A year in self publishing

Maura Byrne

BY MAURA BYRNE

I didn’t plan to self-publish when I started writing but after a few years of rejections, a couple of half-offers and finally the offer of a book contract which my lawyer instructed me not to sign, I felt I couldn’t wait any longer. I’d worked with two story editors and children were telling me they loved the book – I knew it was time to release Bridget in Werewolf Rehab.

hamptonsThe first thing I had to do was find a printer. I chose Original Writing because they had relationships in the Irish retail network. The cover came next. I’d heard Easons say that an attractive cover was paramount. Since ‘Bridget’ is a werewolf and the story is comic fantasy, Matt Ryder’s quirky animal illustrations were perfect. I published on Amazon and Smashwords (it’s inexpensive) and ordered the book ‘Self-Printed.’ I took delivery of ‘Bridget’ two days before Christmas, immediately dropping copies into my local bookshop Hampton Books.

But how was I going to successfully reach 9-12 year olds with no track record and no contacts? I needed to network so I started by phoning a self-published author. He advised me to have a book launch where all my family and friends would come and buy ‘Bridget.’ I wasn’t convinced. It would cost a few thousand euros and I’d be lucky to land one photo in the paper. Besides, I needed to reach a far wider audience. I had to discover more about the retail, school and library network.

Over the next two weeks, I met with an independent book seller, the principal at my local primary school, a dog’s charity, the Independent Theatre Group, Pet Expo and an ad agency strategist. I also phoned Children’s Book Ireland and concluded that I wouldn’t have a launch but divert the money into hiring a PR agent. Once I’d found an agent, (Red Communications), we quickly agreed on a press release and a three month media plan.

What happens to werewolves who aren’t savage beasts and vampires who don’t like blood? They get sent to rehab, of course! Welcome to Bridget’s crazy world.

Building a web presence came next and Vanessa O’Loughlin of www.writing.ie suggested a web designer. Within three weeks, we had created www.maura-byrne.com. Suddenly, I had a Facebook page, a twitter account, I was blogging about Bridget’s life, and was listed on Author Central and Good Reads. I was a social-media pro! Children from The Independent Theatre Group came to my house to film a home-made ad and in return I presented a young writers workshop to them. Meanwhile, I continued to email retailers urging them to order my fabulous book but all I got back was silence.

WerewolfA couple of weeks later, we struck gold. RTE’s children’s programme Elev8 (with an audience of up to 200,000) invited me to give live howling lessons to the presenters Diana and Ivan. I notified Easons and five minutes later I got my first order from them. The Irish Independent agreed to an article, Woman’s Way wanted to interview me about reluctant readers, Southside and Northside did a spread, WLR and Sunshine Radio wanted to chat – we were on a roll! I kept the retailers in the publicity loop and the orders trebled in a month.

I began focussing on the library and school network next. Dublin South Libraries booked me for two presentations to 90 schoolchildren in Tallaght and Lucan. Initial butterflies subsided and I loved every second. Through my friends, presentations at an Educate Together School, Rathdown Primary, Abbeyside NS and Scoil Garbhain followed. I wanted to meet more children so I put together a database of libraries and began to email them. Soon, I had an avalanche of library bookings matched by continual orders from school book and library suppliers.

In early May, the influential Children’s Books Ireland published the first ‘Bridget’ review and my heart sang! I did an in-store presentation in Easons Dungarvan in June and they sold 150 books. Autumn saw me read at the launch of the MS Readathon. By mid September, I’d been booked to present werewolf and young writer workshops to 700 children in 23 city and county libraries and schools. The orders continued to come particularly after ‘Bridget’ got a stunning review from Niall MacMonagle in the Recommended Reads Guide 2012.

Today, the sales grow. Easons just re-ordered for the 7th time and last week Trinity College showcased ‘Bridget’ to 100 children. It is a hard slog to succeed at self-publishing and there are times when I wish I had the support of a publisher if only to ensure shelf space in the bigger stores. Getting your paperback noticed and purchased without a publisher requires monumental determination and focus. I’m grateful for all I’ve learned but for Books two and three of the ‘Bridget’ trilogy, I would love the support of an international publisher. So come on publishers, a building ‘Bridget’ market is waiting for you!

Maura Byrne lives in Dublin, Ireland with her husband, her two teenage children and her dog. Her writing life started early when she wrote, directed and starred in her first play at age 9. The play went so well the school principal gave the cast a massive Easter egg as a prize. Unfortunately for Maura she was at the dentist that day and by the time she returned, the cast had eaten the lot! A ferocious reader, Maura loved being transported into strange worlds with unusual characters. She had four brothers after all and getting away from them was essential. When she wasn’t reading she was making forts, rubbing doc leaves onto her nettle-stung legs, playing piano, dressing as a tom-princess and watching episodes of ‘Black Beauty.’ Her favourite childhood book is still ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.’ When she grew up, Maura studied marketing and later created an exhibition for parents and children. It turned out to be a good idea because 30,000 people came. Of course Barney the Dinosaur was also there. – Maura was the first person to bring this purple   Jurassic creature to Ireland. But writing was still in Maura’s heart and a few years ago she started writing again. She has written lots including two more books about Bridget the reluctant werewolf and her world of nutty friends.

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What children are saying about Bridget in Werewolf Rehab:

‘I give Bridget in Werewolf Rehab 10 out of 10. My favourite character was Annabel.’ Shona aged 10

‘I absolutely love this story and that there are so many characters and they are all so different.’ Jennifer age 11

‘This book kept my imagination going. It is full of excitement.’ Tianway aged 10

‘This is an excellent story and there is a lot going on.’ Aoife aged 10

‘I think it is a well written book and I love magical creatures. My favourite character is Bridget.’ Caitlin aged 10

‘I give it 99 out of 100. Good work.’ Thomas aged 11

‘I love Bridget. Her character is so interesting. I love that she owns her own website called Howlo. The boat race was so funny when Horst farted and Werner couldn’t talk. I think it is so sad when her Dad died.’ Esther aged 10

‘I think this book is cool and exciting. It is a good mix of adventure and courage. I love vampires and werewolves.’ 10/10 Erin Kelly

 

4 Comments

Filed under Beginning the Novel, Creative Writing, new writing, publishing, Self Publishing, Self-promotion for writers

4 Responses to A year in self publishing

  1. Great story Maura, best of luck with it all – and with finding a major publisher for the next instalments.

    This should be an inspiration to any writers hoping to go down the self-published route, although the most pertinent point of all is how much hard work it is.

    Could you share ballpark costs? As in, approximately how much you spent on publishing, website, PR/marketing? I think that would be really interesting for a lot of readers.

    Thanks,
    Shane

    • Hi Shane
      Fabulous to hear from you. I spent around €8,000 between cost of publishing, website design, online publishing and PR. This doesn’t include earlier costs incurred for hire of story editors. I did not cover my costs but I did get paid by the libraries for 30 presentations and this contributed greatly towards them. As a children’s writer for 9-12 year olds, sales from online publishing have been paltry. If you’re publishing for adults I’d advise you to publish online first as sales volumes can be high but cost of production is low. Of course you do need to have had a professional story editor work with you on your story first. My objective is to get as many sales as possible in Ireland and then attract an international publisher. I did spend 7 months (3 rewrites) working with a huge NY publisher last year but they feel the humour is too European so I’m still submitting…Best of luck with your own story Maura

  2. You’re now harvesting the fruit of your labor Maura! I can relate but still working hard. I am not a writer but a book designer and your story serves as an inspiration to me.

  3. Valerie Sheehan

    Hi Maura,
    I really loved reading about your journey of self publishing and want to say congratulations on your success, I am currently going down the self publishing route and have completed a series of books aimed mainly at autistic children and their families. It’s a long often hard slog but I was sent your link by my illustrator and after reading it feel inspired to keep going.
    Thank you
    Val

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