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

 

 

Review Wednesday – Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere

This is a book that spoke to me. It spoke to me because it is a book about people who have had a global childhood, and the impact that can have on them as adults. And, as any regular reader of this blog will know, I certainly had a global childhood.

Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere: Insights into Counselling the Globally Mobile by Lois J Bushong is really a book for counsellors. Lois, a counsellor herself but one with an expat childhood, found a gap in the knowledge of many counsellors when it came to working with Third Culture Kid’s (TCK’s) and Adult Third Culture Kid’s (ATCK’s), and decided to do something about it. So she wrote a book, which is also a guide for therapists, including exercises, activites and discussion points.

However, even as a non-counsellor I found this book fascinating. And eye-opening.

everywhere and nowhere

The book starts by helping the counsellors to identify whether their client is a TCK, and if  the reason they have come for counselling is related to their childhood (I can’t believe it wouldn’t at least come up, in the majority of cases). It then goes on to discuss the different issues that might have affected these clients: depression, adjustment disorder, even post-traumatic stress disorder. And while PTSD may seem extreme, I think about the older expat children of my friends who lived through the 2008 bombing of the Mariott in Islamabad (and subsequent evacuation), and the worry they  had about how to talk to their children about what happened.  If not dealt with there and then, it’s very possible that some of that trauma might surface later on in life – perhaps even at the worst possible time – when those children are at teenagers and at boarding school.

Throughout the book, author Lois uses examples that she has taken from her real-life practice but disguised or amalgamated so there is no breach of confidentiality. However, you can be sure that the examples she gives will be very real, even if they are not each based on one real person.

As an ATCK myself, I found myself nodding along as I read the stories based on the lives of other ATCK’s: Katie, a middle-aged woman who spent a childhood in Asia and struggled with depression at university; Portia, who shied away from getting close to anyone; Rhonda, a teenage client, who asks why her family just can’t be “normal”. And of course, as many of the stories relate to childhood, I also kept the thought in my mind of how living an expat life may affect my own children – and what I can do to try and make things easier for them.

Much of the book is very counsellor-speak, as well as American (although I don’t find it overly touchy-feely in the way American “self-help” books often are; Lois was, of course, an expat child herself so perhaps is less American than some writers of this sort of book!). But because of it being aimed at counsellors, there were parts of the book that I just skipped entirely. The parts that I did read in depth more than made up for the missed bits, although I would still love it if Lois now wrote a book entirely for the “lay ” reader!

There were so many sections of this book that I really liked, and found relevant, that it is hard to pick just one or two out. But to give you a flavour, I have picked out a couple of quotes:

A major reality for those who grow up as TCK’s is that their lives are filled with chronic cycles of separation and loss. Obviously, such cycles are part of the human experience for everyone. Non-globally mobile folks go through this as well. But for the globally mobile, the cycles are chronic and often relatively sudden or severe. They may not lose a friend here or there, but often they lose a whole world when they take an airplane ride away from a place and people they have loved

And

While there may be many TCK’s who struggle for a while with wondering who they are or where they belong, once they understand the reason for their confusion and that these feelings are within a normal range for others of like experiences, most go on  and embrace the various pieces of their life rather than feeling as if they only have an either/or choice to decide who they are.

The last third of the book is taken up with a long bibliography and list of references, two appendices that focus on systems and techniques for counsellors, and finally a TCK Wall of Fame, which gives further details of some of the contributors featured in the book. Finally, it gives a list of useful resources, including books, films, organisations and – helpfully! – a list of suggested counsellors.

I found this book incredibly useful, and made me want to explore my ATCK experience further. But I also think it would be really helpful for parents of current TCK’s, as well as anyone who works with TCK’s – in particular International School teachers and counsellors. If you have already come across it and/or read it, I would be interested to hear your thoughts.