The Injustice of Indie Editing

2382425Recently, it seems I haven’t been able to pick up a major-publishing-house book without finding that it’s littered with editing errors – missed quotation marks, extra words, wrong character names being used, someone present in a scene when they can’t be (because they’re in hospital), or, my favourite, the find-replace. I’m particularly guilty of this – I once replaced a name and didn’t notice that it had replaced the same three letters wherever they appeared, even in the middle of words. And yes, I published it by mistake. Not my finest hour (thankfully noone bought it). But in a seriously published book? Not good.

I’ve just been reading¬†The Riddle of the Frozen Phantom, a book my son had from school but changed after a few chapters because he’s only seven and words like Mukluks and Polypropylene are a little challenging. I’d bought it as a kindle download though, when we temporarily misplaced the school copy, and decided to finish reading it. Turns out that, throughout the whole book, ‘mere’ has been replaced with ‘there’.

As I’ve said, we all make mistakes, but between me, my beta readers, and my ever-vigilant editor, I hope most of mine are spotted pre-publication. Which is just as well, because woe betide an Indie or Self-Published author having a single typo.

Now, I know there are some self-published authors who haven’t even met spell check, or have a clue how to use a comma or a full stop, never mind shelling out cash for a professional editor. They give us all a bad name. But there aren’t that many of them – most writers want their best work to be seen – so why must we all be tarred with the same brush? And why oh why is it so worthy of comment?

spellingreviewYou don’t see an Oxford Press or HarperCollins book getting review headers like, “no real grammar/spelling mistakes” (yes, that’s from one of my reviews, and the reviewer offered to edit future novels of mine free of charge) or “A couple of typos but not enough to take anything away from this great love story.” You certainly don’t ever find books published by big publishing houses with reviews that blame the author for any mistakes, or worse still make it clear the reader has gone looking for them.

Some books I’ve had from the library have been so poorly edited I’ve felt like marking them up and sending them to the publishing house with a ‘could do better’ note attached. But I don’t, because I want to support authors, publishers, novels, and all that is great about fiction. Even if you can’t have a butler in a fight scene if he’s in hospital. Looking at you, Janine Beacham ūüėČ (But I love Rose Raventhorpe, so you’re forgiven). Besides, who says it was the author who missed it, or the editor, or the proofreader?

So, next time you read a self-published book with a typo or two, remember – if the might of a big-budget publishing house can make mistakes, so can we. And when you leave a review (and please do, we live off them. Literally.), please judge fairly and perhaps comment on plot and story and readability and enjoyment, rather than the faint praise of ‘surprisingly few errors’.

Thanks.

Initial Review of Deliciously Ella

My scribbled notes on the hummus recipe

My scribbled notes on the hummus recipe

I wrote a few days ago about the new cookery book I purchased, Deliciously Ella, and how I hope it will help me solve the problem of being perpetually tired. I don’t do diets and I am definitely not a foodie: these things should be taken into consideration when reading the following!

These are my initial thoughts on Ella’s book

1. As I first noted, it is like a text book rather than a recipe book – I’m taking ideas away rather than following specific recipes, especially for things like smoothies. It’s hard to find recipes because the way it is laid out by ingredient type, but that does help with learning more about the ingredients. So far I’ve tried things I wouldn’t have before in my smoothies, like spinach,¬†cucumber, and beetroot juice (and will definitely skip on the latter!). Amazingly, even though they turn the juice green, spinach and spirula (or the 7-superfood variety I’m using) don’t really alter the taste.

2. The ingredients are VERY expensive. Even if you don’t go for organic or the best you can buy, buckwheat flour is four times the cost of normal flour and hazelnuts and almonds prohibitively expensive in the quantities most recipes require. Maple syrup (the pure stuff) is ¬£5 for 300ml and the recipes often call for a mug (or three) of the stuff. Medjool dates, ditto. Tahini and chickpeas weren’t too expensive and neither was apple cider so, unsurprisingly, the only recipe I’ve tried so far was hummus. Which brings me on to point three.

3. You need to already be a foodie, or at least be able to beg/borrow/buy some equipment. I have a blender, which I pulled out the back of the cupboard from my singleton days, so that’s great for smoothies, but it wasn’t up to making hummus. You need a food processor for that. Thankfully my hand blender managed a reasonable job as I don’t own a food processor. I love the look of courgette spaghetti but can’t find a spiralizer with decent reviews for less than ¬£20 and I’ve spent a fortune already. Oh and the spiralizer isn’t mentioned in the list of equipment you need, but magically appears in the courgette recipe which was rather annoying.

4. The recipes don’t give much of a clue about the quantities you’re making, and seem to use stacks of (expensive) ingredients. If you’re hoping to swap cookies and cakes for the healthy sort, expect to pay a lot more for the luxury. I haven’t tried any of the yummy looking things yet because I can’t justify the expense (see above about maple syrup and Medjool dates).¬†I halved the recipe for hummus and it made enough for three or four snacks.

5. I bought the book because the sweet recipes sounded appealing in the radio interview I heard. Who wouldn’t love healthy cakes and cookies? However, based on the ingredients, I’m not sure I agree with ‘healthy’. They might not be full of refined sugar and gluten, but nuts and avocados and maple syrup are pretty fattening products in the quantities suggested. I’d also be vaguely interested in the calorie content, but I realise that’s a long way from the ethos of the book. I guess I’m just used to calorie counting. I’d like to know if I’ve used a whole day’s calories in a dinner of avocado and hummus, even if it is good for me.

6. The recipes are a bit repetitive. There are lots that include coconut (which I don’t especially like) and avocado (which I love but is full of calories and difficult to buy ripe). I also found there weren’t many meal replacements. Lots of things I can nibble on during the day, but for the cost of the ingredients I need something to replace the evening meat-based meal that hubbie might eat.

7. On a positive note, however, the book is encouraging. There are great quotes littered throughout and I do feel it is about empowering you to not be afraid of food. I would never have put spinach in a smoothie and now I have it every day.

8. Also the recipes also only call for a few main ingredients, even if they are pricey. I’ve invested ¬£30 in some of the core products, which I’m waiting to arrive by post, as even Waitrose don’t stock raw cacao powder or Miso paste. I am excited about trying some of the recipes and I may visit the blog to see if there are some that are more straightforward.

9. I feel better. I want to eat more things with spinach in and fewer bags of crisps and packets of cookies. For me that’s HUGE. But money is a worry and so my target now will be to find a few recipes that aren’t too expensive (and fattening) and to explore other recipe books that might be more suited to our lifestyle.

10. There are some ways to cheat. I have bought lazy garlic and lazy ginger, which might not be the same as the real thing but more cost effective (and easier for a non-foodie like me). I buy raw juice or at least not-from-concentrate juice (fruit and veg) as a base for my smoothies so I don’t need a juicer and I don’t need to buy more ingredients. I also follow Ella’s suggestion and make extra smoothie¬†and keep it in a glass jar in the fridge. Plus I go to the ‘out of date’ section in the supermarket for fruit and veg – if it’s going in a smoothie it doesn’t matter if it’s a bit battered.

All in all I’m glad I bought the book. I’m sure my body is glad too, or it will be when I’ve got through the detox headache. The doctors called today and all eleven (!?!) of the blood tests my doctor put through came back normal: I don’t have glandular fever, my thyroid is fine, I’m not anaemic. So the tiredness is just laziness, rubbish food and being a parent. If Ella’s book helps me to change that, then it was worth every penny!

How Critcal Reviews Are Making Me a Better Writer

Knitted Christmas Baubles

Knitted Christmas Baubles

When I released Class Act back in the summer I think I knew it was rushed. As a self-published author, the only way I see that you can make success (rather than it coming through luck or good fortune) is by writing more books. So I took an old manuscript, gave it a few months’ polish, paid for a light edit, and released it, happy that my Beta Reader loved it.

It bombed.

Okay, one or two people have enjoyed it, but the critics have been harsh and eloquent. And fair. Much as I would have preferred not to have the debate about my book in public, through Goodreads (and thank you to the critics for not writing their reviews on Amazon), it has been like having extra Beta Readers who don’t know me and are therefore not afraid to tell it as they see it.

Some of the criticisms I can answer – they’re a matter of personal taste – but others are completely valid. For example there is a general view that Rebecca is a cow, or at least unlikeable. I have been trying to work out why that is the case, when Helen (Baby Blues) garners sympathy. While walking the dog last night the answer came to me: I didn’t live with Rebecca long enough for her to become fully herself rather than a version of me.

Finished Rainbow Fairy

Finished Rainbow Fairy

All my characters start out from an element of my life and my experience. With Helen it was having postnatal depression, with Claire (Two-Hundred Steps Home) it was disillusionment with the corporate world and finding myself through travelling. Rebecca started out from a few instances in my childhood when I felt belittled by people who acted like¬†they had privilege (someone saying to me at school ‘you’re my grandmother’s secretary’s daughter’ as if that made me scum).

The difference is I lived with Claire and Helen for a long time. Baby Blues took two or three years from start to finish, Claire racked up 280,000 words. They became people in their own right. Rebecca, not so much. I wasn’t even happy with the name Rebecca, changing it several times before deciding it was as good as any. Alex I loved, Alex was real, but Rebecca remained a character.

So I have learned not to rush Finding Lucy. It isn’t just the characters who need to find her – I do too. I think that’s why I find the male protagonists easier to relate to (and therefore probably they’re more likeable to the readers) – they might start out with a trait or two from people I know, but they quickly become three-dimensional in my mind. Despite it being six years since I started drafting Finding Lucy, I still don’t have her clear as a real person¬†in my head.

The other, more specific, piece of feedback I’m following is the review that complained about Class Act¬†opening with Rebecca’s father dying.

“I found that when our heroine, Rebecca, is introduced, the scene is not the best way to warm up to a character. Yes, her father had just died, so she is entitled to be upset. But perhaps this is not the best way to introduce a main character, one who is completely vulnerable and who is constantly sobbing in the scene, it unfortunately had me rolling my eyes and wanting to skip ahead. Not a great start for the character. Sorry. “

Don’t apologise! This is great feedback. Finding Lucy also opens¬†with a death. It’s where the story starts. But I see now that it’s hard to feel sympathy for a character you don’t know. So I’ve had a shuffle and now it comes a few chapters in. I’m also working hard on making Lucy more likeable. It’s hard. I’ve decided to think about Pixie Lott. Watching her on Strictly Come Dancing this year I realised she is one of the few people I can look at and say they’re genuinely adorable.

Christmas Cookies for teachers

Christmas Cookies for teachers

The problem with writing for me is balancing the character’s flaws which make for conflict with the traits that make people love them. It’s not hard to see why – I’ve never managed it with myself. I’ll always feel like a bad mother, a bad person, no matter the evidence to the contrary. To quote Pretty Woman, “The bad stuff is easier to believe”.

I haven’t managed much writing this month – Farmville, knitting and Christmas have derailed me completely. But I have invited the characters from Finding Lucy to live in my head. Edan and Andrew are there, making themselves at home and squabbling over the remote. Lucy is still dithering at the door. “Are you sure you want me?” she says. Yes, come in! Let me get to know you. This novel could be my best yet, if only I take the time for it to mature.

In the meantime, have a great Christmas/Hanukah/Festive Season and here’s to a creative 2015.

Stepping Back From The Brink

Not giving up yet

Not quitting yet, although putting this MS to one side

My psychotherapist once told me I see everything in black and white. The world is either coming to an end or it’s fantastic – there’s nothing in between. Unfortunately, true as it is, she didn’t give me a way to tackle it.

I have become better at keeping perspective, finding the positive, crawling away from the pit of despair (with a little medicinal assistance). But when I’m sleep-deprived and premenstrual all bets are off, drugs or no drugs. Then, a day or so later, I look back and roll my eyes. Get a grip.

And so it is this morning. When I think about my point of nadir yesterday – triggered by thinking I can’t write – I realise what went wrong. I took someone’s judgement of my first ever children’s book – and an early draft at that – as an indictment against ALL my writing.

Who did I think I was? Did I really think I could work on a novel for a couple of months – in a new genre – and it be anything other than pants? Particularly a novel written for a reason, rather than because the story demanded to be captured. My other novels took months, often with a big gap between first and second draft. The characters lived with me and demanded a voice.

So, I’ve eaten a snickers and stopped being a Diva. I got my first short but charming comment on Class Act today (“A very engaging romance”) after offering it free for a few weeks to get reviews. Phew! And I’ve come up with a new plan to fill my time until the end of term. It’s a crazy plan, but it’ll keep me busy.

I just wish I hadn’t involved the editor in my should I/shouldn’t I dramatics. I doubt she’ll ever work with me again, and she was really very good. I’m trying to remind myself of the phrase What someone else thinks of you is none of your business.

Hmmm. That one might need some work.

What Others Think

A brief moment of co-operation

A brief moment of co-operation

My whole life seems to be ruled by what other people think of me. Apparently that’s a personality trait of Highly Sensitive People, a category I discovered through one of my blog followers from Setting the World to Rights. I took this online test and, unsurprisingly, scored very highly. At least it’s nice to know there are others who are so sensitive to noise etc and it’s not just me being difficult or highly strung.

This week has been all about other people’s opinions. First I got a one-star rating on Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes – but with no review to tell me why. I don’t mind one-star reviews – in fact I expect them, because most of the time I don’t rate myself as a writer – but I worry what people think and I want to know what they hated.

The same is true of my next two novels. Class Act is with an editor but only one other person has read it and I’m really worried the story is weak and is going to get terrible reviews. Unfortunately I can’t find anyone else to read it and give me an honest opinion, so I’ll have to wait for the public to tell me (assuming they do! Reviews are hard to get: I’ve had 4,000 downloads of Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes on Amazon and still only have 8 reviews.)

My poorly knight

My poorly knight

The children’s book I’m in the process of writing is even worse, because it’s aimed at a target market I have no personal experience of. I love reading MG fiction myself, but I’m not 7-12 and when I was I was reading either Mills & Boon and Sweet Valley High or Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I have no idea if the language is pitched right or if the story is authentic and entertaining to that age group. And I really need to know: I need external validation to make up for a lack of self confidence.

Parenting is the same. Yesterday I kept both children home from nursery/school. The youngest had a sky-high temperature and couldn’t go to nursery. The eldest complained of also feeling poorly. She only had a slightly raised temperature and on a normal day I would have taken her to school. But we were all feeling rough and I didn’t want to do the school run with poorly kids. I also foolishly thought if they were both home I might be able to rest as they would entertain each other.

But I did feel bad, so I wrote something on Facebook about having slightly-poorly children home and how they seemed to be instantly better once I’d called them in sick. Some friends came back and said ‘relax, enjoy the day with them’ (!!) while others said, ‘I send my slightly-poorly children to school’. In both instances I felt awful¬†because a) I wasn’t enjoying having them home and would have preferred to be by myself, writing and b) I was a soft mama for not sending them both in to school¬†(like I normally would!). By trying to get a second opinion all I got was a feeling that I was doing it all wrong.

Not so poorly girl

Not so poorly girl

As it turns out we’ve all learnt something: my daughter has learnt not to say she feels poorly just because she wants to stay home from school: a poorly premenstrual mummy and cranky ill brother don’t make good company; and I’ve learned that having two ill kids at home is different to having two happy, healthy children. Because even though they were well enough to play, they bickered and fought and cried and whimpered and had tantrums ALL DAY. Poor hubby walked into a maelstrom when he got in from work. I’ve got just one home today and he’s happily watching TV while I work. Much better.

I know I’m in good company, both with other parents and other writers. We all care and so we worry about getting it right. These posts on parenting – Mother’s Guilt and None of Us are Perfect – could have been written by me on a different day (and you can see I wrote an essay in the comments on both). And I know most writers struggle to appreciate their own writing. In fact, as I’ve been working on my children’s book I’ve been reciting to myself, “Just keep writing – Every first draft is sh!t,” over and over and over. But of course, I still need a second opinion!

The Ocean at The End of The Lane and Childhood

Beautiful cover

Beautiful cover

This weekend I read one of the pot luck books I picked up from the library – The Ocean At the End of The Lane by Neil Gaiman. I like choosing books I don’t know, just because I recognise the title or author or just because I like the front cover (and the library is much cheaper than all the books I’ve bought in book shops using the same method and have then never read!)

This ticked the last two points – I have heard of Neil Gaiman (I follow him on Twitter even) and I was intrigued by the cover. I first came across Neil Gaiman when a friend bought me one of his Sandman graphic novels as a teenager. Then I loved (although was creeped out by) his Doctor Who episode The Doctor’s Wife.

The Ocean at the End of The Lane is the first novel of his I have read. It creeped me out, too. Just one bit in the middle which I made the mistake of starting to read at bedtime. I had to switch to a Georgette Heyer and skip three pages in the morning.

It’s an interesting book, simply but compellingly written. It recounts an event from the childhood of the forty-something protagonist, which he recalls after revisiting his childhood house and a farm at the end of the lane. The telling of childhood was fascinating; viewing the world through the eyes of a seven-year-old. It also made me think a great deal about the difference between being seven thirty-odd years ago and being seven now. I kept thinking Oh he wouldn’t have been left to roam free like that, surely? And then I realise that I was, as far as I can remember. Certainly some time before I was eight (when I moved north – my childhood is bisected by that move) I roamed the fields, climbed trees, visited friends’ houses on our estate, all without taking much notice of where my parents were.

I like this cover too

I like this cover too

My memories of childhood are almost non-existant, apart from one or two key events. The book recreates that fluidity of childhood and memory with great authenticity. It also made me wonder what my children will remember. It’s so different now: their lives are recorded through photographs, video, school reports with images, social media, parents’ blogs. So many aides to memory. There are probably fewer than fifty photos of me between the ages of 0 and 16 in total. I can take that many of my chidren in a day.

Is it a good thing? Maybe we should be able to rewrite our childhoods, change our recollections at will. Like the protagonist in the novel, maybe our childhood memories are not entirely accurate, and maybe that’s necessary. Maybe we don’t want to be reminded of every tiny detail. Our lives are really only stories we write in our mind, with heroes and villains. The truth, as revealed by endless photographs, is bound to feel much more ordinary.

Mind you, all our photos are stored digitally. There’s a strong chance they’ll degrade over time and the children will only be able to retrieve fifty images in thirty-odd years time. And perhaps that will be just as well.

Reasons to Smile

Smiling Knight

Smiling Knight

The blog has dried up since I started on my SSRI medication. Not only have I spent the last week feeling sick (and now have another bloomin cold. Grrr) I’ve found that I don’t have the constant stream of voices in my head, worrying, analysing, stressing, debating random subjects. I walked the dog yesterday and all I thought about was racing the large rain cloud that was hiding behind the house when I ventured out without a coat. Normally my brain switches into ‘blog-writing mode’ as soon as I start walking. Now? Nothing.

I have wondered whether to force myself to think of something to write, like I did last year when I was keeping up with the daily blogging challenge but, having decided not to worry so much about it this year, it feels foolish to write rubbish just to tick a box.

But today I have something to share. Following on from my free promotion for Baby Blues, I have sold some books. That deserves being in bold: I’ve never sold more than a few books a month since starting on my self-publishing journey. I don’t do enough marketing or work hard enough to get reviews. I know this. In my mind I’ve decided to get three or four books under my belt, pay someone to design me a gorgeous set of matching covers, and then go large on marketing and promotion (as both children will be at school).

So, waking up this morning to have sales of Baby Blues in double-figures over night, to have reached #2794 in PAID ranking on Amazon.co.uk, is like winning the Pulitzer Prize. The book is only ¬£1.54 in the UK – you can’t buy a coffee for that – so it isn’t about the money. The ranking, though? That feels great. I don’t know what happened, whether I made it onto an Amazon email or something, but it shows that visibility is the key.

The writing blogs tell you the importance of spending thousands on structural edits and line edits, but I’m starting to think a decent cover and some marketing is probably a better use of cash! Mind you, when I start getting terrible reviews I might change my mind… For now I’m enjoying my reason to smile.