The First Year as a Published Author

October 14, 2014

I came home to Ireland for the publication of the first book in the Evie Brooks series, Marooned in Manhattan on March 1st. My plan (and I’m using the word ‘plan’ in the loosest possible sense), was to spend about three weeks on promotion and then find a way of writing my new novel in an undetermined location, which I vaguely called ‘Europe.’  Things don’t turn out as planned. I ended up staying in Ireland for the publication of the second book in the series, Central Park Showdown, which came out on September 1st.  I spent over 4 months full-time on promotion and three months writing my new novel for adults.

            Tomorrow I head back to New York and I already feel nostalgic for Ireland. My first year as a published author has been an amazing experience. I made heaps of mistakes and I had a major freak-out about every two months. But I want to write about the good bits, the things I got right, almost always thanks to the help of other people.

            On March 1st, the prospect for a new author getting noticed in the already overcrowded children’s and YA market seemed virtually impossible.

I ignored the bleak odds. I didn’t rely on my wonderful publisher, The O’Brien Press, to do the work for me. I organized most of my own promotion. I did about a hundred events –book shops, schools, libraries.  If I found myself within fifty miles of a book shop, I made a visit, even if there was only a copy or two of my books on the shelves, even if there were no copies of my books on the shelves. I met with a lot of booksellers, mostly enthusiastic and passionate and eager to help.  I sought out and I took every opportunity that I could afford. I spoke at conferences and I was interviewed on radio and on T.V. twice, RTE 2’s Elev8 and RTE I’s Today Show and I wrestled mightily with controlling my nerves. Only family members and close friends could tell how nervous I was because my voice was at least an octave higher than usual.  I can’t bring myself to watch the full clips of the interviews – I sound like a baby mouse on the run.

I wrote dozens of articles, sometimes for mainstream newspapers and at other times for independent blogs with a handful of subscribers. I found a wonderful company in Seattle run by a creative, inspired couple who created a website for me on the cheap but without making it looking cheap. I started work at 6 every morning and I worked until I whacked my head against my laptop.

Courtesy of a random Google search I came across an advert seeking a pet-sitter in Baltimore, West Cork who ‘must love books.’ I wrote my new novel in West Cork and made a lot of new friends.  Thanks to a chance encounter at a local vet clinic, I got a part-time job working on the kind of farm that could have been dreamed up by Neil Gaiman or Roald Dahl. The couple who owned the farm met over a dead body – it’s a long story.  I got a lot of stories from that farm.

I kept up with writing this blog, although not very regularly. I used to wonder if there was any point, if any new voice could be heard in the din. I don’t wonder anymore. Having blogged about two of my favourite books, Snow Geese by William Fiennes and Chasing the Devil by Tim Butcher, both authors got in touch with me and sent me personal notes. Those were definitely high points in my journey. And I also heard from the editor of a major U.S. publisher, a London literary agent, an independent film-maker, a T.V. producer and very many young readers. One twelve-year old Evie fan told me how the books helped her make the move with her family from Switzerland to Scotland; another -- how she used a scene from Marooned in Manhattan as her audition piece for a part in her school play. She landed the part!

My two favourite steps on my journey were: writing my new novel (writing is the point after all) and doing workshops at schools. I don’t remotely believe that the way I work at my author events is the right way. I think that it’s the right way for me. I use my experience as a litigator and handle the events as if the audience is a jury and it’s my job to make the case for reading and writing, and I do that by having the students make the case themselves. I never sit down, I like to walk around and I use the Socratic method.  I’ve participated in all kinds of interesting debates:

Is Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars a stronger character than Katniss in the Hunger Games?

Is the skeleton Skulduggery Pleasant the most human character in kids’ books today?

Which books are boring and where did those famous authors go wrong?

I’ve learned a lot from the kids and enjoyed many hilarious moments. At one event, I told the students that Roald Dahl’s teacher had written in his school report for English composition:

‘A persistent muddler. Vocabulary negligible, sentences malconstructed. He reminds me of a camel.’

A kid’s hand shot up. ‘Sheila, did the camel have one hump or two?’

I rarely find myself lost for words but that was one of those times.  At another session, in response to my question: ‘What does the word pseudonym mean?’ a kid very confidently replied:

‘Someone who works in a sewer.’

Yes, I thought, he has a point; we writers tend to trawl through the sewers of life.

Last week, a discussion about Karen Joy Fuller’s new book led to a passionate debate about whether or not you would choose to continue to live if a chimpanzee had ripped off your face. I thought – probably not -- most of the kids said yes, they would choose life. They are braver and stronger than I am.

I never bring up the subject of money but if a kid raises it, I explain the business aspects of the writing world and I disabuse them of the notion that authors are rich. I usually explain:

For me, it’s about competing Fears. When I was a lawyer and living in my nice, Manhattan apartment, I regularly experienced the Fear, the fear of self-betrayal, of not trying to be who you are, and that often kept me awake at night. Now I have a different kind of fear; it is a relentless daily fear, the fear of financial survival but it never keeps me awake at night -- it’s fear with a lower case f and it’s much easier to live with.

On Friday of last week, I did four workshops at a school in Drogheda with one-hundred and sixty bright thirteen-year olds, followed by a signing at Waterstones. The following morning I drove down to Easons, Kilkenny where due to a miscommunication nobody was expecting me, not even the shop and there were only two books to sign. Such is the life of an author. At other times in similar circumstances, I have slinked away in despair and defeat but not this Saturday.

‘Did my publisher send you any posters?’ I wondered.

They produced a box. ‘Right, let’s get this open and put them up?’ The staff at Easons were amazing, they jumped into the spirt of it and we decided to do a photograph, which led to a lot of debate about which member of the staff looked the youngest.  Here is a photo of the Easons bookseller we judged most likely to pass for a teenager. (Oops, I’m running out of time, I’ll post the pic later). Thank you Easons Kilkenny!

It is easy for authors to handle packed events. I’ve learned that it’s more important to be able to shrug and laugh when things don’t go as planned and nobody turns up.  When there are no books to sign, I sign the bookmarks, I sign scraps of paper, I make the point: I WAS HERE.

I have my last event today at Dubray Books in Grafton Street at 11 a.m. I’m looking forward to meeting my last group of kids. Tomorrow I go back to New York and my ‘plan’ is a little vague. It looks like this:

  1. Get job. Earn cash. Fast.
  2. Finish the edits on new novel and get it out the door.
  3. Write Evie 3 and brush up on my Spanish.  (Mexico?)
  4. Write book about teenager caught up in Argentina’s Dirty War.
  5. Volunteer at kids’ books events.


This has been the best year of my life.

A huge thank you to my family and friends, my publisher, the booksellers, my new writer friends and thanks most of all, to the young readers. My author’s journey isn’t finished. It’s just beginning. 

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