Thursday, 9 June 2016

New Project

This is probably a good point to blog; I am starting a new novel so you can go on the journey with me.

I finished the fourth draft of Exit Plan (the first draft was completed over Nanowrimo 2015 and you may have heard me on BBC Radio 4 talking about it). I have been 'in between books'. What have I learnt from this? I'm pretty grumpy if I don't have something to work on! It's taken a while, but I now have an idea I am enthusiastic about writing.

This is how the idea came into being:

There's a character in history who is largely forgotten and it struck me that he would make a good character in a time travel novel. I wasn't sure what else was going to happen, but I knew the main character would be his 'love interest'. Because of the character's age at this specific period in history the characters are sixteen/seventeen so this lends itself to a Young Adult novel.

I didn't know anything else. So, two characters and two time periods...

When I get stuck for ideas I sometimes look at premade book covers and seek inspiration that way. Pre-made covers are cheaper, because they aren't being made to your specifications, so you have to shop around. Luckily there are some really good designers out there. I found one I liked the look of and contacted the designer who I have used before.

Then I needed a title to put on the book cover. I am really fussy about titles, they have to be right. I chatted on Facebook to my friend Ellie and threw titles her way. Then I stumbled on one I liked: Cracked Glass. It resonated with a poem I once wrote as a teenager and have slightly misremembered: shattered glass always holds the most light. Shattered Glass is going to be the title of book two in the series and if it goes into a trilogy the third will be called House of Glass.

Characters - check
Era - check
Genre - check
Cover - check
Title - check

Now time to get writing. Like the rest of you, I find real life gets in the way. I contemplated two ways of motivating myself to write Cracked Glass: publishing a chapter at a time on line or swapping work with a friend. I have tried the former in the past and did not find it successful. Luckily, a friend and I had just agreed to swap 500 words of something a week so Cracked Glass has become that work in progress.

A couple of days in and I have a short 600 word prologue and almost 2 000 words of chapter one. I aim to make each chapter about 4 000 words and loosely follow 'The Hero's Journey' as a template.

I have an outline for chapter two and I know vaguely one of the big events that will happen either in this book, or book two. I prefer not to know the rest as I like seeing where the characters take me.

The adventure begins!

Monday, 7 December 2015

E Publishing

You may have noticed there are more books than ever available to buy electronically. This is because e publishing has exploded over the last few years, enabling anyone who has finished a book to publish it. If you are interested in e publishing these are a few ideas to help you on your journey.

If you want to e publish you need to get your book on both Amazon KDP and Smashwords. Between them they pretty much cover the whole range of book sellers. (The Amazon KDP Select program I haven't heard of being worthwhile for anyone so I'd recommend skipping that as it means you can't sell elsewhere whilst your book is on it).

You need a really good cover, it is worth paying a professional. The cheapest way is to buy a premade but that means you can't be specific about what you want - just get the 'best fit'. Google ebook covers premade and a large selection will come up. If you do want a custom made, have a look at the others the creator has made - does their style fit with you? Are they flexible, working with you until you achieve what you want? Also, listen to their advice - they know what colours work for different genres and what sizes work for different e publishers. Make sure you tell them if you want a print version as well (this might cost you more but is worth it) as the specifics are different again.

You also need to be a really good self editor as readers hate typos. An editor can be expensive and risky (you need a recommendation) so editing is something I try to do myself (but there's always a typo that gets through). Editing is one thing that really separates the best e books from the glut of tripe that anyone can upload (I'm sure you know what I mean, we've all downloaded one of these books). If you can afford it and have a recommendation - get a professional. But tell them exactly what you want - do you want someone to go through grammar and spellings or do you want someone who will advise you on the story? Again, be warned not all editors will be able to do this as some of their experience will be very specific and may not relate to fiction so be very careful with this.

You need to read the formatting guidelines and follow them (what you do for Smashwords is then fine for Amazon though, so you don't need to do it twice). Get it wrong and your book won't be accepted. It's worth spending the time getting it right the first time.

Traditional Publishing:
E publishing doesn't mean you can't then seek traditional publishing, you just need to mention it on your submissions and say you retain all rights (make sure you tick this box when uploading to the e book sites). It may help in the end as traditional publishers do keep an eye out for anything causing a ripple in the water (Shades of Grey, anyone?).

There is no marketing or publicity with e publishing, so Facebook, Twitter etc will be your best friends. Create a Facebook page and link it to Twitter so you only have to post once (FB posts will then appear as Tweets). Update your page daily if you can, a couple of times a week at least. My page is here if you want to look at the kind of thing I post: 

Print copies:
If you want people to be able to buy print copies of your book there are ways that won't cost a fortune. Print on demand has become very accessible and keeps costs down. I use Lulu as it literally costs me a proof copy and postage (other print on demand publishers are available). You can set your own price and you can also select to have them available on Amazon with your kindle formatted book. This is where your print copy cover comes into it's own as your e book cover won't be good enough for print. You need to format the inside of the book differently (and page break will become your friend, remember that now to save yourself a lot of hassle) and read the guidelines specific to print books (I've always found CreateSpace's guidelines the easiest to follow).

Anything you legitimately spend on writing and publishing (covers, fees etc) is tax deductible but you do need to register as self employed (those couple of dollars a month from Amazon need accounting for). At entry level e publishing you won't make enough to pay tax, but you still need to do the right thing by HMRC, the IRS or your own country's tax office. You are going to become a bit of a tax expert I'm afraid and Google will be your friend. UK/US residents - our countries have an agreement whereby you only need to pay tax in one country. This does mean lots of form filling though and I did have to go to the IRS department at the US Embassy to get a form stamped (they were very helpful but being a Brit I was utterly confused by the lack of a queue - how do you people work without queues?). Once all done, however, it's done and you can just carry on writing until it's tax return time of year.

And good luck! You won't make much money from e publishing (but do remember those tax returns need filing!) but you will gain readers who will let you know what they think about your work. Nothing beats having a book out there that people enjoy reading. 

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Sean Sweeney Interview

Writing is quite a lonely business and, as such, you really value the writer friends you make.  I am lucky to have writer friends from the Fforde Ffiesta and writer friends I made during Nanowrimo.  Back in the ethers of time, during my first or second Nanowrimo, I met Sean Sweeney, a writer based in New England.  It is because of him I became an e published author, without his advice and guidance it just wouldn’t have happened.  Sean is a prolific author who always has at least one project on the go.  His latest is The Long Crimson line and he has kindly let me probe him about writing in general and his latest book.

EHW: I remember the first time I tried to write a book.  I must have been eight or nine and it was about a family of mice. What was the first novel you ever attempted?

SMS: We have to go back through the mists of time to the mid-1990s. I was in high school, and I had been writing about sports with my local newspaper (ironically, the same one I for which I write to this day). I had never been much of a reader growing up; the books that teachers ripped your arms out of your sockets and beat you over the head with to get these books read, as I see it now, had very dry writing that didn’t reach out and grab me by the throat. When I was maybe 16 or 17, I discovered Star Wars Expanded Universe books at my local WaldenBooks, and I just jumped into them. This was well before I knew what trademarked material was, and so I wrote a couple of pages of what I thought happened to Luke, Han, and Leia a few years after Return of the Jedi.

After that, it was a few years before I really put my fingertips on the keyboard to create the Obloeron fantasy world, which should return to eTailers this November.

EHW:  What is the best thing about being a novelist?

SMS: Drinking as much coffee as I can. No, seriously: it is probably knowing that people read the stories that I create, and actually enjoy them, too.

EHW: You are the person who got me into e publishing (without your advice I would never have taken the leap), so as someone who knows this side of the business really well – what one piece of advice would you give an aspiring e novelist?

SMS: So much advice. And I can only pick one thing? Lordy. You drive a hard bargain, Ms. Walter. Gee, I would have to say make time for yourself outside of the worlds you create. I sacrificed quite a bit while starting out; at one point, all I was doing was covering games, writing my fiction, and sleeping. That meant no going out to the bar/pub, no dating, no TV. It was a rather solo existence, and I kind of forgot who I was outside of being an author, or an aspiring author, at the time.

Shit, I sound like such a loser. :)

EHW: Like me, you write an ongoing series (the Jaclyn Johnson ‘Model’ series) and stand alone books.  How do you organise your time and concentration to work on such diverse projects?

SMS: Basically, you have to treat it like a job. For me, and my experience will be different from other authors, but I basically punch the clock: I’m in my office by 8 am, and I punch out by 2 pm. In the winter, that may change due to night games; instead I’m in the office by 10 and out at 3, 3:30. Recently, I’ve been distracted by a lot in the news; the Tsarnaev trial in Boston, the FIFA escapades, the Aaron Hernandez trial. But I still manage to get a thousand words or so, sometimes more, written per day. On some days, I’ll write a couple thousand words. And then you throw that in with sportswriting, managing a farm, and laundry (which I still have to do this week, since I really can’t do it on the weekends because my wife and sister-in-law are both teachers), sometimes you have to push everything else out and put your fingertips on the keyboard.

EHW: Can you let us in on what adventures might be waiting for Jaclyn in your latest ‘Model’ book?

SMS: Right now, I’m writing Jaclyn’s seventh full-length adventure, and it’s taking place in Seattle. Slogging through this scene, which I hope to have done soon. Then I can move on to the next, and the next, and the next. Hoping to have this book done by the middle of July.

EHW: Going on to your stand alone work, tell me what The Long Crimson Line is about…

SMS: In a nutshell, The Long Crimson Line takes place in my beloved Boston, where a few heinous murders have taken place. There are no leads, and the police haven’t been able to come up with a suspect. A former cop, Ricky Madison, comes up with the idea that the killer may not be all that he seems—and that it may not be a he doing the killing, either.

EHW: What gave you the germ of the idea that became TLCL?

SMS: I am a massive Anglophile, more so than anyone else I know or with whom I grew up. I love everything about England; football (I’m an Arsenal supporter), the Royal Family (GSTQ), Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, everything. And I always knew that Jack the Ripper was from England, but during some reading I discovered that one member of the Royal Family (Albert Victor) was once accused of being The Ripper…. So that got my mind a-thinking, and I thought, “what if I put The Ripper in Boston, make the killer a devotee of him, and let the devotee run wild?” I knew this book would be rather bloody, and that it would go into great detail. So this is by far the most envelope-pushing I’ve done in my stories, that’s for sure.

EHW: You've decided to offer TLCL for preorder (which I don't think you've done before) – why the change?

SMS: I had wanted to try it out but I hadn’t found the right book with which to do it; my AGENT novels get snapped up pretty quickly. I want to put a concerted effort into marketing this story with the avenues that don’t cost a lot of money (since I have none… practical) available to me. And I hear it’s a great way to get onto best seller lists, so get me there, people. Get. Me. There. : )

EHW: Will there be more adventures ahead for Ricky Madison?

SMS: You assume much. Do you think he’s still alive? Muhahaha.

EHW:  I’ll just start calling you George R R Martin then.  Another question for you: what inspires you to write?

SMS: My rent bill. No, seriously: The inspiration is simple—I just want to be read. And writing is great therapy, let me tell you. A lot cheaper than paying a shrink.

EHW: If the universe was to give you your perfect writing career tomorrow, what would that look like?

SMS: Look out the window of your flat, love. If there was a way that I could take my wife, our horses, and cats… all of my books and movies and my laptop and desktop and clothes, our cars… and get them to England. I could do that. Write in the pastoral loveliness of England? Where do I sign up?

EHW: And finally, if you had to take just one of your characters to live on a desert island with you, which one would escort you and why?

SMS: I would say private detective Connor Wood, of AN INVITATION TO DRINK… OR TO DIE. He likes his booze.

Thank you, Sean.  Remember folks, The LongCrimson Line is available to preorder in the UK and in the USA.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Writing Exercises

I joined a Facebook writing group recently and was given a choice of writing prompts for the month of February.  I leapt into action immediately, choosing the one that really grabbed my attention, intending to get to them all during the month.  Of course, life and another novel got in the way and I didn't get to the others.  We were also supposed to share and critique each other's work.  Erm... I kinda let life get in the way of that one as well.

Since the March prompts have just come through, I thought I should finally share my writing exercise from February.  I started with the image as suggested in the prompt and wrote what was pretty much a stream of consciousness.  I stopped when I realised my viewpoint was wandering and I got fed up with myself.  The suggested writing time of fifteen minutes was up by then anyway.

This was the prompt: 
She walked slowly up the long, winding driveway, her dress trailing in the mud. 

And this was what I wrote (there may be mistakes, but the point was to just write):
 She walked slowly up the long, winding driveway, her dress trailing in the mud.  Her arms hung by her sides like branches of a tree, hanging on with their last piece of bark.  Her foot scraped the gravel as it took her one small step closer to the house.

In the moonlight, her organza dress was as ephemeral as a ghost.  The breeze caught the skirt where it had ripped almost to her waist and it fluttered like a moth, wrapping around her exposed leg.

The house was lit up in the darkness.  A warm, orange glow making it a welcoming sight.
The front door would have been the natural choice, but the light made her turn toward the vast windows where the orange light spilled out on to the terrace.

She put her heavy hand to the glass door and gazed in.  Patterns of mist appeared around her fingers.  The green blaize of the billiard table was central to the room.  A corpulent man with a large moustache and round, pinkened cheeks leant over the table with a long cue.

Balling her hand into a fist she banged on the glass, louder and louder until the men in the room looked up.  They all looked into the dark outside the window.  They couldn’t see her.

The glass shook as both fists fell upon the window followed by her body.

A younger man stepped forward and undid the catch on the door.  She fell inside, tumbling into his arms.   The others gathered around.

“Put her on the table,” one of them said.

She scratched at her prickling skin.  

“Can you hear me, young lady?” an older voice said.

The billiard table was hard.

“Get a blanket,” another said as a hand tried to pull the ripped skirt over her leg.

“Ring the bell for Mrs Kent.  Ask her to fetch some warm brandy and blankets.”

“Who is she?”                                             

“Do you know?”

“Have you seen her before?”

“Who are you?”

“She’s shivering, for goodness sake, someone get a blanket.”

Something was placed over her.  It wasn’t a blanket.  A jacket.  It was warm.

“So cold…” she thought she managed to say, but she could have just thought so in her head.

“Don’t tell the ladies.”

“Sir?” a woman’s voice, finally.  

“Mrs Kent, we have a situation.  This young lady just appeared at the window and stumbled inside.”

“I see sir.”

“Perhaps some warm brandy and blankets?”

“Shall I fetch the doctor, sir?”

“I suppose we must...

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Paper vs Electronic books

I have a Kindle.  I have an iPad and an iPhone - both with iBooks and the Kindle app.  I have ebooks stored ready to read so why am I being drawn back to paper?

Ebooks were great when my daughter was a newborn, the whole Jack Reacher canon got me through her constant feeds day and night.  The convenience of ebooks is definitely the main reason to choose them, after all - there is nothing worse than finishing your book on the tube and then having to lug it around with nothing else to read.  With a Kindle (or similar) you can have most of your library with you.

I also love the fact you can get the classics for free and yet free books are how I've fallen back in love with paper.  Since being on maternity leave money has been tight and I began taking my daughter to the library to choose her own books (no one is too young to start 'reading').  Whilst there I impulsively got out books for myself (using my library card for the first time in three years). And I'm hooked. 

So, despite the convenience of ebooks I'm back on paper for the following reasons:
- the feel of the paper
- being able to read in the bath (I had a dream about my iPad and the water meeting)
- I like being able to flick back easily to find a reference
- a good book should be passed on, and this is the main thing I have missed during my flirtation with ebooks: instead of passing a book on I've just had to give a recommendation
- I want books on my shelves so my daughter can discover books I loved with ease.

However, I am grateful people enjoy using their ereaders as this is how I make my living through book sales.  And I think I'll always take an ereader on the tube.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Post Baby Novel

I know - I've been rather quiet.  Who knew a small child could be so demanding?

I've been a first time mother for ten months now and I am still getting to grips with my new job.  It's certainly more demanding than anything else I've ever done.  My daughter gives me her own rewards though, and as she grows I learn so much more about being a human being and our capacity for growth.

During these ten months I finished The Reed Bed (which I started the November before) and started a new Nanowrimo project.  I sacrificed the little sleep I was getting for writing during November and tapped away on my iPad as soon as my daughter was (briefly) asleep for the night.  Then the iPad started misbehaving and PND caught up with me and the sixty thousand words of Snowbound juddered to a halt.  It might have stayed that way if it were not for cake. 

Let me explain: my friend Ellie asked me if I was doing Camp (Nano's spring/summer equivalent) and although I hadn't intended to do so, I've been rather bullying Ellie into completing her novel (followers on Facebook, EHWalter, will have witnessed some of these spats).  I thought I should do Camp so Ellie would and then, somehow, we placed a bet.  The first person to write twenty thousand words won cake.  Fresh, homemade cake.

The promise of cake spurred me on and with the help of sleep training I had a little more time to write in the evenings.  Bit by bit I finished the first draft of Snowbound and cake was won.

For me this was more than cake though, it was reassuring that despite most of my time being spent on nurturing and raising a small human I could still finish a novel.  I could still write.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

New Tricks

I've discovered, as a new mother, you need some tricks to get the words down on the page.  Whereas before ER came along I could write as soon as my job was done for the day... Now there is no end to my job, it's twenty four seven!

The first thing I've done is try to identify a time during which ER is asleep, but I am too awake to sleep (no matter how much I want to).  This is usually a brief window after six am.

Secondly I've been giving myself two word count targets a week.  A realistic one of maybe a thousand words and an ideal one which is where I really want to be.  This cuts down the chance of feeling like a failure and also motivates me to at least try and meet the realistic one.

Thirdly, my laptop and I are now casual acquaintances at best and my iPad with the Pages app has become my new best friend.  It's easy to get going, type one handed and put away safely.  I do type a lot quicker on my laptop, but the iPad is better than nothing. It also cuts down on social media procrastination as it takes longer to switch between the windows and I often can't be bothered.

These tricks have helped me keep going as a busy writer and so, to answer that age old question - do female writers need a room of their own?  No, just an iPad and some reasonable targets.