Me on the BBC Radio and more news….

I was interviewed yesterday morning on our local BBC radio station, and talked about why I wrote the book, my background as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) and gave some advice for anyone planning a move overseas. What a lovely experience – the presenter was a joy to work with, very friendly and it felt like we were just having a chat down the pub. I went into the studios for the interview, which is something I have never done before so it was quite the experience for me! Please listen below if you get a chance and let me know what you think.

In the meantime, I was also featured in our local newspaper, the Echo, on Friday – you can read about that here: http://www.gloucestershireecho.co.uk/Cheltenham-author-diplomat-s-daughter-writer/story-26344506-detail/story.html#7dshrJCmWdeqDYeT.01

And finally – I am very honoured to have been named as a “Top 10 Expat Blogger” on the Medibroker’s website – http://www.medibroker.com/blog/2015/april/10-best-expat-blogs/, which is very kind of them!

Have a lovely Tuesday everyone.

Birthing a Book: The A-Z guide

I wanted to write something about how I got to this point with the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide but I feared a 10,000 word essay coming on so decided to break it down a bit into more easily digestible chunks. Hence the A-Z. As for the birthing bit, well,  there have definitely been times when it has felt a bit like birth. The research (birth preparation), the writing (labour), the editing and proof-reading (transition), the launch (birth)….then there was that rosy glow of the first few days of the post-natal period, where I sat and stared lovingly at my baby book. And now I am in that slightly bewildering stage where I am not sure what happens next, although I have to be honest I am getting more sleep than I did after the birth of both my babies!

So anyway back to the task in hand: The A-Z of how I produced the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide.

A is for Amazon. Love it or hate it, it’s what it is. The only best way to sell your books unless you happen to get a deal with one of the big publishers who will place you into stores like Waterstones and WH Smith. Which to be honest is not that likely these days. I am currently struggling to pursuade Amazon to take the Survival Guide OUT of the photography section and put it IN to the living abroad section – honestly, you would think they didn’t want to take quite a large proportion of my profits by selling my books…..I think it will be a love/hate relationship between me and Amazon.

B is for Bubblecow, which is the company I used to edit my book. I really enjoyed working with them and Gary, my editor, gave me some fantastic feedback. He really helped turn it into a proper guide, it’s amazing what a new pair of eyes will see.

C is for Catherine Ryan Howard. Catherine wrote a book called Self Printed, which I recommend highly for anyone thinking of going down the self-publishing route. It not only helped me with things like formatting and marketing, she also held my hand, figuratively speaking, as I set up this blog. She also has an excellent blog, covering all things publishing. What I really love about Catherine is her casual, friendly style – it really resonated with me as I found it so much easier navigating the choppy waters of self-publishing with her words in my ear. C is also for Createspace, which is where you basically create the paperback version of your book (they are a subsidary of Amazon). I found the process pretty simple and userfriendly, so thumbs-up there 🙂

D is for Design for Writers. These were the people who designed my book cover and I can’t recommend them highly enough! I want to write a separate blog post at some point about the process I went through with them (and I will be doing an interview for their site) so I won’t go on too much. But it was like magic, how they knew what I wanted even before I did. I absolutely love my final cover design.

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E is for Editing. “Editing might be a bloody trade, but knives aren’t the exclusive property of butchers. Surgeons use them too.” –  Blake Morrison. “The first draft of anything is shit.” – Ernest Hemingway. “For I am a bear of very little brain and long words bother me.” – Winnie the Pooh

F is for Facebook. Just like Amazon, Facebook is one of those organisations that you have to work with in this game, even if you don’t like it. Personally I do like Facebook – but from a “business” point of view it’s become very tricky. It used to be you put your information on FB, people liked your page and then they saw your posts. Now, the algorithms have changed and they will only see your posts if they have recently liked your page (or something). So you need to pay to boost your post. Which is okay as far as it goes, but don’t try and pay for an ad as you’ll end up with people on click farms liking you (even if you are not the one paying the clickers – they also click on random sites to try and disguise the places they are being paid to like) – and if you want to know what a click farm is I suggest you read this.

G is for grit. And determination. Had you asked me two or three years ago whether I would ever get this damn book finished, I wouldn’t have been too sure. But I reached a certain stage where I had told enough people about it that I was too embarrassed not to carry on. There were times, lots and lots of times, where I felt like giving up as I just didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. But inevitably there would be a break-through of one sort of another and I would carry on. Encouragement also helped. If you have any writer friends do tell them to keep going and that they are doing a great job. Just like what I used to tell dads to do when their partners were in labour when I taught antenatal classes!

H is for helpers. This is another word for my contributors, but I already had two things under C so putting them here instead. Over the course of writing the book, I had input from nearly 80 people (men and women, all expat partners or former expat partners) with their tips, advice, views, stories and anecdotes. I couldn’t have written the book without them. Sometimes it was hard going trying to get information from them, but other times they were so generous with their advice. As time went on it became easier, as I got involved in more and more expat groups and forums. The last chapter I wrote was one on relationships and I was able to simply put up a request on this blog and was flooded with replies! So if you were one of those who helped – THANK YOU.

I is for Idea. I had the original idea for the book when I was living in St Lucia and I realised how much harder it is to move and live overseas without the sort of help we were used to getting from our employers (the Foreign Office, the  British High Commission etc). Nowadays, more and more people are being posted or going to live overseas and the support for so many of them just isn’t there. Whilst I don’t think for a minute that this book will solve all the problems, I hope it is at least a small step in the right direction.

J is for juggling. Anyone who is a writer, unless they are already well established, will know this one. Writing is unlikely to pay the bills. It also doesn’t do the shopping, pick the children up from school or fold the washing. Yes it’s a fantastic, flexible, work-from-home job. But unless you are in a very lucky position, it’s not one that you are likely to be able to do all day, every day. I have juggled writing this book alongside training to be an antenatal teacher, teaching, working in two other part-time jobs, looking after two children and running a household. Let’s just say things got a lot easier once the girls were both at school full time.

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K is for Kindle. Because my audience was always going to be a global one, I knew I wanted a Kindle version of the book. It wasn’t difficult, I just paid the nice man at Lighthouse24 (see below) to format it for me and off I went. So far, sales of the Kindle version are out-ranking those of the paperback by about 2:1. It will be interesting to see if this continues.

L is for is for Lighthouse24. Formatting was the absolute BANE of my life. This was probably the part of the whole process I hated the most . It just used the wrong side of my brain. Luckily I found the very nice Doug at Lighthouse24  to help me. Seriously, for the amount it costs me (ie not too much compared to the whole process!) it was money very well spent. It meant I was able to concentrate on the bits I can do (the writing, the marketing) while they sorted out preparing my manuscript for both paperback and ebook editions.

M is for marketing. This is so important. It’s worth thinking about your maketing even before you start to write. Don’t think it’s something you can put off until you’ve finished the book. Although you do need to get the balance right – I am really glad I didn’t start this blog until towards the end of the book production process as I find it very time-consuming and distracting (mostly because I love it!). But you need somewhere to get your voice heard, you need to network and make links and find people who will review you and share you and talk about you. Marketing strategies will be different dependent on your genre – I have really plugged the social media route as I think that is the best way to reach my audience. But I also have articles going out in various magazines in the coming months, am currently waiting on a call from our local newspaper and am intent on writing guest posts and blogs as much as possible. I attended at Marketing Masterclass in London for how to market your self-published book, which I found useful. I would recommend something similar, or at least reading up on marketing as much as possible, if this isn’t something you know much about. You can’t just write a book, upload it to Amazon and then expect people to buy it if they don’t know it’s there….

N is for No-Going-Back. This is a very personal one for me, but once I had told people I was writing the book, pride stopped me from giving up. I hate failing at anything and once I started, I knew I had to finish.

O is for opinions. These matter. Everyone keeps asking me if I am over the moon about finally publishing the book -the truthful answer is,  not yet. No, I will only be happy once I know people like it. Or at least SOME people like it. There is nothing worse than silence…

P is for proof-reader. Another very important part of the publishing process. It’s tempting to skip the proof-reader, but so many independently-published books these days are rushed out, it doesn’t give self-publishing a good name. Make it as professional as you can. I used Charlotte Gledson, who was efficient, friendly and encouraging.

Q is for….what is Q for? It could be for quiet as that’s always handy when you need to write. Find somewhere that is your writing place, a desk, room, corner – somewhere that is just for you and your writing. Or it could be for questions, which I certainly asked a lot of.

R is for Retreats for You. One of the places I did a huge amount of my writing was at a writer’s retreat in Devon. Run by the lovely Deborah Dooley, Retreats for You was absolutely perfect for my needs. I am not going to say much about it here because I intend to do a full review at a future date; but needless to say, going somewhere like RfY where you can just write and write and write is invaluable. R is also for reviews. As I type this there are still none on either the Amazon.co.uk or the Amazon.com sites. It’s horrid having to ask people to leave a review but apparently this is one of the hardest things to get people to do – but it’s really important to get your book noticed and give it authenticity. Hopefully I will get one or two eventually…

S is for submissions. In the early part of this book’s life (early first-stage of labour), I did try submitting it to a few publishers. Needless to say I didn’t get anywhere. I did get some lovely responses, which I did find encouraging. But this book was never going to be commercial enough for traditional publishers. And to be honest once I had been on my marketing course, I realised I would still probably be doing most of the work and getting less of the profit if I was traditionally-published. I knew that self-publishing was the right route for me. S is also for Survey Monkey, which is a great tool for getting answers to your questions. I found people like to respond far more to surveys than they do to straight-forward questions. I don’t know why! Finally, S is for Sales Ranking. A fascinating tool within the Amazon author pages, you can find out exactly how your book is doing compared to all the other books on Amazon. At one point last night I was selling at number 2,103 in the UK (out of more than 6,000,000 books)! You can also find out how you are doing within your section. Given that I am still in totally the wrong section on Amazon.co.uk it’s pretty interesting that I am number 3 in the Digital Photography – Intermediate and Advanced section (although only number 5 in the beginners section).

T is for The End. It was hard, really hard, finally deciding I was done. I could have kept writing, adding and fiddling for ever. To be honest, there was so much more I could have put in. But I had to stop somewhere. At some point I may do a second edition if I think there is enough new material to justify it. Every day I read more expat blogs, articles and posts and think – yes, I should have included that. It’s very frustrating.

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U is for underestimation – of both time and costs. In particular, I have found the preparation of the manuscript from finishing the first draft to have taken a lot more time than I expected. Maybe because it was the first time I have done this – but don’t set your heart on publishing on a certain day or even in a certain month. Best to keep it vague – right up until the last moment! Costs, too, will almost undoubtedly be higher than you first anticipated. Set a price and double it, then be grateful if you come in under your estimation….

V is for validation. It was very important for me to have some positive feedback before I published. Luckily I got this from my editor, who told me he loved it. But now I am waiting for validation from people who either don’t know me or haven’t been paid by me. It’s far more important to me that people like what I write than that I get paid for what I write….

W is for WordPress! This blog has been fantastic. I really love the people I have met through blogging here, you feel like my buddies. I was “out there” a bit this week in the unknown territory of social media and I really wanted to be back here on my blog. It feels very supportive.

X is for eXcitement! There has been some – although there is also a bit of an anticlimaX after publication. It’s definitely a marathon and not a sprint!

Y is for YES I am done can I have a holiday now…..

Z is for ZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz……

Wow sorry that was a lot longer than I thought it would be. Anyone who has read to the end deserves a medal! But if you are a writer and in particular if you have independently published, I would love to know if you have anything to add to my mega-list.

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Launching a book – crazy day!

Well, I am still recovering from all the excitement of launching the Survival Guide yesterday. I had so many shares and hits and views, tweets and likes, it was a little overwhelming. As all of you who have ever self-published will know, shares, likes, views, hits and general love doesn’t always equate to direct sales – but I have sold quite a few now and the numbers are continuing to rise so that’s the main thing. I just have to keep on plugging, keep on plugging…

At one point I was number 3,151 out of 6,000,000 books on Amazon.co.uk yesterday (in fact I think I even got to 2,000 and something but neglected to get a picture of it) – which goes to show just what the competition is! IMG_20150413_200621285It’s a little easy to get carried away with the numbers. In this age of instant results, I am starting to get a little too addicted to updating and refreshing. How many have visited my blog? How many have liked on Facebook? How many have bought now? What’s my latest author rankings?….

I am sure I will get bored of it eventually (after all, I do have other work to do, plus the marketing doesn’t really stop – I need to get back to writing more articles and posts). But in the middle of it something did happen that made me stop and think. I recieved an email from someone who just said: “From a struggling expat, thank you!”. And I realised this is what it’s all about. It’s not about shares or likes or sales or numbers. It’s about helping people. This book isn’t ever going to make me a millionaire (or even a thousand-aire) but that isn’t why I wrote it. I wrote it to help others going through what I went through, to support them and to hopefully make them feel just a little bit better.

If I can help just one expat partner/trailing spouse/accompanyng partner – call it what you will; if I can make just one person feel better then I have met my goal.

Having said that, I would still like you to buy the book 😉

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THE EXPAT PARTNER’S SURVIVAL GUIDE IS NOW OUT!

Hurrah the day is here at last! There’s been blood, there’s been sweat and there’s been tears  – but finally you can now buy the Survival Guide in both ebook and hard copy from Amazon, or ebook from Smashwords, from just £2.99!

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About the Book:

From how to organise an overseas move to what to do in the event of an earthquake, the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide is a light-hearted yet in-depth guide for anyone accompanying their partner on an overseas assignment.

In our increasingly globalised society, more and more people are moving to another country to work – and many of these people are taking their partners and families with them.

What does it feel like to sit at home alone in a strange country on the first day your partner leaves for work? How easy is it to find the right school for your child – and what happens if your child hates it there? Where exactly are you going to track down all the ingredients needed for tonight’s dinner? And what happens when it all goes very, very wrong?

This authoritative guide draws on the expert advice of more than 70 expat partners who have been there, done that and survived to tell their tales. The experts include myself, having spent my childhood as a ‘trailing daughter’ accompanying my diplomat parents on various exotic postings including the Philippines and Venezuela. I later saw life from the other side, when I was posted to Jamaica and then took my young family on my husband’s postings to Islamabad and St Lucia.

I am currently preparing for another move, to South Africa.

CLICK HERE TO READ A BIT MORE ABOUT THE BOOK.

Please click on a logo below to be taken straight to the store (also available at European Amazons etc) – and if you like what you read, and you think others would too, then do consider sharing with a friend and/or leaving a review. I would LOVE to hear what you think, good or bad (but mostly good) so feel free to leave a comment or get in touch with me clara@expatpartnersurvival.com.

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When there’s 20 types of Mangoes but No Bananas: How I chose a name for my book.

One of the most difficult tasks I faced in producing the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide was what to call it. I’m sure I’m not alone amongst authors in struggling to find a title that would appropriately convey what I wanted the book to be – in a succinct, catchy and interesting manner. It took me quite a while – at various stages it was called various different things and even now I still waver. But I’ve got a cover now, and this website.

There’s no going back.

At the beginning, it was the Rough Guide to Being a Trailing Spouse. Even typing it out, I cringe a bit – it certainly doesn’t trip well off the tongue. But I had originally approached the Rough Guide publishing house having been inspired by some of their non-travel guides (in particular the Rough Guide to Pregnancy and Birth by author Kaz Coomb, whose chatty writing style impressed me when I was pregnant myself for the first time). I received a very nice rejection from the Rough Guides – it wasn’t a huge surprise as they were the first (and probably largest) publishers I approached and I was happy to get a reply at all, let alone one as encouraging as theirs was. But this was always going to be a “niche” book so rejections from publishers were not a huge shock to me.

The Trailing Spouse issue…

Being able to ditch the “Rough Guide to…” part of the title was actually quite a relief. I would have lived with it for the sake of being part of the famous Rough Guide series, but I was a lot happier when I moved on to The Trailing Spouse Handbook. Except as I researched deeper into my subject, and started to talk to more and more long-term expats, I began to realise that the Trailing Spouse part of the title was starting to sound a little well, old-fashioned. The phrase, whilst descriptive, was now being used as shorthand to describe particularly  helpless women trailing around after their husbands – not how I would ever want to describe the audience I was trying to reach.  Global companies were beginning to use other more appropriate terms, like accompanying partner.

I was loathe to drop the term trailing spouse completely as this is almost certainly still the most searched-for term for someone looking for the sort of guidance I offer in the book. But when I realised there were still ways to keep the words as searchable terms without having them in the title, I reluctantly decided I needed to keep with the times and ditched the “trailing” part of the title. I also decided that this was a book that wasn’t aimed just at married couples (not least because I include information for same-sex partners, many of whom live in countries where you still can’t get legally married) and thus decided against the word “spouse” in the title.

Trying something completely different.

At this stage I decided to try something totally left-field. One of the anecdotes I include in the book relates to the time in Islamabad when almost the only fruit available in the local shops were mangoes. We had never seen so many different varieties of the fruit, not to mention so many varying degrees of ripeness. But at the same time, it was impossible to buy a single banana. Which was difficult for us as we had a baby used to one type of fruit (the banana) but certainly not the other.

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I told this story as typical of the sort of living overseas experience that most people have no idea about – until they’re there. There isn’t much you can do about it, but just knowing that everyone goes through similarly frustrating times can make it feel a lot easier to cope with.

So I thought I might call the book “When there’s Twenty Types of Mango but No Bananas”. It was a great title – catchy, interesting, funny even. But did it tell the reader enough about what was in the book, or who it was aimed at? I decided to try it out in a few different online forums that I belong to – one made up of personal friends, one of professional writers, and one of expats. The results were fascinating – as well as disheartening. The general consensus amongst my non-expat, non-writer friends was that this was some sort of euphemism for sex. The expats mostly liked it – they were much more likely to get it, although they all had their own ideas about what the book should be called and I soon got into a lengthy discussion about whether I could at least use the term “trailing spouse” in a sort of post-modern, ironic way.

But the one who finally put me off using the title completely, even with a sub-heading which explained more about the book, was a member of the writers group who was also an Asian expat. She explained that in some Asian cultures, the term banana was used to describe an Asian who had become too westernised – yellow on the outside, white in the middle (I had heard coconut used in a similar way in the Caribbean). That settled it. I really didn’t need a title which might be associated in any way with a possible racist term when it was about living in foreign cultures. Just like I didn’t want people to think it was about how differently men and women adapt to living overseas (one of the other guesses!).

Going back to basics.

So it was back to the drawing board. I was starting to feel frustrated – but through it all, I realised what this process had done was make me think as much about what I DIDN’T want the title to be as what I DID want of it. It also made me realise how much this was MY book, my vision. Others had ideas for the title, but very few of them resonated with me. None of them quite said what I wanted it to say. And finally I realised what I was looking for was a title which reflected the phrase “does what it says on the cover”. My book isn’t complicated. It isn’t emotional, it isn’t a journey, it doesn’t take you into the depths of your soul or the recesses of your mind or all those other places some books promise to take you.

So in the end what is it? It’s a guide (returning to the original concept of the Rough Guide). What’s it for? It’s to help you cope. In fact, to help you survive. Some thought the word “survive” was too negative, that I should be encouraging more than survival, it should be about conquering and winning, getting to a point where you love your new life. But that isn’t what I want – I want to help you make it through. Some will conquer, win, end up having the overseas life they always wanted. But others won’t, others will just get by until they can go home. And that’s okay too.

And who is it aimed at? It’s aimed at people going overseas – Expat’s – but specifically it’s aimed at the people they are taking with them – partners. Not spouses but partners. The term itself does imply that there should be some sort of shared ownership of the adventure and I think this is a good thing.

And that’s it. The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. I hope you like it.

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My first blog post