07/11/2014 10:18 GMT | Updated 06/01/2015 05:59 GMT

The Key Challenge of Self Publishing: How One Author Learnt That 'She Who Plays With a Cat Must Bear Its Scratches'

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin...


Once upon a time there was a cat called Simon, who won numerous awards for bravery thanks to the part he played on board HMS Amethyst during its epic escape from the Chinese Communists many years ago. He became the world's first celebrity cat.

Author Jacky Donovan, despite her complete and utter zoophobia, was smitten by his unique story and quickly penned a 75,000 word memoir, posing as Able Seacat Simon himself. Purrfect! Or so she thought... Little did she understand the 'cat'-astrophic perils that lay ahead to make Simon's book available for people to actually read.

For weeks she battled with ideas for a suitable title, grateful for the enthusiasm of facebook group We Love Memoirs who bandied thoughts around like a cat batting at a rat. Having written 75,000 words in less than three months, who would've thought it could take six weeks to come up with an eight word title?

Imagine her delight when people then suggested that memoirs with photographs or illustrations were a particular hit. Off she went in search of an illustrator who could - for a small fee - translate her ideas onto paper. Perhaps it was the fact she chose a non-English speaking artist in Russia that resulted in entirely different imagery from the pictures in her head but, nevertheless, she thought the images were wonderfurl.


Enticed by the offer from one of HMS Amethyst's few crew still alive today to see his memorabilia - no, that's not a euphemism! - she jumped on a plane to London and spent an intriguing afternoon, overwhelmed by the number of photos, newspaper clippings and other information that Lieutenant Commander Stewart Hett had collected in relation to Simon the Amethyst cat. After taking hordes of photos of his exhibits - like memorabilia, that is not a euphemism - she enthusiastically headed home.

Having spent 20 years in IT, what could be easier than inserting a few images into a Microsoft Word document and uploading it to the Amazon kindle platform?! Well, here are a few suggestions for a start:

• Become a brain surgeon

• Tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon. Backwards.

• Ride a unicycle blindfold. With hands in the air

It seemed that MS Word and the human brain live in parallel universes where ne'er the twain shall meet. She huffed and she puffed but, instead of blowing MS Word's house down, only succeeded in blowing a fuse and raising her blood pressure. Oh, and becoming as porky as one of the three little pigs from spending so much time at her desk every day.

But, like all good stories, along came a techy prince, riding into town on his trusty pushbike, laptop with go-faster stripes clutched to his chest. Thinking he was the cat's whiskers, he was sure he would rescue the damsel in distress with his techy know-how in no time at all. Or would he? Several days later and much ranting and raving and quaffing of beer he conceded defeat and skulked back to his house to lick his not-so-techy-after-all wounds.

But fear not, like buses, intrepid techy princes arrived, each positive that he could fix the dumb blonde's problems. After all, how hard could it be to insert a few pictures and add a few footnotes? Many, many, many, many - in fact too many manys to be able to count - man hours later and having searched every available forum, downloaded every available kindle user guide and tried every available suggestion known to kindle-kind... ta-dah!! The heroic husband of a We Love Memoirs author finally struck internet gold and solved the problem. Goodness knows how. Jacky was too tired but elated to ask.

Thanks to him, Simon Ships Out: A heroic cat at sea can come to a kindle near you now. As Jacky pawses for a meowment to reflect, she wishes all new authors the furry best and hopes they all have an amewsing time with their publishing journey. She is hopeful that, like the pain of giving birth, the memory of self-publishing will eventually become a distant memory and she will once again puts paws - or fingers - to keyboard and pen another book.

The moral of the story - writing the memoir is child's play; publishing it is a dog's life!

Miaow x

Simon Ships Out: A heroic cat at sea is available from Amazon in paperback and kindle and is suitable for adults and children > 11.



Watch Able Seacat Simon on youtube