Posts Tagged ‘writing’

At last, we reach the grand finale.  Okay, that may be overstating things.

The previous three posts (start here if you’ve missed them) addressed the key areas you might want to consider spending money on if you’re going to self-publish.  I know there can be other expenses (marketing, photos, etc.), but I’m primarily interested here in what helps to get a readable book out there.

Of course, in all of this, I’ve assumed you’ve written something worth reading.  Apart from getting editorial advice, the actual writing of the book doesn’t cost money – unless you count buying stationery.  Then again, if you can’t produce a good story, it won’t matter how much money you throw at the project (no, I’m not going to drag EL James back in at this point).

The objective of the last few posts has been to highlight the importance of those key areas, and give some food for thought about whether to spend money on them or not.  As I said at the outset, in reality there are no rules to follow on this.  The choice is yours.

What can often hold people back from making a commitment to spend money, though, is a lack of perspective.  That doesn’t mean to say I think you should just start writing cheques for everything and hang the cost, but sometimes we don’t put these things into context.

You spend a lot of time writing your book.  Correction, you invest a lot of time writing your book.  Once you’ve used that time up, you can never get it back.  If you find yourself considering whether you should spend/invest money on the book, bear in mind that you may get that back – or at least some of it – because, to read it, someone is going to buy it.

Even if the book is a complete flop and you earn nothing from it, eventually you can earn it back another way.  Money is replaceable.  Time isn’t.

Here’s something else I had to remind myself: I don’t play golf.

If I did, my local golf club would charge me around £700 to join, and the same again each year.  I’d also have to buy a set of clubs, with a decent set costing me several hundred pounds (at least).  Then there’s the shoes and any other clothing required to fit in. And that ignores the potential to visit other clubs or have golfing holidays.

So if I’m not spending money on golf, could I not spend it on something else that gives me enormous pleasure?

Let’s face it, for each book, you only need one cover (if you get it right first time), and you’ll probably only need it editing or typesetting once.  So, unless you’re in a position to churn out a couple of books a year, getting yourself published doesn’t have to seem such an expense.

And remember it’s an investment, and all investments have risks attached to them.

With bank deposits, the money’s safe, but the risk is that it’ll lose its real value compared to inflation – so staying safe means you end up losing out for sure.

With the stock market, shares go down as well as up, so your investment might be worth less at the end than you put in, but it might shoot up, and probably will over the long term.

With property, the value can also go down as well as up, but the biggest drawback is the need to tie up a lot of capital, so it’s not easy to access your money.  After all, you can’t sell off just the kitchen.  Oh, yes, and there’s always something that needs maintaining, so there are ongoing expenses.  Over time, though, it will probably go up in value and, if you’re renting it out, provide a regular income.

Some people invest in their own businesses, often borrowing money to give the business a real boost.  They put all their eggs in one basket and work hard alongside their investment.  Sometimes, they crash and burn, owing loads of money and even going bankrupt.  But sometimes they end up building multi-million pound corporations.

So, whether you think of your writing as a hobby or something to invest in for your future, there are comparisons you can make to put it in context.

Now, I’m not suggesting that finding the money is an easy thing to do.  There are times in most people’s lives when things are tight.  But when you have some free cash and a choice between upgrading to the latest smartphone, or subscribing to a wider range of TV channels, or blowing it on a “holiday of a lifetime” – or settling for something a little less and putting the difference aside to invest in your book – maybe you’ll pause a moment and give it some thought.

This whole series of posts was started by Sarah asking what she should do for herself, and what she should pay someone to do when self-publishing.  The answer for anyone pondering this depends very much on their own skill set.  But the chances are that they’re going to have to shell out on at least one of the items I’ve talked about here.

The bottom line is, if you don’t feel your book is worth investing money in, maybe you need to rethink things.  Because time is a much more precious commodity than money, and you need to invest that even more wisely.
















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This is the third post in a series, so the introduction here is brief and probably won’t make loads of sense.  If you want to understand what prompted this outpouring and consider the choices to be made in relation to book covers, you may want to start here.  If you want to get to grips with the choices around formatting your eBook or paperback, you can check out the second post here.

For now, though, I want to go a step beyond the formatting.  Remember, everything I’m writing about here is with the reader in mind.  Their first experience of the book is the cover.  The second is the layout.  Assuming you’ve managed not to turn your reader away with a lousy cover or a jarring layout, you now need to make sure that, as they actually begin to read and take an interest in what you’ve written, you don’t give them more reasons to put the book down.



As with the formatting, if I come across a lot of spelling mistakes and typos, I find them distracting.  As a result, instead of immersing myself in the story, I’m regularly jolted back to the real world and it takes me several moments to get back in.  When my story’s being read, I don’t want the reader to do anything other than enjoy the narrative.

Proofreading can be expensive, though.  The publisher I’m using for the hard copy of Ravens Gathering charges £495 (plus VAT) to carry out a proofread once the book has been typeset.  Remember, all this is doing is looking for mistakes in things like spelling, format, typos, punctuation.  Obviously, this is important stuff – otherwise I wouldn’t mention it here – but there’s a chance you’ll know someone who’s prepared to read it through for you for nothing (or a small sum, or even a bottle of something pleasant to drink).

Do bear in mind, though, that if you do choose someone you know, they need to be competent enough to do it properly.  If they’re dyslexic, you may want to rethink your choice.  Obviously, as writers, we’re not necessarily social animals, so I could easily be wrong about the availability of a friendly proof reader.


This covers a multitude of options, from copy-editing to structural editing.  I have no intention of covering these here.  But it is important to have some kind of editing done.  You need feedback on your story and how it works.  Friends and family might be brutally honest with you, but probably not – after all, they’ve got to live with you afterwards.  More importantly, they mightn’t have the experience or inclination to provide meaningful feedback.  There’d have been no point in me asking my son, for example, because he doesn’t enjoy reading.  And my mum likes Catherine Cookson, so she’d couldn’t have provided guidance on how to improve the creepiness required in Ravens Gathering.

And don’t even think about doing it yourself, because you’re just too close to it.

From my own experience, when I had Ravens Gathering edited, a couple of plot holes were exposed and other useful insights were given that helped me tighten it up and make it a much better read.

Then again, I submitted Carrion and when the feedback came in it was clear I really needed to think again about its direction.  As a result, it still isn’t close to publication, but with its shortcomings pointed out, I wouldn’t want it out there in its original form.  It would have undermined the reputation (slim as it is) I’ve developed with Ravens Gathering.

So you have to accept some criticism, but I’d rather have it before I go to press than afterwards.  I want the book with my name on it to be the best it can possibly be.

From a reader’s point of view, if they pick up your book and find it doesn’t flow, it’s inconsistent, the twist can be seen coming from Chapter Two, the dialogue’s stilted or the story relies on an excess of exposition, they aren’t going to recommend it to their friends and family.  They may even leave a bad review if they feel strongly enough.

It’s worth bearing in mind that if you decide not to self-publish, it’s almost mandatory to use an editor.  If you want to get your novel in front of agents and/or publishers, it needs to be in the best possible shape to grab their attention.  Apart from deciding to use a publishing house to prepare my print books, the editing has been the single biggest expense.  But, unless you know a professional editor who’s willing to do the job for nothing or at a rock bottom price as a favour, you really can’t afford to not find the money to do this.


Looking back at that last point, I can’t help thinking: that sounds like a rule.  It isn’t really, because if you’re self-publishing, no one’s going to force you to do anything.  Frankly, you can write gibberish, have a photo of a tie for a cover and then publish it as an eBook for no cost.  But it ain’t going to sell.  Oh, hang on…


Seriously, one way or another, there’s a chance you’re going to have to put your hand in your pocket – no, I don’t mean while you’re thinking about 50 Shades.  In the final part of this series, I’ll give you some perspectives to consider when it comes to investing money in your book.

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In my post titled No Rules, I explained that the lovely Sarah Brentyn had asked a question that basically put my brain into overdrive.  No Rules began the process of dumping the product of all that activity.  If you haven’t read that post, it would be prudent to do so before starting on this one.

If you have read it, let’s crack on and talk about a technical part of the process of getting your book published.


This is a broad subject, as it covers setting up your book for reading either as an e-book or as a hard copy.  I’ll cover both in a moment, but the key thing to remember here is the reader.  What’s their experience going to be?  If they start reading the eBook and keep coming across blank pages (an easy fix if it’s formatted right) or different kinds of spacing or margins, they become distracted from the content.  I’ve stopped reading potentially good books before because I found the errors so irritating they detracted from my enjoyment of the story.


The Kindle format represents something in the region of 80% of all e-book sales, so this is the one to nail.  Other formats are the icing on the cake.  Amazon do provide very detailed and, frankly, quite simple instructions to follow in order to upload your manuscript to their Kindle store.  Even I, a proud technophobe, worked it out.  It did take a little time, perhaps a couple of hours, to reach a point where I was satisfied, but when you consider how much time you’ve spent writing the book, that’s a worthwhile investment.

There are also software products you can buy to help you convert your manuscript to a compatible format.  I have a copy of Calibre, a free to download piece of software, which I found useful when I wanted to transfer early drafts on to my Kindle.  I haven’t used it to upload on to the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) site, but I understand it works.  I also have Scrivener, which will convert your manuscript to pretty much any format, though I haven’t used it for that purpose.  Frankly, I found that following the KDP instructions step-by-step, I got exactly what I needed.  But clearly there are alternative options out there at little or no cost.

You can, of course, pay to have someone else do it for you.  Rates vary, but I’d feel cheated if I spent more than £200.  More importantly for me, I’ve seen some really badly formatted eBooks, and some of them have come from publishing houses, so just by going with a big-name company doesn’t guarantee good quality.  With that in mind, I’d want to see what they’ve produced before it goes live.

Obviously, we shouldn’t ignore the other e-book formats (although I have done so far).  But the principle is the same as with the Kindle: there are processes you can use to get your book ready to read, you just have to work out whether you feel competent enough to follow them.

Hard Copies

When it comes to getting a book you can hold in your hand, there are Print on Demand services you can use, where you set it all up at no up-front cost.  Probably the most commonly used of these are CreateSpace (Amazon again!) and Lulu, though there are many other options.

When I looked at using these services with Ravens Gathering, as it’s over 400 pages long, I felt the price per copy was excessive and unlikely to sell.  But I could completely appreciate why it would be worth doing for a book of maybe 300 words or less.

This issue is really all about what you feel comfortable doing.  If you have a book of the right length, and find the setting up process with one of these services easy to follow, then this can work brilliantly.  What you’ll probably need to do is print off a few variations first to see which one you’re happiest with.  Remember, it’s all about the reader, and you want to make sure the book you provide to your reader is going to be very satisfying for them.  That may be the size (apparently it does matter, after all), the paper quality, the spacing and margins, or even how good the cover looks.  But that’s still going to be a lot cheaper than going to a publisher and asking them to format it for you and then set up a print run.

That latter option is what I’ve decided to do with Ravens Gathering.  Frankly, I didn’t have confidence in my own ability to get the typesetting right.  I knew what I wanted, but was happier to pass the job to someone else to do, on the proviso that I get to check it off at every stage of the way.

So, you heard it here first.  Ravens Gathering will be available in paperback in a few months’ time.  (Autographed copies can be ordered – I believe the Chuckle Brothers live not far from here, so if mine’s not good enough, I’ll see if I can get theirs.)

Clearly, going down the route I have is expensive, and it’s important to talk to a range of publishers before making the decision about which one to use (the cheapest may not be the best).  It is just as important, though, to talk to authors who have used their services.


The issue of cost is important, and I will address that in the last post in this series.  Before then, I’ll look at editing and proofreading.

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No Rules

Sarah Brentyn at Lemon Shark posed a question in her recent blog post and, in the process, threw open the doors for other writers to share their experiences of self-publishing.  I did start to reply, but quickly realised my reply was getting way too big.  I was also starting to repeat a lot of stuff I’ve mentioned in other responses to other bloggers.  So I reined it in and decided maybe I should just get this stuff off my chest once and for all.

In many respects, the theme of Sarah’s post was spot on.  Do read it – it won’t take long.  In short, though, she’s aware of all the advice that’s out there about how to self-publish, makes a terrific comparison with the conflicting advice you get from various quarters for another significant event (seriously, read it – I’m not going to tell you what she said), and proceeds to ask for more…

What she says is true, as there are plenty of self-published authors who’ve had their own experiences, and from those experiences (good and bad) have an opinion on what works best.  Having had some exposure to this process myself, even though I feel it has been fairly limited, I think there are several points worth noting.  Unfortunately, as I started to write what I intended to be a brief blog post, I kind of got carried away, and ended up with a fairly hefty essay.  As a result, I’ve had to break it up into segments, so please bear with me as I gradually open this up over the next few days.

The most important thing to bear in mind when it comes to self-publishing, is that, in spite of claims to the contrary, there are no rules.  It’s up to you how much you do yourself, and how much you delegate – whether that’s by using willing volunteers or shelling out hard-earned cash.

Beyond this, the biggest consideration is the reader.  If you don’t please the reader, you’re not going to get your book(s) read.  Now, when I say that, I don’t mean you should please every reader, because you’re never going to do that.  But you have to reduce the obstacles to pleasing them.

Because the reader should be at the forefront of your mind, the issues I’m going to address are dealt with in the order of how the reader experiences a book, not necessarily the order you should approach them.


The Cover 

This is the first contact most readers will have with your book (unless you’ve already picked up a ton of rave reviews and the world and his wife are telling everyone how good your book is).

So your cover needs to entice the reader, draw them in.  If the only drawing is the illustration (because it looks like it’s been created by a 5 -year old with crayons), the potential reader isn’t even going to pause to look at it.  In which case, it won’t matter how brilliant your story is, or how amazing your characters are, no one’s going to read it.

It also needs to give a sense of the nature of the story.  I’ve included the Ravens Gathering cover below as an example.  If you’re looking for chick-lit or historical romantic you’re not going to go any further with this, are you?  I said earlier that you’re not going to please every reader, but you can improve the odds by at least getting some interest from the right kind of reader.


Now, if you happen to have the artistic ability to create an image that works for your book, and the technical skills to transfer it to a suitable format, you can save yourself some money.  If you have a friend or family member who can do it for you, the same applies.  But if you don’t have those, you’d better be prepared to invest, otherwise it’ll be pure luck, unless your target market is the blind and they only use audio books.

I should say that when I had my cover designed (I am that 5-year old, but I’m more likely to eat the crayons), I did have a rough idea of what I wanted.  This did help the process, although my cover designer (the wonderful Torrie Cooney) still had to put up with several emails from me that started: “That’s great, but how about…”.

Funnily enough, the images were created relatively quickly.  The longest time was spent on getting the fonts right for the title and my name.  Do not underestimate this.  Unless you only ever want to publish one book, it will save you time in coming up with fonts for future books.  More importantly, it starts to build your brand.  If someone likes one of your books, there’s a strong chance they’ll go looking for another.  Similar images help, but so does having the same style of print on the cover.

So, after spending months (or years) writing your masterpiece, make sure you spend a little more time and (if necessary) some money on getting the cover right.  Otherwise, you may as well have not bothered.


For now, that’s all I’ll say, but keep an eye out over the next few days, because I’ll be back to talk about other aspects of self-publishing you can do yourself or choose to get a professional in for.

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Four Things, Apparently

In my recent post about prologues I gave a short list of things that I felt a prologue could do for a story.  However, I also added that my list wasn’t exhaustive and asked you (dear reader) to let me know if you came across any others I could add.

Fortunately, someone was paying attention and not only thought about it, but went to the trouble of telling me.  In the unlikely event that you have not encountered the… (what’s the adjective I’m looking for?) …unique (that’ll do it) …talent (another suitably ambiguous word) …that is Tara Sparling, please do make the effort to go and visit her blog.  To be fair, you may never come out again, but the experience will be well worth it.

Anyway, Tara kindly pointed out the following:

Another good reason to have a prologue – or so I’ve been told – is because you’re using a POV which doesn’t appear in the rest of the book, or at most once or twice more. For example, the killer in a crime procedural.

I’d like to elaborate on that, because point of view can be interpreted in different ways.  The obvious way to write from a character’s point of view is to do it in the first person.

There’s been an increasing trend in recent years for stories to be told in the first person by different characters.  James Patterson is probably the most high profile author to do this.  I’ve got to be honest: it’s not a style I’m particularly fond of.  To me, a first person narrative should be from the same person, otherwise the book should be written in the third person.  But who am I to judge?  I’m the writer with only one book out there earning next to nothing, and he’s the one with millions of dollars in the bank (or is it billions now?), and a team of monkeys with typewriters.  Not that I feel in any way bitter about this…

Anyway, taking my own prejudices out of the picture, it can be very effective to have a particular character appear in the prologue and for the reader to see something from their perspective.  In a sense, they fall into the significant character box, but not in the same way as the Simon Templar example.  Especially  as they may not appear until much later in the book.  Or maybe they do, but you just don’t know it, and you’re left guessing who it was.

Funnily enough, it occurred to me as I wrote the last sentence that I’ve done exactly that in Ravens Gathering.  It’s funny how the obvious passes you by.  Bearing in mind my earlier comments, though, it should come as no surprise to know it was written in the third person.

Anyway, we now have four things a prologue can do for your story.  Does anyone have any other suggestions?







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One At A Time

I’ve been away from my blog for a while, dipping in occasionally, but not really focusing on writing posts. There have been good reasons for that, the main one being that I completed the first draft of a new novel, Birth Rights, in January.  I’d been working on it in fits and starts for several months, but I really got my teeth into it in December, and wrote over 50000 words in six weeks.  So I hit a major milestone, but to do that you have to sacrifice things.

A fellow blogger was asking a short while ago about the merits of working on one project at a time, or having them overlap, or even working on several at once. It’s difficult to come up with a definitive answer to that one, because we all function in different ways and, for some of us, one process is more efficient than another.

But one thing I do know is that you get more done if you focus on one thing at a time. I don’t just mean when it comes to writing, but life in general.  Some people are able to multi-task and, in the modern age, this seems to be a general requirement for living life.  But it’s not particularly efficient.

When you’ve got several things to do, you tend to be distracted by all the things you’re not actually doing. So the thing you’re working on doesn’t really get the attention it deserves.  (And sometimes the thing you’re working on can be as fundamental as a relationship.)

So, in response to this blogger’s question, I suggested he should concentrate on one thing at a time. But it’s not quite as straightforward as that.  In my own case, having finished the first draft, it’s not my expectation that I’ll continue to focus on the same novel until it’s completed and published.  We all know that we need to set the draft aside for a while and come back to it later.  So my plan was always to take a break, but to do something else constructive in the mean time.

My initial something else was to do a sailing course – an interesting experience that I will share another time. The second thing (which I’m concentrating on at the moment) is to get back to the day job and put a bit more effort in there than I did in December and January.  After all, I’ve got to earn some money.

But, as that routine beds in, I will then turn to the more important project, which is re-writing Carrion, a novel I’ve been working on intermittently for over eight years.  I thought I’d cracked it once, but my editor pointed out some pretty significant failings, so I need to strip it back and restructure it – but this time I’ll do it properly.

Only when I’ve completed that revised draft will I return to Birth Rights.  That makes it seem like a long and drawn out process, but with the impetus I built up with in recent months, I feel confident that Carrion will come together more rapidly this time.

The problem had been my lack of focus, which was a symptom of trying to do too many different things at once. This time, I’ll be more focused.  You see, the advice I offered was right, but I hadn’t always followed it myself.

This year, I’ll follow it more. I have a big incentive.  The clock is ticking and I’m getting older, so if I don’t get on with it, I’ll never actually write the stories I want to.  But I know that when I start writing, I’ll have to do it in a much more focused way.

At the moment, then, I’m giving myself time to write some blog posts, but I may disappear again later in the year. If I do, and if you notice, you’ll know what I’m up to, so please cheer me on.

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It’s not often I write about my writing. Maybe the odd reference, but a whole piece about it feels more than a little self-indulgent. Still, I won’t let that stop me…

For a host of reasons, Ravens Gathering is set in the late 1980s and most – if not all – of my stories will be based in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I realised this meant they’d appeal to people with fond memories of those times, especially as they’d be more likely to get the popular culture references. In RG those include Inspector Morse, Columbo and Doctor Who (okay, we still have The Doctor, and the others are repeated, but my point’s still valid).

So, having something of a nostalgic bent myself, I joined some online groups set up to reminisce about those times. Most posts are based on movies, music and TV, and seeing these posts flash up on my screen does bring a warm glow.

One post included a still from the first ever episode of Thunderbirds. Fireflash

Any aficionado will instantly know which one I’m talking about but, for the ignorant among you, I’ll explain shortly.

Apart from childhood memories, the image also reminded me of a lesson I’d learnt when it came to creating stories. I deliberately say creating stories, because the one I’ll refer to here hasn’t been written yet, even though the original idea came to me as a teenager (I haven’t been lying about my propensity for bone-idleness when it comes to writing).

When I get an idea for a story, it’s generally a broad outline and the theme tends to trigger certain scenes in my mind. When I came up with Ravens Gathering, for example, it was clearly going to be creepy and the first image I had involved furniture coming to life. That scene’s still in there (so I’ll say no more about it – that’s spoiler enough for now) and it’s one of my favourites in the book.

The story I created in my teens was originally called Leave Them to Die, a title representative of the lesser quality action movies of the time. It will be changed when I finally get round to writing it – let’s face it, that’s just a bit too retro.

This was an action thriller: lots of guns, terrorists, an extended car, bus and Tube chase, and a threat to crash an airliner carrying a nuclear bomb into London. In my head, it’s evolved over the years and I suspect the emphasis on action may reduce a little in favour of plot and character.

Originally, the climactic scene involved the airliner attempting to land at an airport, but the undercarriage had been destroyed and a crash landing might set off the bomb. To overcome this obstacle, our hero implements an ingenious plan to use (wait for it…) buses to replace the undercarriage.

Now, the flaws in this scheme are obvious and plentiful, but I’ve seen much more improbable stuff in movies than a plane landing on three buses that are racing to match its landing speed. Eighteen year-old me was happy with it. It would be tense, nail-biting stuff that would have the reader on the edge of their seats – and just think how good it’ll look when they make the movie!

As I’ve matured, though, I’ve reined it in and the climax plays out somewhat differently now.

But what’s all that got to do with Thunderbirds? I hear you ask.

The series was re-run in the 1980s and I’m not ashamed to say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching it when I got in from work (personally, I think shows like this are wasted on kids.)

However, the first episode involves an airliner (Fireflash anybody?) which has to make a landing without being able to use its undercarriage. Of course, International Rescue don’t have to worry about commandeering buses. They’ve got specialist equipment designed for this very emergency and they produce it for what is… well, a tense, nail-biting scene that has the viewer on the edge of the seat.

And if this is bringing back memories you want to relive, here it is.

So, watching this again, I realised that, aside from its implausibility, my climactic scene was a complete rip-off.

Of course, in those days, I was convinced I was capable of producing completely original stories. But it’s become clear that this isn’t the case, that there are only so many basic storylines. And a lot of what we write is inspired by things around us, including the influences we had in our formative years. The important thing is to make it readable, and you do that with characters and a strong story, even if some of those elements have been used before.

What would be a mistake, though, would be to take something as unique as that Thunderbirds scene, which uses futuristic technology in a far-fetched way to entertain children (I know…) and try to incorporate it into a contemporary thriller for adults. Even if those adults yearn for their childhood and are massive Gerry Anderson fans, it ain’t gonna work.

Sometimes, I’m grateful for the fact that I’ve taken a while to get round to writing. Having said that, frankly I’d be delighted if, whenever someone picked up one of my stories, another Gerry Anderson phrase sprang to mind….

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