Sunday 29 July 2012

How Not to Launch an Ebook

So, this is the current state of play: the cat has recovered from her cystitis. Talented Daughter has handed over the sword she came across in her new cycle shed to the police, and I have finally managed to fit the very complicated state-of-the-art seat covers in the 2CV - I'm sure the tips of my fingers will regrow in time. Anything else to report? Nope: you're up to speed.

Meanwhile I'm sure that it hasn't escaped your notice that there is a plethora of 'How to do it'  advice out there. How to become a millionaire in a year; How to have a beautiful garden; How to stuff your face with pies and cakes and lose weight at the same time (sorry, I made that last one up).

All this helpful advice is written by experts in the various fields for, gentle blog-readers, we want to learn how to do things properly and well. We want to think of ourselves as successful 'can-do' sort of people. Except, it appears, for one particular intention deficit disordered individual among us. So allow me, as an 'expert' in the art of  'How not to do it' to share the following advice with you:

1. Do not launch your ebook at the same time as a major sporting event. It is the Olympics. Nobody is reading books. Nobody is buying books. Nobody is in the remotest way interested in books. Everyone is glued to the TV.

2. Do not launch your ebook during the summer holidays. See above, but with added sea.

3. Do not think that just because you write books, you can also write blurb. Professionally qualified sub-editors earn good money  doing this. You are not one of them.

4. Do not write the only book in the whole history of fiction that does not seem to fit into any perceivable category on Amazon Kindle. You will inevitably categorise it wrongly. Readers will notice. And they will say so. Publicly.

5. Do not believe all those people that say uploading to Amazon is a breeze. They are lying in their teeth. Think childbirth: hard work, bewildering and messy.

6. Do not totally neglect to organise a publicity schedule. Faffing around on Facebook and Twitter is not a publicity schedule. 

7. Do not do a great long blog about how not to launch an ebook when you haven't actually launched the ebook yet because you are still struggling to sort out all of the above.

You see: I told you I was an expert!

This is the cover. Like it?

Sunday 22 July 2012

Jean Fullerton is my guest

Today I am hosting Jean Fullerton on my blog. Jean writes beautifully lyrical historical fiction, set in the East End, where she was born, and where her family has lived since 1823. I met Jean for the first time at a RNA outing to the River Police Museum in Wapping. I remember apologising to her for not being a member of the RNA, nor writing romantic fiction. Her reply, I think, sums her up: ''Carol, we're all (insert mild expletive) writers, so you're welcome.'' And we are. And I was.

I asked Jean to share about the influence of her roots, her writing methodology, and her latest novel. Here is what she said:

'' I write because I have to, and the best thing about writing is someone telling you how much they loved your stories and characters. I fell in love with historical fiction because I read Anya Seton when I was 13. I'm still passionate about history, but have moved away from an interest in the nobility of a period to much more the social history and the lives of ordinary people.

I am hugely influenced by the place I was born and feel connected to its past so strongly. To me it's a place of folklore and memories I feel I've assimilated into my bones and flows through my fingers as I write. I've been told my description of the East End is so vivid you can smell it.

It takes me six months to write the first draft, and another two/three to get it into shape. Then it goes to my agent who might suggest some changes and then on to my publisher. So in all, it's nine to ten months from writing 'chapter one' to writing 'the end' punctuated by edits for the next book getting ready for publication and publicity

 I think of the premise for a story, then develop the characters. I have to get the hero and heroine right in my head and then let them start on their journey. I stick absolutely to historical facts and do a great deal of research to get the period detail right. I have hundreds of books and like to go back to primary source if I can. For my Victorian books I've made great use of Henry Mayhew's and Charles Dickens' journalistic accounts of East London. I only live four stops on the tube from where my stories are set, so often visit to soak up the atmosphere. I visit museums too.
Jean's latest book

My recently released novel Hold onto Hope is the fourth of my Victorian novels and follows the fortunes of Kate Ellis, the sister of Mattie, in my last book. With her husband in prison, Kate has fought hard to give her two children everything they need. Her path crosses that of Captain Jonathan Quinn, who has resigned from the army and seeks work as headmaster at a local school.
The attraction is instant, but as Kate is a married woman, they know it can never be, and Kate is left to wonder if she will ever find true love again.

At the moment, I am editing my book Call Nurse Miller which is due out in February 2013. Millie is a district nurse and midwife in post-war East London. Her story starts on VE day in 1945 and runs through until a few months before the introduction of the NHS in 1948. Having worked as a District Nurse in East London for almost 20 years, I have not only used my nursing experience to bring Millie's nursing experience to life, but I have been able to delve into my profession's history to discover how my predecessors cared for their patients.''

You can find out more about Jean, her books and her East End roots on: Friend her on Facebook, and follow her on twitter @EastLondonGirly

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Txt me, 2 bizi 2 chat

Look, I'm a tolerant driver. If you drive pink and vintage, you have to be. But that doesn't mean I'm a patsy. Doesn't mean because some pushy female in a black people carrier overtakes on my side that I'm going to back uphill so she can get by. Ain't happenin' lady. Luckily, not only is my car eccentric, but I'm good at assuming a ''mad oldie with unsuitable hair who might have attack zimmer frame in boot'' expression. Good. Got that out of my system. We move on.

If you are reading this, it is entirely courtesy of BlogTec Man. Yesterday, I lost all my toolbar widgets, not a nice thing to happen to a pensioner with a bad cake habit. So, in some trepidation, I went into the Blogger forum and asked for help. Which I got. And this morning, I downloaded something called Chrome. Slightly tense moment when I clicked on 'apply', and the screen went completely blank. Wondered fleetingly if that's what God felt when He installed the 'Create World App' on the eternal computer in the sky, and pressed the 'download now' button.

So to the title of this blog. It appears that we are now sending more texts than we are making calls. We are Tweeting more than actually talking face to face.We prefer to do short and vowel-less rather than long and chatty. I am appalled. What is civilization reducing itself to? Long chatty conversations are the lifeblood of friendship. You can't get to know someone unless you spend time talking. Texting is not talking. (Unless you're one of my students, when it sooo is). How long will it be before we get 'txtd bks'? Save us having to read the whole thing, we can just flick through the reduced version. P&P bi Jn Astn. 

The next step will be the losing of all vocal communication. We will just grunt at each other in a primal manner. And move into caves. Until that occurs, though, I will continue to chat on buses  and in the street. I will also talk to complete strangers, and to the elderly.You have been warned!

Monday 16 July 2012

Win,win,win:! Some Olympic musings

Last week, the Olympic torch relay passed through St Albans, cause for much excitement, and a few snarky letters in the local paper about the mysterious filling in of potholes along its route, and the levelling of controversial speed bumps. Didn't attend its passing, I confess, as a certain Scot and an equally certain Swiss were battling it out on the tennis courts.

In the original Games, held in 776BC, the torch was lit on Mount Olympus, home of the Gods, and carried down to Athens as a signal for the Games to start. The purpose in those days was not for this or that country to grab as many gold medals as possible, but more as a showcase for the athletes' various skills. It was the taking part that was important, not the winning. And anyway, they only got laurel wreaths to celebrate their success, not medals, sponsorship and big bucks.

How things have changed! I guess when the 2012 Games are done, success will be judged solely upon how many Golds and Silvers Team GB has scooped, and how much money the various multi-national sponsors have garnered on the back of the event. Now, I'm not a massive sports fan: my idea of exercise is jumping to conclusions, or letting my imagination run away with me. So I won't be glued to the TV all that often. But I have been very moved by the torch relay. To see all sorts of people: famous athletes, ordinary men and women, the disabled, children, people of all ethnic backgrounds, the old, and the young, carrying the Olympic flame, seems to me to embody far more what the Games were originally meant to be.

Have we writers, become too success orientated, I wonder? Are we sucked into a mentality when winning awards, rave reviews or that coveted place on the Amazon top 100 list is more important than anything else? Sadly, I sometimes find myself inching towards that way of thinking. It's insidious. I read a gushy author interview piece about someone who has received a huge advance for writing a story with a plot so banal that my cat could have come up with it, and all at once, I start questioning my validity. Unless my book is reviewed in the Sunday papers, unless I win one of the Prestigeous Awards, I can't be a real writer - can I?

Interestingly though, it's not just me. A couple of years ago, I 'did' the Edinburgh Festival (see dodgy video on my Facebook page). In the writers' yurt, I observed many of the Really Big Writers at close hand. Those of you who do not write for a living may be unaware that most writers spend a lot of time terrified stiff that they are actually writing complete rubbish, which someone will point out one day (or is it just me?). It's the Emperor's New Clothes syndrome. I sat and watched a whole yurt full of twitchy famous writers, many who were household names, mentally peering over their shoulders, waiting for somebody to sidle up and murmur: 'You're not really as good as you think you are. You're a fraud, aren't you? You don't deserve to be here, and you know it.' They looked like the sort of people you hope won't come and sit next to you on a long train journey. It was reassuring, in a slightly unnerving way.

Still, sometimes I forget. I forget what an amazing gift it is to be able to write; I forget how much I enjoy it. How I'd be devastated if I couldn't do it on a daily basis. I become goal driven, medal hungry, chart focused. So this is where I pause, step back and think about all those wonderful individuals who carried the Olympic torch round the country. Most will never take part in an Olympic event, let alone win gold. Not important. It was the taking part that mattered. And maybe I also need to remind myself that I carry the same flame inside me as every other writer, famous or not, published or unpublished. Because in the end, isn't that why we all write...?

Tuesday 10 July 2012

''In my End is my Beginning''

Somewhere, in the Kingdom of earring backs, is a small tribe. They sit round their fire, toasting marshmallows and telling tales of how they escaped from my jewellery box, abseiled down the chest of drawers and headed off for freedom and a better life in the great outside world. It is the only explanation I can come up with for why I currently have a drawful of earrings, and hardly any backs. Not sure why I also have a pair of  gold backs that don't fit any of the earrings. Ear ringers? Socks ... don't even get me started.

Well, finally the end of an era has dawned. Last week, Talented Daughter moved out of the flat she has rented since her student days, gifting me with nine years of memories: being invited for my first daughter-cooked Sunday lunch. Dropping in with homemade cakes to supplement her student fare. Passing by on the 139 bus to West Hampstead station, and feeling my heart break into bits, because she was in Afghanistan and I wasn't going to see her for months. Helping her through the joys and traumas of life. Hindering her ditto....

Nine years of unbelievable hoarding has had to be faced, sorted and dealt with. Local charity shops have been overwhelmed and over-largessed. Ebay has run red hot. But at last, she has turned in her keys, and is happily ensconced in the new flat she and the Gallant Beau will share after their wedding in December. One era ends, and another begins.

Meanwhile a similar process is about to happen on the book front, as I have now finished the rewrite of Jigsaw Pieces - the improved/adult version of my novel Jigsaw, which has been out of print for many years. OUP has returned my publishing rights. Editing has happened. Formatting has taken place, and I am currently doing a final line by line check, before it gets uploaded to Amazon Kindle.

Designer Dave has come up with a brilliant cover, which I will scan and put on the blog for you to comment upon. I'm pretty sure you will like it. Please give me feedback. So, all things being equal, I shall, like Talented Daughter, soon be moving also.

Not courtesy of two Bulgarians and a removal van, though, but under my own steam, inching the unicycle of endeavour across the tightrope of ambition. Probably juggling the beanbag penguins of optimism as I go. Do stick around; your sideline awaits....

(Picture was taken at Loreto School. Also in pic: Thermidor, my lobster, see Objets d'amour post)

Friday 6 July 2012

Talli Roland blogs on self-publishing

Talli Roland is one of the many witty 'chicklit' authors delighting readers with her humourous take on modern life, love and relationships. She also has one of the prettiest blogs around:

I invited Talli to share her journey from having a publisher to being a self-publisher for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because I am currently making the transition myself, and it is always interesting to read how another writer accomplished it.

Also, although I only met Talli briefly at a RNA gathering in June, and I'm sure she wouldn't remember me from a bar of soap if she passed me in the street, she has been unstintingly generous in her advice on setting up this blog, and the 'blog etiquette' that needs to be followed. She has a really kind heart, and is one of life's encouragers, for which I applaud her.

I asked Talli: Why the move to self-publishing? This is what she replied:

''Hi everyone! I'd like to say a big thank you to Carol for inviting me to post my journey into the wonderful world of self-publishing.

After having two novels published by a traditional small press (The Hating Game and Watching Willlow Watts), I had a decision to make with my third, Build a Man. I could submit it to my publisher, who might publish it. I could submit it to another small publisher directly. I could continue submitting to agents, in hopes of getting a big publisher, or ... I could go it alone.

With my publisher, the majority of my sales were on Amazon - and in e-books. So why couldn't I hire a cover designer and a professional editor and keep all my profits? Any small press struggles with bookshop distribution, and I already had a very good situation. I decided I wouldn't leave one small press for another.

So, that left two decisions: try to get an agent, or go it alone.

Let's say I was lucky enough to get an agent. Would they be able to sell my novel? How long would it take? And if they did sell it, how long would I have to wait until it was published? All things considered, the fastest would probably be a year - if I was super fortunate. In one year, I could write three novels and have them bringing in revenue. Not only that, I've already made from one e-book (The Hating Game) what big publishers might offer me as an advance for two or three books. The financials just didn't add up.

So, that left going it alone as the logical choice for me. I can control my output. I can build up my readership on my own timeline. And I can keep the revenues! I truly believe readers don't care who or what has published a novel, as long as it's an engaging, high quality story. I released Build a Man last December, and after selling almost 20,000 copies, I couldn't be happier with the decision I've made. In fact I plan to continue self-publishing in the foreseeable future, and I've just put out my latest book, Construct A Couple.

Things are changing fast in publishing. It's exciting for everyone, and I can't wait to see what's ahead!''

Talli Roland
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Tuesday 3 July 2012

A statue has never been set up in honour of a critic

Misfortunes, like buses, never come singly! Currently, I have no potatoes on my allotment, slugs have eaten all my bean plants, I have had to gaffer-tape another bit of my car and my cat has cystitis.
You have problems? Believe me, you do not have problems.

There has been a lot of blog-chat about negative reviewing, lately. We have shared my opinion on this in an earlier post, but I thought I'd throw my twopennyworth into the hat once again. So here goes. Firstly, although many of the 'reviewers' on sites like Amazon certainly can be most unpleasant about a book - tho' they've probably never written one in their lives (on the 'those who can't write, criticise writers basis), at least they don't attack the writer him/herself.

The same cannot be said in other areas. As some of you know, I am the Chair of a local action group, fighting to save a playing field from being sold off by the council to a developer. This involves maintaining a very high press profile, which I have been doing for 3 years now. Letters in the local papers twice a month, articles quoting me etc. When I had my tattoo done in Feb, I even used that to get further press coverage for our campaign.

The abuse I get from supporters of the council, or from some councillors themselves is amazing! Think of all the nasty things you could say about 'hedges' and you've got some idea of the rubbish that gets sent in to the papers slagging me off. It is nasty and it is personal. Do I care? I did when I read the first one. It upset me a lot - mainly that someone could be so petty-minded not to see the big picture. Now I just shrug, and use it to frame a witty, sarky, put-down 'reply'. Hey, if they give me the oxygen of publicity, I'll take it. If I'm being criticised, then I'm rattling cages, and that is good.

So as an activist, and as I writer, I will get criticised, constructively or not. If  I can't handle it, then I shouldn't put myself out there. But I will, and so will you, because we just love what we are doing, and we want to share it with others. Besides for every put-down, there is someone who appreciates our efforts and gives us the sweet honey of praise.

The other point I want to make is that I am a published writer. So are many of you. But equally, many others are not. Sometimes we forget that there are thousands of our fellow scribes who have never had anything published ever, let alone reviewed.

We are so lucky to be at that stage where our books are bought and read. I keep all my rejection letters, because it is good to remind myself of the journey I have been on to get here. So I thought I'd end this blog by sharing one little gem of a letter. It's from a very well known literary agency, and runs thus:

'' I am very selective in the clients that I take on and I was not sufficiently enthusiastic about your work to be able to offer to handle it.''

The 'work' in question was a teen novel called 'Jigsaw', which was eventually taken by OUP, went up for 2 awards and was on the Carnegie long-list. Gentle blog-readers, I rest my case.

Sunday 1 July 2012

The Lonely Art of the Lonely Heart

So I'm idling through the Guardian's 'Soulmates' column, as you do because it has good adjectives, and I am struck by the number of ladies and gentlemen who are looking for lurve - or possibly romance, friendship, affection, a good time, adventure, passion or felicity (yup, copied that last from someone's ad.)

Which makes me think that nothing really changes, does it? I have just finished reading a brilliant book called Shapely Ankle Preferr'd  by Francesca Beauman. It is the history of the Lonely Hearts Ad from 1695 -2010. Yes, that is not a typo!

Admittedly I know I am lucky, in that Beloved Husband and I have been married for 37 years come this September, and although those of you who know us well would say that in our case it is definitely Mr Chalk wed Ms Cheese, we go along amicably and are looking forward to growing even older together. We still make each other laugh. A lot. In his case, every time I open my mouth and say something about football.

Others do not have such good fortune. 'Good fortune' being the critical attribute. To snare Mr Right in the 17th century, it was not so much GSOH as ''Comeliness, Prudence, and 5 or 600l. in Money, Land or Joynture'' that would guarantee you an admirer quicker than you could say knife. Or wife.

By the 1700's, there were fifty-three newspapers all containing lonely heart ads of one sort or another. I was fairly gobsmacked at the audacity of one advertiser who wrote: ''A young man wants a wife with two or three hundred pounds; or the money will do without the wife - whoever will advance it shall have 5%'' (Daily Advertiser 1759) Not for nothing did Jane Austen pen those famous words at the beginning of Pride and Prejudice that: '...a young man in possession of a good fortune ... must be in want of a wife.'

In a way, I guess we are more fortunate (sic) in that money does not feature quite so prominently in today's search for love, though I'm sure it lurks behind the scene, gurning happily. Even so, it is sad that in our digital, well connected age, when we are all supposed to be only 6 steps away from each other (or possibly 6 feet away from the nearest rat, can't remember, but maybe not inapposite, given the topic) that there are still so many lonely folk around.

And oh my! So many over 60's! Maybe I'll hang on to Beloved Husband for a bit longer. I can't see anyone going for: Totally batty writer (62), likes cake, cats, 2CV's and prosecco. Knows absolutely zip about football ...  can you?