Thursday, 23 October 2014

Cobwebs and proof copies

My proof copy of Abduction of the Scots Queen arrived on schedule yesterday. I had such reluctance to open it in case I was going to be disappointed, but when dh opened the parcel, he was complimentary. I looked, and was pleasantly surprised. The glossy cover looks good. The text inside could maybe be a tad darker, but the size is OK.

I didn't start reading it until today. In the first 33 pages there are 7 corrections to make. I thought it was going to be perfect! What worries me now is how many more there will be as I read on - and will it be easy to do them? At least three of the faults are where the font has slipped from Garamond to Times New Roman and that might be difficult to change back.

So it is head down, post-its and orange marker pens to hand. I'm using a ruler to keep my attention on the line in question instead of flicking about. It's all work, work work, this writing game. We wouldn't do it if we didn't love it!

I've been using a pedometer (when I remember) as I walk the dog and keeping a record of the number of steps taken in a day. Soon I'm going to add them all up and frighten myself silly. Already today Tim and I have managed 6,500 steps and it is only midday. He'll want to go out again before nightfall. I feel so much fitter than I did before he came into my life. Another plus is feeling in tune with nature and seeing things I wouldn't have otherwise seen - such as the sun shining through a cobweb. A gorse bush down on the riverside was a network of cobwebs like this one, dotted with dew and shining like silver. Another day, a different time, no sun, and I couldn't see a single one.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Self-publishing and praise

Time to turn my attention to something new - or two things - Promotion and A New Story.

As autumn sets in here in Northumberland, the days are growing shorter and the nights longer. The days are still amazingly warm. Yesterday afternoon was 16.5 C and there are flowers blooming among the berries and fallen leaves. Last night I kept moving to a cool spot on the sheets and we have not had the heating on much at all yet, hence clammy towels in the bathroom, which I hate.

But the weather will change, as it always does, and indoor pursuits will become more important - and the radiators will be hot and towels cuddly and warm when I want them.
Promotion will be a necessity, now that I have a paperback out in public. (I haven't, yet, but it won't be long now, and I'm starting to think about what I should do.)

Some people have said I should have begun already, but there was no time. It seemed silly to put the book aside and work on promoting it! Much better to finish the book and get it published first. This, of course, is where traditional publishing wins out. While someone else worries about editing, covers and proofreading your book, you can be off and away doing other things. What a lovely thought. But I listen to authors saying how wonderful it is to have an editor to discuss things with and decide upon alterations and wonder how much of the story changes in those discussions. How big are the alterations? How much is then down to the author and how much to the editor? At least with my story I can only blame myself if it bombs - but on the other side of the coin,  I can take all the praise - if there should be any!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Createspace covers

Trying to  make a cover for my book in Createspace had me tearing my hair for a day or two because I got absolutely nowhere. I had ignored Cover Creator because I'd read somewhere on the internet that CC was crap and produced lousy covers.So there I was trying to load a PDF file and believe me I'm no computer geek. Nothing worked. I decided it would have to be Cover Creator or nothing, and after all this work I wasn't prepared to give up.

I turned to the Cover Creator Community files, and learned that there were many, many cover designs to choose from, and that everything would be formatted for me.
 I chose my design and hopefully uploaded the front cover. It proved remarkably easy, but the title ran off the very edge of the cover by one letter and guess what? I couldn't change it because the file was saved and locked.

Stalemate again. I contemplated going back to the beginning with my original photograph, and actually did half an hour's work on it before deciding it wasn't working as I wanted. The original cover was so much brighter and  well, just better.

Reading the instruction manual for Photoshop persuaded me I could unlock the file so I looked at it again, and had a bright idea. Carefully matching the background cover colour, I painted out the title and reloaded it at a slightly tighter level. I am pleased to report that it works. I loaded the front cover then the back cover and Cover Creator loaded the spine for me. It all looks fine to me. So now we're
on the last lap - check, check and double check before I click the final button. Moral of the story is - don't believe all you read on the internet - and don't give up!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Struggles with Createspace

They say Createspace is easy - well, I beg to differ.
The interior (ie the words of the story) was not a problem. All it takes is patience, an eagle eye and knowledge of the system. It will go easier next time, now I know what is required.

But the covers - mon Dieu! I don't even understand the instructions! And Amazon instructions are always somewhat odd.

I've found and downloaded the cover template. I have a front cover, a back cover and a spine waiting in Photoshop. How to transfer them to the Createspace template is the problem. I struggled all day yesterday and have nothing to show for it. There must be a set of clear, simple instructions somewhere, but I haven't found them. All this talk of layers, opacity, bleed and trim lines - not to mention 300 dpi and 40MB is too much....!

So I took a day off today, gave Tim a long walk and then went into town and had my hair done. Flicking through a copy of Hello, I saw  photo of Anna Wintour and  golly, she and I have the same hairstyle. She's had hers for years and mine is just reaching the stage of all one layer, but even so, its enough to make me grin.

Not so the thought of going back to Createspace tomorrow. A grimace is more the thing. Perhaps I'll hit lucky and muddle through. Wish me luck!

Monday, 6 October 2014

Editing for Createspace

Still plodding on with editing Matho for Createspace. If I write dialogue with a French accent, I wanted  the character Lennox drop his aitches and I represented this as follows: 'there is nothing 'e will do for you.' Sometime Createspace formatted it perfectly and sometimes it ignored the apostrophe and just printed the letter e. There's probably a reason, but I haven't figured it out. After three tries I rewrote the phrase and did not use a dropped aitch!

Otherwise it seems to be going well. I've removed a lot of unnecessary commas and corrected the occasional missing letter or word, but on the whole things are proceeding well. The trouble with editing is it seems to go on for ever and a day! The book is running out at 104,000 word count and I have the last 60 pages still to do. I've been at it all week, and find I can only do it in relatively short snatches otherwise I start "reading" instead of "checking." Maybe I'll think about paying someone to do it next time. It is not a job I would like to do day in and day out.

The other thing is the temptation to keep on tinkering and phrasing things differently - I hope, in a better and more pleasing way. Once I get this portion of the work done, I will have to think about covers, and for Createspace I need not only a front cover, but a spine and back cover too. Another learning curve to master, and my deadline approaches with a steady beat. I don't think I need a list of chapters formatted for searching, as you do with Kindle, because in a print book that's not possible. I am thinking about including a simple map of the main places. It's OK for me since I live in the area and know where Stirling and Dumbarton, Carlisle and Corbridge are, but  I can't expect everyone else to know.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Matho's progress

Final edit run through complete. One of the strange things I noted was my use of a certain phrase. I'm not going to say which phrase because then people will look for it and start counting when they read the book. Needless to say, I've removed some uses and changed others, so it should not be so noticeable now.

I'm so nervous about this that I keep hesitating about trying to load it on Createspace. What if I've missed something horrendous? Maybe I should do just one more run through, to be sure? We all know how correcting one phrase can shake two more loose somewhere in the manuscript and odd things keep happening as the computer tries to anticipate the word we want - and gets it wrong. But I could go on like this forever. So I've made the decision - I'm going to take the plunge very soon.

Autumn is creeping in and changing colours in the landscape. The days are still warm, up there in the 19s and 20s, but the nights are cold now. We've occasionally put the central heating on, and once or twice used the gas fire in the living room but on the whole we are fine. Our gas bill is going to be so much lower this year because we've used it so little.

All the good winter programmes are back on TV - Downton, Scott & Bailey, Strictly, Cilla. to mention but a few. Downton had better pick up its skirts and get going as the first two episodes have been a tad off the mark. Cora and her sickly sweet smile are flirting with Bricker the art critic, and Edith keeps visiting her love child and treating it rather like a doll. The child is going to get sick of that quite soon, I imagine. Cilla proved to be very good and Aneurin Barnard was a big surprise as Bobby Willis. He had played Richard III so woodenly in the White Queen that I despaired of him, but here he was all Liverpudlian and full on even if his dark roots kept showing.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Amazon and the first 3 chapters

There seems to be a lull in sales on Amazon. Initially I put it down to summer holidays, but now I'm beginning to wonder. We've had terrific weather, and reading tends to go by the board when everyone can get out and about and enjoy some much needed sunshine. And to be fair, here in the UK, we still have the sunshine and ridiculous temperatures for almost October. But I expected sales would have picked up by now, and they have not. If anything, they've declined still further.

Now it could be that I have not been promoting. I'll be the first to admit I haven't promoted anything for weeks. A quick look at my diary shows me that I haven't done more than a few spasmodic posts since June. So maybe it is my own fault. There is that one nasty review that appeared around early July. Could that have anything to do with it? Let's hope not!

There is also this new scheme Amazon has running, and I'm more than a little curious about it. My understanding is that people download anything free of charge and read up to 10% of the work before any payment is made to the author.

So that means  people can read the first three chapters (4,000 word count per chapter) of a 100,000 word count book. A tiny portion, you may think, though it seems much more if the word count is 80,000 or less. I wonder how long it took the author to write those words, and many people read those chapters and then decide they don't want to pay for the rest of it? I imagine many do. It doesn't matter how good the rest of the book is, if those first chapters haven't grabbed the reader by the throat, it is all over. I have downloaded a sample of a Mankell-Wallander book to see how it works as a reader.

It puts a hell of a lot of importance on the first three chapters. Remember how important they were to getting published the traditional way? Well, it seems to me that Amazon have just re-introduced the barrier we independent authors were so pleased to avoid! What do the rest of you think?

This is a link to a long, long article about Amazon I haven't had time to read yet, but looks good enough to go back to in the next day or two:

Friday, 19 September 2014

Work in progress

Now I'm at the stage of looking at Createspace. First impressions? More complicated than I expected. But then as you get to know it, like everything else, it doesn't seem so bad. First of all I tried to slot an A4 file into a 6 x 9 format book, so of course, it didn't work. Once I altered my original file, it went straight in - with no errors. Now I know that's not true. For a start it wasn't justified, and when I justified it all the indents and *** scene breaks altered. So I'll be going through carefully to see what else I can spot.

I think I may be stuck with the title I've put in -  Abduction of the Scots Queen. I debated calling it Abduction, but there are so many books using it that it didn't seem attractive. Perhaps The Scots Queen would be simplest. If I can't alter what I've input, I may stick with the longer version. I can always make the fore part smaller on the cover to give it more ooooomph.

I'm working on the cover when I get tired of proofreading. Makes a nice change. I'm quietly pleased with what I have at the moment, but there are no guarantees it won't change in the next few days!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Books and the Internet

Still hammering away on edits and struggling to find a title that hasn't been used before. The trouble is almost everything has been used already! Especially if you want to use the word Queen. Too many books flooding the market these days - that's something  Amazon has done. Not single-handedly, I admit, but it certainly helped. (Just as it helped me - Yes, I know! Pot calling kettle and all that)

Viking Magic went free for two days just to see what the response was. I remember the first book I put up for free was Fair Border Bride and it rocketed up to something like 15,000 takers, mostly in the USA. That was five or six years ago,  So how did Viking Magic do over two days?

A total of 124 downloads and still the biggest freebie takers are in the US - 86. The UK = 26, Germany 7, France 1, Australia 1 and Canada 3. (It would be nice if a couple of those people wrote a nice review for me! The only one I've received for VM was written by someone who was definitely having a bad day.)

So, as a way of gathering readers, going free doesn't seem like the tool it was. Times change, and they change exceedingly fast in Internet world. Twitter and Facebook seem the most obvious alternatives, but even there, marketing persons seem to be taking over and plugging the same titles over and over again.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Plot Points

Editing makes a person consider plot points.

Definition? A plot point is a turning point in the story for both protagonist and plot.
Start with your protagonist at a moment of  change - and this had better be a significant, life-changing change, rather than a decision to wear heels rather than flatties. Feed in a few general details to give us a grasp of normal life because then we will appreciate the changing incident more. This first plot point marks a change in and for the protagonist, indicates the direction the story is about to take, and hopefully engages the reader. The most difficult question to answer is the last one. How can we know if it strikes any sort of bell for the reader?

Once you have your protagonist marching in his new direction, he should run into conflict, both expected and unexpected. How he handles these is a learning curve for him and strengthens his character. As the climax of the story approaches the hero has to face his most difficult challenge of all. How he handles this will define the rest of his life - and sometimes if he has a life after this. 

It is easy to forget the emotional side of this last confrontation when writing the action. Don't forget the effort it takes, the courage, strength and persistence to keep moving forward toward a goal. I suspect I have skipped over this point too lightly in my story of Matho, but I will fix that as I reach the last chapters in what will hopefully be my final edit.

Afterwards, your protagonist and mine should be a different person. The same, but more so, with added strength and knowing what he can do when pushed to the absolute limit.The next question is, what does he do then? Go back to obscurity? Hardly.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Amazon v Hachette

Amazon is in dispute with Hachette book Group in the US. I've been vaguely aware of this for a while, but didn't think it affected me. Except perhaps that my Amazon sales have been very poor this last month. But then, August is a bad month as everyone, but everyone, goes on holiday and forgets reading.

The squabble is affecting writers like Stephen King, Lee Child and James Patterson. They claim Amazon is sanctioning books - I'm not sure what they mean by that, but I think it means they don't supply them in the usual way when asked - but it affects 2,500 Hachette authors and over 7,000 titles.

 Sales for these books have declined by between 50% to 90%. The struggle has been going on for six months and really hurts debut and midlist authors. 

In a nutshell, Amazon says it is fighting for lower prices which benefit the consumer. Yay! Authors United, who oppose what Amazon is doing, are seen as a group of  "rich authors who are seeking higher e-book prices." 

I don't know the rights and wrongs of this squabble, but I do know I won't pay £10 for a Kindle copy of any book. I'll wait. Eventually the price comes down. I'd hesitate to pay £5, but then maybe I'm mean. I'd pay £6, £7, even £8 for a paperback copy - but not a Kindle copy. I think I'm siding with Amazon.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

All those words

Thirty-two chapters and that's my novel complete at 106k word count. Phew! Now I'm ready for the Big Read Through, and I'm a little bit scared of it. What if all those words add up to a rubbishy story that doesn't hang together, and worst of all - bores me?

It's possible I'll feel all of these things. OTOH, it is also possible I'll fall in love with it. I hope so. So, I've been out with the dog and the exercise and fresh air have woken me up and got my brain going. I have three critique chapters to do for writerly friends, but otherwise the whole day is mine - except for another hour's walk with Time at some point around midday. I don't want any major breaks now - I need to keep the continuity going.

Wish me luck!

Monday, 1 September 2014

Final edits and Createspace

I'm up to Chapter Thirty in my "final edit" of Capture a Queen. What I've discovered on this go through is that I'm getting really good at combining two sentences into one, and doing it more elegantly than I used to. Practice does improve one's technique, if not make it quite perfect yet! I've also found that around chapter 27 I've screwed up the time line. Things happen out of sequence, so that will need a major re-shuffle. I'm going to work it out on a paper copy and then transfer the finished result to the computer. Otherwise I'd always be afraid I'd deleted something instead of transferring it.

I've put final edit in quotation marks because of course this is a major operation. First of all it's on
the computer, and I have several runs at each chapter, tweaking and pruning as I go. When I'm finally happy with it, I print it out. The pages go into a file, and I'm not going to read them until I've got to the end. Then I'll sit down and read it as I would a Rebus or any other novel. Things are bound to leap out at me, even at that stage. I shall attempt to read it aloud but have to admit to feeling silly unless I'm sure I'm alone in the house. Tim doesn't mind. I think he even likes it. He goes to sleep, anyway!

Smoothing out the time sequence among three major characters is going to be difficult, but it has to be done, otherwise it will irritate the reader. I'm thinking about Createspace this time, to give me a paperback as well as an e-book, so I'm reading up on how to do it in between bursts of editing. I suppose I have nothing to lose except my time and effort, and who knows? It might pay dividends. It seems to be the way forward at the moment, and when changes in publishing are speeding up I'd better not miss the chance.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Writing - what's gender got to do with it?

I'm like everyone else in that I follow links on Twitter in the hope of finding something good. Sometimes I do, and one of the website I've bookmarked is this one:  Take a  look at her home page and you'll see (if you are like me, that is) loads of titles to articles you simple must read. They don't disappoint, either.

I keep re-reading the one about the first 250 words of your book being the most important in the hope that eventually, I'll be doing what she suggests by instinct. It will filter through in a process something akin to osmosis. That's my hope, you understand. I think I really ought to read the one about forcing my hero to make moral choices, too.  Many readers, particularly women, I suspect, will dislike Matho for taking the child queen from his mother, and I suspect they'll dislike Meg Douglas even more for the same reason. But my justification is the characters lived in times when choices were hard, and if the characters can justify the act to themselves, if not to us, with out 21st century ethics, surely that is all that matters? They lived in a time when uttering the wrong word could send you to the stake to be burned alive.

My female characters are rarely the simpering type, and Meg Douglas is not a simperer. That some reviewers don't care for my ladies has become obvious to me. My female characters say what they think, and even if they don't say what they think aloud, their thoughts are honest. I didn't have sisters, and there were 40 years between me and my mother, so we didn't have any "girly" contact. She was always a figure of authority in the household, and said what she thought. Consequently, I don't write "girly" females. What you grow up with shapes what you become and it is devilish hard to contradict it. Because I had a brother, I can relate more easily to men, who always seem to me  much less judgemental, say what they think and then let you get on with it.

Perhaps the trick of fine writing is to transcend these things. I'm not saying it can't be done, but it is usually easy to tell if a book  has been written by a male or female author. It's just there in the writing, in the characters and their actions, even in the choice of theme. Possibly all unconscious, too. Writers probably have their audience in mind, and write to them. I can imagine the audience for thrillers, romance, vampires with varying degrees of success and allowing for blurring along the lines and edges as tastes overlap, but I do have a problem deciding the audience for literary fiction. They can't all be university professors, can they?

(Take note: the last comment is definitely tongue in cheek and meant to amuse.) And a further note: today's pic is Loch Crinan, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the content of the post. The black dot is probably a midgie on the lens looking for someone to bite. I still have the red blotches they caused that day.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Castle Dounie

The walk was listed as a three-hour walk and we did it in three hours ten minutes - and that included a lot of short stops to enjoy views. The first hour was all uphill, zig-zagging up the hillside through ancient woodland with the sound of water in our ears and every shade of green around us.

The gravel track soon became a grass track interspersed with boulders, and the trees towered over us. Every so often a curve in the path would offer a spectacular window-view through the trees.

We made it to Castle Dounie on the lower summit of Creag Mhor along a wonderful path with heather billowing beside us on the last narrow path to the fort. There were no bees to be seen, which is a little worrying.

Right on the top of the hillare the stones of an Iron Age Fort. To me they looked like a cairn, but if you were an enthusiastic archeologist well versed in prehistoric structures, then you might be able to make out wall lines and such like. It was very small, and I kept on wondering if the people walked up to it or if they took their sure-footed garrons all the way to the castle.

 There are terrific views towards Jura and Mull, and they say you can see the notorious Corryvreckan whirlpool and even Ben Nevis to the north on a clear day. I suspect you have to be looking at just the right state of the tide to see anything of the whirlpool. I have seen film of it and watched documentaries that explain it and I have no urge to go out in a small boat and peer over the side knowing what is beneath me.

You can see a little white house on the hillside of Jura.  I think they must paint  Barnhill gleaming white every season because it stands out like a beacon. George Orwell lived there when he wrote his famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. I could see Barnhill from many points during my stay in Crinan, and acknowledged a certain wish to be there, concentrating on writing to the exclusion of everything else. I know it will never happen - the mere idea would horrify dh and the midgies would be a torment in summer.

The walk is full of interest, varying terrain and returns by way of the same path this time plunging down the hill - and believe me, sustained walking down a steep slope is just as tiring to muscles not often used as going up. When we reached the path across the beach at Crinan Harbour we found a large rock each and sat in the sunshine and watched the little waves roll in. Their gentle splash mingled with the tapping of steel rigging on the yachts moored not far away. There is happiness in such simple things.