Archive for the ‘Difficulties’ Category

Recently a friend of my mum’s asked me for some advice on self-publishing his book. Some time around bashing out the tenth paragraph of my email and suggesting we should perhaps meet up to discuss it all in more detail, I realised I have quite a lot to say on the matter.

I’m not going to tell you to run a spell-checker, or do a thorough proof-read. That’s pretty obvious, right? But here are some of the less obvious things I have learned through four years and two novels worth of self publishing.
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1) Set Your Expectations

The first – and rather brutal – thing to acknowledge, is that no one cares about your book except you. I know, I know, you’ve spent the past ten years labouring over your magnum opus, and it’s precious and delicate and magical as a new born baby, and if you ever thought about it at all, you probably figured something along the lines of, “Build it and they will come,” right?

Unfortunately, that is not the case. In my experience, they will only come if you drag them kicking and screaming, and maybe leave them a breadcrumb trail of freebies, blog tours and guest posts.

Most of the books you sell – whether paperbacks or ebooks – are likely to be to people you know.

The paperbacks I’ve sold are mostly either to people I know or via stalls at fairs/festivals. Ie, in person rather than via shops (online or brick). Very few people are willing to take a punt on a self published book by someone they don’t know – even if the ebook is £1. Even if it’s free! They certainly won’t fork out £8 on a paperback without a lot of persuasion.

You may be thinking, “But paperbacks are cheap! I rarely pay more than £3.99 for a paperback from Amazon.”

Mass produced paperbacks are – or can be – cheap. Your self-published run of 50 or 100 is not. By the time you’ve recouped your manufacturing and handling fees and allowed yourself a couple of quid profit/remuneration for the years of hard work you’ve put into your book, you’re unlikely to be selling a paperback for less than £8 (though obviously this depends on the length of the book and what publishing package you use).

You may have more luck expanding your audience with ebooks. The major advantages are:

  • customers can try before they buy with a free sample
  • ebooks have no production costs, so can be sold far cheaper for the same – or greater – profit
  • there are no postage costs
  • they can even be returned if they turn out to be drivel, making people more likely to take a chance.

The disadvantage is that ebooks are very easy to forget about. I am a kindle owner. I read quite a lot of ebooks – but not half as many as I download samples of. Most of the samples I download I never even open. Why? Usually I forget all about it immediately. By the time I get around to noticing that new book on my shelf I’ve forgotten what it was or where it came from or why I thought it might be interesting. I’m also very busy. When I finally have time to sit down and read I often have a clear idea of what I want to read next, and don’t feel like giving some unknown thing of dubious provenance a chance.

Conclusion: do a print and ebook version, but be aware of their respective markets.

2) Have a Marketing Plan

I read this exact piece of advice prior to publishing Darklands. “A what??” I thought. I’m a web designer by day; novelist by night. At no point does marketing enter into my job description or skill set!

Reader, I did not have a marketing plan.

After publishing Darklands and rapidly realising the truth of point 1, I belatedly tried to scrabble some marketing efforts together. It was a bit pitiful.

I’m still pitiful when it comes to marketing. I squirm from self promotion. I’m embarrassed to impose myself on nice, busy people who have far better things to do than take any notice of me. It all just seems so… uncouth.

But it IS necessary so, like me, you’re going to have to knuckle down and do your best – however pitiful that may be. Since I am a self-confessed dunce when it comes to marketing, I won’t attempt to advise you how. Instead, check out the optimistically titled 89 book marketing ideas that will change your life or many other online resources.

3) Get Reviews

Reviews are vital, and objective reviews from people you don’t know are vitallerer 😉

The best reviews to have are from organisations rather than individuals. ‘Organisation’ in this context might just mean a bored teenager with a book blog. But the important thing is that when quoting the lovely review you recieved, you get to attribute it to ‘Ace Books Weekly’ rather than to ‘Julie from Slough.’ I think you can see which sounds more impressive.

There is an excellent, thorough list on Indie View of book bloggers who accept self published books. It’s a hard slog sifting through them all for appropriate people to approach; and most of the time you will be rejected (by rejected I mean, ignored). But persevere. There likely are people who will give your book a chance, and every review helps your credibility massively.

For advice on how to approach reviewers, see this post on Empty Mirror.

If you’ve got a budget to throw at the problem, then check out this Alliance of Indepent Authors post (but also see point 5).

The really important thing about reviews is being able to quote them on your book jacket or inside cover as well as any online listings – you know, like a real book. But in order to do that you need to be getting those reviews prior to publication, which means querying reviewers months prior to publication.

4) Set a Release Date

When I had finally really definitely totally finished Darklands, and sweated over MS Word and checked all the formatting and corrected all the glitches, I couldn’t wait to finally get it out there. I hit publish, and the next morning it was available to buy. But… no one knew, because I hadn’t forewarned them. Of course, I posted about it as soon as it was out there. But guess what? Other people were busy doing their usual Saturday morning things: grocery shopping, taking the kids swimming, cleaning the car, walking the dogs. No doubt many of the people who saw my posts were very happy for me – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they were going to drop everything and go check out my book!

Set a release date. Build anticipation. Allow people to pre-order. That way when the book becomes available you will get a number of sales right away – and that means your Amazon ranking is going to be as good as it possibly can be right away – and that means you are going to appear higher up any relevant search results – which *may* boost sales, and will certainly help your credibility.

I’m not actually certain whether the option to pre-order was available when I published Darklands. If it was I disregarded it in my giddy excitement to get my first book published. Or maybe I thought, “I can’t set a release date. I don’t know how long it’s going to take me to sort out all these goddamn formatting wierdnesses…”

However long you think it’s going to take – it’s probably going to take twice that long (see point 7). If you want to be really thorough, get your book all ready first. Do the formatting. Check the preview copies. Iron out the errors. Only when you’re happy that it’s all ready to go do you set the publication date.

Then start drumming up interest.

5) Spend your Money Wisely

So you’re self-publishing your book. A lot of people want your money. A LOT. They are hungry vultures circling tasty, meaty you.

You absolutely do not need to spend £1000s or even £100s on expert help, guidance, services or materials. You don’t need to order 1000 copies of your book and have boxes of it sitting in your garage like a stubborn toothache for the rest of your life. You don’t need to buy a professional sounding publication package that actually doesn’t give you anything you couldn’t have done yourself anyway.

Don’t spend anything without researching who you’re giving your money to, exactly what you’re getting in return – and most importantly, what the rest of the internet says about their services. There are many excellent online resources who keep an eye on the scams and schemes that exist purely to profit from your naivety. Check out Writer Beware or David Gaughran for starters.

Print on Demand may be a far better option than buying 1000 copies of your book up front. I use UK based company, Feed A Read. In all honesty, their website is glitchy and often frustrating, but any queries I raise get replied to within a day or two, and if I can’t do what I need to via the website, then they’ll allow me to email any necessary files direct. The resulting books are good quality, they don’t charge for unnecessary fluff services,* they’re supported by the Arts Council of England, and just generally don’t seem especially evil. That’s as glowing a recommendation as you’re likely to get.

* Well, you could count the distribution package as unnecessary fluff. I paid £80 for Darklands to be available to proper bookshops through normal distribution channels as well as to Amazon. Of course, that’s only useful if you’ve persuaded any bookshops to stock your book – and for some reason can’t supply them with copies yourself.

I know you want the distribution package, cuz that makes your book proper! But I’ve decided to forego it for Kikimora. I really didn’t feel the benefit. And Feed A Read have introduced a new, more economical service now whereby they can sell the book through Amazon Marketplace. This seems a much more worthwhile deal – though I’ll know more once I’m actually using it.

6) Get the Formatting Right

It’s vital to create as good an impression as possible with your self published book – whether ebook or paperback. Take care with your formatting. Don’t rely on changing fonts and sizes manually; use styles. Styles allow you to name a particular kind of text within your document (ie, basic text, chapter heading, first paragraph) and apply rules to it, including font, size, margins, line-spacing, etc. It is then easy to change any of those rules as it becomes necessary – and believe me, you will try various changes before you settle on the best for your book.

For example, your ebook will most likely want to use a basic sans-serif font (though most e-readers allow readers to change this themselves), but your print book would more likely use a serif font (such as Times New Roman). When you see the production costs for your print book, you might start thinking, “Damn, do I really need it to be double spaced? How big does that text look once I’ve resized the document to the exact dimensions specified by the printer? Maybe it’s too big, maybe it’s too small. How about those chapter headings? They look better not bold, after all…”

Using styles, these changes are easy to make and undo to trial different looks and layouts until you get it right.

But there is a caveat! One I fell foul of with Darklands, and I could not understand until I noticed the same thing happening with Kikimora.

If your writing process is anything like mine, by the time you have a completed manuscript some areas of its text will have been copied and pasted from different documents many times. The document format may have changed from say Open Office to Word. This leaves you in danger of formatting glitches.

Say during the writing process your basic text was set to 12pt Verdana. You copied a section from another document (a previous version of your manuscript, perhaps) and pasted it in to the master copy. The other document was also using 12pt Verdana, so all is good, right?

Maybe not. Make sure that any passages you copy in get your ‘basic text’ style applied, and don’t rely on manual styling. Otherwise, you might find when you change it all to Times New Roman those random pasted passages are still Verdana – and the only people who’ll notice are your first readers. Eek.

Word processing packages can be ever so ‘helpful’ when it comes to retaining text formating from one document to another. Get in the habit of manually stripping formatting any time you paste text in, and then ensuring your custom styles are applied. If your word processing package doesn’t make it easy, then a simple way round it is to copy any text into notepad and from there into your master document. Any formating rules will be lost, and it will take on the rules in your master document, as you want it to.

7) Take your Time

None of this stuff is difficult, but it is astonishingly time consuming. Factor this in when thinking about release dates. If your writing activities are time-limited (cuz you also have a full-time job, family commitments, some kind of life), then I wouldn’t even set a release date until you have already done ALL of this.

For example, I work *almost* full time. The only time I have for writing and writerly activities is Thursday and Friday afternoons – and occasional Saturdays if I can be let off family commitments. I finished the final edit of Kikimora in August. Since then my writing afternoons have been spent:

  • querying reviewers
  • researching publication requirements for my various platforms
  • formatting the manuscript
  • proofing the cover design

That’s it. Three months has passed. Kikimora the ebook is released tomorrow. I submitted, proofed and accepted the final files for my print book today – so it still won’t be available for some weeks (In retrospect I should have been more organised and got both out together. This is something I’ve learnt very recently as I’m going through the process. I would have pushed it all back, but didn’t want to risk ending up the wrong side of Christmas!)

So those are some of the things I wish I’d known when I set out. What things have you learned the hard way whilst publishing your own books? I hope my experiences help, and wish you all the very best of luck.

For the past few months I’ve been hard at work completing a final edit of Kikimora. I’ve now made the last checks for continuity, spelling, grammar, formatting, etc…

Guys, it’s done.

In true difficult-second-album stylee, this one’s been a bit of a slog. I thought it would be easier the second time around! I thought: I know what I’m doing now. I know the pitfalls to avoid. I know how to motivate myself. I know how stories veer off track, and how to steer them back. And I’m doing something much simpler and shorter!*

Yeah well, apparently I don’t know Jack…

There have been setbacks aplenty; some personal, some professional (as in the job that actually pays me…) and some writing related. But finally the Is are all dotted; the Ts are crossed, and Kikimora is ready to go out into the world and seek her fortune. You can read the final, expanded version of the opening chapter here.

sunlight on water

A shady pool, as beloved by Rusalkas

I expect to publish Kikimora at the end of October. As with Darklands I’ll do a soft-launch first of ebook only, followed by a paperback within a month or so (before Christmas!) Currently I’m putting together some review copies, and my design consultant is working on the cover design – check back soon for a sneak peak!

To all those who’ve stuck with me, thanks for your patience. I hope you’ll enjoy the results.

* Kikimora has actually turned out exactly the same length as Darklands :-/

Every day approximately seven zillion squillion books are self published. And the world takes absolutely no notice, assuming they are all rubbish. No doubt some of them are. Others, while not rubbish, are likely flawed. But there are also perfectly decent books which are self published.

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Why are they self published if they’re so good? There can be a variety of reasons. A publisher invests a deal of time and money into every title they publish. They have their own agendas and criteria to meet, and simply being ‘good’ isn’t necessarily enough. Maybe it’s good, but they can’t see a large market. Maybe it’s good, but similar to titles they already produce. Maybe it’s good, but currently unfashionable. Maybe it’s good – really good – but just not quite as good as those other ten titles that they have decided to publish.

Some authors claim they self publish by choice; they retain control over every stage of the process, and reap far greater profits. Personally I find this doubtful. Sure, you make a greater profit on each sale – but only if people are buying your book. 70% of nothing is still nothing.

The self published author’s greatest challenges are visibility and credibility. No one knows or cares about their book. The only people they can persuade to read it are likely to be friends and family (certainly early on in the process). They would love for a real, objective reviewer to read and blog about it, but without some initial credibility there is little reason for such a person to take a chance on it.

This is where you can help. Those handful of reviews the book manages to garner in its early months are vital. The bottom line is that the more reviews a book receives the greater its credibility. Unquestionably.

But not all reviews are equal. While any review is better than none (yes, even a one star review), there are things you can do which make your review really valuable to the author, and things which make it … less so.

You have the best intentions. You want to help out the author; you certainly don’t want to upset or offend them. So you go write them that review. Here are the top three pitfalls to avoid.

1) Five Stars

range of reviews

Range of reviews on Amazon for The Golem and Djinni by Helene Wecker

You may think the greatest favour you can do the author is to award the book five stars (assuming five is the maximum on whatever platform you are reviewing). Unfortunately nothing screams ‘Self published author with only friends for reviewers’ like a very small number of reviews all awarding five stars.

That is not the natural pattern of reviewing. Go check out any mainstream, popular book. It will have 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 star reviews. It will have a range, maybe a bell curve, with most of the reviews clustering around four or five stars. Even a work of renowned genius does not garner uniformly five star reviews. It doesn’t garner uniform reviews at all. People have different opinions about it, and they don’t all think they’d better give it the same number of stars as the last person, so that they don’t look stingy.

Keep it realistic. Honestly.

2) I don’t usually read this genre…

‘I don’t normally read sci-fi/children’s books/romances, but this had me captivated from the beginning.’ You might think you’re saying, ‘Read this! It’s brilliant! Even if you think you don’t like the genre. Honest. It’s fantastic.’ But what you’re actually saying is, ‘The only reason I read this book is because the author is a friend, and asked me to.’

3) Boris has done a fantastic job

So the author is your brother, your old school pal, your work colleague. Maybe you don’t know anyone else who’s written a book. It’s pretty cool, right? Referring to the author by their first name subtley lets the world know that you personally know them. You, by association, are pretty cool too.

Or not. Again, what you are really saying is, ‘I only read this book because I know the author.’ It might be true, but it damages their credibility.

Similarly, if you happen to have the same surname as the author, maybe this is the one circumstance where ‘any review at all’ is NOT better than none :-S

If you can avoid those three pitfalls then your review could really help your author pal. So that’s what not to do. But what should you do?

Be honest

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I know you don’t want to offend Boris, and really he has done awfully well, and you’re proud of him, but that bit in the middle with the elephant and the volcano didn’t entirely make sense, did it? The plot got a bit confusing around the time the mermen turned up through the oceanic rift, and come to think of it, the comedy sidekick otter was actually a bit irritating.

It’s okay to say that. I know you don’t believe me, so I’m going to say it again:

It’s okay to criticise your friend’s book!

Say that it’s interesting, say that it’s funny, say that you enjoyed it* – just don’t be afraid to also say, “But…” And don’t be afraid to deduct stars accordingly. Your author pal will thank you in the long run. Hopefully, if they have a bit of realism about their situation, they will thank you immediately.

Your friend has most likely spent years writing their book. They’ve put off social events, missed playing with the kids, maybe they’ve taken time off work, with the accompanying loss in earnings. They are serious about writing books and making a success of it. Patting them on the head and saying, ‘well done, that’s brilliant’ doesn’t help them. If there are areas they need to improve on then tell them. They want to get it right. They want to improve. But if no one tells them where they’re going wrong, how will they ever get better? Meanwhile, they are sitting scratching their heads, thinking, ‘if my book is so damn fantastic, how come I’ve only sold 20 copies..?’

In conclusion, you can help your author pal with their two main problems of visibility and credibility. You help with their visibility simply by writing any review at all. You can help with their credibility by reviewing their book as though it was written by someone you don’t know; by being honest, by pointing out flaws.

With a small range of honest reviews their book stands a far greater chance of being taken seriously by other readers and reviewers than if it only has a handful of glowing, five star reviews.

On behalf of all self publishing authors, thank you for taking the time to read this – and for every review you write for self published authors. It really does help.

Other authors, do you agree with this article? What would you add to the list of review pitfalls?

* assuming those things are true.

Why is it so utterly impossible and infuriating and time-devouring to write a synopsis for your novel?

Since I’m currently taking a hiatus from Kikimora‘s editing, I thought I should have another go at a decent synopsis. Days later, I emerge, blinking and disoriented. I’ve done it! I’ve written 137 words that I only kind of hate a bit… :-S

This is my umpteenth attempt at Kikimora’s synopsis. There have been three or four major versions – all quite different, yet all equally true to the story. How is that possible?

My first attempt was perhaps a little high on whimsy and low on hook:

Raised in isolation by a brooding magician and his learned cat, Kikimora has almost come of age – and that means she has a destiny to fulfil. For Kikimora is no ordinary girl, but a monster spun from the breath of an ice wyvern and the crocodile tears of a killer, and her purpose is to wreak vengeance on mankind.

But Kikimora’s nature is not harsh or cruel. Sent out into the human world alone, she will need all of her ingenuity and resourcefulness to overcome the destiny laid out for her, and perhaps find her own path to happiness.

It clearly wasn’t good enough, so I sought some advice, courtesy of Mike Wells. With a formula* in hand, I had another go:

crazy bacteria stuff growing in thermal pools

I choose to express my feelings on synopsis writing in an abstract manner.

Since her creation, Kikimora has been raised to believe that humans are a blight upon the planet; greedy, stupid and unreasonable. Commissioned to bring about the ruination of a mining community, she wants to prove herself a good and dutiful monster.

But Kikimora finds that cruelty and spite do not come easily to her. Nor had she anticipated falling in love with the very worst of the men, the gunpowder master.

When a rockfall traps the miners deep underground and the caverns slowly fill with water, will Kikimora betray her master and upbringing to rescue the miners – even if it means sacrificing everything?

Meh. I get the need for a hook, but I don’t want to sound like a (bad) Hollywood thriller. Forgetting all about the formula, I took a fresh approach:

Korsakov forest is changing. Where carefree Rusalka once swam in golden pools, now sulphurous run-off from the mines has clouded and poisoned the waters. Where impenetrable forest stretched across the horizon, now ancient trees are felled and burnt.

But the inhabitants of the forest have a plan; a simple, ruthless plan. From the breath of an ice wyvern and the crocodile tears of a killer is spun a strange creature: half child, half nightmare. Schooled in cruelty, Kikimora’s sole purpose is to terrorise the encroaching humans and drive them away.

But Kikimora finds herself strangely unprepared for the realities of the human world. As she learns more about humans, she begins to question her upbringing and her purpose.

When disaster strikes the humans, Kikimora must decide where her loyalties lie: with the guardians of the forest or the humans she has sworn to destroy.

There are some elements of that which I like, but it still sounds stilted and clunky (they all do, I know!) Finally I’ve attempted a mash up with the above and the formula version, and I think it’s the best I’ve got so far. But I’ll probably have rewritten it by tomorrow…

When mining pollution threatens to destroy their home, the spirits of Korsakov forest enlist the help of the world’s greatest sorcerer to create a monster. Spun from the breath of an ice wyvern and the crocodile tears of a killer, Kikimora’s purpose is to terrorise the miners and drive them from the forest for ever.

But Kikimora discovers there is much her guardians neglected to teach her about humans: important things like music and friendship and love. Drawn into their lives, their hopes and fears, Kikimora’s heart rebels against her duty, and she begins to question her purpose.

When disaster strikes the miners, she must decide where her loyalties lie: with the guardians of the forest or with the humans she has sworn to destroy.

But defying her destiny could mean sacrificing everything – even her life.

Thoughts, anyone? I feel like I’ve bludgeoned the story to death, and there is no charm or life left in it. But that’s probably (hopefully) over-familiarity breeding contempt. Does anything about this synopsis intrigue or invite, or should I go back to the drawing board again? (or throw my computer out of the window?)

Who else has trouble writing synopses? Anyone got any great tips or advice?

* visit the site for the full version, but the essence is:
Hero + situation should = goal; unless villian causes it to = disaster.

facebook likeA year or two ago I signed up to one of those author hub sites with various tools, resources and networking thingamajigs. One of the things they promoted was, Hey guys, let’s ‘like’ each other! Not actually like, of course. Just facebook ‘like’.

What the hell, I thought. I was building up my facebook page. It can’t hurt to garner a few more contacts. So I left the details of my facebook page, and went through the list, selectively liking some of the previous entries. Before long I began to receive a few likes back. The way this happens is that someone finds my details on the list, comes and ‘likes’ my page, then leaves a message saying, ‘Hey, I just liked your page! How about you like mine back?’

I know this is the deal I signed up for, but it makes me very uncomfortable. It’s so blatantly un-genuine: I have no interest in what you do or say, I am simply making a transaction.

Every few weeks I will duly look through my messages and visit the pages of the people who have liked me. The trouble is, sometimes I don’t like their pages. Sometimes I really dislike their pages.

Because I know it’s a networking thing, and because I know it’s an exchange thing, I let my usual standards slip a little in terms of what I will like.

It’s all about romance novels?? Aw! But wait, lets look at a few posts… Okay, she posts links to some interesting and useful articles. Okay, she gets a like.

It’s all about romance novels, and her posts are those ones with pictures of angels and kittens, and messages about believing in some higher power, and finding the strength within yourself to blah de blah de blah? No. I’m sorry. There is nothing on that page I have the slightest interest in. Not only can I not in good conscience like it, I don’t want to see it in my news feeds because it will make me cross and irritated.

I try to reciprocate most of the likes. But I don’t know how to handle the ones I don’t like. Up to now I have simply been ignoring them. I recognise that is not a good solution, I just don’t know what else to do.

The problem is intensified when someone sends another message a few weeks later firmly reminding me that I have not liked their page, and please do so now. If anything was likely to deepen my dislike for them, this is it.

What do I do now? Continue to ignore them? Shut up and click the damn button? Explain to them precisely why I don’t like their page and can’t be seen to publicly do so?* Extricate myself from the networky ‘like’ exchange program?

I’ve been back to visit the site in question for the first time in over a year. As far as I can see there is no unsubscribe from this system. It does state on the page that anyone who does not continue ‘liking’ will be removed from the list, but that seems like the only way to get off it. Maybe I could write and request removal?

The thing is, I do like to network with people; I do like to meet new people and see what they’re up to (when I’ve got time, which I haven’t much lately). But I’m coming to dread each new ‘you’ve been liked’ message that pops up on my page.

I will also occasionally get messages from authors advising me that I have only liked their page from my author account, not my personal account – and those likes don’t count towards the total of likes! If anything proved the futility of this like system it is this complaint.

I liked your page from my author account, so that when I’m in author mode I can go to that home page and see posts from authors I am interested in – YOU, in fact. But you are unhappy with that because you didn’t get to see your number go up? For realz??

Through the process of articulating all these thoughts, I am seeing several obvious answers: a) man up; b) you made a deal, keep your end of it; c) why the hell did you ever sign up to such a spammy nonsensical thing in the first place?

I no longer know what the point of the exercise is. So my facebook likes have gone up to 270? Big whoop. How many of those people who technically liked my page (and it is fair to assume, also liked the pages of dozens, if not hundreds of other people off that list) ever see a post I write or interact with it in any way?

I can’t answer the first part of the question, but I can answer the second. Very few. There are a bare handful of other authors I interact with on facebook with even the slightest regularity. Five at most.

So I wonder, what am I gathering ‘likes’ for? And what are they, these likers, gathering likes for? Just to see that number go up? What is the point?

I don’t care about the number of my likes. I care about interacting with people, making connections, having conversations, sharing information. Why does that seem like a problem?

Something needs to change in the way I handle my facebook account, but I’m undecided which way to go with it. Request removal from the whole thing, or just start managing it better – putting a bit more time into it, maybe creating a list of those pages I actually do genuinely like, and accessing them that way?

So, anyone else have experience with this? Am I over-thinking it? How do you handle it? Are you honest with people about why you can’t like their page? Or do you just like it, and then remove it from your feeds? That seems both pointless and dishonest. But I’m coming to the conclusion that it also seems easier than mithering on about it like I am!

* Though tempting, this seems an unwise move. Even apart from my own pathological fear of confrontation, everyone knows that hell hath no fury like a writer scorned. I have no interest in getting involved in a word feud (unless its that game I play on my iphone that’s a bit like scrabble, but just different enough to avoid legal action…)

A book, a craft-knife; what could possibly go wrong?

A book, a craft-knife; what could possibly go wrong?

I think I’m gonna get some flak for this…

Let me start by telling you about my neck. I’ve had problems with my back my entire adult life. Four years of osteopathy eventually sorted out my lower back – and then my neck and shoulders began to seize up. Over the past decade my neck has almost ground to a halt (grind being very much the operative word!). I can move it maybe an inch to either side. I can’t tip my head back without using my hands to help. Tipping it forwards is minimal and uncomfortable.

I try not to let this impinge on daily life. Until a year or so ago I played netball every week. I hike as often as I can and carry my own rucksack. It’s the little daily things that seem the most problematic. My neck and shouldesr seize up from:

  • carrying a handbag ‘wrong’
  • wearing a heavy coat
  • or a heavy necklace
  • having my neck uncovered in any but the most tropical climate
  • sitting at an angle to anything I’m trying to do (watch TV, use a computer, talk to people)

I have learned to manage it pretty well. The one thing that still troubles me is reading heavy books. The gift of a kindle helped enormously with this problem, but I don’t read all my books on my kindle. I recently read Brandon Sanderson’s first Mistborn book, The Final Empire. I enjoyed it immensely and set it aside to lend to my sister. When I came to buy the next in the series, The Well of Ascension, I ummed and ahhed over whether to buy the paperback or ebook. In the end I plumped for the paperback, so that I could also lend this to my sister.

I should have checked the page count first. It arrived yesterday, and I settled down to read it. All 800 pages of it. After two hours my neck was stiff from staring downwards. It’s too heavy to hold in the air, and it weighs down the cushions I try to prop it on. Maybe I could pile further cushions on my lap to support it? But it’s kind of annoying when the cat is meowing to come in and out of the room every few minutes and I have to keep getting up, and then rearranging myself back in the chair (yes alright, that’s the cat being annoying, not the book or the cushions).

I seriously considered buying it again for kindle. But I decided to try something else; something I’ve threatened before for other books, but never yet got around to.

Reader, I cut my book in half.

It is done.

It is done.

I make no apologies. I have stated before that I’m not precious about books. They are tools to facilitate the enjoyment of literature. They are vessels. They are not sacred objects in themselves. And if they are obstructing the enjoyment of literature – well, then they need modifying.

I know some people will be appalled by this book mutilation. It was a bold step, even for me. Maybe some of the morally indignant are asking, Where do I draw the line? Would I ever burn a book?

No, of course not! Well, you know, unless I happened to have 500 copies of Katie Price’s autobiography hanging around, and no light by which to read my latest Joe Abercrombie…

The great irony here is that the most book-worshiping person I know is the same sister I was intending to lend the books to. Far from appreciating the troubles I have gone to on her behalf, I fully expect horror and vilification to come my way. She will disdain to even touch my two part Well of Ascension :-S

Anathem by Neal Stephenson and Empires of the Word by Nicholas Ostler: more books that may face the chop

Anathem by Neal Stephenson and Empires of the Word by Nicholas Ostler: more books that may face the chop

But I am much happier with the two slimmer half books, and will have far greater enjoyment from reading them (and fortunately, the end pages do not appear to be coming loose).

I may do this for more of my heavy paperbacks (yes, Anathem, I’m looking at you. And you, Empires of the Word!)

back on that horse

Get back on that horse! [photo credit: ]

I am indeed back on that horse, the mardiness of 2012’s dying embers all but forgotten.

I have been making good progress with the second draft of Kikimora. I had wanted to crack on with the major rewrite of the crisis that kicks off the climax – but had to admit temporary defeat on that one. It’s been so long since I got properly stuck into it that I didn’t have a good enough handle on the characters and their (constantly edited into different shapes) relationships. So I went back to the beginning, reading through my last round of changes, and adding in some further refinements.

When I did my first draft read-through I thought the second half of the story was WAY better than the first half (which is worse than the other way around cuz once you’re suckered in you’re quite likely to continue reading. But if you aren’t sucked in fairly swiftly, then you will likely put it aside). I made a lot of changes, adding extra scenes and slowing down the story to give the characters more room to grow.

Reading it back this week I was really pleased with the improvements. I’ve also now smoothed over some of the bumps that inevitably arise when you’re chopping chapters into pieces and redistributing chunks of prose here and conversations there – and some of the continuity errors. It’s been really good to get back to it. I need to maintain this pace and enthusiasm into the new year in order to get a readable draft out by the spring.

I normally go to work monday – wednesday, leaving thursday and friday for writing (and weekends to see my family). It’s hard financially, but I have always valued my time more highly than money. The financial demands of Christmas and an ambitiously expensive holiday last year meant that I spent much of autumn working overtime instead of writing (which I’m sure had a bit to do with my New Year melt-down). This year I am determined to tighten my belt and just NOT SPEND ANY MONEY for as long as it takes to get back on an even financial footing.

I want to keep my writing days in tact, so that the story remains fresh in my head each week, and I don’t have to waste time reading back through several chapters to remember what I’m doing..!

So far it’s going well. And I have a new secret weapon in my arsenal: whenever I’m feeling insufficiently Russian,* I listen to Prokofiev’s marvellously evocative and rousing cantata, Alexander Nevsky 🙂 The only problem is that sometimes I get a little distracted – especially during The Battle on Ice.

Seriously, people,  give it a listen. I’d say it’s up there with Carmina Burana** in the bonkers, rousing, orchestral/choral stakes!

* Kikimora is very loosely based on Slavic folklore, and on Anatoly Lyadov’s Fairy tale for orchestra, Kikimora (yes, I listen to that for inspiration too. But it’s only eight minutes long, and I’ve been writing this book for two years…!)

** You should check out that link too. It’s the “misheard lyrics” version. Genius 😀