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.

 

Jinxed

So I jinxed the weather with my last post. That lovely chill wind that made the heat bearable? Stopped the next day. It has been like living in a sealed attic. Sorry to anyone local to me! Mea Culpa. Forecast says it might rain this afternoon though, hurrah!

Even so, this week has been all work. I finally got Game Girl on kindle, although I’m not super-happy with the result. Kindle-uploaded-through-Word and images don’t really mix. For the love of literature I couldn’t get the images to centre on the ‘page’.

My marvellous fellow author, Rinelle, has offered to help, so my first job today (after tea and cake in an air-conditioned cafe) is to send her the file. I love the supportive writing community. And if you’re after some fab romantic summer reading, go visit her page!

Talking of community feeling, I had the chance to spread a tiny bit at the Walk-In centre yesterday, where I spent two and a half hours after an accidental run-in with my mum’s dog.

The day after an England football win is not a good time to use emergency services. The poor NHS staff were run off their feet. But I had gone prepared, with book, snacks, water, phone and – most importantly – no children. I was able, therefore, to be part of the Village as it were, by dishing out crayons and paper to bored toddlers and watching hyper youngsters running outside. Every little helps.

Not sure how much more book work I’ll be able to get done this week, though, since my thumb still hurts like heck. At least I can file the information under ‘how to write about a dog bite’.

Thankfully I did most of the formatting for Seren Kitty last week, as the illustrations came back from the talented Annie Welton. So excited! That said, I’ve had an alert from CreateSpace regarding the uploaded manuscript, which means they’re not happy with something, so the work isn’t done yet. Self-publishing is so much more than words!

The third book I’ve been preparing is my adult novel about Domestic Abuse, that was longlisted for the Mslexia award. I find it a hard book to work with, and wasn’t sure I was going to publish it. But when I was working on the kindle version of Game Girl, I noticed that Amazon are running a Storyteller competition with a £20k prize fund. While I don’t have anything like the presence on kindle to win such a thing, you just never know. And I’m proud of the novel, even if I find it hard to read.

I decided to research the market to give it the best opportunity, including the title and cover. Having posted this selection on Facebook, the choice is between the bottom left and bottom right title/image. What do you think? Which would you find most compelling? I like the title ‘The Family We Choose’ taken from the phrase ‘Friends are the family we choose for ourselves’. I’m also more drawn to the right hand image because it’s cheaper 😂. I’ll have to make a decision this week since it’s my last available for work until September.

Which reminds me, I’d better brave the heat and head home. Books aren’t going to publish themselves. Keep enjoying the sunshine. We’re away for a UK break next week so it’s bound to rain!

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 😉 (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.

Happy 5th Anniversary to Me!

cake-445092_1920

Image from Pixabay

Goodness me, apparently WriterMummy is five years old today. How time flies when you’re a manic Mum, eh?

These anniversaries keep popping up on me – notes on Facebook about releasing Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, or it reaching some milestone during a free giveaway, or sending off Dragon Wraiths to a competition, full of naive hope.

In some ways it’s nice, because I feel like I’ve been writing long enough to have learnt and grown. But in other ways it makes me feel a bit of a failure, because I haven’t achieved more in that time. I haven’t found an agent, or won a writing competition, or even got much higher than 500 followers for my blog.

I get frustrated at myself because I know I could/should have tried harder. My blog is the first thing to wane when I’m busy, and I don’t visit and read and comment on enough other blogs to increase my followers. At the same time, at least I don’t feel as if I’m disappointing thousands of fans when I don’t write anything for a month!

The same goes for book promotion. I should have done more on Kindle, promoted the books more. Worked harder to get reviews. Sent more manuscripts to more agents. Engaged with people on Goodreads, sought out guest blogs and newspaper articles. I watch how one of the authors whose book I edited is promoting her memoir and she deserves all her amazing success.Blogging5yr

I’ve never got behind just one book and really sold it. But if I had, I would probably have driven myself bananas, and possibly have given up in disgust after the first dozen rejections. I would also have certainly written a lot fewer books. I’m much happier since I stopped checking for book sales every day. Now a royalty cheque is a pleasant surprise and a guilt-free cup of coffee.

And I have to celebrate the successes too. I’ve written over 700 blog posts, had nearly 40,000 views and 22,000 visitors. I’ve published 8 children’s books, three women’s fiction novels and one young adult book (which was also long-listed for an award). I’m having one of my books illustrated by a very talented illustrator and am super excited about it.

The most amazing thing is I’m still going. Five years is longer than any job I’ve ever had, and I don’t feel like quitting yet. So you’re stuck with me for a bit longer.

Here’s to the next five years, the next milestone, the next novel to be finished (Hope Glimmers, with any luck, a sequel to Moon Pony), the next happy post from Facebook to mark the passing of time.

Have some virtual cake on me.

Wishing I Were Holly Webb and Busy Making Books

The Amazing Holly Webb

The Amazing Holly Webb

It’s Day 19 of the holidays and I’m still hanging on – just!

I’ve used up all my childcare days – the last one asleep on the sofa – but I have a plan for the final stretch. Next week we have day trips every day!

In the mean time I’m busy writing, when I’m not reading every marvelous book written by the amazing Holly Webb (and weeping slightly into my coffee).

I have to remind myself that she has written 100 books over eleven years, because my works pale in comparison. And it’s certainly true that her earlier books were not the masterpieces that her latest are.

Compare some of the early animal stories novels (think The Rescued Puppy) and they’re closer to what I am writing now than the gripping stories and characters of the Emily Feather books, or the Maisie Hitchins ones, or the Lily series. (As an aside I’m waiting for the library to open so I can get book 3! And the Rose series, which I probably should have read first.)

But it does worry me that she used to work as an editor for Scholastic Children’s Books. She had an ‘in’ (even if she did leave her first book on someone’s desk with a note attached, because she was embarrassed.)

My Favourite Cover Ever!

My Favourite Cover Ever!

I’m trying to find the in. I guess that’s the hardest part of being a writer, particularly for children’s books. I can self-publish my adult novels, and at least get some feedback. But I don’t see the point in self-publishing children’s books. You need an awesome illustrator (which I can’t afford) and a way in to book shops. My daughter does read on her kindle, but I think the books need to be in schools and libraries to be a success.

In the mean time I am having fun publishing my books on Smashwords, just so I can send copies to people. I do love designing covers! And there is a motivation seeing a book in a publishable format. There’s a danger too, though. A feeling that a book is finished as soon as it’s been turned into a .mobi file!

My strategy is to write as many children’s books as I can, so if I do find an agent I can say, ‘ta da! Look, multiple four-book series, all ready to go.’ Of course, if they hate my style, that’s a whole heap of editing! But I always say you can’t edit an empty page.

The books I’ve been writing this holiday are about boats and ponies. I really like my characters, Will and Jessica. Will (Willow Irvine) is a tom boy who lives on a narrow boat, but longs for a normal life. I’ve sent a copy to someone I know who actually lives on a canal boat, so I’m nervously waiting to hear if it’s any good! *Chews fingers*.

I adore my Will on the Water cover – I did the canal boat myself pretty much from scratch, and actually forked out for a decent font, rather than sticking with the basic ones on offer in Adobe. A £10 investment in the three images for this and the Moon Pony book cover felt like money well spent.

My First Pony Novel

My First Pony Novel

Jessica, the protagonist in my Moon Pony stories, is a nine-year-old girl who doesn’t like ponies.

I saw a cover on a pre-made cover site of a pony in the sea and my daughter loved it. So I decided to write a pony story. But I don’t know that much about horses and I’m certain you get caught out pretty quickly by those who do! Having a character who hates horses gave me an out.

The cover is not quite right – I couldn’t afford the pre-made one, so I did my own as usual. But ‘cutting out’ a pony frolicking in snow pushed my adobe skills to their limit. In the end I used one of the kids’ doodle programs to add stars!

So, anyway, that’s what I’m up to right now. I’m working on Will on the Water book 2 and Moon Pony book 2 (titles pending!). As usual, I’d love Beta Readers, so if any of them take your fancy, message me and I’ll send you a copy – with the usual caveat that these are early drafts!

And if you’re looking for a great but easy read this holiday, something you can focus on while the kids are driving you crazy, check out Holly Webb.

I’m off now – the library is open!

The Hardest Part About Becoming An Author Is Patience

My children's book

My children’s book

I chose the title for this blog post carefully. Author not writer. Becoming not being. I already consider myself a writer. What I want to be, though, is a published author. Not self-published, great as that is. I want to be able to answer the question ‘can I find your books in the library?’ with a resounding YES.

Maybe that’s silly. It should probably be enough that I’ve self published four novels, they’ve each sold a few copies (some over a hundred, which some say is the benchmark for a new author). They’ve all had good (and bad) reviews.

But it isn’t enough. I want validation. I want an agent to say, ‘you’re just what I’m looking for.’ I want to have a poster in the library and give talks to schools about my journey as a writer. I want my family to be proud. I want my daughter to know I did something other than raise babies for a decade. Not because raising babies isn’t a worthwhile job, but because I want her to know there’s a choice.

I want to write the books my daughter wants to read but can’t find in the library. I want to write books for my son that aren’t about animals and fairies, because – quite frankly – there’s a massive hole in our library where books for early-reader boys should be.

I want all that, and I want it NOW.

I tell my children that you get nothing without practice and patience. When my son is frustrated at learning to read or my daughter can’t draw as well as the YouTube video she’s watching, my response is always “you just need to practice.”

But we’re all hypocrites right? I’ve written one children’s book and I’m already looking for agents accepting submissions. Even though I know it isn’t going to pass muster.

Actually, it’s the second children’s book I’ve written. The other one has been (almost) wiped from my memory after I (arrogantly? Naively?) sent an early draft to an editor and was hurt and surprised when she told me (nicely) that it was awful.

Children’s books are hard to write. I knew that before I began the writing course I’m doing. I know it even more now. (Plus it’s really hard to find beta readers – any ideas?)

I also recognise that, more than any other genre, it’s all about the market. It’s a business. Books have to sell. Which is possibly why there is a gap in the boys’ market, although I’d say that was a catch 22. You can’t buy what isn’t available.

So I’m writing this as a public declaration of my intention to be patient. I will write at least a dozen children’s books before I approach an agent. I will practice my craft, I will continue to read a book a day. And I will try not to be hurt when my target audience (my daughter) thinks Mummy’s book is rubbish and she could write it better.

After all, practice makes perfect, right? Or at least better…

P.S. If you’re in the UK, Happy Mothering Sunday and I hope, like me, you’re in bed with your ipad writing blogs because Daddy has told the children Mother’s Day doesn’t start until 8am

Ebook Formatting Rant

Out now!

Out now!

Self-publishing is meant to be about control: you choose the cover, the content, the marketing and the final product. And mostly that’s true. But, when you publish ebooks, you have very little control over the finished article. Even with print on demand paperbacks you get some variances – I’ve had some printed beautifully and others not so hot. But at least the layout and pagination doesn’t change.

But today I spent eight hours fixing something – across all my kindle books – that possibly wasn’t even broken. I forgot to feed the kids and walk the dog. I was grumpy and horrible and teary. All because the books I downloaded to my iPad from Amazon kept losing their formatting, despite looking fine in the ‘look inside’.

I tried crazy things to fix it, like uploading the files to Smashwords and copying their mobi version to upload to KDP, rather than using an html file (Amazon’s recommendation), but that didn’t really work as Amazon and Smashwords have different formatting criteria.

It isn’t the first trauma I’ve had with formatting, particularly with my latest novel Class Act. It took 27 versions (that’s the actual number, not my usual hyperbole) before I got rid of a loose link in the epub version of Class Act which would then allow Smashwords to approve it for Premium distribution. It was a puzzle that even their tech guys couldn’t fix. And that’s just for one device. I can’t check Kindle or Kobo or Sony because I don’t have those devices. I preview online and it bears no resemblance to the downloaded version or the original.

I even bought copies of my own books today to see if that made a difference (At least I made one sale on Class Act! 🙂 ). One of them still had ‘draft’ on page one, despite the update going through days ago. Terrifying.

The worst part is the not knowing. Did 3,000 people download a free copy of Baby Blues  & Wedding Shoes and not read it because the text is all left justified and spaced out like in the version I see? When I use Kindle for PC it looks okay but how many people read on iPads like I do?

I try so hard to look professional without forking out money that I don’t have. I’d rather pay for structural editing than formatting. But if the formatting prevents people from reading, maybe that’s the wrong choice.

Anyway, I don’t know the answer, I just know it’s dampening my Hurrah that Class Act is finally live. It’s more a harrump! Now as well as praying for sales, dreading reviews and stressing over typos I have a whole new thing to worry about. Still, no one said self-publishing would be easy!