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


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.