Category Archives: Self-promotion for writers

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

 

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

Your First Novel – Halfway There

Novels usually begin with an idea. Sometimes that idea comes fully-formed and ready to be written with a cast of fleshed-out characters whose dialogue crackles with wit and wisdom. If that is your experience, you may stop reading at this point and continue laughing all the way to your bank. If, on the other hand, you are now half-way through your first novel and wondering why you did not take up bog snorkeling or hang gliding as a less demanding alternative, read on.

Writing a first novel begins on a wave of enthusiasm. You are finally taking your idea and moulding it into words. You are putting flesh on the bones of  ephemeral characters, endowing them with personalities, voices, locations and a time frame for their existence. They are doing your bidding and behaving with the exactitude demanded by your plot … or so you believe until suddenly at the halfway stage you run out of steam.  A friend of mine who is an experienced novelist refers to this stage as the ‘belly drop’. Suddenly that taut torso you are moulding begins to sag in the middle and develop cellulite. But enough of the metaphors and on to the real problems that can arise at this point.

Characterisation is one area where writers can run into difficulties. You start off with a female character whom you envisage as having a meek, timid personality but every time she opens her mouth she’s lippy and self-opinionated. The hard man you created behaves like a pussy cat with manicured claws. The middle-aged woman drinking a bottle of wine every night is becoming increasingly recognisable as your workaholic boss and you have a vision of yourself leaving the libel courts, pursued by photographers.

A character, whom you secretly love more than the others (it happens), must display a behavioural trait that casts him/her in an unflattering light. Your writing becomes defused as you over-explain this behaviour in an effort to make it acceptable to your reader. You won’t succeed. You have to trust your reader to understand the many dimensions of your character’s personality.

The plot that began with a clearly defined path has trailed into subplots that meander off in different directions. These subplots are fascinating but are causing confusion and weakening your main story line. You struggle with point of view. Who is telling this story? You began from a clear character perspective but other characters keep intruding, demanding to be allowed their point of view. If you allow them this liberty, how will it affect the development of your plot?

The back story you hoped would flow effortlessly into the main narrative bulges like a rather distressing carbuncle every time you cast your eye over the page. Your dialogue is (a) clichéd (b) a reflection of your own thoughts and beliefs  (3) indistinguishable between characters (d) static and does not move your story along (e) so repetitive and long-winded that even you are bored reading it back.

You attend a publisher seminar and come away convinced (a) it is impossible to find an agent (b) it is impossible to find a publisher (c) erotica is all that’s selling (d) you must write to a specific genre and your book can only be defined as ‘unique’ (e) you’ve discovered that writing The End simply means you’re starting your second draft (f) the writer you most admire and hoped to emulate has just listed the structure of your novel as ‘one of the great mistakes made by first time novelists.’

You discover that a real-life event linked to your fictitious plot occurred a year after the time frame you’ve established and a rewrite is necessary. A true-life incident that acted as a catalyst for beginning your novel is hindering your story as if develops its own energy and direction. As a stronger narrative emerges, this incident has to be distilled into fiction, otherwise it will limit your novel’s imaginative scope.

None of these problems are insurmountable. They are part of the learning curve that you travel when writing your first novel – and will be explored during the upcoming course: Your First Novel – The Halfway Stage, being held at the Irish Writers’ Centre, Sat 17th & Sun 18th November: 10.30am – 4.30pm. €150/135 members.

June Considine (aka Laura Elliot) is the author of sixteen novels for adults and children. As Laura Elliot she wrote The Prodigal Sister and Stolen Child,  published by Avon HarperCollins. Earlier novels include When The Bough Breaks and Deceptions (New Island.)She has also ghost-written a number of high profile non-fiction books and is working on her latest novel. Her novels have been translated in many countries, including Germany, Holland, Russia and Italy. She recently e-published Deceptions by Laura Elliot and gained invaluable experience in the on-line publishing field.

Her books for children include the fantasy Luvender trilogy and the popular Beachwood series of books for pre-teens Her young adult novels include View from a Blind Bridge and The Glass Triangle. Her short YA stories have been broadcast on  RTE’s Fiction 15 series and have appeared in a number of teenage anthologies in Ireland, the UK and US, including The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror Annual Collection.

Website: juneconsidine.com

 

 

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Filed under Beginning the Novel, Bestsellers, courses, Creative Writing, Fiction, How to Write A Novel, Irish Writers Centre, Self-promotion for writers, writing, writing groups

Just. Keep. Going.

The sun poured through the Georgian windows of the Irish Writers’ Centre for the duration of the Publishing Day event last Saturday. The room was buzzing with anticipation as people chatted with their neighbours. Jack Gilligan, the recently appointed Chairman of the Centre, kicked off proceedings with fire safety announcements. He apologised that unfortunately perfectly formed novels wouldn’t be dropped from the roof in the event of an emergency. I think there were one or two sighs of disappointment.  Do it because you love it and because you have to do it

Ciara Doorley, Editorial Director of Hacette Ireland, was the first speaker. She dove right into the nuts and bolts of the industry. Giving us guidelines for putting together a gleaming shiny submission, sure to catch someone’s attention. She really stressed the importance of being concise and professional in both the cover letter and the synopsis and for the writing itself to be as fine-tuned as possible before submission. Once you’ve submitted, she said, the key thing is to keep writing. Do it because you love it and because you have to do it. However, it could take months to hear back and it’s important to take the pressure off both yourself and the book while you wait. So learn the art of patience.

Ciara was the first but not the last to mention Stephen King’s book On Writing as a great book to check out for writers at all stages. And of course do I even need to name the other book that got more than a few mentions? Yes it’s a current trend, which of course publishers are aware of, but no she’s not an over-night success. Erika Leonard (E.L. James) had previously e-published other work. Another shining example of the ten year over-night success.

Gareth Cuddy, CEO of ePub Direct, gave an over view of the, blink and you miss it, ever-changing epublising industry. On average people with e-readers read at least a third more books than their 3D book counterparts simply due to ease of access. He ran through a couple of requirements for epublishing yourself. The technical things like formatting and where you can get it done. Who the major players are in the industry at the moment; Koby, Kindle, Direct Publishing and he spoke briefly about the constant battles (for battles read: hard-core litigation) between the traditional publishing work and the e-publishing world.

He showed a video, much to the amusement of the group, of a toddler playing with an iPad. The child successfully navigated her way around it; passwords, opening and closing of files, zooming into pictures, etc. Then the iPad was taken away and replaced with a magazine. The child repeatedly tried to expand the pictures in print without success. She got frustrated and tested her finger on her little chubby leg just to make sure it was working properly. Once she realised her finger, was in fact, working properly she gave up on the magazine. Gareth said that the child would forever more think that the magazine is an iPad that doesn’t work. Can evolution even keep up with that?

Then it was a quick breather for lunch and a chance to soak up some of the sun. Sitting across the road in Garden of Remembrance I thought about the little girl in the video and what would be lost if that was to become the reality for the children to come. What if browsing through an actual library or book shop was lost forever? What if we didn’t know what books smelled like? Or how it felt to flip over the feather thin pages of a dictionary? How can the ‘consumption of ebooks’ ever equal that?

Cliona Lewis opened the second half of the day. As Publicity Director for Penguin Ireland she knows a thing or two about what it takes to get out there and get noticed. Of course social media now plays a crucial role but traditional media, especially radio, inIrelandis still the winner. We are after all the biggest consumers of radio in Europe. She spoke about how important it was to be able to sell yourself and how gruelling a book tour can be. She said it was hotel to hotel, flight to flight. But even with that dampener put on our fire I don’t think any dreams were crushed in the room with that realisation. For the unpublished this still has a silver lining.

Emma Walsh took the podium next and spoke about the difference between the “art of writing and the business of publishing” and how important it was to not only to be able to tell them apart but to be well versed in the later. Browse your local bookstore to see what people are buying, keep an eye on blogs and websites, the Guardian in particular, so that you’re up to date with trends and industry gossip. And network, network, network. Along with Ciara she highlighted the importance of a professional, well edited and spell-checked submission. And more importantly not to lose heart, ‘if something doesn’t work try something else.’

There was no denying that most of the speakers did at some point express their dismay at the current upheaval in the publishing world. But any qualms were quietened with a belief that in the long run it’ll be positive for the industry and good work always gets through.

After yet another caffeine jolt and the aforementioned networking Arlene Hunt couldn’t have been a better end to the day. Herself and her husband took the proverbial bull by the horns and set up their own publishing house, Portnoy Publishing. Alongside this she also happens to be a best-selling author with no less than seven novels to her name.  And with the rights of one just sold in Germany she is on the up and ever up.

Determination, determination and some more determination along with never giving up and a drop of luck were her wise words. She too had been rejected at the beginning but she just kept going. Writing every day is crucial. And always with an eye to finishing the first draft and not getting bogged down in edits of early chapters before the thing is even finished. How can you know what is wrong with it when it’s not even finished? And then you must edit to the point where you don’t care about the characters anymore. That means there is nothing else to change and you’re ready to put it out there.

At the end of the day my head was fried, yes, but, I left with a renewed sense of conviction. Just. Keep. Going. Was the message that was received load and clear over the day. If the journey was easy it wouldn’t be worth it.

BIG THANKS to Niamh MacAlister who attended the Publishing Day & reviewed it for us! Niamh completed a Masters Degree in Creative Writing at the University of St Andrews, Scotland with the assistance of The Arts Council of Ireland, An Chomhairle Ealaíon.  She was selected as a ‘New and Emerging Poet’ for the 2010 Poetry Ireland Introductions Series and also for the Lonely Voice Short Story Series. She has had prose published in 3009 and poetry in The Stinging Fly, Raft, The Moth and Washington Square Review. She will complete a residency in Cill Rialaig in 2012. 

 

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ON SELF PROMOTION – BE ACTIVE NOT INERT

Writer Nuala Ní Chonchúir is guest blogging at the Irish Writers’ Centre Blog for the month of June to coincide with the short story course she will teach at the Centre on the 25th and 26th of June. Tune in here every Wednesday to see what she has to say.


A couple of weeks ago I did a photo shoot for a women’s magazine. Before you start thinking I am all glamorous, let me tell you it took place in my dining room (where I write) and not in some exotic location. It also involved much giggling between the photographer and myself as we arranged stacks of books to include in the shots and tried to dream up poses that might look quirky and/or interesting. I held up a pile of my own books and smiled; I acted as a human book end; I tried hard to look cheekily wary of the teetering pile of books we had constructed in case it fell on my head – I think it was supposed to indicate the precarious nature of the book business. Whatever it was, it was enormous fun because the photographer was a very nice guy. The one drawback was it ate into my writing time: those precious ten hours a week that I can afford to put my youngest in a crèche, and sit and write. But, what I remind myself is that it is all part of the job.

The promotional end of things is not always fun for writers. We are often, by nature, solitary beings, preferring our own company – and that of our fictional friends – to that of real people. We are OK with being on our own, tapping out imagined lives on our computers. But once the book is written and published, there is a whole slew of other stuff that we have to take part in and that can be daunting. These include readings, appearances, signings, book tours, interviews and, sometimes, amusing photo shoots.

Some writers might never leave their desks for all I know but, generally, whether we like it or not, we have to get out there and get behind our books. The wonderful thing is that we can help the promotion of our books with the internet. So, at least for some of it, we can stay at home. Marion Maneker said, here, “The success of a book is dependent upon the ceaseless hard work and self-promotion of the author. More than any other aspect of the book business, this is what constantly surprises outsiders: It’s all on the author. Sure, the publisher can add some luster and oomph, but without a strong author promoting a strong idea/story/concept, a book will just sit there, inert.”

Now, you do not want an inert book or career, so what can you do to promote yourself and your writing? Here are some tips:

  • Realise that self promotion is necessary. Publishers do not have the time or money to promote new authors. It is a way for you to show your enthusiasm for your own work.
  • If you are not internet savvy, take a course.
  • Create a free website on a site such as weebly.com. Your website is your calling card to the world. Keep it serious and professional. Include samples of your work; a bio note; list publication in magazines and online; list shortlists you’ve been on/competitions won; include a good author photo.
  • Create a free blog: on blogger.com or wordpress.com. A blog can be less serious than your website – on it you can discuss what is important to you as a writer; track the progress of your writing; your publication highs and lows etc. You can interview other writers; review books; post your work etc.
  • Join Facebook: it’s a great place to meet other writers; you can join writers’ groups on Facebook; keep up to date with publishing news; calls for submissions etc. If you keep a blog, you can add links to your blog posts, thus gaining more readers. Ask writers you admire to be your friend.
  • Join Twitter: for all of the above re. Facebook.
  • Wikipedia: get someone to create an entry under your name.
  • YouTube: video readings you do and post them on YouTube. Do a reading especially for this purpose in your own home.
  • Join writers’ forums like Writing4all.ie and writing.ie
  • Attend festivals, readings and workshops. Get to know your peers. Support each other.
  • Make friends. Lose any ‘what’s in it for me’ attitude. Socialise with other writers and help where you can. What goes around comes around.
  • Have a business card with your contact details on it. Most importantly name, address, email address, blog/website address (There are very fine free business cards available on vistaprint.ie)
  • Don’t be lazy about submitting your work to magazines/journals – hard copy and online. The more your name is ‘out there’, the more your name will be recognised. The more you publish, the more you will be published. Agents read magazines and journals. Ditto managers of literary festivals. You may get offers of representation/readings through publication; it pays to get your work out there.
  • Present your work professionally. Format your work correctly. (I recommend reading The First Five Pages – Noah Lukeman; Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Browne and King)
  • Be your own best self-editor.
  • Enter literary competitions. A win can boost your confidence and spur you on; you will meet other writers if you are shortlisted or win. The judges will be professional writers who may put other work your way.
  • Exploit the local: offer to read at your town library.
  • Offer to read/speak at the local secondary school – Transition Year teachers often like to hear from writers.
  • Believe in yourself and your work.
  • Be enthusiastic, but don’t go overboard!

And if you have a book to sell:

  • Let the publisher know you are very willing to take part in promotional work.
  • Get to know your local booksellers – ask them to stock your book and/or give you a reading/signing instore.
  • Make posters/postcards/bookmarks for your book (vistaprint.ie).
  • Send press releases with a photo of you and the book jacket to the local press. Talk a little about yourself (include anything interesting/odd); talk a lot about the book.
  • Have a virtual tour of literary blogs where you are interviewed by other bloggers specifically about the book you have just published.
  • Make a book trailer for your book: you reading an excerpt; shots of some of the places it is set; a voiceover of a good review; background music etc. You can put this on your blog and on YouTube.

Try to enjoy it all. Eventually you will be safely back at your desk, immersed in the invented worlds where you probably feel most at home.

Nuala Ní Chonchúir was born in Dublin and lives in Galway. She has published three collections of short fiction, including Nude (Salt, 2009) which was shortlisted for the 2010 Edge Hill Short Story Prize; three poetry collections – one in an anthology, one a pamphlet – and one novel, You (New Island, 2010). Nuala’s third full poetry collection The Juno Charm is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2011.

Blog: www.womenrulewriter.blogspot.com Website: www.nualanichonchuir.com

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