Tag Archives: self-publishing

catch up – #WhatImWriting

September is here, the kids have gone back to school and – woo hoo! – #WhatImWriting is back!

After a summer without any of these sorts of writing posts I think a good catch-up post is in order… the problem is, my head is all over the place at the moment. Not in a bad way, but the summer was really full-on with all three boys at home, then the older two went back to school in the middle of last week and before I’d really had time to breathe I was off to York for a (fabulous) weekend at the Festival of Writing. I’m freshly returned from that and my head feels like it’s full to bursting with everything I’ve heard and learnt and with all the conversations I had with so many lovely people. I feel like I haven’t had proper time to think since July!

book spiral

So. This post is likely to be less of a perfectly-honed, shiny gem of a post and more of a roughly-hewn, chunk-out-of-a-limestone-cliff, sort of a thing. But maybe if I write it it will get me closer to working out where I am with my writing and what is next.

Right.

Um.

Ok, I’ll start with my limericks… in fact, wait a sec…. I’ll do this in an organised manner:

1) Limericks

I’ve been writing limericks for my blog for a couple of years, and have been wondering for a while now about publishing some in a book of some sort. I did have some published by Iron Press last year but I’m itching to do something a bit more substantial. Over the last few months a plan has started to take shape and I’ve been working on creating a limerick anthology for kids which I intend to have illustrated and then self-publish.

This summer I’ve been working towards this goal and have snatched every chance I can to write and edit limericks. I’m pleased to say I’ve nearly completed the collection. My plan is (or was) to request some beta readers this autumn and then start seriously looking for an illustrator and hopefully edit and hone and create a book that I can publish next year.

But then I went to the Festival of Writing which, although wonderful and inspiring, was also a bit of a reality check. Because I found myself in a room (multiple rooms in fact) surrounded by clever, talented people who share the same dream I do. Well, not exactly the same dream – I don’t think they’re all avid limerick-writers – but we were all there hoping to get published at some point and not only that, to ensure sales of those future books. I suddenly felt really aware of how stiff the competition was.

This very fact was also made very clear to us by the agents and publishers there. As the very funny (and sweary) David Maybury from Scholastic books said in a seminar (forgive the paraphrasing):

“All you lovely writers sitting there: you’re NOT going to get published. Oh f**k, I had that written down here and then ‘DO NOT SAY THIS’ written above it and now I’ve said it. It’s not true. Honestly. BUT it is really, really hard to get published.”

And he then went on to tell us about how, even if you did get published you might not sell many books and how it was all a gamble and people can get dropped by their publishers for not selling enough and… well… the reality of the marketplace did hit home.

But I then had a very positive one to one meeting with Jennifer Parker from Matador books (a huge boon of the festival is that you get one-on-ones with agents and publishers). Matador are a self-publishing company who I’ve heard good things about. They offer marketing and distribution along side other services and have various freelance illustrators they work with so lots to offer someone like me. They don’t automatically agree to you self-publishing with them so I was pleased to hear they’d be happy to work with me. Jennifer also had an illustrator she thought would fit with my limericks and encouraged me to submit my full set of limericks to them for a quote. If I choose to run with my self-publishing plan, this option clearly has potential.

But… I don’t know. It’s going to be expensive. Hiring an illustrator costs a lot. And the whole ‘crowded marketplace’ thing is really living with me. Do I want to do it this way? Do I want to do it at all? And most of all, do I have it in me to properly promote and market myself? Is it worth the risk and the pressure? I’m suddenly feeling completely unsure.

2) Picture books

I’ve been working on all three of my manuscripts over the summer. Millie Tweed (my first book) is now at a point where I plan on submitting her (her? definitely time to let go of that manuscript – she’s become real!), and Pete and the Aliens (my third book) is very nearly there too. Mr Magic (book no. two) however, has taken a turn for the worse and now needs to be ignored for a few weeks/months before being re-built.

Before the Writing Festival I was planning on submitting to publishers and agents but now I’m thinking I’ll try agents as a first port of call. Having heard more about how the publishing industry works, I understand far more now about how incredibly useful an agent could be. The right agent can help you shape your writing career, edit and hone your work and point you in the right direction for future endeavours. Of course they can’t guarantee publication but they make it a lot more likely and a smoother process too. So my aim is to send Millie and maybe Pete out to them soon and see where we go from there. Having spoken to other writers I expect this to be a lengthy process but I have to start somewhere.

3) Novel no. 1

Remember that middle-grade manuscript I was writing? No? Well I hardly do either but I’d love to get back to it! I have 7000 words written and masses of notes. It’s calling to me.

4) Novel no. 2

I wrote 55,000 words of a psychological thriller last year. I’d love to finish it although having been to the festival I’m now even more aware of how crap what I’ve written is!

5) This blog

I love blogging but it takes up a lot of valuable writing time. My toddler has just dropped his nap so that time is now even more limited. Obviously I’m not going to stop blogging completely but I feel like I need to re-think things.
So that’s me now. Not remotely clear headed and, as I warned, this was a bit of a roughly-hewn post! I will attempt to write something clearer for next week. Hopefully a proper post about the Writing Festival – I learnt a lot and would love to share it.

I’m looking forward to reading about how your summers have gone!

Writing Bubble

grandma’s poetry – an interview with Di Castle

As a writer hoping to have my own books published one day, I’m always interested to hear from published authors – there is so much I can learn! So, when I was recently contacted by Di Castle asking if I would like to review her ‘Grandma’s Poetry Book’, I said I’d be happy to (there was a free book in it for me, after all… ) and asked if I could interview her too.

I’m pleased to say Di’s answer was yes! The interview is below (and Di was very generous with her responses so it’s well worth a read) but first, here’s a bit about the book:

grandma's poetry book

Grandma’s poetry book is a collection of poems by Di Castle about her experience of being a grandmother. Each poem is individually illustrated by Denise Horn.

As Di has been been a grandmother for fifteen years and writing since before the birth of her first grandchild, the poems cover a huge range of milestones, from the first pregnancy announcement, through births, toddler troubles, school days and on to the teenage years.

The poems have a light touch but capture a whole range of experiences and moods. They’re often humorous but also moving and they feel very honest and real. They are all in rhyming verse so if you’re after a more serious, heavy-weight sort of poetry this might not be the book for you, but personally I found Di’s style very readable and enjoyable.

The book itself feels like a quality product and Denise Horn’s illustrations blend perfectly with the poems. I enjoyed dipping in and out and it was often the pictures that drew me to read a particular poem, which I think is a sure sign of a successful collaboration.

The poems have brought both a smile to my face and, at times a tear to my eye. There is a deep current of love that runs through the whole book and having read it, even though I am many years from being a grandmother myself, I have a genuine sense of what it might feel like. I can imagine it would make a great present for any grandmother!

***

Hi Di, thanks for sending me a copy of your book (I hope you like my review!) and for agreeing to this interview.

The book contains poems about your – many and varied – experiences of being a grandmother. How long did it take you to write them? Did some flow out of your pen more easily than others?

It took 16 years from start to finish. I began writing them before my first grandchild was born – in fact when my friend became a grandmother. My own first granddaughter was born in 2000. I wrote thoughts and rhyming couplets in my notebook which I later developed and eventually realised I had enough for a book. 

Some poems were easier than others. Some had been in competitions so were fairly well honed. Some were done at the last minute to make sure all my grandchildren were included. I struggled with one or two of them but the mothers helped me with ideas. It is true though that some poems seem to write themselves while others have to be crafted.

What is your editing process? Did it vary with each poem?

They all start off in my writers’ notebooks and then after some alterations and additions I put them on the computer, print them out and then carry them around with me when I am travelling e.g to grandchildren by train. I read and reread, scribble over them and put them away. They evolve really and I return to them over and over to re-read, read aloud and polish them.

What made you decide to compile your poems into an anthology?

I really wanted to publish my memoir of growing up with a deaf sister but have run into various difficulties getting agents (although I do have a few interested now). I was impatient then to get into print and realised I had sufficient material in my poems to publish a book. Also I wanted to get them published for my grandchildren as a gift from me. They love them. I am now keen to get my memoir published for them as well but editing and revising takes so much time. Grandma filled the gap really.

Your book contains lovely illustrations that blend well with your poetry – how did you go about finding an illustrator?

I tried a few local artists but some declined as they felt their type of art would not do the poetry credit. Eventually someone recommended Denise Horn. She asked to see my poems then replied by return not to let anyone else do it as she wanted to do it. Right from the start I felt she captured the essence of each poem. The rest is history. She is my greatest fan and I am hers. We now have a fantastic friendship.

Why did you decide to self-publish (rather than go down a traditional route)?

It is very difficult to get an agent or a publisher for poetry. You have to be Carol Ann Duffy or dead! No-one wants your poetry if you are not already well known. It is a chicken and egg situation really. You have to be published before anyone looks at you and no-one looks at you until you are. I felt at my age I could not wait, and heard of other writers who had self published and then had been picked up by a mainstream publisher. That is still my dream! Also, I soon discovered that if I did find a mainstream publisher they may not take Denise as the illustrator but would get their own and I wanted Denise to do it. 

What has your experience of self-publishing been? Do you have any tips or recommendations?

I cannot speak highly enough of Matador. Their staff loved my work from the time I handed over some sheets of poems and some illustrations at the Winchester Writers’ Conference in 2013. I had visited other self-publishing stands and they wanted me to go through hoops e.g produce a PDF of the poems. What? And to get the illustrations professionally scanned. I had already paid Denise and that route would have been too expensive. I was not overly impressed with the quality of the books produced by other self-publishing companies and have been absolutely delighted with the quality of Grandma’s Poetry Book. I see people pick it up and they are immediately taken with it.

The process was so smooth with Matador. Every email is answered within 24 hours and they are so helpful and treat you as if you are the only author they have!! The personal touch helps. It has cost more money but in the end I had a superior product and I am sure Grandma will be around for many years so it was worth getting the best I could for her!

How long did the publishing process take?

It took about 10 months from start to finish. I began with enquiry emails, asking more questions and more and more until we got to the contract stage. All the time I was polishing the poems, reading them at open mic nights to test the water and getting them the right length. Then I had to write the preface and Denise and I had to write our bios which was new to us. I uploaded the files in early May 2024 but it took until the end of October to get the first delivery of books.

How have you been marketing your book? Has your focus been with online sales or in your local community (or both)?

As far as online or local community, I have done both. I have done a lot of local signings and have talks booked over the next year in the area with WI and over60 groups plus evening talks at a local hotel in the summer season. I have have booked myself into every available local summer fair and other events which are in a good cause further afield – I think it will be a lovely way to spend a day and I have a willing chauffeur!!

I have nurtured a relationship with my local bookshop which has sold about 30 books since Christmas. The book is also in two other Dorset bookshops and I now have a supplier ID for the National Trust. This has taken time with personal visits, follow up emails and using contacts.

I was very green about social media but I have grown my twitter following from 200 to 1500 in six months by contacting mummy bloggers and mums groups, asking for follows, reviews and retweets. I am now one of the 100 authors on the Henpicked site which publishes articles of informative interest to women over 40+. They have 6000 followers and likes on Facebook and are great at retweeting. I have my own website with more information about the book and also have a Writer page on Facebook. Any social media is good.

Has the experience of writing, producing and selling a book been as you imagined?

It has been better than I imagined. I cannot explain how much difference it has made to my life. It has been a life-long dream to be published and I am lucky to be in the generation where the awful term ‘vanity’ publishing has been banished and the ‘indie’ author term has grown. It has allowed me to be involved with local charities, giving free copies for raffles and I have got to know so many people through this venture, so many lovely people. One buyer is reading two poems a night to her mother who has Alzheimers and they talk about when the children were small and it acts as reminiscence therapy. That brought a warm feeling to my heart. I get so much praise in reviews and via email and it is good to know I have made people ‘laugh and cry’ as they say.

Have you got any advice for those of us writing poetry (or anything else for that matter) who are wondering about publishing it?

I would say ‘go for it’ but think about your audience and how you are going to promote it. I think I have a very receptive target market. The illustrations have helped so I would say do try to get an illustrator or do your own. For poetry, self publishing is probably best although there are poetry presses which may take your work. You can look through Writers and Artists’ Yearbook. 

Further, do build up a good network of writers and people who could be your readers. Join a poetry group and read your work aloud. Find an open mic night. Send poems to the local paper. Enter competitions such as those at Winchester Writers’ Festival. Attend Festivals, read other work (especially in the genre you are writing) and listen to what they tell you in writing workshops. 

If you have produced something creative it should be out there being read and if no publisher wants it that does not mean it is not any good. Poetry now forms a large part of the GCSE English Literature and your work may be welcomed in schools with talks and readings. Have faith in your abilities and just get on and do it. But after that, keep writing. Apparently you are more likely to get sales if you have more than one book on Amazon. So write, write, write and don’t give up. And keep the faith!

Thanks Di and good luck with book sales and all your future creative endeavours!

I’m linking this up with The Prompt at Mumturnedmom. This week it is ‘confidence’ and I hope the confidence that allowed Di to publish her work can inspire others to do the same!

mumturnedmom
Writing Bubble

Become The Best You – an interview with Reneé Davis

Many of us dream of being a published author – the excitement, the satisfaction and (hopefully) the plaudits… but what’s the reality like? I was recently lucky enough to grab an interview with the author, blogger, mum-of-three and all-round lovely Reneé Davis. Reneé self-published her first book ‘Become The Best You’ last November. Here’s a bit about the book:#btby

After her dysfunctional upbringing Reneé Davis knew she wanted more out of life, but had no idea how she was going to achieve it. She lived life in self-destruct mode for years until she eventually made peace with the past, ditched bad influences and behaviour, and got comfortable with what she saw in the mirror.

This book tells you how you can do the same. How you can change your life and break your own cycle of dysfunction.

Anyone is capable of doing it. You just have to want to badly enough.

I read the book myself last year and found it very inspiring. It’s full of practical, sensible advice that makes it relevant for anyone whether you come from a similar background to Reneé or are just hoping to change a few things about your life. The memoir sections make it much more compelling and meaningful than your average self-help book. I recommend it!

Hi Reneé, congratulations on your book! How did it feel to hit the publish button? (Is there even a publish button? I’m imagining it big and shiny and that when you press it a mini firework display is activated? ;)

To be honest it’s all a bit of a blur! There’s definitely a button on Create Space (submit perhaps?) that you press once you’ve done all your uploading and filled in all the forms. It then goes off to be checked by them and usually goes live on Amazon 3-5 days later. It was pretty thrilling I have to say, but my book went live within 24 hours which took me by surprise. I wasn’t anticipating it being available to buy quite so fast, and had to rejig time off work to bring my launch day forward. It was all fab in the end, but is worth taking into consideration if you are thinking of self-publishing.

How have things gone with the book since? Are you where you hoped to be at this point?

Funnily enough I wrote a post about this recently. The book did amazingly well in it’s first couple of weeks and even made it into the Amazon Bestsellers Top 50, which I’m so very proud of. Since then I’ve hardly had a moment to breathe between the kids and work, so book promotion has been bottom of my list. My 3yo has just started nursery though, so I’ll have a little bit of spare time to work on my plans for world domination.

How long did it take you to write (and edit)?

From start to finish it was almost a year to the day. I began writing bits and pieces when I went on maternity leave in the January, then it all ground to a halt after my son was born on Valentine’s Day. I took two months off while we all adjusted to our new addition, and started writing again in the Spring. By the end of Summer I had a first draft on my hands, which I then paid handsomely to be critiqued by an editor at a top literary agency. He had some great advice for me which I took on board, and spent the next three months editing and filling in the gaps. Once I was happy with the manuscript I sent it away for a second edit to ensure it didn’t have any glaring typos or grammatical errors. After it came back I had to do some tweaks here and there, then it was ready to be published. I’m sure I could have carried on editing it forever, but there comes a point where you have to say ‘this is good enough’.

The book is built on your own experiences – was it painful to write? 

As I explain in the book, I made peace with my dysfunctional past a long time ago, and feel very emotionally detached from it now. I find writing about the things I’ve been through really cathartic, and I get a great sense of pride knowing that I’m also helping others to help themselves by sharing my story.

How did you find a balance between self-help and memoir?

The structure of the book changed several times throughout the course of me writing it. I don’t think I was too aware of the need for  balance, it just naturally worked out around half and half.

What made you decide to self-publish rather than go down the ‘traditional’ route?

Time was and is my biggest constraint. I have very little of the stuff going spare and didn’t want to sit on my manuscript while I trod the long treacherous route of trying to find an agent. A book like mine is so niche, and there aren’t going to be many out there willing to take it on. I firmly believe that if you have the talent as a self-published author an agent/publisher will come to you.

Is self publishing a difficult thing to do? Is it expensive (especially having paper versions made)?

Not at all, especially now that Create Space are an Amazon company they make it very easy to self-publish. As well being available on Kindle, they print orders on demand so there is no outlay for printing, and they have various distribution channels to help get your book into shops and libraries. In terms of cost, I spent a fair bit of money on the book. Having two professional edits and a professional cover designed, doesn’t come cheap but was worth every penny in my opinion as my book looks every bit as good as the next book does. Of course the flip side of this is that all the royalties are my own.

What have been the best and worst parts of your whole writing/publishing/marketing experience so far?

Just not having any time to dedicate to book promotion. I’ve had moments of real frustration over it lately, but this is the reality of life with small children, and I have three of them (including a baby who is still breastfeeding).

Do you have any advice for writers out there?

Just write write write. Even if the words don’t really make sense at first, the only way you’ll ever get better at anything is by practicing. If you truly utilise every single opportunity you get to write, you’ll be sitting in front of a first draft before you know it. I used to stay awake after the baby had his early morning feed around 4am which gave me an hour and a half to two hours of writing time each day before the rest of the house woke up. Who needs sleep?! Oh and don’t be fearful of the editing process. I would say half of my original content didn’t make the final book, but I didn’t shed a single tear because what was left was much better.

What’s next (for both the book and you)? 

Next step for Become the Best You is getting it in front of people that could take it further. Not necessarily literary agents but mental health charities, magazines, influential self-help authors. I’m thinking well and truly outside of the box on this one. Next step for me is to start working on my novel. Guess I need to take my own advice and get writing! Watch this space ;-)

Thanks Reneé and good luck!

mumturnedmom