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Belfast Girls: Online Bestseller!

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Gerry McCullough

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As a very little girl, I had every intention of becoming a writer in the tradition of Charles Dickens or Jane Austen – a bestseller who also had literary status. But I grew up, married, had four children and a full time job, and still hadn’t managed it.

Until, eighteen months ago, my first full-length work of fiction,Belfast Girls, was published. I’ve had around sixty short stories published, including Primroses which won the Cuirt International Award for New Writing in 2005. But there’s something very special about having an actual novel accepted by a real publisher, and I was pretty pleased.

Anyone will tell you that it’s been getting harder and harder for a first time writer to get a book accepted. Publishers, more and more, are looking for writers with an established best selling track record; or books written by celebrities.

Belfast Girls was originally a book about the Troubles. When I’d got really fed-up being told by publisher after publisher, ‘No one’s interested in the Troubles any more,’ I put the book away for a while. Then I got it out and re-wrote it, setting it in the post troubles era, replacing the bombs and bullets with drugs and crime, and renaming it Belfast Girls. I put it on the Harper Collins siteAuthonomy. Six months later, at the end of April 2010, Belfast Girls was voted into their Top Five, and was reviewed by HarperCollins. But they wanted me to turn the book into either a romance or a thriller, to suit their genre categories – with no guarantee that they’d take the revised version. I wasn’t willing to do that. So it seemed like another dead end.

But, no. A number of small publishers have recently sprung up to fill the empty niche. Several of these had noticed my book on Authonomy, and wanted to see the full manuscript. One of them was Night Publishing. And on 1 July 2010, it was the offer from Night Publishing which I decided to accept.

Night Publishing sells through the Internet rather than through the traditional route of bookshops. It produces paperbacks, but also electronic versions for Kindle, etc. At first I was dubious about this. I’d turned down another publisher for that very reason a few years earlier. But things have changed. In that current year, more books had been sold online than through bookshops, and the trend was growing. I decided to give it a go; and Belfast Girls was published by the end of 2010.

For the first three months, things moved slowly. Belfast Girlswas selling at the rate of about fifty copies a month. Disappointing. I went on local radio and local magazines. I also worked the Internet for all I was worth. I had a FaceBook presence, and I posted about Belfast Girls there regularly. I set up a Twitter account, @Gerry1098. I was interviewed for about twenty blogs, and I contributed guest posts to others. It was a full time job!

About this time I read a comment by another writer, saying, ‘I don’t believe in some supernatural power who will push my book to the top.’ And I thought, ‘Well, I do!’ And since then, I’ve prayed humbly for success. And, Hallelujah, I’ve been given it!

On 17 March, St Patrick’s Day, my publisher managed to getBelfast Girls included on a site called Daily Cheap Reads, which lists books which it recommends, and is read avidly by Internet users. Belfast Girls immediately experienced a rush of sales. Not long afterwards, it appeared for the first time on one of the Amazon genre best selling lists, in the top 100 for Women’s Literary Fiction. I was over the moon. Not only a best seller, but a best seller in Literary Fiction! It was the type of success tailor made to fit my dreams.

I needed to keep up the publicity. At the end of May 2011 I set up my own blog htpp://www.gerrysbooks.blogspot.com, which has nearly 6000 views by now. I’d also been advised that it was good policy to bring out another book quickly. In October 2011 my second,Danger Danger, was published, this time by my husband’s Publishing House, Precious Oil Publications. I had always shrunk from the idea of ‘vanity publishing.’ But times have changed – the Internet has made self-publishing not only easy but respectable. (And you make more money by it!)

In February 2012 my husband/ new publisher persuaded me to let him put Danger Danger on Kindle Select – a newly introduced system whereby the writer agrees to give Kindle exclusive ebook rights, and Kindle Select allows the book to be offered free for five days. Free, I hear you say? Why would you give your book away free? But in fact it appeared, from other people’s experience, that the visibility gained by free promotion brought sales in its wake.

Danger Danger was free on 1 & 2 March 2012. Nearly 20,000 people downloaded it! It was #1 on Amazon UK, and in all its genres. It was # 16 in Amazon USA. And when the free offer finished, over 2000 people bought the book, and it was at #44 in the Amazon overall paid top hundred. Hard to believe!

Moreover, the knock on effect on Belfast Girls was to send it, in turn, rushing up the charts. (A first chapter of Belfast Girls was published at the end of Danger Danger.) By April, Belfast Girlswas in the top 100, and sold 6000 copies during that month.

The books haven’t stayed quite so high, of course. But they are both quite high enough! On June 10 Angel in Flight came out – my latest book, about the tough-minded Belfast Girl Angel Murphy (who doesn’t wait around for a handsome hero to rescue her from danger, but deals with it herself). This is intended to be the first of a series, and I hope, like Danger Danger, it will give my other books another push upwards.

Currently I’ve sold nearly 18,000 books, mostly of Belfast Girls. Who’d have thunk it?

About the author

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