Diane Finlay – Finding the Self-publishing way.

Diane, welcome to my corner of the internet. After our last chat in the Lake District I’m sure you’ve been very busy! Thanks for taking the time to chat to me today about your writing and publishing career.

In 2005 you made a decision to self-publish and set up a company to do that. You were something of a pioneer so I’m sure you have insightful advice for those journeying down that road now. What was the process like? What are the basic steps you consider to being crucial to self-pub success? How has the world of self-publishing changed in the last 8 years?

For me the process of self publishing was like walking along a dark path that simply lit up under my feet as I took the next step forward. I’m not the type of person who reads volumes on how to do stuff – I get on and do it, feeling my way as I go. Consequently I operate in complete ignorance. I genuinely feel if I had read up about self-publishing I wouldn’t have done it. I wasn’t involved in a writers group – I’d tried without success to find one in Cairns. However I learned about self publishing from an Australian writer based on the Sunshine Coast who had written a motivational/self-help book and I liked his style. I realized he’d done the whole thing himself so picked up the phone and rang him. He told me how to get an ISBN and my wonderful husband found something on the internet that gave me my first true, path illuminating moment. So The duck with no quack was born. I tested my market by getting 5 copies printed first (very expensive) but it allowed me to send the books away to get feedback, reviews and back of book blurb from genuine readers  such as Robyn Devine – editor of Playtimes magazine; to make prepaid sales and to hone my skills. Once I had 30 prepaid sales I printed 100 books and sold them within the first month. I then bought 200 books and sold them within two months. The single biggest mistake made with self-publishing hard copy books is to be swayed by the printer into getting thousands printed because it makes the individual book price cheaper. You need to know that you are the kind of person who is willing to put in the hours and the legwork to sell, sell, sell before getting huge numbers of books printed. The rise in POD (print on demand) has of course released writers from that scenario.

It was my accountant who suggested I set up a company – it was funny how his belief in me also helped. I’m not making much money but it has built my business acumen, my math’s skills and I have moved from being terrified of a BAS to enjoying the process so much so that I now do all of my husbands accounts and was of course treasurer for Tropical Writers for 5 years. Funny how one thing leads to another!

What do I feel is crucial to being a self publisher? With hard copy books you need to be bold and brash and always looking for opportunities to physically self-promote and sell books. However with the growing number of e-books the skill set is somewhat different. Being good at online promoting is paramount – naturally I am learning about this as I have recently self-published 3 e-books.

Congrats on having 3 new e-books out there! I know children stories are your passion. Where did that start? Did it evolve with your writing?

I have been a stay at home Mum, Family Day Care Mum and undertaken 15 years of voluntary work in schools. I lovebeing with children. I love how their minds work. I love their honesty. I used to conjure stories for my boys at night. Some of those stories translated well into written works some did not. The duck with no quack was born out of huge frustration with the Australian immigration people when we were trying to immigrate. As relief from the stress of it all I began to bash away on my typewriter and began contacting publishers in the UK. In those days you got a nice little note or letter saying “no” but offering kind words of encouragement. I can’t begin to tell you how meaningful it was at that time.

One very frosty winter night in England, my son Adam and I were standing on the hill at the back of our house looking at the sky. We were in a place where there was little light pollution (often hard to achieve in England!). Adam said to me “Mummy look at all those stars I wonder if there’s a star factory.” At that moment I knew there would be a Star factory – I would create it for him and I am totally driven by those words. The Star Factory Trilogy as it has now become is presently being rejected by publishers but if it takes me to my dying day to do it I will be published by a mainstream trade publisher to get this book into the hands of children who like Adam would love to know about the world of the Star Factory, Star Makers and what it is truly like to experience a star being born.

How wonderful that your son was part of the inspiration for your latest story. My dad wrote stories for us when we were younger and I still get a warm glow when I read them.

You’ve been very successful with short stories have many published in anthologies. What are the key elements to a great short story? It’s something I struggle to master so I’d really love to know what I need to improve!

I pick up subject matter for short stories from the quirkiness of people. Often a line in a book will be the springboard for me. To give you an example I have an idea marinating right now because of something I found in a book. It wasn’t part of the story – this second hand book had a piece of paper inside it as a bookmark and on the back were these words, Toenails x 2 Elsie. How exciting is that? The story will come and one day I’ll find myself writing it. Many of my adult stories are black comedy or just outright sick and I have put this down to an expression of my years as a nurse and midwife. I’d love to be able to do a funny book about my experiences but the stuff that has stayed with me is the darker, sadder side of things. I couldn’t go back to it. Anyone who is interested in reading my short stories can go to www.amazon.com/author/dianefinlay . My Short ‘n’ Black series is designed to be a quick read with a cup of GOOD coffee – a lot more fun than a newspaper.

Love the idea of reading a story in the time it takes to drink a good cup of coffee! I guess your blog series is similar. They make wonderful reading. What can we look forward to in the coming months?

I have more author interviews – people are actually contacting me now and asking to be taken somewhere for coffee. For your readers who don’t know what I do – the different locations are all imaginary I never leave the office and don’t actually physically meet the writer, but I listen to people and learn what is important to them and that influences the location. So I have travelled to the Lake District, Brugge in Belgium, The Sunshine Coast, Uluru, Tasmania – all from my office chair; sometimes using a magic carpet or astral travel – whatever I think suits the occasion. I’m honing my skills as a feature writer whilst continuing to exercise my imagination muscles. Who knows where it will lead? I am thinking of expanding the concept to include artists, musicians and local business people.

Anyone wanting to check out the blog interviews can log onto www.findpublishing.com – there’s a lot more there about what goes on inside my head.

What’s next for you on the writing front?

Getting a publishing contract for Star Factory – and then whatever else that brings. I’ll continue to write short stories for children as I have had several published in NSW School magazine and adult short stories – some of them will be under a pseudonym as I’m branching into a short ‘n’ naughty genre which will be e-books too. I never suffer writers block because if one thing isn’t working I step back and do something else. They all require different headspace and incidentally I am a poet too; both adult and children but I haven’t been anywhere near that head space for a long time!

Writers are always asked for their one best piece of advice. What’s yours?

Never, ever give up.

When I run creative writing with kids I make them hide their rubbers and I watch for anyone crossing out. My mantra is, “If an idea has come out of your head then it must be a good idea. It may not be a good idea for what you are presently trying to achieve but that doesn’t stop it being a good idea – save it for later.” Okay stepping down from the soap box…

Diane, thanks for getting up on that soap-box and sharing your experiences and advice. As the publishing world continues to evolve there are more opportunities and pathway to publication than ever before.


4 thoughts on “Diane Finlay – Finding the Self-publishing way.

  1. Wonderful interview Diane/Helene, I would love to see the Star Factory published, you are an inspiration Diane…..:-)

  2. Thanks for dropping by, Susanne. Storytelling is such a wonderful gift for parents to give their children. I’m sure yours remember them just as strongly as I remember the ones Dad used to write for us!

  3. I love the idea of the Star Factory, Diane! We created stories for our children too; telling them stories is such a wonderful close time to share with kids. Best wishes on getting that contract!

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