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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Knocked Up Abroad – AGAIN

Hopefully you will realise pretty quickly that I am not, in any way, shape or form knocked up again. Good god the idea fills me with horror – imagine going back to nappies and night feeds again! It’s hard enough having a new puppy in the house.

No, this is not about an impending birth – or at least, not an impending birth of a baby but rather the much planned, much hoped for birth of a new book. But a birth that will only happen with the help of people like YOU.

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Some of you may recall I contributed a chapter to the first book in the Knocked Up Abroad series, in which I wrote about life in St Lucia while parenting a couple of small children and in particular the slightly peculiar school they attended. Having enjoyed being part of the KUA team, I jumped at the chance to contribute again when editor Lisa Ferland decided to go in for Round Two.

This time, I wrote about discovering I was pregnant with my first daughter while working in Phuket in the immediate post-tsunami period. To say it was a bit of a shock is a severe understatement – imagine finding yourself on the other side of the world, living in a slightly dodgy hotel along with a whole load of colleagues you have only just met while your partner is literally as far away as you can get….add into the mix the fact that we had so recently started trying for a baby that I had only really half thought about the reality that it might actually happen, plus the total lack of any sort of pregnancy book in English and you will realise why this is a story worth telling.

However. If you want to read it, along with the extraordinary tales from 25 other mothers around the globe, you will need to give us a bit of a helping hand. Because at the moment this project is still on the drawing board awaiting funding. Without money, it simply won’t ever be published.

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The locations of all the stories to be told in Knocked Up Abroad Again

But don’t worry, we are not asking you simply to hand over your cash. Oh no – there are lots of wonderful rewards on offer to anyone and everyone who contributes. You can find out all the details of the Kickstarter campaign and what is available by clicking on the link at the end of this post but for starters here are a few rewards:

  • Pledge $10 and get a free pre-release eBook of Knocked Up Abroad Again
  • Pledge $25 or more and get the eBook plus a paperback copy, as well as an invitation to the Knocked Up Abroad Virtual Bookclub group (LIMITED TO 25 BACKERS AN ONLY ONE SLOT LEFT!)
  • Pledge $45 or more and you get all of the above plus another copy of the paperback edition
  • Or for $45 you could chose a paperback edition of Knocked Up Abroad Again AND of the first book in the series
  • Once we get to $65 and above you get all sorts of exciting treats including an invite to the book launch in Stockholm or elsewhere in the world, PDF’s covering childbirth and parenting, books, listings, the lot!

So as you can see, it really is worth a look and see if there is any way you can help. An awful lot of blood, sweat and tears has gone into this project and it would be heartbreaking if it never saw the light of day – especially for something that could really help other women going through pregnancy, childbirth and parenting around the world.

Come on, let’s birth this book!

TO FIND OUT MORE AND CONTRIBUTE TO GETTING THIS PROJECT KICKSTARTED PLEASE CLICK HERE

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.

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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

 

 

Feeling a bit bleurgh about blogging….

Does this happen to anyone else?

I have been blogging since January and up until recently I have loved it. I have never been short of ideas, posts have tripped off my fingers and I have always been able to say what I want to say without tying myself up in knots.

But not anymore. Right now I am feeling a bit bleurgh about blogging.

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What do I mean by feeling bleurgh? Well, I have lost inspiration. Not that I don’t have lots of ideas – I do, I have lists of them and keep adding to that list. But for some reason none of them grab me right now. And when I run through that list, I end up feeling even more bleurgh. Thoughts run through my head – why would anyone want to know about this? I think someone else has written about this already. Everyone else writes so much better than I do. No-one is interested.

And all I end up doing is either writing a particularly uninspired post (which either does or doesn’t see the light of day – depending on how bad it is) or writing nothing,

Now there could be a few reasons for this bleurghness. I have been fairly distracted this summer, moving from the UK to South Africa. I was lucky enough to have a whole league of brilliant guest bloggers who ensured my blog wasn’t just tumbleweed and crickets during the days when I was packing, moving, goodbying, flying, unpacking, settling….But brilliant and brilliantly helpful as this was, it did mean that I got out of the habit of frequent blogging.

And as all writers know, writing is like any sport – you need to use your muscles in order to keep up to speed. Let them get flabby and you need to get fit again before the words start to flow. I know I need to get back into the writing habit, which means I need to start having more of a routine.

I think this is probably the biggest problem. When we were at home in the UK, life had a rythm. I knew what happened when at each point of the day, I knew when I had my writing/blogging time and I knew when I didn’t. Here, I am still a bit all over the place (just things like shopping for food takes so much longer as I just don’t know where to find everything – so I can find myself going out to various supermarkets several times a week) and thus my spare “writing” time doesn’t always conincide with the time when I feel most able to write. At least, to write coherently.

I am also finding my concentration is shot, I get distracted by the smallest things (look a new bird! Oh, I need to look up that new German bakery someone recommended), and I am not using my spare time wisely.

But I know I need to get back on top of things. Next month is a new month and I am planning to start being a little more organised with my time. I want to get back into routine, start working on some of the ideas I have, go back to some of my old “occasional” series’ like Memorable Journey’s and Interesting Expats, and perhaps start some new ones. Somehow I need to get my blogging ooomph back, I need to get those words to flow again. I don’t know how to do it, hopefully it will happen naturally the more back into practise I get.

But if anyone has any tips or advice as to how I can stop feeling bleurgh about blogging, please do let me know 🙂

New book cover

Just a very quick update today. A couple of weeks ago I was delighted when my favourite expat author Brigid Keenan endorsed my book the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide – telling me she thought it was “amazing”. So delighted in fact that I wrote this blog post about it, and then followed up by putting her endorsement on my cover. It took a while to decide which of her words to use (lots of debate on various Facebook groups about whether I should or shouldn’t use the word “amazing”; how about the words “expat wife”, should it just be expat? How long a quote is too long?). In the end I decided to keep it simple, and here is the finished product:

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Brigid Keenan thinks my book is amazing!

Having a bit of a serious fandom moment here – one of my favourite authors and the writer of one of the best ever books about expat life, Brigid Keenan, loves my book! In fact her exact words were: “I wish I could have had the book in my hands when I first became an expat wife…I think the book is amazing, so full of information”.

This is serious praise for me because Brigid wrote what I consider the first “go-to” books for expat partners, Diplomatic Baggage, and it’s follow-up Packing Up (which has just come out in paperback, for all of you fellow-fans out there). I reviewed Diplomatic Baggage as part of Review Wednesday a few weeks ago, my first review for that series (which will continue next week once I have recovered from my joy over Brigid’s praise). The reason I chose it as the first book to review was because I think she encapsulates life as a “trailing spouse” so beautifully in her words, reminding us all that whatever we are going through, we’re not the first to go through it and we certainly won’t be the last. And we are never alone.

dip baggage

My mother met Brigid around the time I was writing the last few chapters of the Survival Guide, and told her about the book. Brigid generously asked to see a copy. I sent it off and didn’t hear anything back….which is never what you want. What if she hated it but was too polite to say? In the end, I bit the bullet and pinged her a short email asking if she had recieved it. She immediately emailed back full of apologies, thinking she had already responded (she is apparently very busy with her Palestine Literature Festival) and telling me she thought the book was amazing.

Well, that, to me, is amazing – thank you Brigid!

Thank you Wall Street Journal!

What a lovely surprise. This afternoon, the Wall Street Journal’s expat blog site added its list of “Essential Books on Expat Life” and asked for more suggestions. Feeling a little forward, I went to suggest mine -only to find it was on the list already!

This has made me feel very

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Let me know if you can think of any other books that should be on that list and I will add them.

click here to buy