During June 2020, I contributed to the body of work known as quarantine literature. Daniel Defoe wrote A Journal of the Plague Year about London, and Boccaccio wrote The Decameron about Italian people quarantined during the plague. I wrote and published A Pony For Quarantine, my fifteenth book.
Prior to the Pandemic
Since 2017 I have been studying for an Honours degree in Journalism at Dublin Business School. The multimedia degree involves digital photography, web development, film making, podcasting and feature writing. This didn’t leave me time for creative writing. Our course moved online during March 2020, when the Covid-19 Pandemic was declared. I had some assignments to submit, but with those concluded I returned to writing.
I’ve been publishing independently since 2013 on Amazon Kindle, with five print on demand paperbacks. The two Young Adult (YA) pony books sell in Kindle and paper, though adult books seldom sell in paper. Show Jumping Team made No. 1 Best Seller soon after release.
Three-quarters of my royalties come from the Kindle Unlimited programme, whereby readers who pay monthly can read ad lib, and the author gets paid per page. This greatly benefits an author with a longer book, or a series; readers work through from book one to five. During the lockdown, Amazon provided customers with a two-month free trial of Kindle Unlimited. The authors still get the royalties. Amazon shows me the live figures and I get paid two months later.
I take my own cover photos, and my talented husband Allan Tennent makes the covers based on my input. I wanted to ease back into fiction writing – my murder mysteries and science fiction have complicated plots.
Knowing the market
Moya, a thirteen year old girl in an Irish town, is my heroine. Kids want to read about kids older than themselves. Girls will read about boys, but boys seldom read about girls. So my story had to suit girls aged twelve. Pony tales have a wider readership, including adult horse lovers. I’m a former national standard showjumper, and I read pony books. Writing YA, it’s not enough to have an adventure and then they all go home for tea; the young people need a life challenge. If there isn’t one, the tale is properly a children’s book. Even children’s books provide challenges; look at J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter. In older YA, think of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Peadar ÓGuilín’s The Call. However, a challenge does not require a conflict. With YA, we can write a coming of age story. Moya’s life challenge is that she has a younger brother who is on the autism spectrum. The immediate problem is the Covid-19 Pandemic. How can Moya continue with schoolwork, help her parents and brother, contact her grandmother, and train her young Connemara pony stabled outside town, during lockdown?
The cover photos had been previously taken. As a journalism student, I had been taking photos while the restrictions progressed; panic buying, masks, floor signage and social distancing. I decided to place some of these between chapters, showing the situation in Ireland. To counterbalance I selected photos taken at the Donkey Sanctuary in Co. Cork. Moya’s pony Celidh has donkey friends and the cheerful images show how Moya has fun.
The writing progressed at a chapter a day, along with other work. I review e-books for Fresh Fiction, a media site based in Texas. I got my allotted exercise and took more photos daily. We created the cover, which was a great incentive to work towards completion. I love to have the graphic artist in the same room. I can see the thumbnail for the Amazon page. Many media sites are built around horizontal axis images, but book covers are vertical, so they show a strip across the centre of this image. So I had to ensure the centre didn’t show just sky or just legs. The three YA covers use the same font and layout.
I added information to help young readers understand the Pandemic. At the same time, I was writing a positive thinking story. Lastly, I did a search for my pet hate it. I dislike using this nondescript pronoun. For instance, I found a line about a computer breakdown – “Granny never got much use out of it.” I replaced it with that antique.
Updating my other pony books, I added asterisks to divide segments of action, in response to a comment I’d received. I advertised the new book at the end of each, with an image of the cover and author. I updated the list of ‘also by this author’ titles. At the end of the new book, I advertised each of the other two books with their covers, author image and a full list of my titles. I added review snippets from an educational publisher, Carolyn Wilhelm from The Wise Owl Factory.
Then I published my new book, using an ISBN from the string of 100 I bought a few years ago. The Kindle version went live within hours. I added the book to Goodreads. I made the paperback (with another ISBN) and Allan made the cover. Already the book was selling in two Amazon stores and being read in a third. When readers finished, they moved straight on to the other two pony books, which were published in 2014. Books sell books. Feedback is positive. I’ll send print copies via Amazon to the legal deposit libraries; if I had plumped for Kindle I would only post PDF copies on CDs to three libraries. We updated our website, but I don’t do much marketing; as an independent publisher my best strategy is to write more books.
I released two anthologies during July, which are selling, and I’m writing another YA book. I’m updating the list of titles in my earlier works. On YouTube I host book trailers which I made myself, for my science fiction series, so I’d like to make pony book trailers too. But that’s another project.
(c) Clare O’Beara
About A Pony For Quarantine:
Moya O’Leary is thirteen when the Coronavirus Pandemic reaches Ireland. Her class is sent home, to take lessons on line, and her family has to adapt to the quarantine situation.
Moya is blessed with a lively young Connemara pony which she was hoping to enter in jumping competitions. That seems less likely as the country enters strict lockdown. Her mum and dad are more concerned about her little brother Michael, who is on the autism spectrum. If Moya can find a way to keep training, she will be ready to ride when competitions start again. But the rising tensions produce challenges, and life may never go back to normal.
This informative, positive thinking story for young people mixes fact with fiction, horse and donkey lore and a recipe.
Illustrated with photos by the author.
Another atmospheric story of young adults, horses and challenges from the Amazon No1 Bestselling author of SHOW JUMPING TEAM and RODEO FINN.
Order your copy online here.