A few years ago, after long and frustrating effort, I was offered a publishing deal for my book Belfast Girls by a small English publisher.
Needless to say, I was over the moon.
The publisher, Night Publishing, specialized in working on the Internet, producing books in both paperback and eBook format, but I decided that this wasn’t a problem. I’d turned down a similar offer some years before, because I wanted a publisher who sold printed books to the bookshops. But since then, I’d been looking into the question and knew that the high street bookshops were closing and that the Internet was the place to sell in the changing climate. So I signed the contract, and it all went on from there.
I soon found that, after my initial book launch, where I sold a lot of paperbacks, my main sales were in eBook format.
In the first year, I sold over a thousand books (not bad for an unknown writer!) but I wanted to do much better.
Meanwhile, I’d been getting offers from other publishers, including my husband, Raymond McCullough, himself a local Irish publisher, also small but enthusiastic. He was keen to publish my second book, and was sure he could do more for me, so, although Night Publishing told me they’d be very happy to publish this second book, I decided to try out the new publisher, Precious Oil Publications. The book was called Danger Danger. It was a crime story /thriller about twin girls, separated at birth, who ran into similar types of danger. My new publisher took advantage of the latest idea on the Internet, and put the book up free. Within a few days, 20,000 had been downloaded, and when the free period came to an end, 2,000 more were sold during the next short time. This sent Danger Danger up into the top overall 100 on paid Amazon, landing it at #40. But that wasn’t all. Because my new publisher had included a chapter of Belfast Girls (by permission) at the back of Danger Danger, Belfast Girls also began to sell, and I watched incredulously as it also shot up, first of all to #1 in Women’s Literary Fiction, and then into the overall top hundred, well up in the ranking.
The money came pouring in, but after a while sales slackened. I wrote my third book, Angel in Flight, another thriller, but this time about a Belfast girl who walked out of an abusive marriage, learned some self defence tactics, and then, on holiday in Greece, got mixed up with some crooks and finally succeeded in catching them.
Angel in Flight did pretty well, but by now the ‘Put it up free and then sell thousands’ syndrome had collapsed, and my publisher moved on to paid advertising. I wrote two more Angel Murphy books – I’d read over and over again that a series was the best thing – and the three books certainly kept selling. Meanwhile, being a restless sort of person, I’d written a Historical Fiction book about the First World War and the aftermath, civil war in Ireland, Johnny McClintock’s War, which I personally consider my best book, and which got some amazing reviews. I’d also written a Comic Fantasy book, on the lines of Terry Pratchett/ C S Lewis, a Children’s Time Travel adventure, and a Romantic Comedy, Hel’s Heroes, as well as four collections of short stories. Of these, three were collections of my Tales of Old Seamus from Ireland’s Own, and the fourth was a collection of serious literary short stories, many of which were winners or short listed at prestigious literary competitions.
The Old Seamus stories have been very well liked, and, in fact, when I read at literary events, which I do regularly, it always seems to be the Old Seamus story which gets the most applause.
However, as far as book sales go, Belfast Girls, Danger Danger, and the Angel books, Angel in Flight, Angel in Belfast, and Angel in Paradise, are the ones which keep on selling, and people repeatedly ask me when I’m going to write another one. The answer is, as soon as I’ve finished my current book, which is a sequel to Hel’s Heroes – this should be out quite soon. The next Angel Murphy thriller, which will probably be called Guardian Angel and will deal with people trafficking in Belfast, is top of my to do list. I already have a good idea what it will be about. But I have several other books in mind which I really want to write, so there may be a gap in the Angel books after that one. But I’ll certainly write more Angel books as soon as I can. A series is the secret to building up a readership, they say – I’ve certainly found that it is.
Meanwhile, I’ve had sixty six Old Seamus stories published in Ireland’s Own so far, so my publisher tells me he will want to put out at least one more collection of twelve of them in the near future. That’s easy for me – I don’t have to write anything, just let him go ahead with it.
I realize that people like thrillers – well, I do, myself. And I’m happy to write them, particularly as long as they keep selling. But it’s a fact that Belfast Girls, which is a book about life, with elements of thriller, romance, drama, and comedy, sells more than all my other books put together. I’ve been asked repeatedly to write a sequel to it, but to me, the book is finished, the lives of the characters are wrapped up, I have no ideas for a sequel. I’ve used some of the characters from Belfast Girls in the Angel books – that’ll have to do, I’m afraid.
To date, I have a readership of between 100,000 and 150,000. Not in the millions yet, like some of our bestsellers – but not too bad, I think!
(c) Gerry McCullough
About Belfast Girls:
The story of three girls – Sheila, Phil and Mary – growing up into the new emerging post-conflict Belfast of money, drugs, high fashion and crime; and of their lives and loves. Sheila, a supermodel, is kidnapped. Phil is sent to prison. Mary, surviving a drug overdose, has a spiritual awakening. It is also the story of the men who matter to them – John Branagh, former candidate for the priesthood, a modern Darcy, someone to love or hate. Will he and Sheila ever get together? Davy Hagan, drug dealer, ?mad, bad and dangerous to know?. Is Phil also mad to have anything to do with him? Although from different religious backgrounds, starting off as childhood friends, the girls manage to hold on to that friendship in spite of everything. A book about contemporary Ireland and modern life. A book which both men and women can enjoy – thriller, romance, comedy, drama – and much more ….
Order your copy online here.