Thursday, 30 April 2015

Starting from Scratch by Lynne Benton

I am a complete novice at this game, ie building my own ebooks. However, I have finally succeeded in publishing my very first ebook, Jimmy’s War, on Kindle, thanks to the inspiration, help and advice of several friends in the Scattered Authors, most notably Jen Alexander, Jennie Walters, Susan Price, Katherine Roberts and Lynne Garner.

At first I was completely daunted by the prospect of doing all the technical stuff BY MYSELF! (My husband, bless his heart, relies on me to do any techy stuff in our house, and our children, all very computer literate, live too far away to help out if I get stuck.) So eventually I took a deep breath and started.

The KDP helplines were helpful, at least to start with, until I reached the page where I had to give details about my tax status, when my computer froze completely and refused to carry on. I wasn’t sure whether this was KDP, me, my new computer or the battery in my mouse that was causing the problem, so I turned it off in disgust and left it till the next day. Next day the same thing happened, despite me changing the battery in my mouse, so again I had to leave it. Then the next day, for no apparent reason, it all worked again, enabling me to go on and sort out the tax details. What a relief when it accepted what I’d done and allowed me to go on to the next page!

Then I had to give details of my bank account, into which they are planning to pay my (huge?) royalties. They required two numbers, an IBAN and a BIC, neither of which I knew, nor could I find them on any of my bank documentation. After much faffing around and trying every number I could find anywhere, I found a letter from my bank about some change of something, which had, magically, a phone number. I rang it and a very helpful lady dictated both the numbers I needed. One had 22 assorted letters and numbers in it, and the other 8, but I still don’t know where else I was supposed to find them, and there’s certainly no way I could have remembered them even if I’d ever seen them before. Ah well, I reasoned, at least it should be incredibly secure!

So far, so good.

Luckily by now I had my cover picture – my son Tim, who is a professional illustrator, did one for me to the exact specifications KDP required, so that was uploaded easily. The book itself, however, took a little longer…

I’d already tried formatting my book myself, checking all the time on my Kindle how many spaces I needed to leave at the start of each paragraph. But somehow, no matter how careful I was to make each indent exactly the same, when I uploaded it on the Preview they were all over the place. Very unprofessional. And as for linking the contents list to the individual chapters… that sounded so complicated that I contemplated not bothering with links at all.

Eventually I rang a friend who had already published several of her own ebooks and had a chat to her, and she advised me to look at Katherine Roberts’ blogs, which, bless her heart, she would email me directly.

This proved to be the turning point. Katherine’s instructions were so much easier to understand that I went back to square one with the formatting and managed it with no problems. Hooray! She also suggested the obvious thing that hadn’t occurred to me: I should email my final ms to my Kindle for checking! That was brilliant – I could see immediately that it was all working – except for the links. So I took another deep breath and began on those. Again, it sounded easy – and it almost was. Except that my new computer had more options than I was anticipating, so I wasn’t sure which to go for. Eventually, after two steps forward and one step back several times, I discovered that I had to make sure I clicked on “In This Document” at the Hyperlink stage, rather than going with the default “Web page”.

And at last it worked. I sent it to my Kindle, and it worked. I previewed it, and it worked there too. So I took a very, very deep breath and clicked PUBLISH.

One thing I wasn’t sure of was whether enough children of the book’s target age range (it’s intended for 9-12 year-olds) would be likely to access it as an ebook, so when friends (ie fellow-writers) suggested I should also make it available as a POD paperback I thought in for a penny… “It’s quite straightforward,” said KDP and CreateSpace.

Well I suppose it was slightly more straightforward than my initial attempt at doing an ebook, but still not completely plain sailing. I had to make so many decisions before it was publishable, eg how big the book should be, how many pages, what size font, how much to charge etc etc. But at last, after several trials and errors, the book too is now out there and I’m delighted with how good it looks (thank you, CreateSpace!)

To date around 600 people have downloaded it or bought it, which sounds wonderful to me, though of course it’s nowhere near the thousands mainstream publishers would expect to sell. (I now have a lot more respect for all the decisions they have to make before a book is published!) However, I feel really proud that I actually managed to do it myself.

And now I know how to do it, I am keen to do it again, with other books I have already written and waiting. Not to mention the other ideas I’ve got in my head! In fact I’m raring to go.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Count me among the Blockheads: N M Browne

Most years I supervise students doing MA dissertations in Creative Writing. I read their work in progress, meet with them individually to talk over what is working and what isn’t.  I make suggestions  and am always staggered by how much easier it is to have innovative plot ideas when the plot isn’t yours and you don’t have to write it. Ditto for world building. 
  Inevitably we often talk about how to work as a writer, by which I mean how to organise  writing time: the other part, the how to 'work' and make money is an altogether different question to which I don’t have a very useful answer. In all honesty I can’t tell students how to organise themselves with any confidence. I try not to be a hypocrite and I couldn’t organise my way out of my office as anyone who has visited it will testify. I do however try to encourage them to find out what works for them and to ignore all writing advice that doesn't. The harder job is to help motivate them through the bleak moments when their story loses its magic and all they have is the memory of the great idea that was going to make their fortune and a lot of printed pages destined for the recycling.  I assume we’ve all been there?  There are certainly times when I feel like I have upped sticks and settled there permanently on the Highway to Nowhere on the very cusp of Over the Hill. I know it isn’t a permanent abode only because I’ve done a midnight flit more than once. (Furthermore I don’t believe in allowing extended metaphors to become reality.)
 Students don’t always take notice of my genius plot ideas, nor do they necessarily accept all my more insightful remarks on sentence structure and point of view, my opinions on pace and peril, in short all the elements for which the university pays me. What they seem to care about most is my advice on getting through the bad bits, because only another writer really gets it. Only other writer understands the bleak sense of failure when nothing works.
I wish I could say I had a piece of advice that helped make them feel better every time. If I did I could probably abandon writing altogether and become a highly successful therapist to the creative classes, but I wouldn’t because I like writing. And in the end that is all I can tell my students. If you like writing it will be OK. If you like writing enough for its own sake you will return  to your draft even after a terrible day in which you delete two words for every one you write, even when you lose all faith in the story, your idea and your ability to write at all. If you love it you will find a way through eventually becauce whatever hole you have written yourself into you can write yourself out of. All it takes is a bit of belief that the story is worth the effort; all it takes is a bit of belief  that the effort itself  is worthwhile.  
In the end my writing advice is the same as my reading advice. I’m afraid I am a hedonist through and through. I don’t read to improve my mind or my morals, I read because I love it and I write from the same impulse.  For me that is what writing is about, the pleasure of making things up. Perhaps it is true that ‘No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money’ as Dr Johnson would have it, but I am with the blockheads: I think one should write because you love it or not at all. 

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Dandelions, Supernatural Beings and Tin

The other day, I noticed that one of the tiny dandelion weeds that had rooted themselves in a crack in the pavement adjacent to my front step had unexpectedly flowered, and the sight of it filled me with such joy and tenderness that I photographed it. The image has come out at an odd angle - the paler grey is actually the horizontal of the step, but here it looks vertical.

Why is there so much folklore around the dandelion? Like many kids, I used to be told by my mum that if I picked them I would wet the bed, and there is, I believe, some truth in this, as I think dandelions as herbs have been used as a diuretic, in which case, might eating it in a salad, or enjoying a bowl of dandelion soup, have a similar effect? I love its original French name: Dent de Lion - lion's teeth .

At present I've been reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali's fascinating, knowledgeable, and very scary book: "HERETIC" If you haven't yet heard of her, she's a Somali woman raised as a strict Muslim, who managed to escape from an arranged marriage in Canada to end up in Holland, where she worked with the controversial film-maker Theo van Gogh. After his murder, and following death threats to herself, she settled in America, where she now writes and lectures on Islam.

I have learnt so much from this book, but then I did begin from a pov of almost total ignorance. I had no idea, for example, that the holy texts of Islam are totally based on an oral tradition - they are learnt by heart and recited (much as The Iliad must have been) - and that they are assumed to be the actual words of God, so no discussion, argument, disagreement or editing can be possible (cf extreme versions of Christianity and possibly Judaism). Christianity is self-critical - we did have a Reformation. Islam is not, and cannot be.

I have no religion, although, yes, I've been there and done that, but what strikes me about religions generally is their immense power of story-telling. We are a story-telling species. We invent supernatural beings who reflect ourselves, and then weave stories around them. The Greek myths are timeless and a joy, because they  reflect our own passions - jealousy, hatred, desire, sexuality. We've always chosen to have leaders - kings, dictators, nasty, good, wise, immoral (we tend to despise the weak ones) - so creating a single Super-god who is infallible is just one logical step further.

In my Middle Grade fantasy novel, first published by Walker Books and now an e-book: "THE ENCHANTED VILLAGE"  http:// B008S3BOTE , a group of offended Greek gods descends on a small Cornish village demanding "Respect, man!" They even control the weather, enclosing the area in a balmy Greek heatwave (well I needed them to do that because my daughter was due to have an outdoor wedding at the time, and Cornish rain is something else), and once again the ancient story of the goddesses and the apple is re-played. You can find out more on my website:

Regarding my daughter, she and her colleagues have recently succeeded in getting a Leicester Square premiere for the low-budget movie they've been developing for the past few years. It's called "TIN" ( and based on the tough 1890-1900s Cornish tin mining industry - starring Jenny Agutter (she of "Call the Midwife" TV fame). Jenny lives part time in Cornwall, became involved with the Cornish theatre company 'Miracle', and things grew from that connection. Do try to see it if you can - it's extraordinary. This is me at the launch party in the Empire Cinema, Leicester Square. The image on the right is with Jenny Agutter.


Monday, 27 April 2015

Some Stories Rise Like Cream - Andrew Crofts

Some stories are so good they just rise to the surface like cream. It all started with a lunchtime conversation with a client from Rio.

“I have a friend who has been trying to write his autobiography for years,” My client said, “can I put him in touch with you?”

Gordon Lewis was an “unfortunate”, born in a home for unmarried mothers in 1950s Dublin. His mother was determined not to go into the Magdalene Laundries and risk losing her child, so she found a home run by Catholic nuns which would let him stay with her and kept him a secret from everyone, including her family. It wasn’t until he was eight years old that Gordon even realised he had any family apart from the other women and children in the home.

Seeing that her spirited son was in danger of getting into serious trouble, running wild on the city streets, his mother took the decision of contacting Bill, the man who had been the love of her life before she fell pregnant by another man, in the hope that he would offer both of them a home.

The book is partly the love story of his mother and Bill and partly an inspiring insight into a small community of women who struggled to keep their children with them and to keep them safe in a world of poverty, hardship and isolation.

The writing process went well and, although Gordon had no expectations of getting a publishing deal, I suggested that we show it to an agent. I sent it to Andrew Lownie, who for the last few years has sold more books than any other agent in the world, and he liked it. Within a few weeks he had sold it to HarperCollins, who made a nice job of the cover.

Gordon then got talking about the book to a journalist friend of his who suggested that she should write a piece for the Mail on Sunday’s You Magazine. The editors liked it so much they allocated her five pages of the magazine.

Like I say, some stories are like cream.   

Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Ghost Clamp of Old Dublin Town by Ruby Barnes

The last couple of Fridays have been very eventful. Two weeks ago we had a book launch in Stone House Books, Kilkenny, of Marble City Publishing’s latest collection By the Light of the Moon. It was the culmination of a lot of work by fourteen Kilkenny writers who had continued to meet up since completing the NUI Creative Writing for Publication course, and the follow-up Two Roads course, a good few moons ago. There was wine, there were readings, smiley faces and happy memories. Our book was dedicated to one of us who had left this Earth for the great creative writing workshop in the sky – Jane Avril de Montmorency-Wright 1936 – 2014. Jane was a power to behold, loved by all (and coincidentally had been Barack Obama’s oldest living Irish relative although she kept that light under a bushel and simply said, ‘He’s more than welcome to come here for some tea.’)
The following Friday, when the dust had settled, I returned to Stone House Books to hoover up the spondoolicks from the launch sales of By the Light of the Moon. Mrs R, meanwhile, drove up to Dublin in her snazzy new outfit to attend the Family Court which was hearing her care representative application (the outlaws have become rather infirm and we have to make decisions on their behalf).
I was halfway through a good chat with Stone House Books owner Liz Walsh when my phone rang (buzzed actually – I always keep it on silent). It was Mrs R on the line and I knew she was having a busy time up in the capital so I figured I should take the call.
‘The bloody bastards!’ She was crying and shouting at the same time. ‘They took my money and I’m here at the Red Cow and I’m clamped and what am I going to do? The bastards!’
It sounded serious. I was seventy-five miles away but my hand was twitching for my samurai sword. If she could somehow keep the villains on the spot for an hour then I might be able to get there and dish out some ninja justice.
Those pesky clampers are at it again.
‘The lady on the phone says I need to stay here until the man with a van arrives to remove the clamp, and I have to pay him, cash or credit card! I’m not allowed to move! And I’m already half an hour late for seeing Mum at the nursing home.’
I had a mental image of Mrs R in her finery, rooted to the spot in the howling wind and rain. Purse stolen, no money, stressed out about her mother, getting increasingly desperate. I didn’t rate the man with the van’s chances of survival very highly.
So I did the best I could under the circumstances. ‘Don’t move. I have to go. I’ll call you back.’
And I continued to collect the bags of swag from Liz. Then I wandered out into the medieval alleys of Kilkenny city and phoned Mrs R back. She had calmed down considerably and the facts came out, one by one.
She had paid the two euro parking fee (and very reasonable indeed for four hours, she added) at the machine in the Red Cow Luas Park & Ride, had entered the bay number where her car was parked, but had (quite possibly, she couldn’t quite remember) forgotten to press the green button to register the payment and hadn’t received a receipt. On return from the trip to the Family Court (which went very well, yes, thanks for asking), Mrs R found her car swathed in stickers and notes that said she had been clamped due to non-payment of the parking fee. No one had stolen her purse. The “taking of the money” had been the unsuccessful earlier spending of €2 at the machine. The fine was €80.

The Luas tram in Dublin city centre, pronounced locally as "de loo-ass".
While I was mentally calculating how many sales of By the Light of the Moon would be necessary to cover the €80 fine, Mrs R divulged further interesting facts.
‘I phoned the number on the clamping fine notice and spoke to some woman,’ she said. ‘I explained the situation but she wasn’t having any of it. Even though I said I’d just come up from the country and didn’t know how things work.’ (Bearing in mind that Mrs R is from Dublin with an unmistakeable accent, I could see why that tactic didn’t succeed.)
‘So you’re stuck?’
‘I have to wait for the man with the van. She said if I move the car the immobiliser could damage it. I asked her what the immobiliser looked like and she thought I was crazy. I guess it’s some sort of electronic thing that will blow up the engine with a movement sensor.’
This was sounding more confused than one of my novels. ‘You mean there isn’t a big yellow metal clamp around one of the wheels?’ I asked.
‘That’s right. She said they’ll study the CCTV to see if I removed it and, if I did, I’m in big trouble, because their computer says a car with my registration has been clamped. I said while they were doing that they could study the CCTV to see me paying the €2 at the machine. But I still can’t move the car in case the immobiliser explodes it or something.’
I tried to make sense of this. ‘So there’s no clamp.’
‘I didn’t take it off. They’ll see that from the CCTV. That’s what I’ll tell the man with the van.’
‘The guy who is coming to remove the clamp that isn’t there? The ghost clamp?’
At this point I started to smell a scam. The ghost clamp scam. ‘So there’s no clamp on the car. Don’t give them your credit card details. You haven’t given your credit card details to the woman on the phone, have you?’
Slight pause. ‘No. No, I haven’t. I’m pretty sure I haven’t, no.’
‘And the man with the van, he isn’t there yet?’
‘No man with a van yet, no.’
‘And there are other cars in the Park & Ride that are clamped with big yellow metal things on their wheels but yours isn’t?’
‘That’s right.’
‘Okay. This is what I want you to do. Get in the car and slowly drive it out of the space. Then go and see your mother in the nursing home.’
‘But what if the car is damaged from the immobiliser?’
‘There isn’t an immobiliser. Trust me, I’m an engineer.’ I am, actually, it’s one of my dark secrets. ‘And keep all the paperwork. I think it’s a scam.’
That evening we studied the stickers and notes from my wife’s car. I searched the internet for “Park & Ride clamping scam” and checked out the parking management on the Luas website. The papers from the car looked legitimate. But what had really happened? We will never know … cue scary music … the secret of the Ghost Clamp! (And hopefully we won’t get a fine in the post either!)

People doing a "John Stonehouse" to avoid parking fines.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Who's Trip-Tripping Across My Bridge? - by Susan Price

I'm seem to be all about the picture books and fairy tales these
The tiger spots the chapati

          My last post was about using CreateSpace's cover creator, with my younger brother's drawings as an example. He and I are working on re-issuing my 'Runaway Chapati' as a self-published book.
          He and his wife came to my house over Easter, bringing the large scale drawings he's done. They were beautiful. Full of movement. I'm keenly looking forward to seeing the finished book. The text is going to be embedded in the pictures, so that picture and text are saved as one image.
          Then the older brother suddenly upped and volunteered his illustrations for 'The Three Billy Goats Gruff.' He knows it's always been a favourite of mine.
          I was all for it.
          I wrote out a script, but it was quickly abandoned as being too long. I told Andrew to tell the story in his pictures, and I would build a text around it - as, with picture-books, the illustrations are at least as important as the text, if not more so.
          We're trying to fit the story into the traditional picture book format of thirty-two pages, and you know what? It's really hard.
           Neither of us was guilty of thinking that it would be easy because it was 'only a picture book for small children.' We both of us want to do our best, as we would with any other project.

          In less than a month, we've gone through about three versions. Andrew set up a large piece of hard-board as a story-board. He makes roughs of the pages and sticks them on the board, so we can see what the book will look like.
          I took to writing the words that might go with the picture on slips of paper and sticking them to the pictures with bluetak. I responded to the images, and Andrew responded to the words.
           We move the images around, and trim and rearrange the words - eventually we'll reach a version which we both like. But anybody who thinks designing and writing a picture book is easy should try it.

          I'm impressed by the page designs Andrew has come up with, and the way he tells the story with comic-book frames on the page. I like his style, and the expressiveness he brings to his characters. I've tried to match his inventiveness by making the words dance and chant.
          I'm enjoying seeing the story come together in my living-room - but how are we going to publish?
          We intend to start with CreateSpace, to produce a paperback. We'll need to experiment. So far, I've only produced books that were mainly text with a few illustrations. There, you download a formatted CreateSpace file, and load the text into it.
          If we try to do that with a picture intended to spread across two pages, the formatting will split the picture in two as it divides it into two pages.
          We'll have to experiment. I think we'll have to save the artwork as a PDF, and load that up into a blank CreateSpace file, and see what happens.
          There are a great many other things to think about - but we'll trip-trip across that bridge when we come to it.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Should we believe everything we read if it claims to be non-fiction? by Jo Carroll

I come from a travel-writing perspective. Which means that my writing reflects the world as I see it. For instance, I'm sure there are plenty of people who visit Cuba and find wonderful food. In contrast, I had a surfeit of rice and beans - the monotony broken on one occasion by a plate of pasta with ketchup (that was a low point). My food-reality is just as valid as anyone else's (so please tell me where you found fab food in Cuba ...). We are both telling our own truths.

So, having established that my reality is as justified as yours, does that mean all travel writers should be believed? You have to take it on trust that I don't make anything up - although I do place greater emphasis on one event over another, if that makes a book more entertaining. So I've taken pages to describe my encounter with a tiger in Nepal, which was all over in seconds, in contrast to the lazy days wandering around Pokhara, looking at the lake or sipping mango juice. Does this make it look as if the tiger monopolised my thinking for weeks? When my heart stopped going pit-a-pat within hours and it became nothing but a great story?

Stepping back from travel writing - we can rightly ask comparable questions about the political bumf dropping through our letterboxes at the moment. Some of it can easily be dismissed as being away with the fairies. But much of it is probably believed by the man or woman who wrote it. He or she slaved over a keyboard, twitching a noun here and a verb here, to make sure everything from leaflet to manifesto is an accurate account of the aspirations of a candidate or party.

And here I pull back from the word 'truthful'. There may or may not be writers who deliberately peddle untruths. But I would suggest that many political writers, often drawing on the same evidence, reach contrasting conclusions. The NHS is or is not safe with such-a-party. The housing problem can/cannot be solved by investing in local plans. School standards will/will not improve by giving teachers more discretion in the classroom.

I know, this blog is not about politics. But it is about writing. And all this stuff (yes, it feels like stuff, when it plops through the letterbox) is written by someone who, hopefully, is as committed to accuracy as I am, and possibly does his or her best to highlight political excitements while sliding over less enticing realities of decision-making. And it is for us - the readers - to read between their lines and try to work out how much waffling about they've used to pad out the eye-grabbing headlines. And maybe wonder if any have thrown in a bit of fiction, just for fun.

Then make a decision - and get out there and vote.

You can find out more about the tiger here, or drop by the website here to find links to more of my travel writing.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

When Not to Self-Publish by Lev Butts

It's no great secret that it is not easy to get published traditionally nowadays. Not that it ever was a walk in the park, but it seems the writing market is particularly glutted today. In fact, as a writer starting out, if you can't show that your work appeals to pretty much everyone on the planet, the chances of seeing your book on the shelves of Barnes & Noble are pretty slim.

For starters, most commercial publishers require that you have an agent to represent you. Most agents require that you have been published before taking you on. This is why so many writers are alcoholics.

Of course it helps if you know people in the publishing industry and are not too proud to ask for a favor, but last I checked, Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, and John Irving are all full-up on friends.

Pictured: John Irving, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King,
and No Room For Me
 Last week, I received my first rejection from a "real" publisher, and this wasn't even for a work of fiction. It was for the first critical edition of  H.P. Lovecraft's work. It would have included six of his most famous stories, two of his poems, and an abrdged version of his essay, Supernatural Horror in Literature. It would also have included new and reprinted essays on Lovecraft as well as reflections by other horror/sci-fi/fantasy writers on how Lovecraft influenced their own writing.

In other news, I have recently given a friend a copy of Emily's Stitches to show his agent later this week. When I told some of my independent publishing students about this, several seemed taken aback that I would "sell out" like that. Similarly, others wondered why I didn't just take my Lovecraft manuscript and self-publish it. 

Here's the thing: Publishing is not an either/or proposition. There is nothing wrong with self-publishing, nor is there anything amiss with traditional publishing. Essentially, publishing is simply the logical step in any artistic endeavor. If you paint or sculpt, it seems only natural that you show your work to people either by through a gallery or through your own efforts. If you are a musician, it is perfectly understandable that you would press a CD of your music and make it available for purchase. Obviously, it's nice if a major record label picks you up, but no one thinks twice if you simply put the money up yourself and release it independently.

Publishing your book is exactly the same thing. Why wouldn't you publish something that you have worked so long on? Before I published Emily's Stitches, most of those pieces had been sitting useless on my hard drive for years. It seems absolutely ludicrous that I would have written those stories and just let them sit unused for over a decade. Self-publishing them meant that at least a handful of other people got to share the stories and appreciate them.

And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I'm sure E. L. James would have been perfectly happy if her books had remained fairly successful self-published works.

I know I would have been.
However I don't (much) begrudge her success in getting them traditionally published and becoming a best-selling author. I certainly don't think she "sold out." 

I know writers who both self-publish and traditionally publish. The friend who is showing Emily's Stitches to his agent, for example, is a best-selling writer of children's books, but he also is fairly successful at self-publishing hard-boiled detective stories, making about $800-$1,000 a month in sales on Amazon. 

My reasons for self-publishing are made up of equal parts laziness and practicality. I simply don't want to devote the time it would take to shop my work around, knowing the chances of success are slim and the chances of making any real money if accepted are slimmer; I'd much rather spend that time writing or working on my actual job of teaching. Similarly, if sharing my work is my ultimate goal when I write, it makes practical sense to self-publish given the quick turnaround in getting my work on a cyber-shelf (ebooks can be available for purchase usually well within 24 hours of submitting them) and the minimal amount of money it costs me to do so (usually the cost of purchasing a proof copy). 

So why not publish my Lovecraft book myself? There are several reasons:

It Would Cost Me Too Much Money 

While I can publish my own work independently at little or no cost to myself, publishing someone else's work is a different matter entirely. Contrary to popular belief, much of Lovecraft's work is still under copyright, meaning I would have to pay the Lovecraft estate for permission to use the material. Even if each selection cost me $100, self-publishing almost guarantees that I will not make that money back. I might as well throw it out into space.

H.P. Lovecraft's lesser known tale,
"The Colour of Money Out In Space"
It Will Do Me No Good To Do So

I write fiction because I have a story inside me (often several) that need to get out. I get ideas, and if I don't write them down, they just go away leaving me with kind of an empty feeling. Even the bad ideas need to be written down before I abandon them as bad ideas, but the good ones especially need to be put to paper. 

Once I've done so and decided the stories really were worth the time and effort, it seems only natural to share them with others who might enjoy them. So off to Lulu or Createspace I go, and within a day, I can let my followers know the book is up and ready for purchase.

The Lovecraft book is different, though. While it does have fiction in it, it's primary purpose is as an academic work. I write academically primarily to get promotions at work. This means the works have to be published by "reputable" publishers. I am NOT a reputable publisher; in fact as a publisher, I literally have no reputation at all. Self-publishing the book, then, would not do anything towards my primary goal of earning a promotion and getting to buy more food and pay off more student loans.

Another reason I publish academically is to share my ideas with other academics. Even if the book were published traditionally, only a handful of academics would be interested enough in the book to read it. Self-publishing it, and the much more limited promotional resources that implies, would effectively lower that number of academic readers to something roughly resembling zero. Similarly, as a critical edition, the book would primarily be used as a college-level textbook. Self-publishing means professors literally have no way of knowing about my book and can thus not assign it for their classes.

To the left the audience for the Lovecraft book if published traditionally
To the right: the audience of the Lovecraft book if self-published

I Would Have Nothing To Publish

I have been fortunate in finding contributors for this book, especially given that it is a book that had no publisher contract when I began working on it. Several authors graciously agreed to contribute memoirs for free. Two major Lovecraft scholars, S.T. Joshi and Robert M. Price, also donated essays gratis. Other scholars submitted essays under the impression that it would be a scholarly/academic publication and thus add a line to their curriculum vitae and give them a publishing credit towards tenure and promotion. 

Self-publishing would mean their work would do them little good, given that I am not a traditional publisher and my audience would be incredibly limited. They would almost certainly ask that their contributions be returned so that they could use them in other, more academic venues. I would be left, then, with a very short collection of Lovecraft's work that would cost the consumer (given the costs discussed above) about three times what it would cost them to purchase a collection of all Lovecraft's work from their local bookstore, even if they special ordered it from Yuggoth.

Behold! My self-published critical edition of H.P. Lovecraft!
All for the low low price of $100!

I spend a lot of time discussing, both here and elsewhere, when one should self-publish a book. So much so that one might think that I am in favor of always self-publishing. 

I am not.

Self-publishing is a viable avenue for most works, but it is only one avenue of several. Before making the decision, one should always consider who the intended audience of the work should be, how much money a project will cost, and whether self-publishing will reach that audience and cover those costs. 

If the answer is no, then you should really consider other routes. 

As for the Lovecraft book, I intend to revise it, and try another academic press.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

What price print? by Ali Bacon

Solid books, Krakow style
Like most authors of e-books, I also publish in print. Well to be precise, in the case of A Kettle of Fish, I had a publisher for the e-book but published the paperback copy myself using a POD (Print on Demand) publisher Feedaread. My AE colleagues will know all about the different options for going into print so this is just a rough guide for anyone else who is interested in how we get our books - the solid kind - out to our readers. 

POD costs more per copy (around £5.70 for me) than asking a local printer to do a print run,  but the advantage is the author needn't fork out the money up front. If you can cope with the fairly basic mechanics of uploading a Word file and cover image to the POD website, the only start-up costs are cover design, usually £200- £300 although there are cheaper options. (And if you have e-published, that part might already be in hand with just some tweaking required for print quality images). Feedaread asks the author to buy a proof copy and charges steeply for changes to the final version, so it's best to get your proofreading sorted out well before this stage!

There are of course, alternatives, with reputable companies like Silverwood Books of Bristol or the long-standing Matador providing self-publishing packages with varying service-levels from manuscript editing through typesetting and cover design.
'The Bristol Suffragettes' Walking Tour
If your book needs professional layout (Lucienne Boyce's The Bristol Suffragetes is an example - stunningly designed with a fold-out map)  or you just don't want to go the DIY route, you might feel the investment is worth it, but you could be looking at over £1000 in upfront costs. Not much, you might say, for what might be the result of a life-time's work and ambition, but probably too much if you've written a novel, or series of novels, and want to start making a profit asap.

So is that it? Set up on Feedaread, Lulu or another POD company and start selling books? Well not quite. You could of course just order up a few hundred copies, sell them from  your own front room, hawk them around local bookshops and take stands at writers' fairs (which many of us do anyway) but if you want your book to be available through book wholesalers (which is where bookshops place orders) or 'major online retailers' (no prizes for guessing who that is!) you have to pay for distribution of the printed book. This was £88 when I set up with Feedaread, and I would have to pay the same again for any subsequent books. (There's an annual renewal fee, but that's fairly modest). 

Of course, as I told myself at the time, lots of people still don't hold with e-books, and I dearly wanted to be able to say that my paperback was 'available from most bookshops'. And I did at least in the first year or two sell in sufficient numbers (my royalties come via Feedaread so it's easy to see the figures) to justify the distribution fee. Libraries are also significant players, because although your local branch may buy direct from you, many are compelled to use centralised purchasing systems, i.e. book wholesalers. This matters because as well as the ego trip of seeing my book in libraries,  I can also earn modest PLR payments generated by loans.

However, now that the first flush of business has died down, I wonder how many print copies I'm likely to sell out there in the big wide world, especially as the online retailers charge £8.99 a copy, sometimes with postage on top. I can charge less than this even with UK postage included. (I'm also my own worst enemy in this respect, since I often remind customers how much cheaper it is to buy the e-book!)

In fact I realised this week that through some inattention on my part, my distribution agreement with Feedaread lapsed last October.  Aagh! No wonder my paperback sales have dropped off!  In fact Kettle is still listed in paperback on Amazon (who perhaps haven't yet latched on) but Waterstones and Blackwells are offering only 'used copies'. Not good! I have written to Feedaread asking to renew my distribution package (£10 for another year) but in view of everything I've just said, perhaps it won't make a huge difference if the option is no longer available. Or if they take this as a chance to hike up the price, I'll certainly think carefully before going ahead. 

So don't forget that printing is only the beginning of getting your books out there. And if anyone is interested in a paperback copy of A Kettle of Fish at less than £8.99, please contact me, or if you're anywhere near Bristol, drop in to the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival this Thursday where I'll be reading and selling my wares along with lots of local authors. 

'Published and distributed by the author' doesn't sound so bad.  And of course there's always good old Kindle!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Great and the Good (Books) by Pauline Chandler

 In last month’s blog, I said I was spring cleaning my office and, specifically, tidying my book shelves, which meant I had to throw some books away to make room for new ones.  As other bookworms will know, what this really means is to make enough room to stand all my books upright with spines to attention, instead of slotting them in higgledy-piggledly, to lounge languidly about, horizontally, on top of the others.

Ha! I’ve tried this before and I know exactly what happens. I pick up a lounging book and it infects and entrances me, so that a while later I come to and find myself lounging about too, in my armchair, half way through its pages..  You know it’s true.

To be fair, you have to give a book on death row a chance. In order to find those I can safely discard, I’ve decided that a book worth keeping has to have taught me something, ie it’s one of the ‘great’, or it has entertained me, in which case it’s one of the ‘good’. All keepers have to be something I shall read again some day.  

Some people collect books and keep them all, until every room in the house has bulging book shelves. Some lucky ones have a designated room called the library. Wow and gosh. I'd love that. In my blue sky moments, I can see myself in my own library. I'd sit there all day every day reading, with the odd writing stint thrown in, and I'd have a slave robot to make me tea and bring cake. 

It’s not going to happen. My space for books in our house is limited. Each book has to pay its way on to my shelves, though it is hard to restrain myself. I buy books every week (mainly from markets and charity shops) and consequently, the few shelves being full, there are piles of books in almost every room, awaiting judgement day. I'd just love to get them all on to the shelves, just once, all neatly arrayed, if only to facilitate safe hoovering.

Well, I’ve spring cleaned the shelves and this is what I’ve kept.

v     The Dictionaries. The best used of these is the Compact OED, a gift from a friend (thank you, Michael), which you may know comprises two weighty volumes with minute print. It comes in a neat box with a little drawer, in which is a magnifying glass.

v     Books about language.  There’s Fowler’s ‘Modern English Usage’, Gowers’ Plain Words, Partidge on ‘Usage and Abusage’, as well as ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves’ by Lynne Truss and Keith Waterhouse’s ‘English, Our English’. All are wonderful to browse through at odd moments.

v     Historical: These books on British history from the Celts to the Victorians are my treasures and since I’ve used them to write my books, they’re all part of my history too, so I’m not parting with any of them! Also Hobbies and Interests.

Hobbies and Interests
       v Bibles and Theological. I’m a bit on and off as far as official Christian  doctrine is concerned. There’s a sign outside our local church announcing that God’s family meets there on Sundays and I’m welcome to join them.  Why is God's family only in that church? Isn't God's family everybody everywhere? That poster is really off-putting. I am a Christian though, I think. I still adore the words of the liturgy and the music it’s inspired over the centuries. And, for me, no one else has come near to suggesting the best way to live. The Good Samaritan, the Sermon on the Mount, ‘Love one another’, and the hope of an afterlife, ‘my Father’s house has many mansions’.  What can it mean except that there’s good in everybody and a place for everybody in life and afterwards. As you can see, I stumble a bit on this subject, but I can’t deny the certainty inside me that there is more than we know or can know.

v     Humour. I’m certainly not getting rid of anything that’s ever made me laugh.  Alan Bennett’s Diaries, Thelwell’s ‘Three Sheets in the Wind’, Heath Robinson’s cartoons, ‘Just William’, ‘Jeeves and Wooster,’ ‘Blandings’. All wonderful!  

            Books about writing.  For instance, there's  ‘Writing Down the Bones’ by Natalie Goldberg, ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron and Alan Garner’s magnificent ‘The   Voice that Thunders’.  I read these obsessively when I started writing  for publication, thinking there must be some trick , that somewhere in their pages, was the secret of how to be a writer.  Ha!  

      Ah, yes! Look, there’s ‘Mind Readings’ too, an amazing book, a collection of essays, 'Writer’s Journeys Through Mental States', edited by Sara Dunn, Blake Morrison and Michele Roberts. Love that book! 
      None of these books got me published, but they did soothe my troubled mind, so they’re staying!  

v     What else survived the cull? Shakespeare, of course.  I never get tired of his plays. I’m always ready to read them again or see the next performance.

v     POETRY!! That’s writ large because poetry, above all, is for keeps, isn’t it?   

I have all my college Oxford Standard Authors editions of the Romantics, and many more poetry books, from the first one, John Betjeman’s ‘Summoned by Bells’, a 16th birthday present from my parents, to the most recent from Andrew Motion and UA Fanthorpe. Mm, not so recent. Haven’t bought any poetry for a while. Must remedy that as soon as.

v     And so to the fiction shelves, but I’ll tell you about those next time.

Happy spring cleaning and good luck throwing books away!

Pauline Chandler



Monday, 20 April 2015

The Silkie Saga by Sandra Horn

Of course, I’m now beginning to wonder if I’ve written all this before…

The Silkie was my first story for children. I thought it was a picture book text – at least, that’s what I tried to write. It was rejected 17 times, once with a rude note from Tom Maschler ‘not interesting enough.’ It almost made it with Andersen, who sent it to Michael Foreman (I thought My Time Had Come!) but he was into illustrating his own stories by then so they didn’t take it, but asked if I had anything else.  I sent them Tattybogle, which became my first children’s book.

As to the poor old Silkie, when I look back now I can’t imagine why I kept sending it out.  I was utterly new to the world of children’s books and utterly na├»ve. Now, if I send something out and it’s rejected once I crawl into a hole and groan, but then for some unfathomable reason, I just kept on and on and on.  Finally, it landed on the desk of lovely Isabel Boissier at Hodder, who wrote to me and said words to the effect of, ‘This isn’t a picture book, it’s a story book.  It probably needs to be about 10,000 words.  Can you let it grow?’  Yes, I could! It was published, it was a Scottish Book Trust’s ‘Mind-Boggler’, it sold a modest 16,000 copies, it pretty much fell out of sight. Finito?  It might have been, for me, but one day Niall mentioned that he’d heard someone on the radio lamenting that there wasn’t a new equivalent of Noye’s Fludd.  ‘The Silkie would make a great opera for children’ he said.  I wrote a libretto.  Now what?  I sent it to a composer who was very polite about it but busy. I sent it to ENO’s studio, who sent a positive response – they thought it would indeed make a piece for the musical theatre, maybe it had too many words, but that would be sorted out when the music was added.  That was it, though.  No more detailed advice. I tried a few other people – nada.  Time went by.  I went to see Scottish Opera.  They have their own schools programme, scheduled for the next three years.  I contacted Sally Beamish about it.  She was lovely! In the midst of her incredibly busy life she tried to get a commission for it – and failed.  Finally, it is with a dear friend who wants to write the music for it but it might never happen.  What next? 

I was contacted by a local recording studio offering their services at reasonable rates.  Ah! I’ll make The Silkie audiobook, I thought.  I didn’t think we could afford a professional actor but I’d already recorded Tattybogle, The Moon Thieves and Rainbow!  so perhaps I could do it. I went to spend a morning with a theatre director I’d worked with before and got lots of help with dynamics, etc.  We booked a slot at the studio.  It was cold.  It was dark.  I was wearing big heavy headphones that kept threatening to slip off.  I was talking into a microphone and I wasn't supposed to move. I was sitting in a room by myself while the sound engineer was in another room.  All the ideas I’d gleaned from my session with the director went straight out of my head.  Then, when we went back to the editing session, the sound engineer had taken all the ‘breffs’ out – but not left the spaces they occupied!  It sounded ridiculous.  We spent some more expensive time while he put most of them back again at my insistence (and to his puzzlement!) and then we gave up and took it home so Niall could work on it.  So, there we were with the recording…but it needed something.  What it got was some delightful Celtic harp music by Alison Vardy, a Canadian harpist who generously gave me permission to use exerpts from her track ‘Dunedin Farewell’ .  The music weaves through the chapter headings.  I also commissioned Anne-Marie Perks, whose evocative and delicate work I love, to design a new cover image.  I had never liked the original cover, which made the waif-like and mysterious Wee Jeannie look like the well-fed captain of the hockey team – and in a M&S frock with a gathered waist and set-in sleeves! – (Jeannie wove her clothes from wild flax and wisps of sheep’s wool). 

Finished?  Ready to go?  No.  The chapter headings sounded too abrupt.  The lovely folk at Starshine, who have created musicals from three of my books, lent me their light, airy studio and friendly sound engineer.  No earphones!  Done!

No, not quite.  The two studios had very different acoustics.  Niall did some jiggery-pokery and resolved some of the differences and we thought we were ready to submit it to Audible.  We weren’t.  It had to have copyright declarations on the end.  Recorded in our dining room.  Off it went.  Back it came.  There were some technical issues – hisses and pops we couldn’t hear.  Niall did some more something-or-another and sent it off again.  This time, success!  It’s up!  It has free downloads with special codes, which I will happily give to anyone who might want one – but the snag is, it comes with a 30-day free trial of Audible, which you’d need to remember to cancel at the end of the free period.  Hassle.

Am I happy with it?  Not really.  I now wish I’d gone for a professional actor to read it – but all the time, I was worried that I’d end up spending a ridiculous amount of money for something few people, if any, would want to buy.  One of the well-known dilemmas of independent publishing.  However, Anne-Marie Perks is now working on black-and-white illustrations for the ebook version…

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Challenge of Changing my Website to Joomla! by Chris Longmuir

You may not have seen me around much recently. That’s because I’ve been burning the midnight oil, designing and building a new website which has to go online before the 21st of this month. Why the rush?

My son changed his old Dreamweaver website to Joomla round about three months ago, and I’d heard him describing it, otherwise I wouldn’t have known Joomla existed. He made this change because Joomla websites are responsive, eg they adjust to fit any size of screen, even mobile phone screens, whereas his old Dreamweaver site was a static one which did not adjust. I made a mental note to look into this because my site was a Dreamweaver one as well. When I have a spare moment, I thought, I might consider this. So, once again, why the rush into this unknown territory of Joomla?

The reason, or maybe I should say bombshell, arrived at the beginning of April when I spotted in one of my forums that Google intended to change their algorithms on the 21st April. The new algorithms would exclude static websites from their search engines. Only the responsive ones would be picked up. Now, I didn’t know if that meant my website would be excluded completely from searches, or whether it would be so far down the list of results it would never be found. I still don’t know, but what I do know, is that my website is currently on page one of Google searches on my name. So, I was likely to lapse into obscurity, and that doesn’t sell many books!

A mad scramble ensued. I bought books on how to install and work with Joomla, and they’re not cheap. The books I bought were:
I also looked at websites, and there is an excellent set of video tutorials at Siteground. Well worth watching

Suitably armed I delved into the depths of CMS website installation, and it’s certainly nothing like working with Dreamweaver. Everything seemed back to front. So it was getting my head into the place where I could understand the procedure. It’s all done online, rather than like Dreamweaver where you add content and do changes on your computer, then upload them to your website. With Joomla there is a backend and a frontend to the site. The front end is what is seen on the web, and the back end is where the content and changes are done, and the backend is online as well as the frontend. This has the added advantage of being able to make changes to a website anywhere there is a computer, rather than being tied to the only computer the Dreamweaver site is on.

I found Stephen Burge’s CASh workflow system a great help when trying to remember the order in which things had to be done. CASh stands for:
  • Categorize first – you must have a category to put your content into
  • Add next – you then need to create your content, to which you subscribe a category
  • Show last – after you’ve created your content and given it a category, you need to create a menu so that the content will show up on your website. If there is no menu the content will remain hidden from the public.

Taking my courage into my hands, and after consulting with my web host, Freeola, I installed Joomla into a subfolder of my website on Freeola. This meant I would have time to build the site before it could be viewed on the internet. To access it myself, I only had to add the name of the subfolder after the URL to my site. Job done, I accessed my Joomla website, and after a bit of head scratching I started to create articles, following the CASh procedure. There were one or two hiccups but I soon got into the swing of it, and the textual content soon started to fill the site up. However, text alone makes a very dull site, so images were inserted, and I set up my slideshow heading. That was an adventure, but I got it up, then had a variety of mishaps when I tried to insert the button links, but I eventually got there. In the process I mucked up my horizontal menu bar. It had taken me ages to figure out how to get it horizontal rather than vertical, and all of a sudden the menu buttons vanished and my menu links straggled right down the page. It didn’t do much for the appearance of my slideshow! I won’t go into details other than say it was a painful process getting it to work again.
One of the images from my slideshow
Adding extensions, such as a side scroller, social media icons for Twitter etc, a better text editor to give me more formatting options, and a backup extension, all provided extra demands on my ability to understand what I was doing. In the process I lost my menu bar twice, lost a complete page on the frontend, although it was still there on the backend. And it was these glitches that ate up the time while I tried to figure out how to sort them.
My logo

There were lots of other ups and downs, and I’m suffering from sleep deprivation, but at the time of writing this I’m almost there. The last thing to do is remove my old Dreamweaver website files, my website will go down when I do that. I then have to move all my Joomla files from the subfolder where it currently resides, into the root folder of my website. I’m already quaking in my shoes at the prospect! And, of course, I’ll be doing that immediately before, or during the publication of this post. So, if you click on the URL to my website and see the old site, you’ll know I’m not quite there yet. If you see nothing, or a page 404 error, either I’m in the process or it hasn’t worked. And if it doesn’t work you may need to rescue me from the nearest tall building before I jump.

Go on, click the link and see what’s at the end of it!

Chris Longmuir


Apple iBooks