Blog – Adventures in Self Publishing


I finally launched A Year in Lisbon in Lisbon itself last weekend. There were two events, one on the Saturday in Palavra de Viajante, and one on Sunday in Bookshop Bivar.

I had been a little worried about the Saturday event, as I had been attempting to promote it from Ireland and without any real connections. I had been having nightmares of speaking in front of 8 people. In the end the turnout was adequate, fifteen people showed up. It was always my intention to talk about the book in Portuguese in this bookshop, and so that is what I did for about fifteen minutes. Before I started, my Spanish friend Luis Gorrochategui introduced me in Gallego, the language from the north-west of Spain that is similar in many ways to Portuguese and which the Portuguese can understand quite easily.

Most of the rest of the event was in English though, and it turned out that the majority of people were English speakers there anyway. We had quite an interesting and relaxed discussion afterwards, generally centred around how Lisbon has changed, and how the city changed me personally, and Cian, the main character in the novel. One person asked me why I hadn’t just written a biography or memoir of my three years in Lisbon, and I told him that I didn’t think I had a very interesting life, and that fictionalising it was much more fun.

On the Sunday, I was in Bookshop Bivar, near to Arroios. The crowd here was better; about 24 people turned up, which was gratifying. Both the bookshop owner and I had done a lot of promotion of the event, so it was pleasing to see it come off. Twenty-four may not sound like a lot of people, but it filled the shop.


Unfortunately, at that stage a flu, which I had first started experiencing on the flight over, was really kicking in, and I was feeling shivery and weak and ill. So I did my best, but was unable to put any real energy into the event or the reading, or into talking to people afterwards. I survived it, nothing more. There was an ok response, but not many people were interested in asking questions or knowing much more about the book. I think my lack of energy added to the dearth of engagement. Some people were kind and interested though, but in the end I just wanted to be out of there and back in bed.

So after a lot of build-up, the weekend was a bit of an anti-climax, mainly because I felt so ill during the three days I was there. I rented a small apartment in Lisbon on Airbnb, and basically didn’t leave it for three days, except to go to the two launches and have dinner on Saturday night.

Right now, I think it is time to concentrate on my work here, which really should be taking up all my time and attention, and to just leave the book out there to fend for itself. I have spent a lot of the last eight months, on and off, promoting the book, and it has been, in many ways, exhausting. Launching it in Lisbon was just something that I had to get out of my system, after the cancellations last year, so now I have done that, it is time to just let it go.


I will be launching my novel, A Year in Lisbon, in Lisbon itself on the 4th and 5th of February, 2017. Last year’s planned launches had to be cancelled, but they have been rearranged for this Spring.

The details are as follows…..

February 4th, 4.30pm (16.30): Palavra de Viajante bookshop, Rua de São Bento no.34, (opposite end of the street to Rato) Lisbon – a talk in Portuguese, and a reading of the book in English.



February 5th, 6pm (18.00): Bookshop Bivar, Rua de Ponta Delgada 34A, Estefânia, Lisbon, Portugal – the whole event in English.


Unfortunately, I have had to postpone all events planned for the launch of the book in Lisbon next week. Because of a health issue, I am unable to travel at the moment.

However, some of the events have been provisionally rearranged for the first weekend in February of 2017, so the idea is this is simply a postponement, and not a cancellation. More info to follow.


I am returning to Lisbon next week for a whole week of events to launch the book there.

I will be in the British Council on Thursday the 15th at 8pm, and then there will be two events in bookshops: in Palavra de Viajante on Saturday the 17th at 6pm; and at the same time the next day (the 18th) in Bookshop Bivar.

To be honest, I am stretching the idea of a “launch”. My original idea of a launch was that you do it once, and your book is then launched, like a ship sailing for the first time. You cannot officially launch a ship more than once, but it seems that a book is different; it appears that it can be launched multiple times!

Saying that, the three events that I have planned are all different. The first one is in the British Council, which is the British government’s official cultural body in Lisbon. I chose it as it was always the Holy Grail for English Language teachers when I lived in the city; they run high quality courses there, and were always reputed to pay teachers well. They also have connections with English speaking communities and organizations in Lisbon, which will be useful in promoting the event.

The second event will be in a bookshop specialising in travel books and livraria10literature; Palavra de Viajante (Word of the Traveller), in Rua de São Bento. This will be a lot more informal, in a room at the back of the bookshop where events and readings are held. The space is small enough, and so people will be standing for the duration of the talk. The key difference here is that I will be talking about the book in Portuguese. I have been working on my language for the last couple of months, with this in mind, and have prepared an explanation of the book in Portuguese. This is very important to me; obviously it will be addressed to the locals in their own language, and I would like the book to appeal to the Portuguese as much as to ex-pats.


My final night there (the 18th), I will be in Bookshop Bivar, (near Arroios). This is a cool little English language bookshop that sells mainly second-hand books, run by a Finnish woman called Leena.  It seems to be a lively place, with regular cultural events and readings and talks by writers.

There is actually an Irish writer called Peter Murphy living in Lisbon at the moment, and he did a reading in Bookshop Bivar recently. I met him on my last visit to the city – he had been living in Canada, and was published there. He P8224800hasn’t lived in Ireland for while, (said it was too cold and too expensive!) though he is involved in an Irish ex-pat group there in Portugal and gave me some useful ideas for promotion and selling the book.

It is a fairly hectic week, to be honest, though I don’t really have a choice, I have to start back to work properly on the 20th of September, after which time I won’t have a second to be going over to Lisbon and launching books. So if I want to get the book out into the Portuguese consciousness, it has to all be done in this short space of time. It is my Portuguese launch window, and I have to take advantage.

One thing I am going to try and do above all else, is to enjoy the experience. I semi-enjoyed the Irish launch, but I was so wracked with nerves, and so afraid that no-one would show up, that I really didn’t have the opportunity to do so properly. And my previous two visits to Lisbon were all work really, promoting and trying to sell the book, so I haven’t really had a chance to enjoy the wonderful city of Lisbon yet.

Well, I have a week, starting next Monday. Most of the work and promotion is done; I can do no more. I have spent most of the last week in Ireland sending emails and messages: to newspapers, language schools, ex-pat organizations, libraries, Facebook pages, publishers, literary agents, and bloggers. I now just have to hope that someone shows up.


I went back to Lisbon last week for the first time in six years. And this was only the second time I had been there since I moved away from Portugal, almost 19 years ago now.

The city began to feel very familiar, very quickly. I spent three years there, back when there was no Euro, back before the financial crises that both Ireland and Portugal went through, back in the twentieth century. So the streets that I walked, the smells that emanated from the shops and restaurants, the grand, old buildings, the bizarre tram rides that move through tiny alleys: all of this was part of a muscle memory that I wasn’t conscious of having but which was there, all the time.

I went there to work on my Portuguese and to try to see if there was any interest among the lisboetas in a book called A Year in Lisbon; a book that was set in their city. I concentrated at first on bookshops, more to look for somewhere to hold a launch than to sell the book. The first place I visited was this small-ish bookshop called Fabula Urbis, just on the edge of the historic area of Alfama and Graça that is so prominent in the book. It is a shop that specialises in books about the city of Lisbon itself. The owner there, João, had a quick look at the book and said that he would buy three, with a possibility of more if they sold.


That was it, there was no great debate or inquisition. He told me that August was the month that most foreign language books were sold, as that was peak tourist season, so it was a good time to be selling an English language book about Lisbon. I had the same experience when I went to a large book and music store in the very centre, Fnac. I spoke to a manager there, and after a short debate with colleagues, said she would take 20 copies. I had to ask her to repeat, thinking that my ability to understand Portuguese had temporarily collapsed. It was true, they wanted 20. Though this time they weren’t actually buying the book, it was on sale or return. Still, I was a little stunned.


I visited another few shops (including the amazing Ler Devagar, a bookshop based in a building that used to be a factory, with wall to wall books (pictured above)) and there seemed to be the same interest. It began to dawn on me that a book is a product like anything else (though maybe I should have realized this before then). I was talking to Pedro, a Portuguese friend of mine later, and he was astonished that a bookshop would take a book to sell from an unknown guy who has only written one book, without even reading it. But the fact is that it has “Lisbon” in the title and is written in English, and these two facts alone mean that tourists will probably buy it as a souvenir of their time in Portugal. And in August, Lisbon is full of tourists, and apparently they tend to buy books.

It made me think that this is a definite marketing opportunity for literature in general. My next book is going to be “A Week in Madrid”, followed by “Six Months in Paris,” “Ten days in Berlin,” and maybe even “A Decade in Moscow”! The advantage I have with my book is that there aren’t many novels written that have been set in Lisbon, so it seems to be a selling point.

There is also the fact that the Portuguese are aware that for most of the rest of the world, they are that anonymous country over by Spain. No-one really knows or cares much about Portugal, and the Portuguese know this. So when someone pays them some attention, and writes a book about their capital city, it is something. The book may be rubbish (mine is not), but at least it is about them. I think Irish people can identify with this a little, any little bit of attention we get from the outside world is noteworthy, and feeds into our semi-image. The Portuguese are the same.

I came away thinking that if I can only get a bit of publicity for this novel, I could sell a few copies in Portugal. I have since set the date of the Portuguese launch for September 15th, and am planning to hold it in the British Council there: the British cultural centre that is mainly involved in running English classes, though it is tied to the promotion of British culture and the English language. It is close to the perfect place to have a launch, with its connection to EFL teaching, and to the city itself. Most English teachers in the city know where it is too, which is an added bonus. If I cannot sell a book about an English teacher in Lisbon, to English teachers in Lisbon, then I am in trouble.

That said, there is a certain amount of bureaucracy in bookshops in Portugal that is not present here. For them to even take a few copies on sale or return they have to go through a whole process, with forms and tax numbers and paperwork. One shop actually wanted a few copies but the manager didn’t actually know how to organize buying from me. He had to write to their accounting department to find out. Here, if a bookshop owner wants to take a few books, they will take them and I usually give them a handwritten receipt that both they and I sign. And that’s it. Maybe officially they are supposed to go through more official procedures, but no-one does. In Portugal, it is all red-tape.

Still, there is potential there. I did well sticking “Lisbon” in the title, though I didn’t know it at the time. It has made the book into a saleable commodity, at least there in the city. It also gives me an excuse to go back now and then, to revisit my past, and maybe build something for the future.




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…….