E-Book Censorship – Necessary or a Slippery Slope?

The story as it unfolds

The story as it unfolds

Some worrying news has trickled through to me this week, through various sources, that Amazon, Barnes & Noble and particularly Kobo are censoring Self-Published/Indie Published books. As far as I can gather, from reading posts on Shannon Thompson’s Facebook wall – here and here – and through statements from Smashwords, the concern is specific types of erotica, such as incest or rape themed books, but may easily stretch into all Indie Publishing.

WH Smith, who sell Kobo books in the UK, took down ALL self-published books in response to criticism over some of the content they apparently unknowingly stocked.

Smashwords  also has this comment in their statement:

Going forward, I think we can expect this to become the new reality as major retailers set their sights on a global market where the cultural, religious or political norms in some countries will find certain categories of erotica too objectionable, or might find non-erotic categories that most western cultures consider mainstream as too objectionable.  This means we can expect more mess to come in the years ahead as the industry navigates ebook globalization [My emphasis]

Now I have to be honest, this isn’t a straightforward debate for me. My mind is surging with conflicting emotions. Paramount is the thought “Oh my goodness, if they start deleting Indie books, there goes my five-year plan. Amazon is already censoring reviews (I’ve had at least three reviews of my books deleted and lord knows how many more I don’t know about). I’ll have to give up writing and get a job.”

This might seem like an overreaction when I write books with no sex in them, never mind erotica. But, as Smashwords points out, this may well not just stop at erotica but might cover any area that’s considered taboo in a certain culture. Shannon points out on her blog that the legal age of drinking between the UK and the US is different, so might books featuring a teenager drinking be banned in the US?

First WH Smith then all KOBO

First WH Smith then all KOBO

Then of course comes the view that refusing to publish any kind of books is bad. It’s censorship, it’s against free speech, it’s harking back to the days of banning and burning books for not fitting in with the social mores of its time. As one commenter points out on Shannon’s blog, though, it isn’t actually against free speech, because these companies are businesses and have every right to sell what they choose. Even so, it still isn’t good news for Indie authors like me.

Ah, but then, a third voice pipes up: the voice of the parent. I’d happily see all porn banned on the internet: free speech or no. And if there are erotica books out there that favour or promote rape, then I am happy for them to be banned. (Remember this is only the parent talking, so no snotty comments about me being a bigot, thanks!)

I don’t want my daughter growing up in a world where people have had easy access to books promoting rape. There’s something about an idea being written down that gives it gravitas. You write about rape in a book, make it sound like a cool thing, and somebody somewhere is going to feel like that gives them a green light.

In an article on the Christian Science Monitor (which I found through Shannon’s blog) someone defends the erotica ebooks by saying:

“We outlaw snuff films, child porn and, increasingly, revenge porn, because actual people are harmed during their production,” wrote PJ Vogt on OnTheMedia.org.

“Erotic fiction concerns fake characters who don’t exist in real life.”

So it’s okay if it’s in a book, with fake characters? I should agree, yes of course. Except I’ve read books that have changed the way I think. They’ve actually rewired my brain to see the world a different way. That’s the power of fiction (as so beautifully argued in a lecture by Neil Gaiman recently:

When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

The On the Media article quoted above says that internet porn hasn’t increased actual instances of rape, and makes the assumption that literature won’t either. But if you look at Neil’s argument, the written word is more powerful than onscreen images, precisely because it happens inside the mind. It locates another ‘me’ in the world. Great if that widens the mind, not so great if it narrows it.

Neil also says, “We have an obligation [as writers] to make things beautiful. Not to leave the world uglier than we found it” but that’s an entirely different argument against some of these books!

There is a petition on Change.org that I will probably sign, but I am having to think twice about it. The petition does say **This petition is NOT condoning non-fictional beastiality, incest, pediphilia or other things of such ‘extreme’ nature**. 

Non-fictional? What about fictional? Also, there are some views in the comments that I don’t agree with. For example someone says you need a credit card to buy the books, so you’re obviously over 18. Except what about the free sample? I’ve downloaded the first few chapters of plenty of books without having to pay for them, and many of them I wouldn’t want my daughter to read at any age.

It’s a difficult debate and I hate not knowing what side of the fence I sit on. If Amazon and other online retailers delete my books, I’m back to square one: trying to fight my way in through the agent/publisher route. And I believe we’ll all be the poorer for stopping the publishing revolution before it’s even got underway. However there is no doubt that there are books out there that ruin the image of self-publishing for all of us, never mind books I wouldn’t want my kids to have access to.

Where do you sit?

___

Style hell Sunday: 2013 365 Challenge #273

A nice moody monochrome cover seemed right for Volume 9

A nice moody monochrome cover seemed right for Vol9

Word styles are going to be the death of me. After all the issues with Baby Blues and Normal vs Style2, I’ve had problems today that made that look like child’s play to fix.

Dragon Wraiths came out of KDP select as of this morning, so I put it back on Smashwords, thinking I’d fixed all the formatting issues last month. Wrong. So at 8 am, when I should have been writing my Claire post, I was desperately trying to fix formatting issues. Then during the morning, between ironing uniform and doing laundry, I spent hours trying to fix the index.

Five versions later I admitted defeat and copied a working index in from an old file. Then, as we were about to leave for the in-laws’, I desperately tried to fix the tiny text-and-indenting issues.

Arrived at father-in-law’s to discover that hadn’t worked so spent the journey home fixing them on my laptop in the car. While cooking sausage and mash and folding laundry this evening I made one last attempt and – fingers crossed – it looks okay now. On iBooks at least. I’m too scared to check the other versions.

I tweaked a few other formatting issues too, so I’ll now have to upload a new version to Amazon and redo my CreateSpace version. Formatting never ends! I begin to understand why people pay companies to do it for them! Although there is a sense of satisfaction when it all comes good.

On a happy note, tomorrow is the beginning of October (scary, I know!), which means it’s nearly my birthday, my sister comes home for a visit in a week, and we survived the manic month of September! Hurrah

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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 jumped down from the coach and waved vaguely in the driver’s direction. She’d already checked which bus would take her to the airport and the driver had pointed out the stop.

If only the tour still stopped in Christchurch overnight, I could have booked a taxi to pick me up from the hostel. Bloody earthquake.

Standing at the stop, Claire tried to remember the last time she’d caught a bus. Back in Manchester she’d stuck to the trams, if public transport had featured at all. Mostly she used her car.

Please let NZ buses run punctually.

Claire chewed the side of her nail and stared along the road, willing the bus to appear amidst the traffic. She was surprised how many cars there were on the street on a Saturday evening.

I wonder if the Kiwis come into town for a night out. I wish I was heading to a bar for a double gin and tonic. Hopefully there’ll be enough money to buy one on the plane, assuming I get there.

Claire could almost taste the cool refreshing tang of tonic with a slice of lime, and she took a swig of water to wet her throat. Her tummy rumbled but she didn’t dare leave the stop to look for food. Plenty of time to worry about eating when her luggage was checked in and she had her boarding pass.

At last the bus appeared down the street. It seemed to take forever to reach her in the traffic. Claire jumped on almost before the doors were open.

“Airport, please.”

The driver nodded and named the fare.

“How long will it take?”

“Half an hour, assuming we don’t hit traffic. Don’t worry, chook, we’ll get you there for your flight.”

Claire took a seat, wondering how much panic was visible on her face to get a pep-talk from a complete stranger.

Outside the window, she was able to get a true sense of the devastation caused by the earthquake and began to realise the traffic was not caused by volume of people, but the need to negotiate streets still closed off by piles of rubble.

Gazing at the buildings along the central business district, Claire realised they were actually shipping containers, stacked up and painted. It made her sad to think of the once beautiful city in such a state of disrepair, however much it matched her mood.

As the bus drove along suburban streets lined with bare trees, Claire felt increasingly like she was on her way home.

It’s not winter there, though. How odd to go from spring to summer to autumn and back to summer again.

She tried to imagine travelling around Cornwall in the sunshine, back in her own car and in control of her travel plans. The thought raised a flicker of happiness deep inside, but it was soon extinguished by her concern for Kim and her need to get home.

At last there were signs to the airport and Claire felt her heartbeat quicken. Before they were even close to the building she rose and walked to the front of the bus.

“Where do you drop us?”

“At the arrivals hall.”

“Damn. How far to departures?”

The driver laughed. “Not far. It’s not exactly Singapore. You’ll be fine.”

“My flight leaves in half an hour.”

“Ah, you are cutting it close. No worries, we’ll get you there.”

Claire clung on to the nearest seat as the driver put his foot down. She wished she’d told him earlier that she was in a hurry.

I can’t imagine a bus driver in the UK going faster because I’m late for my flight. He’d be more likely to berate me for my bad planning.

“Here you go. Through there, you can’t miss it. I’d get a move on though. Good luck.”

With a wave, Claire jumped down from the bus, shouldered her rucksack, and ran.

She found the international check in desks and looked for her flight. All the signs were blank and she felt the panic begin to rise up her throat. One desk had a woman behind it and she ran towards her, bumping the barriers with her rucksack.

“Hi,” she panted, dropping her bag to the floor. “I need to check in for my flight to Sydney.”

The woman behind the desk looked up and frowned. “You’re too early, check in isn’t open yet.”

“What do you mean? My flight leaves in thirty minutes.”

The frown deepened. “Sorry, Ma’am, you’re too late to check in for that fight. I can put you on standby for the next flight, but it doesn’t leave until the morning. You’ll have to find accommodation for the night.”

“What do you mean I can’t check in? I’ve still got at least twenty minutes before the flight leaves. I can’t get one in the morning, I’m connecting to Dubai.”

The check-in clerk looked at Claire with a mixture of pity and frustration. “I’m sorry, Ma’am, you should have allowed more time to get to the airport. I can’t get you checked in and through security in twenty minutes. The gate is already closed.”

Claire stared at the perfectly made-up face, the immaculate hair, the clean and ironed clothing, and knew hatred. After everything she had been through to get here, to miss the flight because this woman wouldn’t let her through was too much. She wanted to scream and rant, to barge through and run for the gate. To do something desperate.

Instead she stood, numb and defeated, and let the tears fall.

***

Formatting and Covers: 2013 365 Challenge #256

Manuscript Paper Planes

Manuscript Paper Planes

Phew. I have spent the last two days updating my Kindle and Smashwords files to include Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes under ‘other titles by’ and to add Twitter and Facebook links. I am formatting blind. I had to load each file half a dozen times, because I kept missing things. A case of more haste less speed.

Even now I know there’s an error in each of my Two-Hundred Steps Home files (a link that doesn’t work). I wasn’t going to reload them all, and start the ‘premium catalogue’ clearance again, except I’ve had to resubmit for clearing after linking all the books as a series (even though Smashwords said it wouldn’t affect premium distribution).

When I updated my kindle file for Dragon Wraiths, I also got the Facebook link wrong in that, and now I have to wait for Amazon to publish it before I can upload it again. They could learn a thing or two from Smashwords. My head is spinning with all the details, remembering what quirks Kindle has compared with Smashwords, and remembering to link to my other books on the right platform (Smashwords will reject a file for having Amazon links within it).

Spot the difference!

Spot the difference!

I also tinkered with the Dragon Wraiths cover today, to try and incorporate the dragon pendant from the first cover. I’m not 100% happy with it, but it needed to be done. The current one, much as I love it, doesn’t say ‘fantasy’ or ‘dragons’ enough.

What’s the point of this ramble? Not much, except to say I think writing a book is about 20% or 30% of the actual graft of being a self-published author. All the other stuff is so time-consuming. More than you think it should be. My ‘two minute’ job on the cover took two hours and nearly made me late to pick my daughter up from school!.

And you have to be super organised and logical and all those things I’m not to keep track of it all. At least I’m learning I guess. I could probably format a file for Smashwords in my sleep (and get no autovetter errors) and I’m not far off knowing how to do a Kindle file without referring to the notes. If the author thing doesn’t work I guess at least I could make money doing that! 🙂

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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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“What are we searching for exactly?”

Claire looked across the racks of clothing to Bethan, who was holding up various items against her and contemplating her reflection in the mirror.

“Fancy dress.”

“I gathered that. I meant, what are you going as? And what the hell can I wear?”

“The theme is anything beginning with P. So I thought I might go as a prostitute.” She grinned at Claire’s shocked expression. “Too much? What about a princess? You should do that, you look much more Disney than I do.”

“I don’t know, you could be Pocahontas.”

“She was Native American, not Thai.”

Claire blushed. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you, it was a stupid thing to say.”

Bethan laughed. “That’s alright, I know you didn’t. You’re not likely to be up on the Disney princesses unless you have a four-year-old girl hidden about your person.”

The flush deepened. “Well, actually I did spend a few weeks with my niece recently, but all those princesses muddle together after a while. There was an Oriental one, now I think about it.”

Mulan. Chinese. Closer but still offensive.” Although Bethan spoke with laughter in her voice, her face looked brittle.

“Sorry.”

Bethan looked up and her face became more sympathetic. “Oriental is a racist term in America, is that not the same in England?”

Claire shook her head. “Not that I know of. Better than calling someone Chinese when they’re really from Japan or Thailand, surely?”

“In America you use Oriental for things, not people. Asian is a better word.”

Claire swallowed and nodded, feeling like she’d been told off. Wanting to change the subject, she ran through other fancy dress ideas beginning with P. “Right. Not princesses then. Pigs? Paupers? That shouldn’t be a problem; I’m going to be poor by the time this trip is over.”

She glanced at Bethan and saw a flicker of disapproval flash across her face.

Now what have I said?

They had been travelling together for a week and this was the first time Claire had sensed anything but happiness in Bethan’s demeanour. The moment passed and Claire searched her mind for a simple fancy dress costume that wouldn’t cost the earth or humiliate her. Not that there was anyone left on the bus whose opinion she cared about apart from Bethan, and she’d already offended her twice.

Bethan held up a sequin covered top and some sunglasses, all trace of censure gone. She grinned. “How about pop stars?”

*

“Do you want another drink?” Bethan yelled over the music.

Claire shook her head and then wished she hadn’t. “No,” she yelled back, “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Bethan nodded, downed her drink in one, and grabbed hold of Claire’s arm.

Claire let herself be towed through the writhing bodies, the music pulsing in time with the throbbing in her head and drowning out all attempts at rational thought. The dinner of steak and venison, delicious at the time, sat heavy in her stomach. She really didn’t want to see it again.

Outside, the music still filled the air but left some space to think. The chill autumn wind rushed over her bare skin, raising goosebumps and drying the sweat. Claire slumped against the wall and gripped her head with both hands.

“You okay?” Bethan squatted beside her and peered under the mass of back-combed hair that concealed Claire’s face.

“I think so. What time is it?”

Bethan checked her watch. “1 a.m. Apparently they’ll chuck us out at 2 a.m.”

“I’m not going to last that long. I need to go to bed.” Claire slid down the wall, ignoring the damp seeping through her tights as she sat on the floor. The events of the evening swam through her mind like a movie montage.

“Did I do a drinking game?”

“Yes. You were very good.”

“Snog the driver as a forfeit?”

“’fraid so.”

“Dance on the tables?”

Bethan shrugged. “It was Bon Jovi and you’re dressed as an ’80s pop star. I thought the balloon in a bottle as a microphone was an inspired touch.”

“Are there going to be pictures of us on the wall, like all the others?”

Bethan nodded and laughed as Claire groaned. “Look at it this way, who do you know who is ever going to come to this dirty motel in the middle of nowhere and scour thousands of Polaroids to find your embarrassing photo?”

Claire grunted in agreement but it was small consolation.

Bethan laughed again. “Relax, Claire. This is all part of travelling. You joined in, made some new friends, drank some shots. You won’t remember most of it in the morning and I promise not to remind you more than, ooh, once an hour?”

“Thanks.”

“Are you coming back in? It’s freezing out here and I’m starting to sober up. I need a drink.”

Claire gave a tiny shake of the head. As Bethan stood up, Claire risked raising her head to make eye contact.

“Bethan, can you do me a favour?”

“Sure, what is it?”

“Can you show me where my bed is please?”

With a giggle, Bethan pulled her to her feet and led her to the dorm rooms.

***

Live at Last: 2013 365 Challenge #251

Playing with the all-important balloon!

Playing with the all-important balloons!

Today I broke a whole bunch of self publishing rules and published Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes on Amazon, even though I’m still doing a final read through and spotting the odd typo. I know I’m heading for the third ring of indie-publishing hell but I have my reasons.

Partly I need to keep moving forward. I reformatted the Smashwords version for kindle this morning, between writing my post and taking over childcare at 9am. I did then spot some odd pink paragraphs which I’ve subsequently (hopefully) fixed – in between making playdough snakes, facilitating home made pizzas, assembling giant pipecleaner craft, playing hide and seek and a taking a trip to McDs because Dobbies ran out of balloons (and, honestly, Mummy didn’t feel like cooking dinner!)

Pink paragraphs aside, the kindle version looks surprisingly okay for a first pass. I usually get to version five on Smashwords before I’ve ironed out all the kinks. If I’ve learned one thing this year, it’s how to use word styles to speed up ebook formatting. (Now I just have to work out how to make pretty chapter headers, like Rinelle Grey’s books have!)

Finally on Amazon

Finally on Amazon

My main reason for rushing ahead with publishing Baby Blues on kindle, rather than waiting for the paper version to be ready and loading both to Amazon together, is that Dragon Wraiths comes out of the KDP Select programme at the end of September. I can’t believe how quickly this three-month block has gone. I’m going to stay out this time and stop being so impatient: I don’t have the time or strength for decent marketing, so I’ve decided to focus on writing more and better books, knowing that Baby Blues and Dragon Wraiths will always be there as back catalogue.

I will run one last free promo on Dragon Wraiths (later this week, if you haven’t already read it) and that will be it, at least until Class Act is ready next year. The reason for one last promo, even though I don’t get as much return from them anymore, is that I hope it will possibly lead people to Baby Blues without me having to offer that for free to increase its rankings.

(Note to self: put free chapter of BBWS at end of Dragon Wraiths!)

I will, at some point, run a competition to celebrate finally finishing Baby Blues – with a prize hamper including a print copy and probably some chocolate – but it’s going to have to wait a little bit, as I don’t have a print copy available yet. I’ll probably figure out the final details of the comp and post about it some time this week though: I guess I can always have it run for a few weeks, until I get a paper copy of my book. The competition will definitely feature parenting stories or other tales of humiliation, in honour of some of Helen’s experiences in the book. If you know any parenting blogs who might like to feature the competition let me know.

As I put on my Facebook page this morning, publishing Baby Blues is feeling more like a sneak than a launch. But, hey ho, life vs writing and all that. At least it’s finally out there.

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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 sat, awkwardly holding Josh’s hand, staring at nothing out the window. She hoped he had fallen asleep, but she didn’t want to check in case she caught him staring at her again. If she had to endure the soppy, tear-filled gaze one more time she thought she might vomit.

I don’t understand women who go for the new man, in touch with his emotions. Give me some British stiff upper lip any day. It’s not like I was going to drown in three feet of water with the tour guide right there.

In fact, their guide had laughed at Josh’s panic, forcing Claire to play down her own fear. She suspected more than one nightmare in the future might revolve around drowning and being trapped underwater: not experiences she wanted to repeat. But even she could see, in retrospect, that she wasn’t in any real danger.

Someone should tell Josh that I’m not a sick child he needs to save. The only people he ought to be concerned about are his wife and kids.

And yet she still had his sweaty hand clasped in hers. It had seemed cruel to spurn him: like kicking a cat. But she didn’t need Bethan’s sniggers and eye rolling to tell her she’d made trouble for herself.

“Hey, Claire.”

As if hearing her thoughts, Bethan called to her across the coach aisle.

“You won’t be sharing a dorm with us at Westport, then?” She grinned, as Claire flushed beetroot.

“Pack it in. I take it he is asleep?” Josh hadn’t moved at Bethan’s words, and she hoped he wasn’t feigning slumber.

Bethan nodded, and leaned nearer. “He is rather scrummy. Why don’t you just sleep with him and be done with it? The wife need never know.”

“I’d know.” Claire was surprised at the fierceness in her voice. As Bethan recoiled, she immediately said, “Sorry, that came out sharper than intended. You forget, I’ve met his wife and their children. She isn’t some faceless entity with no feelings. She even looks like me, although that’s where the comparisons end. She’s a doctor, and a brilliant parent. I wouldn’t hurt her for the world.”

“And yet he would. Some fella you got there.”

Claire had to agree, although she felt driven to defend Josh. “He wasn’t like that when I knew him in England. He had some kind of breakdown, I think, and it’s still affecting him.”

“You mean he isn’t just a selfish twat that never grew up, who has run away because life got a teensy bit hard?”

It was Claire’s turn to be shocked at the sarcastic sneer in Bethan’s voice. It reminded Claire that she knew little about her new friend’s history.

Biting her tongue on a retort, Claire was forced to smile. “Show me a man who has actually grown up and I’ll show you a boring bastard who takes life far too seriously.” She thought about Michael and his pompous preaching.

“So, what are you going to do? He did save your life.”

Claire opened her mouth to deny the suggestion, then saw the twinkle in Bethan’s dark eyes. “You cow! It’s so hilarious, sat over there. You try sitting in this seat.”

“Don’t mind if I do!”

“Well, why don’t you seduce him then? Get him off my hands.”

“And break the poor little wifey’s heart? I can’t do that. Why don’t you call this woman and tell her you stumbled across her husband at the lost and found. If she really wants him, she’ll come and collect him.”

“Poor Fiona. She did that once already: flying halfway round the world with three kids in tow.”

Bethan pulled a face. “She sounds like an angel. Too good for him.”

Claire privately agreed. It was clear that Josh had fixated on her as the way out of his humdrum life, but Claire knew it was no more than it had been the first time they met: She resembled the wife he used to know, before children had eaten into their lives.

Not that I can blame him for wanting to evade the responsibility of raising children: it’s not something I’m in a hurry to do. But it seems Fiona does all the work.

She couldn’t deny he came across as selfish and pathetic however which way she viewed it. The sooner she sent him back to his wife the better.

Prising her hand free from his, Claire turned her back on the sleeping figure and tried to ignore the weight of his head resting against her shoulder.

If I let a man into my life again, it will be one who can stand on his own two feet.

***

F-ein-tastic!: 2013 365 Challenge #247

Mind-Numbing Paperwork

Mind-Numbing Paperwork

Hurrah! I got my EIN number today.

After a year of telling myself “I will call tomorrow” and never quite managing it, my “fax them instead” plan worked a charm. Just as they said it would, it only took four business days for my EIN to arrive by fax to my inbox.

Cue BIG GRINS!

For anyone else like me, who hates having to phone anyone, or who doesn’t want to spend a fortune on hold to an international phone number, here is a rough idea of what I did to get my number.

1. Read Catherine, Caffeinated’s blog post on applying for an EIN (especially read the bit at the top *Read this first* and the comments). Even if you’re going to fax rather than phone, this will still make sure you know all the answers to the questions needed to complete the SS-4 Form.

2. Download the SS-4 form (or here) AND the notes. You need to read the notes, although don’t be daunted. On page three of the SS-4 there is a chart titled “Do I need an EIN?”

Point 8 on this chart, where it says IF the applicant … Is a foreign person needing an EIN to comply with IRS withholding regulations AND Needs an EIN to complete a Form W-8 (…) explains which parts of the form need to be completed. These are: Lines 1-5b, 7a-b (SSN or ITIN optional), 8a, 8b-c (if applicable), 9a, 9b (if applicable), 10, and 18. 

3. Use the notes on Catherine, Caffeinated’s post, together with the Instructions Form, to help you understand what information is required for each of these sections. Heed the advice to fill everything out in full (no abbreviations). I completed my form in Adobe Photoshop, because I have it, and because there was no way I could fit my address legibly in the teeny tiny box by hand. It probably isn’t necessary but it certainly helps if you can type the form.

4. Ensure you have included a fax number for yourself in the bottom right-hand corner, and fax to this number:

International Revenue Service Center
Attn: EIN International Operation
Cincinnati, OH 45999
Fax-TIN: (1) 859-669-5987
 

4a. If (like me) you don’t have a fax machine, there are plenty of online companies who can convert a scanned document into a fax and send it for you. I used efax, signing up for their free 30 day trial (provided I remember to cancel it tomorrow!) They allowed me to choose my own local fax number and emailed me the response from the IRS. You do have to give your credit card details so make sure you cancel it within the 30 days.

5. Once you get your magic EIN number back, you need to complete the W-8BEN Forms for Amazon and Smashwords (if you have your EIN you can ignore most of the advice on the Smashwords page about the W7 form).

Again, Catherine Caffeinated’s blog has details on how to do this (although the postal address for Smashwords is out of date, so it’s worth double checking the information. The latest one is below.)

Amazon now have an automated system – the tax interview – whereby you complete your W-8BEN Form online. It’s worth doing this first, so you can copy their information to complete the Smashwords form (which has to be posted to this address:).

Postal mail us a printed, signed copy of your W8BEN form to:

Smashwords, Inc.
Attn:  Tax Compliance Dept.
PO Box 11817
Bainbridge Island, WA   USA  98110

NOTE: You have to include your Smashwords screen name (ie for me it’s writermummy) and account email address on the form before you post it to them.

6. Sell some books, happy in the knowledge that (in a month or two) you will no longer lose 30% of your income to the IRS.

Caveat: This is my experience of the process. I didn’t take many notes and I found it all quite straightforward, particularly after reading ALL of the Catherine Caffeinated post, including comments. If you have anything extra to add, or your experience was different in any way, please let me know in the comments below.

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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 felt a tap on her arm. Prising her eyes open, she stared blearily to her left. Josh peered at her with a sheepish grin on his face.

“Sorry, did I wake you?”

“No.” Claire yawned. She glanced to her right, but the seat was empty. Feeling slightly betrayed that Bethan had left her to her fate, Claire turned back to Josh.

“Yes, it’s just us.” His smile was too knowing, and Claire flushed at being caught. She already suspected that Josh had seen through her blatant attempts to avoid being alone with him, both at dinner the night before, and during the wait for the ferry that morning.

“Would you like to take a walk? We’re just entering the sound, and the scenery is breathtaking.”

Even though the ferry barely felt like it was moving – in strong contrast to her experience two days before – Claire didn’t feel like going on deck. But something about Josh’s expression told her he would pester her until she gave in, so she nodded and hoped it would be too noisy outside for conversation.

Josh led her through a heavy door, holding it open for her with a flourish. She smiled at his antics but it didn’t alleviate the lead weight tugging at her chest. As much as she was enjoying spending time with Josh, she found his behaviour unnerving: he watched her constantly, even when he was talking to someone else. It was more like being stalked by Neal than having her friend back.

I miss the old Josh.

With another yawn, Claire inhaled the fresh morning air and agreed that it was indeed beautiful. The grass-coated cliffs rose either side of them, forming a narrow tunnel for the ferry to chug through. The scenery had an other-world feel to it: too large, too green, too perfect. She felt like a mouse drifting along the riverbank on a leaf.

Josh leant on the railings, his face into the wind. She went to stand beside him and, for a moment, they contemplated the view in companionable silence.

“Claire–”

She winced, then changed it to, “Hmmm?”

“I never got a chance to tell you yesterday about why I came. The truth is, I’m thinking of leaving Fiona.”

Claire gasped. She couldn’t help it. Whatever she had imagined he might say; that hadn’t been it.

Stupid girl. It should have been obvious: the lingering glances, his coming all this way to see you.

She tried to analyse her reaction to his announcement. Wasn’t that what she wanted? Josh, free from Fiona and hers for the taking? Except somehow she didn’t want it anymore. The Josh she loved was a faithful, loving man, not someone who would walk out on his wife and children.

“Why?”

Josh released a sigh. “It’s too damn hard, that’s why. All she has time for these days is the kids. They come first in everything. We barely talk anymore, never mind, well …”

“But Lily’s only a baby; surely it will get easier when she’s a bit older.”

“Fiona said that after Lucas and Sophie and then Lily came along. She’ll probably want another one, as soon as Lily doesn’t need her 24-7. It feels like her way of avoiding being with me: having more and more babies.”

“I thought you loved the children.”

Josh ran his hands through his hair. “I do. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great kids. And Fiona. But a man has needs, you know? Oh not just the obvious ones.”

He turned to face her, and the bitterness in his expression made her catch her breath.

“Just once I’d like her to ask about my day, instead of handing me the baby so she can grab a shower or go to bed. I feel like we’re co-workers on a rolling twelve-hour shift pattern. I don’t remember the last time we had an uninterrupted conversation.”

Claire thought back to her time caring for Sky. She’d felt like that with only one child to look after, she couldn’t imagine what it must be like with three. And, even though her first reaction was to call Josh a selfish bastard for not being more supportive of Fiona, she had to admit he probably had a point. When they’d all been together in the hostel, Fiona’s attention had been consumed by the children.

“Shouldn’t you be talking to Fiona about this, not me?”

Josh hung his head and rubbed his hand around the back of his neck. It was the gesture of a beaten man. “I’ve tried. She gets all emotional: either accusing me of being selfish or telling me to clear off and find someone else to see to my needs because she’s too busy.”

Claire’s ears buzzed as she tried to think. She didn’t want to be having this conversation. Was she meant to be the someone else? Josh’s pain was her pain, but part of her could see how childish he was being. Parenthood was hard: you took the good with the bad.

If I were Fiona, I’d probably tell him to sod off, too.

Not knowing what to say, Claire absentmindedly rubbed his shoulder in support. As if the physical contact was all the permission he needed, Josh turned to her and seized her face with his hands. He kissed her, hard, his stubble grazing her face. Not like the soft brush of the lips of their first embrace.

She didn’t respond but, unlike the last time, Josh didn’t pull away. After several painful moments, Claire pushed at his chest and he broke free, panting.

She looked up at him, eyes wide. His expression was wild and it scared her. Then he seemed to control his features and smiled the lopsided grin that tightened round her heart like a fist.

“Sorry. Can’t blame a man for trying.”

He turned back to face the sea, as if nothing had happened. Claire stood motionless, except for the trembling in her limbs, her mind a jumble of thoughts and feelings.

Ah, crap.

***

Smashwords Stats: 2013 365 Challenge #243

Good news for me!

Good news for me!

I received an email from Smashwords this morning with some great information. I’m sure any authors reading have probably seen it, but if you haven’t had a chance to go through it, here are the highlights.

1. You can now complete an author interview on Smashwords (you don’t even need to have published a book, just to be registered with Smashwords).

I’d heard about this from Pat Elliott, who looked into it when releasing her short story collection, At Sanctuary’s Gate. However it was a useful reminder to me to get around to completing it. It’s now about #3 on my to-do list! (After finish August’s THSH and finish proofreading BBWS)

2. The results of Smashwords’ survey are in and they make interesting reading. The key points for me were:

  • $3.99 books sell better than $1.99 books (in numbers, not just revenue)
  • Longer books sell better than shorter books (115,274 words was the good average: Baby Blues and Dragon Wraiths are both around 113,000 words so this was good news, and against traditional publishing advice, which is to keep novels below 100,000 words)
  • The trend has moved away from 99c books but Free still does well. This is interesting in light of the discussion here on the blog earlier in the week.
$1-$1.99 not as effective as it used to be

$1-$1.99 not as effective as it used to be

3. You can now (or will soon be able to) set your self-published book up for pre-order. This is excellent news. The advantages of pre-order are many (see the link), but the key two are:

a) you can ensure your book has reached the premium catalogue before beginning promotion. It can take ages to get out to Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo (In fact, one of my Two Hundred Steps Home books still hasn’t made it to iBooks, which is annoying). Being able to do that in advance means it’s all in place

b) pre-orders go through as sales on release day for Apple and Kobo, meaning an influx of sales numbers all at once. This can be enough to put you on the bestseller list, at least briefly, and will really help rankings.

It’s too late for Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, as it’s already been live for a while (albeit it with the unproofread version. An error on my part that I won’t make again!) but, for Class Act, when it’s ready for publishing next year, I will definitely make use of it. I might even re-release Dragon Wraiths through Smashwords, and see how that works, next time my KDP Select expires.

So, there you go. The world of self-publishing gets better and better. I’m looking forward to seeing what Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes can do outside of the KDP Select Program. I am going to be more patient with this one and not enroll unless sales are at zero for several months. It’s all exciting stuff!

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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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Sunlight flooded the room, dragging Claire from sleep. The rays of light felt like needles entering her eyeballs and she pulled the duvet over her head with a groan.

You’re too late, sun. We needed you yesterday, not ten foot waves and the roaring forties in full swing.

She tried to ignore the call of the yellow glow and go back to sleep. But the light was insistent, urging her to leave her bed and go outside to explore. It was the first time she’d see the sun in the capital and after a few minutes she threw back the covers.

“Alright, you win. I’m up.”

The voice echoing in the empty room didn’t sound like hers at all. The rasping noise reminded her of her thirst and the long day spent on the ferry fighting nausea. Her tummy rumbled into the silence, recalling midnight hunger that had only increased while she slept.

A glance at her phone told her it was nearly time to check out. Surprised she had slept so late, Claire hurried into the en-suite for a shower. It seemed a waste not to take advantage of the facilities: to stand in the cubicle and not wonder who else had used it since it had last been cleaned.

Maybe I could stay another night. It was rather glorious to sleep in a proper bed.

Claire dug her fingers into her scalp, trying to wash away the memories of her ferry ordeal and the fact that she would have to go through it again soon if she wanted to continue her trip.

Maybe another night wouldn’t hurt.

Then she thought about the sunshine pouring in the window, telling of the beautiful day outside. If she was going to try the ferry again, today would be the day: assuming she could get a ticket. There were another two or three hundred people also on the wrong side of the Cook Strait after the events of the day before.

Deciding she could do nothing while in the shower, Claire rinsed her hair and quickly towelled herself dry. Pulling on the cleanest clothes she could find, and spraying them with deodorant to mask the smell, Claire stuffed her belongings into her rucksack and left the room.

First things first, it’s time for breakfast.

She asked the lady on reception where the nearest café with free WiFi was located, and tried to memorise the directions.

After wandering for twenty minutes she at last found the place and ordered croissants and coffee. There was a booth in the corner and Claire threw her bag on one seat before slumping into the other. It took a moment for her tablet to connect to the internet and Claire tapped the table with her nails. Eventually her email loaded and Claire wondered why she had been so eager to reconnect with the world. There was nothing of interest in her inbox: no new comments on the blog or messages from home.

I don’t know why I thought there would be. The only person who has even noticed my absence is my potential future boss, who I’ve only met twice.

Claire sipped at her coffee and flicked through the emails, pausing at a name that didn’t look familiar. When she opened the message, her hands shook and she plonked her cup back on the table with a clatter. As she read the words the room receded until the only reality was the email on the screen.

Hi Claire,

Sorry for contacting you again. I need to see you. I really need a friend to talk to. I saw on your blog that you were in Wellington and I really hope you still are. I know it’s a long shot, but there’s an event on over the Queen’s Birthday weekend that I’ve told Fiona I’m going to. I’ll be staying at the Travelodge. If you get this email, perhaps you could stop by.

Josh

Claire’s mind pitched and tossed like the ferry that had brought her back to Wellington. Josh, here? Was it fate? And the Travelodge: he’d been staying in the same hotel as her. If only she’d managed to read her emails the night before. Would he still be there?

She gulped down her coffee and quickly consumed the croissants as the words of the email replayed in her mind.

Really need a friend? Last time he said that he admitted to killing someone, albeit by accident. Now what? And telling Fiona he’s at an event, not that he’s come to meet me? More lies.

Even as she sensed the seeds of doubt forming, she pushed them aside. This was Josh. Of course she would see him; that went without question.

It seemed to take forever to get back to the hotel and when she arrived the sweat had soaked through her top and she knew she must stink.

Great. So much for having a shower this morning. This rucksack is too heavy for carrying around in the sunshine. The sooner I get back on the bus the better.

Even as she thought it she wondered what her plans would be now. Josh wasn’t about to come to Picton with her or travel around the South Island. How long would he stay in Wellington? He wouldn’t fly all the way from Australia just for a night, would he?

Her mind twirled with questions as she went to the check in desk and asked the same receptionist who had given her directions earlier whether Josh was still in his room.

She leant against the counter and chewed her lip while the woman called through to check. Her voice murmured too low to be heard and Claire held her breath until she hung up the phone.

“He’ll be right down.”

Claire exhaled and grabbed the desk for support. She wondered if she had time to go and freshen up. She shouldered her bag again and was searching around for a ladies sign when she heard the ping of the lift.

Turning in what felt like slow motion Claire stared at the lift doors as they opened. The person that stepped through was so welcome, so familiar, that Claire had to force herself not to run across the floor and fling herself into his arms. Instead she waited for him to make eye contact, and then she smiled.

His answering grin made her heart flip-flop in her chest and her skin tingle. She took two steps towards him before stopping, uncertain.

“Hi, Claire.”

With a sob she dropped her rucksack and ran forwards.

***

Endings and Beginnings: 2013 365 Challenge #242

The Changing Faces of Time

The Changing Faces of Time

So, there it is. My daughter is no longer a ‘preschooler’.

She doesn’t seem bothered. I think the staff were more sad at her leaving than she was. I was just grumpy that they thought the 20 chocolate chip cookies I took in this morning were for the staff, rather than for the children. I mean, what did they think the flowers, cards and all were for? Sigh.

Still, thankfully another child was also leaving today and her Mummy brought in cakes, so my two didn’t notice the mistake.

I’m glad I waited until the last possible moment to take her out of nursery. Since we got home she has asked how many days until she starts school at least a dozen times. I might record it, so I have evidence for week two, when the novelty has worn off and she doesn’t want to go back!

That’s my ending. My beginning is my beginning as a ‘proper’ author, because I finally applied for my EIN today. Those non-writers following this blog won’t realise the significance of this, but it’s a BIG THING. I did actually even call the number in the States (plucking up courage again!), to apply on the phone and hopefully come away with the precious digits today. But the automated voice told me it was a minimum 30 minute wait, and – at 20p a minute or whatever our phone company charges to the US – I didn’t fancy it. In the end doing the paperwork to complete the SS-4 Form took twice that long, although it was less scary.

Mind-Numbing Paperwork

Mind-Numbing Paperwork

I have decided to fax the forms, as it’s supposed to take only 4 business days. That meant also finding an internet company to send and receive international faxes (I mean, who has a fax machine any more?) but, hopefully by next week, I’ll be able to tell you whether it’s all worth the effort! I wouldn’t have done it at all but Amazon sent me an email reminder, gently suggesting I get my tax forms sorted or they might take my books off sale. Funny how that motivated me when 30% of very little withheld in tax hadn’t!

I also spent today listening to my book on the laptop. It turns out that Adobe will ‘read’ out a PDF. It’s laborious and mostly done phonetically, which can lead to some odd pronunciations and virtually no correct cadence. But I’ve spotted several typos I wouldn’t have caught any other way, so I’m happy (except at the slow progress: I’m only 15% through).

The funniest part was the voice changing Mia (the lead male’s ex fiancée) to Missing In Action, every single time. She does go MIA in the novel, so it rather tickled me. A nicer proofreading experience than the five queries my hubbie found on page one, when I gave him a copy to check. Given his propensity to tear things apart I’ve had to insist that he keep his comments to typos only. I can’t face another huge rewrite!

Anyway, I’m submerged in a riveting book (Thanks, Rinelle), as well as wracking my brains for an August finale for Two Hundred Steps Home. As September’s only 2 days away, I need to come up with one soon! Best get on …

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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 stumbled as she exited the lift. Three more staggering steps took her to the door. Even though she had been on dry land for over an hour it still felt like the earth was moving beneath her. Catching at the door frame, she swiped the plastic card and cursed at the red light. After several more attempts the light shone green and she opened the door.

She vaguely registered an en-suite to her left before going through to the bedroom. Without bothering to shut the curtains or undress, Claire climbed beneath the covers and curled into the pillow. Within moments she was asleep.

*

When she woke, several hours later, her mouth ached with dryness and her body called its urgent need to pee. Claire rolled off the bed, just managing to get her feet to the floor before the rest of her followed in a heap. Feeling the worth of every penny it had cost to stay in the hotel, Claire staggered to the en-suite.

The face in the mirror looked like something from a zombie movie. Claire shut her eyes in horror and reached out to pull on the shaving light, before switching off the harsh overhead spotlights. Ten hours on a ferry had taken their toll. Eyes half closed against the still too-bright light, Claire brushed her teeth and drank some water. Her tummy rumbled but she guessed it was late in the night and her budget didn’t stretch to raiding the mini bar.

A piercing headache stabbed in the base of her skull, intensifying when she accidentally turned on the main lights. Turning them off again, Claire walked to the window and looked at the view of the harbour beneath her. The water appeared calm and, although the sky looked cloudy, it wasn’t raining. It was as if the hellish weather of the last twenty-four hours had ceased to exist, reinforcing the sense of it all being a bad dream.

I’m in Wellington instead of Picton; that alone tells me it wasn’t all some terrible nightmare.

Despite the refund on her ticket and the offer of compensation, Claire wondered how the ferry company could replace her stolen time. She needed to be on the South Island, ticking off tourist sites and making her way to Christchurch and a flight back to the UK. Although she hadn’t yet decided to accept Conor’s job offer, there was no doubt she couldn’t travel for much longer. Every time she used her credit card she waited with in held breath for it to be rejected. When that happened she wanted to be on the right side of a thirty-hour flight home.

Unaccountably wide awake, Claire located her iPad and tried to check her emails. The hotel WiFi was priced for business guests and Claire snorted at the cost. No expenses for her anymore.

I’ll have to wait until morning; go find a café with free Internet. It won’t hurt me to be disconnected from the world for a few more hours.

Claire looked around the large, pristine, hotel room and felt guilty for not offering the spare bed to Bethan. Her friend had opted to return to the hostel, when Claire had declared her intention to treat herself to a proper bed for the night. It had been on her tongue to offer, but a combination of tiredness and a yearning for silence and solitude had held her back. Now it seemed unnecessarily mean.

I’ll find her tomorrow, buy her breakfast.

Feeling her eyelids sinking once more, Claire changed into her pyjamas and climbed into the second bed, enjoying the sensation of clean, tucked in sheets.

***

CreateSpace Distraction: 2013 365 Challenge #190

First Draft Create Space Cover

First Draft Create Space Cover

I derailed my intended work schedule today by reading a blog post, by Chris McMullen, on why it’s worth having a print-on-demand edition of your self-published book as well as an e-book.

My main reason for not producing print versions for Dragon Wraiths and Baby Blues is largely to do with effort. It’s harder to create a professional-looking paperback, and print-on-demand books are expensive for the consumer. I might find people willing to spend £2 on an ebook from an unknown author, but £8 or £10 for a paperback? That’s a much bigger leap of faith. I would actually be embarrassed to ask someone to pay that much, and would worry much more about my lack of professional editing.

Chris McMullen discusses some interesting reasons why it’s worth bothering with the pain of creating a print-on-demand version (e-books are a doddle by comparison.) 

1. Some customers only buy print copies. (This is true: my friend Hugh keeps asking when he can buy a print copy of my books).

2. If you link your CreateSpace book with your kindle version, it shows the kindle price as a discounted price against the paperback list price. This may aid ebook sales as the ebook looks like a bargain.

3. Having a printed version allows you to do a Goodreads giveaway. (This is something that has been bugging me for a while: that you can’t do a giveaway on Goodreads with an e-book voucher.)

4. You can sell the paperback version in person (for example through independent bookstores or maybe a book-signing event at your local library).

Chris lists other reasons, such as it is easier to edit a print book; a paperback is a must for press releases; paperbacks are great marketing tools: (you can’t see what people on the bus are reading on a kindle); and people are more likely to remember to review a paperback, if it’s visible in their house.

I liked this quote:

 If you give away copies of your book to friends and family, give them paperback editions, especially if they are likely to read in public places (“Guess what: I’m going on a trip this weekend,” “Really? How would you like a free book?”).

Bookcrossing. Set them free

Bookcrossing. Set them free

I love the idea of handing books out to people to read and then leave lying around somewhere, like your own personal Bookcrossing. (Have a look at the link if you haven’t heard of it: it’s brilliant! It’s all about leaving books in public places, like coffee shops and on buses. “If you love your books, let them go.”)

So, as I’m easily distracted and easily influenced, plus shattered from a hot and emotional weekend (I’ve just re-watched the Andy Murray documentary, that has been updated already with footage from yesterday’s match. Hence it’s nearly midnight and I’m only just getting to my post), I have spent all day formatting Baby Blues for Create Space.

Even though the book is with the proofreader, it isn’t wasted effort, as it takes several (loads of) attempts to get the book uploaded with the right pagination, guttering etc. Also, with the cover design, you have to know how many pages your book is to get the spine the correct width.

I’m not sure if I’m 100% happy with my final design, but it came out better than I could have hoped at lunch time! I may even order a copy so I have an original to compare against my proof-read version. Did I mention, I just love doing covers?!

Anyway, before I turn into a pumpkin I must think of something to happen to Claire. I can’t write it in the morning, we have to swing by nursery as soon as it opens and retrieve my daughter’s comfort toy which got left behind. Oops.

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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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“Well done.”

Ruth smiled, as Claire trudged into the lounge behind a skipping Sky and winced when the girl shrieked her greeting to her mother.

“You survived, then. What did you think of the Farm?” The look on Ruth’s face hovered somewhere between eager inquiry and amusement. “It’s one of my favourite places to go. I call it ‘Farm Calm’ because I relax as soon as we go through reception.”

Claire considered the amount of times she had lost Sky, who kept disappearing up ladders and down narrow paths between buildings, and thought calm was a long way from her main emotion. Sensing her sister’s need for approval, Claire dredged up some enthusiasm.

“It is beautiful. I loved the Mill House, and the goats are funny. Nice coffee, too.”

Claire remembered Sky’s tantrum in the coffee shop, after she’d insisted her niece have a piece of fruit with her cake. “The staff were friendly.” They didn’t chuck us out, that’s a bonus.

Slumping down into the armchair, Claire began to feel the effect of missing a night’s sleep.

“You look shattered, Claire. Was Sky a handful?”

In her mother’s arms, Sky began to protest that she had been on her best behaviour. Ignoring the blatant lie, Claire shook her head.

“No, Sky was fine. I’m just tired, that’s all.” She sensed Ruth’s response, and held her hands up to stall it. “I know, you feel worse. I didn’t sleep last night, and it’s catching up with me.”

“Oh, why?” Ruth leaned forwards, eager for gossip. Claire was tempted to fabricate something, but if her story entertained Ruth for a few minutes, then the weekend experience wasn’t a complete loss.

“Kim and Jeff got married yesterday and I made the mistake of letting Michael come as my date. We had a big showdown and he blurted out in front of everyone that Kim’s pregnant.” Oh, damn. There’s another person I’ve told. At least Ruth doesn’t know any of Kim’s friends.

Claire glanced up from mentally mapping the stains on the carpet, surprised that Ruth hadn’t responded. She let out a giggle at the expression of shocked amazement on her sister’s face. Eventually Ruth managed to find some words.

“Woah. Wait a minute. That’s like five episodes of Eastenders all at once. I don’t know where to start. I thought Kim and Jeff weren’t going to get married for years, or have children for that matter. And you and Michael? No wonder you haven’t slept.” She raised her eyebrows at Claire in a knowing way.

“I haven’t slept because I stormed out at midnight and drove to Mum’s from the Welsh border.”

Ruth’s face dropped into a frown, like a parody of theatre masks, grinning and scowling alternately. Suppressing a sigh, Claire realised she would have to start at the beginning, with Kim’s visit to Hunstanton while Sky was on her Easter vacation.

“Let me at least go and make a cup of tea first. It’s quite a long story.”

*

When Claire finished her story with her mother’s revelation, Ruth tutted.

“What a mess. I don’t know who is more daft: Michael for refusing to take no for an answer, Kim for getting into a paddy, or Mum for being so foolish as to think Dad’s having an affair. He’s got some secret project on that he won’t tell me about, but I know it involves spending time at the library because Sky and I have bumped into him there half a dozen times.”

Claire forced herself to hold her tongue. If their father hadn’t shared his secret with Ruth, it wasn’t her place to tell. She was surprised Ruth took her side over Michael, especially after her comment about the two of them being great together.

“I thought you’d be rooting for Michael.”

Ruth shook her head. “It’s your life, your body. If you don’t want children, then Michael needs to accept that, rather than keep trying to change your mind. Life’s too short.”

Her words made Claire shiver. For most people it was just a phrase, a reminder to not sweat the small stuff. For Ruth, it felt like a prophecy.

***

KDP Select Addiction: 2013 365 Challenge #188

Promo figures so far

Promo figures so far

For the last 48 hours I have been checking KDP Select (Amazon’s program for self-published books) every hour or so (where possible) to make a note of my download numbers. In case you don’t follow Twitter, and therefore haven’t been bombarded with my tweets, I’m running a free promotion for Dragon Wraiths in an attempt to get back up the rankings, since pulling out of the KDP Select program at the end of May.

It’s addictive.

Particularly the random sites I seem to be getting good numbers and rankings on. For some reason I have three times as many downloads on the German Amazon site than I do on the UK one.

Artistic little lady

Artistic little lady

I am ranked #1 in the Fantasy genre on Amazon.de (Germany) and #11 in the Sword & Sorcery category on the Amazon.com site (what a great category to be in: it wasn’t one I selected).

Do you think that means I can call myself a #1 Bestseller? In marketing that would have been fine if I’d put an asterix with *in top 100 free downloads in Germany for English Fantasy books!

Frustrating as it is that there are few statistics available from Amazon.com, it’s rather fun collating my own.

Thank you to Rinelle, and her great posts on her last KDP Select promotion, for inspiring me to be a bit more organised with my record-taking (if not more organised at getting my book on free sites. It was a last-minute decision to run a promo). And in encouraging me (unintentionally) to extend my free promo from two to three days.

It’s nice to see the numbers climb, and interesting that the numbers have trotted along whether I was around to tweet or not (I haven’t figured out how to schedule tweets yet). Thank you to everyone who has re-tweeted me!

Sparkly Fingernails

Sparkly Fingernails

Anyway, this probably isn’t very interesting to anyone but me, but it has taught me to be better at collecting what data I can as I publish books, so I can understand what works and what doesn’t.

Even with the gaps from sleeping, painting kiddy fingernails and taking the children out to the Farm yesterday (so Daddy could build the new playhouse – pictures later) I have a really good idea of how the numbers, and my rankings, are affected by the promotion.

Whether it results in an increase in sales, as it did for Rinelle, remains to be seen! For now, I’m having fun! Ooh another download…

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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:

________________________________________________________________________________

“Hey, Sky, how are you, poppet?”

“Auntie Claire! Mummy didn’t tell me you were coming to visit.” Sky threw her arms around Claire’s knees and hugged hard.

Claire dropped down to return the hug, surprised at how right it felt to pull Sky’s tiny frame into an embrace. Her niece smelled of chocolate and fruity shampoo. Conscious of tears tugging at her throat, Claire loosened her hold, and held Sky at arm’s length.

“Where’s your Mummy? How is she?”

Sky’s face fell into a familiar pout. Claire never thought she would find it endearing. “Mummy’s boring. Nana says she’s still poorly and can’t do anything interesting.

Claire wanted to sweep Sky up into another cuddle. For all her worldly-wise savvy, she was still only a little girl.

“Well, how about a visit to that Farm you talked about so much?”

The pout magically vanished and Sky’s eyes sparkled. She span in a spray of blonde hair, and pelted down the hallway.

“Mummy, Mummy. Auntie Claire is here! She’s going to take me to the Farm. Say I can go, Mummy, please.”

Laughing at the receding sound of joy, Claire followed in her wake, hoping Ruth wasn’t asleep. She found her sister tucked up on the faded terracotta sofa in the lounge. The TV flickered with what looked like an old Cary Grant movie, although there was no sound.

In the three weeks since they had last seen each other, Ruth’s face had filled out and regained some of its colour. Claire smiled as she met Ruth’s gaze, relieved that her sister seemed to have walked away from death’s door.

“Hey, sis, I hope I didn’t wake you.”

She leaned over and gave Ruth a kiss on the cheek. Her skin felt cold and papery. Now she was closer, Claire could see the marks of illness still ravaging her sister’s face. The black scarf tied around her hairless scalp had slipped, and Claire could see the bare skin beneath. The reality of her sister’s treatment swooped on her for the first time, and it felt hard to breathe. Suddenly, gallivanting round the country visiting hostels seemed a frivolous undertaking.

While the thoughts raced through Claire’s mind, Ruth pushed herself up on one elbow, and reached out a hand.

“I’m so pleased to see you. I’ve been following the blog. I have to thank you, it’s keeping me sane. You’ve no idea how boring it is, being stuck in here all day watching the same movie reruns, until I want to scream.”

Claire perched on the end of the sofa, careful not to sit on Ruth’s feet. She grasped Ruth’s outstretched hand briefly, before gesturing to Sky to climb into her lap. She could tell that Sky’s bouncing and urgent desire to speak to her mummy was irritating Ruth.

“Hush, Sky. We’ll ask Mummy in a moment. Let me have a chat with her first.” Claire saw the bottom lip begin to jut out, and she held her finger to her lips. “Would you like to borrow my iPad, while I talk to your Mummy?” Again, Sky’s face lit up in delight and she nodded.

Once Sky was curled up in the corner, happily painting imaginary nails and dressing digital princesses, Claire turned to Ruth.

“Can I get you anything? Tea? Something to eat?”

Ruth shook her head. “I can’t. I’ve gone off tea and mostly I feel too sick to eat. Mum’s always round here forcing food on me. Where is she? She should be here by now.” Her face creased in a petulant frown.

Claire listened to her sister’s words with a mixture of empathy and irritation. Her emotions twisted in her stomach, as she realised how inappropriate her irritation was. Of course Ruth is taking Mum for granted, she has no one else. And who wouldn’t complain when they had been through what she has.

Shaking off the black cloud, Claire shone her brightest smile. “Well, I’m here to take care of you today, to make sure you and Sky eat, and to entertain my niece so my lovely sister can rest and recover.”

She was rewarded by a wan smile.

“That sounds wonderful.” Ruth rested her head against the sofa. “Sky’s been driving me mental. She means well, but she has so much energy. Just watching her leaves me feeling wobbly.”

That much Claire understood, from her time travelling with Sky. Mostly she envied the girl her endless energy, but there was no doubt it was tiring to watch.

“Well, I will take her to this Farm place this afternoon, and to school in the morning.”

“There’s no school tomorrow. It’s May Day. Bank holiday weekend.” Ruth’s voice was low with exhaustion.

A jolt stabbed at Claire. It didn’t seem possible that it was only Sunday; that the wedding had been less than 24 hours before. May Day? M’aidez, s’il vous plais? 

Pushing her own troubles aside, Claire sat with her sister and concentrated on doing good where she could.

***

KDP Select, Yes or No? 2013 365 Challenge #160

Smashwords

Smashwords

I’m thinking of putting Dragon Wraiths back in the KDP Select program. I came out of the program after my three months were up, because I wanted the book to be available for Nook as well as Kindle. I’m trying to be patient – it was only cleared for Premium Catalogue on Friday – but I’ve yet to find it on the Barnes and Noble site, which kind of defeats the point.

For those of you who don’t know, the KDP Select program allows self-published authors on Amazon to have a few extra benefits in exchange for exclusivity. Benefits include a higher royalty rate, the opportunity to offer the book free for five days every three months, and inclusion in the Amazon Prime lending scheme.

I had virtually no copies of my book borrowed in the three months I was a member. While I did have 1200 free books downloaded over the three months, it didn’t result in a mass of reviews or extra sales (unlike fellow author Rinelle Grey), and it doesn’t matter what royalty rate you’re getting if you don’t sell anything. So I opted out.

The depressing brown line

The depressing brown line

However, since doing so, I haven’t sold a single book. Not through Amazon or through Smashwords. Clearly there is some additional marketing or promotion that comes with the select program that is harder to quantify.

Sales aren’t about money for me at the moment. I pay more each month in National Insurance fees to be self-employed than I earn from book sales. But sales give me motivation. As long as I sell a few books each week I feel like a writer. The cost of childcare, the lost opportunity-cost of me staying at home rather than stacking shelves at Tesco, they’re all worth it.

Without those sales, though, I feel invisible. A wanabe. Darn you, Amazon, for catching me in your honey trap. I’ll give it to the end of the month. But if there are still only brown bars on my sales report I might have to rethink.

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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 hugged her friend tightly, feeling already that pregnancy was putting some welcome flesh on her thin shoulders.

“You take care. If there is anything, anything, I can do in the next couple of weeks, please call. It’s important you don’t overdo it.”

“I know: happy pregnancy, happy baby. Mum tells me that all the time.”

Claire hadn’t meant anything of the sort – it sounded like hippy nonsense – but she nodded. Kim and her mother were in a much better position to know what might affect a growing foetus. She’d merely been worried that Kim wouldn’t enjoy her wedding day if she was so tired she fell asleep at 9pm in front of the fire.

“Sorry I have to rush off. I would stay longer, but I’ll have Carl on my case if I don’t start blogging again soon. I’m heading over towards Ludlow, so I won’t be far away. Blogging about a wedding at a hostel is going to be my trump card to keep the bastard off my back for a bit longer.”

“Did you tell him about your wrist?” Kim looked in concern at the still-bandaged hand.

Claire shook her head. “It’s the weekend. Carl has to be home with the kids or his wife will divorce him. That’s why he works such long hours during the week. I’ll email him tomorrow, not that there’s much point. Except I suppose I can write a post on how not to hurt yourself when learning to snowboard.”

Kim reached forward and hugged her friend again. Something in the embrace brought a lump to Claire’s throat. There was too much understanding in her hold. Trust Kim to see beneath the façade. She always did, damn her.

“Where is your next destination,” Kim said, when she eventually let go.

“Stratford-Upon-Avon.”

“Claire, that’s miles away! In Sunday night traffic too. You’re crazy.”

“It was the only hostel with a bed. Besides, it’s only a couple of hours and, once I’m over in the west, or The Heart of England as the YHA calls it, there are loads of hostels to stay in. I’ll be fine. It was that or some eco lodge in the National Forest. I’ll take a lovely Georgian Mansion any day. Maybe they’ll even have a last-minute seat at the theatre.”

“Okay, now I’m a bit jealous. I’ve got rehearsals first thing, all I’ll be doing this evening is sleeping. Well, as long as Jeff lets me.” She gave a knowing smirk. “He’ll be home soon. I’m sorry you missed him.”

I’m not. The thought escaped before Claire could squash it. It wasn’t true, not really. She loved Jeff. She’d even come to terms with how gorgeous he was, and no longer had to have a cold shower every time she saw him. But ten minutes of happy families was ten minutes too much.

“I’ll see him at the wedding. Give him my love.”

She reached forward for a last, quick, hug, and shouldered her rucksack. Time to hit the road.

***