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?”.

4333873402_c6cf268d9a_o

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

 

Advertisements

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:

dfw-cw-tepsg-cover2-large

Review Wednesday: Ever the Diplomat

Ever the Diplomat, former British envoy Sherard Cowper-Coles’ account of his years rising through the slippery ranks of the Foreign Office, fascinated, frustrated and infuriated me in equal measures.

ever the diplomat

First of all, I should state that although I didn’t know Sherard personally, I did work in the FCO at the same time as him and our paths would have crossed occasionally (I was in the press office when he was in Private Office as Robin Cook’s Private Secretary). He was obviously a figure who loomed large in the office at the time, but I was a relatively junior diplomat so he wouldn’t have had a clue who I was. However, his book is peppered with references to people who I knew or knew of – starting with his early years when a couple of the fathers of my classmates at boarding school in the UK are namechecked;  later on are mentions of people my own father worked with; and finally people I knew personally from my time in the office. From a personal viewpoint, this certainly helped make the book an entertaining read.

However, I am not sure how this translates for people who aren’t diplomats, former-diplomats or the children of  diplomats. Is there just too much in-house information to make it interesting?

Hopefully not, although you may need to have a rudimentary knowledge of British foreign affairs to truely enjoy much of the book. But in many other ways I think it’s a really good portrayal of what life is like in the upper rankings of the Foreign Office. It didn’t much resemble what I experienced, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Sherard’s career was certainly a glittering one: Cairo (he was one of the famous Arabists of the office, otherwise known as the “camel corps”), Paris, Washington. Plum jobs in the UK. Later, ambassadorships in Israel and Saudi Arabia – apparently, the pinnacle of a career for an Arabist. He ended up as the UK’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is where it all seemed to go wrong for him. Whether because he wasn’t going to get the job at the end of his career he felt he deserved (there are only three or four really top jobs in the FCO and usually quite a few very senior diplomats vying for them) or for personal reasons (he split up from his wife during his time in Kabul, more of which below), he apparently took “extended leave” at the end of his posting and never returned….

Anyway, apart from that, Ever the Diplomat is certainly a well-written and largely entertaining book. Sherard is undoubtedly a very intelligent man and just the sort of person who would do well in the Foreign Office: he had the right background, he was the right gender, he went to the right university. The fact that he barely mentions women in the office until right at the end of the book (as if someone had read it and pointed out he really should mention that women do work in the office too) tells me a lot about him, and resonates with the sort of people I came across while working there. At one point he uses the term “the Private Office girls” to describe some of his female coworkers (see page 207).

As for his poor wife, Bridget, she gets barely more of a mention than his female colleagues. As many of us know, following (accompanying – you chose the terminology!) your partner to another country is no easy task. Upping sticks and doing it every two to four years, as the Cowper-Coles family did, can be downright distressful. Especially when you have five children. And yet, rarely does he talk about his wife positively, never does he discuss her immense role in his success. He may have wanted to leave family life out of his book as he believed he was writing about foreign policy and his career rather than anything personal. But for me, FCO life and family life go hand-in-hand. Personally, by ignoring his wife and what life was like for her and his children, I think he missed a huge trick. He might have left her out because of their subsequent divorce – or perhaps it was the other way round?

I also feel that whilst the account of his career gives us an excellent insight into the workings of the top echelons of the offce, it does rather ignore much of the rest of it: visa work, consular work, trade and investment, management…There is an awful lot more to the work of the FCO and our embassies and high commissions abroad than just the political side of things that Sherard shows us.

Other than this, Ever the Diplomat IS a good read and does contain a fair amount of interesting information and entertaining anecdotes. Sherard seems to have had an excellent window on the world throughout his career – Hong Kong department during the handover, Paris when Princess Diana was killed in the car crash, Saudi Arabia during the appalling Al Qaeda terrorist targeting of Westerners. He shows us this world from his own perspective and in an easy-going style that had me staying up late, turning pages ( in particular, for me, the chapter about Robin Cook – which coincided with my time in the press office, was fascinating). Other parts of the book I skimmed over – I couldn’t get excited about NATO or any of the defence policy sections. But overall, I would say this was a good read. As well as infuriating…

Best for: anyone who wants to understand more about the role of embassies and foreign ministries beyond visa renewal and consular assistance. People who are interested in foreign affairs and recent politics. Not for: Sherard’s wife; anyone who wants to know more about what life is like for the trailing spouse of a diplomatic high-flyer (for that I recommend Brigid Keenan’s Diplomatic Baggage).

Review Wednesday – Dutched Up

Today’s Review Wednesday looks at a book aimed at expats in, or moving to, the Netherlands. However, although it is aimed fairly specifically at that one market, I would still recommend it to other expats looking to find out more about expat life in general.

Dutched up

Dutched Up is a collaborative effort, a book produced by a collective of writers from around the world who are all either based in the Netherlands now or who have been in the past, and therefore all able to write about expat life in that country from a personal viewpoint. This makes for an honest, as well as often very funny, appraisal of what life is really like for foreigners living in what I have always thought would be a great expat posting.

For the most part, this book doesn’t disprove my instinct. The tales, which range from what it’s like to be short in a country of very tall people to how to steal back your bike (there are a lot of very Holland-specific stories here!), are related with a gentle sense of underlying love for their host country. There are twelve sections altogether, starting with tales of culture shock; continuing on to some of the practical elements of living aboad including eating, shopping, transportation and learning the language (which apparently involves a ‘throaty G’); then through some of those really “big” subjects like work, making friends, marriage, birth and parenting; on to matters of health; some chapters about Dutch life in general and then finally saying goodbye – and what it’s  like to leave a place like the Netherlands behind (clue: sad).

By the time you reach the end of the book, you really feel like you know what life is like for the typical expat in that country, whether they be settled semi-permanently and married to a local or visiting only briefly on a short posting. It’s hard to pick out a favourite chapter as there are so many good ones, plus each will appeal to different people depending on their circumstances. But as a trained antenatal teacher, I really enjoyed the chapters about giving birth, and some of the ones on parenting were very eye-opening. However, if it’s laughs you’re after, then I would recommend the Leech – a story of a house-guest who wouldn’t leave:

By the time Saturday rolled around, we were ready to kill him. So far, he’d had his hand out, been fed, had a free place to sleep, been offered endless bottles of beer and had all the Internet and telephone access a person could possibly ever want. We hadn’t seen a thing in return. He hadn’t offered to cook dinner or offered to tidy up a bit. he had just emptied our fridge, used all our toilet paper and just made a general nuisance of himself”.

Perhaps one of the reasons I like this chapter so much is because, although it is based in the Netherlands, it could have happened to any expat, anywhere in the world. I haven’t lived in the Netherlands, and nor am I ever likely to (although I have holidayed there and thoroughly enjoyed my time), so many of the stories are interesting, funny but perhaps not all that relevant to me. However, if you are an expat in Holland, are likely ever to be one, or if you happen to know someone who is heading that way, then this would be an excellent purchase. Read it from cover to cover or dip in and out of it, I am sure you will find it a great source of both knowledge and comfort before, during and even after your Netherlands adventure.

Dutched Up is available in paperback or Kindle edition from Amazon.

Launching a book – crazy day!

Well, I am still recovering from all the excitement of launching the Survival Guide yesterday. I had so many shares and hits and views, tweets and likes, it was a little overwhelming. As all of you who have ever self-published will know, shares, likes, views, hits and general love doesn’t always equate to direct sales – but I have sold quite a few now and the numbers are continuing to rise so that’s the main thing. I just have to keep on plugging, keep on plugging…

At one point I was number 3,151 out of 6,000,000 books on Amazon.co.uk yesterday (in fact I think I even got to 2,000 and something but neglected to get a picture of it) – which goes to show just what the competition is! IMG_20150413_200621285It’s a little easy to get carried away with the numbers. In this age of instant results, I am starting to get a little too addicted to updating and refreshing. How many have visited my blog? How many have liked on Facebook? How many have bought now? What’s my latest author rankings?….

I am sure I will get bored of it eventually (after all, I do have other work to do, plus the marketing doesn’t really stop – I need to get back to writing more articles and posts). But in the middle of it something did happen that made me stop and think. I recieved an email from someone who just said: “From a struggling expat, thank you!”. And I realised this is what it’s all about. It’s not about shares or likes or sales or numbers. It’s about helping people. This book isn’t ever going to make me a millionaire (or even a thousand-aire) but that isn’t why I wrote it. I wrote it to help others going through what I went through, to support them and to hopefully make them feel just a little bit better.

If I can help just one expat partner/trailing spouse/accompanyng partner – call it what you will; if I can make just one person feel better then I have met my goal.

Having said that, I would still like you to buy the book 😉

click here to buy

Half of a Yellow Sun – a Review (part of the 2015 Africa Reading Challenge)

It’s strange when something so awful as the Biafran war happened and you don’t really know anything about it. Especially when you’ve actually lived in Nigeria, as I did when I was a child. We weren’t there long – around 5 months, in 1980 – but it was enough to understand a little bit about that huge, and hugely complicated, country. A little bit, but evidently not enough – as I really didn’t know much about Biafra.

To be fair, I was very young when we were there – 11 or 12. And what child of this age really does know about war? Except all primary aged children do learn about some wars, like World War 1 and World War 2.

So hurrah for fiction, which can open our eyes to parts of history that otherwise would totally pass us by. I have always found it easier to understand the factual side of historical events if I have first read some fiction around it. It’s easier to follow the “dry” stuff if you have some context to set it in, if you get to know some characters who were involved (even fictional characters). So, as I read my way through Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I constantly found myself turning to Wikipedia or other websites to find out more about what happened in that internal conflict, aided by outside forces, back in the 1960’s. I think it’s the sign of a good book when you want to know more about the era and the story that surrounds it.

And Half of a Yellow Sun certainly is a good book. It has it all, interesting characters: a fascinating backdrop, tension between family, romance, disloyalty, the turmoil of war. The book follows three main characters – Olanna, whose wealthy Igbo family enjoys a life open to few others in Nigeria; Richard, the British boyfriend of Olanna’s twin sister; and young houseboy Ugwu – through the lead-up and the duration of the Biafra war, watching as they interact with each other and others around them, all trying to find their places in the new world order.

To me the most fascinating character was Ugwu, who basically seems to slave for the wealthy, intellectual copy he lives with (there is no mention of him ever getting paid or having regular days off). He is portrayed at first as a simple sort, who learns to read from the Professor and then starts to soak up information. As events unfold, he goes where he is told, does what he is told and doesn’t seem to question his place in life. But gradually the lives of those around him, who have previously been more privileged than he, change – they are brought down to his “level” and eventually, through the awful starvation of that period, they are equals. And at the end, we realise that he is the one whose life has probably been affected the most by the events portrayed in the novel – it turns out that the book we assume all along has been written after the end of the war by the British character, Richard, is in fact a work by Ugwu. Out of the chaos of the horrendous events, there is some good – I imagine Ugwu rising above his place in life and finding a job as a professor or teacher, following in the footsteps of his “master”, professor Odenigbu.

As for the other characters, it’s hard to really warm to any of them. The twin sisters central to the storyline (Olanna and Kainene) come from a privileged background and so we learn of what the war is like for those Nigerians who have previously “had it all”. Kainene’s boyfriend is Richard, a Brit who decides he is an honorary Biafran and determinedly stays put through all the horror, even though he is helpless to stop events unfolding around him. One of the more harrowing scenes in the book involves a stop-over at an airport, where a man he was previously chatting to is massacred for being from the wrong tribe. The blind loyalty all these characters show to the “cause” is astonishing – the futility of what happened in Biafra is clear to us now, but we see events through the eyes of the characters, apparently believing they will win the war right up until the bitter end.

The book touches on other subjects, like child soldiers, rape, colonialism. But all of this is just a backdrop really to the main events – the interplay between the characters and the way all of them react to what is happening around them. It’s not an easy subject matter but it is one that is obviously very important to the author, whose own family were caught up in the war. I certainly felt like I learned a lot, but at the same time I felt entertained. I’m looking forward to reading this author again, and already have a copy of Americanah ready on stand-by.

Read my other Africa Reading Challenge reviews – Dolphin Song and Disgrace.

At Home Between the Pages by Dan Gemeinhart

A lovely post about books and how they can help children transitioning between different schools or even countries….

Nerdy Book Club

When I think of my childhood, two themes immediately rise to the top: movement and books.

We moved a lot when I was growing up. In the beginning it was because my dad was in the military; later, just because we were following (or looking for) jobs. From when I was born in a military hospital in Germany until I entered middle school, we moved nearly every year. I was used to putting all my stuff into boxes, then taking it all out of boxes again in a new house, in a new town, with a new school. Each move brought a different bedroom, a different neighborhood, a different teacher, different friends. My family was strong and constant, but the rest of the world swirled and shifted around us.

I was a quiet kid, shy and introverted. It’s not easy always being the new kid. Walking into a classroom full…

View original post 999 more words