FAQ on Writing and Self-Publishing

Writing and Publishing

What’s your book about?

While spending a year away from my Australian home in San Francisco, I fell for a dreamer who had a humble sailboat and a plan to set off exploring the world. I was terrified of deep water and wanted nothing to do with his plans! But eight months after we first met, the time came for him to depart and I had two choices: leap into watery oblivion with him, or watch the man I was in love with sail away forever. I leapt.

What’s your day job?

I have a degree in Visual Communications. I’m a graphic designer and I work for a range of clients from my home-based business. Nowadays, I’m also a freelance travel writer.

How long did it take you to complete the book?

One year full-time and two years part time.

What motivates you to write?

I have a chronic itch to tell stories. I want to entertain people and make them laugh. I love bringing readers into a world I’ve created with words, and I secretly enjoy making people feel vicariously seasick.

Do you have any kind of childhood encouragement? If so, who or what?

My dad’s a film and TV scriptwriter, so I’ve always been encouraged creatively. I learned to draw and write on the back of recycled script drafts. I remember showing my writing projects to Dad when I was a kid, and he’d mark them up with a red pen, instructing me on tautologies, verbosity, and rhythm. Mum would post my creations on the fridge and show them to anyone who cared (and even those who didn’t). I don’t think it’s possible to be more encouraged than I was.

What did you read as a kid? What do you like to read now?

As a kid, I’d devour R.L. Stein books about cheerleaders getting murdered. I loved quirky, twisted stories by Roald Dahl and Paul Jennings. I supplemented my love the macabre with horror movie matinees every weekend. I’d invite school friends over for my six-hour long filmic bloodfest parties, and they’d always go home pale, sick, and shaking. Ha!

As an adult, I still love stories with nail-biting tension. Douglas Kennedy is a master of this. Humor writers like Bill Bryson, David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs are a never-ending source of inspiration. I’m a sucker for fast-paced stories that I can gobble down in one sitting, and I also read a lot of travel and adventure books.

What would you say is the most challenging part of writing a book?

The persistent ear worm that eats at your brain: Do I have something worthwhile here, or am I just a crazy person? There’s no income to validate your good deeds. You have to believe in yourself for a long time. That’s tough.

Did you experience writer’s block? If so, how did you overcome it?

Yes. I sometimes tumble into the muddy bog of self-doubt, which always blocks me. The best cure for this is reading a wildly successful book that sucks. It’s a reminder that there’s no magic formula to success.

Why did you decide to self-publish originally rather than go the traditional route?

I’d spent six months looking for an agent without success so I decided to look at other options. I was desperate to have my book read, and I was excited to experiment with the emerging era of self-publishing. My background is in marketing and design and my sister is a professional editor, so armed with these assets, I feel highly capable. Self-publishing is an entrepreneurial endeavor, and since I’d been running my own freelance design business from a young age, I was ready.

So book sells to three publishers and gets optioned by a film producer. How did this happen?

It all began with Twitter… Two weeks after I self-published, I got a Twitter DM from a Hollywood producer asking if the rights had been optioned yet. I thought it was a hoax, but I ended up posting him a book just in case it was legitimate. Well, it was! Two weeks after that, he emailed me an offer to buy the film option. At about the same time, I was contacted by a UK indie publisher, who also sent through an offer to buy the book.

With two deals on the table, I emailed Elizabeth Evans, an agent who was at the top of my Dream Agents list. Elizabeth read the book over a weekend, and offered me representation on the Monday. She immediately began pitching, and we received interest from several US publishers. We were about to go into auction, when Hyperion came in with a preemptive deal too handsome to refuse. My rockstar agent negotiated it up another 50% and we signed.

Then Jessica Regel, my foreign rights agent, pitched to Australian publishers. Four big publishers went to auction, and the book sold to Penguin.

I took the self-published version off the market at that point.

Since then, rights have also sold to Brazil and to Brilliance Audio. My head is still spinning.

Self-publishing or traditional publishing? Which one is better?

I’m still going through the traditional publishing process, but at this point I’d have to say that traditional wins out. Self-publishing almost sent me over the edge. Even with all of my experience in marketing, design, and running a business, the workload  and decisions were overwhelming. There are so many small tasks to complete, all of which have the ability to make or break the book. I’m still recovering from that experience! With traditional publishing, you have an army of people working with you. It has been a huge relief to hand over most of the decisions and administration.

Also, with self-publishing, I felt limited in my ability to reach readers. I was working ten hours a day to promote, and I started to feel like a door-to-door salesperson. I started to run out of ideas on self-promoting just as the book was picked up by Hyperion. This may have been helped if I’d hired a publicist, but it’s so much harder to get publicity when you’re an indie author. You have to work ten times harder just to get your book read, and I’d rather spend that time creating.

Do you have any advice for writers who are considering self-publishing?

Self-publishing isn’t an excuse to forgo effort, editing, design and investment. A poorly executed book pollutes the marketplace and perpetuates the self-publishing stigma. If you’re going to choose the solo route, give it everything you’ve got. If the execution is sleek and professional, and you haven’t skimped on hard work, most readers won’t know (or care) who published your book. They just want to be entertained.

What tools/methods helped you to promote your self-published book?

  1. I began writing blog. I spent a long time brainstorming my ‘personal brand’ (isn’t that an icky term?) and I decided that the ‘Fearful Adventurer’ really summed up my story. This was enormously time consuming, but it was the best thing I ever did. The exposure has been incredible, and I’ve built a strong network of amazing bloggers from around the world. The blog has been worth it for the friendships alone.
  2. I created a book trailer. That generated a lot of interest.
  3. I became addicted to Twitter and Facebook. My book was picked up by a Hollywood producer through Twitter, and a UK publisher through a Facebook group about memoir writing.

You call yourself the ‘Fearful Adventurer.’ Where did the name come from?

I learned in my early 30’s that I have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This basically means that you worry ALL THE TIME. It’s so much fun! (It’s not fun.) So in other words: I’m exceptionally scared of a lot of shit, like heights, sharks, snakes, the dark, the telephone, vomit, and deep water.

Despite this, a voice in my head always says, Okay, you’re scared, so what? Do it anyway. I’d be disappointed with myself if I let unreasonable fears get in the way of incredible opportunities. I confront my fears with quivering hands, a beating heart, and – on occasion – howling tears. It’s not always pretty.

Many of my posts revolve around encouraging readers to face fears and follow dreams. I want to make people aware of their fears so they can flush them out, and show them that fear is no excuse. Life should be an adventure, fear or no fear.

Want more?

Read my frequently asked questions on sailing and adventure.