Saturday 24 September 2016

Inspiration or Perspiration? #Amwriting

So here we are, almost the end of September, and I am trying not to put the central heating on, as last year I spent my meagre heating allowance at least 20 time over. The price of oil is supposed to be lower than at any time over the past few years, yet I spend every penny I earn on keeping warm enough to earn the money to spend on keeping warm. 

Paradoxical world.

As writers, we are often asked (well, I am) how the creative process of writing a book happens. What I think people desperately want to hear is the apocryphal Enid Blyton response on the lines of: I just wander into my little writing place, and suddenly, all sorts of lovely characters and plots tiptoe through the mental bluebells straight into my mind fully formed, and all I have to do is write them down and hey presto! a book appears. In other words, writing is easy and you, interested interlocutor, could easily do it too.

Sorry, it doesn't work like that. At least not for this little duck. In another of these paradoxes, I find that creativity only occurs when disciplinary structures are applied. Rigorously. In other words, I have to make myself sit at the keyboard, regularly, and write. I can fantasize about the book all I want, imagine the amazing prose that I will write when I get round to it, but until my rear end and the chair are brought into contact, and remain in contact for long periods of time, nothing creative happens.

Sure, there are moments, and flashes of inspiration, when one stares at the screen, and wonders whether the Writing Fairy has just made a house call, but on the whole, these episodes only tend to emerge out of a period of just slogging away at the writing process. And I should know, having just topped 70 thousand words of the next Victorian novel, purely by dint of making myself sit down at the eMac every day and write it.

An article in the Guardian recently lifted the lid on how to be a successful author. No secret, sadly. A lot of labour and a bit of luck. Heavy on the former. As Wm Blake remarked: Without contraries is no progression. Ain't that the truth!

Saturday 17 September 2016

The Pitfalls & Pratfalls of Self-Publishing an Ebook

Anecdotally, it is very easy to publish an ebook on Amazon Kindle. Anecdotally, it is as easy as uploading a post to Facebook. Yep. If you believe the anecdoters. More fool you if you do. Let me enlighten you, gentle blog reader. 

The story starts with a writer, an eMac, and a newly finished novel called Rack & Ruin

* Copy novel onto memory stick and take down to office computer. Spellcheck, because eMac has limited vocabulary. Go through whole book adjusting spaces and paragraphs which have gone awry in short distance from upstairs to downstairs. As things do.

* Format novel** as word file and send out to first editor.

* Novel returns. Deal with issues arising.

* Send novel to second editor.

* Ditto

* Novel is proof read.

* Ditto

* Apparently flawless novel is turned into epub file and transferred onto BH's iPad for final checking.

* A few small formatting mistakes are found in the transfer and dealt with.

* Send now definitely flawless novel as mobi file to select group of reviewers for pre-reading.

* Deal with small formatting mistakes spotted by one eagle-eyed reviewer.

* Go onto Kindle Bookshelf and do all the 'back of house stuff' ready for upload. This involves    uploading cover, writing blurb, deciding on Amazon categories, keywords, pricing etc.

* Upload 'temporary book' so that can offer it for pre-order.

* Amazon sends email that 'real book' must be uploaded in 10 days time. Ignore it.

* Family stuff happens.

* Amazon sends second email warning that if book not uploaded by agreed date, will remove book, writer, reputation and probably send goons round to burn down house.

* Fail to appreciate that in the US, month comes before day. Think we only have two days. Panic.

* Load Calibre to format book file as epub. (One day left before Amazon ends career.)

* Calibre refuses to recognise book file and convert it. Panic.

* Try putting book file through as doc-ex. file. Seems to work.

* Upload epub to Bookshelf six hours before Amazon deadline expires.

* Preview book. Seems OK. Hopefully.

* Await publication day (22nd September) with great trepidation and large bottle of prosecco.

**  All the techie stuff is done by Beloved Husband. I do the checking, panicking and drinking.You didn't seriously think I was capable of doing the techie stuff. Did you? 

Saturday 10 September 2016

Ellis or Emily? Does Your Writing Name Matter?

At last someone (Professor Michael Luca) has come out and said what we've always known: there is absolutely no difference in the quality and accuracy of a book review by an 'ordinary' reader on Amazon, and a professional book critic. Moreover (and we all knew it as well) professional critics were more likely to praise a book when the author was well-known/a prizewinner/had garnered press-coverage/ was connected to some media outlet.

For proof of this, we only have to consider the reception of one Robert Galbraith, who barely got a mention in the mainstream book review pages until 'he' was outed as J. K. Rowling. After which every critic in the land was falling over themselves to praise the very things they had failed to notice previously. Laugh? I nearly started.

I have also suffered from the 'critic with an agenda'. I remember Dark Side of Midnight the first in my soon to be reissued YA Spy Girl series was compared unfavourably on Amazon to a certain well-known children's writer in the same field. As was the second book. And then the third. This happened so many times, that the words 'stitch-up' came to mind. I have also read fulsome reviews of books by writers whom I know share the same publisher/agent. Or awful reviews where some personal spat is being used to exact revenge.

Charlotte Bronte was equally sceptical of the so-called 'prof'We had the impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes used for their chastisement the weapon of 'personality' and for their reward, a flattery which is not true praise.'
essional book critic'. She wrote in 1850, over the sisters' decision to adopt the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell:

Interestingly, when Wuthering Heights was first published in 1847, Ellis Bell was praised for the strength and passion of 'his' tale. As soon as it was revealed, however, that 'Ellis' was in fact 'Emily', the same reviewer slated the book as being 'odious and abominably pagan'.
Nul points, that critic!

As a corollary: the importance of the 'lay' critic cannot be overstated. Amazon (responsible for over 89% of online book/ebook sales) bases much of its online placing of a book on the amount of reviews it garners. I will leave you with the following poster. If you read, do please consider reviewing also.