What it’s like to write a book

Back in July, I published my book, “Mud, Sweat and Tears – An Irish Woman’s Journey of Self-Discovery”. And what a journey it’s been.

Writing it was the easy part. I had just been laid off from my job in Ireland in 2009 and had moved to Vietnam with my other half. I lived off my savings, which was made all the easier given Vietnam’s dirt cheapness.

I spent two whole months, sitting at my desk for 4 to 6 hours a day, putting down all the words.

I read online that a typical novel is 80,000 words. I wrote 85,000 just to be sure. My partner did the editing, a job that was badly needed. After staring at the paragraphs for so long, I needed someone else to do the chopping. I got friends and family to read the draft version, getting feedback on everything from style, content, and typos.

I sent out book proposals to prospective publishers whilst still writing the actual text. That was another job, writing a concise punchy overview, biography, doing a market analysis, and giving a list of chapters as well as 3 completed sample chapters.

Unfortunately the publisher route didn’t work. Eventually I found an agent who was willing to take on the book and market it on my behalf. “Bingo!” I thought, because that’s how most people succeed in getting themselves published.

By 2011, two years after finishing the book, my agent had failed to find a taker. And, due to personal commitments, she decided to fold her business.

It was then, in June 2011, a friend suggested self-publishing. I found out its free to release an e-book, so figured I had nothing to lose. The best place I found was Smashwords. They have a clear system for uploading and formatting books and lots of clear downloadable guidelines. They also deliver the book in a range of e-formats. And, even better, they give you nearly 80% of the sale fee.

I self-published my e-book for Kindle on Amazon.com a few days later. It is a more popular place than Smashwords in terms of people looking and finding my book. It is again free to publish, but the uploading system is a little complicated in comparison with Smashwords, so it took a week before it was properly formatted. Depending on the country where the book is bought, Amazon only give you 35% to 70% royalties.

That was the simple part. Next, people asked for paperbacks. Publishing paperbacks back in Ireland is ridiculously expensive. You need to be selling tens of thousands to make it break even at all. The quote I was given was 1,595 Euros for 150 copies, with each additional one costing 4.50 Euros. At that rate I’d need to sell books at well over 10 Euros to cover the printing costs.

I live in Cambodia. So I decided to print my books here. Though cheaper at the price, the quality has proved somewhat haphazard. I got 1,000 copies made up in total. I bought the barcode and ISBN number myself. The cover design was a snip at 60 USD. John Shiels from Action Photography was generous enough to donate the shot for free, and Nicky Cinnamond was great at agreeing to use her photo on the front cover.

The next dilemma was sending the books back to Ireland for sales. Posting them from Cambodia worked out at 10 Euros each in stamps alone. So I’m now sending them home in suitcases with friends and colleagues who’re making the journey back. Their weight is such they can only bring 20 to 40 books back at a time. And then my dear friend Mel (check her out in chapter 5) has been sending the books out when orders come in. Basecamp and Great Outdoors have stocked a few. I’ve sold others via my blog and through a paypal invoicing system. Most paperback sales are however via Amazon.co.uk. This is not ideal. They keep 60% of the cost, and then they’ve put a 10% discount on the book without even asking me. They also only ask for 4 to 5 books at a time, which mean postal costs are substantial. But, in the end, Amazon is where people look for and buy books, so it’s a necessary evil.

Marketing the book was a whole other issue. I’ve done announcements via my twitter account and my blog. Friends have been great at re-tweeting and liking my blog updates. I’ve sent out email newsletters via MailChimp to advertise the book. And I’ve encouraged those who’ve read it to blog about it, and Roger Henke, Paul O’Connor, and Niamh Griffin have been stars to feature it on their sites. Niamh has even gone one step further and sent it to local Irish newspapers to spread the word. Gags has run a competition with it on his Art O’Neill Challenge site.

Now I’m trying to get the book mentioned in magazines. Ireland’s Outsider and Cara, Aer Lingus’ in-flight magazine, have both written a few words. Matt from Mud, Sweat and Tears has also given me some contacts from Trail Running Magazine, Fellrunner, Go Trail, and Athletic Weekly. They’ll be all giving it a plug in the coming months.

Eventually, I hope the book will get sold via word of mouth and that copies will also get passed around. Ultimately I didn’t write it to make my fortune. I wrote it to get the story out. The Wicklow Round will always be there. And I hope that, by documenting what it is and how I did it, that others will be inspired also to give it a go.

And if anyone feels inspired to write a book, I’d heavily recommend doing it. I have immensely enjoyed the learning curve, finding out what it takes to become a proper author.

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12 thoughts on “What it’s like to write a book

  1. Just finished the other day and I absolutely loved it! You’ve taught me so much! I’m 26 and started running seriously less than 2 years ago, and my impatience has caused me a big nasty injury on Gaelforce this year. Your words on p215 really stuck with me: “They say after four years of long distance running, my body is steadily increasing its ability to endure longer and harder runs. It’s not something that comes quickly or that I can force. It’s just a slow build up of endurance, a maturation of my mind, body and soul”. I’ve joined my university Orienteering club to learn the skills of navigation (I laughed a lot at your chapter about your first navigation race, I feel the same!) and I’ve decided to join IMRA in January and get started in their Leinster summer runs. I’ve also looked up a few mountaing running weekend courses in the UK (in the Lake District!) and I am hopeful that eventually, with patience and hard work, I will be the mountain and trail runner I aspire to become.
    Thank you so so much for writing this book and through it, teaching me so much!
    I’ll post a full review of the book on my blog as soon as I get the time (my PhD and jobs are barely leaving me enough time to train!). And I’m determined to spread the word around me as much as possible. 🙂 You simply deserve it!
    All the very best,
    Alexandra

  2. Just finished! I haven’t been able to put it down the last few days. I can’t believe I waited so long to read it since I heard you talk this summer at Basecamp. (although Colm did read it first).
    It is truly inspiring! I felt like I was right there with you the whole time. I’ve only done the 6hr rogaine in Wicklow this past summer and really enjoyed it. Reading your story has made me want to do more trail/mountain running. Also your motivation and determination is inspiring and just what i needed right now when doubting my own racing abilities. Thank you for sharing your story.

    I want to buy two copies for my cousins – what is the best place to do that to also support you the most?

  3. just finished your book and absolutely loved it, felt like i was there every step of your journey, and felt a great sense of loss when i finished and the relationship with the wicklows was gone. In terms of inspiration it is up there with the very best. p.s. well done,

    1. Thanks Alan – I’m really glad you enjoyed the book. Just like you, I also had a great sense of loss when I finished writing the book, it was so wonderful to relive all those memories whilst putting them down on paper. But I know also that the Wicklow Mountains will always be there for us to enjoy.

      Thanks also for taking the time to let me know you what you thought of the book. Would really appreciate it if you could spread the word with family and friends – nothing like a personal recommendation for others to pick up a copy!

  4. I just finished reading this (like literally, just finished it) and am totally inspired! I’m not sure if I’m going to do any mountain running anytime soon (or ever), but I definitely enjoyed every minute of your story!

    1. Thanks Laura – glad you enjoyed the book! So good of you to post and let me know you got the end. Thanks again, and do spread the word!

  5. I was given the book for Christmas, from Amazon, sorry!

    Inspirational, hope to do some rounds here in Scotland but difficult to get the prep in without falling foul of selfish runner syndrome as w&2k and job need consideration.

    Similar problems with weather and too many races to do!

    Only 1 chapter to go, hope you make it!

    1. Thanks Steph for your comment. Hope you enjoyed the old book. If you think it was a good read, would appreciate if you spread the word! And yes, would totally agree, so many rounds and so little time!

  6. Hi Moire,
    Just won a copy of your book at the Powerscourt Ridge race last weekend – its a great read Moire and certainly well written – I can’t put it down.
    IMRA had 2 copies of your book on the prize table so was delighted to get my hands on one.
    I remember meeting you at the 7 7’s race in the Mournes in 2010 and was really inspired by your racing that day.

    Denise Mathers

    1. Thanks Denise for picking up the book – And very glad you liked it 🙂 If you think its a good read, would really appreciate it if you spread the word to family and friends!

  7. Great insight into how hard you worked Moire! That’s great Outsiders carried it too, that’s your market really:) Who know we will try some more places – brilliant image of your friends carrying the book in suitcases.

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