June Journals #14 ~ Silent Uncertainty

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Competition Novel

When I decided to stop working on my novels for a bit, and concentrate on my blog and the garden instead, it was with a sense of relief.

It isn’t the writing that’s hard – well, some days it is – but more it’s the silent uncertainty.

When I write a blog post, even a mediocre one, I know if somebody reads it. And generally at least one or two people do.  If I’m lucky I’ll get a like or even comment. It’s a lovely feeling.

As I have been fortunate enough to stay below the internet troll radar by being boring, unknown, and uncontroversial, the comments are supportive and encouraging.

Not so with books.

I can spend a year writing a novel which even my family won’t read and feed back on, because they’re too close for constructive criticism.

Without Beta Readers, my only sources of feedback are agents and reviewers. They’re not exactly a chatty bunch. If you hear back from an agent at all, it’s a polite, “this is not for me” message, after weeks and weeks of painful silence. Reviews, which are even harder to get, are all or nothing. Black and white. Fulsome praise or scathing disgust. I have come to dread them.

AlfieStanton

Out with Agents

As someone driven by external validation, despite years of trying not to be, this lack of feedback on my efforts saps all motivation. Currently I have one novel in a competition, and two with agents, and the rest, as Hamlet would say, is silence.

It paralyses me.

Do I work on a current book, without knowing what’s wrong with it? Do I write another one, without knowing which bits I’m getting right, or whether anyone will ever actually read it. Should it matter?

How do novelists slog at a book for ten years, true only to themselves and their story? Where do they bury their self-doubt?

I should really join a writer’s group, although I’m currently a little thin-skinned for that. I’d probably weep at the first unkind word and give up writing forever.

Except I miss writing.

I miss producing books, discovering characters, creating. Filling that blank page.

So I’ll pour those words into my blog for now and try for patience.

Thank you for being listening voices in the void!

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.

***

Advice for Amazon: 2013 365 Challenge #157

I'm relaxed about reviews

I’m relaxed about reviews

I have been amazed at the discussion sparked by my post Getting Stronger two days ago, talking about my one-star reviews on Amazon. The support has been incredible, even though I wasn’t really upset by the review. As I mentioned in the post, and the comments, I was low because I inadvertently made someone else sad/cross/irritated (I don’t like upsetting people) rather than by the comments themselves.

What it has demonstrated, however, is the depth of emotion generated by Amazon’s reviewing system. Several other blogs have had a similar discussion this week, including:

http://greenembers.wordpress.com/2013/06/05/why-amazon-thinks-youre-stupid-opinion-piece/ reblogged on readfulthingsblog.com

http://rinellegrey.com/reviews-do-you-read-them-or-not/

http://dclozeau.wordpress.com/2013/06/02/review-or-not-to-review/

Amazon's arbitrary review system leaves me exhausted

Amazon’s arbitrary review system leaves me exhausted

The debate my post (and others) generated got me thinking – I rarely pay attention to reviews for books. I read them avidly for other products – cameras, ipads, vacuum cleaners. For any purchase, big or small, you’ll find me on Reevoo, trying to find a balance between the one-star and five-star comments.

With books, however, even though I do read the reviews sometimes, I don’t think I’ve bought a book just on reviews. I buy online the same as I do when in a bookshop – read a few pages and decide if I like the cover (yes I’m that shallow!).

The importance of reviews for a self-published author is more to do with promotion and sales than critique on the actual text. Which is probably just as well. Maybe it’s time Amazon came up with a different system for rating books. I’ve come up with one for them:

Would read again – (five-star)

Would recommend – (four-star)

Read it to the end but can’t remember what happened – (three star)

Read half, intended to finish, but didn’t – (two-star)

Didn’t get past chapter two – (one-star)

[The last section of this post came from a comment I left on Rinelle Grey’s post about KDP Select. Did I mention that I started writing today’s post at 9am with a 9.45am deadline. 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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Claire looked at her friend and swallowed the hard lump in her throat. Don’t cry, that’s too much of a cliché. She reached into her bag for her phone to take a photograph, blinking hard.

“You’re not going to put a picture on the blog, are you?” Kim’s voice was low with concern.

Claire shook her head. “Don’t be silly, of course not. I might post pictures from the day, if that’s okay? But more of the venue than you and Jeff. It’ll be a great advert for the YHA.”

Kim twirled in her floaty frock and beamed. “You can fill the entire blog with pictures once Jeff has seen it. I want it to be a surprise, that’s all.” She smoothed the bodice over her bump. “I hope this doesn’t get any bigger in a fortnight.”

“I’m sure you’ll be fine. Are you going to buy it then?” Claire looked round the charity shop, sure everyone must be watching Kim’s performance. They had the room to themselves, however. I guess closing time on a Saturday isn’t their busy period.

“I can’t believe you managed to find the perfect dress in a charity shop. You’re so jammy.”

“Research, my dear. People on my salary learn to be frugal. I get most of my clothes from these shops. If you visit the right town then other people’s cast-offs are as good as new. Good labels, too. My coat is Boden and those jeans are from Marks & Spencer. Besides, you don’t get an item of clothing that’s less worn than a wedding dress.”

She gave one last twirl then reached round to try and free herself from the dress. “Can you unhook me, I think I’m going to pull a muscle if I try.”

Claire walked over and helped Kim take off the ivory dress. It was beautiful. I can’t imagine being that lucky, to find the perfect dress in a charity shop. Never mind one that doesn’t even need altering. She sighed. Kim gets all the luck. Fun job, gorgeous fiancé, understanding mother and now the perfect budget wedding.

“What are you going to wear?” Kim’s voice shook Claire from her reverie.

“You want me to get something from here?” Claire didn’t quite manage to keep the horror from her voice. Realising how rude that was, her eyes raised to Kim’s, concerned that she might have offended her friend.

Kim was smiling, but there was a faint line between her brows. “Of course not. If you can afford to buy something that costs more than I earn in a month, then that’s your prerogative.”

Claire bristled at the sarcasm laced through her friend’s words. It was unlike Kim to care about the difference in their salaries. It had been that way for so long, it was more a joke between them than a cause for bitterness.

I’ve never flouted my money. Have I? Sudden concern that she had been insensitive hit Claire, and she felt tears prick at her eyes. Bugger. Have I? Have I made her feel bad for earning less than I do? Her job is just as hard, it’s not my fault it isn’t as well paid.

With a glance around the charity shop, and another back at her friend, Claire made a decision.

“If it’s good enough for the bride, it’s good enough for her maid of honour. Show me the frocks!”

Kim shimmied out of the wedding dress and pulled her jeans back on. Carefully arranging the dress back on its hanger, she laid it over the counter and then took Claire’s hand, leading her to the rail of gowns sparkling at the back of the shop.

***