Reasons to Smile

Smiling Knight

Smiling Knight

The blog has dried up since I started on my SSRI medication. Not only have I spent the last week feeling sick (and now have another bloomin cold. Grrr) I’ve found that I don’t have the constant stream of voices in my head, worrying, analysing, stressing, debating random subjects. I walked the dog yesterday and all I thought about was racing the large rain cloud that was hiding behind the house when I ventured out without a coat. Normally my brain switches into ‘blog-writing mode’ as soon as I start walking. Now? Nothing.

I have wondered whether to force myself to think of something to write, like I did last year when I was keeping up with the daily blogging challenge but, having decided not to worry so much about it this year, it feels foolish to write rubbish just to tick a box.

But today I have something to share. Following on from my free promotion for Baby Blues, I have sold some books. That deserves being in bold: I’ve never sold more than a few books a month since starting on my self-publishing journey. I don’t do enough marketing or work hard enough to get reviews. I know this. In my mind I’ve decided to get three or four books under my belt, pay someone to design me a gorgeous set of matching covers, and then go large on marketing and promotion (as both children will be at school).

So, waking up this morning to have sales of Baby Blues in double-figures over night, to have reached #2794 in PAID ranking on Amazon.co.uk, is like winning the Pulitzer Prize. The book is only £1.54 in the UK – you can’t buy a coffee for that – so it isn’t about the money. The ranking, though? That feels great. I don’t know what happened, whether I made it onto an Amazon email or something, but it shows that visibility is the key.

The writing blogs tell you the importance of spending thousands on structural edits and line edits, but I’m starting to think a decent cover and some marketing is probably a better use of cash! Mind you, when I start getting terrible reviews I might change my mind… For now I’m enjoying my reason to smile.

Self-Publishing Teaches you to Ship: 2013 365 Challenge #355

None of this would have existed if I'd given up in January

None of this would have existed if I’d given up in January

I’ve discussed before about the importance of learning to ship. It’s a term I’ve learned from Kristen Lamb‘s blog. As a writer (or any kind of artist) you can’t stress over a piece of work forever. At some point you have to release it into the world, because otherwise you never start on the next project. This is so true for me.

This time last year, I was waiting to hear if Dragon Wraiths had been shortlisted for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition. My life was on hold. Having been long-listed, there was a part of me that really believed I would get shortlisted (because what is life without a pipe dream?) When I wasn’t, everything crashed in for a moment. Not because I thought Dragon Wraiths would win – I wasn’t that deluded – but because the shortlisted authors got to meet agents.

After the initial mourning (which wasn’t long) I decided to seize the moment and send out queries to as many agents as possible, while my belief was still high. I know myself so well. Of course none of those queries resulted in anything – I didn’t really expect them to, because the slush pile is huge, my opening chapter weaker than it should be, and my query letter dull. That was why I’d pinned my hopes on getting shortlisted, because getting an agent to pay attention is the hardest part of writing.

Without self-publishing, Dragon Wraiths would still be this

Without self-publishing, Dragon Wraiths would still be this

Then I started the daily challenge, and had other things to think about. I kept writing (part of the reason for doing the challenge). My family encouraged me to self-publish Dragon Wraiths and, as my belief in the book was still high, I did.

Best decision ever.

Even though it’s had some bad reviews, and sells only a handful of copies, it gave me the impetus to get Baby Blues and Wedding Shoes self-published too. That hasn’t had any reviews in the UK and only one in the US and has sold even fewer copies. But it’s out there.

The important thing with writing is to keep writing. I could not have done that if I was still trying to get an agent for Dragon Wraiths. My brain would have been on hold. I would have spent all my energy and used up all my fragile confidence sending out queries, waiting for replies, getting excited, getting depressed. It would not have suited me at all.

Yes, I think the ability to ship is too easy with Self-Publishing. Books are released too early, when perhaps they’re not as good as they could be. But I don’t really think it matters (as long as, you know, they’re not awful. With no grammar and full of typos. There has to be a minimum level!)

Lovely reviews make it all worth while

Lovely reviews make it all worth while

I believe you can over-work something: I definitely did with my artwork, towards the end. Made my paintings into what I thought others expected them to be, rather than just going with the artistic flow. My pictures became bland and lost their edge.

I’m not saying my novels wouldn’t be better for a strict edit, for going through the write and rewrite process of being traditionally published. But they might not be my books anymore. And, knowing me as I do, my faith in my writing might not survive the journey.

Besides, we live in a throwaway culture. I’m not writing books to last forever. If someone reads my book, shrugs, says “meh?” and moves on, so what? I do that to traditionally published books all the time (even books by favourite authors like Terry Pratchett. More on that in another post). At least they haven’t spent a fortune on it.

And for every person who leaves me a one-star review that says I wasted hours of their life, there will be someone eagerly hanging on my next release. And there will be a next release, because of those people.

I would have given up on Claire months ago, if I didn’t know people were reading it. I would have given up after three months of querying Dragon Wraiths and gone searching for a day job, if I hadn’t had enthusiastic reviews. I certainly wouldn’t have thought about writing a sequel.

Self publishing isn’t for everyone. I read for and against arguments all the time (usually by interested parties, arguing for their own chosen route!) But, for me, it has been a salvation. Reading posts like these (Are you waiting for permission?) about the waiting and worry of the traditional route, I know now that I would have given up too soon. My self belief was a tiny spark in the dark and, with nothing to fan it into life, it would have died out completely.

Only time will tell if I will make it as an author. All I know is, without my blog, without self-publishing, without getting some kind of positive feedback, I wouldn’t have come even this far. Everyone knows the key to becoming a better author is writing more books. What they forget to say is that you need to ship them too! 🙂

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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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“How do you like the south west?”

Maggie’s question sounded innocent enough, but Claire frowned at her, wondering if she had somehow picked up on her dilemma: Dorset or Cornwall?

“It’s a beautiful part of the world,” she replied in a noncommittal voice. “I think of all the places I’ve been too, Cornwall feels most like home.”

Maggie’s face became wistful. “I was like that with the Lake District.” Then she brightened. “You can always find a new home, though.”

Claire wondered at her meaning and a memory surfaced in her mind. “I thought you hated moving away from the Lakes? Didn’t you say you moved south to be with your husband – Steve, was it? But you went back to the Lakes whenever you could.”

Maggie’s eyes opened wide. “You have a good memory! Yes, that’s true, I missed the Lake District. Kent is pretty, but it lacks the drama of the northern counties. Cornwall has its own drama though, as I’m sure you’ve discovered.”

With a nod, Claire took a sip of her Earl Grey and tried to understand the change in Maggie. There was a radiance about her that she didn’t remember from before.

“Tell me about your friend and her activity centre. It sounds like a big project?”

“His.”

“Sorry?” Claire looked puzzled.

“My friend is a he.” Maggie flushed and looked down at the table, her hands cupped around a steaming mug of teak-brown tea.

Claire stared at Maggie and a suspicion began to seep into her consciousness. But how to ask? Suppressing a smile she said nonchalantly. “So, he is opening this activity centre. Where do I come in?”

“Like I said, Timothy needs assistance with the marketing and promotional side of things. He’s done all the set up and renovations himself. You should see the place, it’s amazing.” Her eyes glittered with enthusiasm. “It really is a wonderful thing he’s doing. He has lottery money to help get him started, but there is so much to do.”

“And are you helping too?” Claire drew circles on the wooden table with one finger.

“Yes, I go when I can. I still have commitments at home.” She seemed to realise where the questions were leading and looked up sheepishly at Claire, who wondered if she was brave enough to pry.

Trying to pour all her curiosity into her gaze, Claire rested her eyes on Maggie and waited.

“Oh, alright then, if you must!” Maggie exclaimed, as if Claire had spoken. “Steve and I broke up. I couldn’t take it anymore. Then I met Timothy, and he told me about his dream.”

Claire sat back and listened as Maggie explained all about her new romance, about how amazing it was to have something to pour herself into, now her children had left home. How Steve had seemed relieved when she ended their thirty-year marriage and how she felt they had never really understood each other.

Claire thought about Conor. Who hated silence, who would rather be in a crowded bar listening to loud music than striding across empty hills. Conor who had invited her to a weekend in Ireland for a family celebration, a thought she was desperately trying to forget. There was nothing like going to a church to give an eager man ideas.

Eventually Maggie seemed to sense Claire’s lack of attention and her flow of words trickled to a halt. “I’m so sorry, wittering on like this. You must be bored stiff.”

With a stab of guilt, Claire sat forward. “Sorry, Maggie, I am listening. It’s just I have a new man, too, and he’s invited me to a Baptism on Saturday. In his home town, near Cork. My mind wandered for a moment, because I don’t know if I should go.”

And it all poured out. Everything that had happened since she’d last spoken to Maggie. About Conor not wanting to leave Swanage, and her urge to stay in Cornwall. How she didn’t want to work for him, and wasn’t sure they had enough in common to be together.

“My goodness,” Maggie said, when Claire had finished. She looked as if she was about to say something else when a general commotion around them heralded the arrival of the Brownies for afternoon tea. With a look that said, we’ll talk later, Maggie rose and went to serve juice and cake.

*

“Hey gorgeous, are you all set for the weekend?”

Claire heard the hesitation in Conor’s voice, as she cradled the phone to her ear and tried to block out the sound of endless chatter from the room next door.

“Where are you?” He added before she could answer; his tone somewhere between amusement and frustration. “I can barely hear you.”

“Sorry, I’m staying with Maggie at the hostel in Exmoor National Park. Don’t you remember? I said I was coming up here to pick her brains about the Guide Association. The children are currently getting ready for bed, if you can call it that!” She laughed. For all her initial horror, she’d enjoyed spending the afternoon with the Brownies. They were at a nice age, between childish dependence and teenage sass.

“Yes, I remember. Will you be back to catch the flight on Friday night? Only the service is Saturday afternoon so we need to be there in time.”

Claire chewed her cheek. Conor had mentioned the Baptism in passing on Sunday, before he returned to his apartment. It hadn’t sounded a big deal, more an excuse to go away together for the weekend. She wasn’t sure she was ready for it, but didn’t have a good excuse to say no. Now, though, he sounded anxious.

“Am I missing something?” She asked, deciding honesty was the only way. “The last time your family tried to get you to go to a Baptism you chose to take two boys out to a castle instead. I thought you avoided these family affairs?”

“That was some distant cousin. This is my niece and I’m one of the godparents.”

Claire gasped. “You didn’t mention that on Sunday.”

There was silence followed by Conor clearing his throat. “I was afraid to. I thought you wouldn’t come if you knew we’d be right in the middle of it. My family can be a bit full on. But I’ve been thinking about it, and it didn’t seem fair to spring it on you when we got there.”

He sounded like a small boy explaining the muddy footprints on the white carpet. Claire was forced to smile, although she still felt sick.

“I don’t have to do anything, do I? As your guest? I thought godparents were usually couples?”

“No and not always. You just sit in the pew and try to stay awake. You might want to wear a frock.”

Claire slumped back on the bed and groaned. A formal meet the family affair, two weeks into a new relationship. Just what she needed.

***

Self-Publishing isn’t for the Fainthearted: 2013 365 Challenge #308

Smashwords Dashboard

Smashwords Dashboard

My unshaken confidence in my five-year plan to become an author that actually sells books took a serious wobble today. Due to dismal sales figures last month (each book only sold 6 copies) and the lack of any reviews on Baby Blues, I decided to drop the Smashwords price to 99p on both books for November. It ties in nicely with NaNoWriMo: my contribution, if you like, as I can’t participate this year. The first draft of Baby Blues was penned during NaNo 2011 (while I sat watch over my solo art exhibition) and it seemed appropriate to celebrate the fact.

However, when I dropped the price on Smashwords they put the book under review (even though I hadn’t touched the manuscript) and then booted it out of Premium Catalogue for apparently containing page numbers. It doesn’t. So instead of writing a decent Claire installment this morning, I spent two hours copying and pasting the entire MS into a new word document, relinking the hyperlinks and double-checking everything. Only to have the darn thing not load properly. I’ve tried three times today and it’s still ‘loading’. Grrr.

It’s very tempting to withdraw both my novels from Smashwords and re-enroll them in KDP Select, as I haven’t sold any copies through any other route. It feels a bit like moving to sit in the other end of the boat as it goes down though – I don’t think it’s going to make much difference to the result. There are just too many books out there to compete with. Free books. Books with glitzy covers. Racy books, thrillers, erotica. Things people seem to want to read.

A lovely review

A lovely review

So far I’ve had around 2,200 copies of the free Two-Hundred Steps Home downloaded, across the ten volumes. That’s thousands more than I’ve sold copies of my novel. So my glorious idea of writing THSH to hopefully cross sell Baby Blues and Dragon Wraiths clearly isn’t working. I did get a nice review on THSH Volume 10 today – my first review on anything in ages. (Don’t get me started on the reviews from friends and family that Amazon just won’t publish, even though they’re not at all sycophantic and are just genuine and nice).

I try so hard not to get disillusioned. I knew this was going to be a long slog. I could still be trying for an agent for Dragon Wraiths: instead I’ve sold nearly 100 copies. It doesn’t sound like much, but rumour has it even eighty-something percent of traditionally published books don’t sell more than 100 copies, so it’s something to be proud of. It’s just hard, spending 70% of my time on promotion, formatting, covers, social media, thinking up new sales ideas and 30% on actually writing more books. I can’t even squeeze in NaNoWriMo for the first time since 2008.

I have four unfinished manuscripts and two outlines for sequels and I haven’t been near them all year. I’ve loved doing THSH and publishing Dragon Wraiths and Baby Blues, but it’s hard not to feel discouraged when I see what little impact they’ve had. Writing the darn things is just not enough. The story of my life revolves around my inability to sell my stuff. Web design, paintings, books – you name it. I can do the graft, put in the hard work, but if no one buys anything it’s just so much clutter and hours wasted.

Anyway, sorry for the doom and gloom, I’m sure it’s the infernal cold talking and I’ll be back to my positive self tomorrow. That’s if Smashwords actually sees fit to publish my book anytime soon! Grrr

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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 looked at the email and pursed her lips, trying to read beneath the business-like words. The message contained none of the usual friendly jokes or snide comments that they used to, before Sunday night ruined everything. With a frown she read the note again.

Claire

Thank you for sending through your initial findings, they appear satisfactory, although I have not had a great deal of time to peruse them. We are working hard on the Carnival and there isn’t much time to spare.

Regarding the Carnival: I need you to be back in town for that week. I realise that it isn’t part of your current job description to help out, but I’m afraid we’re short staffed. It’s an essential part of the region’s tourism, so I’m sure you’ll understand why we need it to be a success.

In the meantime I suggest you press on towards Cornwall: there is a lot of ground to cover and, as I understand you’re still in Dartmoor, you will struggle to get around all the major destinations in the time allotted.

Regards

Conor

The last sentence definitely sounded like a rebuke, although Claire couldn’t point to the exact part that gave her that impression. Did he know she was hiding, licking her wounds? Was he angry at her running away or ashamed at his behaviour? There was nothing to work with. It was as friendly and helpful as an email from Carl would have been.

Pushing her laptop away, Claire pulled out a copy of the hostel map and worked out her route. She’d decided to stick to the YHA hostels, after her experience in Torquay.

Although I’ll learn to call ahead.

Looking around the empty hostel at Bracken Tor, Claire wondered if she would be as fortunate to have an entire building to herself in any of the other hostels. It felt a bit spooky, with the gardener the only other living person in the area, but at the same time her soul yearned for the solitude.

When she’d arrived back at the hostel she’d decided to skip her planned activity and wander around the house and gardens, enjoying the silence. She’d read her book, eaten some toast and made endless cups of hot tea. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt at such peace with the world.

Still, Conor has put an end to that. Back to work.

With a sigh, Claire looked down the list of hostels and picked one to call. She grabbed her phone and keys, strode out the room and up the hill until she got a signal.

“Yes, hello? I’d like to book a bed for the night. Yes, tonight please.”

As she waited for the manager to check for vacancies, Claire looked around at the endless scenery, with no sight of the steaming heap of humanity Conor was so fond of. Aside from the hum of the main road, she could have been on a remote island, miles from anyone or anywhere.

Wouldn’t that be nice?

***

“Kobogeddon”

First WH Smith then all KOBO

First WH Smith then all KOBO

A couple of days ago I wrote about online retailers censoring self-published and indie books, referring to WH Smith / Kobo in the UK. Despite including this picture of the BBC news headline, “Kobo pulls self-published books after abuse row”, I didn’t really appreciate that there were two distinct (though overlapping) aspects to the scandal.

The first part, to do with censorship of erotica, I covered in my previous post. I personally don’t have a problem with restricting books that might be considered inappropriate (or ‘sick’ as one commenter defined them. Although I think these days sick means good, yes? I’m over thirty, I don’t know.)

The other element, that had passed me by, was the fact that Kobo blamed self-published authors for the whole affair. I caught up when I stumbled across the hashtag Kobogeddon on Twitter last night. UK-based author Rayne Hall started the hashtag to bring attention to Kobo’s hypocrisy and back-stabbing actions. Her blog posts on Goodreads here and here explain the full story, for anyone who doesn’t know the details.

#Kobogeddon on Twitter

#Kobogeddon on Twitter

In summary, a UK newspaper pointed out to WH Smith that they had featured books on rape and incest alongside children’s books (I think we can all agree that something had to be done. Perhaps put an 18+ filter on all books containing erotica?). In reaction WH Smith took down their ebook website and their provider, Kobo, took down all UK books. (Not just UK authors, I believe US authors were affected, although their books are still available in the US).

Fine. They had to do something. I’ve worked in PR, I get that. But they only took down self-published books (and ALL of them, not just erotica): any traditionally published erotica is still available for all to see.

That was five days ago. As of now my books are still not available on Kobo, although I understand that books published directly through Kobo are starting to reappear.  Any of you who have read Dragon Wraiths, or Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, or any one of the Claire installments on this blog that I collate into free books, will know there is nothing racier than a non-explicit sex scene or the occasional snog. Hardly risqué, Kobo.

Yet when I type in “School of” (as suggested by a comment on Rayne Hall’s blog) I get this selection of books (picture below): notice the erotic books School of Spank and School of Discipline alongside the children’s book The Clumsies Make a Mess of the School.

Kobo search results for "School of"

Kobo search results for “School of”

When I look down the list of categories on the left hand side there isn’t even an erotica category listed (although if you click in the book they are labelled as erotica, so the tagging is there).

I have restrictions enabled on my iPad to stop the children coming across things they shouldn’t (including books). Shame it doesn’t seem to work on any of the online retail sites. Smashwords at least has an adult filter, although it seems not all authors are using it. Self-published authors do need to take some responsibility for correctly tagging their books.

But Kobo has got it all wrong. Indie and Self-Published authors are not the only problem. Even if authors are not correctly labelling their books as ‘adult’, it still only represents a proportion of all books. By taking down everything, with no explanation (unless authors are published directly with them) they haven’t just chucked the baby out with the bath water, they’ve thrown the cash cow over a cliff.

Like it or not, self-publishing is part of the future of the book industry and pissing off authors is a really bad idea. I don’t need Kobo. According to my Smashwords stats I haven’t had a single book downloaded from Kobo since the beginning (although I might be in trouble if Barnes and Noble decide they don’t want to publish my books). I have other routes to market. Do they?

Please spread the word, whether you’re in the UK or not. If possible, buy your ebooks from another source. Direct from Smashwords is best. Support your Indie authors! We thank you for it.

Delayed Gratification: 2013 365 Challenge #224

Thankfully it's not all screen time

Thankfully it’s not all screen time

I love technology.

I love that my kids are both watching the TV show they want to watch before bedtime, one on each ipad, downloaded from cbeebies (although I’ve just realised one of them is about to stop working because we don’t have the internet bandwidth to stream two programmes simultaneously. Poor hubbie, glad I’m walking the dog.)

I love that I listened to cricket on my ipad today whilst also reading a free copy of Pride and Prejudice. (Though I also have a paper copy for when the kids are using my tablet.)

I love that my children don’t watch adverts very often so, until they start school and see what their friends have, they’re not bombarding me with requests for toys, gadgets or trips out to expensive theme parks. I love that I can play Swashbuckle in the car and it’s the same length as the time it takes me to get to the supermarket, and I can bribe them back into the car with promises of more on the way home.

iPad art by Amber Martin

iPad art by Amber Martin

I love having access to blogs and emails wherever there’s wifi, often writing my post in a coffee shop or service station. It amazes me that I can Skype my sister in America and see her house, her kids, her office (though I rarely do, I’m ashamed to say, because I hate Skype. It’s almost impossible to have a conversation without sounding like a bad news report on a delayed satellite link.)

But I do worry about it all. I worry about my children’s need for instant gratification. They rarely have to wait to see their favourite TV show because if it isn’t on the sky plus box or iplayer it’s on YouTube. They don’t have to wait weeks for photographs to be developed and arrive in the post – often pictures are on Facebook within seconds of being taken. They don’t have the anticipation of waiting to see a movie or saving to buy a song on vinyl, it’s all iTunes and DVDs (or it’ll be on the TV in a month).

The same is true for publishing. My holy grail has always been a traditional publishing deal. It still is. I would feel I had ‘made it’ if I even got an agent never mind selling a book to a publisher.

Except you don’t get whopping advances any more, you still have to do all your own social media and marketing, you’re expected to have a near-perfect manuscript before you approach an agent, and – worst of all – you have to wait TWO YEARS sometimes to see your book on the shelves.

Two years? When Baby Blues is finished, it’ll take me two weeks to have a print and ebook version. Two days if I find the time. I’ve sussed the formatting so I only need to tweak it for any change in pagination after the final edit. I’ve had a print proof delivered already so I know what changes I want to make to the front cover. My marketing won’t be ready, but that’s because I’m spinning too many plates and probably shouldn’t be releasing Baby Blues until next year.

Shooting hoops

Shooting hoops

But there’s the rub. Like my children I’m used to instant gratification. I buy things when I want them, most of the time, second-hand where possible, thanks to eBay. I eat what I want when I want, mostly, thanks to supermarkets being open 24-7. I listen to music where and when I want, I check email anywhere there’s phone signal and I log on to Facebook anytime I want to catch up with my friends.

But there’s a downside, and I can explain it with chocolate. Chocolate used to be a treat. Now I can buy it when I like – and I refuse to diet so I eat it when I like – it’s lost its magic. It just doesn’t taste as good. Birthday’s too, aren’t that exciting because I don’t want for anything (I don’t generally, anyway, except the things money can’t buy, like time and sleep). The children also aren’t that excited because they don’t want big toys and they buy little ones with their pocket money.

Is anything exciting anymore? We have to search harder and harder for that sense of gratification that used to come after a long wait. I often eat chocolate and feel only disappointment. What about my children? Will there be anything left to thrill them by the time they’re ten?

By self-publishing, am I missing out on the excitement of reaching the end of that two-year wait and having a big launch? Maybe one day I’ll find out. For now the only delayed gratification I have is the wait to 9pm, when the kids are asleep and I can have a glass of wine, or 12am, when I’ve written my daily post and can finally have some guilt-free time reading my book before gratefully hitting the sack. Or the wait for the next nursery day, so I can get some editing done in peace. That’ll do for now!

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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 stood at the top of the dune and laughed; a bitter, snorting, you have to be kidding I’m going back to the bus, laugh that masked fathomless fear. One by one, her fellow travellers grabbed their three-foot boards of foam and launched themselves down the hill, leaving a trailing screaming sound in their wake. It did look fun. And insane.

“You going?”

Claire looked over at the guide, then down at the boogie board in her hands. No. Not in a gazillion years. It was hard enough climbing up this damn hill. Her thighs still ached from the ascent, with every step forward taking twice the effort as her feet slipped in the loose sand.

A thought popped into Claire’s brain: If I don’t slide down I’m going to have to walk. Bugger that.

She looked speculatively at the board in her hands and wondered if it was possible to sit on it. Amanda, Janet and Emily had talked of toboggans. That would be better. Sitting upright and holding onto a rope, with the illusion of being in control.

“Can I go down on my bottom, rather than my tummy?” Her face flushed as she waited for the guide answer.

As expected, he guffawed. “No, sweetheart, not on a shark biscuit. You need to do as the others are doing. Don’t be a coward.”

Claire bristled. I thought Kiwis were lovely and friendly? Trust me to get the arsehole. Glaring at the back of his head, as he turned to banter with the people climbing up for a second go, Claire wished she’d gone with the other bus company. Or hired a car. Or stayed in the UK.

While she stood watching, most of the group clambered up the slippery yellow dune and threw themselves down again. Laughter, swearing and panting echoed round her as she remained frozen by her thoughts.

Bugger it, why not?

Without allowing the thought to settle, Claire crouched down, placed the board beneath her and took a deep breath. With the guide’s advice to “keep yer bloody mouth shut” echoing in her mind, she pushed herself forwards and closed her eyes.

The sand whipped at her face as she plummeted down the slope. She could feel it scratching her knuckles where they gripped tightly to the front of the board. Risking a quick glance, Claire realised she was hurtling up behind someone else who had slowed down. With a roll of her shoulders, Claire avoided a collision but came off her board. Sand filled her nose and mouth as she continued down the slope with the board bumping along behind her.

At last the momentum ran out, and Claire ended in a crumpled heap, sobbing with adrenalin and relief. Everything ached and she felt like she’d swallowed a beach.

“Well, that was one way to do it.”

Claire looked up into the black eyes of the man she was starting to see as her nemesis. He held out a hand and, after a moment of hesitation, Claire reached up to take it. His grip was firm and he hauled her to her feet as if she were a child.

“Thanks.” Claire brushed the sand off her shorts, hoping the man would be gone before she looked up.

“Name’s Neal, by the way.” Forced to face him, Claire saw his hand held out in greeting. She shook it reluctantly. “Claire.”

“Well, Claire. Are you coming?”

Claire furrowed her brow. “Coming where?”

“Back up the hill.” He nodded past her at the people climbing back to the summit only to dive down again. Claire looked longingly back at the line of footprints in the sand, marking their route from the bus. Then she saw the glint of amusement in Neal’s eyes, and her hackles rose.

“Sure. Bring it on.”

***

Learning to be Brave: 2013 365 Challenge #220

Picking strawberries

Picking strawberries

One of the benefits of parenting is learning to be brave. Yesterday I touched a moth (ugh!) as I had to remove it from a trampoline and flick it into the grass. I hate moths. Ever since I left the light on and window open in my bedroom as a child, and went up at bedtime to find the ceiling plastered with giant moths (I grew up in the country) I have hated them. But, being brave for my children, I must deal with my fears.

This is especially appropriate after reading a post on Rinelle’s blog yesterday, about applying for an EIN number as an indie author.

This is probably only of interest to self-published writers, but there is a great article on Catherine, Caffeinated’s blog about how to get this holy-grail number (needed to stop Amazon.com withholding 30% of profits in tax).

Where are those juicy strawberries?

Where are those juicy strawberries?

I haven’t made any money from my books yet. Certainly not enough to go through the pain of calling the US to get an EIN number. I’ve had Catherine’s helpful article flagged in my inbox FOR A YEAR. Making that call has been on my to-do list for 12 months!

I hate phoning people that much.

In the UK, the HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs – in charge of tax etc in this country) have a phrase that says, “Tax doesn’t need to be taxing.” But it is. I always fill out my tax return at the 11th hour, even though, these days, there are no earnings and no tax to pay. The idea of calling the IRS and trying to get something out of them fills me with quiet horror.

After reading Rinelle’s post I decided to gird my loins, pluck up my courage, and make the call. I motivated myself by how great it would feel when I’d done it. How I could write a comment on Rinelle’s post thanking her for her encouragement. I could write a thank you comment on Catherine, Caffeinated’s post too. I could move forward and take this irritating thing off my perpetual to-do list.

Found one!

Found one!

I wrote out all the information I would need. I set up Skype on my iPad and found my headphones, ready to make the call (apparently you can be on hold for ages!). I loaded up the world clock, to see what time it was in Philadelphia, where I would be calling.

6am.

Bugger. I have to get the kids from preschool in twenty minutes. So, I won’t be making that phone call today, even though the adrenalin is still pumping and the knots in my stomach are still clenched tight. But I was nearly brave. That counts for something, right?

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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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As the bus stopped at yet another hostel to pick up passengers, Claire looked at the pack of papers the driver had shoved into her hand when she boarded. They included a check-in form for the hostel that evening, extra activities to add on, travel dates and so on. Claire groaned.

I have no idea. I just want to go back to sleep. It seemed that travelling by tour bus was a different beast to meandering around in her clapped-out Skoda.

I’m not used to people telling me what to do. Except Carl and Julia, of course, and they were easily ignored.

Claire tried to decide how many nights she wanted to stay at the first stop, Paihia. It looked like a pretty town, but she had a feeling now was not the time for long periods of idleness and solitude.

Best keep moving.

Forms completed, Claire rested her head against the juddering glass of the window and tried to find sleep.

*

She awoke to the hiss of brakes and the lurch of the coach coming to a halt. She looked around, trying to decide if they were finally there. They’d stopped so many times, to pick people up, or to allow for toilet breaks or breakfast, she didn’t want to get her hopes up. From the shuffling and clamour, she decided they had actually arrived.

Stifling a yawn, Claire gathered her things and joined the slow procession off the bus. She looked at the place she would call home for the night. It was a low-level building surrounded by palm trees. Over to her right she could see tree-covered hills, framed against a blue sky dotted with clouds. After the air-conditioned bus the air felt warm and smelt of the sea.

It felt bizarre, checking in with two-dozen other travellers. Her journey in the UK had been mostly solo and, though occasionally she might meet someone else at the reception desk, her check in had been swift and painless. Waiting in line for her turn, Claire listened to the bubbling conversation around her – happy teenagers planning their afternoon – and felt like a rock in a river, standing proud and alone above the noise.

From the chatter she discovered that the hostel had a rocking bar full of locals, a pool and a hot tub. Two girls behind her were giggling, assessing their chances of pulling fit Kiwi blokes during the evening barbeque, which came as part of their accommodation. Claire decided to make sure she had her book with her.

At last she was at the front, and discovered she was sleeping in an eight-bed dorm.

Thank god I decided just to stay the one night.

Claire took her key and wandered through the hostel, past a group of lads playing cards, and a bank of red sofas full of people ignoring the TV. Although the facilities were no different to the hostels she’d staying in at home, everything felt alien. Not unfriendly, exactly. But something made her skin prickle.

As she retrieved the things she would need for the afternoon, before stuffing her rucksack onto her bunk, Claire tried to put her finger on what felt wrong.

They’re all too young. That’s what it is. It feels like Fresher’s Week at uni, surrounded by people just released from the confines of home, looking for their next drink, shag or adventure.

The hostels back home had been mostly full of families, school groups, or couples. She’d met as many retired people travelling, alone or in pairs, as she had under-twenties.

I guess the UK isn’t really where people go for their gap year of fun before becoming proper grown-ups.

Beginning to understand where Mitch’s uncouth nickname for the green bus had come from, and conscious of a growing sense of homesickness, it was with a heavy heart that Claire left the hostel to go in search of lunch.

***

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.

***