Five Hundred Followers

followed-blog-500-2x

Thank you!

I have reached a big milestone for me this week: five hundred followers.

I am always amazed when people want to subscribe to my random and sporadic blog and I am always so very very grateful.

A while ago I said I would run a giveaway when I reached this point. Unfortunately January is a crazy month for me, so for now I’m giving my books away instead!

Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes isn’t eligible for a giveaway, but the price will be reduced through a countdown deal from 30th January through to 6th February.

Class Act and Dragon Wraiths will both be free from 29th January to 31st January. (Links Below)

Chase away those January Blues and curl up with a romance or fly with dragons on me this weekend!

Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes Link

Class Act Book Link

Dragon Wraiths Link

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!

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.

Celebrating Success and Searching for Motivation

Achieving great rankings

Achieving great rankings

My Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes promotion ended this morning and it couldn’t have gone better. I had around 2,500 downloads and reached some great numbers in terms of ranking:

#8 in the Romance category on Amazon.com

#10 in Contemporary Women’s Fiction on Amazon.com

#39 on overall free downloads for Amazon.co.uk

#15 in Contemporary Romance on Amazon.co.uk

Now I know these numbers don’t mean a great deal. The majority of people who downloaded the book won’t read it, even fewer will leave a review. However to get that many downloads in two days, when the book only has one review in the US and none anywhere else (and virtually no promotion other than a few tweets and status updates) gives a little ray of hope that at least my blurb and front cover are okay (Though hubbie tells me the title makes people think the book is depressing.)

I see free promotions as more of a banner advert, getting my name in front of people who wouldn’t otherwise discover me and my writing, than a way to get new readers. I know myself that I download dozens of books I’ll never read. Time will tell whether it works as a strategy, but if nothing else it’s a nice feeling to see yourself on the first page of the bestsellers! 🙂

Making it on the first page!

Making it on the first page!

It also makes me see the benefit in loading a book up for preorders via Smashwords. If I could sell enough copies in the weeks prior to release, then that splurge of sales on day one of release would do wonders for initial rankings. Of course, I have to finish my next book for that to happen and, boy oh boy, am I struggling. I’m still tired and scattered from the medication, and I just can’t seem to pin myself down to the hard graft of revisions. I know if I’m not careful weeks will turn into months and, like the box of kids’ things waiting for me to sell on ebay, it will become an insurmountable task to get back to work.

I wanted to get my first draft to the editor by Easter, so I could take the two weeks off to clear my mind, ready to work on the revisions when they came back, and give the children my attention during the school holidays. Ho hum, that gives me five weeks to add thirty thousand words and fill all the plot holes AND get it to Beta Readers. Hmmm some mountains are too high. I think it might be that which is freezing my mind. Needing to work around the school holidays is adding a new dynamic to my already-fragile motivation! Oh well, every mountain is climbed one step at a time. I just need to write ten words today and it will be twenty tomorrow.

But first I might walk the dog!

Start as You Mean to Go On

The final cover for Two-Hundred Steps Home The Complete Journey

The final cover for Two-Hundred Steps Home The Complete Journey

There’s nothing like starting the year as you mean to go on! Publishing a book on Amazon on day four of the year, even if it is one I wrote last year, and one that probably should be proofread first, feels good. You can find it here: Two-Hundred Steps Home: The Complete Journey.

I have added the disclaimers and hopefully no one will buy it and trash me for finding the odd inconsistency or typo (of which I’m sure there are plenty). I am fixing the typos as they’re discovered (thank you hubbie, and anyone else letting me know about them) but a writing challenge is a writing challenge: I didn’t set out to write a Pulitzer Prize Winning Novel in 2013, just a novel that people might enjoy reading. Which, from the reviews I’ve had, it seems they did.

My only dilemma now is whether to take down the first volume from Amazon. It gets the occasional sale, but when you search for ‘Two-Hundred Steps Home’ it presents both books as versions of the same work, even though they have different ASIN numbers. Ah well. A small dilemma.

I’m also enjoying my new resolution to read more, both books and blogs, and write more comments (although I’m not sure I’m keeping up with that target quite as I should. I still feel jetlagged from holiday, illness and Claire!)

I’m reading The Radleys by Matt Haig at present and really enjoying it. I won’t divulge anything about the story, as I’ll write a review post when I’ve finished it. What I am enjoying is how Matt Haig breaks the rules in his writing: there is plenty of head-hopping and change of perspective. I think there’s even a change from writing in the past to the present tense, but I’m trying not to analyse, just get swept up in the story. It might be hard to write a review without spoilers, which I hate, so I’ll have to give that some thought. Maybe read some reviews on other blogs and see how it’s done. What’s your view on reviews? Spoilers or no spoilers? Where do you draw the line?

Formatting and Designing Covers (Again)

A possible cover for THSH the complete story

A possible cover for THSH the complete story

I spent today doing what I love best (ahem), formatting and editing a word document ready for uploading to Smashwords and Amazon. It frustrated me from the beginning of my 2013 writing challenge that I wasn’t able to put the Two-Hundred Steps Home volumes onto Amazon, because they don’t allow permanently free books.

It has therefore always been my intention to combine the twelve volumes into one book to put on Amazon. The dilemma is whether to spend time proofreading and checking for continuity errors and risk getting sucked into doing a full edit (which is not something I intend to get dragged into). Hubbie argues that the original instalments shouldn’t be altered (apart from fixing obvious typos as and when I see them or am told about them) as that was the purpose of the challenge: to write a first draft novel and publish as-is.

My compromise has been to put a short introduction at the beginning to explain the challenge. Writing that is also proving tricky: this is my first attempt:

Two-Hundred Steps Home was written during 2013 in daily instalments on Amanda Martin’s writermummy blog. She wanted to see if it was possible to write the first draft of a novel and publish it every day, much as a Nineteenth-Century Dickens novel might have been published.

Throughout a long year, with hours of painstaking research into the hostels and tourist attractions of UK and New Zealand, and with the endless support of her family, Amanda followed Claire on a journey of discovery from her life as a Marketing Director to someone searching for meaning on the beaches of Cornwall.

Unsure in the beginning whether she would complete her challenge, Amanda continued day by day because of the faithful followers on her blog. And so, 285,000 words, 365 posts and 12 novellas later, Claire’s journey reached the end.

This volume contains all 365 instalments, unedited and exactly as they appeared on the writermummy blog

One of the covers I'm considering

One of the covers I’m considering

It’s a work in progress! As is the front cover. After carefully choosing an image to fit with the theme of each volume, month on month, it has been impossible to come up with an image that sums up the whole of Claire’s journey. These are the two I’m playing with at the moment but I’m not entirely satisfied with either.

What I’d really love to do is have a proper cover designed by someone that knows what they’re doing, rather than me with some istockphoto images and Adobe Photoshop. But, again, it doesn’t fit in with the original challenge of doing it all myself and, besides, I can’t afford it!

When I think about it too much, I feel I should hold back on getting out a complete volume. Part of me wants to get something live this week, so I can get back to the proper job of writing when the children go back to school next week, while the rest of me knows that rushing into any self-publishing breaks all the rules and risks damaging an author’s reputation. But then so does writing a novel in chunks at 2am and publishing the first draft. However, 6,000 downloads later, it doesn’t seem to have done too badly.

My only other point of indecision is whether to call it “Two-Hundred Steps Home Volumes 1-12” or “The Complete Journey” to separate it from the individual volumes but also make clear it isn’t a sequel! I can write fast, but not that fast! 🙂 Ah well, knowing me I’ll make an impulsive decision at midnight and you’ll see something live shortly after. If no one buys it, I’ll come up with a Plan B.

iBook Madness: 2013 365 Challenge #342

This greeted me this morning. Lovely.

This greeted me this morning. Lovely.

I woke this morning to a message from Smashwords, saying that one of my Two-Hundred Steps Home volumes has been booted out of the Premium Catalogue because of a link to a competitor site, which is frowned upon.

I had already been alerted to the issue through a ticket opened by Apple, saying I had a link to Amazon in my book. I’d only reloaded the offending volume (which had previously been approved for Premium Distribution) because Barnes and Noble weren’t pulling through the front cover. As I may have mentioned in the past, formatting for Smashwords could drive you crazy!

I couldn’t find any Amazon links, so I went through and removed all the links except my blog, Facebook and Twitter ones. Considering that the whole purpose of writing THSH this year, to the detriment of my other projects (not to mention sleep and sanity) was to promote the blog and hopefully sell books, I figured that was fair. I offer the books for free, after all.

Then I got this message from Smashwords telling me the link that had Apple in a tizz was the writermummy blog link because my blog has links to my novels on Amazon. I mean, seriously? That would be like telling me to remove my twitter and facebook links because I occasionally promote my books through these channels. Paranoid, much? I wouldn’t mind if I’d actually sold a single book through Apple when my novels were available there. I don’t even get many free downloads from them.

Volumes 10 and 11 missing from Apple

Volumes 10 and 11 missing from Apple

Unfortunately Smashwords doesn’t offer the ability to have different versions for Premium Distribution and their own store. I can take my books out of iBook distribution, but I have at least one reader I know who downloads from there and it doesn’t seem fair for her not to have access to the final volume. But taking off my blog link is absurd. The books are intrinsically linked to the blog.

I read around the subject this morning, after writing a ranty message to Smashwords (a shame in itself because I’ve been a huge advocate up to now) and it seems there is no other way to get free books into Barnes & Noble (my biggest source of downloads) other than through Smashwords. I hate being cornered like that. To be fair, I don’t think many of those 2,800 B&N downloads have resulted in blog traffic (I wish!) but it isn’t the point.

I don’t understand the paranoia (particularly about a free book). Either you have a Kindle or a Nook or an iPad. You will buy your ebooks through the route your device dictates. No one is going to rush out and buy a kindle merely because my novels aren’t available through iBook.

Anyway, I don’t have the time to change anything now. If that means all my books end up not available through B&N or iBooks, then so be it. If anyone wants a copy and it isn’t available, then you can download the volumes in all formats directly from Smashwords (or I’ll email you a copy!). I have a long memory, though. I’ve already unpublished from Kobo because of their stunt earlier in the year. One day these retailers will realise that, without authors, they have nothing. I won’t be missed but maybe, just maybe, an author with sufficient clout will become annoyed with them. Or perhaps I’m naïve and big business does call all the shots. What a shame.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire’s head whirled as she downed the drink on the table in front of her. She remembered now why she hated pub crawls. It wasn’t just getting drunk too quickly, and trying to move in a straight line when the world was spinning, it was the bloated tummy and the sloshing sensation as yet another quantity of liquid was consumed too fast.

She reeled and felt a steadying arm wrap round her shoulders. “Whoa, there. You don’t have to keep up, you know. The real race is over. This is just the lads from the office now: no need for bravado.” The voice whispering in her ear seemed hardwired to other, more intimate, parts of her body. She focussed on staying upright and turned to him with a bright smile.

“I’m fine, Conor. I’m a bit out of practice is all. Not much call for getting drunk on your own. No good reasons at any rate. It’s been a while.”

Conor gave her back a quick rub, then dropped his arm. He didn’t move away, however, and Claire found his presence at her side comforting. She looked around blearily, trying to see who was still with them. She recognised most of the faces, although they all looked a little worse for wear.

“I think maybe I should push the wheelbarrow on the next stint,” she said to Conor. “If I climb back in, I might fall asleep.”

“My poor Claire,” Conor said with a smile. “You have been a good sport.”

“Well, after you went to all that trouble to find me a cushion I could hardly refuse, could I? Just please tell me there’s no photographic evidence.”

Conor raised his eyebrows and said nothing. Claire groaned. “Great. I guess that was inevitable. Maybe no one will remember who I am.”

Her boss let out a loud laugh. “Sorry, m’darling, not much chance of that. Your pouting and liberal blowing of kisses have been the highlight of the evening, although my personal favourite was your attempt at the iconic fanned skirt image in the pub before last.”

The groan was louder this time, and Claire dropped her head into her hands. “I thought I’d imagined it. Please tell me I didn’t really put their fan on the floor and stand above it? I didn’t even think I was that drunk.”

“You are and you did.” He grinned. “Kept your modesty quite well though. Until you fell over at least.”

Only the gentle affection in his voice stopped Claire from running out the room. In fact he’d been the perfect date: attentive, supportive and encouraging. There had been a hint of distance to begin with, but as the alcohol flowed and the eyes blurred that had dissipated. She felt the warmth of his body next to hers, through the thin fabric of her dress, and suddenly shivered.

“Are you cold? I can get your cardie, although it feels pretty warm in here. Would you like some fresh air?”

“I’m fine.” Something in his expression caught her attention. “Though yes, now you mention it, some fresh air might be a good idea.”

Conor grasped her elbow and led her from the room. She heard him tell their colleagues that she was going to be sick and their friendly laughter followed them out. It was on her lips to tell him she didn’t feel ill, when it occurred to her that he might be protecting her reputation, as the two of them left the pub together.

Ever the gentleman. Nothing like the man I took him for at my interview.

Claire shivered again as the cool night air brushed her skin. It wasn’t cold, although the oppressive heat of the day had eased with the setting of the sun. Despite the bustling noise of the pub spilling through the open doors and windows, it felt eerily quiet out in the night.

They were somewhere away from the High Street, having left the hubbub of the carnival behind. The race proper had finished much earlier and Conor had led his colleagues on a longer tour with the drinks on him, as a thank you for all their hard work. Above them, inky blackness stretched away, punctuated by thousands of pin-pricks of dazzling light. The sheer expanse of the sky made Claire dizzy, and she leant against the whitewashed stone wall for support.

“You’re not really going to be sick, are you?”

Claire shook her head, regretting it immediately. “No, I’m fine. You might need to push me back to the hostel in that wheelbarrow though; I can’t see me making it up the hill.” She looked around. “Not that I have any idea where I am.”

“We’re not that far away. We’re in the Muddy Duck. Swanage isn’t a big place.”

“I’m none the wiser. Besides, we’re in the Black Swan.” She gestured at the sign above their heads. “And you think I’m drunk!”

Conor leant back against the rail, propped up on his elbows, and smiled tolerantly. “Muddy Duck is what the locals call it. You know, a black swan is just a muddy duck? At least I think that’s where it comes from. I’m not really a local.”

“Don’t tell me, your kids’ kids would just about be accepted?”

“Not that bad, but you have the general idea.”

They stood together in silence, listening to the sounds of revelry from inside the building. People came and went through the door to Claire’s left, but they seemed to have a pocket of unbreakable stillness around them.

Claire felt tension build like an approaching storm. Suddenly all her senses were on overdrive: her ears picking up every sound, her nose taking in the scent of Conor’s aftershave and the stink of stale beer and cigarettes. Despite the gloom, she could see Conor as if he stood beneath a spotlight. He was watching her, his eyes and teeth shining in the darkness, competing with his brilliant white suit.

The silence took on texture. Conor pushed away from the railing, and the movement tightened the knot in Claire’s stomach and caused her heart to race uncontrollably, like the wheelbarrows had along the High Street earlier. Conor came to stand directly in front of her, looking down with a question in his eyes.

Claire raised her gaze to meet his. She flinched as his eyes narrowed slightly. He reached forwards and gently pulled off the wig, letting her hair tumble down around her face.

“That’s better.”

His eyes sought hers again, still asking the unanswered question. She didn’t need to search hard for a reply. It was a question she’d been waiting for. With a quivering smile, Claire gave a nod. At her response, the tension seeped out of Conor’s face, and he leant forwards slowly to brush his lips against hers.

Claire let herself sink into the kiss. Conor’s hands tangled into her hair, cupping her face and pulling her close. She wrapped her arms around him, running her hands over the contours of his back, feeling the lithe body beneath his costume. A gentle breeze blew up the street and across their skin, bringing with it the scent of night and the salty tang of the sea. Claire inhaled deeply and lost herself in the moment.

***