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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The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide Turns One!

Happy birthday to my book – today it turns one 🙂 It is hard to believe it is one year since I sat on a mound of grass while my daughter’s played football and watched the comments, likes, shares and sales on that exciting first day when the book went live exactly one year ago.

happy birthday book

It has of course been a very busy year since – for me personally with our move to South Africa, but also for the book. With marketing, sales, reviews and more there have definitely been a lot of highlights over the past 12 months. Here are some of them:

Marketing

As anyone who has written and published a book knows, writing it is the easy bit – the work really starts when you have to tell people about it (and for anyone who wants to know more about self-publishing read my A-Z Guide). Word-of-mouth is of course still the best way to generate sales but a lot of effort goes into getting enough of those first sales to start to get people talking about your product. Here are some of the things I have been doing this year to make the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide as visible as possible:

  • In April 2015, soon after the book’s launch, I was interviewed on our local BBC radio station about the book and why I had written it.
  • I was also featured in our local newspaper, the Gloucestershire Echo (gettting the photo for that feature was something I won’t forget – my youngest daughter thought it would be hilarious to spend the whole time doing cartwheels rather than posing nicely for the exasperated photographer….)
  • A few days later, I was mentioned in the Mumsnet blogger’s network “dispatches” – a big honour as someone who used to rely on Mumsnet for pretty much everything from advice on which nappies to buy to literally saving my sanity.
  • In May I was thrilled that my book had been added to a Wall Street Journal list of Essential Books on Expat Life
  • In June I was very excited to receive an email from one of my favourite expat authors Brigid Keenan, who wrote the brilliant Diplomatic Baggage, telling me that she “loved” my book. I was so happy with her praise that I changed the front cover of the book to get her words on there.
  • After a bit of a pause in activity due to my move to Pretoria, I was featured on the extremely popular (and very funny) podcast show Two Fat Expats. I wasn’t talking about the book (the show was about holidays) but they were kind enough to mention my book on the podcast and accompanying blurb.
  • In October I was interviewed for another podcast show – this one was all about culture shock and it was on the Tandem Nomads site.
  • Another honour in March, I was featured on the Displaced Nation’s list of top non-fiction books for expats.
  • The book was also the subject of a feature in one of Dubai’s largest newspapers The National – apparently a publication that is popular with expats.
  • Right at the start of this month, I featured again on another podcast show – this one called Four Seas One Family on which I discussed such things as depression and male expat partners.
  • And just this week I have been recommended as a book to help stay contented as an expat by the wonderful expat blogger Rachel Pieh Jones.

Throughout this time, I was featured on various expat sites (including this one for BlogExpat). I also continued to write my blogs and introduced a number of very popular series – including one on people who live in small places, one on male trailing spouses, and one on expat depression (all still ongoing). Finally, I also continued to write monthly posts for the Expat Focus site.

me and book

My photo for the Gloucestershire Echo newspaper.

Reviews

Most important to me are the views of my readers and I have been absolutely delighted with feedback on Amazon. So far I have collected 37 five star reviews on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk (I rarely look at the other Amazon sites although I do make the occasional sale on them). It’s not the stars so much as the comments that make me glow inside though – this is one of the latest:

Excellent book!! On my now 10th posting as “trailing spouse” I thought it was time to collect all those diary notes and experiences and put them into a guide for other expat families… but I have just read Clara’s book and know it can’t be topped. Bravo! What a pleasure to read and she have covered it all. I felt myself nodding in agreement all the time. What a great guide!!

Otherwise I have been reviewed on several different sites, including the following:

Sales

Sales have been interesting. The first month was, naturally, the best – as those who had been waiting to buy the book bought it (including my loyal family and friends!), and marketing was at a high. The months that followed remained quite high but the summer months saw a bit of a slump. Things picked up again at the end of the year and December saw one of my best months of the year in terms of numbers sold (in particular hard copies – presumably for Christmas gifts). Since then, I have had some slow months and some good ones – March was another excellent month but April so far has been abysmal! On the whole though, sales have remained steady and I am happy with that –  I am nearly half way to my “target” (after which all sales will be a bonus as far as I am concerned!) so I can’t really ask for more than that.

As far as which format sells best, Kindle does better than the paperback version by about 3:2. This isn’t that suprising as many of those who buy it will be living overseas where it is hard to get things posted to them from Amazon. My largest market is the US but the UK comes a very close second – not that suprising as I am a Brit and there probably is more of a British slant on things than anything else.

So that sums up my year. Looking forward, it is hard to know what will happen next with sales. I still look for some great ideas for marketing and continue to search out new markets for the book. But if you have read it, have liked it and think it would help others please do two things for me: tell people about it (in person, on social media, carrier pigeon – I don’t mind!) and write a review on Amazon. Thank you to everyone who has already done so and here’s to Year Two!

click here to buy the book

 

 

A new review of the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide

Thank you to Lisa of the recently published book Knocked Up Abroad (featuring a chapter by yours truely) for a lovely review of the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. Here is a short extract:

Clara’s narrative style is like that of a good friend guiding you through one of the most difficult life-decisions you’ve ever made over a nice cup of coffee (or tea since she is British). She is calm, humorous, and keeps things in perspective. The world “trailing spouse” is one that should be abolished as Clara makes it clear that accompanying partners are anything but “trailing.”

To read the full review please visit the Knocked Up Abroad site.

And in the meantime to read my review of Knocked Up Abroad please go here.  .

Welcome to the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide

“I wish I’d had this book when I first became an Expat Wife”

Brigid Keenan, author of Diplomatic Baggage and Packing Up

Welcome to the blog that accompanies my book, the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. Here you will find many posts about expat life and, in particular, about life as an accompanying spouse. If you are not sure exactly what I mean by an accompanying spouse – also known as an expat partner or “trailing spouse” – then a good place to start would be this post I wrote for the Expat Focus website: Accompanying Spouse – What is It?

But if you pretty sure what this term means and you are looking for more information, then an even better place to start would be with my book.

From what to pack to how to cope in the event of an emergency, the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide is a light-hearted yet supportive book which uses the experiences of more than 70 contributers to help guide you when you move abroad. Aimed initially just at accompanying spouses, since publication I have had a lot of very positive feedback from all sorts of expats – and hope it will be of use to anyone, anywhere moving abroad.

click here to buy the book

The Blog

As well as information about general expat life, you can also read posts about some of the issues that have come up again and again during my research for the book and for the blog. This includes more specific information just for expat partners,  the important topic of expat depression, and what life is like for male trailing spouses.

As well as writing about expat life, I also enjoy writing about travel and, in particular, about our adventures in South Africa.

I hope you enjoy both the blog and the book – do get in touch if you have any comments, feedback, ideas, topics you would like me to cover or if you would like to write a guest post.