30 December 2011

Goals and Strategies

The week between Christmas and New Year is a funny space of time.  Here in New Zealand it's summer and many people are on holiday through to the first or second week in January.  It's also the time we look back at the year and take stock for the year ahead.  We make resolutions as if our life will suddenly change.
Realistically it doesn't.  We wake up on 1st January much the same person we were the day before. 
I'm not putting down the idea of goals and New Year resolutions, but to make them work we need to be specific, and put some strategies in place for reaching our goals - and hence changing our life!
Last year was the first time I'd ever thought seriously about goals that were specific to what I wanted to achieve and written them down, rather than some half-hearted ideas about getting fitter and writing more.  So how did it go?
I kept to my goal for work on the final draft of Lives Interrupted, though I under-estimated the time it would take me, and while working on the manuscript I changed my mind about sending it to agents and publishers again, and decided I would self-publish.
With that in mind I revised my plans and decided to have the manuscript edited and a cover designed, and then to format it ready for print and e-publishing in October.  That ultimately turned into early November, but I was happy with that.
There have been a few blips in the blog postings, but mostly I have kept to my goal of posting twice a week.
I didn't make any headway on my goal to finish the first draft of my other work in progress, and I only entered two competitions this year rather than the four I had planned.  As for the articles I was going to submit - I still have one day left!!
I've learned a few things through the year from my goal setting experience.  My number one goal was to finish and publish Lives Interrupted, and because it was so important to me I put strategies in place to help me achieve it.  Being specific about how long and often I would write was very helpful, and it also meant I was treating my writing as a career rather than a hobby.  This included making writing a priority, rather than slotting it in after everything else had been done, and to do that consistently rather than just for a few weeks and then not do any writing for long periods.  
Overall I'm happy with where I am, though obviously there's heaps of room for improvement, such as articles to write, competitions to enter, and an unfinished manuscript to work on!
So what's the plan for 2012 and how to make it work?
In looking through my goals for last year, the ones I was most successful in achieving were specific and had measurable elements, and strategies to make them work. 
Originally I thought the goals of entering four competitions and writing two articles for magazines were reasonable because they had numbers attached to them, but they would have been better if I'd come up with ideas for the articles when setting the goals and a timeframe for writing them, and also maybe deciding ahead of time which competitions I was going to target.
So on that note I'll go and work on some goals and strategies for a successful 2012.

24 December 2011

Christmas Gifts

Here are a couple of links as a seasonal gift - actually they're re-gifted as I came across them last year.

This one sums up everything you shouldn't do as a writer, while this is a gift for your husband/wife/partner/significant other.

I might see you here next week, but normal service will be resumed in the New Year.  

Have a happy and safe Christmas. 

23 December 2011

Open Spaces

Each year I find it hard to believe how quickly the days in December disappear - this year is no exception.  One of the benefits of living in New Zealand is that we are enjoying summer, and can spend the Christmas and New Year holidays at the beach.
I get a lot of my inspiration and ideas when I'm outside, and I've long since given up sitting in front of my laptop if I'm having difficulty writing a scene.  It's amazing what some exercise, fresh air and different scenery can do for the imagination.
In this season of presents I'm giving myself a gift - a short break from writing, and permission not to feel guilty about it. 
I'm excited about two writing projects I have, but I also think it's important to have a break.  It doesn't have to be long, but some rest time is important, and the writing benefits from that.
Happy Christmas.

19 December 2011

How Long to Write a Book?

I've been asked a few times how long it takes to write a book.  I can only answer for me, but even then it's not straightforward.
I wrote the first 3,000 words of Lives Interrupted in June 2007, although the idea and some of the characters had been bubbling away in the back of my mind for much longer than that. 
I didn't write anything more until December, and then over January and February I added another 30,000 words in spurts of weekend writing and a couple of times during the week.
Then nothing until June 2008.  I remember that time well as the company I worked for closed, and with that push I decided to work for myself.  I had one small project during June and July, and spent the rest of the time writing.  At the end of July I had finished the first draft.
I put the manuscript away for about two months while I turned my attention to getting some paying work, and then started editing.
Around March/April 2009 I sent my manuscript out to some agents and publishers in England.  It was a waiting game and while I waited I started on the first draft of another book.
Months later I was asked for the full manuscript.  Then more waiting.  Eventually I heard from the publishers, it was a 'not for us' reply tempered with the comment they could see it had commercial potential, and with suggestions on some changes I could make.
I edited again based on those suggestions, and then wondered what to do.  About this time I joined an advanced writing course, which formed the writing group I'm part of.
I spent about a year editing, sometimes in energetic spurts and then more slowly when I had less time.  In November of last year I attended a workshop and met Mark Coker of Smashwords.  That answered my question of whether or not to play the waiting game again with publishers and agents.  I decided I would publish the book myself.  I gave the manuscript to several beta readers and worked again on editing from their feedback.
Lives Interrupted was finally published and available on Amazon earlier this month - so how long to write a book?  It has taken four and a half years from writing the first section to holding the book in my hand, although the idea was there for quite a while before I started writing, but on the other hand I haven't spent all of that time writing and editing.
Ultimately there isn't a single answer to the question.   A book takes as long as it takes.

12 December 2011

CreateSpace Part 2

When making decisions about the layout of the print copy, I looked through books I own and checked how each was laid out, taking note of the things that were the same or similar, and the differences.
Some, but by no means all, of my books start their chapters on the right-hand page.  Some start chapters on the next page, and just one or two leave a space and begin the next chapter/section further down the same page. 
Most of my sections are short, and so I decided to start new sections on the next page. 
I already had my copyright information from the Smashwords and Kindle front matter, and again checked through some books to see how the opening pages were laid out.  While basically the same, there were a few minor differences in the order - some had reviews, some had author biographies.  
I uploaded the interior (content) file.  Up to this point it hadn't been too difficult, and happy that I was now just minutes away from finishing I started on the cover.
How wrong you can be!  While it wasn't terrible this part did give me more headaches than anything else.  You basically have two options at this point.  Use the CreateSpace cover creator, or do it yourself.  I'd had a cover created,  but it was literally the front cover used on the Amazon and Smashwords sites.  The original was the correct size for a print copy and I'd reduced the size for the ebooks.  The cover also contained my name and the book title - obviously.
The Cover Creator wizard doesn't give you a lot of options.  It has a set of templates, and once you've selected a template you're taken to the main screen with some options for changes.  There aren't many things you can change, and information such as author name and book title are pulled from the information you've already input into your project file.  I looked through several of the templates, but could not find one that didn't have the author and book title, which meant that information was appearing twice.  No doubt someone will tell me there is a template without this, but I couldn't find it!  In addition you can't change the font type, size, or alignment other than choosing another template.  Okay, change of plan.
I went back to the main site and downloaded a 'do-it-yourself' template.  These are based on the trim size of your book so you need to know how big your book is going to be before finalising your cover.  The zip file I downloaded contained a .png file and a .pdf.  I opened the .png file in PhotoShop so I could add my front cover image, and create the back cover blurb and the title/author info on the spine.  The file has guidelines showing where the trim edge is, plus a pink/red area, which is the bleed area.  There is also an area on the back cover you need to leave blank for the barcode to be inserted by CreateSpace.
I'm not the whizziest person in the world with PhotoShop, and I could have asked Bev who designed my cover to do it for me, but it was the weekend and I was determined everything was going to be uploaded before Monday arrived.
This slowed me down somewhat, but undeterred, well okay, a little deterred, I muttered under my breath, and got the cover file uploaded.  Eventually!!
Before I ordered my proof copy I upgraded to the ProPlan.  This gives you wider distribution channels, but it also means any copies you buy yourself are cheaper, and when you consider the copies you'll need for marketing, giving to family and friends, and selling at workshops this can add up.
I had an email from CreateSpace within 24 hrs advising my interior file had gone through the automated checks. 
The next step is to order your proof copy.  I did this as soon as I'd received the email from CreateSpace, and less than 12 hours later I had another email advising my order had shipped.  Given that this was a Sunday I was impressed - maybe I'm just easily impressed.  My proof copy arrived in about 8 days - again impressed!  I hadn't chosen one of the more expensive shipping options, it is close to Christmas, and I do live at the bottom of the world. 
As I said in the last post, there is nothing quite like holding a print copy of your own book.  All of that work, worry, heartache and effort in a physical form - it's special.


09 December 2011

CreateSpace

YAY, the print version of Lives Interrupted arrived earlier this week.  Much as I love my Kindle and use it a lot, there is nothing like holding a print copy of your own book. I'm thrilled with it, and the print version is now on Amazon as well as the Kindle version.
I found the process for creating the e-books much easier than the print version, but I think having the print option is totally worth it, even if you do end up selling more electronic copies.
I thought about using a local printer, but decided against it because of the upfront costs of a print run, storage, and the hassle of trying to persuade bookshops to take some copies of my book.  Using a Print On Demand (POD) service doesn't solve the last point, but knowing it is being sold through Amazon makes that job feel slightly less nightmarish than it otherwise would.
I did a little research and decided to use CreateSpace.  As with Smashwords and Kindle I'd advise setting up your account before you get frazzled with formatting your manuscript and creating the cover.  However, if like me you don't, it doesn't really make a lot of difference other than adding time.  While it is quite  involved process there is a 'Save Progress' button at the bottom of the screens so if it all gets too much, or you need to do something else to keep your sanity, you don't lose the parts you've already completed.
Before you do anything else make a backup copy of your manuscript.  I may have mentioned this once or twice in previous posts!! 
If you used tabs to indent your first lines delete them and use first line indents, as apparently tabs don't always work that well through the process.  I'd recommend using a Word Style for your indented paragraphs.  Styles make life a lot easier if you want to make wholesale changes to your manuscript.  Much as I dislike serif fonts, at this point I changed the font in my manuscript to a serif as I wanted to make my book look as much like a 'proper' book as possible.  I also changed the paragraphs to a justified alignment, straight left and right edges as opposed to a ragged right edge, as it is when paragraphs are left aligned.
This was my first experience of formatting for a print book, and I had no idea what font size to use, or even what size book.  So I took a break from the computer and had a look on my bookshelf.  The paperbacks are various heights and even different widths in a few cases, but a sizeable majority are the same size, so I went with the majority.
I measured one of the books and the margins, and created a new document with those dimensions.  I typed the content of a page from one of the books and played around with different serif fonts and sizes until I had five or six options that roughly had the same amount of text on a page.  Then I got Blue Peter-ish (an old UK children's programme with presenters who used to make things out of old kitchen containers and paper) and cut out each of the pages so it would fit into the book.  I asked a few people which they thought was best, and ironically everyone went for the same two options, although first and second place varied between the two.  So as it is my book I went with my first choice - you've got to have some perks.
So back to the computer and select 'Add New Title' from the CreateSpace Dashboard and then select 'Paperback' as your project type.  You then have the option of a 'Guided' or an 'Expert' setup.
I used the Guided setup and I've since had a quick look at the Expert setup, which appeared similar.  Certainly you have to fill in all the same information whichever you choose.  Remember that most of the information you enter is going to appear either on your book, or on the Amazon site, so don't try and be smart.  There are 'What's this' links for each area if you're not sure what you should be typing in.
I had already set up my accounts with Kindle and Smashwords by the time I started on the CreateSpace site so I was familiar with most of the information they wanted until I reached the Physical Properties area.  This is where we start print talk.
Some of it is actually quite straightforward, though I am talking from the perspective of printing a novel rather than a non-fiction book with colour photographs, so my interior type is Black & White.
The next option is Paper Colour, and the choices are White or Cream.  I selected white but then had a quick look through my books.  Every paperback I own has cream paper, so it was back to the laptop and change selection to cream.
Trim Size is the size of your book.  It has to conform to industry standards, but the good news is that there are plenty of options.  I had already decided on my book size after looking through the books on my bookcase (8"x 5").  Once you decide on the size of your book you can work out roughly how many pages you will have in your book -  this affects the price.  While price is always important I think that making the book look as professional as it can is more important than saving a few cents.
You need to get to this point, or at least have decided on the size of your book before proceeding with some of the formatting, or you'll have to repeat a few steps.
CreateSpace has templates you can download for the interior of your book, once you've decided on the size.  I used the template but probably wouldn't bother next time.  If you feel confident at changing the size of the paper to a custom size to fit your book, and set up headers and footers for odd and even pages you don't need the template.  If you use the template you now need to copy and paste your manuscript into the new template, and decide on your font and size etc.
As I mentioned if you haven't formatted your manuscript for a print version, then now is a good time to look at a selection of books to see how they're formatted, and what works best for your manuscript.  
I'm fast running out of time, so I'll stop here for now, while you play at Blue Peter and decide what size book and font works best for you.

05 December 2011

Uploading to Kindle

I had been told, or read somewhere, to save my Word file as an .html to upload to KDP (Kindle), but when I read through their help files I saw they accepted .doc and .docx files, and so I uploaded my Word.doc file.  Not a good idea, at least for me.  For whatever reason all my paragraphs, formatted in a Word Style with a first line indent, appeared as block paragraphs. 
Fortunately the upload to Kindle is very quick, and so I tried again with the same result.  Yes I know the definition of insanity...  and in my defence I only repeated it once.
Anyway lesson learned I saved my manuscript as an .html file and uploaded it.  Perfect first line indents!
Kindle doesn’t do the free downloads that Smashwords does, but once you've uploaded your file successfully a button appears asking if you want to preview your book.  The correct answer is yes, you really do want to do this.  A virtual Kindle appears and you can click through your book checking it is as perfect as it should be.
I formatted Lives Interrupted for both Kindle and Smashwords over the same weekend, and opened both the accounts at that time.  As I've mentioned in a recent post I didn't find it that difficult, and a lot simpler than formatting the print version!

02 December 2011

Smashwords, AutoVetter and the Premium Catalogue

Once you've written the very best book you can, edited and polished it until it shines and then had it professionally edited, and either created or had someone else create a cover, you're ready to start the process of publishing it.
After logging into your Smashwords Dashboard you click on the menu item Publish.   On this screen you need to insert the title of your book, and then a short description.  This is basically the blurb on your back cover, but you don't have a lot to play with, just 400 characters.  I had a fairly lean blurb but even so I needed to cut it back.  You then have an optional long blurb of up to 4,000 characters, and I put my slightly longer description in that area, though it was nowhere close to the 4,000 character limit.
On this screen you also select the price of your book, and whether you want to enable sampling.  I chose to do this as I feel it's the same as looking through a book in a bookstore, and if I can't look through some of an online book to get a feel for it, then I'm not going to buy it. 
Now you select a category for your book.  There isn't much choice, but in the next area you can add tags.  For these you need to consider the words or descriptions that people might type into a search engine to bring up your book.
The next option is the formats in which you'd like your book available, and there is a list of about seven different formats. 
Then we come to the upload stage.  Firstly your cover, and then your precious manuscript.
I must have uploaded it while the rest of the world slept as I was lucky 10 in the queue, and Lives Interrupted uploaded as I was watching, but depending on how busy it is you may need to wander away from your computer and find something else to do, and await an email confirming that the upload was successful. 
About 24 hrs later I had another email saying there weren't any AutoVetter errors, and the book was now in the queue to be checked by the vetting team for the Premium catalogue.  Having your book in the Premium catalogue means wider distribution channels which includes the Apple store, Barnes & Noble, Sony and Kobo.  It doesn't cost you anything other than making sure you've followed the Style Guide and produced the very best book you can, and why wouldn't you want to do that.
At this point, basking in the glow of no AutoVetter errors, being busy with work, and formatting and uploading to Amazon, I forgot to check my Smashwords Dashboard for a few days.  When I did remember to log onto the site to see if I had passed the review and was in the Premium Catalogue I saw that… oops it hadn't.  

I had downloaded a copy as soon as I could and checked to make sure the formatting was good, so what could be the problem.  The reason given was that my Table of Contents was incorrect, but I hadn't put a table of contents into the manuscript! 
I understand the point of a table of contents for non-fiction books in any format, and for print novels if the chapter headings are meaningful, but Lives Interrupted has short sections with headings that are the name of the POV character, so I didn't seen any reason for including a table of contents. 
But if a table of contents is required for the Premium Catalogue then they could have one.
I decided against creating one that included every section as there are about 90 (as I said most are very short) and decided to go for a link to the start of the book (bypassing the copyright stuff), one at the beginning of Part Two, another at the author's bio, and a final link for the sample short story.
Creating these links is simply putting a Word 'bookmark' at the exact points you wish each link to go to, and then typing up these headings at the beginning of the manuscript and hyperlinking them to your bookmarks.  The style guide explains each step, but if anyone would like a bit more info I'm happy to email them.
Then it was back to the upload screen.  Again I received the no errors AutoVetter email, but this time there was no basking in the glow.  I logged onto the Smashwords site most days until the 'Under Review' status changed to read 'Approved'.  Yay another milestone reached.

28 November 2011

Pricing an e-Book

One of the decisions you have to make is how much you're going to charge for your book.  Like everything else I did some research on this - by looking at the prices of other books, and reading other people's thoughts on the subject.
I decided from the outset I wasn't going the 'free' route, which incidentally you can do on Smashwords, but not with Amazon.  The minimum price you can set with Amazon is $0.99. 
If you are selling the first book of a trilogy or series, I can see that hooking new readers by selecting 'free' has some advantages.  Lives Interrupted is a standalone book, and while letting it go for nothing might give me some readers for the future, I believe it is worth something.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence, and comments from other authors, on the best price to set.  Some say between $2.99 and $4.99, while others between $0.99 and $2.99.
I decided that $2.99 was a fair price for my work.  Not only did I put a lot of effort into writing Lives Interrupted, but also in making sure it was as perfect and error free as I could make it.
Time will tell whether that is a reasonable price.  Watch this space and I'll let you know.

25 November 2011

More Exploits with ePublishing

I've read and listened to a few discussions about whether to format the manuscript yourself or pay someone else.  Ultimately we have to make the best decision for us, but it's not difficult.  I didn't time the process but it didn't take me more than two hours and some of that involved starting the accounts and filling in the information they required.
I used a designer to create the cover and consider that money well spent as I don't have those skills, and I also had the book copy edited.  I believe, as Joe Konrath also says, an important part of publishing a book yourself means it has to be the very best it can be. 
I've had feedback from the writing group and from beta readers which has strengthened the story, and I think it will emotionally engage readers.  So having the copy edit and the cover designed was part of the process of making it as good as I could. 
Now it was time to press the enter key on the Smashwords site.  I've read about the length of time it takes for the manuscript to upload.  What can I say?  After pressing enter on the Smashwords site I was 10th in the queue and it went through so fast I really didn't see the numbers clicking down.  That must be one bonus of living in the Southern Hemisphere and therefore uploading files when much of the world is asleep.  Within minutes I had an email back from Smashwords saying ' Congratulations! There were no AutoVetter errors! Your book is now in the queue for review by our vetting team."  Yay I was on my way.  One down and Kindle to go.

22 November 2011

Formatting an eBook

When I started writing Lives Interrupted I had no thoughts of Kindles or other reading devices, and so I formatted it with publishers and agents in mind.  And to look good for me as I spend considerable amounts of time looking at it, not gazing adoringly you understand, but working.  So it was in a print ready state, rather than an 'e-ready' state.
If you are intending to publish for electronic readers, you will need little more than the following for your manuscript:
  • A simple style for the major part of your content.  For example first line indent paragraph style in a 12pt standard font.
  • A style for your chapter headings.

I used Garamond 12pt first line indent for my content, and Garamond 14pt bold for the section headings.
This post goes into more details on that.
If you have an electronic reader you will already know there is no such thing as a page in an ebook, as the person reading controls how large the font is, and therefore how much shows on the screen at any time.  The document is basically one continuous page.
Smashwords advises not to use page breaks, and no more than four paragraph returns together (pressing the Enter key), or you could end up with blank pages on small screens.
I used one paragraph return after section headings, and two paragraph returns at the end of sections.
This is one area where the Smashwords Style Guide and the information on the KDP (Kindle) site differ.  The KDP formatting guidelines say to use a page break between chapters.  I guess it might depend on the style of your book and chapters.  The sections in Lives Interrupted are quite short and I tried it with page breaks, but when I previewed it on the Kindle Previewer it had some blank pages so I took out the page breaks and went with the paragraph returns as I've mentioned above.
Now we come to the front material.
I created two new styles: one called Book Title which was the same as my section title except it was centred, and a style based on the content style but with no first line indent and which was centred.
At the beginning of the manuscript I typed the name of the book using Book Title style (obvious really I suppose!) and my name and the copyright notice using the centred style.
For the copyright notice I looked at a few books from my bookshelf and Kindle and wrote what I thought was needed, some seemed excessively long.  You also need to add 'Smashwords edition' if you are going to publish on their site.
It was at this point I made another copy and called it my Kindle file.
That's pretty much it for the required front information. 
When I come to the end of a book I've enjoyed it's sometimes hard to let it go.  The characters stay with me for some time and I'm often interested to know if there are more books with those characters, or what else the author has written, especially if it's someone I'm not familiar with.
As an author the end of the book is a great place to do a little subtle advertising rather than just writing 'The End'.
I wrote a thank you for buying and reading the book, and put my website and blog addresses for any comments, and a little plea for a review if they felt so inclined.  I added a bit of information about me, and the book of short stories I'm working on at the moment, and added one of the short stories.  Hopefully after reading Lives Interrupted, and one of the short stories people will feel inclined to buy the book.

18 November 2011

Kindle and Smashwords

When I made the decision to publish my manuscript as an ebook I started to find out as much about the process as I could.  I would certainly suggest downloading the Smashwords style guide, as it goes into a lot of detail on how to format your manuscript to successfully turn it into an ebook.
How difficult the process is depends mainly on two things.  The (formatting) state of your manuscript, and your skill level in Word.  Personally I don't think you need extreme Word skill levels to get your manuscript ready to upload to Smashwords or Kindle.
At most it took me about two hours on my Smashwords version, and some of that time was spent messing around creating the additional material needed, such as copyright notice, author bio, and actually creating the account.
I would recommend creating your accounts in both Smashwords and Amazon before you actually want to format or upload your manuscript.
In the Smashwords style guide there is a 'nuclear' method and if you're worried about the formatting you may already have in your manuscript, then use this method.
Before doing anything else make a backup copy of your manuscript.
Hopefully you're already in the habit of making regular copies of your manuscript.  I do a 'Save As' on my manuscript most days when I begin work using the current date as the last part of the file name, so if my laptop decides to have a hissy fit and close down I haven't lost everything.
One part of my work as a technical writer is making things look good and having them print ready, so I found formatting for the e-book painful.  Not difficult, painful.  There is no point in making it look pretty.  In this case plain and simple is definitely best.  It doesn't really matter what font the author uses as the reader can choose the font type and size they want.
You may be wondering why I keep referring to Smashwords rather than Kindle.  It's for the simple reason that the Smashwords style guide is very detailed, and ultimately most of what you do is the same for Kindle.
Okay here we go - MAKE A BACKUP.
It helps to have a passing knowledge of Styles.  Word Styles as opposed to what's in fashion at the moment.  You don't need a huge amount of knowledge, but it helps to know how to apply a style to text, and how to modify a style.  If you're not sure about this there are plenty of helpful websites, here is a link to the Wordtips site, but you can find others by searching on 'Word Styles'.
There are just a few big no-no's in this formatting lark for ebooks, and one is tabs, as in don't use them.  Phew one thing I didn't have to worry about.  If you're now saying, 'What!  No tabs!  How does she start her paragraphs?'  The answer to that is first line indents.  If you're not sure about those you can find out using the link above to the Wordtips site.
My manuscript was relatively clean.  By this I mean I used first line indents rather than tabs, and Styles rather than direct formatting.  Direct formatting is selecting text and changing it by using the tools on the toolbar such as bold, italic, colour, font size and type etc.  But I had used a lot of styles while I was editing to colour different parts of the manuscript, and so I decided the quickest way was to use the nuclear method.
Basically (after making a backup copy of your file - have I mentioned this before!) you copy all your text and paste it into Windows Notepad.  This strips out all of your formatting.
Close and reopen Word so you have a fresh document.  Then copy the Notepad content and paste it back into Word.  I'll warn you now it doesn't look pretty.  The intention is not to make it look pretty, but to get it ready to upload.
Your entire manuscript should now be in Normal style. 
The Smashwords style guide says to choose either a block paragraph style for your ebook, or a first line indent for all your paragraphs.  If you look in a print novel you'll see that the first paragraph of a section is a block style and subsequent paragraphs are first line indents. 
The majority of books on my Kindle have first line indents on all their paragraphs, but there is one book that has the print layout using both paragraph types.  I tried, oh how I tried, but I couldn't figure out how they managed it.  So I gave up and used first line indents on all paragraphs.
Now we've formatted our paragraphs we can turn to headings.  A non-fiction book will usually have several levels of headings, but for a novel we can keep it fairly simple.
Lives Interrupted is split into sections.  I call them that rather than chapters as most are relatively short.  Each section has a heading, which happens to be the name of the POV character for that section.  So I had normal style for the paragraphs, and then created a section heading style.  They were the only two styles I used for the book content.
It's fairly pointless spending a lot of time selecting a font, as the reader can change it to whatever they like.  The Smashwords style guide recommends something like Times New Roman.  What is important is not to go too wild on the font sizes, or to be more specific the variance between the font size of your paragraphs and headings.  I used 12pt for my content and 14pt for the book title and headings.
The only other thing I did at this point was to go through my Smashwords and Kindle version files and apply italics to about five or six pieces of text that had previously been italicised and which had been stripped out during the nuclear method.
Yeeha the manuscript was done, but the book not quite finished.  Now it was time for the front and back content.

14 November 2011

E-Publishing - The Beginning

About a year ago I attended a publishing workshop run by the New Zealand Society of Authors.  Up to that point I knew very little about ePublishing.
The first presenter was Mark Coker.  I had never heard of him or Smashwords.  I hang my head in shame!
From the question and answer session at the end of Mark's presentation, I realised that a significant number of the people there were already trying out this brave new world.
Driftwood had not long been published in UK, but I had already discovered some of the frustrations of the publishing and distribution system.
Going back yet another year, I had finished Lives Interrupted and sent it off to some publishers in London.  I waited.  And waited.  Then finally, oh joy, they wanted a full manuscript.
More waiting.  Ultimately they decided not to take it on, but the letters were personal and they gave me feedback, which I treasured because I knew it was rare.  The feedback was useful and I worked on it, and around this time started meeting with my present writing group.
At this point I attended the NZSA workshop, and left deciding this was the route I would take.  I also came away with details of websites for research.  One of these was Joe Konrath, and so I started reading his blog as well as others that had been suggested. 
One of the most important points that Joe Konrath makes on his blog is that to sell well, you have to have a good product.  He isn't the only author, editor or agent to say that.  People may buy one bad book from an author but they won't do it again, and with blogs, Twitter, and review sites, people find out about that.  We owe it to ourselves and readers to put out the best product we can.  Over the year I've been blogging I've written about my editing process and the feedback I've received, and they have made Lives Interrupted so much stronger.
Sometimes it felt as though the editing process would never end; that the book would never be finished, and I guess in some ways it isn't.  We grow and mature as people, as well as writers, and see things in a different light through various experiences.
Another of the things that Joe talked about was the importance of having a product that was as near perfect as possible, which, depending on your skills, may mean using an editor, someone to create a cover, or someone to format the manuscript for you.
Most of the training companies I've worked with have a process for developing training materials or technical manuals.  This process usually involves a final edit by a writer who hasn't been involved in the project.  The principle is a simple one, and I'm sure most writers are familiar with the scenario.  You are too close to the writing, and just don't see your own mistakes.  That is true whether it's grammar, typos, or plot holes.  In technical writing it might be adding material that isn't relevant, or glossing over (or even missing out) important steps in a process.  For that reason I had my manuscript edited.  Because of the editing and feedback process the manuscript had been through with the writing group, I was fairly confident I had the big picture, structure, plot etc. covered okay, and so I asked for a copy edit, covering typos and grammar, and only comments on structure if the editor noticed any major inconsistencies. 
I have absolutely no skills as a graphic designer/artist, and so I asked a fellow writer, Bev, who is also a photographer and has designed other book covers, to work on mine.
With a book cover, the manuscript edited and read (several times!), and feeling as confident as a perfectionist can ever feel that it is finished, I was ready to get to grips with turning it into an ebook.

11 November 2011

E-Publishing

I'm thrilled to say that Lives Interrupted is finally finished and - big drum roll - is now on Amazon and Smashwords.
I'm working on a print version and that will be ready soon.
I started this blog wanting to talk about writing and publishing, and so over the next few posts I'll share my experiences with epublishing.

Sydney

I've spent an interesting few days this week in Sydney, a city I love visiting.  It's vibrant, and even though the downside of that is that it's busy, everyone I've come into contact with has been friendly.  Although the city covers a large area it has a real heart, which is something many cities lack.
There are some beautiful parks (reserves) and gardens, and I spent a happy couple of hours wandering around the botanical gardens early morning when it was still fresh enough to enjoy.  One of the things you couldn't help but notice is the abundance of jacaranda trees in bloom.  They are stunning with their beautiful blue/purple flowers.
Although it's early spring it is significantly more hot and humid than Auckland at present, and there was a spectacular lightning storm on Tuesday evening while I was on the ferry to Manly.
Using the underground/rail system so much over the past few days I've really noticed the number of people using iPads and Kindles etc. to read. 
The underground seems to have a life and culture of its own.  It certainly has its own weather system with hot breezes that appear to come from nowhere.  The London underground is great and I enjoy using that, but some of the stations in the Sydney system have taken things to a whole new level, or should that be depth.  Getting out at Town Hall you can go above ground to the stores, or wander the underground labyrinth of shops.  I find it amazing how you can stroll along window-shopping and find yourself in the basement of the QVB (Queen Victoria Building) without going near street level.
What has this got to do with writing I hear you ask.  Not a lot, except I sat in a cafĂ© in the lovely QVB and wrote this while enjoying an iced drink and resting.  A number of years ago I used a weekend trip to Sydney as an opportunity for research as I set part of Driftwood in Sydney.
In my first drafts I tend to do a lot more scene setting and description than is needed, and consequently a lot of it is cut in later drafts.  It makes for pleasant travelogues, but doesn't move the plot forward.  The same happened with Lives Interrupted.  I deleted chunks I had enjoyed writing from my research when in London.
It's a fine line between setting the scene and boring the reader, hopefully I haven't bored you with this little travelogue, sorry post!

07 November 2011

100

Recently I celebrated a year of blogging, and I've just realised that this is the 100th post.  It's been an interesting journey and I'm still learning.  It took me a while before I discovered how to schedule posts for future dates, and I'm playing catch up adding tags to posts so they can be searched by topic.
When I started I didn't have too much of a plan.  I wanted to write about my publishing and writing experiences hoping they might be of help, or at least interest, to someone else.  I don't think I posted at regular intervals at first, but one of my writing goals at the beginning of the year was to post twice a week.  I chose that as I didn't think I could come up with something everyday.  Sometimes I have an abundance of ideas and write several posts at once, and at other times, well I'm sure you get the picture.
Sometimes I've read, heard, or seen something and immediately thought I'm going to blog about that.  Occasionally I realise how much I talk about writing, and how boring it probably is to those who don't share my passion.  It has also made me realise how important writing is to me, and what a big part of my life it is.
Here's to the next 100 posts.

04 November 2011

Categories and Pigeonholes

When I begin developing a workshop or training course one of the first questions I ask is, 'Who is my target audience?'
I sometimes get asked what type of books I write, and I find this quite difficult to answer.  Driftwood is about relationships.  Lives Interrupted is about coping with the aftermath of a disaster, but it is still about relationships.  One of the themes I saw, after writing the first draft, was the importance of friendship and the things we do for friends when they need us.
I don't like pigeonholes, after all I'm a person not a pigeon, but bookstores and people like to put books into neat categories.
Where this is leading is that I've been thinking about target audiences.  Yes I know, I'm coming at this a little late.  I've heard people talk about knowing their target audience and writing specifically for them, and I do agree with this a little, but I also want to write from the heart.  I write the type of book I like to read, and write what I feel passionate about.  The books I write aren't the only types of books I read, I love books that make me laugh, but so far I haven't found the knack of that.  Maybe next time!

31 October 2011

Unfinished Projects

On Friday I started off talking about multi-tasking, and ended up on the subject of finishing projects.  There is certainly no point in putting away the laptop and notebooks after sending a manuscript out to publishers and agents.  If you want to make a career from writing you need to produce more than one book or article.  But there are other times when it might be a good idea to turn to another project for a while.
I found it hard (read impossible) earlier this year to get back into the edits I needed to make in Lives Interrupted.  I would open the manuscript; open the edit file containing my notes on what I had completed, and what was still left to do.  I would read a few lines and feel this unbearable weight press down on me.  It was as though I was preparing to climb a mountain.  I'd close the files and walk away from my laptop.
It wasn't that I didn't want to write, but more that it seemed insignificant compared to what was happening at the time.
Ultimately, in an effort just to write, I put the editing aside and started working on a short story to submit for a competition.
It took a while but it worked, and I came out the other side with a renewed enthusiasm to get back to my novel.  Sometimes we do need to put a project aside and work on something else - just not too often I guess, or we end up with a hard drive of unfinished writing.

28 October 2011

Multi-tasking

There's a myth out there that women can multi-task and men can't.  I guess like a lot of generalisations it's true for some people, but not others.  It's definitely not true for me.
I can multi-task the simple things that don't need my full concentration, but when it comes to important, or more intense activities, I have to focus on that one thing.
I'm envious of writers who talk about working on numerous projects at the same time, though I sometimes have less than generous thoughts of whether they're actually working on them all at the same time, which usually leads to random thoughts of a line of computers with a writer dashing madly between them.
I'm able to switch between a non-fiction (paying work) project, and a novel, but nothing more than that.  In much the same way I read one novel at a time.
Over the years I've been writing I've finally learned not to be so envious of someone else's talent, or way or working, and go with what works best for me.
I have a three-quarters complete first draft of another novel, which I started working on while I was waiting to hear from publishers/agents about Lives Interrupted.  I'm eager to get back into it, but also mindful not to get too ahead of myself before Lives Interrupted is completely finished.
When I started Lives Interrupted the manuscript didn't seem to move along very fast, working on it evenings and weekends.
When my job finished I decided to work for myself, but gave myself three months off to finish the first draft.  I worked on it full-time, and finished the first draft with a week or two to spare.
There is nothing like the relief and joy of getting to 'The End'.  However good or bad it is, without that first draft you don't have anything to mould and improve, and I guess that's the point.  Whether you can work on six things at the same time, or just one, it's not much use to you until it's finished.

21 October 2011

Writing Magic

Last week I wrote about filming a script I had written for some online training I’m working on.
We were on a very small budget, so had one cameraman, a small studio and very few props.
We did a couple of practise runs and then filmed the scene a few times.  After that, as we just had one fixed camera position, the actors changed positions and we filmed the scene from the opposite direction, and finally moved things side-on to the camera and did one final take from that angle.
We had two scenarios to film, and the second followed the same pattern.  Finally we did a few minutes filming at a local store, to set the opening scene.
The whole thing was great fun.
A day or so ago I saw the final edited version.  It's really good, and I was thrilled with what we had accomplished in just over a week, from initial idea to finished product, especially considering it was all fitted in around other work.
I know absolutely nothing about filming, and I was blown away by how the different takes were edited together to create a finished product that flowed seamlessly.
To me this seems to parallel the ‘scaffolding’ we have in a novel.  As a writer we do our initial planning, our scrappy first draft, edits, additional ideas, more edits etc.
It’s hard for us to look at the finished work without seeing all this scaffolding, but the reader just sees the finished book, and views it in much the same way as I viewed the film, marvelling at how everything fits together so beautifully.
There are magic moments in writing.  I’m still not totally sure whether they are down to ‘the muse’, our subconscious working it out and only letting us in on it much later, or pure luck.  But when it happens it feels as though someone has sprinkled pixie dust over the words, and you have magic.
Here’s an example to explain what I mean, and I’m sure you will have experienced this as well.  From my earliest Lives Interrupted drafts Dru has a secret that he doesn’t share with Kate until late in the book.  She is aware he has kept something back, but not what.
During later drafts (while deepening Kate’s character arc), a friend suggested adding an event to show her initial fearless and outgoing character to contrast the changes.  I had an idea for this and wrote it into an existing scene, but it was a while before I realised how completely it fitted, like a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle.  It answers the question why Dru kept his secret, and acts like a mirror image of his experience.  Pure magic!


17 October 2011

Point of View

One of the things I enjoy about writing short stories is the opportunity to experiment, such as using a POV or tense I don’t normally use.
There are a great many opinions out there on the topic of writing novels in present tense, and/or using a 2nd person POV, but a short story is a small enough package to allow a writer the opportunity to do something different.
For so far my novels have been in a close third person POV.
Lives Interrupted has several POV characters, and (for me) it would never have worked as a first person POV.  The majority of Driftwood is seen through Juliet’s eyes, but there are several scenes that are essential to the plot where she isn’t present, and so I chose a third person POV.
Back on the subject of short stories, I have written them in first, second and third person, and one particularly troublesome story has been written in all three.  I started it in third person, and felt it wasn’t a close enough view of the central (and only) character.  I tried writing it in first person, and discovered something interesting.  I couldn’t do it. 
The character hates himself so much I just couldn’t summon up that much self-loathing, and the writing came to an abrupt halt.  I decided then to try a second person POV, as in someone talking to themself.  This made all the difference and words started appearing on my laptop screen again.
I doubt I could keep it up for a novel, but it did make a very different writing experience for the short story.

14 October 2011

Filming my Script

You’ve got to admit the title looks pretty impressive.  Well okay, maybe not to Peter Jackson.
Unfortunately the film isn’t starring Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio, and it isn't the film of one of my books.  But this week I’ve written a script and watched it being filmed.  Honest.
Which goes to show you can tell the truth, but also make it sound a bit more than it actually is.
I write technical manuals and training materials, and at the moment I’m developing some online training modules.  I was asked to provide a script so we could include some short video scenes on the topic of customer service.
I wrote the script, and yesterday we filmed the scenes at a small studio.
I’ve never written a script before, and even though it wasn’t very long I found it quite different to my usual writing. 
Over the past few weeks I’ve gone through my novel manuscript a couple of times, reading out loud and making some final changes, and once Id written the film script I did the same.  But it’s amazing how different it is listening to someone else reading/speaking your words.  Someone of a different age or sex can make a sentence sound totally different, as can emphasising different words in a sentence.
It’s been an interesting experience, but I don’t think I’ll be changing career paths and launching into writing film scripts anytime soon.

10 October 2011

How Much Is Enough?

When it comes to editing, how much should you do before you let go?
This is mostly a rhetorical question, but feel free to voice your thoughts.
I know I have perfectionist tendencies, though not necessarily perfectionist skills.  For the technical writing projects I do there is always a deadline.  That is fortunate or I would never finish a project (and therefore never get paid), as I always feel there is room for improvement.  But when it comes to my writing, I either don't have a deadline, or it's a self-imposed one, and so not quite as real.
Too few edits and the work is not a complete package, but can there be too many edits?  And if there are, then what is the magic number?
I have a feeling there is no magic number, or rather that the magic number is different for each writer, and probably different for each novel.  I hope that the partially complete first draft of my next novel will ultimately need less edits than Lives Interrupted, but we shall see.

07 October 2011

Positive and Negative Character Traits

When I started writing, my characters had to be the best – looks, habits, talents.  But in making them super-people they aren’t loveable, or even likeable characters, and certainly not believable.
A gorgeous looking, multi-talented character, is someone a reader will hate, or at best, find hard to relate to.  I knew this as a reader, but it took me longer to make that leap as a writer.
Generally speaking we are made up of positive and negative characteristics, and those can also depend on circumstances.  Push the wrong button and you may see something that surprises you.
Character traits are rarely all good or all bad.  A positive trait taken to an extreme can show negative attributes, and vice versa.
Last night I watched an old episode of CSI.  Hodges is an annoying character; he has an array of infuriating habits, and irritates most of the other people he comes into contact with - including me, and I'm just watching the show!  This particular episode had Hodges getting the other technicians together to come up with something new in the miniature murders case.
In one scene the technicians are profiling the miniature murderer, and as they list the characteristics it's obvious they could be describing Hodges.  Without looking up from what he is doing Hodges calmly says, (words to the effect), ‘How could it be me, I spend all my time in the lab.’
In that one sentence Hodges totally redeemed himself.  He took the joke, wasn’t annoyed, and showed he is self-aware.
Our protagonist should be human not superhuman, and that means they need a few flaws.  Our antagonist should have reasons for acting the way they do.  We may not agree with what they do, but at least we know why they act that way.