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Holiday Replay | Wannabe a Writer? by Jane Wenham-Jones

11 Oct

(I am currently on holiday and so I am replaying some posts. This one originally appeared in February 2010.)

So all week I’ve been counting down my personal Top 5 How To Write Books Books, picked from a sea of such titles (also known as the Reference section of Waterstones Patrick Street) and combed for clues. Ultimately, I want a book that tells me exactly how to go from daydreaming about being a published novelist to actually seeing my book on a shelf, but not one that prescribes such silliness as stream-of-consciousness writing exercises at the crack of dawn.

I loathe those, by the way. I don’t see the point, especially since mine would look something like this:

But anyway, I digress. Back to the Top 5. So far this week we’ve had How To Write Books books that were either funny and practical, or reassuring and practical, or comforting and funny. My No. 1 pick is all of those things and more. But before I tell you what it is, we need a radio-DJ style countdown. (I’m assuming you haven’t ruined the surprise by reading this post’s title.)

“At number 5 we had How Not To Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to Avoid At All Costs Should You Ever Want To Get Published…”

“In at number 4, Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need…”

“Number 3: The Maeve Binchy Writers’ Club…”

“Just missing out on the top spot at Number 2, The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers. And now, Catherine’s Number 1 How To Write a Book Book-”

[Drum roll, please...]

Wannabe a Writer? by Jane Wenham-Jones!

(Imagine streamers and party poppers and champagne corks and stuff.)

This book is 258 pages of pure and utter joy and if you only buy one How To Write a Book book – or in fact, any book at all – let it be this one. Having read it all in one sitting – well, not counting coffee breaks, of course – I felt comforted, informed and totally motivated to write. Also, my face was streaked with red and puffy as I tend to cry when I laugh, and I had an overwhelming craving for a bag of kettle crisps. Jane is like the Dr. Phil of writing (only a lot more attractive); she tells it like it is.

“I have heard so many authors tell the story… of how they first got into print. Typically, they woke up one morning with this little idea that they might write a novel. So they dashed one off over the course of a few rainy weekends, found an agent on the Monday, were in a frenzied auction with ten top publishers by Tuesday and banked their six-figure cheque on Friday just before they flew off to the States to discuss the screenplay. They seem touchingly bewildered by their own success. But not as bewildered as I am when I have known for a fact that the author… had written three previous novels before the one that made it and had burst into tears at the Writers’ Circle Christmas party when the twenty-seventh agent had written to suggest she stuck to crossword puzzles instead.”

And so Jane vowed as a much-rejected wannabe that when that dreamy day of publication came, she would tell the truth about the long and difficult road that led to it. With chapters on everything from The Benefits of Alcohol to Richard and Judy, Jane paints a realistic but not disheartening picture of the life of a wannabe novelist in a way that, to my knowledge – and remember, I’ve basically done nothing but read these kinds of books for the last ten years – no other book ever has.

Let me put it this way: have you ever read a How To Write a Book book that had both a hangover cure AND tips on how to avoid Writer’s Bottom?

I didn’t think so.

There is also oodles of practical writing advice, including an extensive section on my favourite problem, plotting, as well as things like grammar, layout and punctuation, or as Jane calls them, ‘The Tedious Bits.’ There’s input from best-selling authors, literary agents and major publishing houses and the story of how Jane went about getting herself her agent will make you laugh so much your family/spouse/neighbours will wonder if you’ve been possessed.

Tip: don’t read this book in a library. You’ll be asked not to come back.

Wannabe a Writer? will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about getting your book published, and a lot of stuff you didn’t. The New Writer called it ‘a must-have book’ and the National Association of Writers’ Groups said it was ‘as refreshing as a fizzing Alka-Seltzer after a big night out.’

This is, in summary, my ultimate How To Write a Book book. Aspiring authors, go and buy it now.

(Well, not right now. Read to the end of this post first.)

Jane has published three novels – One Glass is Never Enough, Perfect Alibis and Raising the Roof - and in honour of this, um, honour, I asked her very nicely (with smiley faces) if she would answer a few questions for us. Being lovely as well as hilarious, she kindly agreed – I didn’t even have to resort to my usual tactics of chocolate-related bribery.

What was your motivation for writing Wannabe a Writer?

I’d been doing my Writing Magazine column – a sort of agony aunt affair called ‘Talk it Over’ – for a couple of years and readers seemed to like it (apart from one particular gentlemen who was outraged when I suggested a good stiff drink to help the inspiration along). My thinking went like this: 24 columns at 1000 words each equals – a quarter of a book! (I’m always looking for short cuts!). In the end, of course, only the odd snippet from my columns made it into the final manuscript but it was the vision of all that material I had already that got me started. Also, I find so many of the existing writing books rather bossy. I wanted to say that it doesn’t matter how you do it – personally I would rather eat own leg than make index cards for each character – as long as you do, and mention the things that nobody else has seemed to, like the knotty problem of Writer’s Bottom and the fact that one can become insanely jealous of other writers getting published when one is being horribly rejected oneself. Stuff like that.

In your book you reveal that you didn’t always want to be a writer but instead toyed with several career options including ‘being Business Woman of the Year with a large desk, two telephones and a young male secretary [you] could send out on errands of a personal nature’. Who or what planted the idea of writing a novel in your head?

A writing aunt/tales of six figures sums and deals for screen rights (HA!)/being largely unemployable doing anything else.

Tell us a bit about your writing method. From what I can gather, it involves Post-It notes, a lot of alcohol – Wannabe a Writer? is the only How To book on my list that includes a (very useful) hangover cure – and eating kettle crisps…?

You’ve summed it up beautifully. Plus there’s the considerable amount of weeping and wailing when it’s not going well. I am trying to become more organized as I get older and (supposedly) more experienced. I try to do that planning thing. I dream of a single sheet of paper containing a grand design. In reality I am still surrounded by notes, lists, folders of cuttings that need to be incorporated somewhere…

Those of us who dream of publication believe (whether or not we admit it) that getting published will change our life, fill the hole in our soul, land us on Richard & Judy, etc. How has it changed yours?

Life is more fun; I am more neurotic. Never made Richard and Judy (though did spend an hour on stage with the lovely Richard Madeley, interviewing him for the Guilford Book Festival a couple of years ago) but have done lots of daft TV and radio programmes that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t had some books published. I’ve made lots of lovely friends and  have the perfect excuse to wear pyjamas all day.

If you had to sum up your advice to aspiring authors in two sentences and we assumed that ‘Buy copies of Wannabe a Writer? for you and all your friends’ was one, what would the other be?

Marry someone rich.

What are you working on now? I heard through the magical interwebs that a sequel is in the works…

Yes – Wannabe a Writer We’ve Heard Of? comes out in October. (Just the small matter of finishing it first….)

Is being awarded the accolade of Catherine’s No. 1 How To Write Books Book the highlight of your entire writing career so far? Please tick as appropriate: (a) Yes, (b) Absolutely or (c) Without a doubt.

All three – am touched, thrilled, delighted and – hey – any excuse to break open the fizz. Thank you!!

———————————–

Click here to buy Wannabe a Writer? on Amazon.co.uk:

Wannabe a Writer?

Click here to read a glowing review of Wannabe a Writer? by Trashionista.

Click here for Jane Wenham-Jone’s official website and here for her Wannabe a Writer? Twitter account. You need to follow Jane on Twitter. Just look at this gem:

Thanks so much Jane for writing Wannabe a Writer? and for taking the time to appear on my blog. You’re a Starbar.

And so concludes my Top 5 How To Write Books Books. (What the bubbles am I supposed to write about next week?!) Click here to read all the posts or click here to shop for all my favourite How To Write Books Books.

Holiday Replay | The Easy Way to Format Your E-Book

8 Oct

(I am currently on holidays and so am re-playing some posts. This one originally appeared only the week before last, but since it’s one of my most popular ever, I thought I’d give it another run.)

While I’ve already blogged about publishing my e-books, I kinda skimmed over the nuts and bolts of formatting. But as I’m in a generous mood this morning and I feel your continued e-book formatting pain, here by popular demand is a more detailed post about how to format your e-book like I did.

If you haven’t yet dipped a toe into the wonderful world of e-book self-publishing or you don’t plan to, you might still have heard a whisper about how UTTERLY ANNOYING AND STRESSFUL it is to format your MS Word manuscript in preparation for upload to Smashwords or Amazon’s Digital Text Platform. (It might have been more of a blood-curdling scream, if you’ve been reading about my e-book experiences.) And if you have dipped a toe or even a leg into it, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

The thing is there is easy money to be made in e-books, if you can stomach the crappy bit at the beginning where you actually have to make the thing. One author I read about recently, Joe Konrath, is making around $500 a day – a DAY! – selling e-books, and it’s such a versatile market (you can sell full-length books, novellas, short stories, even your blog) that it would be a shame if something like paragraph indents put you off getting involved. And if even if you have no interest in making money [kindly picture me looking very skeptical indeed] just think of all the readers you can potentially reach.

A disclaimer before we begin: this is just what I did to format my e-book. It was simple and it worked. But my book was also simple: just text, no fancy photos or graphs. I even scrapped my table of contents. If you have fancy photos or graphs then… well, good luck with that. The rest of you, carry on.

There’s No Page

If you learn one thing from this entire post, let it be this: in e-books, there is no page. This is the hardest thing for would-be e-book publishers to get their heads around, and I understand. It was hard for me too. Back when I worked in OfficeLand, seeing as much as a one sentence business letter go in the post incorrectly formatted made me come out in hives (and don’t even get me started on badly addressed envelopes) and dismantling all my careful print edition formatting didn’t feel any better. But once you make your peace with it, this whole process becomes a lot easier.

In the words of Smashwords.com’s Style Guide:

“Ebooks are different from print books, so do not attempt to make your ebook look like an exact facsimile of print book, otherwise you’ll only frustrate yourself by creating a poorly formatted, unreadable ebook. With print, you control the layout.  The words appear on the printed page exactly where you want them to appear. With ebooks, there is no “page.”  By giving up the control of the printed page, you and your readers gain much more in return. Page numbers are irrelevant.  Your book will look different on every e-reading device.  Your text will shape shift and reflow. Most e-reading devices and e-reading applications allow your reader to customize the fonts, font sizes and line spacing. Your customers will modify how your book looks on-screen to suit their personal reading preference and environment. By transforming your books into digital form, you open up exciting possibilities for how readers can enjoy them. At Smashwords, our motto is “your book, your way,” and this means a reader should be able to consume your book however works best for them, even if that means they like to read 18 point Helvetica with blue fonts, lime background color, and triple spaced lines.”

By way of demonstration:

A word about page breaks: use them if you absolutely must, but why do you need to? A chapter heading will let the reader know they’ve started a new one, and the rest of your text doesn’t need them because the “page” on your reader’s e-reading device will have nothing in common with your “page”. It’ll just end up looking messy and filled with blank space. The key to this is the word flow. Let your text flow.

Step 1: Get Rid of the ‘X’

Smashwords only supports MS Word files that end in .doc. If you have a newer version of MS Word, your file will end in .docx by default, but you can change that. When using the ‘Save As’ function, hit the drop down menu labelled ‘Format’ and select ‘Word 97-2004 .doc.’ Continue to save as normal. I recommend you work from a copy and not your original, in case anything goes wrong. Don’t say you weren’t warned…

Step 2: Prepare Your Manuscript

I’m going to assume that you’re working either from a manuscript you intended to submit (double-spaced, new chapters starting on their own page, Courier or Times New Roman) or from the interior file of your POD book (fancy font, chapter headings, blank pages). Whatever you’re working from, you need to prepare it now for its life as a e-book.

Get rid of all the front and back matter: title pages, copyright notice, table of contents, chapter title pages, index – anything that isn’t the actual text of your book or a chapter heading. Lose the page numbers. Next, close it all up so that there’s no blank pages, and new chapters start right below the previous one.

Finally, select all text (Edit -> Select All) and change it to:

  • ‘Normal’ paragraph style
  • Left-aligned
  • Pt 12 sized text
  • Single line spacing
  • A simple font, like Times New Roman, Arial or Book Antiqua.

Forget about having tables, columns, text boxes or footnotes. If you have these in your book you’re going to need to figure something else out, or spend a week studying Smashwords’ Style Guide and following every one of its recommendations.

It will be easier to envision what your e-book will look like if you set your MS Word ‘View’ to something like ‘Web’ or ‘Outline.’ DO NOT view it in ‘Print Layout’ as this will mess with your head and confuse you with the idea of actual pages.

Step 3: Activate Show/Hide and Go Tab Hunting

It is extremely important the you do NOT use tabs to delineate the beginning of your paragraphs. Instead, use the automatic paragraph indent feature as shown in the image below.

Word’s Show/Hide feature is designated by the “¶” mark in the toolbar. Click it. If you’ve correctly used indents, the beginning of your paragraphs will be marked with nothing and the end of them by one of these “¶” marks. If you’ve used a tab, it’ll show an arrow pointing right at the start. Go through your document until you have eliminated ALL tabs/arrows indicating such.

Step 4: Really Close It Up

In Step 2 we closed everything up so that we had removed all blank pages and had each chapter starting on the same page as the one before it had ended. But now we’re going to really close it up.

Listen to me VERY carefully: under no circumstances should you have more than 3-4 empty lines anywhere in your e-book. Did you listen? Trust me, this will be difficult to implement. You’ll really, really, really want to leave some after your copyright notice, or after the last line of each chapter, but you need to be strong! Don’t do it. When you press Return to make a blank line, you’ll get a little “¶” mark as you do at the end of each paragraph. Make sure you have no more than 4 of these together anywhere in your book.

Step 5: Make Chapter Headings

Once you’ve done this, make your chapter headings. KEEP IT SIMPLE. I made mine all caps and in bold. Do not use a different font or a different font size if you can resist it. Remember: the simpler the better.

This is what the bit in between your chapters should look like:

This is what the bit in between your chapters should NOT look like:

Step 6: Add Your Sparkly New Front Matter

What goes at the front of your e-book is not the same as what goes at the front of your print edition. You should have the title, your name and then your copyright notice. We’re going to use a Smashwords copyright notice and license note for this example but you can just modify as need be. NB: This is required for Smashwords upload, and it’s the only thing I’ll let you centre.

MY BOOK’S TITLE
by Soon To Famous Author, i.e. Me
Smashwords Edition | Copyright 2010 My Name

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only.  This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people.  If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient.  If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy.  Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
http://www.mywebsiteURL.com
http://www.mysmashwordsprofilepage.com

Step 7: Add Your Sparkly New End Matter

Smashwords recommends that you type ‘###’ and centre it beneath your last line to mark the end of your book. You can leave it like this if you like, but it’s a wasted opportunity. Instead, write a little author bio for yourself and list your website or blog, Twitter username, Facebook page and whatever else you want. And remember – this is an e-book; you can insert hyperlinks. (Use Word’s Insert -> Hyperlinks function.) Then if someone is reading your book on, say, an iPad, they can click onto your blog immediately after finishing your book to see what else you got.

And they all lived happily ever after.
THE END
###
About the Author
Up until recently, E-Book Author was drinking copious amounts of coffee and working on her second novel. However after spending a weekend attempting to format this e-book correctly, she had to be transferred to a secure mental health facility for the safety of people around her. She’s currently considering embellishing her experiences there á la James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces. Her agent thinks she’s onto something… Oh, wait. That should have been on something.
Find out more on http://www.amillionlittleformattingerrors.com.

Step 8: Upload Your Book

Follow instructions on your chosen e-book publisher website to complete this step.

I recommend that you publish your e-book on BOTH Smashwords and Amazon’s Digital Text Platform, to cover all bases and thus take best advantage of the e-book market. (Remember to set the same price on both.) If you do this your book will be available on Amazon Kindle store (US and UK), Apple iBooks, Barnes and Noble’s e-book store, Sony E-Reader store and others.

Step 9: Upload Your Cover Image

Smashwords offers a lot of technical information about the required size, shape and quality of your cover image; I say ignore it. (I had to, as I didn’t have a clue what they were on about anyway.) Instead, follow Catherine’s Hit and Miss But Ultimately Simpler Way of Uploading Your Cover Image:

  1. Get a JPEG of your book cover
  2. Upload it
  3. If it doesn’t upload, re-size it and try again
  4. Repeat as required.

If you don’t already have a print edition, chances are you won’t have a cover image. (Unless you’ve been doing some serious visualization/vision board work.) Covers are just as important to e-books as they are to print editions; they give you a big clue about what level of quality you can expect to get in the book behind them. If all else fails, consider making something in MS Word or whatever word processing program you use, then save that as a PDF, then save the PDF as a JPEG. It won’t be a high resolution and it’s really the poor man’s way of doing things, but it’s better than nothing.

Step 10: Check Your Book

DO NOT skip this step. I did and I paid dearly for it, first time round.

First, download Abobe Digital Editions – it’s free – and then your own book in EPUB format from Smashwords. Study every page to make sure everything is okay. Then download the free Kindle application (click here for PC or here for Mac) and the appropriate version, and study that too. Only when you’re sure everything is a-okay should you start to publicize the fact that you have an e-book for sale. But once you do…

CONGRATS! You have an e-book for sale.

Troubleshooting

According to Smashwords, the top 5 formatting errors are:

  1. Improper indents. Don’t use tabs.
  2. Repeating paragraph returns. No more than four empty lines together, and as few as possible.
  3. Improper paragraph separation. I haven’t mentioned using the block paragraph style here because as a reader it makes my blood boil, but use either it OR first line indent. Using both equals disaster.
  4. Font and style mistakes. Use the same, simple font throughout, no more than 2 or 3 font sizes and nothing bigger than pt 16.
  5. Copyright notice mistakes. Don’t forget to include it, as above.

It took me a few tries to get my e-book right, and I found that the mistakes I was making included:

  • Using page breaks. Be ruthless; get rid of them
  • Using font sizes that were too large for chapter headings
  • Not having all my text set to ‘Normal’ paragraph style.

I also experienced a bug that is associated with MS Word for Mac that inserted a paragraph break after each period. If this happens to you, send yourself the document by email, open and re-save it on a PC and upload again from that PC.

If All Else Fails…

You may not even want to attempt to do the steps above, or maybe you want more advanced formatting like a linked table of contents or embedded images, but you don’t have the patience for it. In that case, consider contacting Smashwords founder Mark Croker (via the website) who has a list of Smashwords users willing to format your e-book for you for around $25 per hour.

Remember: this is a very basic approach to formatting your e-book. For more advanced formatting, study the Style Guide. And prepare for some migraines…

Click to buy my e-book Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida on Amazon Kindle (US), Amazon Kindle (UK) or Smashwords.com. Prices start at $2.39.

If you live in or around Dublin and you’re interested in hearing more about e-books from me and some people who actually know what they’re talking about, click here.

Holiday Replay | Laziness: A Love Story

6 Oct

(I am currently on holiday and so am replaying some old posts. This one was originally posted in March 2010.)

I have a confession to make: for the last three or four days I have done absolutely nothing.

Nothing. Nada. Not a thing.

And I don’t just mean I haven’t accomplished anything of greatness or that I’ve failed to tick any items off my To Do List – I mean I’ve done absolutely nothing. I don’t have a job, I live with my parents and I rented an entire season’s worth of Lost DVDs, so this wasn’t hard to do.

Yesterday I didn’t even get dressed.

Is it that I’ve nothing to do? Hardly. I have a non-fiction book I’m supposed to planning, another I’m supposed to be writing, a second novel to start, two blogs to maintain and a third to contribute to and I’m supposed to be visualizing the success of the novel I did manage to write on a full-time basis complete with meditation, incense sticks, vision boards, copies of The Secret and whatever the hell else I think might help a publisher to say ‘yes.’ I also have to drink obscene amounts of coffee, tweet excessively, write a few letters (yes, I am one of the few who still writes letters but probably only because I love getting them), read a stack of books so high they’re becoming a health and safety issue and attempt to shrink my rear end by doing miles on the treadmill whenever possible. I also occasionally like to get out and see the world, or at least pretend that I do; I have no objections to socializing when it involves caffeinated beverages and I always make sure that it does.

Really when you think about it, it’s just as well I don’t have a job.

In my last job which if you missed it was becoming a cemetery for my soul (to steal a line from last night’s FlashForward - of course I found the motivation to watch that despite Joseph Fiennes apparently having gone to the same school of ‘acting’ as Keanu Reeeves), I dreamt of having nothing to do all day but write. I love the fresh smell of first thing in the morning – which, in keeping with Catherine’s Theme, usually includes some coffee – and each time I had to turn my back on it so I could let myself into the office, turn on my computer, take the phone off voicemail and wish ill on people for the next eight hours, my heart broke a little.

So why now am I wasting it by doing nothing at all, especially when doing so makes me feel about as good as I do after a drunken decision to eat at Taco Bell?  (It only happened once but boy, was it memorable.) I did pretty well for the last six months or so but giving myself a week off after finishing the novel turned into two and is now threatening to turn into three. Clearly, what I need is a kick-start, a push, a blast off those electrified paddles they use on people who are coding on Grey’s Anatomy. So here’s my 7 Day Plan to Get Going Again…

1. Realign my schedule

I’ve developed some bad sleeping (or not sleeping) habits which sets me on a schedule about seven hours off the rest of the GMT world. Tomorrow morning – regardless of what time I get to sleep tonight even though it’ll be at least 3 a.m. because I’ll be staying up to watch LOST and a week on Sunday throws another spanner in the works because I’ll be staying up to watch the Oscars live, but anyway – I’m going to get up early. Not just early for me, but early for everyone. Then I’m going to go to bed at a reasonable hour tomorrow night and repeat the process until I look a bit less like Gollum before nine a.m.

2. Once out of bed, stay out of bed

I have a terrible habit of waking up, getting up, making coffee and then bringing the coffee and my laptop back to bed with me for my morning rounds (e-mail, Twitter, Google Reader, Perez, etc.). No good comes of this. I will endeavour to get dressed before coffee-making and bring the coffee back to my desk. Promise.

3. Stop renting LOST DVDs

I think this is pretty self-explanatory.

4. Hit the treadmill every single day while listening to Miley Cyrus

I bet you’re wondering what the Miley Cyrus connection is going to be. Is it that I hate both the treadmill and that over-confident, over-sexed teenager with the millions of dollars and the mannish voice in equal amounts? No, although that’s true. It’s a song of hers, The Climb. It’s a cheesy pop extravaganza of Wisconsin proportions but if I need a theme song, that’s it. It’s a song that roars ‘You can do it!’ but in a nice, non-violent way. Treadmill: see explanation of No.3.

5. Stop using Hootsuite’s scheduled tweet feature

This is just lying about being up early in the morning, and lying is wrong. Isn’t it?

6. Feel the fear

One year and nine months ago I returned home after a few years of traveling and moved back in with my parents. Eighteen months ago I got a job which I quit after only a year and so have spent the last six months writing full-time/being a 27-year-old leeching off her parents while she pursues her lofty published writer dreams. Any moment now my parents are going to realize this. I have to get moving, and quick.

7. Promise myself rewards (NOT edible ones!)

It sucks not having money. I know I only don’t have money in a sort of pretend way in that I’ll always have a roof over my head, heat and food to eat, and the only bills I’m under pressure to pay are for luxury stuff like my phone. But it still sucks. The last time I got a decent haircut (by which I mean restyle; for some reason I am physically incapable of only getting a trim) George W. Bush was President of the United States (and no, I’m not even kidding, although for a while there I was Growing It), I try not to put on make-up every day not because I think it’s unnecessary – it is OH SO NECESSARY – but because I’m trying to conserve it, and I’ve almost completely forgotten what it feels like to experience buyer’s remorse. But I think I’ve suffered enough, so I’m making a deal with myself: be good for the next four weeks and you can have a mini-spree. And maybe a haircut. Maybe even a Waterstones visit. Maybe even – well, you get the idea.

8. Spend more time looking at pictures of the new Waldorf Astoria in Walt Disney World

I want to go back to Orlando as badly as I want to take my next breath, if only so I can lie by the pool and soak up the Vitamin D. (Well, that and visit my favourite store in the world, American Eagle, and drink my favourite cocktails in the world, the 32oz-ers at Jellyrolls on the Boardwalk, and see my favourite thing in the world, the fireworks in the Magic Kingdom, and go have breakfast in my favourite town in the world, Celebration – well, you get the idea.) I’m supposedly going in September anyway – after which I’ll be writing a new book entitled Disney World On $5 A Day – but I need to go now. Just for a week or so. I just need to feel ultra-violent rays on my skin while simultaneously drinking a mojito. The more I write, the more chance I have of getting paid to do it. So Waldorf Astoria WDW, you’re getting Bookmarked.

9. Listen to the experts

By my bed right now is a copy of Goals! by Brian Tracy. (Yes it really does have an exclamation in the title.) I’ve already read his Maximum Achievement and found it so motivating that I thought surely I was going to get up the next morning and write an entire book in one day. (I didn’t, but still.) He recommends writing out your top or short-term goals every morning by hand as a tool for refocusing your self-conscious. I think I need to tattoo mine to my face, but we’ll try paper for now.

10. Just do it

All day today I’ve moped around the place, feeling sorry for myself and threatening to kill everyone in this house if I don’t get away from soon. (Don’t worry – they know I was joking. Or at least they think I was…) I was having a right old pity party. Then an hour ago I sat down at my desk and started to write this, just for kicks. It’s nearly twenty minutes past midnight now but I’m still going to chalk this down to Tuesday. At least I got something done.

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Holiday Replay | How to Avoid Self-Publishing A Crappy Book

5 Oct

(I am currently on holidays and so am replaying some old – and not so old – posts. This one was originally posted in August.)

When you tell people that you’re self-publishing with a DIY Print On Demand service like Lulu or Createspace, you get much the same reaction as you would if you’d told them that since Weightwatchers hadn’t worked, you’re going to attempt a DIY stomach stapling operation in your kitchen. They smile, nod and think to themselves, This is going to be terrible.

Self-published books and particularly POD self-published books have a bad reputation, and I think they deserve it. Due to the ease with which people can produce and start to sell their books, the quality goes down as the quantity goes up. With next to no checks on copyediting, design or layout – or even whether or not the book is good enough to have a career in anything other than toilet paper – POD sites are becoming a one stop shop for things that should never have seen a computer screen, let alone a piece of paper, priced at just $9.99. I resent the people who decide, on a Friday afternoon, to finally self-publish their novella, The Darth Vader Diaries, spend a half hour summarizing the plot into a paragraph that fits on the back cover (including the big twist at the end), make the cover a yellow background spotted with daisies, put an index at the front and make all interior text 18 point Wingdings. I resent them because until someone sees or holds my book in their hands – the book I had copyedited, with a cover I had designed, consisting of pages that are correctly and cohesively laid out – they assume that it’s going to be like that too, and I don’t blame them.

What I don’t understand is why POD self-publishers continue to push crappy books into existence. It is so easily avoided. Simply abide by Catherine’s Two Golden Rules for Not Adding to the Ever Growing Pile of Crappy Self-Published Books

1. First, Try To Sell Your Book

Self-published books need to be good. I don’t think they need to be brilliant or even very good, because plenty of traditionally published books are far from that. But you do need to ensure that your book isn’t crap. This is not only to prevent even more rubbish from entering the self-published world but to save you and your feelings from bad reviews and harsh feedback. If you dream of writing becoming your career then you should take that into consideration as well: once you release the book, you can’t take it back. A future agent or publisher might be on the verge of offering you a deal, only to Google your name and find out about The Darth Vader Diaries. I don’t believe friends, family or even writers’ groups should be trusted (only because I came upon a book POD’d after the author’s writing group gushed over it, and it was a pile of poo); as far as I’m concerned, there’s only one surefire way to find out if your book is good enough: try to sell it.

I’d assume most self-pubbers do this anyway but even if you don’t want to be traditionally published, it won’t hurt to see what the experts – and yes, you self-pub evangelists/crazy people, they are the experts – have to say about it first. Write a query letter, send it out. Approach agents and publishers. Your aim is to get a full manuscript request and then see what the editor or agent has to say.

I wouldn’t self-publish unless I was at least getting full manuscript requests. Mousetrapped went to one agent and I think five Irish publishing houses, and all but two of them requested and read the full manuscript. (The ones who didn’t said they were small publishing houses who had to be certain of sales before releasing a title, and that based on my synopsis my book’s subject matter didn’t inspire confidence that it would bring those sales.) The agent and two editors sent me detailed e-mail replies, and one called me on the phone to discuss it. They all said the same thing: they enjoyed reading it but felt there was no market for it. One editor also said that she felt the humor was uneven and there was a bit too much moaning. (A huge chunk of moaning hit the cutting room floor before publication.) I felt – and I still do – that this was sufficient positive feedback to warrant self-publishing my book. If all I was getting was photocopied form rejections, I wouldn’t have even considered doing it. Personally, I don’t think anyone else should either.

What happens if someone says yes? Um, are you kidding me? YOU say yes to them! Then you can avoid this whole self-publishing headache altogether. Yippee!

(The High Council of Print on Demand won’t be voting me in as president just yet, will they? Shame about that…)

Obviously, there are some exceptions to this as there are to every rule. You must ensure that you are sending your book to the right agents and publishers, i.e. people who already publish your chosen genre. Otherwise you’d be getting form rejections no matter how good your book is. The other is that some books prove very successful after being self-published, but would never had made it past an editor. This is because their success could not possibly be anticipated and there was no track record. A good example of this is the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. The problem is that there are too many people out there who believe their book will be an exception to the rule too, but you have to act like it’s not. Believe in your book – it’s the only way you’ll sell it – but don’t delude yourself. Test the waters before you jump in, and pay attention to what you learn there. Then act on it.

2. Look at Other Books – You Know, The Real Ones!

POD self-publishing is a strange world. Hundreds of thousands of writers who’ve been reading books all their lives suddenly forget every single thing they know about them. It amazes me on a near daily basis when self-published authors create books that look absolutely nothing like the books they’ve been buying, borrowing, reading, stacking and gazing adoringly at all their lives and, even more amazingly, don’t see that they’ve done anything wrong. Madness!

When you’re self-publishing with a POD, the first thing you need to do is commit to designing your own cover, or getting someone else to do it. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES USE THE POD SERVICE’S COVER CREATION SOFTWARE. I can’t tell you what these programs make your book look like because I don’t like to swear on my blog, but it isn’t good. There are all simple templates with images stuck rigidly on backgrounds, and they all scream self-published. (Along with some other things but again, I don’t like to swear.) It isn’t difficult to have a cover designed, or purchase cover design software. I took the easiest route: I mocked-up a cover in MS Word and then had a fab designer translate it (and improve it) into a Createspace-ready PDF. I got exactly what I wanted and it didn’t cost a fortune – far from it. You can read about my cover adventures in detail here.

Designing your cover is as easy as 1-2-3:

  1. Go to your bookshelves and pick four or five ‘properly’ published books similar in type to yours, i.e. novels if you’re self-publishing a novel, travel if you’re self-publishing travel, etc.
  2. Study them.
  3. Make your book look like they do.

Ask yourself, does my book look like my store-bought traditionally published books? Imagine you’re in a bookstore and your book is on the shelf beside a book that’s been published by a major publishing house – one with an entire department devoted to cover design. (As mine is right now.) Does yours look out of place? Or does your look as good or even better? This is such a simple – and, I think, common sensical – idea, but you’d be amazed at what people do. I recently came across a POD’d novel that was 6 x9 inches in size but only 150 pages or so long (so it was thin and floppy), was in what must have been point 14 text (so it looked like a large print edition), had 500 words on the back explaining the entire story including the end (so at least twice as long as a regular blurb and the end? Really?!), had ‘Edited By’ and the editor’s name printed on the front cover (even though it was a novel) and its cover ‘design’ was text on a plain color, with no images. Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t have to check through my bookshelves to know I don’t have a ‘properly’ published book that looks like that.

This ‘Study Real Books’ rule applies to your book’s interior as well. Pull a few off your shelf now and flip through them. What do you see? The first page is usually ‘Praise for…’ or a note about the author, then comes the copyright page (on the left hand side), then a title page, then another title page or a table of contents… etc. etc. They don’t open up on page 1 with ‘Chapter One’ like many self-published books I’ve seen. Nor do they have a page number on their first page, while we’re at it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

UPDATE:

After this post went live, someone pointed out that Golden Rule Number 1 should in fact be ‘Get an editor.’ If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know that I think this step is not optional: under no circumstances should you put any of your work out into the world for sale without hiring a professional copyeditor (again, no one you know) to go through it first with a fine tooth comb. What I was trying to achieve with this post was a kind of Stop sign for potential self-pubbers, something that would make them stop and think before they click the infamous ‘Approve Proof’ button on their chosen POD site.

Also one of the comment-leavers, Bridget Whelan, added an excellent third rule on her blog, and I wholeheartedly agree with it. She said:

“Writing matters. There is a craft to learn and there are two ways of learning it: by writing and by reading (gifted creative writing tutors can help, of course). Rushing into print is not part of the learning process – make your mistakes where readers can’t find you. Only your very best work, polished and carefully edited, should have the solidity of print. You are still learning even after you get published of course, but your shouldn’t treat paying readers as though they are members of a writing support group. They have bought a product and they have every right to expect it to be as good as you can possibly make it.”

This comes back to another comment I got on Twitter yesterday that went along the lines of, ‘Everyone has a right to achieve their dreams,’ which is true, yes. But not if to realize that dream they have to charge me $14.99 for a badly-written, unedited pile of poo wrapped in a cover that makes your eyes bleed. Despite what some may say, when you put a price tag on something you wrote your writing becomes a business. You’re now selling a product. And just like any commercial endeavor, you have to deliver the goods.

If you doubt the amount of rubbish that’s released into the world and/or you want to avoid adding to it, I recommend that you add Jane Smith’s fantastic Self-Publishing Review to your blog list. I studied it for common mistakes before self-publishing Mousetrapped, and reading its reviews scared me into getting a proofreader.

I realize they are certain self-publishing types out there who will vehemently disagree with what I’ve said. I couldn’t give a monkeys, but I will remind you that this is MY blog and all comments are moderated. Disagreement is fine but argument, rudeness or disrespect is not. Now: does anyone else want a latte? I need one after typing all this!

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Holiday Replay | Getting Published: Platform 9¾

4 Oct

(I am currently on holiday and so am replaying some old posts. This one was originally posted in February 2010.)

A writer I know – well enough to chat to occasionally; not well enough to put on my Christmas e-card list – recently had her non-fiction book rejected by a top publisher. It was a particularly bitter blow because although her book glided past the editor, it came screeching to a halt at the door of the Sales and Marketing department.

Their complaint was that she didn’t have a platform.

NYC Train Station

Not this kind of platform, but isn’t this picture beautiful?

Her reaction was disappointment, of course, but also bitterness and indignation. She said it wasn’t her fault that she didn’t used to be on Eastenders, that she wasn’t also a singer/former prostitute/footballer’s ex-wife/product of a miserable childhood, or that she wasn’t a motivational speaker regularly touring the country promoting her brainwashing CD program Unleash the Magnificent Power Within You Now Today Immediately! to thousands of gullible muppets.

She blamed the publishing house.

After all, what did they expect her to do?

When I first met her, we had a conversation that went something like this:

Me: You’re a writer? Me too. Well, on certain days of the week. Are you on Twitter?

Her: Twitter? You mean that thing where Stephen Fry tells everyone what he had for breakfast?

Me: That’s not really-

Her: No, I’m not. I actually have a life.

Me: What about Facebook?

Her: You mean that place where teenagers type without vowels, advertise house parties and play virtual farming games?

Me: Well there’s more to it than-

Her: I think I’m a bit old for that, don’t you?

Me: You’re only three years older than me.

Her: And besides, I don’t have the time for it. I have a full time job. Do you remember what that was like?

Me: [Through gritted teeth] What about a blog?

Her: Oh, yeah. I have one of them.

Me: Good. What’s the-

Her: Wait a second. What do you mean by blog, exactly?

Me: Tell me you at least have an e-mail address.

Her: Of course I have an e-mail address.

Me: Well at least-

Her: But I don’t use it. Haven’t used it in years. All I was getting was chain letters, offers of discounted Viagra and videos of kittens. I mean, really. I’ve got better things to do with my time.

Have I made my point?

Having 10,000 Twitter followers is not going to get you published. Neither are your blog-sized musings on the endless benefits of caffeine. (I’m talking to myself there, obviously.) And everyone knows that after most people click the ‘Become a Fan’ button on your Facebook page you and your book never cross their mind again.

No, they’re not going to get you published.

But if it comes down to the wire, it might just get you past Sales and Marketing.

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Holiday Replay | 10 Steps to Perfecting Procrastination

1 Oct

(I am currently on holiday and so am re-playing some old posts. This one was originally posted in December 2009.)

Recently I noticed that all the procrastination-related tweets/posts/motivational CDs of questionable legality costing just five easy payments of $199.99 seemed to be aimed at solving our habit of doing anything at all that we can think of except the thing we’re supposed to be doing, which for many of us is writing another chunk of words.

But what if want to procrastinate? What if we need to? What if we’ve never finished a novel before and are happy to stay here for a while, just before the end, and enjoy the view for a few minutes (or days, or weeks), before we send our double-spaced baby out in the world so that the awful waiting game can begin?  What if we’d rather finish a few weeks behind and prolong the dream, delaying that inevitable day when someone will tell us that our characters are two dimensional stereotypes, our scenes lack conflict, our plot is confusing and that one of our characters is pregnant for eleven months?

I figure I’ve spotted a gap in the blog post market. So here is (drum roll, please): Catherine’s Not So Patented 10 Steps to Perfecting Procrastination Today: Everything You Need to Know and Do To Never EVER Finish That Novel!

1. Only Work With Wi-fi

It is imperative that you only work in areas with wireless connectivity and with your computer set to receive it, so that you have the constant temptation to check for new e-mail messages, Facebook notifications and the latest on Tiger Woods. Mac Users: don’t even THINK about using Mac Freedom. Don’t do it!

2. Use Twitter to Bookend Every Task

Twitter can be the ultimate procrastination facilitator but only if you know how to maximize its potential. The simplest way is to bookend every task/action/bodily function with what we like to call the TwitterCheck. For example: you are writing and decide to make a cup of coffee (see step 7). While this alone will waste a good 5-10 minutes of your time, the TwitterCheck method can push that to a minimum of 30 minutes. Yes, really! All you need to do is check Twitter BEFORE you go to make the coffee and AFTER you get back, i.e. ‘bookending’ the coffee making with TwitterChecks. It’s just that simple!

3. Become a Neat Freak

Refuse to work in any space that isn’t clean, dusted, organized, colour-coded, alphabetized, arranged for optimum feng shui and has ‘a good energy.’

4. Don’t Use Sky+ or Online iPlayers

Services like Sky+ and online ‘catch up’ players will be the death of procrastination – stick with live TV. If you want to watch something at 8pm and you set it to record, you could find yourself working as late as ten or eleven o’clock safe in the knowledge that you can watch that program at your leisure. However if you give yourself no option but to watch it live, you are far more likely to stop working at six-ish (to have your dinner), spend the intervening two hours watching TV you’re not even interested in (because what’s the point of going back to work? It’ll be on in a minute) and doing nothing for the rest of the night (well, you’re here now so you may as well watch ‘celebrities’ you don’t recognize camping/dancing/figure skating).

5. Invent a Need for Time Swallowing Tasks

Learn from this example from my own not-so-creative life: I have a self-published book-like thingy coming out in March and am trying to not finish a novel to submit to an agent at the beginning of January. (It was supposed to be this week, incidentally, that I was to originally submit it – see how effective this procrastination plan is?) But instead of finishing the novel first and then working on publicity for the self-published book (which is called, FYI, Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida and is about, FYI, one girl’s – i.e. this one – search for happiness in the happiest place on Earth and has, FYI, several funny bits), I took three days – THREE DAYS! – off from the novel to make a book trailer and to make this Facebook page which you looking at for a couple of minutes and then clicking the ‘Like’ button will help your procrastination! Don’t say I never give you anything.

6. Two O’Clock is the New Seven

As I’m at home writing full-time at the moment (I believe “unemployed” is the common term), I find myself with ample opportunity to finish my book. In fact, on some days I’ve got as much as five or six thousands words done. Disaster! To combat this productivity, I initiated the ‘Two O’Clock is the New Seven” Rule, which works like this: if I haven’t started by two then I won’t start at all, because what’s the point? The day is practically OVER. To help yourself not start by two, see steps 3 and 9.

7. Develop a Caffeine Addiction

If you never want to finish your book, this step is non-negotiable. Not only will making endless cups of coffee waste an hour or so every day, but the Caffeine Depleted Syndrome (also known as ‘The Jitters’) that sets in about 3pm – symptoms include nausea, clouded thinking, headaches, shaky hands and an overwhelming urge to dance to Britney Spears’ songs – will prevent you from writing anything of note in the afternoon.

8. Chart Your (Lack of) Progress

This may surprise you but your unfinished book is a wealth of procrastination in itself! It has lots of confusing things like plots, characters, scenes, timelines, words, sequences – all of which can be charted, graphed and listed, wasting hours upon hours of your time (and paper)! To maximize the procrastination, alternate between hand-drawn charts (rulers, pencils) and Excel spreadsheets, colour-code, cross-reference and refuse to use any on which you’ve made a mistake. Happy graphing!

9. Sleep

Sleeping can be a procrastinator’s best friend. For maximum results, utilize naps and throw out your alarm clocks.

10. Write Random Blog Posts

Finally, the Number 1 Step to Perfecting Procrastination and making sure that novel of yours never gets written is to write numerous random blog posts – like this one.

Here are your 3 FREE BONUS Procrastination Tips:

  • Leave comments on blog posts (well, you’re already here so…)
  • Follow people who have nothing of import to say on Twitter (well, you already know me so…)
  • Unlearn how to touch type and/or break a couple of fingers.

HAPPY PROCRASTINATING!

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