Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My digital adventure (Part Two)...

I used Smashwords to prepare my manuscript of Sally Bangle: Unexpected Detective and transform it into a variety of digital formats (epub, mobi, PDF, RTF). The Smashwords Style Guide (free to download and easily read online) is a bit jargony but worth working through as a) these are terms and processes you should probably become familiar with and b) reading this will definitely enable you to get your manuscript ready for digital conversion. Essentially the guide advises you how to strip all the formatting from your manuscript and make it amenable to conversion. When you know what might gum up the works it will help you not stick these formatting things into your future ms. Traditional publishers will probably also be grateful for this. I never appreciated how much work formatting (half of which I don't even do on purpose as I write) must create for publishers.

Once stripped I then went through line by line and double checked for excess carriage returns and spaces as these can cause havoc in digital formats. I am glad my ms was only 36,000 words long. It is tedious work but essential to avoid later problems. And if you do it well you only have to do it once. This is your baby - you want it to be clean and looking its best don't you?? Once you have run that fine tooth comb over it and you have your cover jpeg, ISBN's, and front and back matter you can load that sucker up. You will have to choose the price and how much folk can sample before they buy. I based my decisions on what most other people are doing. Most of these things can be altered easily.

Many folk use only Amazon KDP or KDP Select (KDP Select ties you in to a 3 month exclusive period). There are plenty of discussions online debating the pros and cons of going solely with Amazon versus throwing your net wider. While it might seem smarter to have your e-book distributed to a variety of e-tailers (Smashwords distributes to Apple, Sony, B&N, Kobo and others) Amazon currently has the biggest sales and the exclusivity is rewarded with promotion and allows for occasional free giveaways. I decided to throw my net wide with Smashwords (probably a philosophical decision as much as anything) but chose not to distribute to Amazon via Smashwords and loaded the ms up directly with Amazon (not taking the exclusive option) at the recommendation of a fellow scribe. The manuscript stripped for Smashwords did not need much alteration for loading on Amazon. Do make sure you have customized your front matter accordingly though. Amazon books should say Amazon, Smashwords books should say Smashwords.

You can pay someone else to prepare your manuscript for conversion. There are folk in NZ who do this regularly. At first I thought I would let someone else do it and then I figured I should try doing it at least once myself. That was a good call as it wasn't as complicated as I thought it would be, I saved myself some money and ultimately I think its better that the buck stops with me. Please note folks that both Amazon and Smashwords will allow you to update the ms at any time. If you find an error, a typo or something you've simply just changed your mind about you can fix that puppy up and reload it. Keep saved versions separate and appropriately named so you don't load the wrong one. And avoid interruptions to your books availability. If it stops being available through an e-tailer, even briefly, you can lose reviews, interest and sales momentum and this can be a mission to get back.

Once your e-book is loaded and is approved and available for purchase your attention can turn to letting folk know they can now buy it. You should also be considering whether you can get your e-book reviewed. Is it eligible for any awards or prizes? Are there other options for distribution? Can you get your book into libraries? I think those are questions for my next post - look out for part 3 coming to this blog soon...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Every cloud...

I hadn't even heard about the movie until I was nosing around the 2013 Oscar nominations. The Silver Linings Playbook - best movie, best director, best actor, best actress, best supporting actress, best supporting actor and a few more besides. I was impressed with Argo and that movie had nowhere near as many nods. I am a movie fan. I keep myself informed. Where had this one been hiding? I still don't have the answer to that but folks I went to see it with my girls on Saturday evening and I am so glad the Oscars brought this to my attention. After an 8 month court-appointed stay in a mental institution following a violent breakdown Pat is out and back home with his Mum and Dad. Obsessed with getting back together with his wife who has a restraining order out against him, Pat's path crosses with that of recently widowed Tiffany who agrees to help Pat connect with his wife if Pat partners Tiffany at a dance competition. You have to admit aspects of this storyline sound lame but it all makes perfect sense in the movie and is ultimately very satisfying. Mental illness was, I thought, honestly depicted - the stigma, the fears and concerns, the manifestations, the denials, the lows and the misunderstandings. The humour was real life humour, not inserted funny lines, and the acting was gob-smackingly good. Bradley Cooper is not just a pretty face. Nor is Jennifer Lawrence. If you want to know how to tell a good story, go see this movie. It is an excellent and most enjoyable lesson.

Meanwhile I have been racing through reading some more books - I am now on to book 3 of the Demon's Lexicon Trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan. I can see occasional problems with the writing (although I think the awkward rhythm of the first book has lessened), and switching to a different main character for each book also presents a few difficulties and awkward moments (how can it be orchestrated that she overhear that conversation between the two previous MC's?) but you will have noticed people that I am still keeping on reading. I'm not that keen on the main character of the third book. She wasn't that appealing in the first two books so its hard to embrace her in the third. And my favourites from previous books are too distant. There are some plot inconsistencies in this third book. For example I didn't get how one character could have been violently ill when travelling over water because of the proximity to water (it's a magical thing) and yet choose to be swimming in the third book. And it is not 'ironic' for a solution to be obvious to the reader and for every character in the book to not see it until the end. But I am still reading. What's with that. For all the things that annoy me, there is still something very compelling. That's the nature of books I guess. I am a romantic at heart and want to see how it all ends for the characters I do like. I will be surprised if I am surprised though but that's okay; the best surprise was in the first book - its hard to pull that off again. And in the end I am learning something from this too.

If you were hoping for part two of my digital journey, never fear, I will be posting this soon. I am just waiting on some things to be sorted before I mention them. In the meantime go check this out - one author's reasoning for her switch to DIY (thank you to Jane Bloomfield for alerting me to this link).

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My digital adventure...(Part One)

I have been having the most interesting journey with my little e-book Sally Bangle: Unexpected Detective. Interesting because there is no better education in how to make your manuscript into an e-book and into what happens next, than by actually going ahead and doing it. If you want to know more about e-books, if you fancy one day publishing your own work in this way, if the digital book world excites or scares you, then the best thing to do is convert a story and test it all out. So many folk seem afraid of what might happen. What has happened to me is that I now have an e-book title that is totally my responsibility. Whether it fails or thrives is over to me. How it looks and reads is over to me. Any earnings (as per agreements with e-tailers) are over to me. Where it is distributed and how it is priced are my decisions. As some wildly successful selfpubbed e-bookers will tell you, putting your book out as an e-book under your own publishing name does not prevent you from having a traditional publisher come knocking for permission to put it out in print. If a book is good, if it is popular, there will be interest. Of course it is not all sweetness and light. Sales may never happen. There are a ship load of e-books available and no one has the inside running on how to make your book a squealing success. Still I can guarantee you a complete lack of sales for a story languishing in your drawer. The bottom line is the quality of the content should be your biggest concern.

If you have other plans for your novels, try the process out with a short story or novella instead. I must confess I don't think I'd try converting a picture book. Picture books need their pictures. The one picture book of mine that is digital is an app (The House That Went to Sea) and basically has retained its graphic good looks that way. It was converted by a professional. I have no idea what an enhanced e-book looks like and how you would go about making one. But armed with some advice from fellow writer Maureen Crisp and what I'd learned at the Kiwiwrite4kidz e-book workshop last year and carefully following instructions and using a bit of nouse and common sense I have successfully converted two novels. And I know a lot more now than I did before.

So what do you need? There is somewhat of a cookbook recipe feel to this process because first off you need some particular ingredients.

- A manuscript as a computer document (including an awesome title)
- a unique ISBN for each format (e-pub, mobi and PDF are the main ones so far I think) - obtainable from the National Library here in NZ via a very simple online form
- a cover (jpeg ideally I think) - I used a designer for Sally Bangle. I don't have the patience or skill to do it myself but this is definitely an option. The rule of thumb is to avoid looking home made. Think of what appeals to you.
- front matter (copyright phrase, ISBN, dedication, any review highlights, the publisher and edition information)
- back matter (acknowledgements, other titles by you that readers might like to check out, links to your website, blog, etc...)

Step away from the process until you have all this stuff together. Once you go through the process of conversion you will want to load that sucker up for distribution to e-tailers straight away and if you don't have a cover or ISBN especially you will have to stop and wait.

Of course once your book is converted to digital files in the varied formats then the real fun begins. How do you get people to find it, and what's more, buy it. Of course you can stop at this point satisfied with the amazing achievement of actually creating the e-book. And stopping now does not doom you to obscurity. Your book is there on the e-shelf for as long as you leave it there (unlike print books in bricks and mortar bookshops). Laurel resting is not the kiss of death. Come to the marketing and promotion side of things if and when you are ready. However doing nothing is less likely to find you readers, than doing something. I have been slowly feeling my way through this part of the process and done a few interesting things. I'll tell you more about them depending on how effective these are. Some of these things will be effective partly because I already have a publishing history. But I am also thinking that any e-book I create will most likely benefit from further e-books by me. Some of the wonderful book industry friends I have made over the years have been tremendously helpful. But I've also been looking at doing things I've never done before. Getting reviews will be helpful. As with any of these things being polite and professional is still the mantra. They are no less important qualities in the digital world than they have been in the real one.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Here we go 2013...

A Winter's Day in 1939 is nearly here - releasing in March. I will do a give-away here on my blog closer to release, and I am also doing one here on Goodreads. Book launch details will be revealed soon.

I was thrilled to see this the other day - page 14 in Scholastic Australia's April Catalogue. My book is a staff pick!!!

Happy days :) I hope readers like it.

March is also New Zealand Book Month and I am part of a fabulous exhibition taking place at the National Library in Parnell and Takapuna Library over the whole month, showcasing the background work that goes into books. The exhibition includes titles by Margaret Mahy and David Elliott, Gavin Bishop, Fifi Colston and David Hill, Maria Gill and Heather Arnold, Jennifer Beck and Lindy Fisher, Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley, and of course me. We are having a gala opening with myself, Maria, Heather, David Elliot, Donovan, Fifi, Kyle and Lindy Fisher on March the 4th at the National Library at 6pm if you are interested in coming along  (RSVP to the National Library at : 

I have been reading more books - finished Ian Rankin's Standing in Another Man's Grave (terrific writing although one or two plot points left me a little unsatisfied), and The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater (ditto, although I wanted to marry the writing and have its children, it was brilliant). Now I'm working my way through The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan (jury's out so far).

The bi-annual NZ Children's Writers and Illustrators Conference is due this year in Christchurch Queen's Birthday Weekend and I am making plans to head down. I'm keen to see what they have on their programme. I hope to visit Canterbury University while I'm down there. I'm all signed up for this year's paper - Young Adult Fiction - cannot wait for the study guides to arrive.

Because I have a novel to complete I polished up a picture book I wrote a little while back and sent it off to a publisher. Its something quite different to my other picture books (which is probably a statement you can apply to every picture book I've ever written) - somewhat like a Maori myth/legend, and inspired by a film short I saw at the movies some years back. I also recently signed the contract on my picture book due out later this year, While You Are Sleeping.  The year seems to be gathering some momentum. Here we go 2013.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The money hurdle...

There are two major hurdles to jump to being an author. One is getting your work published. The other is earning sufficient money to enable you to remain devoted to your writing. Never assume if you have jumped either of these hurdles, that you will not have to jump them again. This is a hurdle race that goes on for the entirety of your writing career. Some writers seem to get a tail wind as they leap. Sometimes the hurdle is pushed closer as you jump and a crash is inevitable. And there are many other things that you must consider and include in your training as a long distance hurdler. Keep working on your technique. Maintain a healthy diet. Get plenty of rest. Stay hopeful.

Earning sufficient money is still a mystery to me. Income for writers generally comes from two key sources; one is the sale of books, and rights (including the public lending right which currently does not include school libraries), and the other is from secondary sources associated with writing such as workshops, author visits, speaking engagements, and maybe editing or mentoring or assessing the work of others. Many writers also have other employment in unrelated fields in order to pay their bills. Some receive government grants but these are not perpetual or to be expected or relied upon. I had a busy year last year. I have seven books published so far (of which only 1 is now out of print). I visited, work-shopped, spoke and mentored last year and had a heavy schedule. My year's earnings will be less than $10,000 inc. GST (so less than $4.81/hr for a forty hour week for a year before tax). Yet this has been a good year. Mostly I want to write but I like having the additional skills for speaking, workshopping and mentoring etc... but it is a juggling act to make sure I spend enough time on my key task (writing) and don't accidentally become something else. Few of us are bestsellers in New Zealand.

If you are considering inviting an author (or illustrator) to workshop or visit, or speak to your group of adults/students/insert your demographic here, it is important to remember most do not earn a regular salary or wage. In fact if they can visit during daytime hours it is because they do not have a paying job. It is good to know that any book sales generated through their visit are likely to be in the single or double figures at most. On average they may get $1/book for a picture book and $2/novel for each copy sold in their next royalty cheque (usually paid twice yearly). If they sell 25 books (a red letter day for any author/illustrator) following their 3 hour visit they might expect $25-$50. This is $8.33 to $16.67/hour and does not cover preparation, travel time or the cost of getting to or from the event.  And the money may not turn up in the bank balance for another six months. Or they may still be paying off their advance, which was already spent long before the book came out. The book may be discounted so it could be less than $1 per book. And many times visits and workshops do not include the opportunity for book sales.

Many authors and illustrators have specific skill sets based on education, experience and practice. They can tell you a lot about patience, perseverance, motivation and hope. They can teach creative and general writing or illustration and sometimes design skills. They can foster a love of books and generate discussion on a host of other topics related to the content of their work (themes, historical aspects, other cultures and countries etc...).The benefits to your students/group may go on for days, weeks, months or even years. For some the visit could be life changing.

Ideally I would like to get paid a meaningful salary via some other means (a stipend, bursary or gummint support?) for the hours I spend crafting stories and doing the secondary associated work. Asking for a fee can be awkward. I have been asked by some about visiting and never heard back when I raised the topic of payment (although this is not true of all those making enquiries). My fee structure is modest. I have done a number of visits, talks and workshops for free in the past by choice and for a variety of reasons. But there are reasons why it is good to be paid. If I do these things for free then either it is assumed I can afford to do them for free, or that there is no value in what I do. Neither is true. As much as I love sharing my passion and my writing with others, I really, really want to keep writing and paying my bills. And being valued for my skills and efforts makes a huge difference to me.

Please note - this is not a complaint but more an attempt to explain why authors and illustrators request a fee for visits,workshops and talks

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Wait...I have all the answers...

1. Words are magic. Keep rearranging them until the spell works
2. Words hum when they are happy
3. Invest in a good chocolate
4. The reason no one tells you the secret of their success is because, as the Transformers movie demonstrates, nobody really knows.
5. Having good luck takes a lot of practice
6. Satisfy yourself first with your writing. Anyone else you satisfy is a bonus.
7. Grammar is not optional
8. No one really understands all the rules of POV. Think of it like dialogue - as long as you know who is speaking and it fits with what is going on, it should work, unless it doesn't
8. No one has all the answers. Be suspicious of anyone who says they do
9. W(h)ining is for grapes
10. Don't let ignorance be the reason for your mistakes - other kinds are allowed
11. Life, and publishing, are under no obligation to be fair to you. It isn't always fair to them either
12. Stay hopeful

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The universe's gimlet eyes...

Oh fresh watermelon and fragrant blushing peaches, how I love you (although the keyboard is not so much the fan). Summer fruits are, for me, a highlight of the season - Eton Mess anyone?

I am contemplating being not so lazy. Last night the History Channel on telly showed a documentary on Vikings. I took notes and  had to prop my eyelids open several times. On a Saturday night. Really, the lengths I go to for my readers. Especially when you think there are, like, just two of you. I love you both.

And sometimes, I am sure, the universe is trying to speak to me - if it is, it's saying "get off yo' lazy ass and finish writing that sequel to Jack the Viking". Okay, okay, I heard you. It's just I want to make it totes amazing and that takes, like, really really hard work.

Sometimes when the universe speaks to me it freaks me out a little. Someone recently posted a link on facebook the title of which included the word gimlet, and my immediate reaction was to think what an excellent little word that was and I must include it in a story soon. Lo' and behold the next page I turned to in the book I was reading (about ten minutes after my facebooking adventure) included the word gimlet. Having not seen that word in a book, or anywhere else for that matter for more than a few years I really am wondering why it's here now, being so provocative. Don't be surprised if you see the word gimlet turn up in some of my writing soon. Who knows what might happen if I don't use it...

And because I love giving y'all advice here's some good oil from JetReidLiterary on 'plot' - brief, yet oh so smart. And then a reminder from self-pubbed author Lexi Revellian on the value of persistence. I'm not sure I ever want persistence to matter more than talent.  And not all her commentors agree that persistence will pay off, but I think it is a necessary approach to writing in so many ways. And as Revellian points out, "The nice thing about ebooks is that, unlike print books, they do not have a shelf life. No one will rip off their covers and send them back to be pulped. They can sit around twiddling their fingers until their moment in the sun arrives."   

Getting discouraged, sadly, is a common experience for many authors. It is a discouraging business in so many ways. I can't promise you publication, sales, awards or any other kind of writing success. Nobody knows what tomorrow holds - I don't believe in clairvoyancy (even if the universe does chat with me on a regular basis) - but I do believe in hyphens the long game. And for that you need persistence.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

To my wonderful chums in the chasm...

I think the NZ Post Children's Book Awards are in good hands this year if this post by convenor Bernard Beckett is anything to go by. I had to laugh at the use of the masochist/sadist story - very apropos for book awards. And he's right I think. We might disagree on our favourites but most would agree on what reaches a good/the best standard. I have some books in contention but I am not overly hopeful. Its hard not to fall into that middle territory between not quite good enough for awards but not populist enough for commercial success. That middle territory always looks like a yawning chasm to me.

In my last post I bleated about some books that rode a tsunami of commercial success and yet were full of writerly annoyances. Things that I am repeatedly advised by blogging agents, editors and others should be fixed before an author even breathes in the direction of an agent, or publisher. One of the things that shocked me most as I stumbled for the umpteenth time over a missed editing opportunity was the fact that these books were agented and published by experienced industry professionals. Why didn't these professionals address any of the sloppiness or awkward technique? And what should I take from this?

In the end I take from it that publishing is an industry full of contradictions and exceptions. And being an author messes with your mind. Fifi Colston said it very well here. All the sparkly bits that the public perceive as being part of the creative life, all the things we dream of and hope for: the hordes of devoted fans, the soirees, the awards, the riches, the residencies, the festival invitations and the associated travel, are ephemeral, if they happen at all. We are all just usually huddling in the chasm together: despite the amazing talent and the hard work, the sweat, the tears and frustrations that you will find there. We keep trying to climb a little higher on the beautiful stories and illustrations that we are creating. But whatever else happens it is the fantastic company in the chasm that keeps me going and saves my sanity. Thanks chums