A Writer’s Final Resting Place

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Last week we had a blissful few days away, staying in a traditional little black wood-clad cottage in Suffolk. After a hectic year, it was wonderful soaking up the unseasonably warm sunshine and the fabulous scenery, and generally re-charging our batteries.

Not far from our cottage was a stretch of common and a church, so one afternoon we went for a stroll. My husband went to look at the church, while I wandered around the churchyard. I’m not quite sure why gravestones should be so fascinating but they are. I’m always amazed by the longevity recorded on some of the stones, and appalled by the short life of others.

As I was glancing at the names, I came across this stone:

Now if, like me, you were a keen fan of pony books when you were a child, this name should jump out at you as it did with me.

Christine was one of three madly horsey sisters who all wrote loads of books (and did other cool things like run their own riding school when they were youngsters – in the age before things like licensing, qualifications, health & safety and public liability!). Of the three sisters Christine was the most productive, writing somewhere in the region of 100 books (mostly fiction, but some non-fiction) – most of which I devoured when I was young and ponyless. Indeed, one is within reach on the shelves next to my desk as I write this.

My obsession with reading and collecting pony books (mostly written in the 1950s and 1960s) probably contributed to my not fitting in too well at school since my vocab was peppered with the kind of words used by the Pullein-Thompson sisters’ characters (though I’m pretty sure those robust types would have considered me “feeble”!). But much more importantly, Christine and her sisters inspired me to try writing my own pony stories, which in turn prompted a lifelong interest in writing itself, so for that I owe them a huge debt.

Finding Christine’s grave, I was struck by how serendipitous life can be. I hadn’t known she’d lived in this particular village, it was only completely by chance that we’d wandered through the church yard, and chance again that I happened to spot her name. For a moment, I was quite stunned. Christine, you were such an important part of my childhood, I feel honoured to have seen your idyllic resting place in the Suffolk countryside.

If you were a pony-mad child and want a bit of nostalgia, can I recommend you take a look at Jane Badger’s online Pony Book Encyclopaedia which contains an absolute wealth of info about the genre – and loads and loads of cover pictures which will have you misty-eyed with recognition. All Christine’s books are listed, and it’s great to know her legacy lives on.

 

 

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Social Media: it’s not all bad!

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Social media gets a lot of bad press (often, paradoxically, in posts on social media!). Rather like television or violent computer games, it seems to now be held responsible for many of our social ills. Too much time on Facebook, we are warned, leads to our making negative comparisons with our compatriots, lowered self-esteem and a rising sense of isolation. Irresponsible sharing of unsubstantiated posts engenders the perpetuation of lies, negative bias or discriminatory and inflammatory social trends. Spending too much time embedded in the virtual world of your phone means you might miss out on valuable real life experiences. You’d be forgiven for thinking that everything in the social media world is poisonous.

But this sinister view is not the whole truth. For writers in particular, the online world provides a wealth of timely information, news and social comment which not only assists you in keeping up with industry trends, but also keeps you in touch with the zeitgeist. You simply could not replicate this through TV, books, or magazines/newspapers alone.

Social media also provides a platform for finding your “tribe”, for linking up with other like-minded people (unconstrained by geographical location), sharing ideas and supporting one another. For writers, who are usually (by necessity) lonesome creatures, it’s particularly invaluable – as I’ve found this week.

You’ll probably notice I’ve not posted here for a while. And you might deduce (quite correctly) that there is a positive correlation between the number of posts on this blog and my writing output in general. So yes, for a number of reasons I’ve shied away from all things writing-related for a few months. And, as you’ll probably know, the longer you’ve not written, the harder it is to get back into it.

What has made matters worse is that I started off at the beginning of the year in a burst of creativity and wrote thousands of words in the first couple of months. I had a schedule and I stuck to it. I was disciplined. Then I decided to take a break to recharge my batteries – thinking I would go back to it later with a fresh eye.

Hmm…

Roll on seven months and there’s me finding myself unable to pick up a pen (or open the laptop) – frankly even to consider myself as a writer at all. My attendance on Twitter’s #WritingChat (8pm every Wednesday evening) had dwindled as I felt too shame-faced to take part. This week’s topic was the quarterly reviewing of goals.

Oh, goals. Those things crafted in a burst of New Year optimism which I’ve not dared look at for months? So I sent a brief apologetic tweet – feeling unable to take part. But the “tribe” weren’t having that. A host of positive responses began pinging into my feed – I should draw a line under the last few months, accept them for what they were, re-frame my goals and move on. If I was too scared to go back to the big project, I should start small. Just a line or two.

Later I had a sneaky peek at my original goals list. Yes, it was bad. But actually it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. I’d made positive steps towards a few of the items on the list. Perhaps some things were salvageable.

And the following evening I was ‘direct messaged’ by a fellow writer – just gently checking up on me to see if I’d written anything that day. It was just the nudge I needed. Granted, I didn’t write anything new that evening, but I did start typing up and editing a story I’d drafted longhand a while back.

So I’d like to say a huge thank you to the #WritingChat community, and to the writer who contacted me directly (you know who you are!) – it was hugely appreciated. Because social media is not just there for all the bad things in life – it can also bring people together in a positive, supportive way.

While I can’t guarantee a sudden burst of creativity, I don’t now feel quite so intimidated by the thought of sitting at my desk. Just looking back through my file of unfinished drafts has reminded me of embryonic stories I’d forgotten all about. I’m still a writer, even if a little lapsed right now!

And hey, at least I’ve written this post! 😉

Why this might be my last short story

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You’d be forgiven for thinking I’d abandoned writing altogether, given the lack of recent blog posts. This isn’t the case, and apologies for the radio silence, but two linked events have prompted this post.

The first is the publication of my latest short story in the current issue of Woman’s Weekly. Now, I’ve written for WW for over five years, and during that time they’ve published some stuff I’m really proud of. Some may knock the woman’s magazine market, but I’ve always been of the opinion that WW has allowed writers a little more freedom in terms of subject matter and depth than some of the other magazines, particularly in their Fiction Specials, so I’ve always enjoyed writing for them.

This week though, there’s been outcry in the womag writing community after Time Inc, who now own WW, changed their contracts to bring their fiction acquisition in line with their other freelance material (non-fiction, photographs etc.). New contracts will be issued on an all-rights basis meaning that any fiction writer whose work appears in the magazine will have no further rights to their own story. In the past, after 18 months you could submit your story elsewhere or publish it yourself (as I’ve done with my collection The Camel in the Garden for instance). More importantly, the story still belonged to you in both the moral and legal sense.

 

“Symptoms” was accepted months ago under the old contract, hence my copyright is intact. In the past, I have sold a few stories on an all-rights basis (one of which was very early on when I was young and particularly dim. I didn’t even keep a copy of the story – and I never managed to get hold of a printed copy either, so that story is well and truly gone – all these years later, I can’t even remember the title or what it was about, save it was an equine-themed one). If you’re a writer starting out, and it’s your first sale, then I guess you might be so happy to see your work in print you might not mind about the rights issue. But for me, I’m afraid I won’t be making any future submissions to Woman’s Weekly as at stands, which makes me feel rather sad. We can but hope there will be a change of heart at Time Inc head office, but I very doubt it.

If you want to read more about the situation, Simon Whaley has written a comprehensive article on his blog here and there’s plenty of discussion about the issue on social media at the moment. If you have anything to add, please feel free to comment below.

 

Reading: my guilty pleasure!

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It didn’t use to be like this. Back in the day, I could while away a whole morning or afternoon with a good book perfectly easily. I would think nothing of submerging myself in a novel with the same joy as I might a hot bath. Occasionally I might feel a trace of guilt after the fact, when the day had slipped by with little (on the face of it) to show for it, but it never spoilt the actual pleasure of reading.

Nowadays, things are different. I find it difficult to settle to reading. The odd article or post is easy enough, but a proper book? That’s a different matter. I suspect partly (and paradoxically) this may be because I’m a writer myself. I know we writers are supposed to read all the time, and I guess I do if we’re talking about writing-related tips and info, but being a writer means you can’t help but spend time analysing and deconstructing the written word as you read. Plus you tend to read stuff that you ought to read, rather than the stuff you really want to devour. And that tends to get in the way of real reading pleasure.

But that’s not the whole story. Partly it’s habit (or falling out of the habit). Reading used to be my default setting. After a bit, writing became my default setting. Now I suspect Facebook and eBay are becoming a much less satisfying alternative. Why do I allow myself to be distracted by such tosh?!

And the other thing is the dullness of being a grown up, with grown up responsibilities. You sit down for a moment to read, and the thought begins to gnaw at you that you put a wash on a little while ago and hadn’t you better get the washing out to dry? Or the washing up needs doing (OK, we’re probably the only people in the universe who don’t have a dishwasher, but that’s fine by me.) Or the dogs need a walk. Or the garden is looking neglected. Or the car needs vacuuming out. Or you really ought to write a blog post…

I have to face facts: there are 24 hours in day, everyone gets the same number – but how you spend them is up to you. If you want to do something you will make time for it, even if it means making a compromise somewhere else. And I want to be a reader again. A voracious reader. A reader who reads for the simple joy of it.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a book waiting…….. 🙂

Quick Guide to eBook Publishing with Amazon KDP – Part 5

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This is the last in a series of five posts designed to help you if you’re publishing your first eBook with Amazon KDP. It aims to give you a few hints and tips as well as some links to other sources of help. If you’ve just stumbled upon this post today, you can catch up with all the previous parts using these links:

Now we’re at the final stage:

Part 5: Marketing your eBook

Actually, it’s a bit misleading to say this is the final part, as the promotion and marketing process should really be on your mind from the moment you have the idea for the book. But I’ve left it until last in this series as, if this is your first eBook, getting the darn thing written and formatted is daunting enough.

One of the hardest things about self-publishing is the fact that you have to learn to wear a lot of different hats. Yes, you’re a writer, but you’re also a copyeditor, proofreader and cover designer. You’ve had to learn how to deal with the technical aspects of eBook creation. Now you also have to become the Marketing Department for your writing business. If you’ve been able to develop some or all of these skills in other roles prior to embarking on your writing career, then you’ll have a head start. For most of us though, not all the skills in the self-publishers toolkit will come naturally. If you’re a creative writer and a dreamer, if you like to spend vast amounts of time in your own head with just your characters for company, chances are you’re not going to be the sort of person who enjoys public speaking or self-promotion. So yes, marketing your book can be hard – but you’re a creative person (you must be, else you wouldn’t have written a book in the first place) so you should be able to come up with a strategy which suits both your book and your personality.

Fortunately there are loads of great resources out there for self-published authors. For instance, you can try Mark Dawsons’s Self Publishing Formula  or Joanna Penn’s site The Creative Penn. Both contain free resources as well as their own books and courses, and links to other useful sites. There are also loads of great articles in print magazines such as Writers’ Forum and Writing.

Read as much as you can about marketing and promotional strategies for eBooks, but don’t get carried away – keep in mind all the time what you are trying to achieve. Your eBook is available – what you want to do is let people who might be interested know how they can find it. There are lots of ways to go about this, including:

  • Social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. are great ways to reach a fairly wide range of people relatively quickly and easily. But there is so much promotional activity on the internet that you have to have an integrated approach to publicizing yourself and your book. Ramming it down people’s throats by repeated posting “BUY MY BOOK!” is not the way to go. Yes, you need to run a few ads, but more importantly, you need to get involved in discussions, and engage with people about topics relevant to your book. Make online friends. Treat social media in the same way you would any other social interaction. You’re aiming to raise awareness and generate interest in your writing – you do this by building an online presence, and developing relationships.
  • Telling all your friends! It can seem incredibly embarrassing to talk about your writing with people you know (the non-writing people that is!). It’s difficult to work into conversation, and we Brits find it particularly tricky to talk about our own achievements. I always think of the bit in Blackadder Goes Forth when George says “Well you know, one doesn’t want to blow one’s own trumpet,” and Blackadder says, “You might at least have told us you had a trumpet!” That seems so true when people you know well say things like, “Oh, I didn’t know you write!” And you’re then embarrassed that you didn’t say something before. You’ll also be amazed when the people you least expected to be interested in your writing are the ones who end up being your biggest fans! Incidentally, you’ll probably know lots of people who don’t have a Kindle, but you can tell them how to download the app for their phone or laptop so they can be part of the eBook experience.
  • Sending press-releases to local newspapers (I’ve sent out a couple of press releases, and they were used – local papers are desperate for copy!). Though I’m not wholly convinced that this does generate any additional sales, it can lead to other opportunities, and does raise your profile as a writer.
  • Blogging about your writing (or chosen specialised subject if you write non-fiction). Or getting other people to blog about it! Or commenting on other people’s blogs… Or going on a blog tour…
  • Giving talks to writing groups or other interested parties. Or taking part in an event at a local library, bookshop, or other local community activity.
  • Paid advertising on Facebook/Amazon etc.
  • Building a mailing list.

Whatever you decide to do, remember to keep it up. Maintain that social media presence. Attend those events. Keep talking to your readers.

So, that’s my quick guide in a nutshell. To sum up, it is possible, if you do your own cover design using your own images, to create an eBook with absolutely no outlay, but if you want professional help, be prepared to spend money on cover creation, editing and proofreading, and marketing and promotion. Be realistic about how much you can afford to spend given your likely earnings – eBooks are not a get-rich-quick scheme.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series, and picked up a few tips on the way. If you’re about to have a go at creating your first eBook, I’d love to hear how you get on.

Quick Guide to eBook Publishing with Amazon KDP – Part 4

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If you’re publishing your first eBook with Amazon KDP, this five part series is designed to give you a few hints and tips, as well as some links to other sources of help. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here, Part 2 is here, and Part 3 is here.

Part 4: Uploading your eBook to Amazon KDP

OK, so you now have your perfected manuscript correctly formatted, and your super front cover which looks good not only in full size, but also as a thumbnail. Now comes the exciting part – uploading it all to KDP.

First, you need to go to https://kdp.amazon.com/ (There’s a cute little video on this page which tells you all about publishing via KDP.) If you already have an Amazon account, you should be able to create a KDP account and sign in with your usual details. This then takes you to a page with tabs for “Bookshelf”, “Reports”, “Community” and “KDP Select”.

The “Bookshelf” is where you create your new eBook, and where the information for this book is then stored. In the future, as you write and upload more books, you’ll add to your Bookshelf.

Before you go any further, I recommend you buy a copy of Sally Jenkins’ eBook Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners – it’s £1.99 and will take you through the process step by step. I found it incredibly helpful for my first eBook. Without Sally’s straightforward explanations, I would probably have wasted hours trying to work it all out for myself, particularly the financial aspects which you need to complete in detail for the first upload. (This includes your author/publisher information, and payment, banking and tax details so that Amazon can pay you any royalty monies owing – these are paid two months in arrears.) Subsequent eBooks are always more straightforward since you don’t have to complete all this information afresh each time.

Briefly then, in your “Bookshelf” you click to create a new eBook title. You then need to fill in all the details for the book, including the language it’s written in, the title, author etc. Next you’ll be asked to provide the book’s description – the blurb which will appear on the book’s Amazon page. This is really important and you need to take time to create something which will engage a potential reader’s attention, and make them want to click and download your book. This is surprisingly tricky, and it’s probably best to draft it offline and cut and paste it into the description box.

Next come the keywords and categories. These are also extremely important to enable potential readers to search for and find your book from the kazillions which are now available. You can have up to seven key words or phrases – and it’s important to spend time thinking about these. Put yourself in the mind of a potential reader. Imagine how you would search for a book. Think about what you would type into the search bar. Try searching for other similar books to yours.

You’ll be asked to select two categories in which you wish your eBook to be displayed. Think of these as akin to the areas or shelves in a physical bookshop where your book should be found. Try to be as specific as Amazon’s sub-sections will allow. (This is easier if your book falls into a clearly defined genre.)

Next you need to upload the manuscript file and the cover. When you upload the text, the upload process will check for spelling errors and inform you if it thinks there’s something wrong – you can then check and either amend or choose to ignore the issues raised. (I assume fantasy books always generate lots of “errors” as they are more likely to contain names or words which Amazon’s text checker will not recognise.)

At this stage you can use the previewer to check how your eBook will appear in an e-reader. It’s amazing how the odd formatting problem may still appear. If this happens, go back and amend your manuscript file, and upload again.

One of the important things you have to decide is whether or not you tick to join “KDP Select”. The plus side of Select is that anyone who is a member of Kindle Unlimited can download and read your eBook for free, and you’ll receive a (tiny) income per page read, and (arguably of more benefit) you may gain more reviews from this wider readership. The downside to Select is that it demands you publish exclusively with Amazon. This means you cannot market your book through Kobo or any other platform. If you tick to join Select, this is for a 90 day period. Once the 90 days is up, you can review the situation and decide if you’d like to continue.

Whether you decide to stick with Select or not, you need to choose your royalty plan and set up your pricing strategy. You will be asked to choose your primary marketplace (for me, this is Amazon.co.uk), set the price for this marketplace and then Amazon will automatically generate the prices for the other territories.

Now comes the exciting moment when you hit the button: Publish Your Kindle eBook. Whoop! Amazon says it can take up to 72 hours for your book to go live, but usually it’s much quicker than this. You will receive an email when the process is complete.

So there you go – now you’re a published author! But don’t go thinking your work is done. Read the final part of this series next week to find out what you should be doing post-publication.

Quick Guide to eBook Publishing with Amazon KDP – Part 3

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If you’re publishing your first eBook with Amazon KDP, this five part series is designed to give you a few hints and tips, as well as some links to other sources of help. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here, and Part 2 is here.

Part 3: Creating an eBook Cover

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but of course we all do – and much of that judgement is unconscious. The human brain is wired to be able to interpret images much faster than it can text, so your cover design is really important.

First, have a think about the genre your eBook will fall into, and spend some time researching the kinds of designs used in that particular genre. It’s obvious that the types of cover used in romance novels will differ from those used in, say, Sci Fi or crime thrillers. Note the use of colour, and the kinds of images and font styles which tend to be popular. If you’re writing non-fiction, again, have a look at the way modern non-fiction is presented. For instance, in your particular subject area, is it usual to have a stylish minimalist cover image or an engaging photo montage?

If you’re confident in your design skills, and reasonably tech savvy, there are a number of ways you can produce your own cover. Amazon has its own cover creator, but I’ve not used it so can’t vouch for its quality or ease of use. You can also try Canva which allows to you create a cover for free, if you use one of their standard templates and images.

Remember that any images you use in your cover design must be copyright-free. Alternately, or you will need to provide your own original images, or pay for any copyrighted images that you use.

Notwithstanding all of the above, unless you are a design genius, it’s probably advisable to get assistance with this part of your eBook’s production. There are lots of websites out there to help with this. You might want to try 99designs, or you can join a site such as http://www.fiverr.com where you can find designers who will provide services from as little as $5, as the name suggests (though I’d expect to pay £20-£30 depending on the number of images you need to purchase, and how much manipulation the designer needs to do). I’ve used the same designer at Fiverr for all my eBook covers – you can find her here.

When preparing your design brief, try to be as specific about your ideas as possible at the outset – a vague description will increase the likelihood of getting something you didn’t want! Remember though that the designer will have more experience in what works and what doesn’t, so be prepared to take on board their suggestions and consider any alternatives they might present.

One of the most important things you have to consider when designing a cover for an eBook is that the image has to look good both as a thumbnail picture and a full size cover. These are the three covers for my short story-related eBooks, two fiction and one non-fiction:

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If you’re hoping that your eBook is the first of many, and intend to create more in the future, you ought to think about branding too. It’s for this reason that I’ve tried to keep to a certain style and colour palette with my books. These aim to mirror this blog, so you’ll see a lot of similar colours and patterns used in both.

OK, so that’s all for now on cover creation. See you next week for the next step in Part 4!

 

Quick Guide to eBook Publishing with Amazon KDP – Part 2

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This quick guide is a five part series to help you if you’re publishing your first eBook with Amazon KDP. If you missed Part 1, you can pop back to read it here. Part 2 is below:

Part 2: Formatting

Once you are happy that your eBook manuscript is complete and error-free, you need to turn your attention to formatting. I’m not going to go into the mechanics of this in great detail as Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, has written a free style guide which is available for your Kindle or as a PDF here. I would thoroughly recommend that you get hold of a copy of this book as it’s comprehensive and will really help with your first time formatting.

Briefly, the idea is that you strip out any of the usual formatting used by your word processing software – and for the sake of argument, I’ll assume you’re using Word to create your eBook. You might not have thought much about the standard built-in formatting, as Word tends to use it without you really noticing, but when you’re attempting to format text for an eBook it can cause some real problems. For instance, if you are writing fiction, it’s usual to indent the first line of each new paragraph (the exception being the first paragraph at the beginning of a new chapter, or after a scene break – if you want to check this, take a look at any traditionally published novel to see how they’ve done it). Most of us use the “Tab” key on our keyboards to create this indent. When formatting your manuscript for upload, you need to get rid of any Tab-key indents, or additional Spacebar spaces, or Return-key line spaces and instead use the “Styles” menu in Word to add specific styles to your manuscript. You’ll need a standard paragraph style, as well as at least one heading style for chapter titles etc. The Smashwords guide will give you more detail (in fact, it will give you too much detail – but you can select the useful bits depending on your specific project).

One of the most important things to understand at the outset is that you are not formatting a book in the way you would for print. There is no such thing as a page. Anyone reading your eBook can do so on an e-reader, or their phone, or their tablet, or their PC. As a result, every “page” will be different according to the size of font, screen etc. This means that you are attempting to create a seamless stream of text which can accommodate any size of screen. You can use page breaks so that a new chapter shows clearly after a break, but it is extremely difficult to deal with something which needs specific formatting, such as poetry.

Another really useful thing explained in Mark Coker’s eBook is the use of hyperlinks. These are links within the text which allow the reader to navigate through the book. For instance, if your eBook is a collection of short stories, you can use hyperlinks to enable your readers to click on a story title in the contents page and go straight to that story rather than having to read every story from the beginning of the book to the end. You can also use hyperlinks at the end of every story to enable the reader to go straight back to the contents page. This is also useful in a non-fiction eBook which may not necessarily be read in a linear fashion – hyperlinks mean the reader can select the next topic they are interested in without having to scroll through large chunks of text.

Once you’ve formatted your text, email it to your Kindle, and check that the text, chapter headings and page breaks look correct, and that any internal hyperlinks work. You will usually find a heading which has centred when you wanted it left justified, or vice versa, or a random space generated by an undetected return-key! Go back and amend the original document, and email it to your Kindle again. Complete until the text looks exactly as you want it, and now you have a correctly formatted version of the contents of your eBook.

Next week in Part 3 I’ll talk about another very important step in the eBook creation process…

Quick Guide to eBook Publishing with Amazon KDP – Part 1

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One of my local writers’ groups asked if I’d give them a quick run through of the process of publishing an eBook using Amazon KDP, and I thought it made sense to share this on the blog too for anyone who has never tried publishing an eBook before, but would like to give it a go. I’ve broken down the whole process into five stages, so I’ll publish each as a separate part in a short series. Part 1 is a biggie:

Write Your eBook!

The beauty of eBooks is that they don’t have to be a specific length. A standard traditionally published novel might be around 80,000-120,000 words, a romance novel might tend to sit around the 50,000-55,000 word mark. These are accepted norms for physical books where publishers need to consider costs of paper and printing, how the book will look on the shelf, the thickness of the spine for printing the title and author name, and so forth. With an eBook, you are not bound by the constraints of traditional publishing, so if your magnum opus turns out to be 300,000 words long, that’s absolutely fine – in fact, there is some evidence to suggest readers prefer longer eBooks. Conversely, you can publish a stand-alone short story as an eBook if you so desire (and many people do) – though you’d be advised to make it clear in your blurb and in your pricing strategy that it’s a short story so readers don’t feel short-changed and leave you poor reviews.

Whatever the length of your book, the most important thing is to do your very best to make your manuscript error-free. This is incredibly difficult. It’s not unheard of to spot typos in traditionally published books produced by publishing companies with professional editors and proofreaders, so as a lone self-publisher you need to pay particular attention to this aspect of the publication process. You can pay for professional help with your edits and proofing, but this can be very expensive (you need to consider if this is justifiable – how many copies of your eBook will you have to sell to cover the cost? Is this realistic?). If you decide not to go down the professional route, you need an alternative strategy.

To start with, you need to check and re-check your manuscript yourself. This is usually most effective if you leave a period of time between the end of the writing process and your read through. It also helps to read aloud (amazing what you notice when you do this). And you may find it helpful to read the text in different formats – if you usually read on your laptop screen, try printing out a hard copy, or emailing the manuscript to your e-reader and checking through it in different fonts. Next, if you have access to a writing group, or some like-minded friends, you can ask them if they will act as beta readers for you. Ask them to read through the manuscript, looking out for typos, as well as clunky sentence structure and anything else which seems odd, doesn’t follow, or is inconsistent. Once you get their feedback, make all the final amendments, then leave it for a while before your final read through.

Then stop. It’s incredibly nerve-wracking self-publishing an eBook, but you have to let your book-baby go sometime. We writers are terrible for tinkering, and there will never be a time when you are completely happy with your manuscript. But you have to draw the line somewhere otherwise the project will never be finished. In any case, another great thing about the eBook is that even if you spot an error after you’ve published it (or more likely, one of your readers does), you can always correct and re-upload the text at any time.

So, I hope that was a helpful start in the self-publishing process – catch up with Part 2 of the series next week.

When is a novella not a novella and when is it a novel?

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At the start of the year, I decided to have a go at writing a novella. I’d had an idea which was way too big to fit into a short story, but wasn’t (to my mind) meaty enough to become a proper novel.

Yesterday, I finished a very rough first draft. It’s slightly shy of 40,000 words. And even as I tell myself to put it to one side for a while and move onto another project, I’m already aware of missing scenes, unresolved plot points, and characters which require further development. Of course, the first edit will probably mean words are lost too. I’ve not yet gone back and read over any of it, but experience suggests there’s likely to be lots that needs cutting. Nonetheless, it strikes me that there’s an awful lot more to add too.

So, perhaps it will end up being nearer 50,000 words by draft #2. If this is the case, I suspect it will no longer be considered a novella. From a brief trawl of various websites, novellas look to be considered to be less than 40,000 words, but it’s safe to say that the distinction is quite blurry. Take these famous examples of novels which, though short, are still considered to be novels:

  • The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway, 26,601
  • Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck, 29,160
  • Animal Farm – George Orwell, 29,966
  • The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes, 43,869
  • Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury, 46,118
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams, 46,333
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald, 47,094

Perhaps then we shouldn’t look at word count alone, but also the relative weight of the book’s theme. In the list above, there are plenty which have been “set texts” for English courses, and which are considered quality literature. I suspect mine won’t have quite this level of literary merit!

The most important thing though for me is that, whether novella or novel, when finished it is the right length for the story being told. I’ll have a better idea of that when I get to the end of the second draft.

I’ll keep you posted!