So, altogether this past year I've published five books and one novella. Feels like a lot. Then again, I had already written two of them. In this blog I want to tell you all about my experience of publishing and writing, the mistakes I made and the things I learned along the way.
So where to start? At the beginning I suppose...
It all began with somebody giving me a kindle as a Christmas present. I had always been a staunchly paper book person up until then. I went to my favourite book shop in town at least once a week to stock up. When I began buying ebooks I noticed that so many of them were actually self-published, some even wildly popular. I guess that planted the seed...
On February 1st 2012 I published my first ever book, an urban fantasy novel called Tegan's Blood. The genre had probably been about two years out of fashion at this point, but the book was written and sitting on my computer, so I said what the hell I'll publish it and see what happens. First of all, I cannot believe how oblivious I was when I first put a book out. I didn't even know what Goodreads was! And although I'm an editor in my day job, I hadn't a clue about editing fiction, but I THOUGHT I could do it. Well I learned my lesson. I'm actually quite ashamed of the first version of Tegan's Blood that I published. It was riddled with typos and errors and such basic mistakes that you would think someone with a bloody masters in English would have copped on to. Well, not me. For such a highly educated person, I can be kind of dumb sometimes. I've gotten a lot better now, with the help of some wonderful people I've met who have shined a light on my writing and shown me some of the huge bad habits I'd developed. Anyway, moving on.
I got good reviews and bad reviews. At first, the bad reviews were really hard to take. I was so unprepared for them and when I read them (which, by the way, writers should probably avoid doing like the plague) I was like, oh my god, you're so right I'm a shit writer and should just throw in the towel right now. In a lot of ways I'm not the kind of person who gets more driven with adversity. I'm more inclined to hang my head in shame and hide in a corner for the rest of my life. But, well, I didn't do that. I struggled on.
I'm going to take this opportunity to tell you that self-publishing is HARD. It's hard work, but it's also difficult on a personal level. I think I've suffered more anxiety in this past year than I have my whole entire life combined. When you publish on your own, you literally are on your own. There's no agent or publishing house behind you for support. Of course you have your family and friends to give you advice, but it's still a pretty solitary experience.
Strangely enough, I got some sage words from a younger sibling who's a musician and has a massive online following. Like thousands and thousands of times larger than my tiny little pool. And, unlike how people only say nasty things about my books, on occasion people will say nasty personal things about her, in relation to appearance, talent, gender, etc. We were on the train one day and I said to her, "Don't you just feel like giving up when people write awful things about you on the internet? Don't you sit there for hours wallowing while their criticisms run through your head?" She looked at me, all nonchalant, and replied, "I never really think about it. Doesn't bother me much." It's really sad when someone younger than you is so much better at dealing with life stress. But the moral of the story is, I think about things too much and analyse them down into tiny pieces, when really I just need to let them wash over me.
In a nut shell, I kept going. The bad reviews still sting, but I mean, it would be a bit of a strange world if everyone only ever said nice things about a book. Difference is what makes life interesting. Arguments and opposing opinions bring colour to a conversation that would otherwise be as dull as dishwater. As the weird and wonderful Karl Pilkington once said, you've got to have your critics. Too much praise can make us become complacent, while criticism drives us to create something better than before.
Most of the time now when I see a criticism I can understand where the reviewer is coming from. Don't get me wrong, it still hurts, but sometimes I actually even learn stuff. I know, shocker! For instance, a couple of months ago I realised that I was using certain phrases in my books that wouldn't translate for readers who aren't from the UK or Ireland. Since the majority of people who read my books are from America, it was a bit pointless to be putting these phrases into my writing. (As a side note, Ireland and the UK are a couple of years behind when it comes to accepting self-published books. It's still sort of looked down upon in the way vanity publishing once was. That's why I am so grateful to the US book buyers, because without them I probably wouldn't have much of a readership at all!)
A little bit on the marketing side of things, which is my least favourite part of publishing. I have learned that you can put in hours and hours of labour for the tiniest return. But then sometimes you can do one little thing that takes two minutes and it pays off hugely. Offering your book for free does work to boost sales, ahem - when done correctly. When I did my first ever giveaway I told no one. I just basically announced it on twitter where I probably had about 200 odd followers. I got a couple hundred downloads. But when I put some hard graft in and made sure the freebie would be announced in as many places as possible I got thousands of downloads. I think the most I ever got was around 12,000; I even made it into the Amazon top ten free at one point. The only downside to this is that, in my opinion, when a reader gets a free book it is very unlikely that they are going to end up reading it. And even when they do, I don't know, the fact that it was free sort devalues it in their eyes a little. Now, I'm not being negative about making a book free. God knows it got me way more readers than I ever would have gained otherwise. It's just a bit of a catch 22. With a free book you're going to attract readers who wouldn't necessarily read your genre, and they can quite literally tear your story to shreds in a review.
So, what about paid advertising I hear you say? Well, I've tried a little of that too. In essence, it's not much to write home about. I'd say if your book was advertised on a big, big site then it would work a treat. But those sorts of sites aren't generally open to indie authors. Well, not that I could afford to advertise on them anyway, lol. In my opinion, the biggest thing that sells books these days is word of mouth. Once people start talking about a book it can spread and spread, and that's how it becomes popular.
Another thing that I learned this year about being a writer is that you just have to write what your heart tells you to. This was particularly the case for me with my most recent novel, Painted Faces. The idea for this book had been vaguely drifting around in my head for a long time. You can probably blame whoever sat me down to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show and David Bowie in Labyrinth when I was a kid. Around July or August this year the need to write this book became too much. But I was scared people wouldn't be open to reading it. I knew it was going to be a very hard sell, with readers thinking it was a bizarre take on one of those fetish books, when it's basically just a book about attraction and friendship evolving into love and seeing beauty where you don't expect it.
So I was out to dinner one night with my friend and I told her my little story of woe and how I didn't know if I should invest the time in writing a book if no one was going to read it in the end. She told me that if I felt this strong an urge to write it, then I just had to follow that urge. She said that she had never heard of a romance novel quite like it before, and therefore it needed to be written. Well, I have to thank her for pushing me. Even though it's still early days and the book has only been out about two weeks, I'm getting a big positive response for it. More so than I've gotten for any of my books so far. Don't get me wrong, I don't think it's going to be the next Harry Potter or anything, but for me to have as many people reading it who've read it so far is just mental. If I can get women to fall in love with a man in a dress then I think I've done some good for the world. I told my friend that if I ever get rich in the future I'll take her to Iceland (not the supermarket) as thanks for pushing me to write the book. Why Iceland, you say? Have you seen the hot springs? No? Go look them up and you'll understand.
Now I want to thank a couple of writers and book bloggers who I've crossed paths with this past year and who have been so supportive of me. In general, I'm quite a cynical person. I never expect kindness just for kindness sake, always thinking there's a hidden agenda. But with these wonderful individuals, I've found that sometimes people will do nice things simply because they are nice people.
K.L. Toth (author)
Tara of Basically Books
Emma Meade of Emma's Ramblings on Supernatural Fiction
Steph of Moonlessbites
Maria E. Monteiro (author)
Karina Halle (author)
Lucie of New Books On My Shelves
Kat of Smitten With Bad Boy Heroes
Juls of Up All Night Reviews
Bianca of Bianca's Book Zone
Patrick Volpe of The Ultimate Ginger
If I'm missing anyone, I apologise! I'm going purely on memory here. I'd also like to thank Maryse of the hugely popular Maryse's Book Blog who recently took the time to review Painted Faces and who was generous enough to include it in her top books of the year list. Seriously, I was gobsmacked to see it in there with some of my own favourite books when I clicked to check it out yesterday. It was the perfect end to a year that was full of highs and lows.
So to finish, a little wisdom about writing a book for today's market.
In September 2011, before I ever even considered getting into self-publishing, I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a writer's workshop in Dublin, as I'd come a runner up in a short story competition. The head editor for Penguin Ireland gave a little talk and she said that if you want to write a good book that sells, you have to write something that's different but the same. At the time I was like, eh what? But I kind of get it now. People want a book that has all the same themes that they enjoy, but with a bit of a different twist to it. To be honest I'm not sure if I'll ever write a really, really great book like that. I suppose I just want to write books that are entertaining and that make you feel something.
On that note...
Since 2012 is over, and musical comedy is a little obsession of mine, I'll leave you with something whimsical to sum up the year, My Beefs 2012 by the hilarious David O'Doherty.
P.S About a week ago I received a copy of my first ever book in paperback. This was HUGE for me. It made me feel like a proper little writer. Here's me showing it off...
Oh and one more thing, thanks a million times over to anyone who read my books this past year. Thanks to the readers who embraced them and who recommended them to a friend. Thanks to the readers who cared enough to send me an email to tell me they enjoyed my stories. You all keep me going. <3