Rachel, writing

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

Archive for the tag “female”

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!

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Judging a Book by its Cover

We’re onto the fifth P of marketing: packaging. For a book, this of course means the cover. In a previous blog on pricing, my sales forecast made it clear that the costs of a professional cover designer would not be recouped. So, it’s up to me.

The important points to remember with my cover design are:

  • What works in a bookshop doesn’t necessarily work online, and I have to design with Amazon in mind
  • The cover that comes up on someone’s screen when browsing Amazon might be tiny
  • If the potential reader is on their Kindle, the photo will be black and white
  • My name is not important because few people have heard of me, and this is my first novel
  • The style I choose will give some indication of genre

When I worked in music publishing, we distributed a self-published book of songs for children by a very popular composer of music for junior schools. The songs were suitable for older junior school children, but the cover art was the composer’s pre-schooler daughter’s work, giving the impression that the content was aimed at very young children. Teachers of older children would ignore it, while teachers of younger children would open it up only to find it was unsuitable for their needs. This shows how important the cover of a book is to convey its content.

Here are some examples of other authors’ covers:

It’s clearly going to be a romcom. This cover also stands out from the other books in a similar genre. It would probably have more appeal to women than men (it’s rather pink), but avoids the teeny-skinny-people-cartoon-and-curly-writing cliché that is the badge of chicklit. I’ve just started reading this: it’s very, very funny, though explicit. The cover has a hint of saucy British postcard about it, and that’s perhaps a clue to what’s inside.

This screams chicklit: pink, girly silhouette. It’s a fabulous book, tackling serious issues in the context of a love story, and it’s both funny and very sad. The cover, to me, makes it look more frivolous than it is. Online, it doesn’t work well: there’s not enough contrast between some of the text and the background, so when I went on Amazon, all I could read was ‘Before’ and the author’s name. My Dad loved it too and thought it was extremely well-written, but he read it because I mentioned it in an earlier blog. I doubt the cover would have caught his attention.

Almost perfect for the web, although some of the text is too small (‘Twenty years, two people’ in particular). This has strong images and has been mentioned by quite a few commentators for its step away from traditional design. I bought this in bookshop quite soon after it was published, having not heard of it. The cover attracted me to the book, and inside the concept and opening scene (University in the 80s, which I caught the back end of) hooked me in. Online, the cover would have grabbed my attention and the sample would have led to me buying the book.

Well, it’s chicklit, I presume. It has a cartoon girl on the front and lots of pink. But I can’t read the title. This is a HarperCollins book – a publisher who can surely afford a decent graphic designer.

Again, a cover marred by illegible text, and it doesn’t appear to be available other than as a download, so the cover needs to be particularly web-friendly. All that catches my eye is the huge bunch of roses. To me, that indicates Englishness, a female protagonist and there’s something melancholic abut the photo, suggesting tragedy. It actually states on the cover that it’s a love story, set in the US, but I couldn’t read that until I went into the product details on Amazon. The tiny writing at the bottom is in an illegible curly font – it’s actually quoting a review, and covers will normally use a very clear font for quotes.

So there are some examples of what works for me and what doesn’t. Translating that into my own cover is a little more challenging; I can see what’s good and not so good in other peoples’ designs, but pulling something together that attracts the kind of readers who would enjoy my book has proved difficult.

I wanted to produce something early on to go on my website and started off with this:

The main problem is the title font. It’s not clear. I wanted it to have a hand-written feel and tried to make it clearer by highlighting it, but it just looks messy. I’m not entirely sure about the photo. I suspect the story has more appeal to women than men; that’s what one of the writers’ groups I took it to thought too. In the other writers’ group, the men seem to be getting into it perhaps more than the women. I’m not sure how much appeal the cover has to women. My husband says he’d pick the book up because as a hot-blooded male he’d be drawn towards an image of the female form, but inside it’s not really his kind of thing (which would be Tom Clancy).

The story hinges around a successful female rock musician (Syndrome is the name of her band) who’s written some diaries, and the cover depicts her. There are some quite dark themes in the book, although there’s also a romance central to the story. It’s written in the style of mainstream fiction – not frivolous, but not heavy-going either. I wanted a female image with a guitar; it’s actually a bass. I found the original image on clipart, and cropped it quite a lot (partly to get rid of the four tuning pegs as a regular guitar would have six). So with a cover budget of zero, there is some compromise!

I’ve subsequently redone the cover, with clearer text.

I’m not entirely convinced by the red, as it looks a bit ‘thriller,’ but having tried different colours, this is what stands out without going monochrome (although I think my name might work better in black and white, as in the previous version). The ‘Kindle image’ is below, and small: the text isn’t as clear as I’d like.

There’s still some time to play with the cover. The best-I-can-make-it version will shortly be going to my beta readers, freeing me up to work on other aspects of the book.

  • What covers have you seen that you thought were particularly good (or bad!)?
  • How would you improve my cover?

This is the 6th blog in a series on marketing.

“It’s not very girly, is it?”

About 18 months ago, I went to an Interpol gig. The audience was predominantly male, and a couple of guys there commented to me that Interpol wasn’t particularly ‘girly’ music. ‘Girly’ music, apparently, means James Blunt.

Now, music is an integral part of The Syndrome Diaries, my current work-in-progress. The main characters’ lives are heavily coloured by music in various ways, and references to songs appear through the novel as an important element of scene-setting and to provide shared culture to reinforce relationships.

The novel is probably best described as mainstream women’s fiction, yet when I’ve read passages out to writers’ groups, there’s been an instant, strong response from the men to the music references (which are more Interpol than James Blunt).

Some informal research in a music psychology class I was co-teaching demonstrated how difficult it can be to ascribe lists of favourite pieces of music to one sex or the other. Another of my research projects suggested that middle-aged women are often partial to heavy metal music when they work out at the gym, yet they probably wouldn’t be considered the target market for that style.

So, is there really such a thing as ‘girls’ music’ and ‘boys’ music’? And, if so, should I compel my heroine to listen to James Blunt? She’s really more an Interpol kind of person. Do I risk alienating readers with the wrong music?

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