Meet Debbie Young, the editor of the Alliance of Independent Authors Self-Publishing Advice blog (www.selfpublishingadvice.org), and the author of the book promotion handbook Sell Your Books! She blogs book marketing tips at Off The Shelf Book Promotions (www.otsbp.com), while her personal blog, short stories, flash fiction, travelogues, memoirs, and reviews of other indie authors’ books can be found on her author website YoungByName (www.youngbyname.me). A keen reviewer of indie and self-published books, when she’s not writing, she’s reading and reviewing. I invited Debbie to the blog to step away from marketing for a minute: I wanted to know what drives her to write, and why she decided to self-publish her works.
You’ve styled yourself as a promotional consultant for would-be writers and a fiction and non-fiction writer in your own right. With such diverse interests and as a self-described ‘literary chameleon’, I’m curious as to what really drives you to write. Where do you draw inspiration, and what originally drew you to writing as an artistic medium?
I’ve always written, ever since I was a child, and for me, writing is an end in itself. There is much joy to be had in choosing, manipulating and massaging words to inform, entertain and amuse. I love words, I love the extraordinary expressive potential of our mongrel English language, and I love polishing the written word to perfection.
I can find inspiration just about anywhere, thanks to a long career in day jobs that revolved around writing. My years spent as a press reporter gave me a keen eye for a news story, and that skill has stayed with me over the years. My decades in PR trained me to put a great spin on any raw material, no matter how uninteresting it may at first seem. I’ve had to write compelling copy on topics as diverse as frozen food and education, retailing and healthcare.Sometimes, the more unpoetic the subject, the more fun it has been. I’ve written some cracking articles about cat litter! This is all great discipline for the creative writer.
When it comes to fiction, there are starting points for stories all around us, all the time. We just have to be in the right frame of mind to notice them, and make time to record them – dining out, shopping, commuting, on the school run, etc. Whenever I go on holiday, I’m compulsively scribbling all the time, and it is luxury to have time and space, free of distractions, to respond to my travels. I love sitting on a ferry, for example, imagining back-stories for my fellow passengers, and wondering what they’ll be doing next.
I can’t remember a time when writing wasn’t my natural response to the world around me, just as a painter might sketch or a photographer shoot off a few pictures when moved by something in their daily life.
You’re also very active in the Alliance of Independent Authors community, as you manage the blog there and have provided a ton of (incredibly helpful!) advice to would-be authors. What ultimately convinced you to self-publish your own works, and do you have any regrets about not going traditional?
As soon as I realised that the technology was there to make self-publishing feasible, I was hooked. Life’s too short, and I’m too impatient, to waste time waiting for responses from agents and publishers that may lead nowhere. I gave up that game long ago – it’s too draining creatively and emotionally, and I can’t be bothered with it. I also feel that there is much more good work around than trade publishers will ever be able to deal with, so it’s a lottery whether or not you get picked up by one. I hate lotteries. I like to call the shots and be in control. Given that I’m pretty comfortable with the marketing side of things, there seemed no good reason NOT to self-publish. No regrets so far!
Your newest release, Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, is a book focusing on the lives of patients with Type 1 diabetes. You have a lot of personal experience with the subject, as both your husband and your daughter are affected by it. What was it like, tapping into those personal experiences to write the book?
It was always going to be a much more emotional experience than the commercial writing that I’ve done in the past, which was about things that didn’t affect me personally. But it was also very therapeutic to feel I was doing something constructive about a condition over which I otherwise have little control. I’d written the odd heartfelt blog post about diabetes at critical times such as on anniversaries of my daughter’s diagnosis (she’s now 10, was diagnosed aged 3). While that emotional release had helped me personally, it wasn’t actively raising money. Only recently did I realise that for me, writing could mean fundraising.
Originally I’d planned to launch this book as a bit of a one-day wonder, to mark World Diabetes Day, and to help those recently diagnosed, but early reviews made it clear that many other parties would also benefit from reading it, such as (a) people who had friends with the condition and wanted to know more about it but didn’t like to ask them (b) medical professionals who were used to seeing it only from a clinical point of view but needed to understand the perspective of patients and their families. I’m now planning to expand it with a lot of new material and turn it into a paperback, to reach a much wider audience. This project has been a very positive experience for me, giving me more strength to deal with my daughter’s illness.
You’re donating all the profits from sales of the book to JDRF, a Type 1 Diabetes research charity. That’s incredibly selfless. What led to that decision?
When you live with the daily health threats that Type 1 diabetes brings, what you want more than anything is for a cure to be found. There is fantastic, creative, imaginative research going on that is working towards a cure, but to continue and accelerate the quest costs money. I donate what I can afford on a regular basis, and have done what I can to raise funds in other ways, such as going on sponsored runs, but I don’t like to keep asking my friends for sponsorship money. I feel much more comfortable using my writing to raise money, which indirectly encourages a much wider circle of people to donate. At the same time, by writing, I’m raising awareness and understanding of the disease and of those who live with it, and that is very gratifying.
The book cost me nothing to produce but my time, so I’m not out of pocket. I was very fortunate to have a beautiful cover design donated free of charge by author services company SilverWood Books, and the proofreading was done by two writer friends, the novelist Joanne Phillips and the poet Shirley Wright.Being empowered to engineer a successful project like this is another reason to love self-publishing!
From a quick perusal of your blog, it looks like you have a lot of projects in the pipeline! What are you most excited about for the next year or two of writing?
What excites me most is the prospect of having much more time than before to spend on my writing and self-publishing projects. After 30+ years of constant employment, I’ve just arrived at the stage where I can afford to give up my day job – hurrah! I have a huge bank of material backed up ready to be turned into books – some from my blog, others from stacks of notebooks in my study – and I’m also writing new material all the time. My challenge for 2014 is to marshall these into a sensible timetable for publishing.
On the non-fiction side, I’ve just finished co-writing the new “Open Up To Indies” guide for ALLi, and I am starting to write “The Author’s Guide to Blogging”, drawing on my four years’ experience of blogging myself. From my personal blog, I’m developing a travelogue, “Travels with My Camper Van”, anecdotes about my family’s travels. As to fiction, I’m editing some flash into a short e-book, “Quick Change”, while writing longer short stories for a further collection later in the year. I’m also very excited to be getting some talks lined up to spread the word, with evangelical zeal, about the joys of self-publishing!
My favorite interview question is not, as many like to ask, ‘What’s the best advice you would give to aspiring writers,’ but rather, ‘What’s the worst”?