Proofreaders and Professors: 2013 365 Challenge #175

Another blog post written while walking the dog!

Another blog post written while walking the dog!

I’ve had an interesting day thinking about writing (to the point of brain ache!).

This morning I finished a book I got for free off Amazon (I won’t say which book, for reasons that will become obvious) and it was an interesting experience. I shall compare it to a G&T- enjoyable without it being clear why, because it had a taste both lovely and bitter. That bitterness was caused by editing, or lack of.

Followers of this blog will know my history with editing: the fact I can’t afford a proof-reader, never mind a copy-editor, and that it worries me.

Well, I finished this book, littered with missing words, random grammar, escapee-commas, poor structure (not starting a new line for each person speaking for example) and that’s saying nothing about the number of characters and points of view (though, to be fair, I never got lost). I had two immediate thoughts: My first thought was that I should drop the author a line to say I loved the book but found a bucket load of errors (obviously worded better than that). This was prompted by Kirsten Lamb’s recent posts about writing reviews when you’re an author (i.e. don’t, especially if it’s more a critique than a review). She suggests sending an email instead.

The Findaproofreader website

The Findaproofreader website

My second thought was, ‘I need a proofreader. I really don’t want to be that person who has that book littered with typos.’ So I did some research and came across a site called findaproofreader.com. They have a facility whereby you list your project and budget and people contact you with quotes if they’re interested.

I don’t have any budget, and I know even a proofread costs £500-£1000 for a book as long as mine, but I thought, why not? I put in my requirements and a budget of £100-£200, just to see if there were any takers.

The first response, almost immediately, told me I was being unrealistic and no one would proofread for under £2 per thousand words (and that’s with me saying Baby Blues is 112k words, which still leaves me 4,000 to cut out!) I might have been disheartened, but the next three messages all said, Yes, I’ll do it. I had two more people tell me my budget was too low, but I have ten people willing to take it on, provided my later chapters are as clean as my sample three (More work required there!) in the interests of building a relationship for future novels (when, presumably, the price will go up!)

Spot the dog!

Spot the dog!

My head is now whirring with thoughts on how to choose between them. I have a feel for ones I don’t think would fit, but I can’t really tell from a short email. (A few are unpublished authors, can’t decide if that’s good or bad). I think my plan is to pick a bad paragraph or two from Baby Blues and ask them to sample edit, to give me a feel for what their work is like.

The first respondent suggested if I pay peanuts I’ll get monkeys. Maybe. However, I’m encouraged by another person who said they’d normally charge £500 but the English in my sample chapters was so good they were happy to do it for less. Here’s hoping.

Oh, and the first thought? Sending the unnamed author an email? A little internet search revealed that his book has five star reviews and he’s a university professor, teaching fiction. I don’t think it’s my place to suggest he visit findaproofreader.com! Besides, I’m off to download book two. Sometimes (as someone said of Dragon Wraiths) a story can be great despite the typos. Whether I’d let him teach my children is another matter!

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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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“Llwyn-y-celyn. Someone should introduce the Welsh to the vowel.”

Claire walked up from the car park to the hostel and looked at the latest whitewashed farmhouse on her Welsh adventure. Something told her this one might be less luxurious than her previous night’s accommodation.

Inside, sofas huddled round a blackened fireplace, where a wood-burner held centre stage, and long wooden tables crowded in the dining room. I hope it isn’t full. Could get a bit cosy.

She walked through the building to her dorm room, passing a tiny dorm that felt like a broom cupboard, with painted stone walls and a sink just inside the door. Her heart sank, and she hoped her dorm had a little bit more space.

When she reached her room, Claire felt her cheeks lift in a smile. A bed. A proper bed, with no-one asleep above me. Glorious.

The room had a sloping ceiling, with a dark beam across the heads of the two single beds. Curtains framed a small window that might otherwise have been mistaken for a photograph. Claire went to take in the view, and felt herself relax. Wooded hills lured her out to explore. Flexing her sore shoulders and conscious of the bruise on her thigh from her tumble, Claire laughed ruefully.

“Thanks for the invitation, but I think I need something more gentle today. Kim won’t forgive me if I turn up to her wedding covered in bruises or with a plaster cast on.”

*

Boots laced onto sore feet, Claire decided to follow the footpath from the hostel to the glaciated crag and the Cerrig y Glesiad Nature Reserve. A few hours watching buzzards and admiring the view and she could cosy up on the sofa with her book. She hoped they still lit the wood-burner, even though it was nearly May. Huddling into her coat, Claire thought it didn’t feel like spring, never mind halfway to summer.

Claire stopped, as the path turned from the horizontal and headed skywards. She looked up at the sharp climb and groaned. Time slowed, while she contemplated the path and tried to reach a decision.

After some time, her ears picked up a new noise in the near-silence. A scuff, followed by a cough. She turned her head, and saw a man walking up behind her. Trying to ignore the lump of ice that dropped into her stomach, Claire forced herself to breathe.

This is a footpath. There are bound to be other people walking. Not everyone is trying to mug you.

She made herself smile in greeting at the newcomer, and wondered if she could pretend she’d just come down from the hillside and was heading back to the hostel.

“Morning.”

The man smiled, revealing even, white teeth. “Well, hello. I didn’t expect to meet anyone along here. You coming or going?”

“Undecided.” The word was out before Claire had time to consider.

The stranger laughed. “Bit steeper than you expected?”

Claire bristled at the hint of sarcasm in the man’s rich voice, She took in his well-worn boots and hiking clothes and knew this man thought she was a tourist.

“Just aching from my hike over at Talybont Reservoir yesterday. It turned into a bog-trot and I have bruises on my bruises.”

As she watched, his face shifted almost imperceptibly from disdain to respect. He gazed up at the climbing path and shrugged.

“View will be amazing. Why don’t you just climb to the top and take some pictures? They serve excellent local beer at the hostel, assuming you’re staying there? You can curl up with a bottle and ease your aches away.”

Without waiting for an answer, the man gave her a nod and continued on the path, reaching out to steady himself on the rock as he began to scramble up.

Oh, what the hell. Claire ignored the screaming protest from her back and her thighs, and followed the man upwards.

***

Breaking the Rules and the See-Saw of Self Doubt: 2013 365 Challenge #88

My new YA cover

My new YA cover

Well, here it is. My new cover. Apologies to everyone bored to the back teeth of my self-publishing adventures. I have to make sure this blog is about my writing as well as my parenting journey!

Actually today has been a watershed sort of day in my personal journey as an author. I’ve been oscillating between hope and doubt since breakfast. First off I flexed the credit card and bought this gorgeous photograph – isn’t it stunning? Oh to take a picture like that. It reminds me of a bit in Baby Blues, when Helen takes an amazing photograph that leaves everyone stunned. It’s hard to imagine how one image can have that impact until you see one.

I asked the photographer if he had a vertical version better suited to a book cover (the original of this one is horizontal) and he sent me another from the shoot. It wasn’t the same at all. The expression was more sulky than vulnerable, as if the model was saying, get me out of this damn rain, I’m cold. So I had to work with this horizontal one and create a ‘rainy’ background for it to sit on.

That was my high (working with beautiful photographs is like a drug).

My low came after reading a post on Catherine, Caffeinated‘s blog, by an editor, about why you must have an editor if you intend to self publish. I posted a comment along the lines that I just plain can’t afford one and her response was, well then you mustn’t self-publish. I’ve thought that before and I don’t blame her for saying it. However if I listen to that advice I’m back to querying agents and wondering everyday if I’m meant to be an author. It took the edge off my excitement about the new cover. Especially as hubbie confessed to hating the type font of my novel (I do too, so that’s okay) and to finding another typo. I’m sure the manuscript is littered with them and I do intend to have another run through with fresh eyes. Only now I’m scared to look in case there are hundreds!

Sneak Preview of 200SH March Cover

Sneak Preview of March Cover

My see-saw of self-doubt tipped upwards again with a lovely comment on my blog from someone who is also self-publishing (albeit with the use of a professional editor!). She stopped by to tell me not to be disheartened by Catherine’s comments and that people will forgive a badly edited book for a good story. Well, they did with Twilight so I know that’s true.

I’ve ended the day somewhat level on my see-saw. I know I’m breaking the rules by self-publishing without paying for the services of an editor or proof-reader and without going through my manuscript again the minute someone spotted a typo.

I will do. One day.

But if I wait for the right time I might never get anything done because by the time the kids have started school, or left home, or whenever is a good time to focus, I will have talked myself out of doing it. I have a short attention span and a small amount of self-belief so I have to carpe diem.

There’s been a song floating round my head for weeks (hubbie has it on his ipod playlist I think) and I heard it on the radio today while working on my front cover. It sums up where I am nicely:

You’ve got the words to change a nation
but you’re biting your tongue
You’ve spent a life time stuck in silence
afraid you’ll say something wrong
If no one ever hears it how we gonna learn your song?
So come on, come on

I don’t think my words will change a nation but I do so love Emeli Sandé’s song and I love the concept of Our Version of Events. Everyone has an opinion on the right way of doing things – be it writing, parenting or anything else. Our job is to discover our version of events and stick to 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. You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire looked up at the hills towering either side, blocking out the sun. Bloody typical. It was almost spring-like back at the hostel. I could be sitting in the lounge ignoring the awful floor covering, reading my book and drinking tea. An image of the scene she’d left behind floated into her mind: Fiona and Josh entwined on the sofa, chatting to baby Lily, while Sophie and Lucas played snap on the bright blue carpet. Even though she was pretty certain the domestic bliss had lasted approximately five minutes before one of the children was screaming or sobbing, the sight had still left an odd taste in her mouth. I’m better off out of it. A morning spent in the Hall grounds with Josh’s kids was sufficient to convince her peace was rare and fleeting.

I certainly didn’t need to come out on a five-mile-hike to escape. Although I guess I do need something for the blog. I can’t coast on the concussion excuse forever.

Her rough research had suggested a walk along Wolfscote and Beresford Dales would be picturesque and easy-going. Unfortunately the website’s estimate of a two-hour circuit hadn’t allowed for the snow. The path was hidden and she had slipped several times on the crunchy ice-crystals that had formed in the heart of the dale.

To her right the river Dove gushed along, swollen and grey from the melting snow water. On the internet pictures the brook had sparkled in summer sunshine. You’d think an Advertising Director would be trained not to believe everything she sees, especially online.

The footpath snaked through tightly packed hills, making Claire feel like she was walking between a giant pair of breasts.  Lovely. Josh will piss himself when I tell him. He’ll be gutted he didn’t come. Then she remembered Fiona’s expression as she announced her afternoon plans, and her smile dropped away. Josh had glanced at his wife and met a blank stare, as if she had decided not to influence her husband’s decisions. Claire hadn’t been so lucky. The woman had flashed her a micro-glance that had slapped her across the face. It wasn’t necessary. I wouldn’t have let him come. Wandering around with a single man is one thing, but hiking alone with a married man – even one who is just a friend – isn’t my style.

Lost in her thoughts, Claire didn’t realise she had left Wolfscote Dale and entered Beresford Dale until she saw the looming pile of limestone ahead of her. Ah, the Celestial Twins. Look like lumps of rock to me. The Twins didn’t seem as impressive as they had in the pictures. Claire guessed it was because they blended into the dirty-grey snow lying thickly on the Dale floor.

She took some snaps of the edifice for the blog, before hurrying on along the path. The valley narrowed, enclosing her like a rumpled duvet, until she was striding along a gorge. Despite the blue sky and hints of invisible sunshine, the gorge was lost in shadow. Claire felt the air temperature drop even lower, but sighed with relief as the blasting wind fell away. It wasn’t late but it felt oppressive in the gorge and Claire was glad when the footbridge came into sight.

She stood at the edge of the bridge, listening to the roar of the river beneath her. The water was only inches from the bridge, although the planks were still dry. I wonder how low the water is normally and how long before the bridge is complete submerged. As if she feared that might happen imminently, Claire forced herself to plant one boot on the wood and then another. Closing her ears to the thunderous noise, she scuttled as fast as she could across the bridge and only breathed when her boots landed in snow again.

At last the valley opened out and the sun twinkled on the horizon, dazzling Claire’s eyes even though it no longer held any warmth. The field stretched ahead of Claire and she realised she had no idea which way to go. In the dales and the gorge the path had been obvious, despite being mostly buried by snow. Now, out in the open, there were no obvious markers to follow and no footsteps to show the way.

Fear tightened in Claire’s chest until her ribs ached. She tried to keep calm but memories of the mugging tugged at her mind and wound up her pulse. Great. I’m lost. The hostel is only a mile or so away. I can almost taste my cuppa and feel the warmth of the wood burner. She shook her hands in an attempt to bring life back into them. Her fingers tingled with the loss of sensation caused by the wind penetrating her flimsy gloves. Mental note to buy some fleece-lined gloves at the next opportunity.

Claire fumbled through her pockets for her new phone, praying there was signal. Eventually, with nerveless hands and thudding head, she managed to load up her satnav system and find out what direction would take her to the village.

I hope the drive to Cambridgeshire tomorrow is easier than this, or I’m going to be late to collect my niece. And Ruth will kill me.

***

Tricky Question of Cashflow: 2013 365 Challenge #87

"Driving to see the Pigs"

“Driving to see the Pigs”

I’m trying to justify the first big (relatively speaking) expenditure to support my writing. So far I’ve done all my own proof-reading (never a good idea), ebook preparation and cover design, sourcing cheap or free stock photographs from istockphoto. The most I’ve spent on a stock image is about ten pounds (although I’ve purchased a few).

However, after getting some constructive feedback on the first chapter of Dragon Wraiths recently it was highlighted that my cover doesn’t fit with my target audience. I like the dragon pendant image, and it goes with the story, but It didn’t cost me anything so I don’t mind redesigning it and hopefully boosting sales (which won’t be hard!)

Photo2834 (2)

“Look Mummy, no hands!”

After some research I’ve realised that YA books in my genre generally have a picture of a girl or couple on the front. So  I decided today to see if I could find an image that might do the trick. It’s hard getting the search terms right – I tried ‘first kiss’ and ‘teenage embrace’ and got some dodgy images, even on istockphoto! Since when did ‘first kiss’ mean between two scantily clad girls? I’m getting old!

Eventually I found the perfect shot. Unfortunately people-shots equals extra cost, as the model needs to be paid too.  And I had forgotten to put the price-filter on that guarantees I don’t fall in love with a picture I can’t afford.

Idiot.

When I clicked into my ‘perfect’ shot I nearly fell off my chair at the price. The smallest image is ten times what I pay for the images I use on the Two-Hundred Steps Home books. If I want to be able to set the book up for print-on-demand in future I need to fork out nearly £200 for the high-res file. In comparison I’ve made about a tenner so far from sales of the book!

Didicar Fun

Didicar Fun

I know anyone serious about writing needs to spend money, it’s just hard to justify when my husband and I are both unemployed. If I search long enough I may find another – cheaper – image that is equally striking. Or I may not. And if I change my cover I might make the money back in sales in a few weeks. I spent more money going to London for a job interview, so why balk at spending it on this?

Besides, the small image is slightly less than what it costs us to send two sprogs to nursery for a day. We tried to put them in nursery today, as we lose next Monday (bank holiday), but they were full.

So I may buy my perfect shot and consider it money well-earned by taking the kids to the Farm for four hours in the freezing wind. Time to take a gamble. Speculate to accumulate and all that! Okay, decision made. I know what I’ll be doing tomorrow… I’m so excited! I love doing book covers and I really love this image… Can’t wait to share it!

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“So, you’re becoming Mum for two weeks? How does that feel? Thought you hated ankle-biters.”

Claire willed a smile onto her face but suspected Josh could see the fear lurking beneath. “It’s fine. It’s only for a little while. And Sky’s six, that’s old and sensible isn’t it? For a child?”

She turned to Josh with eyes wide and pleading. He laughed, the sun catching highlights in his hair. He seemed to have discarded his Stig-of-the-dump disguise since Fiona’s arrival and Claire was conscious of a desire to feel how soft his clean hair felt under her hand.

“Depends on the child.”

Dragging her thoughts back to the conversation, Claire tried to remember what question Josh was answering. Oh yes, Sky.

“My niece is, um, a little bit highly strung.” She remembered the phone-calls interrupted by Sky’s screaming; the sweat-drenched awakening – the one night she had looked after Sky by herself – and couldn’t suppress a shiver.

Josh wrapped an arm around Claire’s shoulders and hugged her briefly. They both knew Fiona was watching from an upstairs window, as she sat feeding Lily. “You’ll be fine. Keep her entertained, keep her exhausted, and keep a ready supply of chocolate in your pocket.”

“Is that your advice as a parent or a doctor?”

His laugh jumped up like a spring lamb. “A parent, obviously. As a doctor I couldn’t possibly recommend chocolate-bribery. Talking of which -” He turned to face Lucas and Sophie, who were rolling around in the snow, making angel shapes and throwing icy handfuls at each other. “Okay, you two. We’ll be heading in shortly. Five minutes.”

He turned back to Claire. “It’s all about managing expectations. And when that doesn’t work, bribe them!”

They stood in silence. The air between them felt heavy, with the unseen shadow of his wife, and the louder presence of his two eldest children now stuffing snow down each other’s necks. She wanted to ask him how the reunion had gone, how he felt about the past, but the words seemed frozen by the icy wind swirling round the Hall.

“We fly back after Easter.” Josh spoke as if answering a question and Claire smiled at his intuition. “We couldn’t get flights before that and it seemed silly to leave straight away. It may not be the best time to visit the UK but as Fiona has never been we’re hoping to see a few things while we’re here. We went to York for a few days and we were heading for Cambridge when this happened.” He gestured at the snow still lying thick on the ground, despite the bright sunshine.

Claire felt her pulse quicken. “I’m heading down that way myself, today or tomorrow. That’s near where my sister lives.”

“Maybe you could show us round, as a local? Can you get us into a College? To Kings?”

Claire laughed, despite the goosebumps popping up along her arms. “Anyone can visit Kings, you buy tickets at the gate. But yes, I guess Sky might like to come and meet Lucas and Sophie. What about Fiona though?” She swallowed. “I get the impression she’ll only be happy where there is 15,000km between us.”

Josh ran his hands through his hair and looked over to where the children were rolling a ball of snow to make a snowman, both of them pushing at the ball that was already bigger than Sophie.

“Fiona’s fine,” he said eventually. “You can’t imagine how hard it was for her.” His voice pleaded with Claire to understand. “She had no idea. Until she rang Christie and they said they’d never heard of me. She didn’t know what to think.”

I’m sure she did. She thought you’d left her for someone else. And then I turned up at the airport confirming her suspicions. She must have realised how similar we look. Easy to think Josh had replaced her with me – a slightly younger model unencumbered by children. He wouldn’t have been the first or the last.

Claire glanced up behind her, expecting to see an accusatory face pressed against the upstairs window. The panes of glass stared blankly back at her.

“It’s just one more day.”

She felt Josh’s hand in the small of her back and willed her body not to react. Funny how forbidden fruit always appears juicier. Gritting her teeth, Claire turned and looked into his earnest amber-flecked eyes.

“Sure, why not. I’ll show you where to get the tastiest Greek burger you’ve ever had.”

***

The dangers of self-publishing: Introducing “Them.”

It turns out you can make your work-in-progress look too like a real book too easily. The image of seeing your WIP in kindle format (or even print) is seductive, but probably not a great idea for the proof copy. Aside from the hassle of getting the right format to everyone, when pretty much all e-readers can open the traditional pdf, I’ve discovered the existence of “them”.

After my mother gave her damning verdict on Pictures of Love, “I preferred your first book,” (the one I wrote in a few weeks, barely edited at all, and had rejected by Mills and Boon,) she said something that dumfounded me:

“Did they not edit or proof-read your book before formatting it for kindle?”

My response, when I stopped laughing, was to say, “Mum, there’s no They. I wrote it, revised it, edited it, proof-read it, designed the cover, wrestled with kindle formatting, added the copyright, the dedication, the publisher’s logo. All of it. You’re my beta reader, so in fact you’re They. You’re meant to help me find the typos.”

“Oh,” she said, “I wondered why there were so many. They do come a bit thick and fast at the end.” Not what I wanted to hear but unsurprising as every time I started proof-reading I began at the beginning but didn’t always make it to the end.  I get distracted so easily.

As a result I have a thudding fear that the second half of the novel, the half only my mother has read apart from me, is a bit rubbish. Seems I’m probably right, at least as far as editing goes. And if I missed a heap of typos, I probably didn’t spend enough time revising the latter half of the book in terms of language, character, plot.

And yet there it is, my Lulu print version, sitting in paperback glory on my kitchen table, looking for all the world like a ‘proper’ book.

So I think when the naysayers who don’t like self-publishing bemoan the fact that something can look like a traditionally published book and still be awful, they may occasionally have a point.

Another scary thought is how easily the formatted-for-kindle version is being passed around without my knowledge. I used to password protect my pdfs. I don’t even know if you can do that for kindle. What if my proof makes it into the outside world? (My sister-in-law has already sent it to my father-in-law, and another beta reader has given a copy to his parents.)

What if everyone thinks like my mother and wonders why They haven’t done a better job finding errors? Or me for that matter. I don’t mind if the book is deemed a failure because the characters are underdeveloped or the plot is thin, but being damned for typos when it isn’t even the final edit gives me the shivers.  In future I think I’ll splash Beta Reader Copy or Proof over every page and be less vain about trying to make it look like a proper novel.

Or maybe it is time to go back to that Agent list after all.