Category Archives: Publishing

Now the real work begins

Back in June 2018 I received a contract for a third novel in the Inspector James Given series (it didn’t start out as a series but has just grown that way) and, despite my slackness until I agreed a deadline, I completed the first draft by the last week in November. Hurrah!

I even got as far as devising a working title – it’s been James Given #3 for the last 5 months but now is called A Patient Man for the time being.

Unfortunately this is just the start of the process and there are many hours of work still ahead before it’s ready for a professional editor to take a look. Certainly I could just check it for typos, package it and send it off, there are plenty of novels out there where the author seems to have taken that approach, but then it wouldn’t be the best I could make it would it? And that’s what I want it to be, so the hard hours have to be put in.

I suspect every writer edits their work differently, and there are lots of guides out there to self-editing, so all I can talk about is how I’m attacking it. There are two main issues to address at this stage:

  1. I’m about 15,000 words short of my target length;
  2. I need to make sure the narrative of each of the story strands works from beginning to end.

I write using Scrivener on my laptop and on my iPad but prefer to read a hard copy, so the first job is to print a full manuscript, double spaced, punch it and put it in a ring-binder. The general advice seems to be to put it away for 6 months to give distance, but I’m not sure that works for me. Firstly, I’ve an awful memory so would probably forget where I put it. Secondly, I suspect that if I put it away I wouldn’t pick it up again, having moved on to new projects. Thirdly, there’s that deadline.

So, with my hard copy in hand, I skim read it, looking for time/day references or specific real events which provide a date stamp. I then produce what I should probably have produced before I started writing, a timeline. Because I’m that sort of geek, and because it’s easier to amend than a paper version, I tend to produce this as an Excel spreadsheet. Then I find that I need to go over the manuscript several times making margin notes to correct the times/days. This can, of course be very frustrating, and produce problems which seem almost insoluble – in this novel I had the declaration of the Second World War, which I’d have preferred (for other events) not to be on a Sunday, but it was, and nothing I could do about that so just had to make adjustments.

With these timing errors noted and rectified as far as possible I read the hard copy again, trying to avoid looking at typos, bad phrasing, etc, (that’s a later stage), making margin notes where further explanation might be needed, where gaps in the narrative arc have occurred and where opportunities exist to increase the word count. This latter one is really dependent on the others because adding words just for the sake of it isn’t a good idea, the reader simply finds it annoying to read verbiage.

Having read from beginning to end, without making any changes on the digital version, I then begin making the amendments in Scrivener, making sure I tick off each one on the hard copy.

This is the stage I’m at now. When it’s complete I’ll then read again and perhaps ask someone else to read it, still looking for errors in the narrative.

After that I’ll look for opportunities to increase internal and external conflict – the lifeblood of any good story. Then the work will start on phrasing, typos, repeat words, redundancies, excessive adverbs, clichés, pacing, etc. So not much there then.

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Newsflash – exciting

Today I have received an offer of contract from a publisher, Sapere Books, and am so excited. Sapere Books has offered to publish the new novel, A Rose by Any, alongside a relaunch of A Shadowed Livery and possibly a third in the Inspector James Given series which is currently at an early stage.

Those of you who read this blog regularly will be aware I’ve been looking for some time to place my second novel, following the decision of Holland House to stop commissioning new work for its Grey Cells Press imprint. It was a shame, because I have nothing but admiration for the dedication and editorial insight of Robert Peett and his team at Holland House, but independent publishing is a difficult game and I fully understand his decision.

One of the effects of these changes is that the digital version of A Shadowed Livery has ceased to be available for a while, although the print version may remain available via Amazon and other online outlets, or directly from Grey Cells Press. Hopefully, they will both become available again, alongside the new Inspector James Given novel, in a few months.

I’m very much looking forward to working with Amy Durant and her colleagues at Sapere Books on this new phase.

 

CreateSpace vs IngramSpark

As an author I still believe that most satisfaction comes from having a novel accepted by a publisher who then takes it to a finished work on the bookshelves. For me, there’s a vindication in it that someone else is prepared to commit time and energy into something I’ve written. Also, the experience of working with a publisher to hone the writing is incredibly beneficial. When A Shadowed Livery was published by Grey Cells Press in 2015 it was nothing like the draft I’d sent to them a year earlier, I thought it was improved immeasurably.

However, finding a publisher or agent is very difficult, the competition is enormous, so, in this digital age, self-publishing has become an option. It isn’t easy, nor is it a guaranteed route to fame and fortune, but neither is the traditional route. Having co-ordinated the self-publication of two pieces of work – a memoir and a collection of short-stories – using both Amazon’s CreateSpace and IngramSpark, I have a some insights which might be helpful to anyone considering this path. There are more extensive comparisons available but these are just some basic thoughts from my own experience.

When considering self-publishing, one of the first questions is whether you want a printed version or are you happy with putting it out as an e-book. This decision will affect the budget you require and also the marketing plan you’ll devise. I don’t think either is best, though there’s nothing quite like the feeling of holding a book, your book, in your hands for the first time.

My recent (Nov 2016) project on Ingram’s cost a little over €900 euros for printing and shipping (from UK to Ireland) of 200 copies of an 8″ x 5″ paperback plus setup costs of €49 and cover design costs of €135. On CreateSpace there are no setup costs, the cost per copy is a little less but they ship from the US so this can be considerably more if you’re in another country. The shipping costs of the books when I used CreateSpace was around 44% of the cost of printing. This compares with around 5% using IngramSpark. This can, of course, make a huge difference in the financial viability of the book.

There can, however, be a saving on cover design. CreateSpace has free cover templates to modify and the process is fairly simple. IngramSpark does not, and you need to design and produce your own cover. They do provide a size template in a couple of formats but the actual design needs to be provided by you.

There’s also a difference in the complexity of the process. CreateSpace allows uploading of Microsoft Word files, which is handy. IngramSpark only allows uploading of PDF files, which requires conversion software or add-ins, and can be a bit tedious when errors in the draft are spotted (as they inevitably will be). With both providers, the process for e-books seems to be a lot simpler. The most complex part with IngramSpark, I found, was the cover. This needs to be produced using the size template provided, with no variation, probably using something like Adobe InDesign, then converted to PDF format for uploading.

IngramSpark provides distribution to a wide range of on-line and physical outlets, CreateSpace, I believe, only goes through Amazon and affiliates, which is still substantial.

On the memoir I helped publish, I found CreateSpace easier to use, but the shipping costs were so high outside the US it meant we changed to IngramSpark for the second print run. I’ve also found IngramSpark’s support desk really knowledgeable, understanding and helpful each time I’ve used it – a massive advantage if you’re not an expert.

This is just a quick run-through of some differences. If you’ve any questions please feel free to get in touch.

They were friends after all

So, after only five months from starting our project on putting together a collection of stories from our writers’ group, MEAS Writers, the book and ebook are now out. Wild Atlantic Words hit the shelves this weekend and we’re very proud of it.

We went down the path of self-publishing through Ingram Spark and found it relatively painless. They require files to be submitted in pdf waw-3d-cover-3smallformat and images need to be quite high quality so it can be fairly stressful at the point of pressing the ‘send’ button. However, there is an online checking service to make sure they’re technically correct then it is good practice to order a proof copy before splashing out on a few hundred copies. The proof copy service was very good and we actually had it in our hands three days after I placed the order. Admittedly, we paid (only) a few euro more for the rush printing service but it was definitely worth it on the single copy.

We’re now starting to work on the official launch and on finding reading spots. What fun.

If you’re wondering why ‘MEAS Writers’ – meas is Irish for respect and although it is the name of the community group which spawned our writing efforts, it also sums up the way we treat each other’s work when we read and critique. We’re a group of authors based in Donegal along the Wild Atlantic Way.

Have you self-published? Who did you use and what was the experience like?

Old friends or foes – next steps

In my last post I referred to a short story collection I was working on with six other writers and was looking forward, with some trepidation, to digging out and polishing some old stories as my contribution. I’m now surfacing from that exercise and we’re hoping to begin the publishing process of Wild Atlantic Words in the next week or so. It’s been an interesting exercise, not least being navigating the tricky waters of editing and proofreading as a collective endeavor. Lessons have been learned and generally the process of working with others has been fun.

Would I recommend it? On balance, I think so, but I’d do it differently if I went that way again. It is one thing to meet regularly to share writing but quite another to pick up a complex task with a deadline when the participants are all good writers but may have different skills and preferences when it comes to design (e.g. which font to use? how far to indent?), competency in some of the murkier corners of Word (e.g. paragraph styles), and what a book cover should look like. We should, I think, have spent more time at the beginning working out some of the practicalities and thinking through a timeline to meet the crazy deadline we set ourselves – out for Christmas market!

I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who’s been down this path.

Old friends – or foes?

I’m a member of a small writers’ group – the group is small, not the writers – and we meet regularly in members’ houses to share our scribblings. There’s usually five of us, three writing novels and the other two concentrating on short stories. Another three members attend occasionally but geography and other commitments sometimes make it difficult for us all to be together at one time. So it is, I imagine, with all such groups.

Recently we decided we would compile an anthology of our short stories and aim to self-publish. The technology is now fairly straightforward and the costs can be reasonable if you shop around. The important thing for us about the venture is it would allow all of our writers to participate, even if they can’t make meetings. We decided the theme would be our county, Donegal, in the north west of Ireland, or, perhaps more broadly, the area now widely known as the Wild Atlantic Way, which stretches 1,500 miles along the coast from Derry in the north to Kinsale in the south.

So, with due diligence, I started to trawl through old, forgotten, short stories I’d written over the years, trying to decide which could be reworked for this new enterprise. What an experience. Some still made me smile, some made me cringe, most made me wonder if I’d actually written them. They were like friends not seen for many years. Those you went with to school or college half your lifetime ago. Vaguely remembered but somehow changed.

I know I’ll need to work at it but I’m enjoying getting to know them again.

A new project

So the final draft of my Inspector Given sequel is finished and with my publisher for consideration, it’s also been submitted to a couple of agents and I’m sitting here with fingers crossed – making the typing much more difficult than it needs to be. I’ve had some excellent help from my daughters and their spouses with the final edit. Two spotted the villain quite early so that’s been changed!

I’ve started a new project, significantly different to the detective novels and I’m finding it both challenging and thrilling. It’s certainly something I couldn’t have written a few years ago because I simply wouldn’t have had the skills nor the confidence to make it work. I’m not sure that I have now but I’m enjoying trying to write it. It only has a simple working title for now, so I can file it, and I’m finding that the time spent learning to use Scrivener was worth it because it is a complex structure, switching time, point-of-view and voice frequently.

Basically it tells the story of three generations of a family through the medium of a mother sitting at the bedside of her daughter who is in a coma. The timeline begins at the height of the Irish famine and ends in the last days of the Second World War – so not much danger of historical accuracy errors there then.

If you’d like to see a draft of the opening scenes, or maybe ask a question about my use of Scrivener use the form below.