Category Archives: Helpful Tips for Writers

Platforms for Publishing your ebook: To Select or Go Wide

Standard

podcast-clipart

In my last blog post about smartphones I mentioned I was now hooked on podcasts – in particular I’ve been listening to The Creative Penn, The Book Marketing Show, and the Smart Author podcast. Listening to a writing-related podcast at the same time as doing everyday chores is great because at least I feel like I’m learning something new about the indie-author world, and making a positive impact on my own writing, even when I’m not able to be at my desk. It’s also really inspiring to listen to the experiences of other writers – especially those who’ve had lots of false starts or disappointments in their careers, but have ultimately been very successful.

One of the topics I’ve been thinking about as a result of this is whether or not I should continue to stay in KDP Select, and thus stick exclusively with Amazon for my eBooks, or whether I should consider striking out to Kobo, B&N Nook, Apple iBooks, etc.

There’s no doubting that Amazon is currently the major player in the eBook market, and it’s difficult to imagine a future in which this is not the case. As a newbie to self-publishing last year, it seemed entirely sensible to trial my initial ebook upload through KDP, and having done that, it also seemed sensible to maximise my potential readers by clicking to join KDP Select. Now though, with a couple of ebooks under my belt, I’m considering my longer term strategy.

The ebooks I’ve published to date, The Camel in the Garden and Beyond Words are both short story collections, but I’m currently working on a non-fiction project. One of the reasons I’d like to consider cross-platform publishing for this project is to enable it to be borrowed via public libraries (though applications such as OverDrive). I’m also coming around to the view that the all-eggs-in-one-basket approach may not be sensible in the long run – especially when the basket it owned by such a huge, powerful organisation. In order for us as indie-authors to have choice in the way we self-publish, alternative platforms have to exist – and in order for them to exist, they need authors and customers.

So at the moment, I am exploring Smashwords and Draft2Digital and learning as much as I can about opportunities to publish across multiple platforms. I’d be really interested to hear any other self-published authors’ experiences of and opinions on either staying with KDP Select, or using a multi-platform approach. And if you’ve come out of KDP Select in order to “go wide”, please comment below to let us know how you go on.

 

Advertisements

Smart Phones for Smart Writers

Standard

img_0318

One of the great conundrums of the modern age is that despite all the technology which has been developed, and despite all the labour-saving devices we have in our homes, we appear to have less and less time. How can this be?

Well of course, we still have exactly the same amount of time as we’ve always had. Those 24 hours won’t grow or shrink. It’s what you do with them that counts. So, yes you can get up at ridiculous-o’clock to squeeze in a few more useful hours. You can multi-task up to a point. You can choose to stop doing certain tasks to devote the time to something more important (see Kath McGurl’s Give Up Ironing book for more ideas on this approach!). And you can stop getting distracted.

I’m not a big TV fan – and you’ll absolutely never hear the words “box set” pass my lips in the context of losing a whole weekend watching 400 episodes of some show or other. (I am the person who can’t take part in office discussions about Game of Thrones etc.) But I am totally addicted to the internet, particularly because of my smart phone. I love YouTube videos which help me improve the way I ride my horse. I can lose hours googling random facts, or watching amusing or tear-jerking videos on Facebook. I’m also plagued by a kazillion emails (many from all the great writing-related websites I’ve signed up to). And I think this is the route of the time problem we all face. Whether smart-phone-related or not, there is simply too much information out there for our brains to process. So, I’ve decided I need to be more selective.

Before I had a smart phone, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. People had managed perfectly well for centuries without such a gadget. It was just a silly fad. Now? It’s an integral part of pretty well every aspect of my life. Its alarm gets me up in the morning, and the sleep app tells me how long and how well I’ve slept the night before (last night was amazing – 8h 4mins – almost a record!). My running podcast takes me through my morning’s run, and the health app monitors my steps/distance travelled. On my way to and from work, I listen to a writing (or sometimes horse riding) related podcast – at the moment, I’m checking out the backlist of The Creative Penn which is amazingly informative about the indie author world – and also very entertaining.

This week is National Short Story week, and my smart phone has been invaluable in helping me advertise my two short story ebooks The Camel in the Garden and Beyond Words, which have been on special offer. Using my phone has enabled me to access Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, post photos and links, join in discussions, to post and comment on this blog and, of course, keep track of downloads – at any time, not just when I’m at home at my writing desk.

But I need to get better at sifting online information, saving the important bits (such as story competition info) and managing it in a way which means I won’t overlook it later.

If you have any top tips on the way you manage this process, please share them in the comments below.  I will be eternally grateful!

And if you’re the sort of really organised person who has arranged their life so efficiently that you have an afternoon free for a spot of reading, Beyond Words is still half-price for the remainder of this weekend. 🙂

Short Story Competitions: Making Your Entry Stand Out

Standard

wowThe winners have just been announced for the latest “1000 Word Challenge” competition. If you’re not familiar with the site, it runs a different contest every three months, with a new word, theme or starting phrase. You have to come up with a 1000 word story which reflects this theme, but which is original enough to catch the eye of the judges. The entry fee is £5, and the winners are published on the site.

The theme for the last contest was “Kiss”, and was won by Anna Haldane with her story “The Tiller’s Daughter” – a fantastic version of a fairy story.  Anna’s unusual vocabulary immediately makes her prose stand out, but it’s not a gimmick – the story is artful and very clever. A worthy winner indeed. There are two published runners-up this time, and several others get mentioned in despatches, including mine. I’m telling you this last bit not because I’m blowing my own trumpet (well, maybe a tad – but you know, if you don’t, no-one else will!) but because my story is described as “surprising”, and I think that’s important for a competition entry.

I’m currently about three quarters of the way through reading all the entries in the short story category of this year’s Hysteria Writing Competition. There are lots of good, well-written submissions, but probably four or five have really stood out for me so far. These are stories which have a particularly entertaining scenario, an unusually compelling narrative voice, or an ending which has left me momentarily stunned and thinking, “Gosh, that’s clever.”  And this is what we, as story writers, should be aiming for – something which lingers in the mind of the reader long after they’ve finished reading. This is the unique power of the short story.

 

 

 

 

Resolving NOT to Write

Standard

Yes, you read this correctly. I’m NOT writing. Deliberately. I’m itching to make a start. I have the first line in my head and I’d love to get going and see where it takes me, but I’m not allowing myself to do so.

Why?

Because although I can write a short story with just the glimmer of an idea, allow it to take hold and just go with it, when it comes to writing something longer, the whole “pantser” thing has failed me. I have about five half-written novels languishing in my hard drive. They have each suffered the same fate. They started with an idea, they grew and developed, their characters became well-rounded and compelling, plot devices sprang up which promised to keep those pages turning…. And then about two-thirds in, everything went horribly wrong. The plot fell apart. The path to “the end” faded and then disappeared altogether. And I couldn’t get myself out of it.

I thought I was a pantser, but it turns out I’m not. I need to plan. So this time, I’ve promised myself, things will be different. The initial idea for my current project actually came to me in a dream….  No, really!  I woke up, and the characters were there in my head.  Of course in the dream, it all made total sense and was already planned out – and then when I woke up, there was just the impression of the story which needed all the details filling in. So that’s where I am at the moment. Filling in the details.

I’m currently researching the setting, pulling together all the backstory for each of the main characters, drawing up a chapter plan (horribly sketchy at the moment), and working out the plot. I’m determined that this time I will have it all planned in advance – before I so much as begin to write the first page. Of course, I’m prepared for the story to develop in ways I’d not expected, so it’s possible the plan will need some revision on the way, but the plan needs to exist at the outset.

I know this isn’t the way that all writers begin a new piece of work – I know of many who say they just have an outline, start writing and see where it takes them. I wish I was like that, and who knows, maybe one day I will be. But right now, it’s me, a notebook, a pad of post-its, some highlighters – and a lot of time on Google!

If you have any great planning strategies and tips, I’d love to hear them! In the meantime, I’m attempting to develop my own method. Wish me luck – I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂

Writing Ambitions for the New Year

Standard

We’re five days into the New Year, so plenty of time to have broken a few resolutions if you made any! I tried not to, instead I’ve bought myself a pin board and have pinned up all my “To Do” lists and “Aims & Ambitions” so I can see them every time I sit at my desk. I’m hoping this will keep me focused. (I’ll let you know how that goes…)

That’s the other thing – I’m making an effort to sit at the desk every day and achieve something. (I’ve been doing this since before New Year, so I don’t think it counts as a resolution.) A competition entry, a sub to a magazine, an idea for a future piece, an edit of something previously abandoned. I’m aiming to find a home for as many stories as possible (and by now, there seem to be hundreds stored in my Dropbox files!). I also found out about the Pomodoro Technique last night on Twitter’s #writingchat – it’s a very simple approach to time management  which breaks down tasks into 25 minute chunks with an enforced break. I think this might work for me (as someone who is very easily distracted!). Find out more about it here:

http://cirillocompany.de/pages/pomodoro-technique

I have, though, achieved one of my writing ambitions this week: I’ve had a mention on Shirley’s blog (Fiction Editor at The People’s Friend). My story “A Promise to the Past” appears in the first issue of 2017, and is the first story Shirley mentions in her “sneak peak” summary – you can read Shirley’s blog post here:

https://www.thepeoplesfriend.co.uk/2017/01/03/fiction-sneak-peek-jan-7-2017-issue/

2017-01-05-21-19-43

As you can see, the story is (as always) beautifully illustrated (by Jim Dewar), and my heroine is rather glamorous (I’m always a little startled by this!). Hoping this will be the first publication of many during 2017 – but it’s definitely a good start.

Anyway, my 25 minutes is up, so I’ve got to go! Happy writing…

 

 

Christmas Gifts for Writers

Standard

So it’s Christmas time again
Black Friday deals are rife
And you’re wondering what to buy
For the writer in your life

In the past you’ve tried all sorts
‘How-to’ books, diaries, pens,
Fancy paper, post-it notes
A writer’s mug (again!)

But the best gift is often simple
You might not even have to buy it
Arrange to give them space and time
To write in peace and quiet

Nag them when they’re lazy
Cheer them up when they’re dejected
Give them wine and cuddles
When their stories get rejected

And when their book is published
Spread the word of their debut,
Buy a copy for yourself
Leave an honest, fair review

Tell all your friends who care to hear
And then tell all the rest
And I guarantee your writer
Will think you are the best!

 

 

PS: Socks are also good! :0) xx

Terry Pratchett’s advice for aspiring writers

Standard

The English Department at my secondary school did a lot of things to inspire my literary ambitions – one of which was to invite the late Terry Pratchett to come and give a talk about his writing experiences. Imbued with a heady idealism about writers and writing, I hoped Mr Pratchett (he wasn’t a Sir back then) would regale us with tales of the creative process, and somehow pass on some magic pearls of wisdom which would instantly enable us to plunge into our own rich world of creativity and become best-selling authors too. When I bravely stuck up my hand and asked him for his top piece of advice for aspiring authors, he said, “Get a word processor.” To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

Now, of course, I realise that this was jolly good advice. Even if my 17 year old ears did not wish to hear about the mundane mechanics of the writing process (I’m not quite sure what I had expected his answer to be – other than magic – but it was presumably something to do with inspiration not perspiration), now I’m….ahem….somewhat more mature, I have come to appreciate the importance of “creative hardware”. In order to write at the simplest level you need a pen and paper, but in order to write with even a semblance of professionalism, you need much more.

One of the many things which I probably took for granted in my teenage days was the space and time to write. A desk is great, a room better, but even a corner of the dining table (or if you prefer more comfort, a sofa with lots of cushions!) is perfectly fine as long as you have a period of uninterrupted time. Writers can be very inventive when it comes to finding time – after all, we all have the same number of hours in the day and we all, to some degree, choose how to use those precious hours – if it’s important to you, you’ll find the time (even if it means cutting corners elsewhere).

Next comes something to write with – and if you intend to submit work for publication, nowadays that inevitably means a laptop or computer. Honing your typing, spelling, punctuation and grammar, editing, and typesetting skills is also a must. Added to which, these days a working knowledge of email and the internet, including the use of software such as “Submittable” is a necessary part of modern writing. And that’s before you begin to engage with social media to communicate with other writers, and promote your work. Talking of which – another thing which is impossible to do without nowadays is a reliable internet connection (try running a virtual book promo when it takes 20 minutes to pick up each new message).

I did subsequently take Mr Pratchett’s advice, and got an Amstrad 8256 (oh, what a joy after my old typewriter!), which made me feel like a real writer, even though I most definitely wasn’t. It didn’t, of course, make me write. No gadget or gismo can help with that in the long term but, as they say, a workman is only as good as his tools. If you are going to write, you need the right basic equipment.

Sir Terry, you were right all along. And for that, a belated thank you.

amstrad-8256

 

 

Short Story Competitions: 5 Tips for Success

Standard

trophy-clip-art-free.jpg

Whether you’re a seasoned short story writer, or trying your hand at short fiction for the first time, sooner or later you may consider entering a few competitions. You might be hoping for a foot on the ladder to fame and fortune, or you might just want to test your skill and possibly earn some feedback on your work. Winning or simply being short-listed in a competition can do wonders for your writing confidence, and may even lead to new writing opportunities. Whatever your motivation, you’ll want to maximise your chances. Over the past few years, having entered numerous competitions (sometimes successfully, sometimes less so!), I have the following five tips:

1) Find the right competition for you. Don’t just go for the most well-known or prestigious ones – they will have big prizes but a correspondingly high level of competition. Conversely, don’t just enter the freebies where there are likely to be more contestants simply because there’s no fee involved. Keep up to date with competition news – there are monthly magazines (e.g. Writers’ Forum, and Writing) which contain competition listings. Writers’ groups in your area may run competitions – check for promotions in your local library. Search for competitions online or get yourself onto Twitter, start following lots of writing-related accounts and you’ll be inundated with information about competitions and prizes. Once you’ve found a competition you’re interested in, find out as much as you can about it. If it’s an annual event, if possible read the winning entries from previous years. The idea is not to copy a specific style, but to build up a feel for the kind of work which has been successful in the past. Are these past winners character driven, do they have a particularly strong narrative voice, or are they action packed with an engaging plot? How does this fit with your own story-telling strengths? Find out about the judges too. Often there will be a single overall judge, though the initial short-listing may have been carried out by a panel of other readers. Read up on the judge’s own writing background and try to think if there’s an aspect of your writing style which most closely dovetails with the work the judge appears to enjoy.

2) Read the rules very carefully. Sounds obvious, but it’s so easy to miss something important. These days, writing competitions are extremely popular, and judges faced with the task of whittling down submissions will be quick to throw out any story not adhering to the rules. Don’t allow a story that would otherwise be a contender to be tossed aside simply because it doesn’t follow the brief. Start by checking the deadline, and the word count. There is usually a maximum number of words allowed, but some competitions will specify a minimum too. Check if the word count includes the title, and with flash fiction especially, check if you need to bring the story in on an exact total (e.g. 100 words). Adhering to a specific word count is an art form in itself, but you may find the restriction is beneficial, forcing you to re-write and remove weak verbs or muddy adjectives. If applicable, check if it is permissible for the work to have been previously published (and if so, if there are any restrictions connected with this – e.g. it may be that a story is eligible for submission if it has been published online on a personal blog, but not if it has appeared in print). Some competitions require you to include a specific opening or closing sentence, or to start from the basis of a specific scenario. If you choose to deviate from this instruction, the judges won’t admire your creativity – they will simply place your entry on the ‘reject’ pile. Finally, check the submission method: can you email your entry, is it hard-copy only, or do you have to enter online through “Submittable” or a similar site?

3) If you’re given a theme or scenario, spend some time considering possible interpretations. Chances are, if you’ve had an idea within the first few minutes of reading the competition requirements, everyone else will have thought of something similar. Judges will quickly get bored of the most obvious plots, styles or genres. Try to think laterally. One of my own first competition successes came about because the competition I’d entered had given quite a constricting scenario which suggested a fantasy style of interpretation. I’m not a strong fantasy writer, but I could see a way to interpret the scenario in a domestic setting, which is more my forte. I can only assume that by the time the judges came to my story, they had seen countless fantasy pieces – so by standing out in a crowd, my story was a success. If you’re stuck for ideas, discuss it with someone else – get another perspective. Spend some time on the internet (again, don’t be content with the first – or even second or third – idea you come across online – everyone else who is stuck will be doing exactly the same as you!). Look out for ideas from newspapers, magazines, the TV, or things you see or hear while you’re out and about. The subconscious is an amazing thing – it will be busy looking for links even without you necessarily being aware. You do need to give it a helping hand though. If inspiration doesn’t strike, just start writing something – anything. Eventually, another idea will spark and you’ll be able to make a link. From a tenuous link, you may then be able to pull out an amazing new plot.

4) Be professional in every aspect of your submission. Give yourself plenty of time to draft and re-draft. Once you believe you’ve finished your story, put it away for a while. Read it again with fresh eyes – you’ll probably spot a few errors you’d missed before. Read it to yourself out loud. The rhythm of the sentence structure is likely to sound different from the way it did in your head, and if you stumble over a sentence, this might indicate a re-write is necessary. Check the rules for presentation. Double lined spacing is usual, but some competitions stipulate a font size (and sometimes even font style). If you’re not sure on the correct way to typeset your story, take down a novel from your bookshelves and look at the way the professional publishers do it (especially things like speech, and paragraph indents). Don’t be afraid of white space – wide margins and plenty of space above the title looks better than having the text crammed in. Make sure you adhere to any regulations about page numbering and headers/footers carrying the title. Most competitions will not want you to put your name on any page other than the front sheet, as the work should be judged anonymously. Lastly, don’t leave it until the last minute to send it in – this will be the time there is a postal delay, or the internet crashes.

5) Don’t be put off if you enter a competition and hear nothing. You may enter many competitions without winning or even being short-listed. Don’t despair. Judging is subjective – for whatever reason, the judge simply felt more strongly about another story. It might have been a close call. You’ll probably never know. In the end, the judge’s decision is final, and the best thing you can do is read the winning entry (and any runners-up which are also published) and learn from them. Some competitions will provide a critique service for an additional fee. These can be quite useful in highlighting an area for future improvement. Whatever you do, don’t take it personally – it’s one writing professional commenting on the work of another. Even if you personally don’t agree with the criticism, you should keep in mind any advice or suggestions when submitting future entries. Keep a log of all submissions, and the date the results will be announced. This ensures that you don’t send the same story to two competitions at the same time (or to the same competition two years in a row as I once did!), and means you’ll be able to see as soon as a story is available to send to another competition. Over time, a log will allow you to analyse your success rate, and whether you have any particular strengths or weaknesses – thus allowing you to target appropriately in the future.

If you follow the guidance above, there’s no guarantee you’ll succeed, but you’ll be giving yourself a good chance. As with everything in writing though, the main thing is not to give up. You won’t win anything if you keep your manuscripts in a drawer. Keep writing, and keep submitting!

If you’d like to read some of the stories I’ve had success with in competitions, they are published in my collection Beyond Words available for Kindle on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beyond-Words-short-stories-deception-ebook/dp/B01JWLPKW0

5 Things I Learned from Running an eBook Promotion

Standard

With the weather wet and miserable for the last Bank Holiday weekend, I decided it was a perfect time to run a free download promotion for my new eBook.  Here’s some things I learned from the experience:

  1. The free promotion itself is easy to set up through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). Simply go to your Bookshelf, and in “Your Books” next to the book you wish to promote, you’ll see “Book Actions” and, underneath, a button to “Promote and advertise”.  This takes you to “Promote your book on Amazon” where you can find the section “Run a price promotion”.  I chose “Free Book Promotion”, and you then click on the dates you want the promotion to run (you have a maximum of five days for your current enrolment term on the Select programme).
  2. Although I set my promotion to run from Saturday to Monday, my eBook didn’t show as free until about 9am on Saturday and was therefore also free for the first few hours of Tuesday morning. Bear in mind when setting your promotion dates that time zones or volume of deals to process may affect timings (embarrassing if you’ve been telling everyone it will be free!)
  3. Remember that your free promo is only as good as your…er…ability to promote!  You need to get active on social media, and tell all your friends and family.  The best promotion is the kind which gives your potential readership something in addition to just the specifics of the book you’re plugging, something which engages their interest.  For example you might want to tell people a bit about the inspiration for your stories, or (if it’s non-fiction) some interesting facts from your background which demonstrates why you’re the best person to be writing this particular book.
  4. You need to know why you’re running the promotion in the first place.  What are you hoping to achieve?  Giving away your work for free certainly isn’t sensible in every situation.  I chose to do it because: a) this is my first Kindle upload, so in that respect it’s a learning experience for me, and I want to try out all the features; b) my current eBook is (I hope) the first of many, so my main aim with this one is to get my name out there, and have something to show an audience on the Kindle platform; c) promo downloads can push your book up the bestseller rankings quickly because the rankings are skewed towards the most recent downloads, so it’s good for exposure, and d) feedback is really important – the free promo allowed me to pick up some star ratings and reviews that I probably wouldn’t have got otherwise.  (A huge thank you, by the way, to everyone who has left a review – it really does make so much difference – and I really appreciate it.)
  5. Beware! Running a promotion turns you into a stats obsessive!  You will find yourself constantly refreshing your Amazon Sales Dashboard, checking your Twitter-feed, gazing at your star-rating and sales ranking. There is a grave danger that you will get a bit tedious to your nearest and dearest too – they’ll probably be too polite to mention it, but you just have to acknowledge they probably aren’t quite so excited about your book as you are!  ;0)

NB: The free promo is now over, but ‘The Camel in the Garden’ is still available for 99p (UK), and remains free for subscribers to Kindle Unlimited.

 

5 Things I Learned From My First Kindle eBook

Standard

After much planning (and not a little prevarication), this week saw my first eBook upload via Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).  For my first foray into the world of e-publishing, I decided to start small.  The Camel in the Garden is a collection of three short stories which have all previously appeared in Woman’s Weekly Fiction Specials, and which are all centred around women facing challenging family situations.  So here are five things I’ve discovered during the publishing process:

  1. Get a professional to design the cover.  Unless you’re extremely artistic or an ace at electronic image manipulation (I’m neither), you really need to get someone to help you with the cover design.  I found my designer through the popular website Fiverr and was able to get a cover designed to my specifications at a very reasonable price. Shar incorporated all my initial ideas, and then suggested some improvements to create a cover I love, which specifically reflects the colour palate of this blog. The only thing I would change for the future is to make the font of the title and author name one solid colour so that it stands out more strongly as a thumb-nail picture.AMAZONCamelintheGarden - front cover
  2. The upload process itself is reasonably straightforward, but you need to do your homework first when it comes to the formatting. I found Sally Jenkins’ eBook Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners invaluable. I had the book open on my Kindle the whole time I was working through the typesetting and uploading, and Sally answered a lot of niggling questions I would have been puzzling over for ages on my own.
  3. I can’t make my eBook permanently free to everyone at the moment. I had intended this little collection to be free but the lowest price you can choose through KDP is 99p.  If your book appears free on Smashwords or another platform, apparently Amazon will eventually match it, but going down the KDP Select route as I’ve done means you can’t offer your book digital format on another platform.  Enrolling on KDP Select does mean your book is free for Amazon Prime members – and it does allow you to run Free Book Promotions. The Camel in the Garden will therefore be available FREE over this bank holiday weekend Saturday 30th April to Monday 2nd May. If you’re looking for something to read while the British weather is doing its worst, I’d be delighted if you’d download my stories and leave a brief Amazon review to let me (and other potential readers) know what you thought.
  4. Writing the stories and uploading to KDP is only the start.  I’ve built an Amazon Author Page, and a Facebook Author Page, and I now need to learn all about marketing!
  5. Seeing your book on a virtual shelf does feel great. But now it’s time to crack on with the next collection….