Don’t @ Me

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Reading reviews can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster. The warm and fuzzy feeling when someone has connected with your characters; understood what you were trying to do and are happy they bought a ticket to your show. The shock and anger when someone dismisses your work, casually labels it ‘boring’ or the real killer, ‘light reading’. Some authors choose not to read their reviews, which is completely understandable. But for a lot of us, this is the only kind of feedback we get and so we cross our fingers, keep one eye closed and dive in, hoping for the best.

Over time, you come to realise that your book is no longer your private property. It belongs to anyone who hands over their hard-earned cash to buy it and their experience of reading it is unique to them and something you have no control over. This knowledge has given me a certain amount of detachment from reviews. As someone once said, reviews are for the readers and that is as it should be. But does that mean that authors don’t read their reviews?

I remember when I published my first book, The Heirloom. I hoped that people would buy it, read it and with any luck, enjoy it. It took roughly two years to research, write and rewrite. As a newly, self-published author, it took a very long time to get off the ground. If someone had told me back then that people would not only read it, but contact me to say how much they enjoyed it, well, I would have felt like my dreams were coming true.

That’s why I think the recent discussion on Twitter, sparked by an author who said it was ‘rude’ to tag them, is confusing a lot of people. On a basic level, writers write because they want to share a story with the world. Now, they might not care what the world thinks about their story (I’m thinking of Sally Rooney who said in an interview that she doesn’t read reviews or let them hold any sway for her) and that is their right. Writing a book does not automatically lock you into a contract where you have to be open to everyone’s’ opinion on it.

However, this is social media. It’s where you come to interact with people and if you’re an author (especially a well-known author), people are going to @ you. I see that Sally Rooney no longer has a Twitter account, which is really the only way to go if you don’t want to be involved in the conversation. I also noticed that Gail Honeyman, author of one of my favourite books, has also been inactive on her account since 2017. Now, I don’t know the reason for this (she’s probably writing another amazing book!) but prior to that, she responded to everyone who tagged her.

Which makes me wonder about the other part of the tweet – how we are limited ‘professionally’. Does this mean that publishers preclude authors from engaging with reviewers? Perhaps that’s a valid point – but I’ve never heard of this being the case and it certainly isn’t for me. In fact, the more interaction the merrier. But I think saying ‘thank you’ or liking a tweet is hardly going to create any conflict of interest. Or is the author referring to negative reviews and the unwritten rule that authors should not engage in online spats about their books (are you listening John Boyne?!) Maybe that is what she meant – it is so difficult to have a nuanced conversation on Twitter.

But speaking of negative reviews – I think it’s safe to assume that most authors do not want to be tagged on those! I saw Erin Morgenstern had to ask people to refrain from tagging her in conversations about how they didn’t really enjoy her new book. That’s just …. shit, really. I don’t know why anyone would want to call an author’s attention to their negative opinion of their book. Where is that conversation going to go? Is the author supposed to apologise? Give up writing?? Of course not. I like to use Goodreads to write my reviews, but I’m always cringing that an author might see the negative ones. Yes, it’s my honest opinion, but I’m not going to draw their attention to it by tagging them.

The fact is, everyone is entitled to make their own boundaries and I respect that. Judging from the comments, most people don’t expect a response from the author anyhow, but it’s nice when it happens. I tag other authors when I’m in love with their book – you can bet your butt I tagged Gail Honeyman with a link to a gushing review on my blog and she said something along the lines of Yay! thanks and we all went home happy. But I have tagged one or two authors who haven’t responded, for whatever reason, and that’s cool too. Maybe we should just agree that it’s not rude to tag and it’s not rude to not reply. Simples.

However, I don’t like the idea of self-appointed spokespeople making sweeping generalisations on behalf of all authors everywhere. We have all taken different paths to this place and some of us see it as a validation of sorts when someone has taken the time to say, hey, nice work.

Neil Gaiman added his tuppence worth, giving credence to the belief that authors do not want to read their reviews. Again, it came off a little patronising and, as happens on Twitter, we all have knee-jerk reactions. Later, he qualified his comment with the following:

This just goes to show what I believe to be the crux of the issue. Most of us would struggle to get reviewed in the mainstream media. Our aim is to be read by regular readers, not critics. So yeah, of course we want to hear from those people! The day I have a bad review in the Times and someone tags me in it, maybe then I’ll understand the annoyance these writers feel. But you know what? Maybe I won’t, because I’ve had to grow a very thick skin over the years – something all those articles written by publishers and agents tell us we need to do if we want to be authors!

It sometimes feels like all of this advice for writers is being sent in the wrong direction. I’m a fan of Neil Gaiman, but he does not speak for all of us. Just like he didn’t speak for me when he said eBook piracy was ‘an incredibly good thing’. Illegal downloads are having a seriously adverse affect on authors trying to establish a career in the digital age, affecting sales and creating an environment where readers no longer see the value in paying for books. You cannot assume that everyone in this industry is on a level playing field. We are a diverse ecosystem and one of the most integral parts of it are book reviewers/book bloggers. Elizabeth Bear’s tweet was especially dismissive of bloggers who read/review/promote book reviews and naturally tag the author as an FYI.

Whatever the intention was (and I’m learning that your intention can be very much misconstrued on Twitter) it has again highlighted the amount of unpaid work bloggers do with little or no credit. Another tweet (oh my God, I’m spending so much time on Twitter!! Help!) from a book blogger laid out how much time it takes and commitment to keep a blog going and how a simple high five from an author can make it feel worthwhile. It strikes me that in a multi-million euro industry, the people who do all the work get the least reward. Authors receive tiny royalties, have to do their own marketing and bloggers work for the price of a free book.

Anyway, I don’t want to end on a bum note. No-one is forcing us to be here, we do it because we love it, but as in life, it only takes some small courtesies to make it better for everyone. Try to not to illegally download books – I know we’re all on tight budgets, but please borrow from a library instead and if you can, leave a review. Show book bloggers some appreciation by liking their reviews – yes they love books anyway but I can’t imagine having to read loads of books I didn’t choose and then promoting them and promoting other bloggers, all for free! And do tag authors – most of us are not guaranteed newspaper reviews or even book deals. So it’s a lovely boost when someone takes the time to review your book (just don’t share the negative ones with us – no good can come from it!)

As Rebecca Solnit said, a book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another. We need each other.

Books I Loved in 2019

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Well, thank God that’s over. I am now over-weight and reluctant to do anything more taxing than switching channels on the TV. Thanks Christmas, thanks a lot!

But the sanctioned fun isn’t over yet folks, we have the New Year shenanigans to get through first! Although it is a bit exciting this year as we’re entering the 20’s. Still, not as edge-of-the-seat as 1999 when we were all worried about Y2K and the END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNEW IT.

Come what may, we will always have books and speaking of which, this is a little post to highlight the ones I’ve really enjoyed this year (which doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve been published in 2019 – it’s just that this was the year I finally got round to reading them). I know, it’s an edgy, original concept that no-one else has thought of yet, so I’m thinking this is the post that’s gonna go viral.

A quick glance at Goodreads reveals that I haven’t been a voracious reader this year – as per my previous post, it’s been a funny old 12 months. But what is clear is that my one and only five star rating went to …. (drumroll)

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I stumbled across this book quite by accident (which makes it even BETTER!) while scrolling through my library eBook app thingie (BorrowBox). Saw the lovely Carmel Harrington’s quote and thought, yeah, I’ll give this one a go. OMG. You know when you find your book soul mate? Yep, this is THE ONE. I gushed about it in a full, dedicated, book crush post here, but just to give you a quick snifter –

This book is one of those rare treats that can surprise and delight and stretch the boundaries of genre. It’s got EVERYTHING; a little bit of history, a generous helping of clever, wry humour and tons of humanity. The characters manage to avoid the usual tropes and all bring their own very unique personalities to this quirky tale of family, love and finding your path in life.

Next on the list is …

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Came across this book thanks to the Reece Witherspoon bookclub. Loved the ‘prickly’ main character immediately – very reminiscent of Eleanor Oliphant, so if you were a fan, this book is for you. I love stories that explore how being set in your ways is fine, but you can’t expect life to play by your rules. Life is chaos, basically, and trying to control things doesn’t always work. Funny, moving and clever, this book gets four stars from me.

Finally, one of my most recent reads (you didn’t think I could go a whole blog post without mention historical fiction, did you??) makes the list …

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Hello?? Cover envy – moi? It’s a beautiful book with a story that just reels you in and won’t let go. One of those books you can’t wait to get back to. Wonderfully written and depicted, a bit like Eternal Sunshine for The Spotless Mind but for historical fiction lovers! Lush, unnerving and romantic – this one gets four stars from me (the beginning is a little drawn out, so hang in there!)

So that’s it, I’m sure you will all be compiling your own lists and I can’t wait to read them so I can add to my list for 2020. That’s the only resolution worth trying to keep – oh, that and trying to write a book or two of my own! Best wishes to you all for the coming year, hope it will bring good things for us all ūüôā

 

Life Behind The Scenes

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Oh dear, there are veritable cobwebs on my blog. I may have forgotten how to drive this thing, but let’s give it a go.

This year has been a lot of upheaval, personally and professionally. Yet, thankfully, in these final few weeks of 2019 I can look back and see that I’ve done the best thing for me, stayed true to myself and got through what I needed to get through. I imagine that for most of you, your year has been a similar journey of ups and downs and I sincerely hope that you’ve all come to trust yourselves more as a result.

January saw me get an email in response to a submission I’d sent out. They wanted to see more. So, in March I got the phone call I never thought I would get. An editor from Penguin Random House had read my writing and wanted to work with me. I tried to keep my expectations from going off the charts, but after a half hour on the phone to London, I allowed myself to believe that things were indeed, looking up.

I spent the next few months sketching out a story idea and eventually writing some sample chapters. The feedback was positive and I was asked to prepare a chapter breakdown and synopsis to present to ‘the team’, all with a view to putting a contract in place. A CONTRACT!!! The summer came and went and I waited to hear back. During this time, I gave myself permission to start dreaming about how this would all play out. I thought, ‘come on Evie, stop being so cautious all the time, it’s actually happening!’ Then in September I got the email I never could have anticipated. The editor was switching jobs and taking up a position with a different publisher. My story had, as a result, fallen between the cracks.

I was devastated. I had never been so close to signing with a major publisher. And I was angry at how precarious this industry can be for authors. Angry that the biggest break of my writing career was just, over and for everyone else, it was just another day in publishing. It was tough to take.

It was nobody’s fault and in time I even began to see the silver lining –¬† if my writing had impressed the editors at Penguin, I must be doing something right! And if I’m honest, I’ve learned a lot about myself and what it means to be a writer through this experience. I learned the difference between working with a multi-national publisher and an independent publisher. There are compromises you have to make, no matter which path you choose; creative freedom, royalties, etc. I also learned how some decisions are taken away from you entirely and all you can do is make peace with it and move on. I was reminded of what really mattered to me; telling a story I’m passionate about.

On a more personal level, I got a new kitchen!! Finally. This has been on my wish-list for ages, but I was dreading the inevitable chaos. Anyone out there who has revamped their kitchen will feel my pain and sense of achievement on this one ūüėÄ It seemed to go on forever, and I had to become the project manager of at least four different tradesmen, as well as qualifying in amateur kitchen design. What did I learn? NOTHING GOES TO PLAN, but most things will get sorted, more or less! Also, there’s something you don’t expect when doing work on your house – it’s like doing work on yourself. The cluttered old kitchen I had was, unbeknownst to me, making me really unhappy. But now, with my new streamlined kitchen, I just feel good about myself; like, investing in my home was investing in me.

Physically, it’s been hard to write (which is another reason the blog has taken a back seat). I have an old injury that’s been causing me pain, but this year, I found someone who is really helping to literally straighten me out! I won’t go into the gory details, but it’s been a challenge, mentally and physically. I know I’m not alone in this too – everyone is dealing with something and I really wish that you find the path to good health. I know so many writers and bloggers who keep on writing despite chronic conditions that may or may not be visible. Well, let me say that I see you and I am inspired by you!

A high point of my year was featuring in The Gloss Magazine . So many of my favourite authors have taken part in the ‘Writer’s Block’ series, so I was delighted to be asked. It was the most in-depth interview I’ve ever done and it was an amazing opportunity to delve into my past and the inspiration behind my writing career. I was a bit apprehensive about putting myself in the spotlight, but someone told me that they felt they got to know me better after reading it, so I’m glad I was able to show a more personal side. The cherry on top was Sophie Grenham’s introduction to the piece, which I’m still smiling about! I feel really fortunate, as an indie writer, to be featured in the mainstream media in Ireland. It just goes to show that, at the end of the day, the story is all that matters.

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Through all the ups and downs, my family have been an amazing support, as always. It’s funny, when I look at those author bio’s that say ‘Jenny lives in Wicklow with her husband and two kids and twelve labradors’, I worry that mine looks a bit empty.¬†Evie lives with herself and has grown ridiculously fond of her own space! But it’s true. I like my life and being single just makes me appreciate the relationships I do have even more. And if that isn’t success, I don’t know what is. Or as Maya Angelou put it,

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So, that’s my year, or some of it anyway. I don’t think you really need to hear about the time I got my hair chopped and dyed some AWFUL colour so now I’m wearing lots of hats!! Oh, and I wish I could tell you the exciting news my publisher just gave me about The Story Collector, which is nothing short of an early Christmas present, but alas, I’ve been sworn to secrecy (again). Either way, I feel like I should end this with a song. Music always gets me through – no matter the sitch, there’s a song for it. So I’ve been listening to this one a lot, which is all about having strong foundations and belief that you can get through all of life’s storms.

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PS. Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway (my favourite indie book store!) has The Story Collector on special offer at the moment and FREE WORLDWIDE DELIVERY!! Get it here¬†

 

 

#WriterProblems ¬Į\_(„ÉĄ)_/¬Į

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Well, I didn’t win the Costa Book Award, which is the first of today’s problems, but at least one of my favourite novels of last year – The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – did, so that’s some consolation.

Now before I delve into the dark and murky waters of #WriterProblems, I have to preface it with a caveat, of sorts. A prologue, if you will. A prolo-blem. And it is this: nobody gives a shit if you have writer problems. You’re the one who kept banging on about writing a book and now you’re published, you should be full of the joys of spring and stop moaning to everyone about how hard it is. Right? *whispers* So when we talk about writer problems amongst ourselves, we need to do it in the softest voice that only bees can hear, lest we come across as ungreatful whingers.

There is nothing like finding yourself waist-deep in the tundra of a first draft to start questioning all the rose-tinted crap you once spouted about the charmed life of being a writer. That’s the stuff you say¬†after¬†the book is written and published and safely out of your hands. But writing is like a game of snakes and ladders – when it’s time to start writing your new book you are unceremoniously shoved down a snake and sent back to square one, having learned (apparently) nothing. In fact it’s even worse the second time around because you know you did this before, but you have no recollection of how you did it. Was it this hard?¬†Was I this ill-prepared? It’s like like people telling you that you climbed Everest as a toddler, yet now, as a grown-up, you’re suddenly terrified of heights.

So what are the main problems we writers face on a daily basis? What are the shared agonies that can make us feel, if nothing else, less alone? Well, strap yourself in, literally, for number 1.

Problem Number One:

How to stay in the chair –

This might sound basic, but Jesus Herbert Christ, it is probably the most challenging part of writing a book. Your house suddenly becomes a wonderland of endless activities – everything from doing housework to making tea to ‘getting some air in the garden’ are all colluding against you finishing your novel. With the help of some fellow authors on Twitter, I’m currently working on a prototype¬†for a writer’s chair‚ĄĘ featuring a seatbelt, tea-making facilities and a timelock. Kind of like an electric chair, only with cushions and a shelf for your biscuits.

Problem Number Two:

Nobody takes your job seriously

If you manage to avoid the distractions of giving your oven a deep clean or attacking the grout with a toothbrush, people drop by because you’re ‘not doing anything’. It’s hard to convince people that staring into space wearing your pyjamas is work, but IT IS! ‘Sure you can do that later,’ is the battle-cry of well-meaning muggles who have NO CLUE that ‘later’ you’ll be putting together a soundtrack for the film adaptation of your book, so no, that’s not convenient either. When you have a book out, people actually start to take you seriously – they see your book on the shelves and think ‘Wow, you really are a writer.’ But no sooner have the ‘Buy 1 Get 1 Half Price’ stickers faded than you resume your lowly position as a work-shy chancer, dealing in ‘ideas’ and ‘concepts’ rather than real work.

Problem Number Three:

Other writers –

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Yay! Look at us and our brilliant award for being brilliant!! Damn them and their¬† daily wordcount updates, their new contracts, their constant doing stuff! It puts you forever on the back foot, feeling you’re not doing enough. You think, great, I’ve written a page that wasn’t totally awful today and then you see somebody is doing a writing retreat to kickstart the 10 book deal they’ve just signed and all before breakfast All of a sudden, your accomplishment pales in comparison – but it’s a trap. Don’t let other peoples’ success diminish yours. We’re all moving forward, we’re just at different points along the way and as Teddy Roosevelt once said,¬†‘Comparison is the thief of joy’. Bloody joy thieves!!

Problem Number Four:

Quality Control

This is a two-part problem – not knowing if what you’re writing is any good, but also having to persevere with your ‘not any good’ writing because that’s what a first draft is. I almost have to write with my eyes closed! And the perspective keeps changing, like those mirrors at the fun-fair – one minute you think what you’ve written looks great – then it looks like one of Frankenstein’s nightmares. What seemed pithy and clever yesterday is tired a cliched today. But you know, Rome wasn’t built in a day (badum-tish!) and you just have to fake it until you make it. (I’ll stop now.)

Problem Number Five:

Having/Not having a contract.

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This is where those 10-book-deal-joy-thieves are smiling on the other side of their faces!! While the security of having a book deal is nice, being creative on purpose is a lot of pressure. In one sense I feel lucky because I’ve never really had to write to a deadline. Ideas have come organically and I’ve had the space to let them germinate into something approaching a plot. But the flip side of that is the sense of futility that creeps in. ‘Is anyone ever going to read this? Will it ever get published?’ It takes a lot of grit and determination to keep going when you don’t know the answers to those questions. And I think most authors, regardless of what stage they are at in their careers are very aware of the shifting sands in publishing, so nothing is certain. The best solution is to write for yourself and worry about the rest later.

Problem Number Six:

Refusing to give up

Well-meaning Muggles: So if it’s that tough, maybe you should pack it in?

Me: I’m sorry, what now? What gave you the impression that I don’t want to do this? I’ll be a writer if I wanna be, dammit!!

So you see, despite all of the problems with writing, it’s still the one thing you get a kick out of doing, even if it insists on kicking you back. We all have romantic notions of what it is to own a bookshop or be a musician or a circus performer. But all of these exotic-sounding jobs have very mundane daily rituals. The gloss is just the tip of the iceberg that everyone sees and many envy, but the hulk that lies in solitary darkness is the part you have to make friends with if you want to get to the end of the story. And I will get to the end of this story, just as soon as I finish this cup of tea….

The Black Hole of Research

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Did you know that The Countess of Lovelace was the mathematician responsible for the very first algorithm? She’s the one we can all blame when our books are foundering in the choppy rankings on Amazon. How do I know this? Because I was researching SOMETHING COMPLETELY UNRELATED!

Many writerly souls have been lost on the road to research. Like pilgrims seeking truth (and hopefully a large chunk of data we can copy and paste into our WIP to boost our wordcount for the day, without actually having to write anything) we set out innocently hoping to find the right answers to our questions. Like, what did people eat in the sixteenth century? Is a hurricane worse than a cyclone? When did indoor plumbing, like, happen? What were the best hotels in Paris before WWI? (asking for a friend). Did Victorian women mountaineers wear skirts? The answer is yes, by the way, they did in the mid 1800s and despite appearances, they weren’t hampered one bit.¬† Check out the aptly named Lucy Walker.¬† How do I know this?¬† Again, I got A LOT distracted from my original quest, which was…. what was it again?

That’s the beauty and the beast that is the Internet. It’s a wonderful tool for research and even when you end up deep down a black hole of ‘Stuff That Will Never Make It To Your Novel,’ it’s still really interesting (albeit time-consuming).¬† I would love if Google could accumulate some of the most common searches for each writing genre.¬† I’m guessing crime writers would have the most gruesome results – like how many times and in what location you can stab someone before killing them? So much of a writer’s search history has been conveniently explained away as “research”.

Writing historical fiction doesn’t help.¬† When people ask why it takes so long to write a book, they don’t mean how long you spent researching it (like spending half the day reading about how Joan of Arc was captured in a small town in Northern France, called Compiegne, only to vaguely refer to it in one sentence).¬† They mean how long you spent putting words together.¬† But if you’ve ever written a story, you learn pretty quick that everything needs to be researched – location, professions, dialect, clothing, customs and anything else that has a question mark over it, because as we all know, fiction needs to be factually correct or else it doesn’t work. Unless you plan on writing an autobiography, or a story that never mentions anything outside of your field of knowledge (which isn’t a bad idea, actually!)

But then there are those wonderful moments when the black hole of research leads you to your next story idea.¬† Such was the case with The Story Collector; I was looking up information on a local hill, where it is said that the King of the Connacht fairies (that’s Finvarra to you) is buried.¬† I found myself being swept slightly off course and in a couple of clicks, came face to face with a dapper-looking anthropologist who wrote a book about The Good People in Celtic countries.¬† I made a note of it – lost the note – but never forgot his story and in a few years began researching in earnest for what would become my third novel, inspired by that man.¬† So you never know!¬† Books are certainly much more contained when it comes to research, and once I know what I’m looking for, I tend to use books more than the internet, but it’s the ‘lucky dip’ of searching online that makes it so exciting. Research can be a fun and interesting part of the writing journey, just don’t forget to book a return ticket.

Why Writers Are 100% My Type On Paper

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You know that old cliche – you don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps?! Well, welcome to the book business my friend.¬† In the style of Joni Mitchell, I’ve looked at publishing from both sides now – well, three sides to be precise, a triangular perspective with lots of 90 degree angles.¬† I’ve gone from an unpublished writer, to self-published to traditionally published and I can safely say that the one rule of successful book publishing is…. there are no rules!¬†¬†I’m starting to wonder if the publishing industry is some form of collective insanity.¬† And it is the writer, the creative power at the centre of the… triangle, who has the least amount of certainty in this baffling equation of reader plus book, multiplied by publishing.

But wait, that’s just inside the triangle.¬† The real uncontrollable variables are all outside the triangle, like….. like a big circle encasing billions of little triangles (God I wish I hadn’t brought up geometry) that functions according to its own rules and agendas.

Let me break it down (and stop pretending I know anything about sums).¬† As an unpublished author, I clung onto the popular belief that published authors had it made, that publishers showered you with advances and follow-up deals for books you haven’t even written yet and that once your book was on the shelf, everyone would know of its existence and buy it.¬† It’s weird to be looking back on that time now, because I suppose it forces me to see how far I’ve come, which is not something I’m very good at doing.¬† I’m always chasing after the next rainbow – I guess it’s the human condition.¬† But it’s also a reminder of how much work went into becoming the writer I am now – which is the same for all writers.¬† So much work goes on behind the scenes, during the lean years when the only message you got from the outside world was, ‘getting a book deal is harder than winning the lottery‘ or ‘writing is a nice hobby‘.¬† At this point, a lot of writers think about quitting.¬† It seems utterly pointless and delusional.¬† A strange breeding ground for future authors, but one thing it certainly teaches us all is resilience and something else far more interesting (okay, two things, I told you I was bad at maths) PASSION.¬† It’s at this stage you find out whether or not writing is your passion, because if it is, it won’t let you go, so you may as well make the best of it.

Which brings me to self-publishing.¬† The best compliment I can give to self-publishing is that most readers hardly notice if a book is self-published anymore (I know this from my reviews).¬† It turns out the digital revolution was right; people don’t care where their stories come from, as long as they’re good.¬† The cream did rise to the top – all of the worries people had about rubbish novels taking over the world were unfounded and in the end it was the reader who shaped the self-publishing landscape.¬† Yes, it drove down the price of an eBook, which has had both good and bad repercussions (more anon), but it also introduced authors (who might otherwise have withered and died in a pile of their own submission material) to a new readership that traditional publishers weren’t targeting.¬† Turns out people wanted to read about vampires and spacemen and weird sexual contracts!¬† But I digress – the point is, self-publishing is brilliant, dynamic and offers better royalties than the main traditional publishers, but it does have its limits and this is where reality sets in. Your book is just one out of zillions of books published every year and the problem that needs solving is how to get noticed?

Cue traditional publishing!¬† The old school, tried and tested way of getting your book in front of readers, but even this approach has its challenges.¬† There’s no doubt that having your book published traditionally gives you (as a writer) the kind of validation recognised by booksellers and readers alike.¬† And for me personally, it was a huge vote of confidence in my writing career.¬† I’m no longer working in complete isolation and it feels good to have people who care as much about my book as I do!¬† But books don’t automatically appear on shelves, they need to charm the book buyers first and if you walk into any bookshop, you will see who has the most influence.¬† You’re still facing the same problem – how to get my book noticed in a crowded market.¬† This came home to me when I walked into my local Dubrays the other week, an auspicious occasion, because it was the first time I was going to see my book in a shop (that I didn’t have to hand-deliver myself!)¬† The windows were taken up with large displays for Anne Tyler’s new novel (like she needs the publicity – and now I’ve given her more!!) and as I walked down the centre aisle, all of the mainstream publishers had their new releases displayed like colourful fruits at a stereotypical French market. I had already heard of these books through print media and online thanks to their big promotion budget, and now they held prime real estate right throughout the shop.¬† So there is a lot more to this book business than meets the eye and each new deal is a giant victory for your book. (Like the fact that The Story Collector is now on promotion in all WH Smith stores in Irish airports – YAY!!)

So I’m still pushing, still trying to let people know that my book is good and it’s on the shelf.¬†¬†I’m very lucky to be with my publisher and have a wonderful PR person helping me, but the truth is, I am probably working harder to promote this book than I did on my previous two.¬† Then again, I have more to promote and that’s thanks to having a publisher, which has definitely opened more doors for me.¬† I just got off the phone from the arts reporter for my local newspaper and I’m constantly submitting articles to online publications and (gently) reminding people that my book is on promotion and on the shelf.¬† What’s that? Where can you buy it? Allow me to furnish you with those deets ūüôā

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Book Depository ~ Dubray Books ~ Foyles ~ O’Mahony’s ~ Waterstones ~ WH Smith

Amazon UK  ~ Amazon US ~  Amazon (paperback)

So what’s my point?

It’s non-stop graft, but you still have very little control over how well your book will perform.¬† You spend years in the Unpublished Doldrums, wondering if you’re any good at all or if you’ll ever make it, then if you hang in there, you might get to Self-Published Isle, a wonderful place where you make everything happen yourself but lack the support of industry insiders.¬† Then if you’re really, really lucky, you’ll get to Trad-Published Mountain, a mythical place where not all is at it seems, but the view is good and the bar is subsidised!

HOWEVER, after all of that and regardless of which route you take to publication, chances are your voyage will be scuppered by pirates (or as they should be called, copyright thieves).¬† The digital revolution has been such a wonderful progression for everyone who loves books, but the downside is the growth in illegal download sites.¬† Like the music industry before, books have lost their value for some and even 99p is deemed too high a price for a book.¬† A typical comparison when discussing this topic is that some people believe it’s normal to pay more for a cup of coffee than a book.¬† So after all those years of working on your craft for no income – the years of submitting and learning how to deal with rejection – the years of starting over with a brand new novel and putting the old one in a drawer – the years of being told it’s not commercially viable or ‘right for our lists’ – the years of promoting your author platform – more writing – more editing – waiting for a response – providing tons of free content to gain exposure – finally getting a deal – discovering you won’t be getting a six figure advance after all – more promotion – doing all of this before you see a red cent – some creep comes along, takes your new book and makes it freely available for anyone to download.

Because, as we all know, people in the arts aren’t really working; it’s not like a real job, so they don’t deserve a real income.¬† And the people who download your book from an illegal site aren’t really stealing, because they probably wouldn’t have bought it anyway. Or maybe they’re like the old me, thinking that published authors are doing quite nicely for themselves and anyway, the publisher will probably cover the loss.¬† Maybe articles like this in which author earnings are revealed to be less than the minimum wage, will help (and they’re the lucky ones, professional writers who got published and write full time).¬† For authors in Ireland, it’s even less (The ‚ā¨500 a year career)¬† This is what’s happening and finally the industry is starting to fight back, as in the recent case with OceanofPDF (The Times).¬† But is it too little too late?¬† Who knows.

All I do know is that, in the face of all this improbability, writers keep on writing and books are more popular than ever.¬† I see the enthusiasm of new publishers (like Urbane) to become a dynamic and exciting alternative to the Big 5, to give voice to new writers and offer readers something different from the risk-averse mainstream.¬† But this whole fallacy about ‘writers not doing it for the money’ needs editing.¬† We might not be motivated to write by money, but we would very much like to be remunerated for our work, thank you very much.¬† Even if it is a pittance, we’ve earned it! Fiction writers are real people¬†with very ordinary lives, trying to create something a little extraordinary that everyone can enjoy.¬† I don’t think the world owes us a living, but it sure as shit needs to protect our copyright and give us a fair share of the profits from our work (UK book sales for 2017 hit a record ¬£5.7 bn, read more here).

So on the one hand we have an industry that has been described as ‘exploitative’ by author Philip Pullman and on the other, a section of society that now expect to read books for free.¬† Even with my limited skills, I know that doesn’t add up.¬† And that is why writers are SOOOOO my type, because even though they are aware of this shit storm going on in the big circle around them, they sit down and keep plugging away at their story, in the hope that the pen will ultimately triumph over everything else.¬† Yeah, maybe we’re slightly deluded, but how else do you think books get written?!¬† Writers are dreamers.¬† They have to be, to imagine a place where words are not something to be stolen, but something to be cherished.

What To Do Before Your Book Launch

Sound the 30 days to launch klaxon!!¬† It’s just T minus 720 hours until my new book, The Story Collector, hits bookshelves and I’ve decided to draw up a helpful list of all the things I should be doing during this final phase of publishery and book launcherism.

  1. Panic.¬† I’m particularly good at this and have devoted many years of worship at the altar of worry.¬† Some people say that stress is a negative use of energy… I say they’re not doing it right!

 

2. Have my immune system turn against me.  

Immune system:¬† Hey, remember that time of the big freeze when you’re pipes burst and the house flooded and you got a chest infection and just for fun, I thought I’d spice things up with some weird eczema rash on your legs??¬† Let’s do that again!

Me: Um…

Immune system:¬† You know, it’s been ages since we’ve been to the dentist for a filling…. it’d be a shame if you had to get a really deep filling and upset all your nerve endings right before your launch…

Me: HELP!

3. Start comparing myself (unfavourably) to other authors

It doesn’t even need to be launch time to do this – authors can do this any old time they fancy but it’s particularly effective when you’re looking for proof that everyone else on the planet is doing a better job at this than you.

 Me watching someone have a better launch than me.

 

4.  Plan my spontaneous wardrobe

Why do we spend two months planning an ‘I just threw this on’ look?¬† Why is it so damn hard to look natural?¬† And why oh why is it that when authors buy an outfit for their author photo, they look like someone trying to look like an author??¬† What do authors even wear? If I’m being authentic, I should just wear pyjama bottoms and an old t-shirt. READY!

5. See how many times you can remind people of your launch date before they take out a barring order.

Work in progress.

6. Cry.

Did I say cry?  I meant smile, dementedly.

I’m really happy and not nervous at all!

7. Reality check

Remember that anyone without a book deal would bite your arm off right now – in fact, you yourself would have gnawed off an appendage less than two years ago to be where you are now.¬† So try to be mindful, greatful and remember that it’s a book, not a rocket launch.¬† You don’t need to be a scientist or anything other than yourself.¬† I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

But seriously folks, it’s not all fun and games, I have actually done something productive!¬† I am planning a VIRTUAL BOOK LAUNCH¬†and you’re all invited ūüôā¬† Love book launches but hate having to leave the house?¬† Want to chat with booky people AND stay in your pyjamas?¬† I’ve got you covered!

Book launch

All you need to come to my party is a Twitter account!¬† Just follow the hashtag #TheStoryCollector or my handle @evgaughan and rock up at about 8pm on the 14th June for an hour of book chat and you might even win something for your trouble.¬† As the book is all about folklore and superstition, I’m actively encouraging everyone to share their stories – perhaps an old family story that has been handed down or a superstition unique to your area.¬† I’m really looking forward to it and hope you can join me!

In the meantime, you can preorder your copy here.

The Author Is Dead, Long Live The Reader

 

 

A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.

Rebecca Solnit

 

A very strange thing is happening as my new book, The Story Collector, takes its first tentative steps into the world.¬† Advance review copies are winging their way to people and for the first time in my writing career, I feel content to let go.¬† With my first two books, I stood nervously by, watching my ‘babies’ like a helicopter mom, growling at anyone who deigned to pick on them, ready to steady them if they stumbled.¬† But not with this one.

My sister began her Masters in Comparative Literature in NUIG last year, which has been great for me because I’m learning all about critical theory without having to leave my house!¬† One day, over a pot of tea, she introduced me to an essay¬†‘La mort de l’auteur’ (The Death of the Author)¬†by the French literary critic and theorist, Roland Barthes.¬† Coz that’s our life now.¬† Ultimately, he claims that ‘The birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the author’.¬† I was furious as my sister told me that the reader is the new author!¬† ‘Do you know how long I’ve been writing this story?’ I said.¬† ‘This story was my idea, it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for me!!’¬† I was on my high horse and refusing to come down.

But weirdly enough, I’ve recently arrived at a similar conclusion myself.¬† In order for readers to interpret a text, they need to divorce it from the author.¬† To be honest, I think most authors would be happy enough with that.¬† We write stories to say the things we cannot – yet nowadays authors are expected to talk endlessly about their own work, which can spoil the magic and influence the meaning of the text.¬† Barthes argues against this kind of contamination and asserts that books are¬†“eternally written here and now”, with each re-reading.¬† I love that idea, because there is a kind of immortality in that.¬† Stories live on forever because they are constantly being reborn and rewritten by each new reader, long after the author has shuffled off to her great reward.¬† It’s up to the readers to assign meaning to the text now; my intentions are no longer important.¬† We produce the work, but the ultimate destiny of the work is in the hands of the reader.¬† It is now left open to their interpretation and I think that’s why it’s so important for authors to take a step back.

Maybe it’s having a (brilliant!) publisher this time around that means I don’t have that obsessive protectiveness I had over my first two books.¬† There are some major conflicts of interest when you are the author and the publisher.¬† Everything is taken personally because you are solely responsible for every aspect of writing, designing, producing and selling the book.¬† Or maybe it’s the length of time that has passed since I typed ‘The End’ and actually seeing the book in print that has given me a sense of distance.¬† Yet again, it could be the years of picking up good and bad reviews for my work and understanding that while some people might love what you write, others will hate it.¬† And that’s okay.¬† That’s normal.¬† I think I have finally realised that reviews don’t determine whether or not you are a good writer.¬† Chances are, those people aren’t even taking you or your writing career into consideration – they’re merely logging their own response to a work for (and this is the important bit) the benefit of other readers.¬† I’ve also taken to singing Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’ when I get a one star review, which has been surprisingly helpful ūüôā

Either way, it’s a good thing, because The Story Collector belongs to the readers now.¬† Like our folklore and ancient stories, we don’t need to know who wrote them to appreciate them.¬† So the best thing I can do now is let this story out into the wild to make its own way – wave it off from the doorway, then turn back inside and seek out a new one.

Pre-Order your copy on Amazon now ~ The Story Collector

The_Story_Collector_7.indd

Recommended Reads

Too soon? ¬†Never! ¬†I’ve stumbled across so many spectacular reads this year, that I thought I’d do an end of summer review of my favourites. ¬†So if you’re looking for ideas for your next read, this one is for you.

Historical Fiction

Golden Hill

GOLDEN HILL

Set in 18th century New York, this is a novel that will turn your idea of historical fiction on its’ head. ¬†Part caper, part mystery, this novel is beautifully written in a unique style. ¬†Small wonder that Spufford won the Desmond Elliot, Costa and Ondaatje prizes for his debut novel. ¬†As I said in my Goodreads review, ‘Some books are just perfection to read. ¬†This is one of them.’

 

 

 

Contemporary Fiction

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE

Does this book even need an introduction?  Believe the hype people!  This is such a refreshingly original novel, written with a perfect balance of wit, intelligence and sincerity.  I defy you not to fall in love with this book and Eleanor.  An uplifting story that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.  Check out my full review here.

 

 

 

Classic

Rebecca

REBECCA

It’s always good to read something timeless, and so, Rebecca. ¬†The best way to describe this book is if Downton Abbey was written by Edgar Allen Poe! ¬†I absolutely adored this book, the lush descriptions, the opulent setting, the dashing widower, the innocent ingenue, the creepy maid… it’s all there!! ¬†It’s grip lit meets gothic romance, all in a lovely English mansion. ¬†What’s not to love?!

 

 

 

Novella

The Beautiful Bureaucrat

THE BEAUTIFUL BUREAUCRAT

If you’re looking for a shorter read, this novella is certainly a quirky one. ¬†Falling somewhere between dystopian and science fiction, this is a curious story that is strangely unnerving and compelling. ¬†It’s about a very average couple who find jobs in a very unusual place. ¬†There is a lot of ambiguity and it’s probably best to read it with no expectations. ¬†Think Kafka-esque, without the cockroach!

 

 

 

 

Of course, you could always read MY novels!

THE DEFINITIVE SELF-PUBLISHING CHECKLIST ~ For People Who Aren’t Very Organised and are absolute beginners.

The definitive

You just hit publish, right? ¬†That’s what all the articles say. ¬†Any idiot can upload a book in minutes. ¬†And yes, I suppose any idiot can, but it takes a very informed, dedicated, professional¬†and talented individual to upload a book that people will want to read. ¬†A recent Facebook post from a first-time author seeking advice made me realise how long I’ve been doing this self-publishing thang and how I’ve kind of taken for granted that everyone has¬†‘the knowledge’. ¬†There are so many blogs, articles and how-to books on the subject, and yet authors can still struggle with the basics. ¬†The first author asked what she should be doing in the run up to her launch and another suggested that while there is a lot of information out there, it’s almost overwhelming. ¬†Where do you start? ¬†Where does it end?? ¬†So in an effort to share said knowledge, I’m writing a blog with an impossibly long title, which will (hopefully) be filled with all of the essentials, while trying not to bombard¬†you with too much scary stuff.

  1. Make a publishing schedule. ¬†promo-calendar¬† ¬† ¬† So you’ve typed those blessed words, THE END and you’re mooching around the Kindle Direct Publishing website wondering where the publish button is. ¬†Whoa there Tex, what’s your rush? ¬†You’ve skipped the bajillion steps between finishing your manuscript and sending it out into the world for people to read. ¬†So roll back your wagon and follow step number one – create a publishing schedule. ¬†In my opinion, you’re going to need at least six months to get everything done before your book goes live, so first things first, DO NOT RUSH. ¬†This is not a race, unless you’re hoping to win a medal for the person least prepared to publish a book.

2. Polish your prose. ¬†Has your book been edited? ¬†Proof-read? ¬†Again, don’t rush out there and get the first editor you find on Fiverr. ¬†There are so many ‘professionals’ who are feeding off the self-publishing industry, so you want to find someone who has a proven track record. ¬†A great place to find all of the professionals you’re going to need is Indie Author Alliance Services Directory. ¬†At the very least, get some Beta readers whose opinions you trust and respect. ¬†It nigh on¬†impossible to view your work objectively, so you need other eyes to see the things you cannot.

3. Hire a designer. ¬†Again, you’re going to need time to find a good cover designer and depending on their work load, you might have to wait a few months in a queue, so best to get in early. ¬†Again, look for examples of their work. ¬†Don’t worry if you are on a budget, there are plenty of websites that offer pre-made covers that are really good value and you simply add your name and title. ¬†The Creative Penn is a great resource for self-publishing and offers a handy list of tried and tested book cover designers. ¬†This is just one list however, there are lots of designers out there and a great way of finding them is finding covers you like and checking out who designed them.

4. The Blurb. ¬†You know, there are two sides to every cover and the back can be just as important as the front. ¬†The blurb. ¬†This is often the last thing authors think about and run up a quick summary in a ‘that’ll do’ kind of approach. ¬†Do not do this. ¬†Think about it, when you’re buying a book online or in a store, the cover is the first thing to catch your eye, but the very next thing you do is turn it over to see what it’s about. ¬†This is your moment to hook the reader. ¬†A few carefully-worded sentences are all that stands between them popping your book in their basket or placing it back on the shelf. ¬†Spend time studying blurbs in your genre, Google ‘blurb writing’ and keep refining what you’ve written until you’re satisfied with it. ¬†It’s not a summary and should be written in the same style as your novel. ¬†As author Susan Kaye Quinn explains on The Bestseller Experiement podcast, ‘a blurb is flash fiction, only you don’t end it‘. ¬†Write a killer blurb, or you’ll only have your shelf to blame (sorry!)

5. Formatting. ¬†Before you can upload your book to Amazon or Smashwords, you’re going to need to format it. ¬†You could pay someone to do this for you, but if I can manage it, I’m pretty sure you can to. ¬†Everything you need to know is in this post by Catherine Ryan Howard ¬†on Writing.ie. It’s pretty old, but I’ve yet to find a more user-friendly, dedicated formatting article that explains things as well as this.

The big question, should you publish a paperback version, is something you need to decide for yourself. ¬†Kindle Direct Publishing have made it easier than ever to do this, and as soon as you upload your eBook files, it asks you if you want to make a print version. ¬†In my opinion, you have nothing to lose but the time it takes to configure your cover (or pay your designer to do this). ¬†My print sales are relatively low, but it’s good to give your readers the option.

6. Pre-order. ¬†You know you can put your book on Amazon for pre-order, meaning that people can see your book before you launch (yay marketing!) and also order it ahead of time. ¬†This will give your sales a bump on launch day and it also means that you can start promoting your book earlier and creating a buzz, while you’re still doing all of the finishing touches behind the scenes. ¬†Confession: ¬†I did not do this. ¬†I was in too much of a rush. ¬†So is this a case of do as I say and not as I do? ¬†Well, yes I suppose it is, but only because I want you to benefit from my mistakes.

7. Reviews. ¬†Reviews (1)If you are a new author, you will most definitely need the help of book reviewers/bloggers to review your book. ¬†Now is the time to start approaching them, as the most popular ones work to very tight schedules that can be booked months in advance. ¬†You’re probably starting to see that six months isn’t very long at all! ¬†But how do you find book bloggers? ¬†Easy, just type #bookbloggers into Twitter or Facebook or any social media platform and follow the links from there. The Indie View also provide an extensive list of bloggers, so if you’re still baffled by blogs, start there.

My best advice is to treat this like your typical manuscript submission process – find bloggers that are interested in your genre and contact them according to their book review policies. ¬†You can get more information on how to approach book bloggers here.¬†¬†Advance Reader Copies (or ARC’s as they’re known in the business) are essential if you want to have some reviews on your book’s page when you launch, so as soon as you have completed your edits and finalised your cover, start sending these out. ¬†As a self-publisher, I only sent eBooks for review and used the preview file from my Kindle publishing page, so I could send reviewers a .mobi version.

There is also the hugely popular NetGalley¬†where readers can request your book for free. ¬†This is quite an expensive option and it’s difficult to say if you will hit your target audience here (as opposed to approaching reviewers personally), but if you can afford it, it’s definitely a powerful promotional tool.

8. Author platform. ¬†If you haven’t already created an online presence for yourself, now would be a good time to start. ¬†Yes, it can be time-consuming to set up and to maintain, but not only do you need a profile that people can connect with, you also need a profile so you can interact with other people. ¬†The best way to get people interested in you is if you show interest in them. ¬†Blogging is a great way to let people know who you are, what you’re interested in and what you’ve got coming up. ¬†‘But nobody cares!’ I hear you cry. ¬†Well, you can start driving traffic to your blog from your Twitter account and Facebook. ¬†While there is no way of calculating how much your online activity will result in increased sales, it’s definitely the best way to connect with readers and other people in the industry, which can lead to further opportunities for you and your writing. ¬†If you come from a marketing background, you’ll have heard of The Rule of 7, which basically means that a prospective customer needs to see ¬†your product at least 7 times before deciding to buy, so being active online can only help!

9. Price. ¬†I have never given my book away for free. ¬†Ever. ¬†It’s just not something I would endorse – you might get lots of downloads but chances are that most of those people might never even read your book. ¬†I also subscribe to the wacky notion that people deserve to get paid for their work. ¬†The prevailing wisdom is that ¬£2.99 is the average price for an eBook. ¬†It might not seem like very much, but you get to keep 70% of your royalties. ¬†It’s really up to you to decide what price you want to retail your novel at and the beauty of being a self-publisher means that you can change your pricing and experiment with what works best.

10. Promotion – As with your ARC’s, you need to start booking promo spots as far in advance as possible. ¬†Book bloggers host author interviews and guest posts and there are lots of online eZines where you can submit articles (with links to your new release). ¬†It’s also worth trying traditional media, like local newspapers or radio stations that might be interested in ¬†your story. ¬†As for advertising online – most ad sites require that your book has a minimum number of reviews, so you might have to wait a while for that, but you can run a Facebook ad or a Goodreads giveaway to create some hype around your launch. ¬†(Caveat: ¬†Goodreads giveaways are for print books only. ¬†They are going to introduce an eBook version, but it will not be free, unlike the paperback giveaway).

And now that you have your own platform, why not run a giveaway on your own blog? ¬†Use Rafflecopter, the gold standard for managing giveaways and I promise, it’s easy to set up and use. ¬†If your book is part of Kindle select (which is absolutely worth doing) meaning that your book is sold exclusively on Amazon, you can start preparing your kindle countdown deal which you will be able to run 3 months after you first publish. ¬†At that point, you can make your book available for 99p (while retaining your 70% royalty rate) and give ¬†your sales another boost.

So there you have it, 10 practical ways you can prepare for your book launch. ¬†HOWEVER, if you’re reading this and you’ve scheduled your launch for tomorrow and haven’t done any or all of these steps – fear not! ¬†You have two choices here: ¬†go ahead with your launch and try to do all of these steps in hindsight or just postpone it. ¬†Trust me, unless you’ve done a fantastic job of promoting the launch of ¬†your book online, no-one will even notice. ¬†I remember when I published my debut novel, I sat at home all day, staring at the screen and wondering when the sales figures would start increasing. ¬†Seriously! ¬†That’s what I did. ¬†And ¬†you know what? ¬†Nothing happened! ¬†I had a handful of sales, but to my disappointment, the Internet didn’t stop what it was doing and congratulate me on publishing my book. ¬†Do you have any idea how many books are self-published every day on Amazon? ¬†Someone self-publishes a book every 5 minutes! ¬†The best chance you can give your book is to follow all (or most!) of these preparations ahead of time.

Final piece of advice, try not to get sucked into the marketing vortex to such an extent that you delay starting your next book.  The best way to sell your first book is to write a second.

Best of luck! ¬†You’ve written a novel, now go publish it.