How Do You Track Your Word Count? (And Other Things)

Do not adjust your sets. This really is a new blog post. Yes, new material has appeared on this blog. Be gone, tumbleweeds!

I have been MIA because the last six weeks or so have been crazy. I had three university assignments due on the same day, followed by, oh, you know, 100,000 words or so of a book, followed by an exam that I basically had 24 hours to cram for. (Fun fact: my exam was on the history of the book so I was able to throw in loads of stuff about e-books, and I wrote about Celebration, Florida, for one of my assignments.)

Credit: Kathryn English, Blackstone Publishing

In the midst of all that I also wrote a piece about a real life cruise ship murder for the Irish Times, won an award and, needless to say, watched all of 13 Reasons Why because my motto is No Netflix Left Behind even when you don’t have time to sleep and even if the show is utterly rage-inducing on multiple levels. Side note: roll on Master of None this coming Friday. (I think MON is one of the great televisual shows ever made.)

What else have I been up to, I pretend to hear you ask?

Happy Birthday, Distress Signals

Distress Signals, my serial-killer-on-a-cruise-ship-thriller (nautical noir, we’re calling it) was first published a year ago yesterday, which means it’s been a year since the actual craziest week of my life. You and I can relive all the excitement here.

Credit: Hazel Gaynor

The twelve months since have been tough, trying to write a second novel while also doing a full-time degree and being constantly distracted by the shiny stuff of publication (and, ahem, Netflix), but they have also had so many exciting and happy moments. My launch, getting shortlisted for Crime Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards, finding that one of my favourite bookstores in the world, the Barnes and Noble at Dr Philips in Orlando – where I wiled away many a blissfully happy hour – had DS in stock. (This was seriously, like, the BEST.)

I must say a big THANK YOU to everyone who read, reviewed and recommended Distress Signals to their friends and followers. You are all lovely and deserve to drink only good coffee, never instant. To celebrate, my lovely American publishers have slashed the price of Distress Signals‘ digital edition to just $0.99 – its RRP is $9.99 – but only for a limited time. So if you haven’t read it yet, you live in the States and you’d read an e-book, quick, go! Or if you know someone else who fits that criteria who you think might be interested, tell them! More exclamation marks!

While I was typing this, something ah-maze-ZING happened: Distress Signals slipped into the No. 1 spot on Barnes and Nobles’ NOOK bookstore. In other words, it became the top selling NOOK book. Whaaa…? I may have to frame this.

Distress Signals can be purchased for sofa-change from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and Kobo USA, among others.

Events

For some reason May is like peak events over here. I have three coming up: I’m doing a Marketing and Publicity Workshop with Peter O’Connell for Publishing Ireland next week, May 11 (suitable for both publishing professionals and writers), then I’ll be on the Twists and Turns panel at Crimefest, Bristol, on May 18, and finally I’ll be taking part in the How To Get Published Day at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, as part of the International Literature Festival: Dublin on May 20. For more information on any or all of these, go to my Events page and click on the relevant image.

I’m also going to London next week to hit a few stationery shops, Foyles and Hotel Chocolat, but that’s really just an event on my personal calendar…

Book 2

You guys, as a Youtuber might say, we are almost there. In a couple of weeks, Book 2 will be done*. (Can I just give you some unsolicited advice? If you are an aspiring writer who dreams of getting a book deal, here’s what you need to do the second you type THE END on the submission draft of the book you hope will get you published: open a new document, type CHAPTER ONE and start the book after that. Don’t wait, because if your dreams come true, there’ll be lots of shiny exciting fun stuff that will distract you and your deadlines will crumble to dust.) I can’t wait to tell you about it, share the title, show you the cover, etc. but I can’t do any of that just yet. What I can say is:

  • It’s another standalone thriller
  • It’s due for publication early next year
  • It’s set on dry land and that dry land is Dublin, but water does feature.

*Ready for copyediting.

Book 3 (and How Do YOU Track Your Word Count?)

Book three?! I know, right? How did we even get here? Well, that’s what I’ll be doing this summer: writing the first draft of my third thriller. I have an idea that I’m really, really excited about, as my writing friends will testify to because I’ve been blabbing about it— I mean, um, testing it out on them for months now.

One thing I really want to do is obsessively track my word count. I want to be able to say exactly how long it took me to write this novel. So, tell me: how do you track your word count? I was hoping to use Prolifiko after I read this fascinating article in The Guardian about how long – exactly – it took Wyl Menmuir to write his Booker-longlisted novel, but when I went to look at the app it wasn’t what I was expecting. (And you have to do a five day writing ‘challenge’ to unlock access. Um, no.) Have you used it? Are there alternatives? Any good apps? Or do you rely on spreadsheets, etc?

Let me know in the comments below because I really want something good I can use going forward. Any one who leaves a suggestion/comment on this topic will be entered into a draw for a prize that will probably consist of (a) a signed book, (b) something caffeinated, probably and (c) stationery so I have an excuse to buy some fancy stuff in London. (If you don’t track your word count at all it’s okay to leave a comment saying that. That counts as an entry.)

So, to recap:

  • Sherlock lives— I mean, this blog does
  • Distress Signals is discounted to $0.99 for a limited time – tell your friends!
  • Tell me how you track your word count/novel progress. You might win something…

I just sent out a newsletter. Have you signed up to receive my sporadic musings, eh? You should, if I do say so myself. 

The Girl Who Came Home: A Guest Post by Hazel Gaynor

Welcome to another week on Catherine, Caffeinated! While I recover from making Mother’s Day dinner on three hours sleep thanks to the Australian Grand Prix (Sky Sports started coverage on the new dedicated channel at 4.30am—although I should’ve just stayed in bed until the race started at six, because Sky Sports F1 is total rubbish. But anyway… ), my friend Hazel Gaynor is going to amuse you today with the story of her book, The Girl Who Came Home. With a stunning cover, timely subject matter and glowing reviews stacking up, I just know this e-book is going to be a huge success. Here’s Hazel to explain how it came to be...

“So, I did it. I finally took the plunge and self-published my novel, The Girl Who Came Home, on Kindle this week. It’s an exciting, nerve-wracking, exciting, terrifying, exciting experience! So, why Titanic? Why Kindle? Why now?

Ever since I was a child, I was amazed by the story of Titanic: the ship, the people who sailed on it and the unimaginable scale of the disaster. From the age of about twenty, I’ve been saying I’d love to write a novel, set on Titanic. People nodded politely. ‘Of course you do,’ they said, patting me on the back. When I was 27, I cried buckets as I watched James Cameron’s epic movie and fell in love with Titanic all over again. ‘I’m going to write a book about that one day,’ I said. ‘Of course you will,’ my friends replied politely, patting me on the back. The dream never went away – I knew I would do it one day.

When I was made redundant in March 2009, I finally set about taking my dream of becoming a published author a lot more seriously and last year (after various ups and downs, failures and successes in my writing endeavours), I started doing some serious research into Titanic – not realising at the time that 2012 would be the centenary year of the disaster. It seems I had got serious about writing this book at just the right time. I mentioned the idea to my agent, who encouraged me to write my book.

I soon became completely immersed in Titanic’s fascinating history, absorbing every detail of the event, from the deck plan of the ship to the handles on the dinner knives to the moving accounts of survivors. Then, I stumbled across the story of a group of fourteen Irish emigrants who left their homes in Mayo and sailed together on Titanic. They are known locally as ‘The Addergoole Fourteen’. I was so moved and inspired by their story that I wanted to write about it. Going back to the notes I’d been keeping for the previous fifteen years and using the new research, The Girl Who Came Home was written over the following four months in a blur of early mornings, late nights, twenty-minute bursts while the dinner cooked, a five hour flight to New York and snatched hours on a Sunday morning while my husband took the children swimming (they are great swimmers now!).

The completed novel was submitted to publishers last summer. Feedback was positive and very complimentary – but that elusive contract wasn’t forthcoming. I was devastated and went away to lick my wounds. I couldn’t bear to see anything about Titanic for months afterwards.

Having read the book, my mother-in-law encouraged me to keep trying to get it published and friends suggested self-publishing. I thought about it, put it off, suffered from crippling self-doubt, thought about it some more, edited my manuscript and just before Christmas 2011, decided to self-publish. I set about self-publishing the novel on Kindle. This in itself wasn’t the easiest of tasks, being a bit of a technical luddite, but buoyed by the self-publishing success I’d seen of fellow authors (Catherine Ryan Howard and Mel Sherratt in particular, I stuck with it.

The Girl Who Came Home – A Titanic Novel was published on Kindle this week. You can click on the link to read the description, or I have also taken the liberty of copying it in below!  I am so proud to see it up there with my name on it. The stunning cover (even thought I say so myself!) was designed by Andrew at Design for Writers and he did an incredible job, capturing the era and the mood of the book perfectly. The image of Titanic on the cover is from a painting by Belfast artist Jim McDonald, who very kindly gave me permission to use his beautiful work. You would be surprised to learn how tricky it is to get an image of Titanic – such is the stuff you learn when self-publishing!

From here, I can only hope that my novel does well and that self-publishing turns out to be a good decision. I am so passionate about the subject and feel a real sense of responsibility to tell the story of the thousands of people who travelled on this incredible ship with the passion, sensitivity and respect they deserve. Undoubtedly, Titanic’s legacy will live on long well beyond this centenary year. And I suspect our, and our children’s, fascination with her story will only grow stronger over time.

Of course I am still chasing the dream of being traditionally published and am already well under way with my next novel which is set in Victorian London. But more about that another time.”

The Girl Who Came Home is available now on the Amazon Kindle Store. Click here to download from Amazon.com and click here to download from Amazon.co.uk

The Girl Who Came Home – A Titanic Novel (the blurb!)

Inspired by true events surrounding a group of Irish emigrants who sailed on the maiden voyage of R.M.S Titanic, The Girl Who Came Home is a story of enduring love and forgiveness, spanning seventy years. It is also the story of the world’s most famous ship, whose tragic legacy continues to captivate our hearts and imaginations one hundred years after she sank to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean with such a devastating loss of life.

In a rural Irish village in April 1912, seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy is anxious about the trip to America. While the thirteen others she will travel with from her Parish anticipate a life of prosperity and opportunity – including her strict Aunt Kathleen who will be her chaperon for the journey – Maggie is distraught to be leaving Séamus, the man she loves with all her heart. As the carts rumble out of the village, she clutches a packet of love letters in her coat pocket and hopes that Séamus will be able to join her in America soon.

In Southampton, England, Harry Walsh boards Titanic as a Third Class Steward, excited to be working on this magnificent ship. After the final embarkation stop in Ireland, Titanic steams across the Atlantic Ocean. Harry befriends Maggie and her friends from the Irish group; their spirits are high and life on board is much grander than any of them could have ever imagined. Being friendly with Harold Bride, one of the Marconi radio operators, Harry offers to help Maggie send a telegram home to Séamus. But on the evening of April 14th, when Titanic hits an iceberg, Maggie’s message is only partly transmitted, leaving Séamus confused by what he reads.

As the full scale of the disaster unfolds, luck and love will decide the fate of the Irish emigrants and those whose lives they have touched on board the ship. In unimaginable circumstances, Maggie survives, arriving three days later in New York on the rescue ship Carpathia. She has only the nightdress she is wearing, a small case and a borrowed coat, to her name. She doesn’t speak of Titanic again for seventy years.

In Chicago, 1982, twenty-one year old Grace Butler is stunned to learn that her Great Nana Maggie sailed on Titanic and sets out to write Maggie’s story as a way to resurrect her journalism career. When it is published, Grace receives a surprising phone call, starting a chain of events which will reveal the whereabouts of Maggie’s missing love letters and the fate of those she sailed with seventy years ago. But it isn’t until a final journey back to Ireland that the full extent of Titanic’s secrets are revealed and Maggie is able to finally make peace with her past.

The Girl Who Came Home is available now on the Amazon Kindle Store. Click here to download from Amazon.com and click here to download from Amazon.co.uk. Thanks Hazel and best of luck with your book! 

Publishing An E-Book: A Checklist

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Have I convinced you yet that you should publish an e-book?

I hope so, because if you have a dusty manuscript in a drawer, a collection of short stories or even a novella that is good enough to get out there, you should seriously consider e-publishing it. This doesn’t have to have anything to do with your “main” writing career, be it established, in process or aspirational (although of course it can, if you want it to) – you can always release them under a pen name. No one has to know it’s you, unless you want them to. Alternatively you could use e-books as a stepping stone, a kind of advertisement, or to build that – I hate saying this, but we all know it’s relevant these days – good old author platform.

Whatever way you choose to use it, e-books can really help to keep you in ink cartridges.

So what do you need to do to publish an e-book? A few weeks back I made this kind of step-by-step checklist for a friend of mine about to embark on the e-book self-publishing process, and I thought it might be useful to a few more people if I put it on here.

(Of course, this is just what I did, and I’m not saying it’s definitive or comprehensive or even coherent. Use at your own risk, kindly refrain from suing me, etc. etc.)

Bottle of nail growth stimulator and nail file optional.

1. Prepare Your Manuscript

Get your manuscript reviewed by a professional. Depending on where you are with it, you might want to get your book overhauled – a full, structural edit – or just proofread (a copyedit). This is the one place where you’ll have to spend money. And it’s cliché o’clock at Catherine, Caffeinated, because I’m going to say that you have to spend money to make money. So spend it here.

At the very least, have a few trusted individuals read over it to check for errors. People tend to be more angry about typos when they’ve paid $2.99 for the privilege of finding them.

2. Design a Cover

You can also spend money here if you like, but you don’t have to. (You should, but you don’t have to.) What you do have to do, however, is make a reasonably attractive cover. They are just as important to e-book sales as they are to print sales; maybe even more so when there isn’t a physical book to study and way more low-quality competition that you can easily rise above. Remember: you only need a front cover. A picture, essentially.

Your cover:

  • needs to be in JPEG format
  • should clearly display a title, sub-title if applicable and author name (remembering that most people will see your cover in a thumbnail size, and possibly in black and white on their e-reader device)
  • needs to measure 500 pixels wide by 800 pixels tall (not strictly, but this is a good guide that works for both Smashwords and Amazon)
  • should contain an image. PLEASE, people. No text on a single color background, okay?

If you have already self-published a print edition, simply crop the front section and use that. You might want to redesign if the text is particularly small or the cover detailed. Don’t forget the thumbnail situation.

If can afford it, get a cover professionally designed to the specifications above.

If you’re starting from scratch and your budget is tight, you can make what I call a Poor Man’s (or Person’s!) Cover. It won’t win any beauty pageants but it might just do the job. (At least until you sell enough e-books that you can afford to get one done properly.) You basically build a cover a Microsoft Word, save it as a PDF and then save the PDF as a JPEG file. If you need images, you can either buy them or use royalty-free ones from sites like iStock and Shutterstock. Here are some Poor Person’s covers I made earlier, just to demonstrate:

I got the images from Shutterstock (if I’d paid for them, of course, they wouldn’t still be saying ‘Shutterstock’) and all I did was insert them, set the layout to ‘Behind Text’ and then make them big enough to cover the entire page. Text is either Word Art or a text box.

As I said, it’s not exactly Picassco but wouldn’t they do the job?

3. Decide on Your Price

I’ve said this before: you want to price your e-book at a level that encourages people to buy (to ‘take a chance’) but not so low that it implies, subconsciously or otherwise, that the book is worthless. I recommend e-books self-publishers work within the $1.99-$4.99 price bracket. (Mousetrapped is $2.99.) Right now you have a big price advantage over mainstream e-books (i.e. those published by major publishing houses) who are still clinging to the idea that someone, somewhere will pay a print price for an electronic book. This won’t last forever, so use it will you can.

And remember that in almost all cases you get to keep 70% of the list price.

You, while formatting your e-book.

4. Format Your E-Book

You now need to ready your manuscript for conversion. The e-book sites will do the conversion but you need to make sure you’ve formatted your manuscript in such a way that it comes out the other end looking as it should.

For a simple, straight-forward book, you can use my How To Format Your E-Book (the Non-Migraine Inducing Way).

For a more complicated book, I recommend you follow the instructions in Smashwords Style Guide.

NB: You’ll need to do two versions: one that says ‘SMASHWORDS EDITION’ and one that says ‘KINDLE EDITION’.

5. Prepare Your Listing Information

You’ll need to prepare:

  • a book description (usually your back cover blurb, if the book existed in the print world)
  • an author bio.

Don’t just scribble something down or do it off the cuff. This is the information that will accompany your cover image on every e-book store listing and convince people to or dissuade them from clicking the ‘Buy’ button. It should be thought out in advance.

Smashwords allows a short description (400 characters), an extended description (4000 characters) and a short author bio. Amazon KDP allows a description (4000 characters) into which you should also slot your ‘About the Author.’

6. Register Accounts

Sign up for free accounts at:

You can use your existing Amazon.com account, if you have one, to register for Amazon KDP.

7. Upload to Smashwords

Armed with your formatted manuscript, your cover file, author bio and book description, head to Smashwords to upload your book. Once you’ve logged in, click ‘Publish’ from the list of options towards the top of the page and follow the instructions on screen.

Some points to remember:

  • Make at least 25% – 30% of your book available for sampling (the amount of your book a potential reader can download for free)
  • Tags are key words that will help readers find your book – enter as many as allowed
  • All formats will be checked – keep it this way. You want as many formats to be available as possible.

Once your files have been uploaded and everything has been saved, Smashwords will then queue your book for conversion. You can leave the site; they’ll email you when it’s done. (If I recall correctly…!) Once it’s been converted, go back and submit your book for inclusion in their Premium Catalogue. (You’ll see this option on your author dashboard, the screen you see when you log in.)

8. Upload to Amazon KDP

Uploading to Amazon is even easier than uploading to Smashwords and – squeal of excitement! – when you’re done, your book will soon appear on Amazon.com. If you’ve never have an Amazon listing before, trust me: this is very exciting.

Some differences:

On the first page:

  • Under publishing rights select the “This is not public domain…” option
  • The product image is the book cover
  • DO NOT enable Digital Rights Management (DRM). Unless you’re James Patterson, you don’t need to do this.

At the end of the first page, you’ll get to see an approximation of what your book will look like on someone’s Kindle. If you’ve formatted your manuscript correctly, this will look good. (Correctly spaced, readable, no large chunks of blank space.) If it doesn’t, you need to start all over… Sorry!

On the second page:

  • Select “Worldwide Rights”
  • Select the higher 70% royalty option (um, obviously!)
  • Check the box at the end to confirm you have rights to publish.

Once you save all changes, your book will take 24-48 hours to go live.

NB: Double-check the address you enter. This is where your cheques will be sent.

9. Check Everything is A-Okay

So now your listing is live on Amazon.com and Smashwords has converted your book to all the major formats. But wait – don’t tell anyone about your e-book yet! First you need to check that it doesn’t read like hieroglyphics, or has 1,300+ pages like mine did first time round. We’re just going to check the Kindle edition and the EPUB version Smashwords produced because I believe if they look okay, the rest will be fine.

To check your Kindle book:

  1. Download the free Kindle application for PC or for Mac
  2. Download the free sample of your book (or, if you want to pay for it, the full version)
  3. Check it looks okay.

To check your EPUB book:

  1. Download Adobe’s Digital Editions – it’s free
  2. Download the EPUB version of your book from Smashwords (they’ll let you do it for free, from your dashboard)
  3. Check it looks okay.

What are looking for? You are checking for:

  • Correctly flowing text. No unscheduled page breaks, broken words or gaps
  • A normal number of pages
  • Cohesive font and text size.

Generally you want to ensure that your book is readable and looks professional prepared. If you’re not sure, download a free sample of an e-book produced by a mainstream publisher or an experienced e-book self-publisher and compare the two.

10. Wait Patiently

I know you’re dying to run out and tell the world you’ve published an e-book – but don’t do it! Not yet, anyway. Wait until your book is available and ready to download from at least a couple of major e-book stores, so that regardless of what e-reading device they own, anyone you tell about your book can run straight out and download it in the format they need. I don’t think there’s any point in waiting until you’re on all the major e-book stores, as that could take weeks or even months.

A little bit of patience and you’ll be on:

  • Smashwords.com website (available to download in all formats from there)
  • Amazon.com’s Kindle store.

A moderate amount of patience and you’ll be on:

  • Amazon.co.uk’s Kindle store
  • Sony’s E-Reader store
  • Barnes and Noble’s e-book store for NOOK

A saintly amount of patience and you’ll be on:

  • Apples iBooks store
  • Diesel
  • Kobo.

NB: Smashwords will also convert you book to Kindle format (.mobi). Don’t worry about it. I uploaded direct to Amazon as I’ve instructed here and have sold all my Kindle editions in this way. No Kindle sales have ever appeared through my Smashwords channels. I don’t worry about it.

11. Tell the World

Um… tell the world.

Oh, look – it’s MY e-book! How did that get on here…?

12. What Happens Next?

Hopefully people start to buy your e-books and the money starts rolling in. Or creeping in, anyway. Trickling in. Whatever. We just want it to come in.

How does the money get from the pockets of Smashwords and Amazon KDP into your pockets? Well, I can only talk about this from the point of view of a person in Ireland who is too lazy to register for an International Tax Number and so lets 30% of her royalties be withheld for standard US tax withholding purposes. (If you don’t want to be lazy, check Smashwords and Amazon KDP’s websites for more information about tax and the IRS and stuff.)

Smashwords will transfer your cash directly into your Paypal account. You can then transfer it into your bank account or give it straight to The Book Depository in exchange for other people’s books, which is what I tend to do.

Amazon I’m still trying to figure out. I thought they were paying me once every two months for the two month period that had ended 30 days before, but then they throw me out with a payment for one month that comes out of sequence. But as a minimum they seem to pay every two months.

Also, sales from Amazon.com come in dollar cheques and sales from Amazon.co.uk come in British pound cheques.

So… that’s about it. (All 2,154 words of it! Phew.)

Let me know if I’ve left anything out or got anything wrong.

And good luck!

Click here to read all my e-book posts. Click here to see a chronological list of all my self-printing postsClick here to read more about MousetrappedThanks to Chris for the Mickey/Kindle image.

My self-imposed deadline of Novel No.2’s first draft is just over a week away and so I’m going to take a little blogging break until it’s done (Monday 15th, with any luck). I’m also going to try to stay away from Twitter too, but based on past behavior this will not prove possible. So I’ll catch you on the flip-side. I’m off to make a vat of coffee. Don’t miss me too much!