The Book I Wrote In a Month

Meet Esmerelda Smudge

Meet Esmerelda Smudge

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

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

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

That was on 12th November.

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

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

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

My purchased iStock Image

My purchased iStock Image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For me, that’s how to self-publish!

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

Merry Christmas



I Am A Writer

(Temporary) cover for hubbie's book

(Temporary) cover for hubbie’s book

Yesterday I took the day away from my latest WIP to do something I hoped would cheer up my husband: I published his children’s book, Max & Shady, on Smashwords. I spent the first three hours designing a cover for it, because (unfortunately) the one I did for him before used a photo I couldn’t find the rights to. Important note: if you grab an image for inspiration, make sure you know where it’s from. Unsurprisingly, hubbie preferred his original cover (I do, too) but at least this one is bought and paid for.

Then I dug out the word document I formatted for print as a present a few years ago (turning someone’s first draft into a readable document is quite a task!) I’m ashamed to say it was full of typos, despite it being me who proof-read it the last time.

The rest of the day was spent fixing the big stuff (formatting for Smashwords and inserting punctuation inside the quotation marks). By the time he got home from work (having had to hush the kids a few times to sort out the niggly formatting issues that always seem to crop up) the book was live.

It breaks all the rules. It’s a first draft so shouldn’t be anywhere near the light of day. It’s only been proofread quickly, mostly by Word rather than a human being. It’s probably full of inconsistenices and it certainly has pages of info-dump. No matter. It served it’s purpose. Hubbie smiled.

Two things came out of it that should give both me and hubbie a boost of confidence. Firstly, when I was researching covers and categories, I couldn’t find much in the way of space adventure in the middle grade market: that makes his book much more stand out than mine. So, if he ever finds the energy to write some more, on top of being the bread winner who is pounced on by two small children as soon as he walks in the door after work, there might be a new niche he can fill.

Secondly, I re-read my work-in-progress, after editing Max & Shady, and realised just how much I have learned about writing in the last two or three years. I can see my progress from what I would have written as a first draft (much as hubbie’s is – fun but flawed) to my current work: not perfect, but oh so much better. I got quite excited reading it and found it pleasurable rather than excruciating, as reading my own writing normally is (a bit like hearing your own voice on tape). I understand things like avoiding info-dump, developing a character arc, climax and lots of other useful / essential things, mostly from reading blogs on writing. All that staring at the iPad seems to have had an effect. Who knows, I might actually, finally, be able to consider myself a writer!

Now I just need to work out who the bad guy is in my children’s book, what the plot and storyline are, and I can get on and finish it. I might be a better writer now, but I’m still pants at planning!

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!


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: 


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.”