were expecting me to. So, no. It stops. The blogger who wrote this post is back.

Self-Printing Plans

4. Mousetrapped in hardback

I’m struggling to believe this, but on March 29th Mousetrapped will be out three years. THREE YEARS. What the…? Seriously, where does the time go? Since Mousetrapped basically changed my life, I feel it deserves a little celebration to mark its anniversary, so I’m investigating releasing in hardback via Lulu, perhaps with a new introduction. It will really be for me more than anyone, but I think it’ll be an interesting experiment—and make for good blog fodder. If it goes well, Backpacked might get the same treatment on its two-year anniversary in September.

5. Travelled in bits

As I detailed in this post, my next self-published travel book, um, Travelled, will be released in four parts over the next twelve months: 3 e-book only installments of 3-4 essays a few months apart, and then the completed book in both e-book and paperback just before Christmas.

6. Operation Full Distribution

I’ll be blogging more about this in the coming weeks, but in 2013 I’m taking some of my eggs out of Amazon’s basket and going for full distribution (Amazon, Smashwords, my own website, anywhere else that’ll have me) with all my books. It was this post that really got me thinking and when Smashwords announced that they were starting to accept ePub files, well, logic prevailed. The fact that Amazon.co.uk spent Christmas dumping 20p traditionally published books into Kindle owners’ hands didn’t exactly warm my heart towards them either. (You might not see the 12 Days of Kindle page on Amazon if you click that link; it depends on where you are in the world/whether or not you’re signed in.)

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I picked the Erin Condren Life Planner with the most suitable quote. (I hope!)

7. On the road

I’m a very busy girl in 2013. Workshops and speaking gigs in London, Dublin, Waterford, Chipping Norton and London again, it looks like. Last night I was planning a trip in February that will have me on four different flights and staying in four different hotels in eight days. (And I can’t wait for it. Think of my travel document wallet!) You can find out more about all that in this post.

Writing Goals

8. Writers write, don’t they?

2012 was a shameful word count for me. SHAMEFUL, I tell you. If that whole 10,000 hours before success thing holds true, I should be getting published…. hmm, sometime in December 2067. And writers are supposed to write. Talking about it doesn’t count at all, and thinking about only counts a little. (Also not counting: perfect notebook hunting, file re-arranging, index card coloring, how-to book reading, plot planning, etc. etc.) On St. Stephen’s Day—what we Irish call The Day After Christmas Day—I saw Joanna Penn tweet about Rachel Aaron’s book 2k to 10k, so I downloaded it (yes, I read e-books now), read it and then felt something stir deep down inside…. is that…?… do you think it could be…?…that feels like… well, hello there MOTIVATION! Can you even imagine a world where you’re writing 10k words a day? What would that world look like? I think it’d be like the Gumdrop Forest in Elf, but that’s just me…

So I will be writing a lot and, as per Aaron’s advice, keeping track of what I write and how long it takes me to write it. (Blog posts, too. I’ve been at this for about an hour now and I’m up to 1,391 words.) There will be a spreadsheet. There will also be a year planner above my desk, with red marks (a la Don’t Break the Chain) on the days I’ve written, and nothing but white space FILLED WITH GUILT on the days I don’t.

For the record, in the next twelve months I want to:

  • Write a blog post most weeks (approx 60k words, let’s just say)
  • Finish My Current Novel Project, proper draft (totaling 100k)
  • Write A Second Novel, rough draft (100k)
  • Write Travelled, for publication (60-70k)
  • Write a new introduction to Mousetrapped, for publication (2k)
  • Write a new non-fiction project that I’m thinking about, rough draft + proposal (70-80k).

And sleep and eat and travel and finally watch The Killing, of course.

Come to think of it, when’s Dexter back on FX?

9. Writers read, don’t they?

In 2012 I did the Goodreads Reading Challenge, and managed 48 books out of my goal of 52. This year I plan for the same—52 books—but I want to be more organized about my reading, now that a Kindle is involved. I also need to sort out the two Amazon wish lists I’ve had going for years (one on Amazon.com and one on Amazon.co.uk, totaling about 1,500 books) and decide what I’m going to buy in Proper Book and what I’m just going to read in Pretend Book. We’ll see how that goes.

10. Remember why we’re doing this writing malarkey in the first place

My best friend lives in New Zealand and after her recent visit home, we decided to get back into letter writing. She’s not big on e-mail or Facebook (I know—how are we friends?! The answer is, we met when we were 13!) and so we used to send actual hand-written letters, but we hadn’t been too good at it of late. So when I was in London shortly before she came back, I went to Paperchase on Totterham Court Road and bought us both ample supplies of pretty letter writing things, and we’ve got back into it. When I was in Nice I sent her a letter in which I described my novel-writing anxiety… and then went on to talk myself down off the ledge I’d climbed up on. And I did it by telling her the story of why I want to do this whole novel-writing thing in the first place.

In Ireland, you start school around age five, in what we call “Junior Infants.” (Cute, I know.) When I was in Junior Infants, my teacher—who may or may not have been called Ms. O’Sullivan—would sit up on her desk at the top of the class with her legs on a chair and read to us, holding the book open so we could see the pictures. When I’d get home in the afternoons, I’d line up all my Barbies and teddy-bears and basically anything with a face, on my bed, all in rows and all facing front, climb up on my dressing table with my short little legs swinging above a chair, and “read” to the assembled toys, holding a book open so they could see the pictures (which I totally believed they could, because I was convinced toys had a secret life we didn’t know about, which Pixar have since confirmed). But I couldn’t read yet, so I had to make the stories up as I went along. And that’s how I started telling stories.

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Me, Christmas morning, age 7/1989 (I think).

Which is what this is all about. 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 the twenty-year-old with a seven-book deal and how the latest ghost-written pile of celebrity crap sets your teeth on edge 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 and keep in mind this year.

But seriously—does anyone know when Dexter is back on FX?

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Could Your Self-Published Book Pass THIS Test?

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Once upon a time, Mousetrapped was 400 sheets of double-spaced text resting in a Muji kraft box under my bed and its destiny was to remain there forever. I had no intention of self-publishing it, not least of all because I figured self-publishing was for delusional losers who despite being rejected by one literary agent and five publishing houses just couldn’t take a hint.* But then a friend sent me a link to Lulu, which led me to CreateSpace, which started the wheels in my rejection-filled head turning…

The book that started it all…

Soon, the decision was made. I’d self-publish using the cheapest and easiest form of Print on Demand, or POD. I’d already checked the manuscript a few times during my agent/publisher hunt, so I was pretty confident it was mistake-free. All I had to do was re-format it and convert the Word document into a PDF. I could throw together some kind of cover using the software provided by CreateSpace and then point people in the direction of its Amazon listing. The whole thing might take a Saturday, a weekend at the most.

Right?

Um, no. Not even close.

In fact, the process took three more months. During this time, I worked with an editor on the manuscript itself. She pointed out spelling mistakes, grammar abuse, confused thoughts, contradictions and a vast collection of inconsistencies. (Like e-mail and email, for example.) We even re-wrote some parts. Each time a round of corrections was finished, she’d give me the manuscript to check again, and then she’d check my checking. We passed it back and forth maybe four or five times. Meanwhile I was also working with a designer on my cover. I’d made a mock-up of what I wanted, and he made it happen with some vast improvements.  I emailed a few writerly friends for their advice on the blurb and we went back and forth over the many versions and when that was settled, there were a few more rounds on the cover design as things like text, placement of text and the exact amount of blue sky above the palm trees was decided. Even when all this work was done, the proof copy itself had to be worked through—another three full days of work before I could click ‘Publish’ and release Mousetrapped into the world.

So what changed in between? How did I go from thinking it would take a weekend to taking this self-publishing thing somewhat seriously?

The answer is I happened upon Jane Smith’s site, The Self-Publishing Review, and started reading.

The idea of the SPR is simple. As Jane explains:

“Here are the rules. You send me a copy of your self-published book, and I’ll read it. If I like it I’ll review it here, and will be generous with my praise. What’s the catch? I’m an editor, and expect published books to be polished. I’m going to count all the errors I find in spelling, punctuation and grammar and when I reach fifteen I’m going to stop reading. I’ll work my way through up to five pages of boring prose or bad writing before I give up. And I’ll list on this blog every single book I’m sent, including the books I’ve not completed, along with how far I got through each one.”

This is not your best friend who thinks anything you do is amazing. It’s not that relative of yours who doesn’t read anything but magazines, and therefore thinks the application of any words to paper is nothing short of magical. It isn’t your loyal blog subscribers or Twitter followers supporting you with five star Amazon reviews. It’s not the opinion of one of your fellow self-published authors who hopes you’ll return the favor (and if not you, karma), and it’s certainly not a group of self-publishing evangelists who feed into their own delusion with suspiciously glowing reviews on such a scale that their site should really be called AdventuresinBack-Scratching.com. This is a brutally honest, unbiased review—maybe your only chance of one. Better yet, Jane doesn’t compare your book to other self-published books. She compares them to all books.

It seems crazy now, but initially I wasn’t too fussed about Mousetrapped‘s perfection. I said things like, So what if the cover’s a bit blurry? What do they expect? and, People probably won’t even notice spelling mistakes and even if they do, then so what? Then I started to read through the reviews on SPR and realized that I was digging my own self-published grave with that attitude. Instead, I went through each review and made notes. What mistakes were being made over and over again? What could I look out for in my own text? Where’s the nearest copyeditor?

When I thought about sending my finished book to Jane for review, I began to feel a bit sick. But Jane was representative of all my potential readers. Shouldn’t my goal be to deliver as close to a perfect book as I could? And so I worked at it, with it and on it until I felt confident it was pass Jane’s test, or at the very least do so without too much ego-blasting criticism. My ultimate goal was to get her to read it all and to recommend it, two things I had rarely seen her do on the site. If she had some bad things to say about it, so be it. Chances are she would—it was my belief back then and I believe it even more so today that it is almost impossible for a self-publisher to fully recreate the rounds and rounds of preparation that a book would go through at a major publishing house. But as long as she read the whole thing and thought it was useful for something other than being a coaster under a hot coffee cup, then I’d be happy.

Last week Jane published her review of my book. She had some criticisms, some I didn’t agree with (for instance, my actions while in Orlando—the fact that I didn’t prepare is what the book is about) and some I did (um, all the other ones…!) She also really got my wheels turning on her point about the back cover blurb, which since it practically lifts lines from the first chapter, feels repetitive to the reader. I think I’m going to write me a new one.

Now, some of you may think I’m ten shades of crazy to be drawing your attention to a review by an expert that says my book has problems**, but I’m doing it because I want all you “I can’t afford an editor” types to consider this: Mousetrapped was professionally copyedited. And before that, it had more than a year’s worth of feedback from an agent. And before that, I rewrote it I think at least three times. But I “couldn’t afford” a structural edit, which would have caught many of the problems Jane flagged, the problems I see now when I read over it two years later. And I “couldn’t afford” a proofread, which would have ensured that any changes made during the copyedit hadn’t left inconsistencies or other mistakes. So what state would the book be in if I hadn’t done anything at all? What state will your book be in if you don’t do anything at all?

If you are thinking of self-publishing or in the midst of it, I implore you to go read through all the reviews on SPR. Make a list of the criticisms that keep popping up again and again. Write them on a piece of paper in block capitals, laminate it and stick it behind your desk. Commit to not making any of them.

Click here to visit the Self-Publishing Review.

*I don’t want to encourage the self-publication of bad books, so I feel I should add this: yes, Mousetrapped was rejected by those people, but all their responses were the same. They thought the book was enjoyable and well-written, but they felt its potential readership was too small to warrant publication which, after all, is a business at the end of the day. While this sucked, it made Mousetrapped an ideal candidate for selfpublication. If any or all of them had said, ‘This just isn’t good enough,’ I wouldn’t have done it.

**I think my book has problems too. As I said on a comment on Jane’s review, if I were reviewing it myself, I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars, maybe 3.5 or even 4 if the topics covered in it were things I was fascinated by AND I really clicked with the author’s voice. Mousetrapped has 42 reviews on Amazon.com and an overall average of 4 out of 5 stars, which I think is great, but I think it only gets 5 stars whenever a reader really “clicks” with the book and not because it’s perfect or exceptional. And these people have read it—I know potential readers have been turned off by the overly long first chapter (I’ve seen comments about it on Twitter, etc.) But the beauty of self-publishing is that if I want to do something about that, I can. 

Sidenote: in this post I’ve touched on two things that I’m going to be blogging about in the near future: how a self-publisher can re-create what happens at a publishing house and the difference between a book being a well-crafted piece of Booker-esque literature and it having appeal. So, stand by for more on that.

REPLAY 2011: Why I Might Stop Self-Publishing Paperbacks

Between now and the end of the year I’m going to be using Tuesdays and Thursdays to replay some popular posts from 2011, in case some of the people who’ve discovered my blog in the meantime missed it first time round. Think of it as a “year in review” kind of thing. (Or a “I’m trying to finish the first draft of a new book and so I don’t have time to write five new blog posts a week” kind of thing…) This post proved very popular when I first published it back in October, although I think some of the comment-leavers at the time didn’t quite get what I was getting it.

This is not a post about problems I have that I’m trying to solve; I’m not looking for solutions or suggestions on how I can overcome these problems. I’m saying I see a day when I won’t self-publish paperbacks at all, just e-books, that day is coming soon, and I’m fine with that. This isn’t something that makes me sad; it’s something I look forward to, because it’ll be less work and the majority of my sales are in e-book anyway. Will I keep buying and reading paperbacks almost exclusively? Yes. Do I hope that by the time this no-self-published-paperback day comes, I’ll have traditionally published paperbacks on the shelves of some stores? Um, yes. Obviously! But even if that’s not the case, I won’t be giving myself headaches trying to make and sell paperbacks myself.

September was a pretty hectic month at Catherine Self-Publishing HQ. Although I’d set the (purely decorative) release date for Backpacked as September 5th and the release date for Results Not Typical as October 1st, my cunning plan was to get them both out at the start of September, say nothing and then just shine a bright light in their direction whenever their turn came. That way I would be free, theoretically-speaking, to concentrate on writing The New Novel by the end of last month. But self-publishing two books simultaneously had an unexpected side-effect: it showed me – for the first time, really – what a pain in the arse self-publishing can be. Or more accurately, it showed me what a pain in the arse self-publishing is when you self-publish a paperback.

Self-publishing was to me, right from the start, mostly about producing a physical book. At the very beginning, it was only about that. Because that’s what a book was back then. (Ah, back then. Do you even remember November 2009? The Kindle still looked like something Fisher Price made and Hocking hadn’t even self-published.)  I discovered Smashwords while twiddling my online thumbs in the week it took for my CreateSpace proof copy to arrive; when I initially made the decision to self-publish, e-books weren’t even on my radar. When they showed up, they were only ever supposed to be a bonus. Now I’ve sold almost 9,500 books and only about 800 of them were print editions.

But I have, after all, sold 800 of them. Isn’t that better than a slap in the face? Isn’t that actually a great number for a Print-On-Demand paperback, especially when you consider that an outstanding POD paperback success is 200 books, and most authors are lucky to shift more than 10? And it’s not like making a paperback is all that much extra work. You’re making an e-book anyway, so what’s an extra few hours making an interior and adding a back cover to your e-book cover’s front? And even if you never sell any, haven’t you only “lost” the price of your proof copy? And if you do sell some, don’t you only have to sit back and relax while Amazon takes care of everything? Isn’t self-publishing a paperback easy?

Yes, but none of those things are the problem.

When you self-publish, your aim should be to sell as many books as you can, to get as many readers as you can and to improve your standing as a writer as much as you can while spending as little as you can without sacrificing quality or professionalism. But when you add paperbacks to the mix, you don’t do that. At least, I don’t do that. I haven’t. Producing paperbacks and having them available has cost me more money, I’d guess, than selling 800 of them have brought back. And I wouldn’t have had to spend any of that money – or worry about it at all – if I’d been able to say, “Well, actually I won’t be doing that because Mousetrapped [or Backpacked or Results Not Typical] is only available in e-book.”

For instance, stock. You need to get it to send out review copies, to sell books to friends and family, to give books to friends and family, to have at your book launch, to get on a shelf at your local bookshop. But once your hands touch a copy of your POD’d book, chances are you’ve lost money on it. The unit cost of the book is probably cheap enough, but you’ve had to pay to ship it to you. CreateSpace have recently improved the costs of their formerly astronomical shipping charges, but to avail of their economy option you have to be exceptionally organized. Today is Saturday 15th October. I can order 30 books from CreateSpace and get them to Ireland via economy shipping for just $63.99, or just over $2 a book. That’s pretty good. But what’s not pretty good is if I order them today – I’m writing this on Saturday 15th October – they won’t get here until Friday December 9th. That’s two months from now.

You could stomp your feet and say you’re not offering paperback review copies, not bothering with a launch or getting into bookstores, and instruct all your friends and family to order from Amazon (which itself creates another problem which we’ll get to in a minute). But you can only do this if you’re willing to ignore what’s expected of you. If your book is available in both paperback and e-book editions, you should offer reviewers either a paperback or an e-book. I say this as both a self-publisher and a book reviewer who doesn’t read or review e-books. If you don’t do this you look cheap, and you might also potentially offend the reviewer who gets the message that while you want their time and support, you don’t think it’s worth the price of a “real” book. Book launches are easy enough to avoid, but when it comes to friends and family… Well, good luck with that. You’re going to need it.

During last week’s blog tour, I guest-posted on Sally Clements’ blog about the problem of explaining self-publishing to your friends and family. I had a launch for Mousetrapped (for which I had to order stock in for and subsequently made practically no money from the sales on the day) so any of my relatives who wanted a copy simply showed up and bought one. I also left a few copies in store so if anyone couldn’t attend, they could pop in there later and buy one then. For Backpacked, there was no launch and I didn’t want to order in 50 books at my own expense if I didn’t know that I was going to be able to shift them. Then I had what I thought was a great idea. The easiest way to estimate how many friends and family members would want to buy a copy of Backpacked was to get a list together, right? Ask around and find who wanted copies and how many of them they’d like. But this would be difficult to organize and I suspected that despite best intentions, some people would order Backpacked and then not pay for it when it arrived. So I opened a website where the people I know could go to pre-pay for however many copies of Backpacked they wanted. This not only meant that I’d order just the amount I needed, but it also meant that I’d have the money to pay for them outright and nobody could order in a copy without paying. (I also opened it up to the world, charging a bit extra to cover shipping; this was the Backpacked pre-order bookstore.) I circulated e-mails, told my parents to spread the word and pasted it all over Facebook. But no one understood what was happening. My friends and family didn’t get that this was their only opportunity to order a paperback of Backpacked, that this time there wouldn’t be a launch or copies in a bookshop or a stack of them in my house if all else failed. The bookshop closed without a single order from anyone I knew; every single book sold through it was destined for faraway shores. “It’s okay,” was the reaction when I explained – again – what was happening. “We’ll get it from Amazon.co.uk.”

Except they couldn’t, because self-publishing paperbacks brings yet another problem: availability, or lack thereof. You have almost no control over where you POD’d paperback appears available for sale. I’ve paid for the expanded distribution upgrade, CreateSpace’s “Pro Plan” ($39) on each of my titles, but only one of them is available directly through Amazon.co.uk. I always order from Amazon.com – where your book will always be – but there’s a shockingly large number of people who think you have to live in the United States to do that. And there’s another problem with selling POD paperbacks: they cost a lot. I had to charge $16.95 for the paperback edition of Results Not Typical just so I wouldn’t lose money. I’d never pay that much for a paperback myself, and I don’t expect to sell any of them. (And I haven’t even mentioned the book to most of my relatives…) If you are a fan of mine and you bought Mousetrapped on Amazon.co.uk for $14.95, are you still going to be fan when the only way you can get my newest book in print is by paying more than that, buying from a site on the other side of Atlantic and picking up some higher than normal shipping fees on the way? Or would you just not bother? I know I wouldn’t.

All of this could’ve been avoided if I’d just self-published e-books.

Which is why I might do it in the future. I could say to reviewers, “I only have an e-book – it’s not that I’m being cheap!” and save myself not only the unit costs of those complimentary books, but the cost of shipping them to me, shipping them to the reviewer and the envelope. No one would expect a launch and you can’t really put e-books in stores (well you can, strictly-speaking, but we’ll talk about that another day), and as hardly any of my friends or family have e-book readers, I just wouldn’t even bother telling them. If they want to read my books, they can buy a Kindle and figure out how to use it. When you publish an e-book with Smashwords, Amazon KDP or Lulu, your book becomes available where they say it’s going to become available, and those places cover all major e-book formats, e-reading devices, countries, planets, etc. There’s no shipping on e-books, no need to worry if the list price covers the manufacturing costs, no way to lose money. You can only make money from e-books.

This isn’t a random photo of a Gu Blueberry Cheesecake. I ate it while I was writing this post.

And it wouldn’t affect my sales. If someone doesn’t read my book because they only read paperbacks, so be it. There’s enough people who’ll happily read e-books to make this a non-issue.

There’s one other reason why I’d consider this e-book only route. I hope, some day, to be traditionally published. But I also hope that I can continue to self-publish alongside any traditionally-published books of mine. However I don’t want to be competing with my own publisher, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t offer me a contract if they thought I was competing with them. Therefore there would need to be a differentiation, clear and recognizable, between the two and I think self-publishing only in e-books would be a good way to do it.

Of course, I might never have this problem, and if I don’t I’ll be crying into my Cornflakes.

But anyway.

Fear not: I’m not about to run off and unpublish all my paperbacks and Self-Printed, which I personally think is best read in paperback form and judging by its sales breakdown between print and e-book editions, you agree, will always remain available in a physical form.

But not selling paperbacks is definitely something I’m seriously considering for the future.

Obviously I’ll still have to make paperbacks of any future books just for myself, because as we all know I’m not a fan of e-books. (Not of reading them anyway.)

There just might come a day when I do that in secret.

REPLAY 2011: To Launch or Not To Launch?

Between now and the end of the year I’m going to be using Tuesdays and Thursdays to replay some popular posts from 2011, in case some of the people who’ve discovered my blog in the meantime missed it first time round. Think of it as a “year in review” kind of thing. This was first posted back in February and addresses the question of whether or not real world activities, such as a book launch, have any place in self-publishing, which is best done when confined to online. 

We’re coming up on the year anniversary of me taking the self-publishing plunge with Mousetrapped and now with the benefit of almost twelve months worth of hindsight I can see clearly what I did right, what I did wrong and what I did really, really wrong. (That’s selling books through my website, if you were wondering, and Createspace’s shipping charges is why.) But one of the things I’m still on the fence about is my bookstore launch/glorified signing.

As a self-publishing author, should you have a launch?

Initially I wasn’t going to have a launch at all. I’d wanted to be a writer ever since I found out real, live people were behind the books I loved and so that first book launch, be it a signing or a party, was a Very Big Deal. I wanted to “save” it and not “waste” it on my self-published book which, don’t forget, was nothing much of anything at the time. I wanted my first book launch to be a glittery affair, one that had an agent and an editor on the guest list, complimentary wine and the wearing of an expensive designer dress. (And to be skinny for it, but that’s another story…!) I wanted it to be for a novel someone else had published, not a travel memoir about working in Walt Disney World, NASA and the Ebola virus that I had produced myself.

I took a baby step, and informed my mother we would be having a Florida-themed party in our house to celebrate the book’s release. There would be American flag bunting, tropical themed cupcakes and shortbread cut with a Space Shuttle-shaped cutter. (And it would have been so cool.) But we wouldn’t be able to invite anyone but friends and family, and that would nix any publicity opportunities; you can’t invite your local newspaper’s social diarist to a party you’re having in your house, unless you’re Michael Flatley and your house is Castlehyde. So we decided instead on a bookstore.

I was terrified at the thought of approaching my local independent bookstore, Douglas Bookshop, and asking if first, they’d stock a few copies of Mousetrapped and second, let me have my launch there, but they couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating. And so around lunchtime one Saturday last May, Mousetrapped had its launch-style signing in a brick-and-mortar bookshop. It was great fun, but self-publishing is a business, and with that in mind, was the launch worth having? Did it make financial sense? Did it result in sales, or a loss of profit?

The Arguments For
  • It felt good. I really enjoyed the day and it made me feel like a proper author.
  • It gave my self-publishing operation a sense of professionalism. My books were in a bookstore, I had a well-attended launch and I managed to get some publicity for it.
  • The event got great newspaper coverage locally. There was one piece in my local paper, Cork’s Evening Echo, a couple of days before the launch, another afterwards and then a two-page of photos taking at the launch. It also led to an hour-long radio interview on county radio shortly afterwards.

The Arguments Against
  • It didn’t result in any extra sales, and practically all copies on the day were sold to family and friends, i.e. people who would have bought copies anyway.
  • I made less money from the sales I did make, because instead of selling them to my family and friends directly, I sold them to the bookshop who then sold them to the attendees. The difference in the profit for me was about 30% of the list price.
  • It cost money in other ways. I had to print posters, invites and postcards and order in the stock so I could sell it on (incurring shipping charges).
What Should YOU Do?

I don’t think you should automatically have a launch or signing for your self-published book, but then I don’t think there’s anything self-publishing related that you should do automatically, without any thought. Every single book is different and needs to be treated as such. I think you need to ask yourself, What will I get out of doing this? and when you find the answer ask, Is that what I want?

If all you want is to feel like a proper author for a couple of hours, then go ahead and have whatever sort of launch/party/signing your heart desires. Buy a new outfit, hire a photographer and arrange nibbles. Invite all your friends. It’ll be great fun, but be prepared for it to cost you money.

If what you want is publicity, stick with a signing or “appearance” where maybe you give a little book-related talk and then scribble your name in a few copies. Get in no more stock than you think you can sell and avoid any glossy and expensive extras, such as posters or even invites. Send an e-mail to every editor, radio show producer, social diarist, etc. that you can find and get your mug in the paper, preferably with a hand holding your book up just below it. Take plenty of pictures to put on your website or blog afterwards, and maybe even rope a special guest, such as another writer or a local celebrity connected with your book or your book’s subject matter, into attending and saying a few words.

If it’s sales you after, you’re going to need to do a lot of work. Start with everything above. Then calculate all your costs and work out how many books you’re going to need to sell to recoup that money. Then, get out and sell them. This means hand-selling them at the launch, forbidding anyone you know from buying a copy beforehand (so they buy it on the night instead) and getting as many people you don’t know to attend as people you do. It won’t be easy but it’ll all be worth it if it works.

Good luck!


2011 Replay: What the Dream Looks Like or, Why This Self-Publisher is Still Pursuing Trad Publication

Between now and the end of the year I’m going to be using Tuesdays and Thursdays to replay some popular posts from 2011, in case some of the people who’ve discovered my blog in the meantime missed it first time round. Think of it as a “year in review” kind of thing. This post was first published last March. I’d just decided to turn my self-publishing from an isolated experiment into a permanent sideline, but was getting annoyed by the “I Can’t Afford to Get Traditionally Published Even Though No One Has Asked To Publish Me” brigade who seemed to spend their blog posts comparing money that doesn’t exist with other money that doesn’t exist, and making getting published sound like a fate worse than death. Seven months later, nothing’s changed on that front, although I did self-publish Backpacked and Results Not Typical since. But what’s my number 1 goal for 2012? The same as it’s been for the last ten years: get published.

In Friday’s post, Self-Printing: My Biggest Mistake, I talked about how I was trying to shift my thinking away from self-publishing non-fiction as something to do while I pursue a traditional book deal, and towards self-publishing being a parallel to a traditional book deal and one that could, in the future, be profitable enough to ensure that I could be a full-time writer regardless of whether or not someone else ever gives me that magic deal. I figured out, for instance, that if I were to double my current e-book sales, i.e. release another book that sells just as well, and either maintain or increase those sales, I could be making 50% more a month than the wage I was making working 9-5.

Which begs the question: why I am still pursuing traditional publication at all? Why don’t I just go with self-publishing? Why don’t I release the novel I’ve already written as an e-book, this afternoon, and start earning money from it instead of leaving it in a drawer (or my computer, to be specific) and waiting for someone else to publish it? Why don’t I forget about traditional publishing?

The arguments for doing that go something like this:

  • Going by average advances and the standard cut of 10% of the list price, I could make more money releasing it as an e-book and keeping up to 70% of the profits for myself
  • I could make more money in the long run, because if I do it myself my book will always be in print or at least always available as an e-book
  • If I do it myself, it can happen now and so I can start earning money now. No waiting a year or two for the book to come out, or spending years of my life submitting to agents and publishers and waiting to hear back from them.

The common denominator in all those is money. Now while I like money as much the next person, that’s not what this is about – or all about, anyway – for me. And so I still want to get “properly” published because that’s what my dream looks like.

I have spent more than a decade daydreaming about being a published author. In those daydreams, there is the excitement of being offered and then signing a book deal. I have the input of an editor who has a vested interest in the success of my book, an editor who says that in her professional opinion, my book is good enough. I get to work with a publishing house, staffed with people whose job it is to edit, design and sell books. In the meantime, I get a phone call to say my book has been sold abroad, and is going to be translated into other languages. I have a beautiful, physical book – one that looks and feels like all the other books, and has both my name and the logo of a major publishing house on the spine. I have a publicist who knows newspaper editors well enough to be able to get my book reviewed, or a story about me written. And when people read that story or hear me on the radio, they can walk into almost any bookshop and find my book on the shelf. I have achieved a lifelong dream.

Self-publishing – even if you work with an editor, produce a beautiful book, hire a publicist, find a distributor to take on your book so it can be in stores and get nothing but rave reviews – is not the same. It doesn’t feel the same. It’s great and it’s an achievement and I’m proud of what I’ve done, but I haven’t ticked a dream off my list with it. And I know there will be traditionally published authors reading this whose experience of getting a book published will not be anything like the one described above (which would be the ideal) and they’ll tell me things like, “Stick with self-publishing – getting traditionally published isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.” I don’t care; I want to discover whether or not that’s the case for myself. I want to be traditionally published because that is my dream. My self-publishing success is irrelevant. I could sell 1,000,000 e-books and it still wouldn’t even begin to compare. It certainly wouldn’t “do.”

And the self-publishing evangelists may start to sharpen their stakes upon hearing this, but traditional publishing done right is done better. If I leave illustrated children’s books out of the equation, I can honestly say I have never seen a self-published book that looks as good or better than a “properly” published one, my own included. It is possible to make one? Surely. Hopefully. But does the average or even above average self-publisher have the time, knowledge and resources to do it? No. Not even close. Even Amanda Hocking (who I like a little bit more every time I read one of her down to earth, tell it like it is blog posts) has admitted that the time it takes just to produce her books is staggering, and that even after going through them with editors time and time again, she still finds errors in the finished product. It takes a village – or the staff of a publishing house – to produce a perfect or almost perfect book, and I’m just one person. And I want to write.

But while marketing and promotion isn’t as much fun for me as writing the book in the first place, I still really enjoy it. I love blogging, tweeting and Facebooking and I don’t even mind talking on the radio or to rooms full of people. (Once it’s over and done with, anyway!) I have managed, after all, to sell a few thousand copies of a book that has a perceived super-niche readership and isn’t available in bookstores. What could I do if it was a mainstream, commercial book, and it was available in bookstores? And not just here in Ireland, but wherever you live as well. What could I manage to do then? And so that’s another reason I’m still chasing traditional publication: because I would love to be let loose promoting a book of mine that was widely available. That would be the ultimate challenge. And I love me a (non-physical type of!) challenge.

Finally, it’s not all about money but it is about money a little bit; I want to do nothing else but write or do writing-related things, and in order for that to happen the writing I do has to earn me some money. And while it’s easy to get carried away with the figures in the headlines, self-publishing is not a get rich quick scheme. It’s not even a get slightly less poor slowly scheme. There are no guarantees. For every mega-selling e-book author, there are probably hundreds if not thousands if not millions of e-book authors who can count their sales to date on the fingers of one hand. They mightn’t even need all of them to do it.

I read about a couple of guys recently who released an e-book, as an experiment, to see if they could sell a million copies of it in six months. They did everything right, but they only sold a 1,000, because the most important factor in publishing success – be it e-book, print, self or traditionally published – is luck. And so you can’t say things like “By spending the next six months submitting my novel to agents, I’m losing money” or “By signing this publishing deal that will release my debut novel in 2013, I’m missing out on up to two years of earnings I would make if I self-published it” because a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Money that doesn’t yet exist can’t be counted and money that does exist, however small the amount, is worth more than theoretical earnings.

Now I’m about to really over-simplify things but let’s say a traditional publishing house knock on my door and offer me €5,000 as an advance on a two-book deal. The first book won’t be published for a year, the second book will be published the year after that and I’ll earn 10% off its list price of €10.99. I’ll have sold 4,000 copies of Mousetrapped in a year so for the sake of argument let’s say I sell the same amount of these books, so that’s 4,000 sales in the first year and 8,000 in the second, because there’s two books. Because I have to wait a year to publish it, there’s no earnings in the first twelve months. An agent brokers the deal so all earnings are minus 15%. That means that in the next three years, I’d earn somewhere in the region of €11,118 from that deal.

If I released the first book right now as a $2.99 e-book (70% royalty), and then the second book as soon as it’s written in six month’s time, and they sold in the same amounts (4,000 each a year), I’d make €32,911 in the same period. (See calculations below for specifics.) And yet I would take the traditional deal because I’d be getting a €5,000 advance on those earnings, and there is no guarantee that I’ll ever sell a single copy of either book no matter what route I take. And money that exists is better than money that doesn’t.

BUT.

(You knew there was going to be a but, right?)

I’m not an idiot, and I’m not going to keep submitting forever. I have one novel written, a third of another and a basic synopsis and two chapters of another one after that. The first novel has been relegated, for the time being, to The Drawer, as its feedback was (Mousetrapped flashback) along the lines of, It’s funny and well-written, but I don’t think it’s suitable for the market here or worse again,  I love it but I don’t love it enough. (I know, I know – it could be so much worse.) And I can’t self-publish it for a variety of reasons but mainly because it’s tied, thematically, to the other two and while I’m trying to get my fiction published, I think it’s safer to stick with just non-fiction for my DIY publishing adventures. The second one has had some interest but I haven’t been offered a dotted line to sign on. (Yet – I hope.) And a girl can only take so much rejection, so I’m not going to let this go on forever more. There will come a point where I will stop this and self-publish the first novel, see how it goes. This time is not anytime soon, and in the meantime I have two non-fiction projects which will be getting the Mousetrapped treatment this side of Christmas. But if I can’t find a traditionally published home for those books, which while connected are not a series, I will self-publish them.

Hopefully they’ll sell, and I’ll start to earn some serious money. (And bribe someone for a US visa and move to Celebration, while I’m at it.) But do you know what I’d do then? Write a new novel about something totally different.

And try to get that traditionally published, but that has always been and always will be The Dream.

Click here to read more about Mousetrapped.

Calculations:

Traditional deal: earning 10% off €10.99, or €1.09 per book. 1st  year: no sales. 2nd year: 4,000 x 1.09 = €4,360. 3rd year: 8,000 (2 books each selling 4k) x 1.09 = €8,720. Combine all 3 years (€13,080) – 15% agent’s fee (€1,982) = €11,098. (The advance is just that – an advance – and so is not added but included.)

Self-published e-books: earning 70% off $2.99, or $2.09 per book. 1st year: 4,000 sales of book 1 and 2,000 sales of book 2 (released six months from now) = (4,000 x 2.09) + (2,000 x 2.09) = $12,540. 2nd year: 8,000 sales (2 books each selling 4k) x 2.09 = $16,720. 3rd year: 8,000 sales (2 books each selling 4k) x 2.09 = $16,720. Combine all 3 years ($45,980) and convert to euro where 1 EUR = 1.39709 USD = €32,911.37.

These calculators do not factor in tax or self-publishing costs such as cover design.