The Book I Wrote In a Month

Meet Esmerelda Smudge

Meet Esmerelda Smudge

This is a post about how NOT to self-publish – experts like Kristen Lamb and Catherine Howard should look away now.

My last post was all about how I wrote a first draft in four or five days, in response to finding out my Chicken House novel was a bit pants.

I came up with the idea of a girl called Esmerelda Smudge (in tribute to Esmerelda Weatherwax from the Discworld novels). I sketched out the character and most of the plot during a 30-min dog walk, and wrote 20,000 words over the next few days.

That was on 12th November.

On 17th November I sent my tweaked draft to an editor I’ve used before, who I love because she writes Children’s Fiction and has kids too. She edited Dragon Wraiths for the competition last year, and her insights were super helpful. Plus she charges proofreading rates! It’s Christmas, I don’t have much money to spare. I also sent Alfie Stanton The Half-Baked Hero to her (the ‘pants’ book) so I could work out from her comments which one to enter in the competition.

On 27th November (because, did I mention, she’s awesome?) my editor sent back the annotated manuscript, with excellent comments on character arc, dialogue, research and all that good stuff. I made the changes that week, while waiting to hear back about Alfie Stanton.

On 4th December I got back Alfie Stanton, with the view that – with some hard work on dialogue – it should be my Chicken House entry. So, being me, I ignored those edits and decided to publish Esmerelda instead!

My purchased iStock Image

My purchased iStock Image

I purchased a great set of composite artwork from iStockphoto for the princely sum of £8.40 and set about turning it into a passable cover design. Did I mention money is tight at Christmas? I bought the image because I knew I could cut and paste and adobe photoshop the hair to make three images of the same girl doing different things, things that Esme does in the novel.

I used an existing novel template (Moon Pony) that was already set up for CreateSpace to create my print document, just dropping the novel into place. I uploaded the files to CreateSpace on 9th December.

Yesterday, one month after first dreaming up Esmerelda Smudge, I ordered a print copy. And so did someone else! Don’t know who, which means I made my first sale. 🙂

This is obviously NOT how to self publish. I have several things that made this a smooth process: practice (I’ve written and published six children’s books this year), a willing and wonderful editor, and the urgency of a competition deadline.

The final cover doesn’t look quite right on the print copy and my new one doesn’t seem to have uploaded, although sometimes there is a lag on Amazon and the printed version will be fine.

Did I mention this is how NOT to do it – a proof version should always be printed before setting a book live. But the proof versions for me come from overseas and can take ages to arrive. So it’s quicker and cheaper to set it live and order my own copy. Except no one is meant to buy one in the mean time! 🙂

I spent a total of £51.99 including ordering a print copy. I won’t even make that amount back in sales unless something miraculous happens. But I released a fun, sweet, heartwarming story into the world for the price of a meal out for two.

For me, that’s how to self-publish!

You can find the kindle version of my book here for the bargain price of £1.98 (I haven’t checked the formatting on that either, that’s my next job, but hey it’s not expensive!)

Merry Christmas

 

 

The It’s-All-Shit Stage of Writing

I just want to sleeeeeep

I just want to sleeeeeep

I’m currently going through what I’m coming to recognise as the I’m-feeling-low-because-I’m-editing-my-book-and-it’s-shit phase.

Symptoms include sleeping or wanting to sleep all the time. Eating comfort food and then wondering why I have no energy and my wobbly bits are a bit wobblier. Feeling emotional, crying and wanting to hug my kids loads (look, someone loves me, look I created these amazing people, I did something right.) Checking my kindle sales figures and despairing that I haven’t sold a book in three days (damn you, new kindle sales graph). Checking Goodreads and Amazon for new reviews and seeing the new critical three-star review as confirmation that I can’t write, even though I have five star reviews and even the three star review isn’t that bad.

I know this will pass. I went through it with Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes (less so with Dragon Wraiths because I edited it for a competition deadline and the urgency pushed me through the pain).

I know the editor will come back with some great suggestions and, even if the novel is currently a steaming pile of poo, it can be fixed. I know I’m stressing because I’ve discovered paragraphs – okay even whole chapters – that need work. I’m stressed because Kristen Lamb recently wrote three posts on the evils of flashbacks and my novel has two and, try as I might, I can’t think how to write them out.

I know my book doesn’t have enough pace and conflict and humour. At 85k words (when my previous novels both came in at 110-115k words) I’m worried it doesn’t have enough of anything. Right now I’m 50% through final pre-editor line edits. I’m averaging more hours sleeping than working every day. (Today’s work day = 1 hour school assembly, 1 hour editing, 2 hours’ time wasting, 2 hours’ sleeping.) I want to abandon editing and get back to my children’s book, only that’s a steaming pile of poo too.

Flatlined sales chart

Flatlined sales chart

Even though I know this will pass, I do worry that the more books I write, the more craft advice I read, the more I work at this writing thing, the harder it is getting to come up with good ideas. The idea for Dragon Wraiths – my favourite (although flawed) book – came in a dream and the words flowed. Not without effort, but mostly without doubt. I wasn’t trying to write someone else’s book, I was writing my book. Now though, especially with the children’s book, I’m trying to recreate the brilliant middle grade fiction books I adore to read. And as a result I can’t seem to come up with a story and I don’t have faith in myself to just write and see what happens. Being stuck in the editing doldrums with Class Act is not helping!

As with my paintings, the more I try to be a professional the more I feel I’m losing the part that made it fresh and fun and exciting. I wonder if your third complete novel is a bit like the third year in a relationship, when the heady romantic days have settled into a comfortable routine and you have to work a bit harder at the compromises? Or maybe authors feel like this about every book. Certainly Matt Haig said The Humans is the book he is most proud of, the “one I will never be able to write again.” (Facebook) and he’s written LOADS of books! (I thought he also said it was the only one he enjoyed reading, but I can’t find that quote on Facebook…)

Writing, like parenting, is full of highs and lows, successes and doubts, and the best mantra you’ll ever hear, even though it doesn’t help at all at the time is, “This too shall pass.”

Let’s hope so.

The Tricky Task of Combining Craft with Draft

Editing Class Act

Editing Class Act

For the last few days I have been immersed in re-reading Class Act a final time before sending it to the editor next week, having decided the words were just not going to come on my children’s book after the Easter break.

I find it excruciating rereading my own novels. It usually starts out okay, as time away gives enough distance for me to fall in love with my characters again. After a few chapters, though, each sentence is painful. I know the story inside out and I start to second and third guess myself. I wonder if there’s enough action to be interesting, whether the characters are annoying, whether there is too much introspection and not enough plot. Should I have read more craft books, planned and analysed the text more?

Yesterday I impulsively purchased two books recommended by Kristen Lamb in her post Everybody Arcs: How to use emotional growth to propel the story and capture the reader – Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s Negative Trait Thesaurus and Positive Trait Thesaurus (I already own The Emotion Thesaurus)

Unfortunately owning craft books doesn’t help if you never make time to read them. I dipped in, but then I became obsessed with what Rebecca and Alex’s positive traits and flaws might be, and whether they arc during Class Act. It was a short step from that to feeling I wasn’t a proper writer because I didn’t have all that detail straight in my head when I hope to publish the novel by the end of June.

It’s not the right time to be worrying about that. I’m not saying it’s too late – I hope some of that detail will come out in the edit – but it isn’t something to dwell on during a line-by-line read through. However, it does highlight one of my biggest difficulties with writing: merging draft with craft.

Just some of the hundreds of amends

Just some of the hundreds of amends

I’m a pantser rather than a planner. I don’t want to be. I have ground to a halt on my MG novel because I can’t visualise the ending and am stuck in a soggy middle. But every time I try to sketch out what happens next, my characters decide on a different path, and hours of effort are wasted. Either that or I plan the life out of the story and can no longer be bothered to write it. To some extent I write to find out what happens – if I already know every twist and turn of the plot I get bored.

Writing that way makes it difficult to consciously craft, however. I read posts by authors like Kristen Lamb and it all seems so clear: what positive and negative traits a character needs and how they can drive the plot. So, buy a useful thesaurus, select some traits, and off I go. But every time I sit down and try to figure out that kind of detail I draw a blank (and usually lose the will to write).

Somehow, without conscious thought, my characters develop flaws and tells. But their journey, their growth, isn’t really controlled by me. If they grow, learn, change, during the story, that’s more by accident than design. Ditto for making every paragraph multi-functional : contributing to the story, character development, conflict or climax. Of course that’s what the revision process is for. When I start to deconstruct my writing, however, that’s when I start to think it all sucks. The more I stare at the words the less they make sense, until I’m convinced I should chuck the lot in the bin and start again. I feel like my husband, who can play the piano beautifully but thinks it’s just noise because he can’t read music.

Until I can learn to combine craft and draft I suspect my novels will never really sing, but reading craft books makes me judge my own writing too harshly. It’s a quandary. And that’s what editors are for, I guess. Hopefully a good one will help a book find its voice. Certainly I hope mine will help with Class Act. That’s assuming I wade through the words and get the manuscript sent off next week, of course. Back to work!

My 500th Post and a Giveaway

Wow!

Wow!

How exciting! WordPress has just informed me that my last post was my 500th post! That’s not bad going in two years.

I wanted to pen a quick line to say thank you to everyone who follows this blog, reads my posts, likes them, comments on them, shares them and generally makes the whole thing worthwhile.

When I started Writermummy two years ago, I didn’t really know what I was doing or what a blog was for. I only knew that if I wanted to sell books I needed an author platform. I’m not sure Kristen Lamb would approve of my blog in that role.

The blog has become my therapist’s couch, my sounding board, my coffee shop where I hang out and chat with friends. My safe place, where I can vent on pretty much any subject and find someone willing to give advice or at least a virtual hug. You guys can’t begin to know what it means to me.

So, it might not help me sell books (it certainly takes time away from writing new ones!), but my blog is my soul. To celebrate reaching my 500th post I’ve decided to offer Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes for free this weekend (even though I said it would never be free!) The promotion should be live around 8am GMT on 1st March. I wish I could offer cake, but that’s a bit more tricky.

Here’s to 500 more posts. Thanks for listening. 🙂

Monkey Mailing Lists and Mind-numbing Stats

Finally set up a mailing list

Finally set up a mailing list

I’ve spent the last 24 hours catching up on all the internet-based work tasks I’ve avoided since about Christmas, when illness drove me away from Twitter and to the comforting arms of a good book.

My free promotion for Dragon Wraiths started at 8am yesterday and, in the hopes of making it more successful than my countdown deals (which resulted in one single, lonely, sale) I knew I would need to have an online presence.

There isn’t much you can fix in a day, but I did my best. I woke up my dormant twitter account, caught up on my writermummy facebook page and finally wrote the Goodreads reviews on all the lovely books I’ve read in the past few weeks (some of them, anyway, I still have a couple more to do).

The first day of my promotion has been okay, considering the lack of preparation. I even made it to number 1 in a category in France! You take success where you can! I don’t regret my six-week sabbatical from Twitter. I realised it wasn’t the platform for me: I got out much less than I found myself putting in. In the writer’s journey I’ve realised that I am happy with a slowly-slowly slightly haphazard approach while I concentrate on improving my craft and raising my kids. I intend to read the Kristen Lamb book I got for Christmas at some point, and I am implementing tips on sales and marketing I pick up on blogs and forums, but you can only do what you can do.

Reaching #1 in a category on Amazon.fr :)

Reaching #1 in a category on Amazon.fr 🙂

One thing I have finally got around to, however, is setting up a mailing list for people to sign up to if they want news on promotions and new releases. I’ve been meaning to do it for ages but was galvanised into action by realising that there are forty people on Goodreads who have marked Dragon Wraiths as ‘to-read’ and I have no way to tell them it’s currently free. I’ve been shy of creating a mailing list before, seeing it as a bit spammy, but now I can see there might actually be some people who want to know when I’m running a giveaway or when my next book will be out.

I’m still figuring out the ins and outs of Mailchimp, the provider I selected after a ten second internet search at 1am this morning, but I’ve tested the form and it seems to work (except it gives out my home address which I’m not thrilled about). If you want to add your email to the list, the link is to the right in the margin, or click on the image in this post, and I promise never to be spammy. 🙂

Now I’m off to see if I’ve reached the top ten in any more random categories on Amazon (I’m doing well in Coming of Age and Sword and Scorcery). It’s my favourite part of a free giveaway!

What Sharknado Taught Me About Characters

Because of course a chainsaw is weapon of choice against a great white

Because of course a chainsaw is weapon of choice against a great white

Hubbie and I finally watched Sharknado the other night. I’d read about it on Kristen Lamb’s blog and it sounded  right up hubbie’s street: low budget B Movie with awful special effects that’s a bit tongue in cheek and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

I don’t share in his enjoyment and fully intended to go to bed. But the movie was just so darn awful I couldn’t tear myself away. Not being as used to such movies I kept saying “but what about..?” and “that wouldn’t happen..” Then realised I was talking about a movie where sharks were sucked up into a tornado and didn’t suffocate, where sharks could swim through storm drains and jump twenty feet into the air.

However it was all about different levels of suspended disbelief. I could accept all the things to do with the sharks – it was a science fiction movie after all. I could just about accept that you could blow a hurricane apart with a MacGyver home-made bomb (although I’m sure there are plenty of people living in tornado paths that wish it was true.) The bit I struggled with most, however, was character motivation.

Safe on the stairs? I don't think so!

Safe on the stairs? I don’t think so!

People are people, whether there are sharks falling from the sky or spinning round in a waterspout or not.

So, if a mother was sat on the stairs with her daughter watching her husband being eaten alive by a giant shark, wouldn’t she at least climb a bit higher up the stairs away from the bloody water and body parts? And if a man drove halfway across town to rescue said daughter, would he stop in the path of sharks to rescue a stranger?

Aside from the dire acting and the awful script, the actions of the characters just weren’t believable. I could accept the sharks and the bombs and all that, but I didn’t give two hoots about the characters.

What I took away from the movie (apart from a vivid nightmare about genetically altered wolves which made me wish Horror was my genre of choice) was that you can get people to believe anything if you write it with conviction, but you have to get the character motivation right. With authentic characters, who have clear goals and believable motivation, you can sell anything. Even flying sharks.

The Voices Talk to Me

The reason I ignore the voices

The reason I ignore the voices

Back when I lived in Manchester, in a house of seven working professionals, we used to go to the local pub quiz on a Sunday evening. I’m utterly rubbish at general knowledge and was there to make up the numbers, although I did answer the odd random question like “When was the Salvation Army formed?” (not that I know why I knew it, or can bring the answer to mind now.)

We started out calling ourselves The Dolphin Friendly Tuna Fish Sandwiches but that was too much of a mouthful so we changed our team name to The Voices, in honour of one of our housemates’ favourite t-shirts which said, “You’re just jealous because the voices talk to me.”

What’s the reason for this rambling recollection? Right now, the voices are definitely talking to me. My head seems to be full of them. So much so that I wrote the following, at 5am this morning.

It’s part truth, part fiction, as much of what gets written at that time in the morning is. Particularly after a night of waking every hour stressing over something read just before bedtime. But it is a little window into my pre-morning psyche. Scary.

The voices have been chattering and pontificating in my head like a room full of inebriated dinner guests. I hate the voices, I wish they’d bugger off home and leave me in silence. I know they are what push me to write, to try and make sense of the noise, but they also drive me crazy.

One voice has spent the last twelve hours saying “I don’t want to live anymore.” It gets shouted down with drunken cries of “Nonsense, you’re just saying that for effect, for attention” and “Think of your beautiful family, you can’t leave them behind.”

Another charming soul has been regurgitating an article I read at bedtime, via the Kristen Lamb blog post on bullying, about how we can be affected by the experiences of our grandparents. I don’t pretend to understand the science, but the loudmouthed git in the corner is delighting in repeating all the bits about how stress in childhood causes children to grow up to be bad parents. So I’m continuing the cycle of generations of parents specialising in towering indifference and vicious temper. Lovely. As if I needed any more reasons to feel guilty.

The debating voices should allow for reason, but they don’t. There are so many of them there’s no perspective. Like my own experience, as a child and an adult, of trying to have an opinion that I can’t quite articulate and being laughed at or talked down to by my family and friends. If I don’t know how to be heard in my own head, what hope have I got in the world?

I want the voices all to finish their drinks and sod off before the lone voice that thinks permanent silent might be preferable stops trying to be taken seriously and takes action.

That’s as much as I wrote, before a small child climbed into bed and I had to put down my phone. Cuddling a sleepy son, his toy dog and plastic snowman, gives perspective in a way that the voices in my head never can. There’s something grounding about a small boy farting and then giggling in the darkness. And, now I’ve bought the kids some super-soft tiger onesies, they’re like giant teddy bears. (They’re also driving us nuts and we can’t wait til they go back to school, but that’s normal, right?)