The truth about publishing a book and why I will rarely write for free any more.

“Write another book,” they say. “Write about repatriation!”.

I can honestly admit I would LOVE to write another book and a Repat Partner’s Survival Guide would absolutely be something I would do. Except for one thing that a lot of people don’t realise.

When you self-publish a book you are lucky to make back the money you pay to produce it. And that’s without the thousands of hours that you really should be paying yourself for the work that’s gone into writing it. Nope there really is very rarely any money to be made in publishing.

A few years ago, before I finished writing my book, I went on a marketing course for self-published authors. It was just one day long and there were about 12 of us in the room, some already published (at least one fairly successfully, if I recall). The rest of us were newbies – still totally unaware of what going-it-alone really meant.

Well while there were no great suprises, one thing that stuck in my head was this: less than 1% of self-published books sell more than 1,000 copies. That’t not very many. And more than two years after I published my book I am not there yet (although creeping closer).

When I decided to publish my book myself, having had quite a few knock-backs from so-called traditional publishers (the book was too niche…nice idea but it wouldn’t be commercially viable etc), the one thing I knew was that I wanted to be proud of the product I put out into the world. And that didn’t just mean the content – while that was my primary concern at the start, I eventually read enough to realise that was the easy bit. I needed it to be written well, edited well, proof-read well and then I needed a great front cover, good formatting, some reviews, some recommendations…the list goes on.

And much of this costs money (I have never and will never pay for reviews, but I did send a few out free of charge for people to review for me). Money that takes a long time and a lot of work to make back.

Every time I sell a book I get around £1 back (ironically I get more back from the sale of a digital copy than a hard copy). I could put the price up and get more back but I have always wanted this to be an accessible product. Thus I have to sell a lot of copies to make back the money I paid to publish it.

So this is where things got hard. The writing of the book and its production were in the end the (relatively) easy part. What I have been doing over the last two years is marketing it.

The first thing I had to think about was who were my audience and how could I reach them? One problem I have had was that most people who needed this book most wouldn’t know they needed it until it was too late. I really wanted to reach expats BEFORE their move rather than months later when they wondered what on earth had just happened to them. I could tell how hard this would be when my reviews often started with “why didn’t I know about this book when I most needed it?”.

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So I did my best – including starting this blog and writing unpaid for other blogs and websites. What I needed was to make people aware that the book existed and where they could buy it so I always made sure to include links to my blogsite.  I did enjoy what I was doing, don’t get me wrong – it is a privilege to be able to write about something you love in exactly the way you want to write it. And I also realised how lucky I was that I was able to do it this way – that I wasn’t worried about paying bills and putting food on the table because my husband had a decent job. I also had the time to do it thanks to our overseas move and a wonderfully flexible remote part-time job.

So I wrote and hustled and sweated and wrote some more and I tried to get the word out there and I counted every sale as a success. Slowly the sales figures went up. Very slowly sometimes.

And then one day something changed. I somehow got a commission to write an article (on expat depression, for the Wall Street Journal) and they paid me! Now I realise how naive this sounds – why wouldn’t they pay me? – but you have to remember that not only had I been writing for free simply to let people know my book existed for quite a long time,  but I had also had my confidence in my own abilities totally knocked since I stopped permanent work in 2006.

You see although even I forget it sometimes, I have not got to where I am through luck. I am a trained journalist who spent years learning how to write. On top of that, I have a lot of life experience – things that went into my book and now go into my articles. But I gave up my job as a diplomat following the birth of my eldest daughter and since then have only ever worked in low-paid, part-time jobs.

After a while you stop believing you are worth anything more. You doubt your abilities and you don’t for a second think you are good enough to earn a decent salary. It is an age-old story of mothers everywhere and I am not going to labour the point here. But it did mean that when someone wanted to pay me for my writing I was overjoyed. (I should add that the editor who helped me get this first assignment was a woman; all through this process I have been helped by other women and I now do my best to pass this on and help other female writers get to where they deserve to be).

Anyway things took off from here. Not in some huge, overwhelming way but in slow, small steps – I started finding out more and more about paying markets where I could sell my writing, I made friends with other writers and exchanged ideas, I joined some wonderful Facebook groups for writers. And slowly I started getting commissions.

It is still early days but even getting the few paid jobs that I have (including with the Washington Post and the UK’s Independent, as well as the Wall Street Jounal) has boosted my confidence. And in the end it has meant that writing the book  and starting the blog was worthwhile – not just because of all the people I have (hopefully) helped with the advice because of where it took me.

So here I am. I doubt writing will ever make me rich and I still have that wonderful part-time job that brings in a small income. But I have finally reached a stage where I can start to believe in myself again, believe that I am worth something, that I do have something to give.

I will still write my blog because I think it is important, and one day maybe I will write that Repat book. But right now I am just loving the fact that people want to pay me for doing what I love most in the world – write.

And I have a final message for all of you out there who feel like I did, that they are worthless and that they will never get back into a role where they feel valued again (either paid or unpaid): don’t give up. It can happen. You are worth it. if I can do it, so can you.

Good luck!

I would love to hear your stories – has anyone else self-published a book? Or got back into the workplace or found a new role after a period of absence?

Photo credit: Appalachian dreamer

 

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Stories from Blogging Africa #3

We’re back!

After a wintersummer (it’s winter here in the southern hemisphere but Frances, my Africa linky partner, is up in Kenya so summer for her) of fun and indulgence it’s time to roll up our sleeves, spit on our hands and get back to work. And this means another Stories from Blogging Africa link-up!

In case you’ve missed our first two linkys, this is a chance for anyone, anywhere in Africa who blogs to share their work. We don’t care what your blog is about, whether it’s travel or literature or expat life or politics or even sport – all we ask is that you either in Africa or write about Africa. In fact, the more diverse the better – see this as a great way to discover things about this great continent that are as yet totally unknown to you.

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What can be more African than an African elephant?

If you want to know what a link-up is and how it works first of all take a look at our earlier linkys – HERE and HERE. You will be taken to a page where you can click on a variety of blogs. Have a read and please, please if possible leave a comment, give it a like, let people know you have visited. This only works if people visit each others blogs.

So if you want to join in all you have to do is write a new blog post or pick one that is already published, grab the badge below and add it to your post with a link to this site , click on the frog link below and then simply follow the instructions to add your post. Happy posting – I look forward to reading your Stories from Blogging Africa and, please, don’t forget to check out the other posts in the link-up.

Are you a blogger in Africa?

Calling all bloggers in Africa! Or even bloggers who aren’t in Africa but write about Africa!

The next Stories from Blogging Africa link-up will be out this WEDNESDAY. Yes, you heard that right, this WEDNESDAY. August 24th. Only three days away.

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Soweto market

If you haven’t participated before, this is a very simple link-up for anyone who blogs in or about Africa. All you have to do is have a post ready to go on Wednesday, add it to the page, check out the other posts (and hopefully like/comment) and voila! You’re done. See, couldn’t be simpler.

But in case you are still confused, here are the links to the two previous link-ups we’ve already done – this one from May and then this one from June.

And yes, we did miss July but it was the long holidays, we were travelling, life got in the way…..

Please comment below if you have any questions but otherwise, I hope to see you on Wednesday! Happy blogging folks.

Stories from Blogging Africa #2

Welcome to the second Blogging Africa link-up – this time hosted by my friend Frances over at her blog Africa Expat’s Wives Club. We were so pleased to have so many great posts on the last link-up and hope we can repeat this success this time.
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Beautiful African jacarandas in Pretoria

If you are blogging from this continent and would like to join the ‘party‘, then please click on  http://africaexpatwivesclub.com/?p=2699 .  All you need to do is click on the blue froggy to add a link your post (with a photo). Then grab the image code to place the Stories from Blogging Africa image link on the relevant post on your blog.
As you know, the idea is that we share the love by reading each other’s stories and leaving nice comments. This way we share/boost each other’s traffic and raise awareness of one another’s fab websites!
Please do let me know if you need anymore info, if not, see you there!

Wanted – guest bloggers

So summer is round the corner. Or rather wintersummer as I now call it – living in the Southern hemisphere as I do, we are currently very much in the throes of Autumn. But in just a few weeks time I will emerge from an overnight flight into the warmth of a British summer’s morning.

Which will probably be a lot more miserable than a South African winter’s day.

But I digress. Even though we are heading into winter here, our children go to an American International school so their long holiday will be during June, July and August. So I will be on full-time parenting duties from mid June. Which means a few things will have to take a bit of a back seat. Including blogging.

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However I really don’t want the cobwebs to collect on this site so am looking for a few volunteers to help keep it looking lively. So if you are an expat blogger of any capacity please let me know. In particular I am looking for blogs about the following:

  • A Day in My Expat Life (see my first post in this series here)
  • Expat parenting – any stories about taking children to live overseas, in particular with a focus on schooling
  • Male trailing spouses (see other posts in this series)
  • Same-sex trailing spouses
  • Repatriation: what it’s REALLY like
  • Your first three months: tell me what it felt like to be new (and if possible reassure us it gets better!)
  • Travel in South Africa or the region

I am open to other suggestions but I would like to keep the posts as close to the theme of this blog as possible – eg real life as an expat, expat partners, and local Southern Africa travel.

If you think you can help please get in touch – either leave a message below or contact me clara@expatpartnersurvival.com. I do not pay bloggers nor am I looking for blogvatorials (a made up word meaning I get paid to put your post advertising something or another on the blog).

Bloggers in Africa – we want you!

Are you a blogger? Do you live in Africa? Then please join a brand-new link-up starting later this month.

From Angola to Zimbabwe, Algeria to Zambia we want you writers and photographers from all over the continent to share a bit of your life with us. The idea for a link-up specifically for bloggers in Africa started when I began corresponding with Frances who runs the wonderful Africa Expat Wives Club – which, for those of you who don’t already know isn’t a club at all but a very insightful blog about life in Kenya. Looking for a way to better connect with other writers on the continent I suggested a blog link-up and the idea rolled from there.

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This is my African world – but what’s yours?

The idea will be to link up on a monthly basis with ANY Africa-related post, whether it be funny, serious, political, photographic…even a poem or short story is welcome, in fact the only rules really are that the post mustn’t be offensive and we don’t accept posts that are pure advertising. A new post would be great, but if you don’t have something relevant written recently then an old post is good too.

The first link-up will be on Wednesday May 25th and we hope to continue monthly from there, alternating between this blog and the Africa Expat’s Wives Club. If you want to join in then all you need to do is leave your contact below – either email or twitter name, or email me directly at clara@expatpartnersurvival.com and we will remind you closer to the date!

Sisterhood of the World blogging award

While I was away on safari in Madikwe a couple of weeks ago, I struggled to keep up with emails and blog posts etc because the wifi at the lodge we were staying in was dodgy. On top of that my phone was about to run out of data so I really had to keep web browsing to an absolute minimum. Which was fine by me – when you are on such a fabulous reserve surrounded by so many animals, it’s quite nice just to switch off the internet

Anyway one of the tweets I DID see that weekend was from my pal Pheobe – who had nominated me for aSisterhood of the World blog award. Pheobe and I go back years, to schooldays in fact. We met up again recently at a reunion and then even more recently started connecting through our blogs. What we have in common more than anything else is a loooooong history and a love of travel – both our fathers were in the diplomatic service, we both grew up jetting the globe on a regular basis. So I always enjoy reading about her travel stories (she has also contributed to my blog with this post about her memorable journey in Outer Mongolia, and me to hers with this post about a weekend in Martinique).

Pheobe had been nominated for the award herself by another travel blogger and had to answer a series of questions – you can read her answers here. But she then set a series of different questions for her own nominees to answer. I always enjoy answering these sort of things but have been pushed for time since coming back from Madikwe. However, I have finally found a spare quiet hour here in sunny South Africa with one daughter at an ice-skating play date and the other out at a zip-lining party – so here they are:

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1. When did you start blogging? What is your favourite blog post, and why?

I started blogging almost exactly a year ago. As I got closer to the point when I was ready to publish my book, the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, I knew I needed a promotional platform. I wasn’t exactly sure what form this would take except that it would include a blog. As it turned out, the personal blog side of my site has been the most fun – although it is also massively time-consuming and I am thinking of making a few changes in the new year. As for my favourite post that is not an easy question to answer! I love writing about the oddities of expat life, made all the easier now that I am back in expat-world myself, so maybe something like this post: Expat Friends – Fast and Furious.

2. How do you describe your blog’s niche?

It was really intended as a blog for the partners of people moving overseas for work; but I know my readership base is a lot wider than that. I think a lot of the issues I cover are relateable to expat life whether you are a partner or not, whether you are living somewhere temporarily or permanently, whether you are a young singleton or an older, married person….I also blog about travel quite a bit now that I am in South Africa so attract a different group or readers for that. Plus I have written a few blogs about the business of writing and publishing, something that still interests me and I enjoy reading about on other people’s blogs.

3. Do you have a day job other than blogging?  Do you support yourself blogging?

Yes I have a part-time job working as a business manager for a great little journal called the International Journal of Birth and Parent Education. It is a remote-working, flexible role that I was able to bring with me from the UK (perfect!). I can’t imagine being able to support myself blogging – does anyone these days?

4. Do you do other writing or photography professionally?

As well as publishing my own book, I do a bit of freelance writing: paid and unpaid (the latter for exposure for my book). I have also contributed a chapter to a book about giving birth and parenting abroad called Knocked Up Abroad – out soon, so watch this space!

Photography is strictly a hobby!

5. What is your most popular post?  Why do you think it’s so popular?

Funnily enough, my most read post ever was People Who Live in Small Places: Gibraltar. I think this was because it was read by every single Gibraltarian in the world! They are very proud of their home and I guess a lot of them shared it! My other People Who Live in Small Places posts have also done very well, but the other post that gets read very frequently is one on expat depression that I wrote last year. Because it gets so many reads I have since followed it up with an interview with counsellor Anita Colombara and am currently planning a series on expat depression for the new year. It is obviously a subject that has touched a lot of people, and about which more needs to be written.

6. What’s your biggest challenge or frustration as a blogger?

Without a doubt not having enough time! I have ideas coming out of my ears but there are only so many hours in the day. I try and write three blogs a week but I am not sure that is going to be sustainable for much longer – my life has become a lot busier since moving to South Africa and I really struggle to get everything done. Hence why I am planning a few changes to the site.

7. Name some of your favourite blogs.  Why?  What makes a great blog in your opinion?

I really enjoy following the blogs of people who are going through similar things to me. So the ones that I try and read regularly are those who have either recently moved somewhere new or who are living somewhere a bit more, should we say, exotic than the norm. As an example, Julie at the Expat Chronicles who moved a year ago from Barcelona to the Netherlands with her family; Seychelles Mama who lives in (believe it or not!) the Seychelles, and the Africa Expat Wives club, which is the diary of a British expat in Nairobi. There are many more but these are a few examples.

8. What is your best travel memory?  Why?

So so so difficult to answer – there are WAY too many. But if I had to pick one it would probably be travelling around New Zealand on my own at the age of 29. I had come into a small inheritence so stopped worrying about money (after spending six months working and scraping together some cash in Auckland!), and had no plans but to enjoy myself. I sky-dived, went on scenic flights, climbed glaciers, kayaked through the most beautiful national park, sat in hot baths under the stars, learnt to dive, watched seals and walruses, kiwi-spotted, and met the most amazing variety of people from all over the world. Most of all, I realised that travelling alone was actually ok – or more than ok, it was the best way in the world to meet people but at the same time realise it was fine to be on your own.

9. Travel bucket list: name the top 3 places you want to visit

Ah now this is another of those questions! Probably because of where we live, I actually have places on my list that we will get to – including Mozambique to swim with whale sharks and mantas. But away from southern Africa, I havel always wanted to visit Antartica so will keep that on my list; and Japan just because it seems so different to everywhere else.

10.  Is food important to you when you travel (other than its obvious function as fuel!)? What is the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?

Now that we travel with our children, it is mostly important that we will find something that our fussy youngest will eat! As with most travellers I do love to try different things but I am a little funny about things like seafood with tentacles, and anything with bones! I did have a mopani worm recently at the Zimbabwe stall at our school’s international day – I would not recommend it! But probably the strangest things I have tried were giraffe and zebra at the Carnivore restaurant here in South Africa. Oh and tapir when I lived in Venezuela. I also ate something very strange at a restaurant in Cameroon but I can’t remember what it was – possibly warthog?

So to the hard part – I need to nominate ten bloggers of my own and pass the award on to them. Now I know that many have probably already had this award, or a similar one. I also know that it can be very time-consuming to write a post like this. I therefore  won’t be offended if my nominees don’t respond to my questions or pass it on to others. Nevertheless, as I am about to enter my second year of blogging I thought it would be nice to nominate some of those bloggers who have been on the blogging ride with me. So they are:

  1. The aforementioned Expat Chronicles
  2. And also Seychelles Mama
  3. Tiny Expats – one of my first blogging friends, always writes beautifully
  4. My three roadtesters – Oregon Girl Around the World
  5. Nichole at From Melbourne to Manhatten
  6. And Lynsay at Mills Family Travels
  7. Morag at Wir Unst Family for being a great supporter of the blog
  8. Loisajay at …on Pets and Prisoners for the same reason
  9. Nerissa at Ersatz Expat for just being so darn interesting
  10. And finally Nicola at Expatorama – another Brit in SA who hopefully I will eventually get to meet in person!

Right so onto my questions for these people, should they wish to answer them!

  1. If you had the chance, would you change anything about your life? And if so, what?
  2. Who would you most like to meet in a lift – and what would you ask them?
  3. If you HAD to move to another country from the one you are living in now, which would it be and why?
  4. You are given the equivalent of £5,000 for a holiday just for you and your immediate family. Where would you go?
  5. Can you tell me about a couple of your favourite blogs?
  6. Do you remember your first kiss – and who was it with?
  7. If you are from the UK, where is your favourite place there? If you are not, where would you most like to visit in my home country?
  8. How have you most successfully connected with other bloggers?

I think I will stop there – 8 questions is quite enough! So over to you guys – I look forward to reading your answers!