The Dos and Don’ts of Self-Publishing

TheFamilyWeChooseKindleI published two books this week. The children were at a music camp for five days last week, 9am-4pm, so I had time to get some work done. Although I may have bitten off more than I could chew.

I decided to publish my adult novel, previously called Riley Road, renamed The Family We Choose. But it needed proofreading. I hadn’t realised how many errors there were – no wonder it didn’t go past long-listing for the Mslexia award.

The problem is, it’s such a hard read for me. It was written very close to the bone. I spent last week listening to it being read by the PDF Read Aloud software, to distance myself from it. Brilliant for picking up typos, not so great for proofreading a 60,000 word novel in a week. He. Talks. So. Slowly. And still I spent most of the week under a heavy cloud of being ‘not enough’. Sorry family!

Anyway, I managed to get that done and published, only to spot a typo on the cover. Just after submitting it for review. Twenty-Four hours later, I could change the cover and submit for review again. Check twice, publish once, and all that.

HopeGlimmersCoverAt the same time, I was working on finalising the sequel to Moon Pony, called Hope Glimmers, which I have done the illustrations for. I’ve been pretty pleased with them, I love drawing horses. But, again, it’s very time consuming converting all the images to black and white and getting Word to cooperate with slotting them into the text.

No typos on the cover though, which was great.

Unfortunately, it’s just gone live on Amazon and I’ve noticed that a) I’ve called it Home Glimmers, instead of Hope Glimmers (doh!) and b) I’ve put my author name as Amanda Martin (which I use for adult novels) rather than Mandy Martin (for kids books) so it isn’t going to appear alongside Moon Pony at all, despite being the sequel.

Idiot.

And neither fields can be adjusted in the Member Dashboard, resulting in two grovelling emails to Amazon (because, of course, I spotted the mistakes separately) which I hope they read and fix asap, as soon as they’ve stopped laughing.

SeagullandPippaStill, I have published two books in a week, including illustrations, cover design, proofreading, and everything, which isn’t to be sniffed at, even if it is unlikely I’ll sell any copies of either, since my Amazon sales seem to have dwindled into nothing recently. Even Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, which was always my ‘cup of coffee a month’ earner, has dropped off to nothing.

Not great, considering my books owe me a few hundred each in editing and covers and illustrations. Not much of a money spinner, more an expensive hobby! Lucky I sort of have a day job now.

And so, once my self-publishing fails have been fixed, it will be on to writing something new. Which I haven’t done in a long long while. I want it to be a children’s book – Mslexia are running their competition on Children’s and Short Fiction this year – but unfortunately the judge for the children’s novel is Katherine Rundell and her books are outstanding. Nothing like that to give you complete writer’s block. When you know you can’t write a Carnegie Medal short-listed novel, it’s hard to even make a start.

But start I shall, because it’s write books or learn how to market them better, and I know which I prefer.

 

Pixie Cuts, Hot Days and Minecraft Mania

Not a good time to have black fur

It’s been a crazy month. For those not local to the UK, we have been enjoying an unexpected heatwave for the last few weeks. Positively Mediterranean!

Usually I wilt like lettuce in anything over 20C but fortunately this sweltering weather has been accompanied by a fresh wind, meaning respite is at hand. Unfortunately it doesn’t do much for the motivation and I haven’t achieved a great deal since I finished invigilating.

I have, however, finally cut off my pesky hair. I’ve wanted to do it since I turned 40, but the kids were rather anti (my daughter said she’d never leave her room again, but that has become a rather tempting prospect recently). Anyway the heat and an impending karate exam made me take the plunge. And I love it. Although, contrary to expectations, it’s no cooler. Definitely needs to be shorter still!

Oh yes, that’s another achievement – I passed my karate exam and am now a brown belt! Still only half way to black, but an amazing feeling nonetheless.

One final achievement is that Game Girl is complete. It’s been a labour of love, as I illustrated this one myself, but definitely worth it. Turns out having a Minecraft-themed storyline has done something no other book I’ve written thus far has managed – my children are actually reading it. I know, shock right? Not just that, but their friends want to read it too, even the boys, even with a unicorn! Such a great feeling.

If you fancy a gander, the paperback is available at cost (£3.99) until tomorrow, when it will go up to £5.99 (although for some reason it’s showing an earlier cover). I hope to finalise the Kindle version today.

So that’s me. There’s been sport too, obviously, but who wants to hear about that right? Even with a certain team breaking its penalty jinx last night! How are you surviving hot days, sticky nights, and endless football and tennis? With beer and good books I hope.

Who Am I?

61nqqvtzerlI recently bought the Moana soundtrack and it’s become my new favourite CD. Partly because I spent a year in New Zealand and the music makes me homesick. Partly because I called my first venture, selling abstract art, Moana Studios (Moana means ocean). I play it non-stop partly because the songs are so catchy with cleverly-crafted lyrics. But mostly I think the soundtrack is awesome because it reminds me why the movie is so good.

All Disney movies are great, particularly the newer ones, with strong female leads and a lesson to learn. They support values like family and being true to yourself and following your dream. As the Disney ‘Dream Big Princess’ advert suggests, there is a princess for everyone. If that’s true then Moana is mine. (And even though she’s not a princess, Maui says she must be because she has a skirt and a sidekick – very clever!)

Disney movies often show writing at its best, with a compelling story and a carrying theme, and Moana is the perfect example of this. It has all the ingredients: personal growth, humour, the whiff of death, and an upbeat ending. Most of all it has a unifying theme. One of my favourite things in literature (and movies) is when it is all tied together with a theme, but one that you don’t really notice until the end. The new non-animated Cinderella (another favourite) has lots of repeating tags throughout that tie it all together.

I didn’t realise it when I watched it, but Moana’s theme is about answering the question ‘Who am I?’ Not just for Moana, but for other characters like Maui and Te Fiti as well.

What makes Moana such a realistic character, and what I most love about her, is that she is conflicted between disparate things that all mean so much to her. She is torn between her family and what’s inside her heart, doing her duty and doing what brings her alive. Actually I guess all the Disney princesses have that battle, and I certainly think we can all relate to it.

In my favourite song, in answer to the question, “Do you know who you are?” Moana says,

“Who am I? I am a girl who loves my island. I’m the girl who loves the sea, it calls me.”

maxresdefaultShe then lists all the conflicts that have resolved into making her who she is. When she belts out the last line, “I am Moana!” it gives me goosebumps every time.

And envy.

Similarly Maui has to come to terms with his past and find happiness inside himself instead of in the approval of others, and Moana helps him do that. Even though he is the demi-god. Talk about girl power!

At the end of the movie (and avoiding spoilers) Moana says to Ta Fiti,

“They have stolen the heart from inside you… but this does not define you. This is not who you are.”

You are not defined by what others have done to you. What a message.

The movie closes with Moana leading her entire island to a proper understanding of who they are inside. By following her own dream, her own calling, she brings happiness to everyone.

Now isn’t that a lesson to takeaway?

 

The Negative Effects of Binge Reading

Sorry I’ve been quiet recently. Life has been plodding on, I’ve done my amazing abseilling/caving/gorge walking/canoeing/via ferrata adventure. And I’ve been binge reading.

I was going to talk about the Big Five adventure, but I’m still hoping one of the lovely ladies we did it with will send me some photos (since our group all forgot to take cameras that weren’t attached to our phones) so I’ll save that for another day. Except to say it was awesome, and I didn’t really want to come home.

Aside from that, though, I’ve had my usual April stinking cold and so have been non-stop reading to stay sane.

And, oh my, I’ve read some amazing Middle Grade and Young Adult books. I don’t really go in for book reviews here on the blog, since you can’t do a book justice without giving away the essence of the story. A quick summary will have to suffice:

The Venice books by Holly Webb (MG)

hw_0001_7647_the-mermaidssister1I was so excited, when I was in Brighton, to see that there were three new books by Holly Webb, set in Venice. I bought them all, The Mermaid’s SisterMaskmaker’s Daughter, and the Girl of Glass, having loved The Water Horse.

I read the first one in a day (nearly missing my train). I loved Maskmaker’s Daughter too, but I’m saving Girl of Glass for a really bad day. Like the last biscuit in the packet, although who am I kidding, I never save that.

If you didn’t know that Holly Webb writes anything other than cutsie animal books, I definitely recommend her magic series for any avid reader over the age of around seven. The Rose and Lily series start it off, but these Venice ones can be read as standalone books (although they do follow on from each other in time).

The Twelve Minutes to Midnight Trilogy (MG)

20twelve20minutes20to20midnight-69446-3-456x699I picked these up in the library while the kids were playing, and consumed them in about a week. Brilliant historical / fantastical / detective novels which I only chose because I read another great book by the author, Christopher Edge. (The other book was The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, and caused me to swear at my husband for the first time ever, but that’s another story.)

The Twelve Minutes to Midnight Trilogy is published by Nosy Crow (which is another reason I picked them up, since I don’t judge books by their covers anymore but by their publishing house! Namely the ones I’d like to belong to.)

As an aside, these books inspired me to create a male pseudonym. Not because I think Christopher is secretly a girl, but because I wondered if gender bias extends into literary agencies. I’ll keep you posted.

How I Live Now (YA)

howlivenow050705_300x450This book by Meg Rosoff broke me. Seriously. I’d bought it ages ago and, like scouring the cupboard for forgotten chocolate, I needed to continue my binge and found it lost on a shelf.

It’s an amazing, compelling, shocking, unputdownable book. Although written thirteen years ago, it rings horribly true particularly now.

But the ending sucked big time. I walked around in an angry funk for days, genuinely hurt and hurting. I see they’ve made it into a film. I won’t be watching it.

51dyqcwyjjl-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Snow Merchant (MG)

This is another random Library pick up. God love libraries. Rather surreal and definitely weird but I still haven’t put it down.

Interestingly I’ve just googled it to put a link here, and I love how the author, Sam Gayton, describes writing it. Read the account here.

Rather brilliantly, that leads me on to the title of my blog post.

This binge reading has been brilliant, but it has had a rather unfortunate side effect. Writer’s block. Again. But this time linked with super-weird creative I-must-write-or-I’ll-go-mad dreams.

I wake up feeling exhausted, but with no idea of a story.

You see, the problem with binge-reading awesome books for me is that I think ‘I can’t ever write something that good, I don’t even know where to start’. So I don’t.

I want to write something new. Something amazing. Something unputdownable. And therein lies the problem. I don’t think you can start writing a book hoping that it will be amazing. I think you write a book because you are driven to write it, by the story or the characters or the theme.

I don’t feel driven, I feel depleted.

And still the words build up inside me. The crazy ideas, the vivid dreams. But I feel like all the good stories have been done, the ideas taken, all fleshed out into brilliance I can’t ever achieve.

They say you have to read to be a writer, and I know that it’s true. But for me, there has to be a long gap between one and the other.

Let’s hope I’m just in the reading phase, and when the kids go back to school next week (month, year) inspiration will strike. Or at least the energy to sit at my computer and write rubbish. Because I know, in my heart of hearts, none of these books started out brilliant. They all took slog and doubt and rewrite upon rewrite. I just need to begin.

But, until then, there are books to read.

 

 

Looking for Focus

Haven't Even Planned it Yet!

Haven’t Even Planned it Yet!

One of the problems I never thought I’d have with writing was too many ideas.

When I started as an author, I had to do a free-write, and then pants-out the first draft of a novel, to have any idea of a plot or story. If I sat down to think it through, my mind went blank and ideas refused to come.

As a result, I have half a dozen unfinished novels with some potential to be good stories, albeit with a LOT of work. (Pantsing tends to result in huge plot problems unless you have a rough idea of the outcome of the story!)

Every now and then I think I should grab one of those manuscripts and give it the attention it deserves.

At the same time, though, there’s no rush like the rush of starting a brand new project. Especially now I have some vague concepts of planning and character arcs and the like. And I have ideas. Oh yes. Although mostly those ideas come in the middle of the night, or while walking the dog, or are born out of convoluted dreams. (As an aside, I’m reading Gone by Michael Grant at the moment, and boy are my dreams weird and wired!)

On top of all that – the half finished stories and the stories yet to be born – I have a dozen stories already published that need some love. The adult books need promotion and possibly revamped covers. The YA book needs a sequel or two (well, a complete rewrite from part one, actually!) and the eight children’s books need illustrations. Or an agent.

Unfinished Sequel to Moon Pony

Unfinished Sequel to Moon Pony

Recently I had some image credits to use up on iStockphoto, after doing the covers for Josie and the Unicorn and Alfie Stanton Half-Baked Hero. I dug around to see what other stories were near completion and remembered I have sequels to Moon Pony and Will on the Water that are two-thirds done.

So I did covers for those.

And another idea for a YA book has been kicking around my head recently. So I did a cover for that.

And I’d love to write a period children’s book, as I’ve really enjoyed reading Katherine Woodfine’s stories recently – set in Edwardian London – so I used my last credit on a potential image for that.

To top it all off, I had the vague idea of writing a fun book for hubbie, like I wrote Josie and the Unicorn for my niece. The kids threw in some ideas and we came up with Dad and the Dinosaurs. I wrote the first three-hundred words and ground to a halt.

Arrgghh!

That makes eight potential projects: Two NaNoWrimo projects, two Dragon Wraiths books, two half-finished children’s books, and two new ideas. And don’t even get me started on the fact that the Bridport Prize now has a category for novels with a deadline in a fortnight.

So what have I decided to do?

Sleep. Iron. Sleep. Clean. Kill dinosaurs. Sleep.

It’s two weeks to the end of term, and only two months until the children break up for the summer. If I could pick one project, it’s a good amount of time to get stuck in. But with no feedback, no direction, no deadlines or external force driving me, I’m in a quicksand of indecision.

Oh well. At least I’m on top of the ironing!

Books, Builders, and Bloomin’ Colds

Alfie Stanton

Alfie Stanton

We’re into the fourth week of our ‘two-week’ bathroom refit and I’m about done with having builders in the house. Especially builders that appear to be more pantsers than planners. Who looks at the toilet that’s been ordered the morning they’re going to fit it? Then has to send the client off to the nearest DIY store to buy a different one because the ordered one won’t fit?

And the mess! Anyone who has had building work done will know that dust travels faster and further than gossip. Add to that the new radiator that required pipes to go down an old chimney (think of a soot-apocalypse and you won’t be far wrong) and it’s hellish.

For someone that never does housework I’ve done more cleaning in the last fortnight than in the last year!

I’m trying to write a book for my niece amidst this chaos and that is also behind schedule. It was a crazy plan to begin with, as I started the book last Monday to be ready for her birthday on Saturday. I’ve written a book in a week before, it didn’t seem too hard, but I hadn’t factored in the gazillion tiny decisions that have to be made every five minutes when there is a bathroom fitter, a heating engineer, an electrician, and a decorator in the house.

There have been some wins. Alfie Stanton Half-Baked Hero is now available on Amazon in print and ebook format. I found a couple of great illustrations for the front cover when I was looking for something else, so went ahead and got it live. It’s enrolled in KDP Select so I can try and bribe people to leave the odd review with a free copy! Watch this space.

My Niece's Book

My Niece’s Book

And I have almost finished the first draft of my niece’s novel – Josie and the Unicorn. I would have finished it yesterday but I keep getting these bizarre dizzy spells that last all day and one hit me in Waitrose as I tapped away at my final climax. I’ve pretty much been in bed since! Might be time to see a doctor.

But before then I have to go see the lovely man at Oundle Carpets because the decorator says the vinyl we bought for the floor won’t match the violent violet paint we’ve chosen for the walls (regretting that decision already, but it’s only paint!)

Toilets and vinyl and tiles and soot-sweeping and washing my hair in a sink. This author is really living the dream! J

Lying Dormant

Nothing Blooms All Year

Nothing Blooms All Year

There’s a phrase I’ve seen on Facebook recently (although a quick Google search has failed to produce an origin, so call it ‘anon’) that says, “Nothing in Nature Blooms All Year Round.”

It’s been echoing in my head for the past few weeks because, hey, January.

I don’t do January well.

All the hubbub and frantic organisation (and, let’s be honest, shopping and gift wrapping – my two favourite pastimes) of November and December are replaced by the guilt of January.

There is shopping in January too, as it’s my daughter’s birthday, but that is overlaid with the guilt of how much I spent at Christmas. Add to that exhaustion after the holidays, erratic sleep patterns from having a lark daughter and an owl husband and son, and I’m quite frankly a wreck.

I’ve written before  (more than once!) about the January blues. I beat myself up that I can’t start writing the minute the children return to school. I become low.

This year has been no different. Except I’ve been playing Minecraft instead of mooching on Facebook. Same screen, different brain-dead.

And then that phrase: Nothing blooms all year round. It’s like a ray of winter sunshine in my head. Perhaps it’s okay that I sleep during the day, or hit the sack at 8pm (or both), hardly seeing my husband at all. Perhaps it’s okay that my mind is like sludge, and I crawled through 7,000 words of a new novel, (that’s 70%, as it’s a Chapter Book) and then realised the plot had a hole to end all gaping plot disasters.

Perhaps it’s okay just to think of myself as dormant, awaiting the spring sunshine to bring me back to life. The fact that I’ve written virtually the same post for the last two years shows it isn’t me being rubbish. Not really.

It’s just January.