I’m twittering, and I know it

I’m twittering, and I know it

As suggested, by almost everyone I read who self-publishes and blogs, I bit the bullet and created a Twitter account.

Twitter, I discover, is frantic, scatty, insane. And slightly scary. But wow, who knew? (You lot obviously, because you’ve been tweeting for years). It is a miracle to me that, in an instant, I am linked to people from all over the world and all walks of life.

I am stalking the followers of other authors, and following them (as advised by my marketing research). How very un-English and rude. Every emerging author is doing exactly the same, so we are basically following each other. Trying to flog our books within a continuously growing loop of writers trying to flog theirs. Not that it isn’t great to be in touch with them, because it is. I have identified with their problems, discussed potential names for a racehorse with a very nice man in Australia, and ‘met’ lots of interesting people.

I am thrilled and excited every time I get a follow-back. Checking my follower numbers obsessively. Even more delighted when I gain an unsolicited follower, even though many of these have been from other authors, or people trying to sell me dietary advice, lifestyle coaching and beauty/fashion tips. How did they know I needed all of those things? I receive numerous affirmative, life enhancing quotes to guide me through my day. So many of them that I positively float to bed of a night, buoyed up on a glorious cloud of self-belief. And aren’t pets sweet?

I am talking in hastags. My children are rolling their eyes. Tense, daring, clever, addictive and frequently amusing. That’s Twitter, not me. I wish. In my dreams that would be a review of my book (with ‘raunchy’ thrown in for good measure). I’m sure Twitter is raunchy too but I’ve almost managed to avoid that so far. I say almost, because one author I’ve been tracking (who will remain nameless here) seems to have a lot of followers using their dicks as avatars. The modern form of flashing, without the cold draft? Or possibly a character statement summed up in a simple image?

Guiltily, I have un-followed three people. A character who’s tweets were too radical for me, a girl who was younger than her picture lead me to believe (I don’t want to be accused of pedalling smut to children) and a woman who’s constant tweets about her migraine were giving me a headache. Heartless, I know, but she’d had this migraine for three days and it hadn’t stopped her tweeting 30 second updates, or watching #CBB (Celebrity Big Brother, not Children’s TV, which is what I initially thought).  I made sure they had a billion followers before I un-followed them, because I would really hate to cause offence or trauma. Especially to the underage girl, who was apparently having severe parent trouble. That un-follow gave me a sleepless night, I wanted to write her a letter explaining that my un-follow was not personal.

I live in fear of re-tweeting something offensive or extremist because the message was attached to a cute picture. I tweeted a complaint to the Guardian when they failed to include the arrival of the contraceptive pill, on a timeline which did include the invention of the bra. Too late, I discovered that you can only see part of the image on your screen until you click on it. The contraceptive pill was clearly, plainly there. I tweeted an apology.

I am told I need a website and a Facebook and a Goodreads account. But I’m not entirely sure I can cope with further technological experiences at the moment. And my phone is already permanently glued to my face.

Turkey and track changes

Turkey and track changes

I get over excited when a message from CreateSpace arrives. But the return of my first round of editing four days before Christmas wasn’t the best timing. I know what I should have done; I should have put the project on hold for a week. I had numerous family expecting turkey with all the trimmings on Christmas day, and more people arriving on the 26th. I had enough on my plate (please excuse the pun.)

I couldn’t leave it alone. It’s an obsessive-compulsive thing (character flaw number…don’t know, I’ve lost count!)

A sea of red and blue and green corrections and comments. Glimpsed briefly, before Word decided it simply couldn’t cope with the volume of changes incorporated into the document and the programme froze on me. “Word is not responding.” Uh oh. I spent three days on Microsoft forums; asking questions, searching FAQs. I Googled my scenario in variously worded forms. I emailed everyone I knew who might be able to help, and drew comfort from the fact that I clearly wasn’t alone with the problem. A lot of people struggling but not many solutions I could even attempt, because the document wouldn’t load sufficiently for me to ‘copy and paste’ or ‘change view to draft’.

Finally a response from a very nice man on the Microsoft community forum, suggested I remove the ‘final paragraph mark.’

“The what?” I hear you cry. (That was what I was crying anyway). I still don’t know what the ‘final paragraph mark’ is, maybe you do? In an effort to locate it I managed to keep the document visible for long enough to find the end of the manuscript (don’t touch anything you don’t have to… exercise extreme patience after every scroll down.) I made several cups of tea while Word stopped responding. I figured the programme needed some time to think about its actions, and behave appropriately. I did the final correction first, in the hopes that would remove a ‘final paragraph mark’. And, lo, it didn’t freeze.

Two hundred and fifty pages of tracked change edits to reject or approve. Plus the amendments my friends had pointed out. By Christmas Eve I had only reached the second paragraph, and I was still leaving the room to do a few jobs after every click on the mouse while the computer hummed and chewed and whirred and made up its mind whether to freeze or not. Technology eh? Couldn’t live without it.

On a positive note, Word grew more confident as I progressed through the pages. I had shot myself in the foot by not pointing out that the spelling should be British English. (The editor had asked for a note on the rules for the edit, but somehow that point escaped me). A lot of z’s to reject, and o’s to put back in. Some phrases that might be misinterpreted by American readers: “Bloody hard work” could read as “working until she bled” and “who could she ponce a horse off by Saturday” oh yes, I get that one.

I need to revise my punctuation around dialogue. I thought I knew how to do this until I started writing a book. School was a long time ago.

We got a Christmas dinner, and one on Boxing day. By the evening of the 26th I was desperate to get back to my manuscript.

The editorial letter included some lovely comments: “Once Bitten, Twice Shy is a heartfelt, entertaining and satisfying novel”, “Hettie is a convincing heroine, and Alexander’s growth and self-discovery is very gratifying.”

I’m learning to blow my own trumpet. Even if the voice inside my head is whispering “Ah, but you’re paying her. She’s got to say nice things.”

Second round of edits due any day now. Bring it on.

Judge a book by it’s cover

We all do, of course. I may have bypassed many good books because they didn’t look like ‘something I would read’. And that is a shame. It seems indie publishing has a reputation for amateurish book coverings, and, having now gone through this process myself, I can understand why.

My ‘vision’ for my book was a distant back view of a beautiful couple (heroine flame haired if possible) gazing out over a misty English valley. The book is set on a country estate in the Cotswolds. The story develops amidst horses, the countryside and dogs. In my mind’s eye, my cover resembled a modern day Jane Austen book. I described my vision in detail, on the telephone, to the USA (with the customary time delay throughout our discussion).

The concept I received depicted a decidedly middle aged couple. Now, I’m not saying I wouldn’t like to write that book. In fact I have given myself the giggles, planning in my head the words of a passionate mid-life scene:

“She knew he thought he was caressing her breast, as his fingers gently fondled her spare tyre and continued to search for a nipple.”

Or;

“A low groan escaped him as his back gave out.”

But this time, my book is about the beautiful people (I will write the other story if I ever get a following big enough to stand it). Not only were the couple depicted on my book nothing like my characters, the misty English scene was by definition colourless and uninteresting. Dull, dull, dull. I wouldn’t have bought the book with that cover. At the moment that is the only yardstick I have to measure success by.

My excitement at receiving the message from CreateSpace: “Your action is required to move forward with your project”, was soundly deflated when I viewed the concepts. The second concept (designed by them) showed a younger couple (better) galloping on horses (good idea)…wearing cowboy hats and traversing an American prairie. Oh dear.

I’m not knocking CreateSpace here. They listened to my ideas and tried very hard to interpret them without any visual stimulus and only spoken guidance from me. My fault, I panicked a bit. I had only paid for two rounds of editing on the concepts and had to decide which of those featured I would be going ahead with. To be honest I hated them both. I asked the design team to book a telephone conversation. Again they were efficient, encouraging and helpful. Editing changes could include a change of image. I could supply my own image, or search for one I liked from their library. Big sigh of relief.

Better late than never, I started doing some research. Searched thousands of images (bouncing them past my daughters for feedback) and found a picture I liked. I emailed the design team with images of covers I admired and would like to emulate. And I just managed to carry out all of the required changes within my pre-paid budget.

My cover is not perfect, there are a couple of details I would still change. I could have added another round of edits for $75. But I do not know if my book will even sell, so there has to be a cut-off point. Next time, if I use CreateSpace again, I will start the process by sending them an image of what I want the cover to look like, and move forward from there.

And I’m not a book designer or marketing expert. I do not know what the market is looking for. My ideas might still be awful!

Have a look, and see what you think (at the partial image which was all I could fit into ‘featured images’!). Just don’t tell me to change anything.

No one said there would be questions…

No one said there would be questions…

I don’t know what it is about questionnaires, but they strike me illiterate. Maybe it’s because they resemble an exam paper (I have never been good at exams). Or job applications, where you have to answer hypothetical questions, and list your strengths and weaknesses.  Real questions are fine – like who was Prime Minister in 1973? That’s easy, you either know it or you don’t. And if you don’t you can look it up.

Question: “What aspects of your writing are unique and define you as an author?” Well, hell, I don’t know. You tell me (please).

Question: “Who do you envision purchasing and reading your book?” Honest answer? “No one really” or “I would”. I haven’t got that far with my ‘envisioning’. A few friends and family? A couple of other people if I’m lucky. “All women who like romance.” (CreateSpace example of the wrong answer: “All women who like cooking” – well it isn’t quite the same).

“Describe your target audience by factors such as age group, interest, education, gender, etc.” Sorry, I’m way out of my depth now. Is ‘education’ relevant to chick-lit romance? (That’s a question I’m asking – not one of theirs). I really don’t know the answer, maybe you do. Gender! Yes I know the answer to that (I can’t think of any men who read romances.) But the questions keep getting harder: “Describe the specific tone, themes, and mood you would like your book to convey.”

Surely, if I was able to write the book, I can come up with answers to these? Apparently not. Everything I’m typing in the answer boxes reads like hyperbole. I haven’t thought this through. I simply had a story I wanted to tell, so I wrote it down.

I am a typical, self-depreciating English woman. It goes against my nature to laud my own skills or blow my own trumpet. It has dawned on me that I will have to learn these traits if I do want to sell the book.

To the question “Describe any specific design ideas for the interior of your book.” I actually answered “None really. Clear and simple.” (I was getting weary by then). But I worked out later when I looked at examples, that I actually had quite a lot of opinions on the interior of my book. I possibly should have done more research. And viewed the examples before I wrote the answer. It’s that impatience thing again.

Similar problem with the cover for the book, and questions for the editor. My ideas for the cover were completely rubbish. But I didn’t know that until I saw it mocked up; and then I started looking at covers I liked and worked out what I wanted to achieve. Three steps forwards and two steps back. Every time.

I asked the editor for feedback on the title of the book. Working title “Circle of Trust”, alternative options “Mistrust” and “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”. Having already asked the six friends who had proof read the book, I received two votes for each. Which wasn’t very helpful. By the time I received my editor’s feedback the cover had been signed off and approved. I will get this process right, next time. (Ps. the book is called ‘Once Bitten, Twice Shy’)

One last comment about the dreaded questionnaire. When CreateSpace say “this page times out after 30 minutes” and “you may want to type and save your answers elsewhere”, it is good advice. The final question asks for a synopsis of your book, with as much detail as you can muster. Needless to say I couldn’t run that off in the 4 minutes I had remaining. Back to the drawing board. And learn some patience!

Setting my manuscript free (or sending it off to school)

Setting my manuscript free (or sending it off to school)

I did some more research, but Amazon CreateSpace was an easy choice for me. I felt a certain loyalty towards them, it was, after all, a programme about Amazon that got me writing in the first place. And if I wanted a broad platform to launch my book, it doesn’t come much broader than the mighty Amazon. A double edged sword, possibly. On the one hand giving me the potential to reach corners of the world I have barely even heard of, on the other I would be pitching my book against millions of others. Scatter the seeds wide, and hope a few take hold? Or cultivate a small patch of ground and nurture the seed along. I don’t know the answer to that yet, maybe future blogs will be able to share.

Several people asked me if I had considered pitching to a traditional publisher first. It did enter my mind, but you hear so many stories about manuscript rejection. I had visions of a single rejection stopping me in my tracks. My manuscript languishing in archive files for eternity (or until the computer died, and unnecessary backed up files were not transferred to its replacement).

So I opened a CreateSpace account. A rather cranky website, CreateSpace, I have to say. Given who you are affiliated with. Navigation is tricky and often not clear. And I was slightly surprised to be dealing directly with the USA. Scheduling calls for Eastern Standard Time, and suffering a lag on telephone conversations. Despite the fact that we talk the same language, guys, somehow we don’t quite do we? “Thank you for reaching out to us…” is definitely not a British English phrase. Having said that, the advisors were brilliant. No question was too stupid, each and every one of them has been polite, helpful and efficient. That is worth a lot, so thank you people. (And I’m sure there were several of my English phrases that they found slightly odd, not to mention my general vagueness!)

I checked my document for a final time, painstakingly changed all my asterisk passage breaks to fleurons and uploaded the manuscript. Then I found and read the guidelines on how to make your document ready for upload, and learnt that passage breaks should be indicated with asterisks. So I sent them a message, put the asterisks back and uploaded again. This has rather been the tale of my entire experience so far. In every task I do, I locate the information about how I should have done it after the job is done. I’m not a patient person (another character flaw), but guidance or tick-boxes which appear automatically on the site would have been very helpful. You have to search and dig for everything. My advice here would be to make sure you find the guidance for each and every stage – it is there if you look hard enough.

When I first started writing, the plan was to create an e-book without any financial outlay. But as the process went along and I did further research I realised this wasn’t the route for me. Possibly I could do it with a third or fourth book, but I definitely needed assistance this first time round. I didn’t have a clue about layout or font. No idea where to begin designing a book cover. And I liked my book enough to want a physical copy. Of course there are plenty of people out there offering their services in this regard; book cover designers, proof readers, copy-editors. I am sure that many of them provide a better, more specific service than CreateSpace can via long distance communication and the constraints of budget. Again, this is something I would definitely look in to further with a future book. But it cannot be argued that the editing package which CreateSpace offered me was ridiculously good value. The fact that it was a ‘package’ enabled me to see exactly what I would be spending, without the embarrassment of getting quotes from individuals or companies, and then working out that I couldn’t afford them.

My lack of experience and impatience (again) led me to purchase a CreateSpace editing package. I’m not saying this is the best way to go, but for me this time it provided the easy option. For those of you who are looking to do this yourselves, I purchased the ‘Editing Package’ (two rounds), ‘Marketing Copy Essentials’, and ‘Custom Cover Premier’ (two cover concepts).

Tune in next time to see if I made the right choices, and how I got on with the dreaded questionnaire!

Thank you family and friends (and indie bloggers who give advice so generously)

Thank you family and friends (and indie bloggers who give advice so generously)

With the manuscript finished, I thought I had done the hard bit. But no one other than me had read it yet, and the Husband kept telling me that someone else should. Scary stuff! I liked the story, but wasn’t convinced I was resilient enough to accept criticism (one of my numerous character flaws.)

Further Googling and Indie blogs (thank you thebookdesigner.com, @JFBookman, selfpublishingadvice.org, Derek Murphy @creativeindie) also informed me that traditionally published books pass through up to six rounds of editing before they go into print (and there will still be errors in them then).

CreateSpace suggested that if I was working to a budget, I should get as many friends as I could to read the manuscript and note any mistakes. Time to take my courage in my hands. As luck would have it, an annual ‘girls weekend’ was on the horizon. With half a dozen lifelong friends who have known each other since school. With sufficient wine inside me I managed to blurt “I’ve written a book, and I’m self-publishing it.” Their reaction was heart warming. Despite my self-concious apologies that it was far from high-brow literature, everyone wanted to read it. Each and every one of them was full of praise that I had even taken the task on. To be fair, we were all rather tipsy. One of my friends read a passage out loud – to much hilarity (one of the ‘naughty’ passages, this was a girls weekend after all). It was great to hear the words that I had written spoken out loud (she was a beautiful narrator!)

Five friends and my sister read the book and sent the edits back. Along with wonderful comments which made me start to believe I had actually written something worth reading. Although I had warned them that any criticism should be heavily sugared to avoid wounding me. Two of them read it twice, which was really gratifying.

Amendments made (along with a few of my own; I am still unable to work on the book without changing a word or a phrase here and there) the manuscript was finally ready to submit. Time to fully investigate my launch pad.

Can I write a book?

Can I write a book?

This is how my journey began. Having recently given up my part time job (due to parents illness) and seen the youngest of my three children off to University, I ‘accidentally’ watched a programme about Amazon. The programme included a section on independent publishing. They interviewed a writer who had achieved a reasonable level of income from writing and self-publishing his work. My interest was piqued! I have always thought (who hasn’t?!) that I had a book in me. Some research into indie publishing followed. A fair amount of ‘Googling’; a look at what other self-publishers had to say. When I went to bed that night my romantic novel began to invent itself. The following morning I started typing.

I was amazed at the speed with which the words fell on to the page. I didn’t make a plan, I didn’t organise my thoughts. For three solid weeks I just typed. But despite the fact that I was now actually writing, it still felt like playing a game. I kept my ambitions to myself, and it wasn’t until the husband (perturbed by the number of hours I was spending on the computer) poked his head around the study door and asked “What are you doing? Writing a book?” that I answered “Yes!” And my book entered the world outside of my head.