Friday, 10 January 2014

Crossroads: self-publish or traditional publish my new novel?

Over the last six months I have been very lucky to have had the time to write whenever I want. Part of the time, I was based in that famous Katherine Mansfield city of Menton, on the French Riviera, where the ions in the air I am sure helped me write a substantial chunk of my next book.  When I returned home, I had intended to go back to work, but finding a job took longer than expected and it is only now, six months after my last job, I am about to resume the 9 to 5 workday. In the interim, I have finished writing the book and have completed a substantial edit after finding a wonderful editor/adviser in Bronwen Jones ( to provide the independent and wise advice a writer needs at this critical stage in a book's life. I thoroughly recommend her services.
The new novel is tentatively titled "Aftershock: a story of new beginnings". I'm not sure I'll stick with the title, but it will do for now. It's about how love endures, how two former lovers learn to trust each other again to find a new beginning and it's set against the backdrop of the Christchurch earthquakes of 2011. Bronwen helped me work through that plotline too! 
So I am now at crossroads decision: do I self-publish, like I did with my last novel? Or do I go back to Random House, who published my three earlier novels, ( and see if they would like to take it on?
I'm thinking I'll try the traditional publisher first, mainly because it's so much easier to let them do a lot of the work for you. You don't earn so much per book, but you do tend to sell more books.
However, I'm not so naive as to expect Random to do all the work. Times have changed and even traditionally published authors have to go someway towards promoting and finding outlets for their books. My next move, therefore is to update my website and build a database from it. A new learning curve.
If Random turns me down, I've been down the indie author route three times now (with my last book and two from my back catalogue) so, with a database and interactive website up and running, it should be a comparative breeze. 
Meanwhile, it's off to work we go.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Give and Ye Shall Receive

Joining the New Zealand Romance Writers online community has opened a new window of opportunity for me - there are some wonderfully helpful people there like Shirley Wine, who writes Rural Romances as breathtaking and unique as the land that inspires them. Shirley has been generous with her advice and has hosted my first guest blog on her website-linked blog:
I hope one day I can help others in the group as much as Shirley has helped me. I've often been told that being generous with your help to other writers can reap its own rewards later on. If this is the case, Shirley deserves payback big-time. 

This is what I wrote on her blog, which can be found at:

Why I simply had to write “In Her Mothers’ Shoes”

Like many Baby Boomers, I was born to an unmarried mother in the 1950s and adopted at birth. My mother never even got to hold me or say goodbye. I was simply taken from her while her stitches were being sewn up and she never saw me again.
My adoptive parents told me from an early age that I’d been adopted. It never seemed a big deal until I was a teenager, a time when many of us question our parents and wish we’d been born to someone more glamorous and lenient! From then on, I keenly wanted to know who my “real” mother was (I wasn’t so fussed about my birth father) but it wasn’t until the New Zealand adoption laws changed in 1986-7 that I was able to do anything about it.
I finally got to meet her in the late 1980s but it wasn’t for another twenty-two years that I met up with my new brothers and sister.
The more people I spoke to about finding me new family, the more I realised just how common my story is. It seemed almost everyone had a half brother or sister, or cousin, or some close relative who’d suddenly popped up out of the blue. It was a story waiting to be told, and for some time I thought about writing it.
Until then, my books had been a bit like Marian Keyes’ books – a mix of light-hearted humour with some serious issues, but essentially entertaining. The title of one of them – “A Sandwich Short of a Picnic” – says it all.
This new novel (yes, it is fictional, but obviously based on my story) about finding my birth family, had to be different to allow for the heart-wrenching time my birth mother had and the heart-warming feeling of finally meeting someone who looks like you. Not to mention, realising that at last you can have a sense of belonging, of fitting in.
So I started working part-time and spent a year attending the “Bill Manhire” Victoria University Creative Writing course. It was the most wonderful experience. I learned how to stop over-writing, over-explaining, how to internalise better; I learned so many things that helped me write a better book.
When it was finished, my usual publisher, Random House, told me it wasn’t commercial enough – which it wasn’t. Especially compared with my earlier books. So I published it myself – in print and online – and documented some of the fun and games on my blog. I’m still learning how to do it, how to sell more books online, and how to write even better next time. Because, of course, I’m writing another book this year. It’s quite different. Who knows if it will be commercial?!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

It's been raining men - but where's the benefit?

When everyone raves about ultra-fast fibre broadband, it's a no-brainer to sign up for it right? 
Now that we've done so, I'm not so sure.
The fibre cable arrived at our gate, along with all the other gates in our street, about two months ago, followed by a flyer from Snap! Did we want to sign up for some incredibly cheap rate, including landlines, that was significantly less per month than our existing supplier? Of course. So, after decades with Telecom, we switched everything - phones and internet provider - to Snap! 
Men came to make diagrams where the cable would go up our long drive. Men came to have another look at where it would go into the house. More men came back a month or so later to burrow up the garden border at the side of the drive, like big hairy rabbits burrowing holes every few meters and magically drilling horizontally in between to stretch the cable. Another bunch of men came to drill through the wall and connect up the phones and the Fritz-box that holds the key to the ultra-fast broadband. But they couldn't find where the copper cable comes in so they couldn't disconnect it. Several phone calls later, another bunch of men came to disconnect it. Meanwhile, my laptop wouldn't get emails and neither would my non-Telecom phone. More phone calls to reconnect. Apparently there was a new code that had to be entered into the laptop and phone, but nobody had bothered to tell us. 
It became something of a trial, really, waiting for endless people at call centres to fix each problem and get everything going again. But three weeks later, we're all connected and looking forward to enjoying the benefits of ultra-fast fibre broadband. I say "looking forward" because neither the cable provider nor the ISP has bothered to explain to us what the benefits actually are and how to access them. Such as movies. My laptop, being an older one, doesn't like playing movies unless they're on DVD - which don't need fibre broadband to be delivered to my lap. 
Next step: upgrading the laptop software to play movies and finding out what else the fibre wizardry can do.
It would be a pain to think that all those men laboured in vain.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

An Indie learns to publish on Kobo and Smashwords

Having made the most of the "Kindle Select" promotional offers with my latest book (In Her Mothers' Shoes) - the ones you can only have if your book is exclusive to Kindle - I decided the time was right to move onto other pastures, hopefully just as green. Kindle was my first learning experience in Indie Publishing, as they call it. I sweated for hours over my keyboard formatting the book for html; I nearly went mad getting the cover the right size; and I almost lost it trying to get the worldwide distribution settings right. But after a while, I got the hang of it so well I published two of my earlier novels on Kindle as well - and each time, it got a little easier.
You would think, then, that publishing my adoption-triangle novel In Her Mothers' Shoes on Kobo and Smashwords would be a doddle.
Not quite.
While Kindle requires you to save the book as "Web Page, Filtered" (html), Kobo needs it in epub, odt, mobi (whatever that is) and, thankfully, word documents. Smashwords, on the other hand, only takes older word documents but the formatting is much the same.
The only major difference between Kindle and Smashwords is that you can't have your paragraphs indented AND a 12pt (or any-sized) gap after the paragraph. It has to be one or the other. But it was only a moment's work to reformat the whole book without the extra space. How times have changed!
There is also a specific requirement for how you word your copyright on Smashwords, which I hadn't struck before (Published by Felicity Price & Associates at Smashwords, © Copyright 2013 Felicity Price).
For Smashwords and Kobo, you need to have a new ISBN Number (which you get when you apply first time round - one for print, one for Kindle and one for epub).
With those four things sorted, I clicked the "Publish" button and my book was up there in the Smashwords and Kobo stores.
Just how this will translate to sales, I have yet to learn. I suspect there is a secret formula somewhere but, unlike Kindle, there doesn't appear to be a special "Select" marketing programme that helps boost your sales up the rankings.
That's my next task. I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Top Ten Tips for Painless Publishing on Kindle

Even the most reluctant technophone can become highly savvy when the motivation is to get your book out there. And by out there, I mean read by people who don't even know you.
In the last couple of months, I've put two of my earlier novels - No Angel and Call of the Falcon - up on Kindle. They say that the more books you have in your author profile available for purchase, the more you are likely to sell since people who enjoy one book can then go back and buy another. So I've done all the right things like put a request for a review at the end of the book (with an appropriate link) and put a list of my other books for sale at the front (with their own links too).  It takes time, of course, but the more you do the easier it becomes. I recall when I put In Her Mothers' Shoes on Kindle last year it took forever to get the formatting right and the cover the right size and the rights all allocated correctly. Now I've done it three times, I'm becoming a bit of an expert. In fact, I even ran a couple of classes on the subject of digital self-publishing for the local branch of the NZ Society for Authors earlier in the year. Who would have thought it?! 
So, if you're thinking of doing this yourself sometime, here are my summarised top ten tips for a comparatively painless way of publishing on Kindle: 
1. Get your book professionally edited - and that doesn't mean friends and family
2. Get your cover professionally designed by a graphic designer who knows about what works on a book cover
3. Write a promotional "blurb" for your book of up to 300 words that will make its target audience want to buy it (and you do need to work out what sort of people your readers will be). This is a vital sales tool, as are the 8 "key words/phrases" you choose to help your book be found. (Don't use words in the title).
4. Get ISBN numbers from (in New Zealand) You will need one for Kindle, one for e-readers and one for print. They are free.
5. Log onto Kindle Direct Publishing, create a password, click to create a new book.
6. Make formatting your friend. Follow what KDP tells you to do, set fonts (only 3 are available) at 11pt, delete any page numbers, and save the document as HTML (Save as: Type: Web Page Filtered)
7. Upload your book following the prompts. Then follow the instructions to see how it will look on Kindle. If it doesn't look right, fix the errors and upload it again.
8. Upload your cover according to the size limits, and add your "blurb" and your 8 key phrases.
9. Decide on your royalty option, pricing, tick it is not in the public domain (unless it's an old copyright-expired publication), worldwide distribution, Digital Rights Management and available for lending. Royalties (for those of us not US residents) will come in the form of a cheque mailed when the amount due reaches over 100 pounds or 100 US dollars.
10. Click Save and Publish and in a day or two you will see your book, its cover, and its blurb up in the Kindle Store.
Good luck! I'm looking forward to seeing what difference it makes having several books for sale now. I'll keep you posted - along with any further tips for getting sales.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Top writers are ignoring top writers' advice

In the last couple of weeks, I've read two of the most highly recommended female writers of our generation - Anne Tyler (Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant) and Rose Tremain (The Swimming Pool Season). There is no doubt in my mind that they are both exceptional writers; their prose is inspirational. But taken as a whole, their books - specifically their characters and their stories - leave me pretty cold. 
In neither book was there a single engaging character. In both books, the characters were either brittle and damaged, just plain difficult, or passive pushovers who never learned to stand up for themselves. In both books, there was at least one major character who was a nutjob. 
Both books also go into a tremendous amount of extraneous detail, building up as complicated a picture as possible. And the detail often lacks interest.  There are a lot of dream sequences (yawn) and several totally irrelevant scenes, with new, unusual characters added, that made me wonder if they came from a writing exercise or short story Tyler decided to throw in for good measure.
Dare I say it, AS Byatt does this too - adds page after page of diversion and detail - sometimes in the extreme.
Yet what about all that advice to writers - by some of the world's top writers - to make sure all your subplots and action contribute in some way to the overriding theme or story? Not to mention the advice about dream sequences - leave them out because they bore the pants off people.
Funnily enough, reviews in the Telegraph and Guardian often point out the extraneous detail and unlikeable characters in these books, but they still rave about how these writers are so good.
I don't get it!

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Time to Write

What an unaccustomed luxury to have time to write. My first book, Dancing in the Wilderness, was published in 2001 and I wrote a lot of it after midnight, after the kids were in bed, after the after-hours work was polished off. From then on, writing was secondary to the day job, squeezed in between running a very busy business and looking after two equally busy teenagers. In fact it was the demands of those very teenagers, combined with the growing demands of having elderly, increasingly frail parents, plus the job, the community work and a badly behaved spaniel, that inspired me to write my fourth, fifth and sixth books, including the best-selling Sandwich Short of a Picnic.

I was a fully fledged member of the Sandwich Generation - sandwiched between elderly parents, teenagers and a career, all making demands on my time and leaving no time for me, let alone for writing. 
But as all authors know, you just make the time. You're driven to. There's something about that laptop, those characters, the sudden plot twist that overtook you the last time you typed out a chapter. You just can't keep away. 
In July this year, as a long-planned bucket-list move, my husband and I spent three months in Menton, in the south of France, where I had plenty of time to write - as well as eat a lot of cheese, drink a lot of wine and swim in the sea every day. My eighth novel sped onto the page. And now that we're back home and waiting for the right job to come by, there's even more time to write. I can't believe how much fun it is, sitting down at the laptop every day. Now I can be just like Stephen King, who sets himself a 2000 word limit every day. And without another job to go to, it's not that hard to achieve.
Like all good things it can't last forever. Like most writers, I have to have a day job. Besides, how will I get that real-life experience I can write about at some later date?