Rachel, writing

All things novelling-related as I embark on my self-publishing adventure

Archive for the category “writing”

The rise of the introvert

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There seems to have been a lot of talk of introverts recently, with books extolling our virtues making best-seller lists. Like many writers, I generally prefer my own company to that of others. I like to meet up with people, but after an hour or so, begin to feel drained.

We’re still often seen as needing help, or viewed negatively. One friend said she considered introverts by definition to be selfish – but isn’t needing other people to be around you more selfish? We seem to be seen as problematic because we don’t fit the majority view of what’s desirable.  I’ve realised that I tick a lot of boxes for schizoid personality disorder simply by being an introvert, which is something that therapists think should be ‘fixed’ (no, I don’t need fixing. I’m not broken). I’m not sure whether this is lack of understanding or an urge to pathologise for profit’s sake.

I’m quite capable of social interaction when required. I’m not shy. I’m not desperate to belong or be accepted. My instant reaction when receiving social invitations is ‘How can I wriggle out of this without seeming rude?’ A couple of hours with a friend? No problem. An evening with a crowd? No thanks. But if I need to mingle, I can do so perfectly competently – with some effort, I have to admit.

As Anneli Rufus observes in Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto, introversion is regularly associated with crime. Serial killers are often described as ‘loners,’ but this may be misguided: they are more likely to be outcasts, who want to join in but are rejected. Introverts are quite happy on their own, thank you very much. To add some balance, here’s a youtube thingy of Sister Wendy Beckett, a nun who’s had several TV series in the UK on art appreciation. I heard her interviewed on the radio over Christmas for Desert Island Discs,  and she figured the only thing she’d miss on a desert island was attending Mass – other than that, the isolation would be a huge positive for her. Someone once said to her that she was the only person he knew who was perfectly happy without other people – “And it wasn’t a compliment,” she said.

Reading Rufus’ book has made me question my preferences. Why do I love my evenings at my writers’ group? (Because you can sit and listen, in your own little world, and there’s no pressure to make polite conversation). Why do I enjoy running in a group? (Because you can trot along, in your own little world, and nobody’s capable of non-stop talking because they need the breath) Why am I unfazed by public speaking, or leading an exercise class, but freeze when asked to play piano to an audience? (I really have no idea. Any suggestions?)

As far as writing goes, introversion is probably an advantage: it’s quite an isolated activity. It’s also possibly the reason that so many of my characters are relative introverts too. I can relate to them. I found writing India’s dialogue and diary entries in The Syndrome Diaries the most challenging part of the novel, as her extroversion was quite alien to the way I am.

Do you identify more as an introvert or extrovert? Do you think it affects the way you write – in terms of your writing activity, or the content?

How to write a novel: 8 Published!

Once The Syndrome Diaries was uploaded to Amazon, it was live within hours. There was a huge temptation to carry on fine-tuning the content and to hold back on publicity: one of the hardest things about publishing is letting go of your baby, knowing that it could still be better. Everything can be better, but there’s a danger of editing and editing and never letting the novel leave home. So I emailed,  tweeted and facebooked.

One sale. Just one person wanted to read my book.

At first, I was downhearted. Then I was confused: I knew at least three people had bought it. They’d told me. Then I realised: the reports analyse by territory. The default report is for .com, but there are separate figures for .co.uk. It was a huge relief to find the drop-down menu and see 7 more sales.

The toughest aspect of publishing has been the marketing. I get annoyed by repeated tweets so didn’t want to make that mistake, but I’ve probably been too cautious. So far, I’ve tweeted once for the ebook launch, once when I got the paperback proof and once when it received its first review (five stars!). I think I can probably get away with a little more than that. I generated some interest at a local reading event, though I spent more on other people’s books than I made on mine. Still, is that really so bad? I like reading as well as writing.

I’d love to share my sales figures, but my Amazon contract forbids me from doing so and I’d rather not get on the wrong side of my main sales channel. The rumoured ‘whoosh’ of sales hasn’t materialised, but the word is spreading, and the feedback has been positive. One frequent comment has been that the person doesn’t have a Kindle, so I’ve been blowing the trumpet for the free Kindle smartphone app. Originally, I was only going to publish an ebook, but a few people encouraged me to try Lulu.com’s print-on-demand service. I’ve had to price the paperback at £7.95 to cover costs, which is  a little high to generate impulse purchases (the ebook, at under £2, is more likely to do that) but it’s out there if anyone wants it! It was easy to take the Word document I’d prepared for the ebook and tweak it for Lulu, and I was lucky that the cover art I’d designed for the ebook doesn’t require a high resolution and actually looks pretty good as a hard copy. Other than my proof copy (about £8 including postage), I’ve not paid anything to make it available.

Self-publishing has to be considered a long-term project, with gradual awareness-raising alongside more novel-writing. And that’s fine. I’ve had loads of fun writing and publishing this first novel and I’ve no intention of stopping.

So that, in 8 blogs, is the story of a novel’s 2-year journey from NaNoWriMo 2010 to Amazon 2012.  If there’s anything I haven’t covered, or that you’d like more info on, please add your comment and I’ll do my best to help.

How to write a novel: 7 Prepping the manuscript for an Amazon upload

Light at the end of the tunnel…

After the beta feedback, I revised parts of The Syndrome Diaries and re-read the manuscript a couple of times. Firstly, when you change parts of a novel, you often find that another part stops making sense so you need to read through for continuity. Secondly, I was typo-spotting  – assisted by Dad.

The decision to self-publish

Although I’d originally considered sending The Syndrome Diaries  to an agent, by this point I’d decided to self-publish. There are several reasons why it was unlikely to be accepted:

  1. The main characters aren’t particularly endearing. I think they’re interesting, but this doesn’t make them nice, so they’re difficult to sympathise with.
  2. The conventions of particular genres aren’t followed. In regular women’s fiction, Ben would get his comeuppance for his attitude towards marriage, and Becky would live happily ever after by getting hitched and having children. Of course, there are plenty of women out there who are having wonderful lives without children (I count myself as one of them), but saying so still provokes controversy.
  3. A female author and female narrator have led to the book being assumed to be women’s fiction, but the most favourable reactions among people who heard several extracts during its writing came from men. It’s a bit of a hermaphrodite of a book, so not commercial.

Additionally, if I was lucky enough to get a publishing contract, advances are small, timeframes are long and there’s no guarantee the book would actually get published, yet all my rights to the novel would be handed over. Writing would become a job rather than a hobby (my stint as a fitness instructor showed me what a bad idea that can be) and I love my academic career so don’t have any great motivation to be a full-time writer. On balance, it seemed better to head straight down the self-publishing route.

Formatting the manuscript for Amazon

I’ve read widely on self-publishing, and the most useful books I’ve found are Catherine Ryan Howard’s Self-printing and Ali Luke’s Publishing E-Books for Dummies. They’re both full of common sense and realistic advice rather than hyping themselves up to suggest you’ll be the next John Locke. I used Catherine’s advice on formatting the manuscript and Ali’s guidance on uploading and the various self-publishing options available.

Until the final proofing, I used Scrivener software with the novel template and a separate folder for each chapter. On several occasions, I compiled a mobi document from the manuscript for my Kindle so that I could read the book as an Amazon customer would (compiling a manuscript into a range of formats is one of Scrivener’s strengths). Scrivener made it easy to work through larger changes and edits, but once they were done, and the focus was on typos and grammatical glitches, it made sense to switch to Word. I followed Catherine’s advice in Self-Printing and stripped out the formatting, then applied styles throughout the document (this is a Word software function). I had different styles for chapter headings, for first paragraphs, for the main body of the text and for quotes (there are lots of extracts from a character’s diaries). The only change I made to Catherine’s advice was to use a 12-point font instead of a 10. Although you can adjust font size on a Kindle, it’ll adjust universally, so that if you are reading several books with differently-sized fonts, you have change the settings every time you switch between them. Size 12 font seemed to be more consistent with the other books on my Kindle. I also followed Catherine’s advice to produce the cover art: design it in Word, save it as a pdf and convert that to a jpeg.

I’d expected the formatting to take much longer than it did: it was done in a few hours. I checked it by pasting the entire manuscript back into a Scrivener document – not as separate chapters this time – and compiling it as a Kindle mobi. Most of it was fine, but some chapter headings weren’t formatted. I couldn’t find any reason in the Word document: they had the heading style attached. I got round the problem by pasting from a correctly-formatting chapter heading and changing the number.

At last…time to upload!

Amazon lets you upload a Word document and converts this to a mobi format for you. However, it has a reputation for misbehaving with the style formatting, and my experience was no exception. The first paragraph of a chapter shouldn’t be indented, and my Scrivener mobi was coming out fine. However, Amazon’s conversion indented every paragraph. I dealt with this by producing a Scrivener mobi and uploading that to Amazon instead of the Word document, and that got round the problem.

Apart from the formatting hiccup – which I’ll bypass next time by converting the doc to a mobi myself – uploading to Amazon is actually very quick and easy. The novel was available to download the next day. The final stage? Monitoring, marketing and moving on! That’ll be the subject of the final blog in this series.

If you’d like to look at the formatting of The Syndrome Diaries without buying it, you can download a fairly chunky free sample from Amazon by following the links on my website. Alternatively, for a couple of quid, you can have the whole book!

How to write a novel: 6 The beta readers

Having completed my novel rewrites and edits to the best of my abilities, it was time to let other people read it for the first time. By this stage, getting feedback on extracts was becoming less useful because they depended on familiarity with other parts of the novel. Did it make sense as a complete story?

The perfect beta reader is someone you trust to give you objective feedback on your book. My beta readers included a writer friend who’d given some fantastic feedback during the editing (I’ve since returned the favour by beta-reading for her), a keen reader who I’d met through a running forum and my parents (who are not inclined towards undeserved praise!).

Before my beta readers read The Syndrome Diaries (links to Amazon are on my homepage), we agreed what they were going to feed back on. I wanted to know whether the book hung together, and whether the characters and their actions made sense and were consistent. My Dad, for whom ambiguities and grammar slip-ups jump off the page, was also asked to note technical mistakes in the writing.

The feedback I received was just what I wanted. Overall, my beta readers were positive about the book while all finding issues that needed further work. Without giving spoilers, my post-beta edit included some character enhancement, adjusting some of the timings of events to make them more believable and sprinkling some extra clues through the text so that one of the later revelations wasn’t quite such a surprise. This is where the beta readers were particularly helpful: I thought the clues were there, but I’d been too subtle.

So, with the final changes made, the novel was almost ready for release. I’ll discuss the final stages of the process and the uploading to Amazon in another blog very soon.

In the meantime, I promised to keep you updated with Syndrome’s progress. The sales are still a trickle rather than a whoosh, but I’m thrilled that it’s selling. As yet, there are no reviews, but it’s still early days and I know of several people who are currently in the process of reading the novel. I haven’t done the marketing activity that I ought to have done, largely due to biting off way more than I could chew over the last couple of weeks and throwing a few personal issues into the mix. My head was permanently sticking over the parapet, and, at the risk of sounding self-indulgent, I needed a little bit of space to be nice to myself. Normal service is now restored.

I know that I need to switch my focus towards producing more books rather than worrying too much about what’s already out there (easier said than done), so I’m currently preparing to produce another draft novel in November with Nanowrimo. In December, I’m going to start editing a draft I already have. Although I wrote it 3 years ago, one of its themes ties in with the recently-published Bad Pharma which I’m just about to start reading. I’m looking forward to spending some time with Ed and Em, my main characters, who are rather less self-absorbed than Becky, Ben and India from The Syndrome Diaries.

And last of all, but by no means least, I must thank Pat for nominating me for Most Helpful Blogger award. This is the first time anything like this has happened, so it was a huge surprise, and fantastic to get positive feedback from someone whose blog I’m very fond of.

Hopefully today’s blog is helpful: please post if there are other things you think I should be covering or if you have any questions.

How to write a novel: 4 The first major rewrite

I promised this blog would be about rewriting, and it is, but first…

…I’ve published! The Syndrome Diaries has been available on Amazon for a couple of days now, and later blogs will describe the various hurdles jumped and glitches overcome to make that happen. In the meantime, if you want to have a nose at the finished product (or peruse the free sample), it’s here if you’re a UK reader and here if you’re in the US or most of the rest of the world. It’s also on the French site (click here ) and the German site (click here ): all versions are in English.

So. Rewriting.

I mentioned in my last blog that my first drafts tend to be full of plot without much description. Although the first rewriting stage should probably be the major changes – adding scenes, removing scenes, switching them around – my initial rewrite also made a lot of changes at the level below that. By the end of this process, my word count had almost doubled from the original 50,000 to just under 100,000.

I’ve included some before-and-after dialogue below to demonstrate the kinds of changes made: the dialogue has been fleshed out to try and tell the story in a more interesting way and to add more character to the people I’m writing about. This means I have to think hard about the individual personalities and motivations, and this might impact on the scenes if it becomes clear that someone is behaving out of character. They may need a new scene to explain some behaviour.

Here’s an extract from the original version. This is a few pages into the book, when my narrator, Becky, who’s a journalist, has just had a phone call from her editor asking her to do an interview with India Irving, a successful rock musician with whom she was once good friends. The two of them fell out at University and haven’t spoken for twenty years. Becky’s at home with her partner, Hugh, discussing the phone call:

“India wants me to interview her.”

“India?”

“Mm. I wonder what’s going on?”

“Maybe she wants to build some bridges.”

“Maybe. Wonder why?”

“Well, you can ask her, can’t you?” He was never interested in speculation, only empirical evidence.

It’s rather sparse, isn’t it? Those few lines were expanded and touches of detail added so that in the final version, the conversation is as follows:

‘India wants to do an interview.’

He looked up, puzzled, and nudged his glasses up his nose. ‘India who?’

‘Irving, of course.’ How many Indias were there?

‘I thought she wasn’t speaking to you.’

‘So did I. What do you think’s going on?’

‘Maybe she’s grown up.’

‘She’s got a new solo record coming out.’  I stood up to move my laptop away from the table before it got splattered with gravy.

He ran a hand through sandy-coloured hair, stopping to scratch the top of his head. ‘Well, that’s why she wants to talk to you, isn’t it? High profile journo, widely read by her target market.’

‘But why now?’

‘Dunno. You can ask her, can’t you?’ He was a scientist and speculation never got far with him. He needed empirical evidence, gold-plated with analyses of variance and linear regressions.

The conversation now provides an opportunity to describe Hugh a little more. The relationship between the two of them is tired, and the scene as a whole is peppered with suggestions of irritation and lack of engagement with each other. Hugh began as a catalogue of ‘boring bloke’ clichés but, as the editing progressed, these were cut back to enable him to emerge as a character with whom it was easier to sympathise. I won’t give away what happens with Hugh towards the end of the book, but hopefully what he does makes sense.  On a technical note, the switch from double quotation marks to single ones came right at the final editing stage, and is to keep the style consistent with British conventions outlined in the Oxford Manual of Style.

Much of the rewriting involved this colouring and pacing of scenes, although there were also bigger changes and new scenes. Many of these came about when I began reading out my work at writers’ groups, and that will be the subject of my next blog on how to write a novel. I’ll also be posting on how The Syndrome Diaries is performing.

What are your thoughts on editing? Do you follow some kind of plan? Or is it a more ad hoc process?

How to write a novel: 3 The first draft

I’ve found that the best way for me to write a first draft is to join in with NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. During November, Nanoers set themselves the task of writing a 50,000 word novel. The finished item is rough but somewhere in the scramble of words thrown at each day’s target might be the seeds of something special.

When I wrote the first draft of The Syndrome Diaries, it was as a Nanoer during November 2010. I’ve got a pretty good idea of how it went because I joined an online forum and can still access my posts.

On day 1, I was already over my target, and on day 2 even more so, something I attributed to the novel being ‘utter tripe’. I admitted I’d read back what I’d written, despite that being a Nano no-no: reviewing and revising is supposed to come later.

On day 3, I posted this extract:

“I admit I was a little bit in awe. I might have been a bit scared. No, not scared: anxious. I was anxious because there was obviously some reason for her wanting to talk to me, and I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t like turning up to an interview feeling like that. With most people, their agenda would be pretty obvious: sell more copies of their book or record, improve their image in the hope of getting more work, get more bums on seats for their play or film. If they had something unexpected they wanted to get on the record, then I could choose to listen to them, or to try and swing things round to something more word-worthy. I knew this would be different: how can things not be, with that much baggage? But I was not going to be pliable.” 

If you find that a bit clumsy, then you’ll be relieved to know that almost nothing of that passage remains. But the rewrite preserved its intention: to convey my narrator Becky’s worries over a meeting with another main character, India (Becky’s a journalist, India’s a rock musician: they were once best friends but haven’t seen each other since an argument 20 years before). There are sections of the first draft that have survived intact to the final version, but most of it was edited beyond recognition. If you want to read the section where Becky and India meet up, you can do so here.

By the end of day 4 , I’d written nearly 8000 words.

On day 6, I recommended cola to the forum as an ideal toilet cleaner because of its limescale-shifting qualities. I stand by that assertion: why I was discussing it there, I have no idea. It’s certainly not mentioned in the final version of the novel.

On day 7, those on the forum shared their working titles: mine was the same as the final title. This doesn’t usually happen. My next novel will probably be The Illness (working title) or The One Night Stand (working title), and neither has what it takes to go on a book cover. But The Syndrome Diaries has always seemed to generate interest.

By the end of day 9, I was making good progress, although I assessed my efforts as ‘turgid crap.’ Nevertheless, there were hints that the novel-writing magic was starting to happen. I wrote about the characters worming their way into my brain when I should be thinking about other things. And once you start being sucked into the world of your characters, a wonderful sense of flow begins and the novel seems to write itself.

By day 12, the characters were taking on a life of their own and rebelling against my neat plan of what was supposed to happen. And that’s as it should have been.

On day 15, I read through what I’d got. Yes, I know that was against the rules, but my comments are interesting. My draft was heavily plot-biased without any pacing or description. I described it as hurtling down a motorway, rather than meandering through country lanes and enjoying the view. That’s how I draft: the colour and subtlety all comes later.

And on the 21st November, 2010, the first draft – at 50,165 words – was completed. I’ve never finished another NaNoWriMo so far ahead of schedule. Of course, it wasn’t remotely ready for publication (the final version is about 95,000 words). My last post for the year was on December 1st where I reported that I’d started rewriting – and that’s my subject for the next blog.

Do you write drafts fast or slowly? Have you taken part in Nanowrimo? Share your thoughts here!

How to write a novel: 2 The Plan

Plans for The Syndrome Diaries

To plan or not to plan? Some writers like to have a detailed road-map while others prefer to wing it. As you can see from the picture on the left, which has various tables and notes I used in the early stages of The Syndrome Diaries, I’m a planner.

I usually plan on several levels before I start writing:

Overview: roughly a third of the way through the book, something significant will happen that really sets the story moving forwards. Roughly two thirds of the way through the book, there’ll be a second major incident that drives the story towards its conclusion. I need to know what these events are so that I can set them up.

Wordage: all my first drafts that I’ve completed have been done with NaNoWriMo, so the next level of planning divides up my 50,000 word target, adding some more detail in terms of scenes and events that need to take place. (NB: this is the first draft: the final version of The Syndrome Diaries is around 95,000 words. Forthcoming blogs on the rewriting process will help to explain why!)

Details that I need to remember: characters’ surnames, timelines to make sure events make chronological sense (that’s the long, wiggly line on the top piece of paper in the picture) and anything that I’m likely to forget. Sometimes I fill in character sheets; I’ve got a full set for the novel I’m about to start work on (drafted 2009), but didn’t use them for The Syndrome Diaries.

Once I start writing, plans will be ignored, rehashed and turned upside-down. My characters will begin to take on a life of their own at between 20,000 and 30,000 words and refuse to do what I’d had in mind for them. But at the outset, I find I can write better if I have some idea of where I might be heading. In the next blog, I’ll tell you more about how I write first drafts.

Do you plan or do you dive in and see where the writing takes you? 

How to write a novel: 1 The Idea

Perhaps that should be ‘How I write a novel.’ The Syndrome Diaries has been two years in the making, from the first germ of the idea to the edited, polished, proofed and re-proofed manuscript that will soon be going onto Amazon. I thought I’d blog about the process I’ve been through to get it from the ‘aha!’ moment to the finished novel.

The central plot for the novel came to me very quickly while I was out for a run in summer 2010. It started with a question: were there circumstances in which adulterous behaviour might be OK?

You probably have an answer to that in your head right now, and I found myself in a very heated discussion on morals and motivations after reading out an extract at my writers’ group. But the question on its own isn’t  much of a plot. I had to create the circumstances around the temptation to stray, and that led me to introduce a third main character. As my ideas grew shoots and leaves, this third character decided she wanted a starring role, and she pretty much got it – or rather, her diaries did.

So where did all this come from? I have never committed adultery and neither, to my knowledge, has my husband or anyone else I’ve been in a long-term relationship with. It might have been from the many newspaper articles giving statistics on staying faithful. Perhaps it’s simply an age-old human dilemma that most of us hope we’ll never have to deal with.

If you asked me how I got my ideas, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. What I do know is that they come suddenly and they grow rapidly, branching out in sub-plots and detail that I have to start taming into a plan before I can start to write – and that’s the subject of my next blog.

Do you have a method for generating ideas? Or do you have to wait for the muse to strike?

The bit of marketing that people forget

Do you monitor your blog/twitter/Facebook stats?

It’s vital you know what’s working and what isn’t if you’re going to use your  time on social media productively. I know that this blog is the bit of my platform that sees the most action. That’s why this overdue posting is what I should have been doing instead of hanging out quite so much on Twitter.

This blog has been checked out 72 times this week, and it has 4 new followers, despite me not doing very much. This might be because I visited other blogs (I love visiting blogs!) and commented on them.

I’ve been reading tweets (I love reading tweets!) but failing to contribute. Still, I picked up 3 new followers and tweeted 23 times. I’ve tried to diversify my tweets, although they still have a bit of an academic bias. I suspect academics are  my main category of followers, so maybe that’s not so bad – if you want to know why, here’s my day job.

I posted a few times to my Facebook author page, and got a couple of likes for my 1990 youtube indie disco, but there is tumbleweed rolling across the dancefloor. Now that the page is there, it’s not high maintenance, but it’s rather pointless at the moment as a website can provide all the information and more. I’m hoping it will be home to discussions about the book once it’s published (assuming some people buy it!).

I made no effort at all with LinkedIn, and I still don’t ‘get’ it. In return, it made no effort with me.

Ultimately, none of this matters if there is no book. This week (please imagine a small trumpet fanfare) I finished my final ‘does it all hang together?’ read-through of The Syndrome Diaries, so I can now progress to the next stage: formatting it for Amazon.

Last week I mentioned putting together a sheet I could record stats on. Did I do it? Yes I did! That’s where the numbers above are pulled from. They are (ahem) modest, but useful as a picture of what happens if I slack off. That’s a good reason to turn up the activity this week and see how the figures compare.

Do you monitor your author platform? Is there anything you’ve found that surprised you? And do you ‘get’ LinkedIn?

Question Time

I’m currently reading The Best of Catherine, Caffeinated: Caffeine-Infused Self-Publishing Advice by Catherine Ryan Howard, which is a fascinating insight into Catherine’s experiences of self-publishing Mousetrapped, a book she wrote about her experiences working at Walt Disney World. She describes the process she went through to upload her book, the different e-book channels she used, the sales she made and her income, along with what went wrong. I can thoroughly recommend it if you want some insight from someone normal rather than a “You can make a gazillion megabucks tomorrow” type of guide.

I’m hoping to do something similar to Catherine’s book with this blog although my experiences will differ from hers in that my book is fiction. I thought now would be a good opportunity to ask if there was anything people particularly wanted to know. Obviously sales figures and income generate the most curiosity, and I’m quite happy to dish out details. I’m also going to blog about the publishing process along with any steps I take to spread the word.

My timetable is:

August/September: work on the final edits. I’ve had feedback from 3 beta readers, and notes on half the book from the 4th and final beta reader (she’s still reading it). It’s generally been positive, so the editing I’ve yet to do will be polishing rather than any major rewrites.

September: formatting, pricing, uploading to Amazon. I’ve got some idea of what this involves, but I’m not sure exactly how long it will take. I’m hoping another of Catherine’s books, Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing will help me out here. No, she’s not paying me to put these links up – I just like her books.

October: The launch!

Is there anything particular you’d like to see me blog about during this period? And what do you want to see post-publication? Let me know, and I’ll do my best to post the information you’d like.

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