Spotlight 39: Karen Purves


Mark Dawson: I’m Mark Dawson from the Self-Publishing Show and this is Self-Publishing Spotlight where we shine a light on the indie authors who are changing the world of publishing one book at a time.

Tom Ashford: Hello and welcome to the Self-Publishing Spotlight. We meet indie authors are all stages of their careers and ask them a series of five questions. Five questions about their process, their mistakes, and their successes. Five answers that will help you level up your own author career.

My name is Tom Ashford and I’m part of the Self-Publishing Formula. Don’t forget that you can get your self-publishing resource kit at

Tom Ashford: This week’s guest is Karen Purves. She’s written one book in the nonfiction genre and she lives in the UK.

Welcome Karen.

Karen Purves: Hi there Tom.

Tom Ashford: You’ve written a nonfiction book?

Do you want to talk about the specific genre in which that actually is?

Karen Purves: It’s a book on gratitude and so it’s self-help, positive psychology, spirituality, depending on where you come from and the book is a open up at random, choose a topic that arrives, read the words and do some of the suggested actions.

I wrote the book because gratitude has been an enormous help to me in my life. I wanted to share that with other people and give them the opportunity of finding gratitude.

Tom Ashford: Nice.

Question number one is why do you write? You’ve kind of answered that in the sense that you wanted to share the idea of gratitude, et cetera.

Karen Purves: That’s just for that book. But why I write is that I’ve got something to write about. Gratitude was one thing.

The next thing is really about, it’s about writing some might say it’s a memoir, but I’ve done some memoir courses and I don’t easily fit into memoir. I think it’s just going to be about some topics that I have found difficult to live through, but liberating once addressed, if you know what I mean. Like downsizing, changing countries, belonging.

Belonging has been a big life lesson for me that’s spanned my whole life. I don’t know how these will end up being in a book, but they’re the topics that I, oh and aging. I write a lot about aging.

Tom Ashford: Would you write any sort of fiction do you think? Or is it explicitly nonfiction that you’re passionate about?

Karen Purves: I’m not going to say that I’m not going to write fiction because I wonder whether actually some of these things are better written about as fiction. The only reason why I’m happier with nonfiction is that I’ve actually read more nonfiction books in my life than I’ve read fiction books.

I’ve done some courses about that, but I’d need to read a lot more fiction books to really understand how the cliffhangers inside the different chapters actually works. You know what I mean?

Tom Ashford: It’s a different approach.

Karen Purves: It’s a way of writing that I instinctively don’t know about.

Tom Ashford: Yeah, that’s fair. And you’re indie published, correct?

Karen Purves: I am indeed, yes.

Tom Ashford: Did you try to get a traditional contract? Or would you be interested in one in the future or are you quite happy?

Karen Purves: I wrote the book in Australia and so Australia is, I think is different to the UK or Europe or America in that it’s a smaller market. I went to some courses that were being offered by publishers and I’m not sure whether that happens here. And to really work out what I wanted to do.

The only thing, they were interested, the traditional publishers, small publishers that I was looking at, they were interested in what my book was about and they saw it had a real place in the world. But their lead times, so I would not have been, I still wouldn’t be published.

They were saying, “Well if you came in with us, you wouldn’t be published until Easter 2020.” At that time, that was 2018 and I couldn’t think what I would be doing. What would my life be like in 2020? It was like, no, I can’t do that. I’ve got the whole of 2019 to live.

Tom Ashford: Not to mention that you end up just basically not writing anything or writing something knowing that it might not get published because of the turnaround time.

Karen Purves: Yeah. And as it turned out, so when I published the book, I published a book in February 2019, so that’s a lot of months before a traditional publisher would publish. And then I did a physical book tour in Australia and that was just brilliant because of the book and my story, I like speaking. You might be surprised.

Everything lent itself to actually going out and speaking to people and sharing my message. I haven’t earned sort of money that many people would earn online, but actually I found it hugely rewarding to do that.

Tom Ashford: I can imagine. I always think it’d be lovely to meet the readers and interacting with readers is something that indie authors get to do more, I think than those who are traditionally published.

Karen Purves: I got emails from people so I had my email address in the book and people would write to me and less so now because I’m not really doing author talks, although it’s only because I haven’t got any scheduled. And people would write to me and say, “Do you know your book has actually changed my life?

This is what I was thinking about. And then after a month of doing the top different topics, this is how I’m now thinking.” And you go, result. And it doesn’t matter really, it doesn’t matter whether I earn a million pounds or a 1,000 pounds. Although it’d be nice to earn more than a 1,000. The book has done its job because that’s what it was meant to do.

Tom Ashford: Question number two is how do you write? How do you approach writing a nonfiction book?

Karen Purves: I can only tell you how I wrote the gratitude prompts in that it was planned out. I came up with the concept. I have no idea how that happens, but I came up with the concept and I then brainstormed.

One day I brainstormed what I thought were 40 topics and really that was more like 80, I didn’t know. And then I put them in alphabetical order and then I did NaNoWriMo so that I had some people to write with.

I know it’s virtual, but that’s what, and not the November one but Camp NaNoWriMo in July. I then I did Pomodoro on Twitter and so because Australia is so far away from everywhere, I would only have the Pomodoro Twitter sphere active until around about 11:00 AM.

I needed to make sure that I had enough writing and enough chatting with people that I was actually on track and I set myself up that I would work, I’d write a 1,000 words a day. Which in fiction terms is not really very much, but in nonfiction time I found it quite a lot.

I was quite tired after a 1,000 words, although some days I was on a roll and did two and a half thousand, but I never did any more than that. At the end of Camp NaNoWriMo, I had basically written the book that I’d planned to do 30,000 words. I did 35,000 words and at the end of the book, when the book was published, I only, I had 42,700 words. Basically, the book was written in that month.

Tom Ashford: That’s impressive.

What sort of software do you use to write? Scrivener, Word, Vellum?

Karen Purves: Scrivener.

Tom Ashford: Yeah, the best one.

Karen Purves: It made it really easy to change everything around. Would I have set up the new book the way I did the old book? Probably not, I’ve learnt so much about Scrivener in the process. So easy to print out. I could compile it and I could print out the draft copy and I could take it with me and do the first first edit, stuff like that. It was much better.

Tom Ashford: It’s very versatile.

Question number three is, are you a full time author? If you are, how did you get there? And if you aren’t, what steps are you taking to make it happen?

Karen Purves: I did think about this. I don’t do anything else. My writing doesn’t pay, I have another income. My writing doesn’t pay for my bills, another income does. But it’s a pension of sorts.

What I do do is I do write, because I’m doing nonfiction, I write a lot on Quora and that really illuminates what actually I like to be writing about at any one time. Quora is really my route to writing full time. Not that Quora will earn any money, but it’s my apprenticeship. It’s my training ground for practicing my writing because my writing is so different now than it was in 2018 when I started. When I wrote the book.

Oh and when I wrote that book, that wasn’t the first time I’d started writing a gratitude book either. I didn’t just think, oh one day, oh, I’ll write a gratitude book. I had actually written two other books before that. On gratitude and ditched them.

Tom Ashford: Fair enough. I think that’s probably fairly common in fiction and nonfiction, isn’t it? You write a book and you go, nope. And you bin it and you write something else and most people’s first published book isn’t the first one that they’ve actually written.

Question number four is, what mistakes do you think you’ve made and what have you got right?

Karen Purves: I think one of my mistakes, it’s like a two edge sword really. The book is really best used in your hand because you open the books up at random and Kindle doesn’t really allow you to do that. It’s not that friendly to do that.

One of the downsides of the book is that it has to be print. One of the positives is that it’s print. The other downside of the fact that it’s print is that I needed to spend a lot more money getting the cover designed and creating an internal layout that it became easy to understand, that they could find the beginning of a chapter, they could see where the actions were and that actually made, that made it an expensive book to produce, to design. Because most people are just looking at the cover and then the chapters run on one after another. You don’t have to do any special formatting.

Whereas, because this book was open it up at random, that the beginnings of the chapters of the topics needed to be clear. And so I think that needed a treatment. I don’t think that I would do that again. Although the outcome has been great.

What I did do right I think is setting aside two hours every day to write something. And at the time I didn’t even, ah that’s what I did wrong as well. At the time, I didn’t reread anything and so I just wrote it and I just kept on every day I wrote some more, I wrote some more, I write some more.

One of the negatives about that is that I didn’t reread it and I didn’t and I’d wrote it all in longhand. Then I spent a whole month typing it up and I would have been better off because I was under the illusion that if I started typing it up I would edit it. But actually I didn’t do that. I was just copy typing and then that was so boring.

It took me a month to type. It took me a month to actually write it and then it took me a month to type it because it was so boring. I would never do that again. I would write it, type it as part of a day’s activity.

Tom Ashford: Question number five is, what’s your final piece of advice for authors starting out in indie publishing?

Karen Purves: First of all, just write and I don’t think it matters what you write about, just practice writing because I never really understood that if a piece of advice when I was starting out because everyone looked like they could write so much better than me.

But now I notice because I write on Quora and I write three articles a day, usually, my writing even in six months has just changed. How I use language, how I structure my thoughts and everything else. That’s my number one piece of advice on someone starting out.

My number two is to go on courses. I did a lot of this stuff in Australia, so I don’t know what it’s like in the UK, but there are lots of low cost courses in Australia to encourage people to write. And I would encourage people to go and learn the format of a book, the three acts of a book and to create crescendos and stuff like that.

I found that fascinating. I had never thought about the anatomy of a book before. And so I found that really, really good. And some of the people, I was then able to have little buddies, have buddies that helped me at that time in writing. And if you like writers’ circles, then fine, do writers’ circles. I never found them particularly helpful really.

Tom Ashford: That’s good advice and those are your five questions up, so thank you very much for coming on.

Karen Purves: Thank you. It’s been good.

Tom Ashford: That’s it for this week’s Self-Publishing Spotlight.

Don’t forget that you can get your free self-publishing resource kit a

And if you want to appear as a guest on this show, send us brief details about yourself and your writing at I’m Tom Ashford and I’ll see you again next week.

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