Author Lissa Olivers on mainstream publication vs self-publishing.

Lissa, an award winning author, tells us her experience with both!

by Jon Waterman on 23-02-2021

We are delighted to welcome Lissa Oliver as a guest to the blog. Lissa Oliver is the current Chairman of the Irish Writers Union and on the Board of Directors of the Irish Writers Centre and Irish Copyright Licensing Agency. Lissa is an award-winning writer, author of “Nero – The Last Caesar”, “Chantilly Dawns”, “Sainte Bastien”, “Gala Day”, “Tales Of The Turf & Other Worlds” and numerous non-fiction works of reference. Lissa teaches creative writing with the Carlow Kilkenny ETB. Her website is


I wrote my first book when I was sixteen. I have always been an avid reader and an avid writer. If I didn’t have a book to read, then I’d write a story instead, as far back as my pre-school years. The only audience I ever had to consider and please was myself. And that’s one of the first rules of writing – write for your own pleasure and always write the story you want to read. If you enjoy it, so will others.

That first novel, handwritten in 1980 on hole-punched sheets of lined paper in an ever-thickening ring-binder, was “Chantilly Dawns”. It was published by Maverick House in 2012 and became a number one bestseller in 2019.

You might want to stop and think about those dates for a bit. The road to mainstream publication is neither fast nor predictable. That is one of the reasons self-publishing has become so popular, giving us control as writers and speeding up the ‘birthing’ process from years to instantaneous.

But self-publishing wasn’t an option in 1980. I had written what I knew to be a good novel, but libraries and bookshops only contained famous authors. As far as I was aware, you had to be a famous author to get a book published and I didn’t question how one traversed that particular catch-22.

A decade passed and by now “Chantilly Dawns” had been joined by “Nero – The Last Caesar”, a fact-based novel set in first century Rome. It had taken me best part of those ten years to research and complete and in 2001 it became the first of my novels to appear in print, in libraries, in bookshops and on Amazon. Last year it sold over 900 copies, in spite of being a year shy of twenty years in publication. It was my first published book, because I self-published it.

Book Cover of Nero The Last Caesar by Lissa Oliver

Again, you can see another ten years had passed. They were spent writing “Gala Day” and collecting rejection slips from every mainstream publisher for my first two novels. As you can also see, those rejections didn’t set me back. I didn’t shelve the books and I didn’t change direction. The responses from publishers assured me that “Nero – The Last Caesar” was well-written and enjoyable, but ‘niche market’.

We were now into a new millennia with new opportunities, including the digital press. No longer was typesetting out of the financial reach of joe public such as myself. Self-publishing was a new and exciting option and so I became a published author, with a champagne and press-attended book launch. “Nero – The Last Caesar” arrived in ‘all good outlets’ and even earned a bonus cheque from Public Lending Remuneration, as a result of Irish and UK library loans.

I enjoyed the whole process of self-publishing and it compared quite favourably to what some might call ‘the real thing’. As with any DIY project it takes hard work, so securing a contract with mainstream publisher Maverick House made life easier for my next three books, but the results are the same – your book in circulation and read by a worldwide public. That’s why I chose also to self-publish my anthology of short stories “Tales Of The Turf & Other Worlds”. For “Nero – The Last Caesar” that includes the USA and Japan, several hundred copies finding their way there last year.

I still have that ring-binder containing the very first copy of “Chantilly Dawns”. The difference between those pages and that of the 2019 bestseller are no more than biro and print. Not a word out of place, no sentence changed. For thirty years it gathered dust awaiting publication, for no better reason than mainstream publication can be a slow and unpredictable process. Self-publication is no longer the future – it’s here, now, and an opportunity to be seized.