For a week before the launch of A Year in Lisbon I was nervous, and mostly dreading it. I make my living teaching languages, and so standing up in front of a group of people and speaking should not be anything to worry me, but this was a whole different kettle of fish. Here I had to talk about something important to me personally, and about how I came to spend years writing the book. It was all a little more personal than I was used to.

That said, I did everything I could to get a big crowd there. I had nightmares about turning up on the night and having only my immediate family and three other people show up, so I publicised it as much as possible. I was on two local radio stations, opened a Facebook event page and invited everyone I knew. I put up posters all over Sligo town and into surrounding towns and managed to get an article in each of the two local newspapers, one small, one substantial with a photo. I contacted practically everyone in my various address books by email and text, and even rang some people.

When the day itself came, I had to work that morning, which took my mind off it a little. And in the days previous to the launch I sat down and prepared exactly what I wanted to say about the book, why and how I published it, and about the process of writing and publishing. I revised it about five times until it was exactly how I wanted it. This calmed me down quite a lot, I knew that I had something to say, and I was happy with how it had come out.

Another calming element was that I held the launch in the Yeats Building, which is where I have taught many Spanish classes and a place that I know well. I arrived early, and set up a projector with a slide show of Lisbon as well as some Lisbon fado music on the speakers. Then people began to arrive. A tall man came in about fifteen minutes early and asked to buy the book before the launch actually started. Then he left, saying that he had to look after his cattle. It seemed that he was a book collector, and was building his collection of first editions, and had only come for a signed copy.


Eventually, people filtered in and had a glass of wine and a chat. There were many people there that I knew, some of whom I had not seen for months or longer. I began to enjoy myself a little, chatting to people, catching up. It began to feel like a friendly gathering rather than something to be frightened of. I had IMG-20160723-WA0006asked my brother Ronan to introduce me; I thought he was the perfect person, he is a good speaker and has read the book, and had just come back from Portugal. I think that his introduction was perfectly judged, and was a nice lead in to what I had to say.

In my talk about the book, I just tried to be honest. I talked about the fact that the world has changed, that publishers and record companies and other large institutions no longer control what we get to see and read and listen to. New technology has changed all that, and has allowed us to publish books and make music and art far more cheaply and efficiently than before. It has democratized the whole creative process.


I talked a little about the book itself and its themes: the coming of age of the central character, Cian O’Dwyer, who is fundamentally a big child at the start of the novel; the challenges and joys of living in a foreign country and the process of adaptation and change that it requires; and the eternal question for the ex-pat – to mix with the locals or stay with your own. The full text of what I said is here.

I then read some extracts: one to illustrate the life of a young English teacher in a foreign country; another to talk a little about the city itself – an element that is so central to the novel; and a final one that showed Cian as he went home to Ireland for Christmas, an extract that illustrated how his perspectives had changed.

After that there were questions. I knew practically everyone that asked a question, some were my good friends and family, so it soon took on the relaxed air of a kind of small gathering, even though there were about fifty people there at that stage. We finally reached the end, about an hour after we had begun. I sat and signed books, and, again with the help of my family taking money and sorting out change, I sold about 35 books.


The whole thing – speech, extracts, attendance, sales – was way more successful than I had hoped or expected. I felt an immense relief, and also gratitude to all of those people who showed up and showed support. And also a delight that so many people bought the book, which in the end is what it is about. The sales are of course important in attempting to simply break even (I am still less than half-way there) but more importantly they meant that the book would have more readers, which is what a book should have. There is nothing sadder than a book without someone to read it.

I was drained afterwards. I had poured so much nervous energy into the preparation and the execution of the launch that I felt quite overwhelmed when it was all over. I had been running on adrenaline for hours. I went for a drink with my family, and then went home and crashed.

That said, it has given me a taste for this. I felt more comfortable than I had expected, talking about myself and my writing. It is something you can get used to, and learn how to do, I suppose, like anything else. My plans are now for two more launches (yes, it sounds greedy, but it seems to be the only way to sell books), one in Dublin and another in Lisbon itself. I am curious to see how things go. If they work half as well as the Sligo launch I will be more than happy.


Yeats buildingThe date of the book launch is now set. It will be on Thursday July 21st at 8pm in the Yeats Building, an iconic building in the centre of Sligo.

I haven’t done this before, so I have been looking for advice from various people who have more experience than me in this area. My Spanish friend Luis, who was one of the driving forces behind my deciding to publish this in the first place, gave me some good advice regarding marketing and the organization of the launch. Apparently it is customary to have someone introduce the author, as well as glasses of wine and refreshments available for the attendees. The author then talks a little about the inspiration for the book, reads some extracts and answers some questions. And then hopefully sells some books.

It all sounds so simple. I think it will be important to try and enjoy the evening, even though the nerves will certainly be effected. I now have nine days to try and make sure that there is actually someone there to listen to me!


So now the hard part begins, I have to actually sell the thing.

I got a delivery of one hundred books last week. They came in two boxes, were all wrapped up like little valuable objects, like eggs in a nest. It was exciting and daunting at once to receive them, it seemed like so many all at once. My first thought was, what the f**k am I going to do with these things?


The big drawback about self-publishing, as I see it, is that you have to do all of the publicity and marketing yourself. It is a lot of work. At the weekend I am going to drive to various small towns in Connacht to try and get my book into a few bookshops. I have spoken to a number of owners of shops already by phone, and so most will take five copies or so to begin with. And today I dropped my consignment of five to Liber bookshop here in Sligo, who kindly accepted them without too much fuss.

The situation with bookshops is this. You give them a certain number of your books, five seems to be a typical number, and they put them on their shelves. If they sell you get 66% of the cover price, the shop keeps 33%. So that means I get €8.58 for every copy that sells, from a retail price of €13. The books are there on a sale or return basis, the shops don’t buy them from you, you only get paid if they sell some. Eason offers a 60/40 split, though I am not sure if things will work out with them yet.


I have in fact sold ten copies already, to various people I know, friends, family, to some members of a book group I went to talk to about the book. I even went to a Farmers’ Market in Sligo IT last Saturday, where the man who runs the market let me set up on the edge of his stall. I put up a sign and a pile of books on the table, talked to a few people about the book and even sold two copies. It is a matter of pushing the boat out and trying to find some innovative ways to market the thing.

The next stage is the launch, planned for Thursday the 21st of July. I have already spoken to the local papers, and hope to get some pub on the local radio station. And there is a literary event on tomorrow in Sligo I am going to go to, where people gather and read some things they have written. The idea is to get out there and make a few waves, though this is way outside my comfort zone, I am really not that comfortable asking people to take notice of me in this way, to pay attention to something so personal, something I have put so much work into.

It is also important to strike the balance. It is necessary to publicize the book, and to let people know about it, and let them know how to buy it if they want to. But it is also important not to be a pain, and to avoid the hard sell, to not turn into a marketing machine whose only goal is to move some merchandise. I have had a pretty good start, but there is a long way to go.


When I was first investigating whether and how to publish my novel I was given the advice on a few online writing forums to only do an e-book. This was from experienced self-publishers who had seen a lot of self-publishers get hundreds of books printed and ended up with a garage full of boxes of their unsold books.

All along though, my intention was to get a physical printed version of the book done. Most people still prefer to have the physical object, and I myself have grown up holding, carrying and flipping through the actual paper pages of books. For a lot of people there is still something special about a book you can hold in your hand, that you can put on a bookshelf, that you can lend to someone. And the majority of books sold, even in developed countries, is still in the printed format.

Yet e-books are increasingly popular. And the increase in quality of e-readers makes them far more attractive. I have an old Kindle from about four or five years ago, and recently I bought a tablet with a Kindle app that allows you to read books on it, and there is no comparison in the clarity, range of things you can do (increase or decrease text size, ease of use of dictionaries) and sheer look of the two. In five years e-books have become something much more user friendly.

It will be a few weeks yet before I have the 100 copies of the printed book I am initially getting printed, but the e-book has been on Kindle for two weeks now (I already have 11 sales and a review!) and on iBooks for the last week. There is a debate about whether it is worth branching out and putting your book on digital platforms other than Amazon (Kindle), and that is one I am still trying to work out the answer to. There is an interesting discussion here about that very topic. Amazon is so dominant in the market that the suggestion is that really other sites for downloading e-books (Kobo, Nook, which is the American store Barnes and Noble, there are others) will only provide a tiny number of sales.

In general, Kindle is incredibly user friendly, and iBooks, in my experience, is exactly the opposite. For Kindle you just need a Word file, the more basic the better. There is a useful guide here , but generally you just need to take out page numbers, headers and all extraneous details, make sure that you have page breaks between each chapter, and then send it off to Amazon. I had a cover already designed, but they even give you a cover generator if you wanted to make your own. The whole process is child’s play. You can write a book in Word, upload it for free to Kindle Direct (the Amazon digital platform) and begin selling it straight away. Practically anyone can do it.

iBooks and Apple is a different proposition altogether. I got my book designer to format the book for iBooks, he did it for me cheaply as he wanted to practice doing it, he hadn’t done many before. You can pay companies on the Net to convert a file to the required format, or if you have some technical knowledge you may be able to do it yourself. But my impression is that that would be beyond most people.

Then when it was ready I went to upload it to iBooks, and found that you can only do this from a Mac. There is a particular program you have to use to upload a book, and this can only be downloaded on an Apple computer. I don’t have one, so I had to email the files to my brother who does have a Mac, and he had to use my account to put the book on iBooks. There was an issue with the image size on the cover, and some other issues that my designer had to address, so we were going back and forth with emails for days, before we managed to successfully put A Year in Lisbon on iBooks. It is there now, but it has not been an easy process. Apple seem to want to make it as difficult as possible for authors to use its service.

Anyhow, A Year in Lisbon is now available for Kindle and iPad. I have set the price at €2.99 on Kindle and $2.99 on iBooks, it is now out in the world. I think that the price is standard, and in fact the Kindle price is the minimum allowed. There is also the option with Kindle of joining Kindle Select, which is where you can offer your book for free for a limited time to promote it, as well as other benefits, but it also requires you to only have your e-book available on Kindle for a period of ninety days, and to take it down from every other e-book retailer. That may be an option for the future, depending on how iBooks sales go.

It has been a long process, but I am almost there. The files are with the printers, I should have 100 brand new novels in ten days to two weeks. Next stop, book launch.


So I have a real book. I got the proof copy of the novel from the printers last week. In general I am very pleased with it, it is compact, well designed, and looks good, professional, like a real book. It is a physical object that I, in part, have created. To hold it in my hand and flick through the pages, seeing words that I wrote, definitely made an impact. IMG_0736

There is just one problem with it, the inside margins are too narrow. I gave it to a couple of people to look at, and they didn’t really comment on this, but I noticed it. The margins were set at 15mm on the inside and outside, but when the book was printed and bound the binding took up about 2mm of that space on the inside, and so it looks a little cramped. It is still readable, but it might not be as comfortable a read as it should be.

So I had to go back to my book designer, Martin, and ask him to adjust things a little. What he has done is just move the text over about 2mm. In other words it is exactly the same organization, but the inside margins are now 17mm and the outside are 13mm. The text is going to be closer to the edge of the page, but that is fine, there is enough room. I think it will make a big difference to readability.

It is curious to think that such a tiny change can make such a significant difference, but it will. For book design you need to think in such small measurements as millimetres, and one or two each way can effect how you experience a book. There is some research to suggest that the design of a book and its layout can have a greater influence on how someone enjoys that book than you might think, so it is important to get it right. This, I think, is one lesson I have learned from this whole process.

Right now I am trying to sort out the e-book. In fact it is already on Kindle, and I have had six sales there, though there are still things to be worked out with the file and layout. The iBook should be up this week. But more of that later…….


My book now has an ISBN, and it is beginning to feel real.

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. It is the universally accepted number that is used by the book industry worldwide to identify any individual book. If you want to sell a physical book in bookshops the chances are that a shop will not agree to sell your book if it does not have an ISBN.

In Britain and Ireland it seems that the only source of ISBNs is the Nielsen agency. You can buy individual numbers from some companies that help authors with self-publishing, but if you want your own number you have to go directly to Nielsen.

And it is important to realize that these numbers are not free. In fact they are not cheap at all. You can buy one number, but that costs £99 (Nielsen are a British company and so charge in Sterling). They also sell a pack of ten numbers for £149.

I had been considering getting the single ISBN, as I wasn’t sure if I was going to publish anything else in the future and was trying to save money. But then I found out that an ISBN is only for a particular edition of a book and that if you want to publish an e-book, as I intend to do, you need a separate ISBN. In fact, I will need at least three in total, one for the printed version, one for an e-book for iBooks, and one for my Amazon e-book.

So I got the ten. It is quite a simple process, you fill out a form, email it to Nielsen, pay them and they give you your numbers. They got back to me within about three days, though they say it can take up to ten working days. So A Year in Lisbon now has a unique identifying number, one that will distinguish it from every other book published throughout history. It is 978-0-9954832-0-0. It is an unremarkable collection of digits, but it is my unremarkable collection of digits, and that is something.

Now all I have to do is print the thing.




It’s been five months since I wrote a blog post here. I had not been intending to take such a break, but work got in the way, and I haven’t had a second really to think about publishing.

I reckon that I am going to need a little bit of time to publish, launch and promote the novel, so I have put off the whole process until now. We are in sight of the summer, four weeks until June, when I anticipate having more time to devote to this project. You only publish your first novel once, and I want to do it properly.

This fact has probably informed my decision to get the novel professionally typeset. I was debating this very question the last time that I posted, and was inclined to just run with what I had, which was a manuscript laid out in Word. Yet the truth is that most printers require a book to have been laid out in a professional desktop publishing programme like Indesign, and it does look a little better to have it done properly.

My graphic designer said that he would do this, as well as designing the e-book for iPad, for a reasonable fee, so I went with it. He completed the typesetting recently and sent me the completed file, it looks good, cleaner and clearer than the file was in Word, though not hugely different. I imagine that the benefit will be seen when the book is finally printed.

So all that is left to do is get an ISBN number and then send the files to the printers. An ISBN number is essential if you want to sell your book in bookshelves or even online. This number identifies a book, each published book has a unique number that gives some information about the publication, and it is also used by booksellers to order and list books. No bookshop will take a self-published book without an ISBN.

I think I have found a printer that will do the job for a reasonable amount, as little as €4 per copy. My plan is to print 100 copies initially, try and sell them privately in bookshops and during a book launch, and hopefully pay for the whole escapade with these sales and with sales of the e-book. Right now my only goal as far as sales go, is to make enough to pay for the whole cost of publishing, which right now looks to be about €1300. This is where the real work begins.





I am nearly there. I have mostly edited the novel at this stage, and reading it for the umpteenth time I have gone through the usual crises of confidence, swinging between seriously rethinking my decision to publish and believing that it is destined for the Booker. Right now I am somewhere in the middle.

The truth is that I am really not in a position to judge. It is impossible for me to have an objective view of something that I have been writing and editing for about four years now. What I probably need is an editor, but I cannot afford one, and anyway, I don’t think I would trust anyone else with the book. Whatever, this is the path I have chosen, and I have to run with it.

After editing, the main task recently has been laying out the book, or “typesetting”, as it would be called if a professional did it. I am laying the book out in Word, even though I have been told by a number of people that the word-processing programme is really not suited to typesetting a book. The pros would use Indesign, or another such desktop publishing software.

I had a basic knowledge of Word before I started all of this, and have had to learn about things like mirror margins and footnotes and page breaks that I haven’t really used before. Again, if nothing else this is all a learning experience. I had trouble with basic things like page size and page numbers, but it seems that I have now got it looking the way I want it to look.

I will know when I see the finished product, but it seems that it is actually possible to typeset a book in Word. Each chapter is a different section, and so I have a header with the book’s title – A Year in Lisbon – on the even numbered pages, and one with the title of each chapter – “September” or “March” etc.. – on the odd numbers. The page numbers I have placed at the top of the pages, on the left on even numbered pages, and on the right on odd so that they always appear on the outside of each page.

The typeface is Garamond, a few people recommended this to me on a writing and publishing forum, and I have put it in 11 point type. It looks pretty good. I went with 11 point as obviously the smaller the type, the more words I can get on each page. And as the printer is charging per page, obviously this saves me a little money.

The novel is long, about 120,000 words. It was 130,000 before I started editing it. And so to avoid having a 500 page blockbuster I have to try certain things to get more words on a page. One thing is the 11 point decision, which is probably smaller than the standard 12 point size you will see in most books, but it is not unheard of.

The other thing is that I have made it single space line spacing. Again, this is probably a little less than the average, but you will see this in printed books. With this I have a 327 page novel. The other option is to go to 1.15 spacing, which is one of the standard line-spacings offered by Word. In truth this possibly looks a little better, though whether it makes that much difference is debatable.

In any case, this apparently tiny line-spacing change would add an extra 50 pages to the novel, and so would add to my costs. I really wanted to avoid having an almost 400 page book, so this is the last fundamental decision I will have to make. I am going to print out the first chapter with a local printing firm, in single-space and then in 1.15 spacing, and decide while looking at the printed word.

These are the compromises that have to be made, especially with a substantial novel, like the one I have written. It is not easy to make 120,000 words into something that is not just a doorstop, while retaining a good level of readability. Still, I am almost there, next stop is getting an ISBN number, and from there sending my PDF to the printer. It seems like it is really happening.

FOUR – Over-writing

I am editing my novel at the moment, and it is a revealing process.

It is one thing writing in the safety of your bedroom or study, putting words on to a page that perhaps no-one else is going to read. It is quite another to get a book ready for publication, and realize that in a month or two you hope that lots of people are reading it.

This is it now, after this there is no chance at revision, the book is largely set in stone once you send it off to the printers. What it is after this process is what it will be forever. There is no fixing problems later.

So it has changed the way I read what I have written. I am a lot less tolerant of redundancies, clichés, slack passages. I should probably be more intolerant, and maybe I need an editor with an objective viewpoint, but at the moment I am concentrating on cutting. For one thing it is about 350 pages, and I will be charged by the page by the printers, so the shorter the book the cheaper the printing costs.

For another, I have noticed that I had a tendency to over-write. What I mean by that is that I have been over-explaining what characters mean and feel, over-describing scenes, places, people, using four adjectives where I only needed two. One of the key pieces of advice given to those who want to write is “show don’t tell.” I have been doing too much telling and not enough showing.

So I have been cutting. Deleting excess explanations, trimming the overgrowth of adjectives, cutting back on explaining, explaining, explaining. It is important to let the readers discover things for themselves and make their own minds up, without having to tell them everything.

So if nothing else, I think this whole process is improving my writing. Editing is good discipline, and useful practice, it forces you to concentrate on what works and what doesn’t, and to try to be objective in looking at your own writing. No doubt I will miss some things that could be shorn, but for now it is almost an enjoyable process to cut, cut, cut.


THREE – Why am I doing this?

It’s a question I have asked myself a number of times already, and I am only a couple of weeks into the process. So why am I self publishing this novel that took me three or four years to write?

The first reason, of course, is that I think it is something worth reading. I have been writing novels for about ten years now, or more accurately, parts of novels. I always had trouble finishing them. Maybe it was a lack of discipline, or confidence, or commitment. Whatever, I joined a writing group about four years ago, aired out parts of A Year in Lisbon, and found that people liked elements of it. I slowly discovered that this was something that I could actually do.

So I was determined to finish the novel this time. And I did, some time about a year and a half ago. And it’s pretty good. I made some small attempts to find a literary agent, got nowhere, and left it at that.

Then, as I mentioned in blog two, I talked to Luis, and realised that this was something I wanted to do. I could have tried harder to get it published the traditional route. I only wrote to eight or nine agents, I could have kept going.

But the truth was, in researching the publishing industry, I quickly learned of the tiny chance that a book has of actually being successful. As I mentioned in blog one, about one in every five thousand submissions to an agent results in that author being represented by the agency. And then the agent has to get you a publishing deal, which is not automatic.

And even if you do get a deal, the proportion of books that make money is very small, and the number who could be said to gain success, (a wide readership, publicity, a place on the bestsellers list) is tinier still. I was looking at the websites of these literary agents, and checking out the list of authors that they represented. I had only heard of about 10% of them! These were all published writers.

The truth is that the majority of even published writers fade into obscurity. Especially in non-genre fiction, people publish a book with a major publisher, sell a couple of hundred books and are never heard from again. It happens all the time. We only hear about the successes, but the failures are much more common.

So why not just publish myself, have a bit of control over the process, and maybe sell a couple of hundred copies that way. At least this way I am not begging agents and publishers to deign to take me on, knowing that the chances of this happening are miniscule. Wasting time sending out manuscripts when I could be spending that time and money writing another book, or promoting the current one.

And it is an adventure. I am learning all the time about publishing, and actually about writing too. I am re-editing my novel at the moment, aware now that in a month or two people will actually be reading it between the covers of my printed novel. That changes the way I read what I have written, and forces me to make some small but important changes, to make it more readable.

It is worth doing, I think. I don’t expect to make any money from it, but if I could just break even, that would be a success. And I hope to gain a lot more in the process.