The Write Lines

In November 2009 I had just started Operation Self-Publish Mousetrapped. I was just getting to grips with this whole new world of CreateSpace, Smashwords, whatever KDP was called back then because I can’t even remember now (what was it called? It’s annoying me now—was it something about digital text platform…?) and spending way too much time on Twitter, because Twitter and I were in the honeymoon phase, which is say I was never more than thirty minutes from my last tweet.

Some new Twitter friends of mine we appearing on The Write Lines, a radio show all about writing, so I started listening to it that November, live, as it went out over the magical interweb. (It had actually just started that November, but I didn’t realize that at the time.) Think about it: little me, daydreaming, in a room the size of a telephone box, struggling to get to grips with the mammoth tasks ahead of me (self-publishing, trying to get published, trying to find people who’d buy my books…), listening to people I knew but had never met talk about writing and books and authors like it was the most important thing in the world. Talking about a world—the publishing world—that I was only just beginning to discover.

Cut to last month, when I was on The Write Lines. How exciting was that? Very, let me tell you.

You’ll be able to listen to the full show—which, coincidentally, also featured one of my writing heroes, Jane Wenham-Jones (if you haven’t read Wannabe a Writer?, drop what you’re doing and go get a copy now)—on November 12th, but for now, there’s a snippet here.

All the shows will be available on, with the first episode in the new series available from Monday 29th October.

NaNoWriMo: I’m Only Going To Say This Once, Okay?

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) starts on November 1st.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, the idea is that you pull out all the stops to write 50,000 words of a new novel in 30 days, or around 1,670 words every day during the month of November.

Every year around this time, something else starts too: NaNoWriMo Snobbery. Professional writers, who the other eleven months of the year seem like the nicest, most generous and friendliest people, suddenly start tipping their noses in the air and saying or even writing things about how NaNoWriMo and the people who partake in it are belittling their profession, ridiculing their craft and making a mockery of the 1,670 words they write every single day of the year in order to make a living.

Now, usually I just grit my teeth and try to ignore it, but this year I’m finding it impossible—and we’re not even T-minus 1 week to go yet. (Also, I can’t think of anything else to blog about today.) So I’m only going to say this once, okay?


The NaNoWriMo Novel = Messy First Draft

The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to write a messy first draft, the one that “rough” would be a strong word for, the one that’s for you and you only, the one in which you work out the answers to the questions Would this even work? and What comes between the beginning and the end? No one in their right mind thinks you can go from a blank page to a finished novel ready for readers and their shelves in 30 days, but National Write a Messy First Draft That Might One Day, With Countless Rewrites, Become a Novel Month, just isn’t very catchy.

Also, keep in mind that most commercial novels these days are around the 100,000 word mark. If you thought that the idea of NaNoWriMo was to write a finished novel in 30 days, then the goal—50,000 words—should’ve been your first clue that honey, that just ain’t the case.

NaNoWriMoers = Writers

A couple of years ago I read a heartfelt blog post by a professional, published writer who truly felt slighted by NaNoWriMo. She said that this was her profession, her vocation in life, and the fact that “some people” thought they could come along and do it in the month—do the thing she had spent her adult life perfecting the craft of—made a mockery of it and her. She asked if there would be similar support for National Become a Doctor Month or the like, and ended her post by saying that she dreaded Novembers because of NaNoWriMo.

Now, first of all, get the lady 10 ccs of chill pill. STAT. (See? I could totally do National Become a Doctor Month…) The world really doesn’t need to take arbitrary challenges so seriously. But secondly, who does she think does NaNoWriMo? Sure, there’s a probably a few people in there who have never as much as read a book who suddenly decide to drop everything and attempt to write one during the month of November. But all the people I know who do it are writers.

They are already writing, have always been and for whatever reason, find it difficult to fit writing into their lives every single day. I hate that thing about there’s no such thing as no time to write, because who are we to say what people can or can’t fit into their lives? We know nothing about them. We don’t know what responsibilities they have, or what they’re struggling with. I know someone who works two full-time jobs, survives on less sleep than the average insomniac and has children to take care of. Would you tell him to “just find” the time to write?

Some people, myself included, write more when a deadline is sending us daggers from the edge of our computer screen. Some people write more when they are spurred on by being part of a group whose members are also trying to write more at the same time. And some people have so much going on that they feel they can’t set aside time to write all the year around, but that NaNoWriMo gives them some kind of official permission to do it, just for thirty days.

NaNoWriMoers are, for the most part, writers. Not “some people.”

What Are You Worried About, Mate?

Oh, you write 2,000 words every day of the year, do you? When I say “NaNoWriMo” you say “Welcome to my life”? In the immortal words of Chandler Bing, is your wallet also too small for your fifties and your diamond shoes too tight?

SO THE FUDGE WHAT if you already do NaNoWriMo every month of the year? What has that got to do with other people trying to do it for one month? I just don’t see the connection. That’s like me saying I’m going to join a gym… [Sorry, burst into a fit of giggles there; let me try that again.] That’s like me saying I’m going to join a gym and work out every day for the next thirty days, and being belittled and mocked and generally held in contempt by people who already do it, just because they already do. There is something missing there, and it’s ALL LOGIC AND SENSE.

On September 11th, Ricky Gervais tweeted about taking a moment to remember all those who had perished during the terrorist attacks. A tweeter from the UK asked him why the world makes an effort to pause and mourn on 9/11, when they don’t necessarily on 7/7, the anniversary of the London terrorists attacks. And Gervais’ response was “What are you worried about, mate?”

Now obviously we’re talking about two entirely different points on the Things That Matter Scale, but Gervais’ response to that has really stuck with me, because I’m sure that tweeter couldn’t answer it. (Because what was he worried about? Non-reciprocated  sadness?!) And so, if you are a professional writer and you don’t like the idea of people doing NaNoWriMo, what are you worried about?

(Side note: agents and editors can probably answer that question because they do have something to worry about: the influx of newborn manuscripts that start arriving in their mailrooms come December 1st from the small minority of people who think you can conceive, draft, rewrite, edit and polish a novel in just 30 days. But for the rest of us, what does it matter?)

NaNoWriMo + Time = Bestselling Books

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Cuckoo by Julia Crouch and Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes (which, by the way, was one of the most unsettling, nerves-on-a-knife-edge thrillers I’ve ever read) all started their literary lives as NaNoWriMo projects. You can see the full selection of published NaNoWriMo projects here.

Fun: Have You Heard Of It?

The whole point of NaNoWriMo—more so than writing 50k, I’d say—is FUN, as in, the having of it. During NaNoWriMo, you can sign up for groups, even meet those groups in your town or city, and create a buddy list that will help spur each other on for the month. It’s great craic, as us Irish would say.

And sometimes, having fun is reason enough to do something, all by itself. This is one of those times.

So NaNoWriMo Snobsters, stop taking a dump all over it, would you please? And bring your nose back down until it’s parallel to the horizon while you’re at it. Thanks ever so much.


What do YOU think?

(P.S. What do you think about NaNoWriMo, NOT what you think about 9/11, 7/7 or Ricky Gervais. I know how this internet thing works and I’m telling you right now, that’s NOT what this post is about, okay?)

UPDATE 2015: You might also be interested in… My debut thriller, Distress Signals, will be published by Corvus/Atlantic in June of next year and I’m chronicling the publication process and my attempts at writing a second book in almost no time on this blog, in a series called Book One/Two. Read the first installment here.

Harlequin’s Proofreading Department (VIDEO)

A book trailer that allows us to peek inside Harlequin’s proofreading department. What surprised me is not only do they have a proofreading department, but 15—15!—people work there. Clearly The End is Nigh/Publishing is in the Crapper/All Bookstores Will Be Closed by Next Week Bookmageddon hasn’t reached Harlequin yet…


Why Flashy Book Trailers Don’t Work


In my post Why Promoting Your Book Online is (a bit) like Fight Club, I explained why the only kind of online book promotion that works is stuff that doesn’t just promote your book and, above everything else, makes the internet better.

“People aren’t using social media because they love being sold stuff. They’re using it, I think, for one or more of the following three reasons:

  1. Because they want to be entertained
  2. Because they’re looking for specific information
  3. Because they want to connect with other people (connect as in virtually meet, but also as in relate to).

From what I’ve seen over the past two years, both in trying to sell my own books and watching what other self-published and traditionally published authors have done to try to sell theirs, is that your promotional efforts have to have a value of their own, and that value has to satisfy one or more of the demands in the list above. Online promotion works best when the book actually comes second to the content’s main objective.

[You: Say what now?]

To put it another—hopefully clearer—way, your goal should be to improve the internet, above all else. Make it a better place than it was five minutes ago by writing a great blog post, posting a funny tweet, using a tweet to direct your followers to a great blog post you just found, uploading a video that helps people perform a task, uploading a video that makes people laugh while they’re procrastinating to keep from doing that task they’re supposed to do… You get the idea. Adding a mention of your book to this content might also sell a few copies of it for you, yes, but that’s secondary. That’s not the most important bit. We need to create stuff to put on the internet that would still be something useful and worthwhile even if we took the selling books bit out of it.”

Examples of this would be things like Marian Keyes’ Twitter stream, The Book Boutique (Penguin UK) Facebook page and helpful/advice blogs by self-published authors like The Creative Penn, Indie IQ and (on a good day) this one. They are all free of blatant advertising and do not exist primarily to sell books—Marian Keyes entertains, The Book Boutique shares news, pictures and giveaways with book-lovers and self-published author advice blogs help other authors to self-publish. If some apocalyptic event meant that from tomorrow, none of them would have any books to sell, they could continue to do what they’re doing. They could do exactly what they’re doing now, even if they didn’t have books to sell. It’s this crucial point that 9 out of 10 authors who aren’t using social media but think they should be because someone told them it’s a good way to sell books don’t get—and it’s why they fail. If you took the selling books aspect out of a tweet like “My amazing book, Annoying Much? is just 99c on Amazon. PLEASE RT PLEASE RT PLEASE RT!”, what would you be left with?

It’s also something mainstream publishing houses occasionally forget too, and nowhere is this more obvious than in book trailers.

I think the generally held wisdom is that book trailers don’t sell books—and I’d tend to agree, in that I very much doubt anyone has ever watched a book trailer and then said, Right! I’ll have that and ran off to the nearest bookshop or booted up their Kindle and bought the thing.

But just like blogging, tweeting, etc. I think book trailers can help tell people that your book exists, and send some of those people to a second location—your Amazon listing, your website, its Goodreads reviews—and if you’re lucky, some of those people will like what they find there and buy the book.

So if the purpose of a book trailer is let as many people as possible know that your book exists, then your book trailer has to have a high share value. Basically, it has to be something you’d tweet a link to, or post on your Facebook wall, or include in a blog post.

And what would make you do that? The holy trinity of social media: entertainment, information or connection. In other words, the video would have to be funny, useful or something a large number of people could relate to.

From what I’ve seen, publishing houses don’t always get this. (Self-publishers don’t always get it either, but they’re not spending the insane amounts of money on their trailers that publishing houses are. And the ones who do get it right are nearly always self-publishers, or traditionally published authors doing the book trailer themselves.)

The reason I’m writing this post is because last week I came across a gem of an example: a traditionally published book, a buzzy book that clearly has plenty of marketing and publicity dollars behind it, and two book trailers—one glossy, expensive animation clearly commissioned by the publishing house, and one DIY, hand-held camera operation that the author evidently did herself*.

And only one of them works as a book trailer.

The book is Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. The first trailer, the glossy animation one, is a semi-successful advertisement for the book. (Semi-successful? Well, I’ve read the book and loved it, but I’m not sure I would’ve picked it up if I’d seen it described like this first. It doesn’t do this hilarious tale any justice, in my opinion. And what’s with the Desperate Housewives voice-over, eh?) You’d watch this, yes, and you might even think to yourself, Hmm, I must read that… but there is no chance you’d pass it on to your internet friends. Why would you?

But then there’s this, featuring the author herself, in which she attempts to pitch her book to (real life!) booksellers and book critics:

I think you would pass this onto your friends. (I have!) Even if you wouldn’t because you’re a Mr. Grumpypants who says things like “I want the novel to attract my attention with its words…” and “I don’t own a TV; there’s nothing on it” and who doesn’t understand that sometimes, the purpose of a thing can just be FUN, there’s a far higher chance you’d watch it to the end than the one above. And if you’re an author, you’ll relate to Maria’s “problem” (“…I’m going to have to take to the internet and mess. You. UP.”).

So if you’re considering making a book trailer, my advice would be to:

  • Avoid making a movie-style trailer that just tells us what happens in your book
  • Focus on the share value; this isn’t a straight forward advertisement
  • Keep it short.

I’ll leave you with this: sometimes publishing does get it right. (In this case, Amazon Publishing.) They’re more likely to have a “big name” author with Big Name Friends, and when that meets comedy you have book trailer gold. Penny Marshall is an American actress and director, and she’s just released a memoir, My Mother Was Nuts.

And instead of being in her own book trailer, she got someone else to stand in…

*It is entirely possible that the publishing house had a hand in that one too, but Maria Semple works in TV and has famous acting friends so I’m guessing this was all her. Don’t get hung up on details: the point is that her trailer is 100% DIY in content and appearance, and it’s something a self-publisher could easily emulate. It’s not the expensive, flashy animation that just tells us what the book is about. And THAT’S the one that works.

Why I Don’t Have a Kindle… And Why I Will Soon



As I mentioned at the top of Friday’s post (11 Ingredients of a Sizzling Book Description) I have temporarily relocated to France for  a few weeks. It’s a sort of self-imposed writing retreat that I’m only too happy to self-impose, as you can imagine. I did it last year too, and if there was one thing I learned (well, two; I also learned that bringing your entire West Wing box set doesn’t lead to productivity), it was to bring enough books to last me the length of my stay. There’s only a couple of places here that stock English books, and if I haven’t read them already, rest assured they cost twenty-five or thirty percent more than they do at home and I need the money I have for baguettes and cafe cremes and making the most of the dazzling display that is the average French supermarket’s yogurt aisle.

So since the beginning of the summer, I’ve been stockpiling books. It was nice, actually, watching them pile up—I didn’t have any time to read over the last couple of months, so the prospect of being able to get to them all some day soon seemed like a surreal daydream. And last Tuesday, by some miracle, I managed to fit twenty-five of them into my luggage and lug them here without paying an extra cent. The paperbacks got stacked upright in the bottom of my checked bag; the hardbacks lay flat in my carry-on, under my computer.

But I’ve no shoes. A pair of flip-flops and a pair of ballet flats, and that’s it. And they only got to come because they pack flat. And nothing remotely warm to wear, even though it occurs to me now that it’ll be the end of November when I return home and that even before then, the nights here will be pretty chilly. And although I managed to squeeze the Babyliss Big Hair down the side of the bag, there was no room for my hairdyer, and the one here seems to be more for eyelashes.

So why did I sacrifice shoes, clothes and hairdryer space for 25 books that could all have fit onto something smaller than one of them, along with a thousand more?

Why haven’t I bought a Kindle, if even only for traveling?

I asked myself the same question as I thought I heard something snap (a vertebrae…?) during my effort to hoist a 10kg+ place into the overhead baggage compartment while looking like it’s as light as a feather because really you shouldn’t put things that weight into the overheads.

The answer is value added joy.

Kindle purists will say that I’ve wasted money on the physical books (when I could’ve had the e-book editions for less, in most cases) and that I’ve wasted space in my luggage packing them (when a Kindle would’ve fit in my back pocket). They’ll also say that in the near future, when the books are read, I’ll waste more space storing them on a shelf, and that by then, they’ll be utterly pointless objects: books already read, gathering dust.

But they’re wrong. Totally wrong. Because as I’ve said before (Why, For Me, Print Will Never Be Extinct), reading is just one of the pleasures I get from my books. I love the books themselves; I love arranging them on my bookcase or stacked on a tabletop or carefully placed in my beach bag; I love seeing them around me, both waiting to be read and as a reminder of where I was when I read them.

Take the three books above, just as an example. Aren’t they beautiful things? The Next Best Thing reminds me of L.A.—just glancing at the cover makes me think back to my fabulous trip there in June. I read Where’d You Go, Bernadette on the beach in the sun last week, and I loved it. So now every time I see that book, I feel a flutter of joy at the memory, both of being on the beach and of laughing my head off at the hilarious words inside. And I haven’t read Beautiful Ruins yet, but the exquisite cover has had me thinking of the Italian coast since the day it arrived in an Amazon box, and I’m saving it for a reading session in a town that looks a lot like the cover art, a day that might start in a waterside cafe before moving to a pebble beach, carry onto the train and end back here in the apartment with a coffee on the cooling balcony and the fading heat of summer skin, where I’ll reach THE END and close the book, smile to myself, and know that not only have I had the most wonderful day, but that forever more catching a glance of that beautiful cover art, the mere glimpse of the title on the spine, will bring me straight back to that day, a permanent, tangible, physical reminder of that joy, the book itself now the flip of a switch that sends happiness spreading through my heart.

Your move, Kindle.



I wrote everything above this morning (I’m writing this on Thursday), and that was where the post was supposed to stop.

But then a couple of things happened. First,  I got an e-mail about something that would involve reading e-books because there’s no physical equivalent; the books are only being published in electronic form. And if I have to read an e-book, I’d pick a Kindle over a computer screen or tiny phone any day. Second, I finished The Treatment by Mo Hayder.

I can’t quite believe that I’ve let myself, a crime fiction fan, get this far into life without reading anything by Mo Hayder. I brought Birdman and The Treatment with me, and read them both in the last three days. The Treatment was probably one of the best crime novels I’ve ever read, and it gave me nightmares last night. This morning its ending nearly had me in tears.

And I immediately wanted to read the next book in the series. Like, now.

But I can’t. I have to wait until I go back home, or scour the slim pickings of English books around here in the hope of not only finding a Mo Hayer title, but the next one in the series.

How much easier it would’ve been, this morning, to boot up a Kindle and download the next book straightaway, be reading it within seconds…

And The Treatment is a paperback. I turned it over in my hands this morning, just post-THE END, and thought about how, unlike the books described above, I’ll never glance at it and think, Oooh, what a wonderful time I had reading that! And it won’t just be because it’s subject matter would forbid such a response—it’s because the book is just your average book, not especially pretty or special.

I’d be okay just reading it on a Kindle, is what I’m saying. (I think.)

So maybe the time is coming. Soon. There’s work-related things I have to read and sometimes, they don’t come in a physical copy. And not all books come with value added joy. Maybe one of these days—these days on this side of Christmas—I’ll open an Amazon box, and inside it will be the Kindle I ordered.


Checking Your Kindle Book


In Tuesday’s post, Proofing Your CreateSpace Paperback, I outlined the three options you have when it comes to checking that everything in your print book is good to go.

But what about the Kindle edition?

I would say that it’s far more important to check your e-books than it is to check your paperback because the former has a much—MUCH!—higher chance of having something wrong with it than the latter, but the truth is it’s equally important to check any book you’re putting out there, regardless of the likelihood that you’ll find something to correct. But as we all know, uploading a MS Word document to Amazon KDP for automated conversion can be a tricky business and to ensure it hasn’t caused a nuclear meltdown of your life’s work, set aside a day for checking it, line by line.

You can check your Kindle book in the Kindle Previewer which will appear at the end of Page 1 during the process of “adding a new title” on Amazon KDP. It will only appear AFTER you have uploaded a file, and that file has been converted to Kindle format (or a “Mobi” file). It’s an approximation of what your book will look like on a Kindle screen, and it’s functional: you can flip back and forth, increase and decrease the font size, etc.

Until very recently, it looked like this:

But now KDP have got a clue, and have not only upgraded their Kindle Preview to something a lil’ snazzier (that’s far easier to navigate) but also taken into account that there are different Kindles, and that some readers do not read their Kindle books on a Kindle at all.

Aforementioned snazzier Kindle previewer:

Or see what your book looks like on the Kindle Fire:

Or even on the iPad, with the Kindle app:

Or with the Kindle app on an iPhone:

And you can even change the orientation:

Isn’t that fun? Yes, it’s fun—for the first five minutes. Until you find a paragraph indent out of place and spend the next six hours trying to figure out why it’s just that one…

What’s the downloadable previewer I can see a link to in the screen shots above? you may be asking. Well, it’s a downloadable version of what you’re looking at above. And it’s really for people who have done things far more complicated than merely uploading a MS Word document, so don’t worry about it.

You may also be asking, Are those… BULLET POINTS I see in your e-book, Ms. Howard? Bullet points! In an e-book! What’s next? A hairdryer in the bath??! 

Yes, I have bullet points in my e-book. But that’s because with Self-Printed, I didn’t upload a MS Word document. It just wouldn’t do, not with a book like this. So the lovely people at converted the books for me, and I uploaded the ePub to Amazon KDP.

And it worked a treat.

Note: I think it’s extremely important that everyone who decides to release a Kindle book should get their hands on a Kindle as soon as possible. Borrow a friend’s, play with a demonstration model in-store or even invest in one. It’s not enough to have some vague notion as to what a Kindle is, or how your book will look on one. While you’re at it, enter the Kindle store via the device. Only then will you truly appreciate the obstacles between your book and a potential reader deciding to buy it.

Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing (The Second Edition) is out now in paperback and e-book. Woo-hoo!