Blog – Adventures in Self Publishing

TWENTY – LAUNCHED IN DUBLIN

I had originally arranged a Dublin launch of A Year in Lisbon last September, but in the end I was so focused on organizing a series of launches in Portugal that I had to cancel the Dublin one. This July was the first opportunity that I had to properly arrange an event in Dublin. So finally, almost a year later than first anticipated, I managed to have a Dublin launch for the novel.

It took place in The Winding Stair, a cosy bookshop with a lot of character, just by the Ha’penny Bridge. The location is historic and attracts a lot of tourists, and the setting itself was perfect for the launch of a novel that is so concerned with the experience of being a foreigner in a strange city.

I am lucky enough to have a large, extended family on both sides, and a lot of them live in Dublin, so aunts, uncles, cousins and friends helped to fill out the crowd. The worst nightmare for anyone doing a reading or a book launch is that no-one shows up, so an audience of thirty or so people was a relief to see as I stepped up on to the slightly raised area near the window.

My brother introduced me, as he had done in Sligo during my first launch in 2016. This is my fourth event connected to the novel, and at this stage I hope that I am learning a little about how to conduct them.

One mistake that I believe I made when launching the book in Lisbon was sticking too closely to the script that I had prepared, and not engaging enough with the people who had come to the event. For that reason, this time I had prepared a few notes, but in general attempted to speak without notes and to talk naturally and freely about the book and its inspiration. There is a danger with this approach of forgetting something important, but I felt that it was a better way of doing it, especially in the informal setting of a bookshop where most people were standing.

I talked about the genesis of the book, my time in Lisbon and also about the self-publishing process, and in between I read extracts from the book that I thought represented what the novel is about. There were a few questions afterwards, which I always find interesting but challenging, and then, as usual, I signed a few books and chatted to people.

Only afterwards, a Latin American woman who had been at the front of the audience told me that she had Facebook Lived the reading and so I was able to track the recording down and put it on the book’s Facebook page. It can be found here.

It was an enjoyable, if stressful, event and went about as well as I could have hoped. I sold 11 books and covered the cost of the launch (the bookshop charges €100 plus VAT), so that in itself was a success. I also got some pretty good publicity: in promoting the launch I contacted all of the local papers in Dublin, and one of them – The Dublin People – made A Year in Lisbon its Book of the Week.

I had my doubts before I set about organizing the launch, but in the end it was worth doing. And again, it was proven to me that people will buy a book if they have a personal connection to the author. If they can see him or her speaking and hear something of the inspiration behind a book, then they are more likely to purchase it. I have done it myself after hearing authors speak, and it has always given a new perspective to actually reading the book when you have met who wrote it.

Hopefully I will be back in the Winding Stair next year to launch the next one!

EIGHTEEN – ELEVATOR PITCH

I was reminded recently of why I decided to self-publish A Year in Lisbon.

I was at a conference at the weekend whose focus was on getting a book published. It had nothing to do with self-publishing; this was about trying to get your book published with a mainstream, corporate publisher.

The focus of the conference was on getting an agent. Very few publishing houses now accept manuscripts from authors, and so they rely on literary agents to find and vet writers for them. So the first thing a budding writer needs to do is find an agent.

I was involved in a workshop with twelve other hopefuls and a literary agent from London called Simon Tremin. He had some useful advice about how to approach an agent, and about what to put in a synopsis and how to write an email to best get your point across.

There was also an agent panel which took place later, with five other literary agents who answered questions from the hundred or so assembled authors hoping to get published.

One of the aspects mentioned was the concept of an “elevator pitch”. This comes from the world of Hollywood movies and the idea is this: if you are stuck in a lift (or “elevator”) with a movie producer and you have an idea for a movie, you need to be quick and to the point in explaining your project. In fact, you need to be able to do it in two sentences.

We were given some examples of two-sentence summaries of various books. This was put forward as an important thing to think about when you are promoting a book, or trying for an agent or a publisher. The Elevator Pitch – 100,000 words of a novel boiled down to twenty.

I felt like asking – what if James Joyce had had to give an elevator pitch for Ulysses? How would that have worked? Two guys travel round Dublin separately over the space of one day, going to a funeral, doing a bit of shopping, going to the beach. What the fuck does that have to do with the masterful, complex world that Joyce created in his novel?

The point that was made seemingly over and over again was that agents are busy people and they have to be grabbed by your elevator pitch, by your 150 word summary in your email, by your first couple of pages. There was no real sense that books or writers deserved a bit of time and attention; you could spend a year and a half writing a novel, and it could be rejected in two minutes based on a short summary that doesn’t grab.

Earlier in the day, Simon Tremin had told a story about an unpublished writer that was on a well-known creative writing course. Apparently she was the next big thing, and so every agent in London was trying to get her to sign with them. Simon tracked her down, and managed to convince her to sign with his agency. She then told him that she had actually submitted a novel to him the year before, but that he had not been interested then. He seemed to think that this story was proof that you should keep trying, even if you get rejected.

To me, this did not illustrate what he though it did. To me, this was evidence of a certain amount of group-think in the world of agents. This unnamed writer actually submitted work to Simon in the past and he wasn’t interested, and it was only when he knew that every other agent wanted her, that he began to try to track her down.

The whole conference more or less convinced me that looking for an agent and a publisher is – at least for the novels that I have written and will write – basically a waste of time. So few writers actually get agents, and of them only 70% actually get published, and so the default setting of any agent is to simply reject your work, unless it is revolutionary, extraordinary or a sure-fire bestseller. And if it so happens that what you write does not fit into the typical genres of YA, fantasy, sci-fi, romance, crime, chick-lit or historical fiction, then your chances of success are miniscule.

Luckily, there is another possibility. Self-publishing is increasingly accessible, and is now a real option. Writers are no longer at the mercy of an agent somewhere in Haymarket or Whitehall, sitting in their office and rejecting your work when your 150 word summary is not mind-blowing enough. We no longer have to beg and plead to get past the gatekeepers of culture, who used to decide who could and could not publish their book to the world.

I appreciate that agents and publishers are busy people, and that they receive a huge number of submissions every week, but it is clear to me that the system is set up so that they will miss a lot of really good writing.

Bookshops are full of books that have been rejected over and over and over again by publishers and agents, until they finally found someone that saw something great in them. J.K. Rowling is the classic example. It was only because she was persistent that she has become the massive success that she has. But I don’t know if I could be bothered to go on begging and pleading to be let in to the magic inner circle of published authors, when the chances are that it is never really going to happen.

I would rather just put books out myself. It will be on a small scale, and I won’t make any money, but at least someone will read them, and I will have some control over the process. And I won’t have to prepare a fucking elevator pitch for anyone.

SEVENTEEN: FINALLY LAUNCHED IN LISBON.

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.

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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.

SIXTEEN – LISBON LAUNCHES

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.

FIFTEEN – POSTPONEMENT OF LISBON EVENTS

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.

FOURTEEN – A WEEK OF EVENTS IN LISBON

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.

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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.

THIRTEEN – A YEAR IN LISBON, IN LISBON

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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

TWELVE – LAUNCHED!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

ELEVEN – BOOK LAUNCH

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!