I've got the fab Gerry McCullough on my blog today talking about the fab success she's had with Belfast Girls...

  Image of Gerry McCullough

Belfast Girls One Year On: Bestselling Online.

As a very little girl, I loved writing stories. And 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, just over a year ago, my first full-length work of fiction, Belfast Girls, was published. I’d already had around fifty short stories published, including Primroses, which won the Cuirt International Award for New Writing (Galway Arts Festival) in 2005, and other serious stories; and also including a series of much lighter work for Ireland’s Own, the all Ireland magazine, Tales of Old Seamus. But there’s something very special about having an actual novel accepted by a real publisher, and I can tell you I was pretty pleased.

Because of the current situation in the publishing world, with constant amalgamations and takeovers leaving us with around six huge publishing companies instead of lots of smaller ones, 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 in its first incarnation was a book about the Northern Ireland Troubles called Dangerous Games. 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,  which unfortunately have surged in to fill the vacuum left by the para-militeries, and renaming it Belfast Girls. I was taken on by a local Literary Agent, Bill Jeffrey, who suggested putting the book up on the HarperCollins online slushpile, Authonomy. Six months later, at the end of April 2010, Belfast Girls had been voted into the Top Five out of more than eight thousand, and was reviewed by HarperCollins. But although they said many nice things, 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. Belfast Girls is a book about life, and that includes romance, thriller-type action, comedy and more serious themes. So it seemed like another dead end.

But no. A number of small publishers have now sprung up to fill the gap in the market left by the amalgamations which established the Big Six.  Several of these had noticed my book on Authonomy, and approached me, wanting to see the full manuscript.  One of them was Night Publishing, run by Bruce Esler and Tim Roux. Bruce (who later dropped out of the company) was particularly enthusiastic. Tim liked the book, but doubted if it would sell many copies. But, as he said, Night Publishing wasn’t looking for best sellers, just for books which they admired and felt ought to be published. (I didn’t tell him that I was still certainly hoping to be a bestseller.) So on 1 July 2010, it was the offer from Night Publishing which I decided to accept.

Night Publishing, like many of the new companies, sells through the Internet rather than through the traditional route of bookshops. It produces paperbacks, and 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 I’d begun to realise that things had 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 Girls was selling at the rate of about fifty copies a month. Disappointing. I went on various local radio programmes; sent copies around for review; and held a book launch which was photographed by our local magazine, the Ulster Tatler, although the article didn’t appear until February. I also worked the Internet for all I was worth. I had a FaceBook presence, and I posted about Belfast Girls there regularly. I was interviewed for about twenty blogs, and I contributed guest posts to others. It was a full time job.

Then, in March 2010, things began to take off. On 17 March, St Patrick’s Day, my publisher managed to get Belfast 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.

Since then, the book has gone from success to success. In April it was voted Night Publishing Book of the Year. In May it was among the Night Publishing Top Sellers; and was voted second in Sinclair Books’ Book of the Month. It’s been in the Top Ten in Women’s Literary Fiction regularly, and there consistently since last December. It’s stayed in the top hundred for Literary Fiction and for Contemporary Romance. And by the summer I’d sold my first thousand books. By now, the number’s heading towards three thousand – which for a first book by an unknown writer isn’t bad going, I’m told.

I need to keep up the publicity, I’ve found. Interest can fade quickly. And yes, it’s hard work.  At the end of May 2011 I set up my own blog htpp://www.gerrysbooks.blogspot.com –   about books I’ve enjoyed reading, with occasional mentions of my own – which has nearly 4000 views by now. I also set up a Twitter account, @Gerry1098, with what results I’m not really sure. You just need to keep trying everything. If no one knows your book exists, they can’t buy it, right?

I’d also been advised that it was good policy to bring out another book quickly, so a couple of months ago my second romance suspense, Danger Danger, was published, this time by my husband’s Publishing House, Precious Oil Publications. I, who had always shrunk from the idea of anything which smacked of ‘vanity publishing’, now felt confident enough to agree to this. Times have changed – the Internet has made self-publishing not only easy but respectable. (And you make more money by it.) Tim Roux was very kind when I broke it to him that I wouldn’t be giving him my new book, and assured me that if ever I changed my mind, he’d be very happy to publish anything I sent him – which built my confidence further. 

Danger Danger, like Belfast Girls, doesn’t fit into just one category. It’s the love stories of twin sisters separated at birth, whose lives take strangely parallel courses. But it’s also a thriller, with fast moving action based on the danger each twin finds herself in. It has a tighter plot than Belfast Girls, which covers a lot of ground, mainly romance and action, but with some comedy and some more serious themes. That’s not to say that there are no serious themes in Danger Danger!

More recently, POP have brought out a short collection of twelve of my Ireland’s Own stories under the title The Seanachie: Tales of Old Seamus; light, amusing works in the tradition of Somerville &Ross (who wrote The Irish RM) or Lynn Doyle (who wrote Ballygullion). Romance, comedy, and if not exactly suspense, then certainly a twist in the  plot. A short book, easy to read. I feel great satisfaction in producing these Old Seamus stories which thousands have enjoyed reading, and which I enjoy writing.

Just before Christmas 2011 Belfast Girls rose to #2 in Women’s Literary Fiction. The ranking goes up and down as sales vary from day to day. I’m still hoping to see it in the #1 spot – who knows?

It’s great to be a best seller (of sorts!) who is also considered to be a writer of literature. And with no one telling me to confine myself to only one genre! A year ago, who’d have thunk it?

  Belfast Girls

Links for Belfast Girls:


Ebook: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Belfast-Girls/dp/B004DNWS3W

                        and  http://www.amazon.com/Belfast-Girls-ebook/dp/B004DNWS3W 

For Danger Danger:

Paperback: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Danger-Gerry-McCullough/dp/0952578530

Ebook: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Danger-ebook/dp/B005W7TUQQ

                        And  http://www.amazon.com/Danger-ebook/dp/B005W7TUQQ 

And for The Seanachie (not yet out in paperback at the time of writing):

Ebook http://www.amazon.co.uk/Seanachie-Tales-Old-Seamus-ebook/dp/B006WVI37S

                       And   http://www.amazon.com/Seanachie-Tales-Old-Seamus-ebook/dp/B006WVI37S 

Super congrats on your success, Gerry!

Happy Reading!

Sibel XX