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Attention Women Writers: Meet the #WoMentoring Project!

15 Apr

Today I’m honored to help introduce something very exciting, timely and worthwhile: The WoMentoring Project! 

The Wo-what now?

The WoMentoring Project exists to offer free mentoring by professional literary women to up and coming female writers who would otherwise find it difficult to access similar opportunities.

The mission of The WoMentoring Project is simply to introduce successful literary women to other women writers at the beginning of their careers who would benefit from some insight, knowledge and support. The hope is that we’ll see new, talented and diverse female voices emerging as a result of time and guidance received from our mentors.

Each mentor selects their own mentee and it is at their discretion how little or much time they donate. We have no budget, it’s a completely free initiative and every aspect of the project – from the project management to the website design to the PR support – is being volunteered by a collective of female literary professionals. Quite simply this is about exceptional women supporting exceptional women. Welcome to The WoMentoring Project.

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But wo-why?

Like many great (and not so great) ideas The WoMentoring Project came about via a conversation on Twitter. While discussing the current lack of peer mentoring and the prohibitive expense for many of professional mentoring we asked our followers – largely writers, editors and agents – who would be willing to donate a few hours of their time to another woman just starting out. The response was overwhelming – within two hours we had over sixty volunteer mentors.

The WoMentoring Project is managed by novelist Kerry Hudson and all of our mentors are all professional writers, editors or literary agents. Many of us received unofficial or official mentoring ourselves which helped us get ahead and the emphasis is on ‘paying forward’ some of the support we’ve been given.

In an industry where male writers are still reviewed and paid more than their female counterparts in the UK, we wanted to balance the playing field. Likewise, we want to give female voices that would otherwise find it hard to be heard, a greater opportunity of reaching their true potential.

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Sign me up!

In an ideal world we would offer a mentor to every writer who needed and wanted one. Of course this isn’t possible so instead we’ve tried to ensure the application process is accessible while also ensuring that out mentors have enough information with which to make their selection.

Applicant mentees will submit a 1000 word writing sample and a 500 word statement about why they would benefit from free mentoring. All applications will be in application to a specific mentor and mentees can only apply for one mentor at a time.

Why our mentors are getting involved

I have only achieved the success I have with the help of others, and now I am keen to pass on that help. I particularly want to reach out to those who don’t have the privileges of wealth, status or existing contacts, but who have so much to gain and to give.

–Marie Phillips, author Gods Behaving Badly

I’m so pleased to be involved in the WoMentoring Project, and I can’t wait to meet my mentee. I know from my own authors how isolating an experience writing can often be, especially when you’re just starting out, and so I really wanted to be involved. I hope that knowing that there is someone on your side in those early days will give writers courage and confidence in their work.

–Alison Hennessy, Senior Editor at Harvill Secker

I wanted to get involved with this project because I’d like to help authors feel that whoever they are, and wherever they come from, they have a right to be heard.

–Jo Unwin of the Jo Unwin Literary Agency

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Why female writers feel they need this opportunity

The idea of women sharing their skills and experience in a dynamic, nurturing way is a really important one given the lower profile given to female writers. Even though the mentoring is one to one a collective voice and resilience is still being built up – I think it’s a great idea that, for writers like me, will help get rid of some of the layers of doubt and creative loneliness that come with being a beginner.

–Clare Archibald

I’m on my third novel; I’ve had good notices from Faber, HoZ etc. but still not quite there. What I need is that final push. I especially need guidance on pacing, keeping the action pulsing along. I feel a mentor could be hugely beneficial in this process.

–Suzy Norman

So there you have it.

Want to know more? Visit www.womentoringproject.co.uk and follow @WoMentoringP on Twitter, or search for the hashtag #WoMentoring.

Writer/Blogger? You May Need a Contact Page Intervention

26 Mar

It may be news to you but for the last year and a half or so, I’ve been doing some freelance social media work for a publishing house, helping promote other authors’ books online. As my goal is essentially to connect readers with books I believe they’ll like, a lot of my time is spent trawling through the magical interweb looking for book blogs. They’re easy enough to find. But it’s not always easy to find what I need when I get there: a way to contact the blogger in private.

It’s a particularly bad day when the coffee machine is still brewing and the contact page of a book blogger who (a) professes to love the exact kind of book I have to offer her and (b) says on her ‘Review Policy’ or ‘About Me’ page that what she loves more than anything else in the world is getting free books says something like if you want to get in touch, I’m on Twitter @thisconversationwillbepublic…

Oh, how the RED RAGE DESCENDS.

I can’t get in contact with her on Twitter, and I won’t. I don’t want everyone to see me offering her a review copy, and sometimes upcoming releases have things tied to them, like promotional activity, for example, that I can tell the blogger but not the world (yet). You might be saying now well, why don’t I just tweet her asking for her e-mail address? Well first of all my Twitter account is for Catherine Ryan Howard, the self-publisher and blogger. Not the occasional publicity assistant. And Twitter is not interchangeable with e-mail or a contact form. It’s a public forum.

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But if I can’t get in contact with a book blogger, the worst thing that happens is that they miss out on a free book and I have to go looking for someone else to take their place.

But what if you’re a self-publisher and the person trying to get in contact with you is another blogger who wants to help you promote your book, or a journalist who wants to feature you in a newspaper or magazine, or a radio show producer who wants to interview you on air, or an agent who’s interesting in representing you or a publisher who’s interested in buying your print rights or an editor in Poland who wants to talk translation rights (delete as appropriate depending on your life’s goals)? Telling them that they can contact you on Twitter is just not acceptable. Telling them they can send you a message through Facebook is laughable. And who knows what kind of opportunities you might miss out on – small, medium and big – because you put too many hoops between your online home and a way to get in touch with you directly that doesn’t come with an audience.

I think you should do one of the following:

Continue reading

The Blog Tour: What, Why and How I Write

17 Mar

This morning I am contributing a stop to The Blog Tour: What, Why and How I Write, this on-going blogging and writing thingy where each blogger answers four questions about their writing, tags three victims and runs away screaming, ‘You’re it!’

Normally I avoid such things because they have a tendency to get out of hand quickly (‘I just nominated for you for this award – now all you need to do is make a list of 53 bloggers you love and get each of them to nominate 87 other bloggers…’ etc. etc.) but Jason Arnopp (a) asked me before he tagged me and (b) keeps me mightily entertained with his tweets, so I felt that on this one – ONE – occasion, I’d take part.

jasonWho is Jason Arnopp, you say? Well follow him on Twitter and you’ll quickly find out. Or read this: Jason Arnopp is a British author and scriptwriter.  He wrote the 2011 Lionsgate US feature film Stormhouse, and BBC audiobooks Doctor Who: The Gemini Contagion and The Sarah Jane Adventures: Deadly Download.  More recently, he has written the terrifying Kindle books Beast In The Basement and A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home.  He lives in Brighton with far too many movies on VHS. You can find him at INT. JASON ARNOPP’S MIND – DAY/NIGHT.

Now, onto the four questions…

1. What am I working on?

Argh, stumped at the first question! (Argh: angry, not pirate. Always feel a need to point that out.) I really don’t like putting stuff on the magical interweb about what I’m currently working on, just because I don’t like talking about what I’m working on in general. I don’t like it because you may have what you think is a great idea that you’re all excited about and you can see how it’s going to pan out and you’re excited to write it and then you tell someone about it and they make THE FACE, and THE FACE implies that this is a ridiculous idea and you’d be better off watching an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians since writing this idea down is obviously such a waste of human time.

Let’s just say that my main project is a novel I hope someone else will publish, and that novel is a thriller, and I’m about a third of the way through a polished draft of it. I also have a very organized plot outline that I spent a joyful afternoon creating with mini Post-It notes and Sharpie pens:

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I also have another, much smaller project and I want to say even less about that’s destined for self-publication.

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?

Hollywood, so the story goes, is always looking for ‘the same, but different’ and that’s how I feel about genres.

First of all, let me say that I am absolutely writing in a genre. I don’t like it when writers claim that their work doesn’t fit into any genre, or that they don’t recognize genres, or that they have written in a genre but because they don’t read it their book must be unique and special as they are unfamiliar with the perceived formulae that make titles in that genre tick. All that to me sounds very let-me-tilt-back-my-head-so-I-can-look-down-my-nose-at-you. Genre isn’t a dirty word and as I have been reading my genre – crime/thrillers – since I was far too young to be doing so and got stern looks as I tried to check adult books out on my children’s library card, I know what works and what doesn’t. I know the rules, I  know how to get away with breaking them. I know that these days it takes a very twisty road to keep the truth from the reader.

But I also know what’s been done to death (ha!), so I’m avoiding that. I have what I think is a new or at least different idea. I’m also writing first person in my own voice, which I think is quite different to the standard crime/thriller narrator. It also annoys me when I read thrillers that start with something big happening in a prologue, and then we skip ahead months or years to see how everyone’s doing after the fact – I want, for once, to be taking through the Something Big Happening, day by day, in the first part of the book. So I’m trying to do that.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Once upon a time I wrote a novel called Results Not Typical, that as some of you know was chick-lit meets corporate satire, Weight Watchers meets The Devil Wears Prada and self-publishing meets un-self-publishing when I decided that I wanted to keep my self-publishing brand to non-fiction only. This novel also got me a meeting with an editor at a major publishing house, where we discussed how I might take what was working about RNT and use it to write something broader that wasn’t quite so kooky, something that may have more commercial appeal. I thought that since all my books were light-hearted and fun – and maybe, once in a while, even funny – that that something should be women’s commercial fiction. I went away and wrote 10,000 words of a New Idea and we had another meeting. It wasn’t really working, so we brainstormed another idea and then I went home and wrote 10,000 words of that. Then we had another meeting, brainstormed another version of this idea and I went home and wrote a 30,000-word chapter by chapter outline of that.

But then two things happened. First of all, The Editor said something to me that changed everything. She said that while what I was writing was competent and funny and all that, it had no emotional heart – and as soon as she said it, I knew why. I didn’t want to write women’s commercial fiction! I don’t know why I even tried because it’s not my favorite thing to read. (Well, I do know. Because I thought it might get me published.) Of course my heart wasn’t in it.

The second thing was that an idea I’d had for a thriller that had been simmering away in my brain for a while came to the boil, and I thought to myself: once I finish with this chapter outline, I’m going to start writing that – for fun.

Um, what now?

Exsqueeze me?

Why was I writing anything that wasn’t fun?

So I ditched all notions of writing anything other than what I loved to read, and got working on my current project: my crime/thriller novel.

4. How does my writing process work?

I don’t think I’ve written enough books to have an actual process, so let me just briefly tell you about how I wrote a few specific ones.

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Mousetrapped. As it was based on real-life events I had an advantage right from the start: I knew what was going to happen. Hooray! While it was actually happening, I used to keep a diary of sorts in a MS Word document on my computer so I had that to refer to. I wrote a proposal and a couple of sample chapters, based on the best advice I’ve ever come across for writing a non-fiction proposal, which is in a (now out of print?) book called How To Get Published and Make a Lot of Money by Susan Page. (Ignore the name; it has brilliant non-fiction proposal advice.) An agent was interested so then I had to write the book itself, starting by sitting on the floor of my apartment in Orlando, cross-legged before a plastic crate that had my laptop perched on top of it with a no foam venti latte within reach. I wrote the first proper draft at home over the summer of 2008 when I’d returned from backpacking, on a laptop borrowed from my best friend because I’d broken my Dad’s and had abandoned my own antique in Florida to save on luggage. Then I wrote another with the copyeditor I hired when I decided to self-publish it. All in all it was quite straightforward: I just started at the beginning and wrote on through.

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Backpacked. This was hilarious because I left it until the very, very VERY last minute to even start on this book – which again, being non-fiction, was about stuff that had already happened so plot wasn’t an issue – and then wrote it in two caffeine-fuelled weeks.

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The Secret Crime/Thriller. The plot of this is a quite twisty and I just don’t understand when I read writers in interviews say that they write thrillers and they don’t know how it’s going to end until they get there. (I’m looking at you, Harlan Coben.) How would that even be possible? Instead I started with the truth: I started with what I knew had really happened, and then I asked myself how could I frame that, how could I introduce these events to the reader in a way that would throw them right off the scent right from the start? Then, as ever, I turned the white cover of my copy of Save the Cat by Blake Snyder yellow, constantly referring to it for plot architecture, eventually ending up with a plot that had three acts and a mid-point. I started writing, but it took a few 20,000 word treks through the beginning to get that right, and then I started writing a ‘discovery draft’ which would be unreadable to any other human but helped me figure out all the stuff that had to happen in between the bits I’d figured out already. Once that was done I locked down my plot in another outline (Sharpie time!) and started writing A Proper Draft, layering in complication as I went.

As for the logistics, since the beginning of this year I have (mostly) got into the habit of writing every day, aiming for 2,000 new words in a session. I write in the mornings so I can enjoy the rest of my day guilt-free and I’ve bought a coffee machine with a timer that I can pre-set before I go to bed and that, my friends, has made all the difference.

So, that’s that. The three victims—ah, writers, I’ve invited to take part in The Blog Tour next Monday (24th March) are:

5c2ff6ec2b280a22d17a2d.L._V352340503_SX200_Keris Stainton

Keris Stainton is the author of three UKYA novels – Della Says OMG!, Jessie Hearts NYC, Emma Hearts LA – and two NA novellas (under the pen name Esme Taylor). The first book in her Reel Friends series, Starring Kitty, is due out in June. She’s addicted to American TV, Twitter, and tea. She blogs here.

Pat_Photo_OriginalPat Fitzpatrick

Pat Fitzpatrick lives in Cork, Ireland. After 19 years working in the I.T. industry he decided to jump ship in 2008 and head for the lucrative world of writing. So don’t hire him as a life coach, investment advisor or anything to do with your career. His Sunday Independent newspaper columns plus TV and radio appearances have been entertaining Irish people through some tough times. He is now busy writing a series of novels about the weird place that was Ireland in the last 15 years. He blogs at How To Kidnap a Pop Star.

photo-1Jean Grainger

Jean Grainger is author of ‘The Tour’ and ‘So Much Owed’. She is a teacher and a former university lecturer. She lives in Cork, Ireland with her husband and four children. She loves writing historical fiction and correcting homework. (She’s joking about the homework). She blogs at JeanGrainger.com.

Stop by their blogs next week to read their answers. In the meantime:

To Do: A Social Media Spring Clean

9 Mar

Once upon a time I was at a writing-related event when Someone Very Important (To Me) who works for A Very Important Company (To Me) introduced herself and then said, ‘We were just reading one of your blog posts in the office the other day!’

I should’ve been elated. I should’ve been delighted that anyone, anywhere who I didn’t have direct contact with should take the time to turn their eyeballs towards this URL, let alone someone who I knew for a fact worked at a desk surrounded by piles of unsolicited manuscript submissions (who were all eyeing the piles of purchased manuscripts she was already working on with jealousy and suspicion). This woman didn’t have the time to read a Post-It note, yet she had devoted time to my little blog.

But instead, my stomach dropped. My palms began to sweat, and I drifted out of the conversation as my mind raced with anxious thoughts. What post? Was it one I read over before I published it? Did it have typos? What does my ‘About’ page currently say? Have I updated the ‘News’ page lately? Are the links working? WHAT DID THEY SEE?!?!?!?

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I’ve decided the theme of the images in this post will be ‘pictures I took of my computer showing my blog in various places.’ This one was the hot desk I rented for a while…

On a related note, it’s pretty annoying to get an e-mail from someone that reads ‘I was just on your website and the link to [insert something] doesn’t go anywhere. You might want to update that.’ Or ‘On your Amazon bio, it says that [insert something] will be out in October 2013. But on your blog, it says November. You might want to update that. Or, ‘In the back of [one of your books] it says that you have [insert something] but I’ve looked everywhere and you don’t. YOU MIGHT WANT TO UPDATE THAT.’

It annoys me on two levels. First: that someone has taken the time to alert me to what is obviously a tiny oversight, and that they think I have the time to be worrying about such things. Second: that I’ve overlooked it, and that I haven’t taken the time to make sure my entire online existence is as up to date as the trendiest of irony-loving Brooklyn hipsters.

It’s so easy to let online things slide. Mostly because you’re hardly looking at them. How often, for example, do you look at your own Amazon Author Profile? I almost NEVER do. (Listings? Yes. For new reviews, obviously, lest my soul needs some sand-papering. But not my Author Profile.) And the times I check or update my ‘About’ page are negligible, even though I’m on my blog and publishing new posts quite regularly.

But shouldn’t I always be ready for anyone to visit any part of my online existence? 

Obviously, yes. I should.

Except that, of course, I am not doing that. My online existence is a cobwebbed, outdated, messy… um, mess. My bios are different on every site. Some of them talk about plans that never happened, while others leave out the most important stuff that’s happened since. There’s no cohesiveness.

So this week I’m going to a major spring clean, and I invite you to join me and spring clean your social media existence too.

I’ve done a couple of items on the Spring Social Media Clean already:

#1: Scrubbed My Website

Take a look around: things are all new and shiny! Taking into account that I want my website to be simple (read: easily updatable) and that most people these days are looking at websites on a mobile device (read: no sidebars) I have:

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This one was in Nice, France. Ooh-la-la!

#2: The Great Unsubscribe

I’ve had my current e-mail address since early 2010, I online shop more than I real-world shop and I’m always suckered in to subscribing to newsletters and mailing lists and blog posts and all sorts. I get a lot of e-mails anyway, but add these subscriptions in and you get an inbox that’s groaning at the seams.

So every day for a week I spent ten or fifteen minutes unsubscribing to anything that came in that I wasn’t interested in anymore. It was boring and time-consuming, but my inbox instantly improved. After a week I had sent 50—50!—subscriptions packing, many of which I couldn’t even remember signing up for.

#3: The To Do List

This week I plan to finish the job. I will:

Check/update my bios on:

  • Twitter
  • My public Facebook pages
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Amazon Author Pages
  • Goodreads.

Check/update my books, as in:

  • The product descriptions for all my books that are for sale on Amazon
  • The front and end matter in all my e-book and POD interior files, re-upload if necessary
  • Make sure they’re for sale wherever they can be, fix issues and upload if necessary.

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And this is what my little desk nook looked like when I first moved in. It looks WAY messier now.

Miscellaneous:

  • Go through my Posts: Drafts list—I make a new post to jot down ideas I have, but there’s 114 of them I’ve never come back to. Time for a clear out, me thinks…
  • Go through Feedly (my Google Reader replacement[earlier I mistakenly typed ‘Feedler’. To do: check more thoroughly for typos!) and unsubscribe to any blogs I’m not interested in any more and add any new and exciting ones I’ve come across
  • Go through the Reading List on my browser (a kind of bookmarks thing) and either read, file or delete each link
  • As I haven’t answered any e-mails in, like, a month or so, power through my inbox until everything is read
  • Google myself to see if there’s any online stuff I’ve forgotten about.

So, who’s with me?

And if you’re already up to date, what’s your system for staying that way? Let me know in the comments below…

Quick Tips To Help You Tighten Up Your Writing

21 Feb

Over the last few weeks, trusted blogging, self-publishing and writing friends of mine have kept you entertained with guest posts while I forgo watching the rest of House of Cards in order to finish The Damn Novel. We’ve had Pat Fitzpatrick’s 3 Things I Wish I Knew Before Self-Publishing My Novel, Dan Holloway’s Self-Publish Your Way and Jean Grainger’s Self-Publishing: The Professionals Effect, all of which you clearly enjoyed and found useful judging by the fact that they were shared and retweeted more times than the average post from me. (We’ll talk about that later, okay? Hmph.) Today our final guest post is one that comes at a crucial time for me and which I’m sure will be of use to you too: C.S. Lakin’s quick tips to help you tighten up your writing. Enjoy! I’m off to annihilate all mentions of the passive voice…

“Writers often think about tightening their writing. Just what does that mean? And how is it done? Is there a way that writers can tighten writing without losing their voice or compromising their writing style?

Like sneaky calories, many unwanted words and phrases find their way into our writing unnoticed and bog it down. The goal should be to write in a concise fashion so that our meaning is clearly understood. It’s not all that tricky to do. And don’t worry—this can be done without adversely cramping a writer’s style.

Say What front cover

That’s not to say these tips are a cure-all for major flaws in a story, article, or book. But similar to the get-in-shape-fast programs, here are some simple things writers can do to tighten sentences, shed unwanted words, and tone and shape the whole “body” of work.

  1. Eliminate fatty words from your “diet.” Make a list of your weasel words. Those are the words you throw in out of habit. Often they are pesky adverbs like very and just. Or phrases like began to or started to. Grab a random page of your document and see if you can eliminate at least one or two words from every sentence. It may not be possible, but it’s a good exercise. If the word doesn’t add importance to a sentence, it should go. Then attack the rest of your novel.
  2. Reword passive voice where possible. Whether referring to general passive (“The food was eaten by me” instead of “I ate the food”) or present progressive passive (“The food is being served” instead of “the waiters served the food”), most of the time a sentence will be stronger if the passive voice is avoided. An easy way to seek and destroy unwanted passive construction is do a “Find” for ing, was, is, it was, and there was, to name a few.
  3. Avoid circumlocution. I just love that word, so I have to use it. Don’t use two words when one will do. Don’t use four when three will do. If two adjectives are similar, pick the best one and toss the other.
  4. Ditch the extraneous speaker and narrative tags. If you are writing fiction or narrative nonfiction, you may have dialog in your piece. Be aware that if the reader knows who is speaking, you don’t need to tell them over and over—especially in a scene with only two characters. And remove all those flowery verbs that stick out, such as quizzed, extrapolated, exclaimed, and interjected. Just use said and asked, and maybe an occasional replied or answered. Really. Less is more . . . effective.
  5. Search and destroy repetition. We tend to repeat words, phrases, or ideas in the same paragraph. Sometimes that’s a good thing to do, to drive home a point, perhaps in summary at the end of a section or subheading. But writers often try to say the same thing in a different way, and instead of adding new material they are essentially rehashing what they’ve already said. One great way to catch those repetitive words is to hear your piece read aloud using a  software program like Natural Reader.
  6. And a word about backstory . . . Yes, the dreaded backstory, which novelists have been told to shun in the first chapters of a novel. But really, do you need it? Take a look at all the places you have backstory and boil down just a few lines of the most important information you feel the reader must know to “get” the story. Then see if you can have a character either think or say these things instead of going into lengthy narrative. Look for any passage that feels like author intrusion or an info dump and find another way to impart the information.

If you’re the kind of writer that needs to “add weight” to your skimpy book, you have a different challenge, and the problem won’t be solved by ignoring all the above tips. Remember, it’s the unwanted fat you want to eliminate. Be sure what you add to a skimpy novel is muscle, not fat. And for the rest of us who overwrite, be reassured that by implementing these easy tips, you can help trim those unwanted “pounds” from your pages and tighten your writing.”

Pro photo for book coverAbout our special guest star: C. S. Lakin is a multipublished novelist and writing coach. She works full-time as a copyeditor and critiques about two hundred manuscripts a year. She teaches writing workshops and gives instruction on her award-winning blog Live Write Thrive. Her new book—Say What? The Fiction Writer’s Handy Guide to Grammar, Punctuation, and Word Usage—is designed to help writers get a painless grasp on grammar. You can buy it in print here or as an ebook here. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Self-Publishing: The Professionals Effect

12 Feb

Over the last couple of weeks some of my fellow self-publishers have been keeping you entertained and inspiring with their self-publishing stories while I sand down my fingerprints finishing my novel. (Or this draft of it, at least.) Today in the penultimate ‘guest post’ installment, The Tour author Jean Grainger shares her self-publishing journey with us. You can read the previous guest posts in this series, 3 Things I Wish I Knew Before Self-Publishing My Novel and Self-Publishing: Do It Your Way by clicking on the links. Welcome, Jean!

Firstly I’d like to thank Catherine for inviting me to guest blog on Catherine, Caffeinated. This blog has been a constant source of advice, information and smiles for me since I started writing so I’m delighted to be here.

My journey into self publishing began when I spotted an advertisement for a one day course in Dublin. The expert speaker was Catherine. Hoping I had written a book that someone other than my mother might regard as a worthwhile way to spend their hard earned cash and time, I took myself off to hear what she had to say.

Of course, like most newcomers to this world I was seduced by the ads online promising that I’d be published in ten minutes, with nothing more than a curled up dusty manuscript needed from myself, or at least the digital equivalent. I had, unfortunately in hindsight, expressed interest in a company in the U.S. through their website who promised to make the whole simple process even simpler for a small fee who were now treating me to daily phone calls explaining how they were going to make me the next big thing.

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It all seemed simple. No need to wait for the elusive nod from the big publishing house, no more torturing myself visualising my hard work on the dreaded ‘slush pile’ going straight from the post bag to the shredder. It seemed like my dream of becoming an author could come true with self-publishing. Still, in the back of my mind I knew there had to be a catch, I just couldn’t figure out what it was.

The day of the course came and as we sat in a lovely hotel overlooking the bay I chatted enthusiastically with my fellow writing hopefuls, some of whom were already published traditionally and who were seeking new ways to breathe life into their careers, or simply monetising their work, others, like myself were total newcomers. It was all very exciting.

With Catherine’s combination of sound advice and humour , she outlined clearly what you needed to do. Ok, you needed a bit of computer savvy, tick. You had to have actually written a half decent book, again, (hopefully) tick. Everything was going great, I was right on track when Catherine dropped the bombshell. You must, and there was no grey area here, you must have your work professionally edited. Obviously, I thought, she doesn’t mean me. You see, I’m an English teacher. My life is spent correcting mistakes, restructuring plot, ensuring  the writing is purposeful ,  coherent, using appropriate and varied language and adhering to the laws of English mechanics. I’ve taught at university, I correct state exams, I don’t need an editor, I am an editor.

Wrong.

I need an editor. Everyone does, I don’t care who you are, what your day job is, you simply cannot edit yourself.

I’d love to say that there and then in that hotel in Dublin I saw the light, but if I’m to be honest I wasn’t convinced. Catherine however, was the expert and I decided just to trust her on it. I parted with the cash, a considerable amount of it, and I got myself an editor. For my first book, I found two editors in fact, one who read the story and looked at structure, plot development, characters and so on, and another, a copy editor to look at the actual prose. If I have learned anything from this process it is this – If I was to look at that manuscript until I was old and grey I would never have seen the glaring inconsistencies the editing process brought to light. I can’t actually believe I thought it was OK, it really, really wasn’t.

My structural editor, the wonderful  Helen Falconer, over lots of tea and biscuits showed me how to make my characters consistent and believable, how to add and subtract from the plot and the result was a much better story. My copy editor seemed to be able to polish my prose so that it still sounded like me, just a better, more articulate me. Words cannot adequately describe the positive impact these professionals had on my work.

This knowledge was liberating when writing my second book. I knew I’d be chopping and dissecting it once it was done so it gave me the confidence just to write, I didn’t worry too much about the finer points. As with the first book, Helen once again worked her magic, and now I have two books of which I’m proud, the alternative is something that makes me shudder. The moral of the tale? Listen to Catherine, she knows her stuff.   [Thanks, Jean! Your fiver's in the post...!]

Find about more about Jean on her website (Jean: is that header image really where you write? I’m jealous! It looks so cosy…). Her books The Tour and So Much Owed are available on Amazon.

I think what’s interesting about Jean’s story is that she held a very common misconception about self-publishing: that she didn’t need an editor. And why wouldn’t she think that? Jean is an English teacher! But after she ‘saw the light’ as she puts it, she met Helen, and I know that Helen has become a big part of her process and not only a box that has to be ticked. So tell us: what is the biggest misconception you had before you self-published? What long-held belief about the process went flying out the window as soon as you started? What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned? Let us know in the comments below…

Self-Publishing: Do It Your Way

29 Jan

‘Tis the season of hand-picked guest posts that will hopefully keep you entertained while I sand down my fingerprints finishing my novel at a clip of 3,000 words per day when it’s going good and 3,000 extra calories consumed when it’s not. There was a fantastic reaction to Pat Fitzpatrick’s guest post last week on the 3 things he wishes he’d known before he self-published, so I hope there’ll be just as much enthusiasm for today’s: Dan Holloway’s Do It Your Way. (I’m sure there will be.) Take it away, Dan… 

“Do it yourself. That’s what self-publishing is all about. Isn’t it? I don’t mean that you literally have to stand over the press as your printed pages speed off it, or that you should be frantically coding away as your Word document morphs into something fir for Kindle. Or even that those artistic ignorami among us should slave away with paints and Photoshop to create our own covers. What I mean is that, like a ghost in the machine, a puppet master pulling the leavers, a legion of tired metaphors searching for somewhere to lay their head, in control of the whole thing is you.

And yet the more I look around a self-publishing universe expanding faster than the Hubble constant should permit the less I see it.

bookcover

It’s something symptomatic of our age. The three key letters in all of this are “you” – the three letters I don’t think I’ve seen really properly considered on more posts than I could count on a pair of mittens. We live in a society that is focused more than ever before on the individual. And yet we have less of a concept of individuality than, well, than is sufficient to satisfy me in any way, shape or form at any rate.

Let me explain.

As a digital society, we are bombarded with ways to be unique, to express ourselves, to be quirky and individual – Instagram being the paradigm. And we are bombarded with websites like Buzzfeed that extol the virtue of individuality. It is no surprise that self-publishing, especially digital self-publishing, is booming at a time when other forms of self-expression are frotting each other so vigorously in the cultural air.

But the closer you look, the more you see that the “self” involved in all this, the “you”, the “individual” doesn’t actually mean anything. It stands simply for “agency”, a force as impersonal as gravity or electromagnetism (perhaps the third force in any twenty first century’s Grand Unified Theory). It means simply the process of pressing the relevant button. We live in a world that has created a myriad ways for us to proclaim our individuality by performing an action a million other people are also performing.

The “you” of “do it yourself” has been lost to the extent that the “you” who self-publishes, if you believe many of the blogs and articles and media coverage, is simply the action of pulling together a set of discrete tasks (editing, design, formatting, distribution) and pressing buttons. In other words the “you” who self-publishes is so much a completely different entity from the “you” who writes, it would be a category error to compare the two.

We still see lip service paid to the wonder of a writer’s voice, to the thing that makes their words unique, gives their vision a singular power to move readers in ways nothing else can do. And yet this ocean of dazzling difference is, we are told, to be delivered with utter homogeneity.

We have lost a beautiful truth – that there are as many ways to make a book as there are to tell a story. Of course I know that if we write a certain kind of thriller people will expect a certain kind of cover, and that if we write a certain kind of poetry people will expect a certain kind of mysterious use of line breaks. I’m not suggesting you write the 17th edition in your erotica series in alphabetti spaghetti on the floor of the local bus station (though now I’ve said that I really want to). I know there are practicalities to think about.

failedassasian

But those practicalities shouldn’t close your mind off to your wonderful creative individuality. Even if you absolutely, positively have to present your book in a certain way (say, it’s the 6th in a very successful series about what goes on behind closed doors at a cupcake store) – there’s nothing to stop you baking cupcakes for your book launch, and putting a picture of your cover on the bottom of the casings. Likewise I have a friend who knits and sells characters from her stories (http://www.wigglypets.co.uk/). Or you can make special editions. Richard Pierce recently created a limited edition of five beautiful artisan bound copies of his erotica novel The Failed Assassin, thus enabling himself to fulfil genre expectations with the ebook and let his creativity fly with the limited edition.

Perhaps the most exciting form of expressive self-publishing is when form and content collide in a perfect storm. Two wonderful examples of this are Rohan Quine’s The Imagination Thief, an ebook that links to video and audio material, not only immersing us in the surreal trance-like world of the novel but fully utilising Rohan’s skills as a professional actor, and Lucy Furlong’s Amniotic City, a psychogeographical poetry map of hidden feminine imagery in the heart of London.

amnioticcity

Even a very cursory search of Amazon will reveal a whole plethora of books about making books – books about binding, about folding, about decoupage and collage. There are numerous ways to learn the crafts that will then allow you to create books that express what it is that makes you you, and that is one of the most truly exciting things about self-publishing. Most of all, always remember the three most important letters in do it yourself – “you” and never let people tell you “that’s a silly way to make a book.” There are so few writers who stand out in the self-publishing world, and the sad fact is that this is by and large because so many of them try to blend in – what kind of way is that to stick in a reader’s mind?

About Dan:

Dan Holloway‘s Self-publish With Integrity: Define Success in Your Own Terms and then Achieve it is now available for Kindle. The book, which includes chapters on community building, handling self-doubt and never being afraid to be yourself, is intended as a guide to help self-publishing writers discover, and then stay true to, their fundamental writing goals, helping them steer a path through the maze of how to guides, helpful advice, and other obstacles that beset them at every stage of their writing life so that achieve long-term happiness and success on the only terms that count: their own.

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