Three Advantages of Traditional Publishing

This month’s Writing Magazine has a big special on self publishing, in which authors frankly share their warts and all experiences of the self publishing world. Self publishing is certain gaining momentum as a way to get your work out into the world. Authors are carving out incredibly successful careers independently of publishing houses. It’s never been easier to put your writing out into the world, and authors are seizing those opportunities, and profiting from them too.

But I’ve got to say that if I ever manage to finish that difficult second novel, I’ll be choosing the traditional route to publication. And I’m going to slaughter a sacred cow and hazard a guess that some self published authors would agree with me. here are three good reasons why.

1. You don’t have to produce your own book.

Why did you become a writer? My guess is that you wanted to tell stories and find an audience for them. Developing your stories to a degree that will make people want to read them takes 100% of your effort. Yet for a self published author, that’s just the beginning. They then have to format, design, produce and distribute their own book. To me, that’s like expecting artists to produce their own canvas, or musicians to produce their own instruments. If you’re traditionally published, your publisher will carry that financial and logistical burden for you, and let you get on with the business of being a writer.

 2. You get on the shelves

When my first novel was published, I was amazed at the extent to which, in this digital age, people expected it to be available on bookshelves. That’s why I believe that despite the availability and popularity of e-readers, if you’re not in bookshops, it’ll seriously damage your sales. Self published authors are at a huge disadvantage here, because it’s next to impossible to get your book into a bookshop on any significant scale using your own resources. Traditional publishers will put you in front of your reading public by ensuring your book is distributed using the major book distributors in your area.

 3. You get kudos

Being accepted by a traditional publisher means your book will be taken more seriously. You’re a lot more likely to be reviewed in national papers and to be put forward for awards. If you’re applying for arts council funding, your self published book is less likely to be considered as a viable publication. If your book is being traditionally published, it means that someone who knows what they’re talking about when it comes to books thinks your book is worthy of publication. Call it snobbery, but that still carries weight in certain circles.

Do you fly the flag for self publishing or for traditional publishing? Let me know your thoughts. I’m expecting some lively debate!

How to Get Your Self Published Books Into Bookshops

We may be living in a digital age, with ebooks on the rise and rise, but people still expect to be able to buy books in a bookshops, and won’t view you as a credible author unless your book is on the shelf.

Self published authors tend to imagine that this still-powerful selling resource is closed to them, but as writer turned blogger Lorna Sixsmith demonstrates, going independent need not end your dream of seeing your book on the shelf.

Here’s her post sharing her experiences. You can find this and other interesting posts about her self-publishing journey on Irish Farmerette.

Are you thinking of self publishing a book?  Many believe that self published books are only available from the author’s website, as ebooks or on Create Space but bookshops will stock self published books providing some criteria is met. Yes, printing your books is not cheap and depends cash up front but many readers still prefer to read the physical book rather than the ebook and furthermore, they expect to see it in bookshops.

Within Ireland, the main wholesalers are Easons and Argosy Books. Argosy is the wholesaler for all the independent bookshops. Easons have a large number of their shops nationwide. In the UK, Gardners is the largest book wholesaler. Many bookshops will only accept books from the wholesalers although it is possible to see if local bookshops will stock your books.

What will the Book Wholesalers ask for?

Kanturk Bookshop
Kanturk Bookshop

The wholesalers will want to know your sales to date, past publicity and future publicity. I had heard that Argosy had told a self published author that they would stock her book when she had sold 25o. I received my books on 29th November but didn’t contact either wholesaler until January – this was partly because I didn’t have time, partly because I knew they would take 55% and I would then be selling my first print edition at a loss (as I included all my expenses such as website, editor, illustrator etc in the first print run) which I wasn’t prepared to do and partly because I knew I had to prove first that it would sell.

As it happened, the Argosy buyer had heard my interview with Joe Duffy just before Christmas and had planned to contacting me. On hearing that I had sold 750 books and also been interviewed by Ryan Tubridy, they were happy to accept my books.  By the end of February, 105 books had been sent to 32 account holders. I’ve loved received tweets by people telling me they have seen my book in bookshop windows or on shelves. Kennys Bookshop is stocking it too and as they ship worldwide for free, it really maximizes the chances of people abroad buying it.

I’ve yet to hear from Easons although they did request a copy of the paperbook and some more information last week.  Not only did they want to know about past publicity but they want to know about upcoming PR too.  Trying to get continual PR is like a full time job and I have to admit I’ve taken my foot off the pedal lately! I’m waiting now until there are agricultural events and I will try to get coverage around my involvement in them.

It’s ironic though, I would have sold more books following the Tubridy interview if the books had been in the bookshops but on the other hand,  I needed the publicity first to be accepted by the wholesalers.  I have sold just over 1000 books now. I have about 70 hardbacks left and there are a few out there with one or two stockists.  There’s about 250 of my paperbacks ‘out there’ but of those, it is hard to know how many have sold. Argosy have taken 175 of which 105 went to bookshops in February (I’ll get an update on March next week) but they are still provided to the shops on a sale or return basis so I need to keep the publicity up to encourage sales.

In short, you need:

1. A well formatted book with an attractive front cover.

2. An ISBN number.

3. Existing Sales record.

4. Past and future publicity.

5. A book that the wholesaler likes and believe will sell.

If you happen to spot my book in a bookshop, I’d love to hear.  Do let me know too, of your experiences with self publishing or if you are thinking of writing a book.


Interactive Book Launches

It’s a new year and my blog is back. In keeping with the stormy climate in Ireland, I’ve allowed myself to be deluged by work. But now I’ve emerged from the avalanche and I’m raring to go with a whole new year of blogs in 2014.

But for this blog post, I’m going to look back a bit, to some book launches I went to in 2013. Going to these book launches made me realise that the days of drinking warm wine and listening to a couple of desultory speeches are over. Book launches have become full blown interactive events that offer real entertainment to people in exchange for them buying and supporting the book.

The other notable thing is that even if an author is represented by a traditional publishing house, they don’t leave the organisation up to their publisher any more. They organise the food, the drink and the venue. In every sense, they are the hosts of the event.

I’ll give you a run-down of the launches I went to, to give you an insight into the inventive ways that authors are holding their launches.

  1. Escape from Eire, Jennylynd James

Trinidad native Jennylynd James launched her memoir depicting her seven years in Ireland at a bookshop in Waterford. As well as reading from her book, she displayed photographs on her laptop that acted as a perfect counterpoint to the passages she read. She also showed videos from television appearances she made during her time in Ireland. These interactive elements brought her book to life.

  1. The Priest’s Wife, PJ Connolly

I wandered along to the Irish Writer’s Centre in Dublin about 15 minutes after the start time for PJ Connolly’s launch, expecting to find the usual crowds milling around waiting for the speeches. Instead, I found an accomplished MC giving a speech. After that, there were readings interspersed with music provided by a brilliant young violinist. Cleverly, the author had decided to allow three other people to read from his work, to vary the voices. A truly classy event.

  1. Dry Tears, Matty Tamen

Again, there was plenty on offer for the audience the launch of Matty Tamen’s poetry collection at a Waterford hotel. There was a slideshow of pictures and a guitarist played soft music as people took their seats and between readings. Again, the author asked other people to read his poems and to speak about the themes of the book. It held the attention of a crowd which included quite a lot of children.

  1. Virtual Book Launches

Virtual book launches, which take place only on social media websites, are on the rise. I went to two, one organised by Lorna Sixsmith for her book Would You Marry a Farmer, and the second organised by Carmel Harrington for her book Beyond Grace’s Rainbow. For people familiar with Facebook, you are invited to the launch in the same way as you would be invited to an event.

Virtual book launches give great scope to self published authors with limited budgets. The launches featured hourly giveaways, lively interactive discussions and nuggets of info about the book. The other good thing about them was that they lasted for longer than a traditional launch would, giving you a bigger shop window.

I have to say, going to those launches made me wish I could have done my own launch all over again. Have you noticed these trends at the book launches you’ve been to?

Oh, to Be a Writer in the Old Days

Last Thursday was Dorothy Parker Day, a day to celebrate the American poet famous for her wisecracks and her gin habit. Ian O’Doherty, the professional ranter who writes for the Irish Independent, quipped that if you were to spend a day as Dorothy Parker did, you’d drink your body weight in gin at the Algonquin Hotel in Cork, make cleverly cutting remarks about your fellow human beings.

Dorothy Parker











The piece triggered off that wistfulness I sometimes get when I think about writers in earlier eras: the lost generation of American writers, rabble rousing in Parisian cafes, the long liquid lunches enjoyed by Irish journalists in the 1960s, the torrid affairs of the great 20th century writers like WB Yeats, Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir.

Portrait of the Writer in the Old Days

If I were a writer at any time up to the dawn of the World Wide Web. I’d have been given one to one personal attention from my editor, with decadent lunches along the way. My publisher would bear the burden of producing and publicising the book, leaving me free to get on with producing my masterpieces.

If I were scheduled to talk to newspapers or radio stations, I’d turn up hours late, slightly drunk. I would be obtuse in my answers, or say outrageous, potentially libellous things. The interviewer would be in no doubt as to my views on the state of the world, even if they were not entirely PC. Later on, I’d go to a writing cafe and fillet my fellow writers, my publishers and the interviewer. My views would be extremely uncharitable, but they would be couched in the most elegant language.

Portrait of the Writer Now

These days, writing is more and more of a business. When the story is written, writers are expected to be entrepreneurs, with a product to sell. When my first book, The Pink Cage, came out, I didn’t meet anyone from the publishing company until the launch. My book was given a proofread rather than an in-depth edit.

The book launch was a hooley, but most of my contact with readers and the media has been online. Technology has been my ally in selling the books, but it has made the publishing and sales process cold and clinical.

I’m more media savvy than writers of the past have been, and I know that what I say will have an impact on how readers view me and my book. I’ve allowed the odd naughty remark to sneak through, but mostly, I’ve behaved professionally. That’s because these days, writers are expected to be entrepreneurs, with a product to sell. This is no bad thing; it makes us less precious about ourselves. But it means that interviews with writers have become sanitised. For me, that’s exemplified in a picture I saw a few years ago of a gathering of writers, all of whom were holding cups of tea.

Is it Better to Be a Writer Now?

I know it’s not desirable to burn out in your prime as a result of a pickled liver, black demons or foul play. I would hate to be rude to interviewers, keep them waiting or let them down. Nor would I give out about my felllow writers; I share their struggles.

I wouldn’t have the stamina for the wild bohemian lifestyles writers enjoyed. I’m aware that my view of the literary past is highly idealised. After all, writers now have more power than ever before over their books: how they are produced and how they are sold.

I love the fact that the Internet has democratised writing, allowing writers to find publishing outlets more easily and make personal connections with their readers. readers. I think it’s healthy that writers are climbing down from their ivory towers and removing the mystique from the craft.

Yet a part of me yearns for an earlier time, when writers were allowed to be artists, and they were allowed to be crazy.

Beating Writerly Isolation

As I said in last week’s post about writing and mental health, isolation is a big problem for writers. It’s easier to find support at the beginning of your career. Writers groups and creative writing classes are a natural home for emerging writers. But when you publish a book, you move on to the next phase of your career, and it becomes harder to find a community to support you.

A lot of writers are quite self contained and happy to work alone. But I find I need outside stimulus. It gives me huge inspiration. I’ve done my time in writing classes and groups, but I felt myself growing beyond them. Not because I had delusions of genius, but because my reasons for writing were different from a lot of my class and group mates.

I want to be a published writer, for the rest of my life. And I needed to connect with people who shared that goal. With the publication of my book, I can’t really say I’m an emerging writer, but I’m not quite an established writer either. I wanted to find writers who were also at that in-between stage.

I’ve met plenty of writers online over the last year and it’s been great, but I like being out in the real world, meeting real people. So once a month I have excellent coffee and really excellent conversation with two writers who are at a similar stage to me, with similar goals.

Orla Shanaghy has achieved the Holy Grail of getting to read on RTE Radio 1’s Sunday Miscellany and has been shortlisted in a couple of big-name competitions, like the William Trevor Competition and the Fish Competition.

Derek Flynn’s  first novel is on the point of being picked up by a publisher. He’s had several nibbles already. He’s also a musician, with two albums under his belt.

Orla Shanaghy, Derek Flynn and I with self publishing expert Catherine Ryan Howard at our social media panel during Waterford Writer's Weekend.
Orla Shanaghy, Derek Flynn and I with self publishing expert Catherine Ryan Howard at our social media panel during Waterford Writer’s Weekend.

















We share the trials and the triumphs of our writing lives: the rejections, the acceptances, the writers’ block. They allow me to indulge in epic whinges, for which I am eternally grateful. I really appreciate Orla’s sharp, insightful critique, and I’m being slowly converted to Twitter by Derek’s enthusiasm. Their perspectives have strengthened my work, and reassure me that I’m not mad to want to continue to be a writer in the face of what can seem like never-ending obstacles.

But it isn’t just a talking shop. We critique each other’s work, point each other to useful resources and concoct schemes to take over the world through social media. As a result of our collaboration, we’ve had the opportunity to take part in a social media panel during Waterford Writer’s Weekend, which is likely to lead to further social media workshops in the future. And most important of all, there’s the writing. We give each other rigorous but supportive critique. With all of this, we’re helping each other to reach the vaulted plains of established writerdom.


Roll Up, Roll Up – It’s The Pink Cage Blog Tour

Once upon a time, authors went on book tours. Now they go on blog tours. Blog tours take reviews into the 21st century. The writer or publisher chooses a number of bloggers and asks them if they are willing to do author interviews or book reviews. They then agree to post them up on a specific date. Each blog will appear in sequence, so that, for example, 10 blogs will appear over 10 days.

The goal is to create greater visibility for the book and its author on the Internet, which can be a vast place. Blog tours are particularly useful for encouraging people to buy ebooks, as people make the transition to Kindle and other e-readers.

My blog tour is a mini-tour really, with five bloggers putting up posts over five days. Here’s an itinerary of my whistle stop blog tour.

Monday, September 19th. Writer Orla Shanaghy poses some gritty questions about the realities of the publishing world in her blog, Wait Till I Tell You.

Tuesday, September 20th. Sian Phillips, another keen writer disguised as an accountant, who is one of the queens of the Twitterverse, talks to me about the inspiration for the book and does a reader review on her eponymous blog.

Wednesday, September 21st. Writer Louise Phillips (no relation), is doing a book review and dreaming up some tough questions for her blog, the wonderfully-named 120 Socks. She claims the book helped her through woman flu, so I’m sure she’ll be gentle.

Thursday, September 22nd. Creative writing tutor Michelle Moloney King reviews the book for her blog, Teacher King. She too is a queen in the Twitterverse.

Friday, September 23rd. Last, but not least, writer and musician Derek Flynn is dreaming up some even tougher questions for his blog. Though we live in the same county, we have only met in the Twitterverse, but I’m sure that’ll be amended soon.

I know it’s a lot to take in, but I’ll be posting up every day on my social media pages when the entries are ready, so you’ll be able to follow the blog tour as it unfolds. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all the bloggers for agreeing to take part and for their support through social media channels and in person. It can be as hard now to be reviewed on a blog as it is to be reviewed in a newspaper, so I feel very privileged that they’ve taken such an interest.

See you on tour.





The Writer as Entrepreneur

I’m going to a conference in a couple of weeks. Nothing unusual about that; I seem to be going to about a million of them lately. But this one is on a subject dear to my heart, the elusive publishing deal. It tells you how to sell your manuscript to a publisher and to the wider world.

Once upon a time, securing a publisher was all that was needed to be successful as a writer. The writer could simply write and let their writing speak for itself. But in a world full of noise and competing mediums, this is no longer enough.

I was once told that writing is a private act with public consequences. The reality for the modern writer is that when their book is finished, they must then transform themselves into an entrepreneur.Their book becomes a product to be sold and once they grasp that fact, writers can work it to their advantage.

The notion of selling themselves is distateful to many writers, yet the link between writer and entrepreneur is stronger than you might imagine. Like the entrepreneur, the writer comes up with a unique idea. They develop this idea into a book and recognise that there is a gap in the market for that book. They have the self-belief to carry that idea through.

And to lure a publisher, they must use sales techniques familiar to entrepreneurs, outlining what makes their book special and what it offers to readers. They may not be entrepreneurs in the Bill Cullen mould, but they could be described as creative entrepreneurs.

Once their book is with a publisher, the writer must be proactive in selling it. It is unwise for them to leave their fate entirely in the hands of their publisher, because publishers are often too busy to give books the individual attention they need.

Fortunately, there are more opportunities than ever for writers to sell their books. They can organise their own local media campaigns, set up websites, participate in online forums and engage with social media. One of my Facebook friends, Olive O’Brien, is launching a children’s book and has set up a page to promote it called Silverchair Publishing. It’s an example of creative entrepreneurship in action.

By their very nature, writers tend to be private people who don’t enjoy talking about their work.  But the truth is, if they don’t talk about their work, how are people going to know about it.  They deserve recognition for  all those lonely, doubt-filled hours creating their masterpieces. This is the most valuable lesson writers can learn from more traditional entrepreneurs.