The Dos and Don’ts of Self-Publishing

TheFamilyWeChooseKindleI published two books this week. The children were at a music camp for five days last week, 9am-4pm, so I had time to get some work done. Although I may have bitten off more than I could chew.

I decided to publish my adult novel, previously called Riley Road, renamed The Family We Choose. But it needed proofreading. I hadn’t realised how many errors there were – no wonder it didn’t go past long-listing for the Mslexia award.

The problem is, it’s such a hard read for me. It was written very close to the bone. I spent last week listening to it being read by the PDF Read Aloud software, to distance myself from it. Brilliant for picking up typos, not so great for proofreading a 60,000 word novel in a week. He. Talks. So. Slowly. And still I spent most of the week under a heavy cloud of being ‘not enough’. Sorry family!

Anyway, I managed to get that done and published, only to spot a typo on the cover. Just after submitting it for review. Twenty-Four hours later, I could change the cover and submit for review again. Check twice, publish once, and all that.

HopeGlimmersCoverAt the same time, I was working on finalising the sequel to Moon Pony, called Hope Glimmers, which I have done the illustrations for. I’ve been pretty pleased with them, I love drawing horses. But, again, it’s very time consuming converting all the images to black and white and getting Word to cooperate with slotting them into the text.

No typos on the cover though, which was great.

Unfortunately, it’s just gone live on Amazon and I’ve noticed that a) I’ve called it Home Glimmers, instead of Hope Glimmers (doh!) and b) I’ve put my author name as Amanda Martin (which I use for adult novels) rather than Mandy Martin (for kids books) so it isn’t going to appear alongside Moon Pony at all, despite being the sequel.

Idiot.

And neither fields can be adjusted in the Member Dashboard, resulting in two grovelling emails to Amazon (because, of course, I spotted the mistakes separately) which I hope they read and fix asap, as soon as they’ve stopped laughing.

SeagullandPippaStill, I have published two books in a week, including illustrations, cover design, proofreading, and everything, which isn’t to be sniffed at, even if it is unlikely I’ll sell any copies of either, since my Amazon sales seem to have dwindled into nothing recently. Even Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, which was always my ‘cup of coffee a month’ earner, has dropped off to nothing.

Not great, considering my books owe me a few hundred each in editing and covers and illustrations. Not much of a money spinner, more an expensive hobby! Lucky I sort of have a day job now.

And so, once my self-publishing fails have been fixed, it will be on to writing something new. Which I haven’t done in a long long while. I want it to be a children’s book – Mslexia are running their competition on Children’s and Short Fiction this year – but unfortunately the judge for the children’s novel is Katherine Rundell and her books are outstanding. Nothing like that to give you complete writer’s block. When you know you can’t write a Carnegie Medal short-listed novel, it’s hard to even make a start.

But start I shall, because it’s write books or learn how to market them better, and I know which I prefer.

 

Jinxed

So I jinxed the weather with my last post. That lovely chill wind that made the heat bearable? Stopped the next day. It has been like living in a sealed attic. Sorry to anyone local to me! Mea Culpa. Forecast says it might rain this afternoon though, hurrah!

Even so, this week has been all work. I finally got Game Girl on kindle, although I’m not super-happy with the result. Kindle-uploaded-through-Word and images don’t really mix. For the love of literature I couldn’t get the images to centre on the ‘page’.

My marvellous fellow author, Rinelle, has offered to help, so my first job today (after tea and cake in an air-conditioned cafe) is to send her the file. I love the supportive writing community. And if you’re after some fab romantic summer reading, go visit her page!

Talking of community feeling, I had the chance to spread a tiny bit at the Walk-In centre yesterday, where I spent two and a half hours after an accidental run-in with my mum’s dog.

The day after an England football win is not a good time to use emergency services. The poor NHS staff were run off their feet. But I had gone prepared, with book, snacks, water, phone and – most importantly – no children. I was able, therefore, to be part of the Village as it were, by dishing out crayons and paper to bored toddlers and watching hyper youngsters running outside. Every little helps.

Not sure how much more book work I’ll be able to get done this week, though, since my thumb still hurts like heck. At least I can file the information under ‘how to write about a dog bite’.

Thankfully I did most of the formatting for Seren Kitty last week, as the illustrations came back from the talented Annie Welton. So excited! That said, I’ve had an alert from CreateSpace regarding the uploaded manuscript, which means they’re not happy with something, so the work isn’t done yet. Self-publishing is so much more than words!

The third book I’ve been preparing is my adult novel about Domestic Abuse, that was longlisted for the Mslexia award. I find it a hard book to work with, and wasn’t sure I was going to publish it. But when I was working on the kindle version of Game Girl, I noticed that Amazon are running a Storyteller competition with a £20k prize fund. While I don’t have anything like the presence on kindle to win such a thing, you just never know. And I’m proud of the novel, even if I find it hard to read.

I decided to research the market to give it the best opportunity, including the title and cover. Having posted this selection on Facebook, the choice is between the bottom left and bottom right title/image. What do you think? Which would you find most compelling? I like the title ‘The Family We Choose’ taken from the phrase ‘Friends are the family we choose for ourselves’. I’m also more drawn to the right hand image because it’s cheaper 😂. I’ll have to make a decision this week since it’s my last available for work until September.

Which reminds me, I’d better brave the heat and head home. Books aren’t going to publish themselves. Keep enjoying the sunshine. We’re away for a UK break next week so it’s bound to rain!

Grow Up and Get Back to Work

Back to work (crochet away!)

Back to work (crochet away!)

I’ve really struggled to get back into writing this January. After six weeks of Christmas planning and the children being home for the holidays, my brain is foggier than the dull winter skies outside.

I have started several blog posts in my head in the last week or two, but none have made it further than that. They’ve had titles like “Christmas Chaos and Crochet Stole My Voice” and “Farmville Is Evil”. But that’s same ol same ol.

I’ve written before about how my addiction to knitting and Farmville has derailed my writing, how having the children home from school causes me to sleep non-stop (I was asleep at 4pm on Christmas Day) and how hard it is to get the balance between Writer and Mummy. It’s time to stop making excuses and get back to work.

Another post that floated in the unwritten ether of my mind at 3am, as is often the case, was a review of 2014, and how I found inner peace.

Happy children

Happy children

It’s a bit late for end-of-year reviews and, anyway, my new year starts in September, not January. But it is true nonetheless. I might still struggle with depression and the more negative aspects of being HSP. I might have struggled with having hubbie home for four months while he found a new job (he did, hurrah). I might have realised that being self published, self employed, is harder than even my pessimistic view of the world could have predicted. But still, peace was found.

Somewhere between Sertraline, Mindfulness and Good Enough Parenting, somewhere between my children telling me they love me All The Time and being able to be at home with my husband for four months and still look forward to retirement, somewhere between five-star reviews and knitted toys, I found me.

I’m reading a children’s book called Winterling by Sarah Prineas at the moment, and the main protagonist finally finds a place where she fits, where she feels she belongs. This year, especially this Christmas holiday, between making bread from scratch, hosting Christmas play dates for nine and five children, learning to crochet, and being there for my children, I realised I have found where I belong.

Parenting doesn’t come naturally to me. My family and I thought I’d be a terrible parent. Turns out we were all wrong. For all my doubt and shoutiness and crying and constant need to hide, I am a great parent. My children are kind and happy, healthy and full of love.

Writing didn’t come naturally to me. My parents and my tutors at university said my writing was dull. But hard work beats genius every time, and six years in to my writing journey some people (not all!) love my stories. I began to doubt my writing after Class Act and Alfie and the Magic Arch but I need to realise I’m still learning, and not give up.

Huggable creativity

Huggable creativity

My writer’s blues, my lost voice, came from doubt and impatience. Knitting and Farmville are far more instant. I can make a toy in a few days, I can make cakes on my farm in minutes.

Writing is invisible and definitely the long climb to creativity. It’s intangible. At the end of each day I can’t measure my progress with a ruler, or gets oohs of delight from my friends. Just like parenting (my children thank me for working on their Farms, they never thank me for clean clothes or floors), you have to accept the results are a long way off and keep slogging anyway.

I reread a post from this time last year, and discovered I felt exactly the same. Lost, melancholy, restless. It’s January, dark, rainy, and exhaustion is rife after Christmas. Time to take a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other.

So today my laptop is charged, my crochet bagged (except for the photo!), the farms switched off. Today I will return to Lucy and Edan, Andrew and Graham, and I will find their story. I will write until they find their happy ending and, in doing do, I will find mine.

A Ramble About Life

Kids and their new go-kart

Kids and their new go-kart

I’m sorry about my recent silence; I’ve been in a strange world where I’m actually enjoying editing. What’s more amazing is that I’m editing Dragon Wraiths. You’d think that finding anything wrong with a book that’s been published for eighteen months would send me into a spiral of despair. Especially finding grammar mistakes and typos, rather than just poorly worded sentences. But surprisingly it hasn’t. I knew there would be some errors, especially as it’s the only book that I haven’t paid someone to edit, relying instead on family and friends.

(That said, my mum found a few glaring typos in Class Act and that was edited, so you can’t catch everything.)

I think I’m enjoying it because I know the book has received great reviews (and awful ones!) so I can read it knowing at least some people like it. But the main reason I’m enjoying it is because I can see how much I’ve learned about writing in the past year or two. I’m not changing the story but I am tightening the prose and it’s surprisingly empowering.

My original intention was to try and cut 35,000 words (30%) from the story so I could enter it in the Chicken House children’s novel competition. So far I’m only cutting 8-10% from each chapter. Unless I find half a dozen chapters that are redundant it isn’t going to happen. But I’ve decided that’s okay. Instead I’m going to try and get the book below 100,000 words and resubmit to agents. Who knows, I might have more success this time.

The nice thing about editing is that it structures my day. Aside from the two hours of school run mayhem in the morning, and the four hours of whining, crying, shouting and chaos from pick up to bed time, my days are calm and focussed. I carry my manuscript round and edit at the school gate and waiting for my coffee. Having a deadline of the end of term really helps keep me working. My only distraction is constantly checking for Class Act reviews!

On the trampoline

On the trampoline

This morning I wrote a response to a post on Helen Yendall’s blog about having too much to do and how much harder it can be to manage your time when you don’t go into an office to work. This was my (edited) response:

This is how my boss used to tell me to do to prioritise work: categorise things into ‘what will get me fired if I don’t do’, ‘what will get me promoted if I do it,’ ‘what do I enjoy?’ and everything else. It’s tough to do that when you’re self-employed, but for me I’ve roughly translated it as, ‘what has an immoveable deadline that will either make or cost guaranteed money’, ‘what will clear the biggest headspace most easily (usually niggly admin),’ ‘what will make me happy and therefore make everything easier’ and everything else.

Of course stuff like school run, cooking, dog walking, kids’ homework have to happen. But non-essential ironing, cleaning, Facebook, even the blog, go by the wayside in peak times. I’ve also found the routine of the school run and walking the dog can help. I constantly feel overwhelmed by stuff, too. Getting diagnosed with depression taught me to take better care of myself for everyone’s sake.

Writing it made me realise that it’s all true. Life has been tough recently, for me and for hubbie, and the routine hell of the school run that tops and tails my day makes me yearn for twelve-hour office shifts and getting paid. But I’m learning not to compare myself to others, or even to who I was before kids, and get on with it. My struggles are mine, no one else’s, and I’m certainly not the only person fighting to survive (as hubbie pointed out this week). Life is what it is and you have to make the most of it. If that means watching Queens tennis or drinking too much Waitrose coffee (it’s free! I come four days a week to work…) then why not?

As Lauren wrote recently on her blog BetweenFearAndLove, feeling guilty that you haven’t got it as hard as others is a useless emotion. I haven’t learnt that lesson yet but I’m working on it.

Ebook Formatting Rant

Out now!

Out now!

Self-publishing is meant to be about control: you choose the cover, the content, the marketing and the final product. And mostly that’s true. But, when you publish ebooks, you have very little control over the finished article. Even with print on demand paperbacks you get some variances – I’ve had some printed beautifully and others not so hot. But at least the layout and pagination doesn’t change.

But today I spent eight hours fixing something – across all my kindle books – that possibly wasn’t even broken. I forgot to feed the kids and walk the dog. I was grumpy and horrible and teary. All because the books I downloaded to my iPad from Amazon kept losing their formatting, despite looking fine in the ‘look inside’.

I tried crazy things to fix it, like uploading the files to Smashwords and copying their mobi version to upload to KDP, rather than using an html file (Amazon’s recommendation), but that didn’t really work as Amazon and Smashwords have different formatting criteria.

It isn’t the first trauma I’ve had with formatting, particularly with my latest novel Class Act. It took 27 versions (that’s the actual number, not my usual hyperbole) before I got rid of a loose link in the epub version of Class Act which would then allow Smashwords to approve it for Premium distribution. It was a puzzle that even their tech guys couldn’t fix. And that’s just for one device. I can’t check Kindle or Kobo or Sony because I don’t have those devices. I preview online and it bears no resemblance to the downloaded version or the original.

I even bought copies of my own books today to see if that made a difference (At least I made one sale on Class Act! 🙂 ). One of them still had ‘draft’ on page one, despite the update going through days ago. Terrifying.

The worst part is the not knowing. Did 3,000 people download a free copy of Baby Blues  & Wedding Shoes and not read it because the text is all left justified and spaced out like in the version I see? When I use Kindle for PC it looks okay but how many people read on iPads like I do?

I try so hard to look professional without forking out money that I don’t have. I’d rather pay for structural editing than formatting. But if the formatting prevents people from reading, maybe that’s the wrong choice.

Anyway, I don’t know the answer, I just know it’s dampening my Hurrah that Class Act is finally live. It’s more a harrump! Now as well as praying for sales, dreading reviews and stressing over typos I have a whole new thing to worry about. Still, no one said self-publishing would be easy!

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.

Dear World; SAHMs and Writers Still Work, You Know

Reminding myself that I do work

Reminding myself that I do work

I took my children to a play date this morning and had a fabulous few hours watching them enjoy new toys, sunshine and company while I enjoyed a comfortable chat and plenty of hot tea. The talk, as often happens with parents you don’t know very well, turned to work.

The other three were teachers and when I explained that I was at home writing I got the dreaded response, “So you don’t work then?” followed by the embarrassed proviso of the working mum: “Except of course looking after these,” with a smile towards the children.

The funny thing was I was more bothered by writing not being considered a proper job than being a SAHM, even though looking after the children is much harder and takes up more of my time. There was another comment later, along the lines of, “You’re doing what we’d all love to be doing,” and again I wasn’t sure whether it referred to being able to pick my kids up from school, being about to do my hobby as a job or having endless free time to do laundry or, you know, drink coffee and paint my nails. 😉

I don’t know the other parents very well but I know they’re lovely people and it was clear that nothing was intended maliciously or even said with a great deal of thought. Much as I used to think being a teacher must be easy – short days, long holidays – before I spent any time with teachers and realised it’s the hardest job in the world and you couldn’t pay me enough to do it: we none of us have a blinking clue what’s really involved until it’s our job. And even then we all approach life differently.

Some of my light reading

Some of my light reading

I have to be working; I feel guilty if I don’t. So if I’m not writing I must either be cleaning, doing social media (which I don’t love) or reading (which I’m only just accepting as training for writers). It doesn’t feel like a hobby, but of course I do have a choice whether to work or be a housewife, which many don’t. I know I’m extremely fortunate.

Equally when I said to them that I loathed the school run (their children aren’t yet at school so they have that joy to look forward to) I’m sure they were envious that I have the luxury of doing it, as their children are in childcare all week. We all want what we can’t have.

There’s a lovely post on Facebook – two letters from a Stay at Home Mum and a working mum – which actually sympathises with the differences rather than finding reasons to hate. I’ve done a bit of both and I know they each suck in some way. (Incidentally, for a completely different take on the Facebook post, and why we parents should all STFU and stop moaning, read this). I preferred working (or, I should say, I preferred being employed, getting paid and knowing what I was meant to be doing from one minute to the next and not feeling guilty) but I only did it for a short time and before I had a child at school, so childcare was easier. Writing is a lot less stressful in many ways, of course, but it’s not always an easy way to spend your day. And the pay is lousy 😉

There’s another meme on Facebook – a quote from Katrina Monroe – that sums it up:

“Writing is like giving yourself homework, really hard homework, every day, for the rest of your life. You want glamorous? Throw glitter at the computer screen.”

Amen to that. You don’t get a day off, even when – like today – the only writing that gets done is on a phone in the dark while walking the dog at 6.15pm after hubbie gets home. You lie awake at 2am wondering what your character should do next or – as I have been lately after reading too many blog posts about how self-published authors are a scourge on decent literature – whether you should even be a writer. Can you call yourself a writer with a hundred sales to your name and more one star reviews than fives? (Well, almost. Hyperbole is accepted to make a point.) You’re never an aspiring teacher, no one ever called a teacher at home marking books ‘not working’. (Well, not to their face anyway!) I choose to be a writer, and to take all that entails, but it’s not a walk in the park (even when you’re walking in the park).

So, next time you’re chatting to a writer, or a SAHM, just nod and smile and maybe keep the phrase “So you don’t work then?” to share with your husband once you get home and vent on how the others have it easy. Much appreciated! 😀