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  • Going Indie – part four

    First of all, many apologies for the delay of this post – life, eh, what can you do? Never enough hours…

    We’ve been talking about self-publishing, what it is, what it entails. This week I shall try to briefly touch on Keywords, Promo, and the thorny issue of ‘Do I need a website/blog?’ Please bear in mind there isn’t room in one (or indeed, four) blog posts to tell you everything you need to know, I’m trying to give an overview, not a definitive guide. But there are LOADS of eBooks, paper books, blogs and chat-rooms to help with these issues, and all the publishing platforms have their own FAQ/How-to/Help etc pages to guide you through the process. Or you could ask an Indie author specific questions and get specific answers.

    So after weeks and months (possibly even years) of agonising, slaving and panicking, you’re finally ready to press ‘Upload’. It doesn’t take long for the cogs to whirr and for the publishing platform of your choice to announce Ta-da! Manuscript successfully uploaded! or words to that effect. Your next reaction, after the euphoria has died down, is likely to be Help!!!

    Because now, you need to put in your keywords.

    What are keywords? There are different types of keywords – words you use to categorise your book to slot it neatly into your genre or type of work on the publishing platform/shop (the BISAC category); words you use in your blurb to help with SEO and make your book more discoverable; or words you use in your advertising campaigns.

    Put simply, they are the words potential readers type in to the Internet (all of it) or a specific site such as Amazon, to find a book. As simple as that. So they might type in, Caron Allan, author extraordinaire, or, far more likely they will type in: Murder Mystery or Chick-Lit or Western Romance or something of that sort. A keyword is a kind of catch-all mini-phrase to help them find their book, because as we all now know, online book retailers are in many ways a sophisticated search engine.

    Or to put it another way, all the books that are available have been filed away, but you need to find a way to recognise and retrieve them. Now someone could type in ‘Once Upon A Time’ by Timothy R Author, but if Timothy R Author is a newbie who has self-published his exciting new work just this week, it isn’t very likely any reader would know of his book. So how will he reach his market?

    If you are writing in a genre category, you probably already know your category. If you are writing something that doesn’t fit snugly into one category, then you will need to use multiple keywords. For example, say you’re writing a murder mystery but your detective is actually a vampire… then you might choose one category as:

    Fiction – Paranormal – Vampires

    and another as:

    Fiction – Mystery & Detective – Police Procedural

    Fortunately you have the option to use a number of categories, usually two or three, when you are setting up your book on your chosen publishing platform.

    When writing your blurb, don’t just give a brief plot outline but mention your categories/genres, and descriptive terms such as ‘traditional’ or ‘cosy/cozy’ or ‘action-packed’ or maybe mention it if there is a big twist at the end, that kind of thing. This will be picked up by search engines. Books very often have subtitles these days, such as ‘a gripping thriller that will leave your breathless’ – it’s all to do with discoverability.

    Advertising campaigns are too large a ‘thing’ for me to mention here other than to say, when setting keywords, I find the names of other authors of my genre more effective in generating sales than ‘amateur sleuth’, ‘female protagonist’, etc. Try to keep up-to-date with your genre.

    Do I need a website?

    New authors often ask, ‘But do I really need a website or a blog?’ The answer, you might be surprised to discover, is ‘No!’. No, you do not need a blog.

    You only need a blog if:

    • you want to connect with other authors,
    • you want to connect with readers
    • or you want to sell books.

    So yes, sorry Hon, you DO absolutely need a blog. Otherwise how will readers, authors etc, find out about you? How will you keep everyone in the universe up-to-date with your news? One of the first things you need as an author, is a blog. And yes, you will need to update it regularly – at least a couple of times a month, if not weekly. A lot of people post new material daily. I don’t have that kind of time, but I’ve got a suspicion that if I did, I would increase my following really quickly. I’m not the greatest at posting new stuff, life just gets in the way for me all too often at the moment, but I try to add a blog post at least every fortnight, and preferably weekly. It can be hard to think of things to say, but don’t sweat it, get hints and tips from everyone, ask yourself what you would want to know about an author, then put that on your own site. You can schedule posts in advance, say if you know you’re going to be busy or away on your hols or something fun like that.

    And yes, you ALWAYS need a picture for your blog posts!!!! Get royalty free images from Pixabay or other similar sites. Some sites require payment to download an image. Pixabay ‘suggests’ a payment in the form of a ‘buy coffee’ button, but you don’t have to. However, to my mind, if you are using an image, for example on a book cover, where you could potentially make money, possibly quite a lot of money, I think it’s only fair to acknowledge the source of the image and send some ‘coffee money’ to the wonderful person who enabled you to create your book cover. It’s a business for them as well as for you, respect their time and effort.

    ‘But I don’t know anything about blogging!’ you cry. Welcome to the Indie World, where you can learn to do anything for next to nothing. Your go-to site should be Indies Unlimited, those wonderful guys and gals tell you how to do everything. You should also sign up to Alli – the Alliance of Independent Authors – they have a lot of very helpful material too, and are working to raise the profile and professional standing – and quality – of Indie Authors and their works.

    ‘But I don’t know html or how to ‘do’ websites,’ you wail. No. Neither did any of us, and now look. Seriously, if I can do it, you can do it. It takes a wee bit of patience and a bit of perseverance, but you’ve got those, right, because you are, after all, an Indie author, those are the main commodities we all have in abundance.

    The good news is, there are loads of books out there, loads of sites out there and loads of lovely Indie authors out there who will help you. And you absolutely can do it all for nothing, or next to nothing. You can get a WordPress blog for nothing – they have loads of free templates. (see here: https://wordpress.com/themes/free )

    And there are other blog providers out there (of whom I know nothing, because I’ve had and loved my WordPress blog for five years or so). WordPress have a massive amount of info and how-to guides and even do mini online courses.

    Promo

    Ooh tricky. Yes, you see, you need to promote yourself. Don’t be coy, be realistic. If you want to sell your books, you need to tell people about them, That’s what promotion is. It’s not boasting. It’s not lying. It’s not ‘cashing in’ or being materialistic. It’s being smart and helping readers to find a book they will love. There are millions of readers around the globe. And there are (I’m sure) millions of books. How are readers going to hear about your book if YOU don’t tell them about it? Yes I know you’d rather stay at home and write peacefully; I know that you’re an introvert and get shy, embarrassed, tongue-tied and stammery when you have to tell someone that you have written a book, and possibly, if they’re not too busy, and they don’t think it’s too expensive, could they please buy a copy. I’m the same! Yes, really, I’m very uncomfortable telling people about my books and asking them to buy one. I feel like I’m busking in a shopping mall or begging on a street corner. BUT. How else can we do it? Mr Amazon might do a wee bit of advertising on your behalf – but it’s up to you to do it.

    So use social media to tell everyone about your books. Make some snazzy little graphics on Canva (I’ve told you before about the wonderful Canva – they do templates the perfect size for Instagram or a Facebook post or a Twitter post etc) and post them from time to time – don’t bombard the social media world with promos and ads mornign noon and night – mix them with other types of subtle promo – pics of your cat, hints, tips, news, likes and retweets/reshares of others’ output. Pay for a few Facebook ads (you need a Facebook Page to do this…a profile/timeline doesn’t work quite as well.) And maybe do paid ads on Twitter or Google too if finances allow. You can set a daily or project budget limit to avoid nasty surprises. You could put leaflets through doors, give away a few freebies at fetes, fairs, galas, book-type events, jumble sales, craft fairs, car boot sales… Ask your loved ones to big you up to everyone they know. Phone or write to your local newspaper, library, book group, community centre, school (if writing for kids…), radio station and so on. Contact everyone you can think of, tell them about your book. you may need to supply a few sample copies, but it’s all good, right?

    A quick word about the promo people you see advertising on Twitter especially – some of them have now discontinued. I’ve tried a few, and can honestly say they didn’t work for me. But they may work for you, especially if they don’t charge very much to advertise your books. They may boast that they have 100K+ members or followers or whatever. The thing to bear in mind is, most of these followers are other authors trying to sell their books. Take a look and see how many retweets these ads get on average. Usually the only people who see them are people trying to sell their own book, and you will be lucky to get more than a handful of retweets or comments. If the fee is low, do it, otherwise, I wouldn’t bother.

    There are some promo sites who charge a lot and offer big results. I haven;t tried any of them. Some of them have entry requirements such as a level of sales or reviews/ratings. What I say is, go in with your eyes open, and try everything you can afford, see what works and what doesn’t.

    It takes time to build a following. And it takes time to build your author platform. You need patience, and you need to keep on keeping on. Meanwhile, play nice with the other authors you ‘meet’, don’t compare yourself to others and don’t ever, ever give up. Go for it.

    ***

  • Going Indie – part three

    Welcome to part three of what was originally a one-part blog post. There’s another part next week too…there just seems to be so much to say on this topic, and, I’m not quite sure how it happened, I’ve gone from my general feelings about being an Indie author to an actual nuts-and-bolts how-to… I’m just going with it now, too late to stop.

    Formatting

    Formatting is important, I can’t stress how important actually, but if you’re on a budget, it is actually not that difficult to do this yourself. I would never pay someone to do this for me. There are books to tell you how to do it, and numerous internet posts and docs to tell you the same. I use two: I use Indies Unlimited for all how-to info and technical stuff. Seriously, if you don’t follow Indies Unlimited then you’re very very naughty indeed, because they have information about EVERYTHING you will ever need to know. Here’s a link to their formatting stuff:

    https://www.indiesunlimited.com/2017/06/26/our-new-book-formatting-resource-page/

    I also use a paperback book I bought a few years ago now. It’s by Michael Boxwell and it’s called Make an Ebook. If you are buying a book, especially a printed book, to tell you how to do this kind of thing, do check the date of publication and the scope of the content. There are loads of books out there, and a lot of them are seriously out of date, as I have discovered to my cost.

    The basic watchwords of formatting are, for Amazon, keep it consistent, keep it simple. I’ve put together a kind of crib-sheet with my tips on formatting a book for KDP publication and for Createspace. It doesn’t cover everything, and I assume you are reasonably good with IT and word processing. Hopefully it will help. You can read it here. If there is anything I’ve missed out that you really need to know, please send me your questions! Or if I’ve made a mistake again – we need to know this stuff!

    Blurb – how long, how many versions?

    Don’t confuse the number of characters with the number of words. It’s best to check your limit by opening your text document, and in Word, you can find the character total by clicking on the little bit at the bottom left of your screen where the number of words is displayed. This will bring up a box which shows the character numbers too.

    You need four versions of your book blurb:

    one Amazon Ad promo length (140 characters – that’s REALLY short)

    one Twitter new length (240 characters, quite a decent, usable length now)

    standard ‘short’ publishing/sales platform blurb length, around 400 characters

    long version – can be anything from 1500 to 4000 characters. This will appear on your Amazon product page, any other book distributer product page ie Draft2Digital/Nook/Barnes and Noble/Kobo/Apple or anywhere else you choose to put it – on your blog, website, Goodreads etc.

    End matter/Front matter

    These are: Copyright page, dedication, other books by this author (useful to have!), and about the author. I also include a sneak peek of the next book if I can, and there can be a contents list at the front or an index at the back.

    Some authors advocate putting all ‘front’ matter at the back, as it means that the Search Inside function on Amazon gives the reader more ‘meat’ in terms of reading material from the actual publication, and not mainly ‘filler’ in the form of front matter which can be unhelpful in making the choice whether to buy a book or not. And it can be annoying if you’re trying to get a feel for a book and have to wade through pages of posh reviews that are no help at all. I personally do a bit of both. I keep the copyright and dedication at the front, and the contents page, and a character list if I’m using one, and the acknowledgments, author’s note, author’s bio and other books bit I stick at the back.

    Write them in advance, so that you don’t delay your publication by having to quickly knock up yet another Word document. Also, you can use these items in subsequent publications with a few simple updates.

    Copyright page

    Yes, you do need a copyright page, don’t ever think you don’t. It can be very short and simple. This is what I use:

    The Mantle of God: a Dottie Manderson mystery by Caron Allan

    Copyright 2016 © Caron Allan

    The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the owner of this work.

    No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including but not limited to: graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any informational storage retrieval system without advanced prior permission in writing from the publisher.

    This is a work of fiction, and is not based on a true story or on real characters. (Unless it is, of course, in which case I’d skip this bit.)

    You can either type copyright in full or get the symbol from the Insert tab of your Word doc. You can change the size to whatever you want, both of the symbol and the copyright statement as a whole. I like to keep it small and so usually select a font size of 8 or 9. You may feel as an Indie author that you don’t need – or deserve (some people have told me this) – to protect your work. That’s (insert profanity of choice here) rubbish. You worked hard and you NEED to protect your author rights. Please don’t be naïve and think it’s unnecessary. Possibly you will find you still get plagiarised; for some books, it seems to be endemic, I don’t know why, and although there are steps you can take, it’s very difficult to stop it completely, as some authors have found to their cost.

    Contents

    I don’t feel these are useful for fiction eBooks as eReaders remember where you got to, you don’t have to look it up. And very often, authors chapter titles are plain and simple: Chapter One, Chapter Two, etc. If you are publishing a non-fiction, you probably need the contents list.

    Biography

    Tell people about yourself. Be quirky, be human. Put a face to the name for them. Use this bit also to include your social media contacts and advertise your website or blog.

    You can survive with just one or two versions, a long one and a short one. Ideally though, you need as many biographies as you do blurbs, and of the same kind of length. That way you’re good to go no matter what. Write them in advance, so you don’t have to have a last-minute panic, and update them periodically as your details and available books changes.

    Also by: this is a useful bit to include, as readers can see all your stuff, and even the reading order if appropriate. I also add in a Coming Soon bit on mine to let them know what I’m likely to bring out soon.

    Dedication

    I like to say thanks to a few people or tell them how much I appreciate their help. It’s just a line or two. I like to have it at the front. Anything more lengthy, I turn into an Acknowledgement and have it at the end!

    Contents page

    You can generate a Contents Table page in your Word doc without too much grief. Just, for an eBook, remember to click Format Table and take out the page numbers! If you tweak your manuscript, or make any kind of adjustments, you must remember to Update Table before you upload your document.

    A quick word about Word. If you are planning to upload your word doc to Amazon, your contents page should be fine, but for some reason, some authors prefer to save their Word docs are a pdf and upload that. If you do this, you need to do a whole new contents page as the pages will not be ‘clickable’ in your pdf. It’s a bit of a faff to build a clickable contents page in in pdf doc but it’s not hard, it’s just messy and tedious. If you want to do it, maybe Google it? I don’t have a crib-sheet for that as yet. Personally I recommend uploading a Word doc, it’s just easier all round. However, you need to remember to save your final version as a Word 1995-2003 document as Amazon don’t support the later versions of Word, or at least, last time I looked, they didn’t.

     

    Next week: Keywords, Promo and Do I need a Website.

    ***

  • Going Indie – part two

    As I said last week, I’m a self-published—or Indie—author. This means I do all my own writing stunts, publish my own books and reap the rewards every month from Amazon and, via Draft2Digital, from Nook, Kobo, Apple, etc. But it’s only been the last few months that my rewards have been noteworthy. Before that I used to dream of selling 200 books a month, or in my craziest, most optimistic moments, 500 books!!! Now I am comfortably selling several hundred books a week. Yes, I know, it’s still not megabucks, but give it time. It’s more than I’ve ever earned in my life. If I’ve learned anything as an Indie author, it’s patience! And persistence. And optimism. (This could turn into one of those ‘What did the Romans do for us?’ discussions…)

    I also sell paperbacks online from Amazon in the UK and the rest of the world, and in the US, from Barnes and Noble online as well as Amazon. And they do sell, many people (I’m secretly one of them; my age, I suppose) still prefer to hold a paper book in their hands and turn actual not virtual pages. I’d love to sell paperbacks from high street stores, but it’s not happening at the moment. I could go to a printing firm and get hundreds printed up, but I just don’t want boxes upon boxes of books around my home, and I don’t want to be stuffing jiffy bags all day when I could be writing, or drinking coffee. Nor could I match the price the paperbacks sell at on the Interweb. The postage cost alone makes that a non-starter.

    One huge difference to my ‘wildest dreams writer scenario’ is that I pictured myself as (a much younger, obviously, and cool and OBVIOUSLY gorgeous) a kind of Jessica Fletcher character, pottering about in sensible cardigans and pearls, and solving real-life (non-dangerous) crimes, whilst fitting in the odd bit of typing on a vintage, collectible typewriter.

    Real life usually is more like me struggling to find a reliable internet connection, and trying to remember what I wrote yesterday, or wishing I’d remembered to buy toner for the printer, and wishing I could use my pretty notebook instead of my plain one. Or, as last week, spending seven hours in A & E with my Mum. Obviously (clearly my word of the day) I was glad to do it, she couldn’t have gone alone: she doesn’t know her surname, her date of birth or her address. She certainly doesn’t know her medications and their doses. Actually she doesn’t know me either. But interruptions to routine occur, and last week, I managed very little in the way of new work, which made me depressed. But real life is what gives us our story. Real life is where we fight to get the words down on the page in spite of all the other stuff we have to do. We’re not alone in that. In many ways, as an Indie author we can be more flexible about deadlines and publication dates.

    What else do you as a self-published author need to do apart from writing your book and creating your cover?

    I said last week I do my own editing and proofreading. I still do. I know you’re not supposed to, but I do. I can’t afford to hire someone to do it for me at the moment. I realise that it’s easy to miss a vital typo, and difficult to pick up on waffle, (always easy to rationalise that away) overused words or phrases, or even to be sure that what is clear to you, the author who knows the whole story, is just as clear to the reader who is learning the story a page at a time. That’s quite a tough one. I do have help with the final proofreading stage, and that is invaluable for picking up little annoying bits and pieces, but overall I trust my own instincts, and try to stay calm and focussed, try not to freak out at the enormity of the task, or the very great possibility of people hating my work. I also try to bear in mind George R R Martins’s comment that ‘writing is not a democracy’. That’s why it’s MY book, not someone else’s.

    The editing and proofreading process is far longer and more important than most people realise. I once read that if you don’t hate your book by the time it is published, you haven’t done enough editing. That is so true. By the time I’ve finished everything that needs to be done, part of me dies inside at the thought of reading it once more time. But that’s only temporary. Once your book is genuinely finished, and it’s out there in the big wide world, give yourself a little break, then come back and amaze yourself at how wonderful it is. You will think, wow, is that really my work? Surely I didn’t–couldn’t—write that? It’s a wonderful feeling.

    Editing—actual, practical steps:

    1. Read the whole thing through OUT LOUD to check for typos, meandering, unclear nonsense, missed words and phrases and overused words. I am terrible for overusing So and And! If you use an unusual word, for example, coterie—use it once, not many times. Unusual words will stick in the reader’s brain and annoy them!
    2. Check all character names and descriptions are consistent. Double check all relationships and partners.
    3. Check that all technology, science and social interactions are correct for the time period you are setting them in, or if you are inventing these, make sure they are logical and consistent, and properly explained without tedium.
    4. If you use real places, check you are correct in how you’ve used them—can the action take place in the way you described? Was that place in existence when you say it was? Was the technology, science and social stuff as you ‘think’ it was? Don’t say the beach is sandy if it’s not. Don’t assume there is an old church in the middle of the village. Don’t give a tiny little village its own police department. Readers will know.
    5. Be honest. Does it work? Does each step in your plot follow on logically from the previous one? Is there a believable reason—in your mind at least, readers may not always agree—for why a character acts a certain way? Have you over-explained? Have you under-explained? If it’s not working, admit it and correct it. Do it now before anyone sees it.
    6. Get rid of waffle. Shorten long meandering descriptions and overly-complicated sentences. When You read out loud, you will soon discover those sentences that trip up the reader and mess up the smooth flow of your story. Don’t overuse adverbs. Don’t tag all speeches unless you need to make it clear who is talking. In a dialogue between two people, this will only need to be done sparingly. There is nothing worse for the reader than every speech being tagged. What I mean by that is, you always say who is speaking. You don’t need to do this all the time. Read your work out loud and you will see what is superfluous. Also, don’t use a large variety of euphemisms for ‘said’, etc. Said should be your go-to speech tag. Followed by minimal use of replied, responded and similar words. Please do not use chortled, ejaculated, declared or any of the more emphatic words—they are horrid to read in dialogue. More importantly, they stand out like a sore thumb, ruining your lovely little ‘suspension of belief’ state you have lulled your reader into. Said is invisible, declared is not.
    7. Do a final proofread, out loud preferably, and get someone else (who owes you a massive favour or loves you to the point of obsession) to read the entire thing with you. Correct every single thing: missed commas, extra spaces, inconsistent title fonts, everything. Check every spelling, and all your facts. Don’t tell yourself no one will notice—I guarantee they will. And they will mention it in their reviews.

     

    Next week: Part three: what do you do next?

  • Going Indie – part one

    I’m a self-published—or Indie—author. And that is no longer something to be lamented or ashamed of, nor has it been for quite a few years. I published my first book in January 2013, and since then have inflicted several more books on the unsuspecting reading public, with many more planned for the future.

    If you are thinking about being an Indie author, or you already are one and are ready to quit and get a ‘real’ job, here is my take on Going Indie. I hope overall, I will encourage rather than discourage you. Shall I say at the outset that I am finally making money? Because yes, I write because I love it, and I love the creative process, but at the same time, I need to live. I need to buy food, notebooks, pay bills and assist my hubby in keeping a roof over our heads. And it has taken the best part of five years to get there, though I’m sure plenty of other people could do it in a shorter period.

    Fully aware of the unbelievably huge learning curve that awaited me, I decided in 2012 to ‘go for it’. How else would I ever see my books in print? How else could I share my words and my worlds with other people? I knew my chances of getting accepted by a publisher were virtually nil—as a creative writing tutor once unhelpfully pointed out to her newly enrolled class, we stood a better chance of getting onto the space programme. Well I was 50 in 2010, so I stood absolutely no chance of going into space (not that I wanted to) so where did that leave me with my dreams of being an author? It was obvious I only had one option available, so I took it, hesitating and afraid, but with a sense of audacity. Did I really dare to do it? Yes, I decided, I did. Oh and by the way, I was still working full time at that point.

    What did I have to learn? The short answer is everything.

    1. I had to learn how to edit and proofread. I read everything I could, did some courses to brush up my grammar skills, I even got a lot of work as a freelance proofreader and editor. I had to learn to do this myself as I couldn’t afford to pay anyone to do it for me.
    2. I researched how to format a book for the various self-publishing platforms. I learned how to do this myself as I couldn’t afford to pay anyone to do it for me. I had reasonable computer skills but knew nothing about creating a manuscript from a computer document. That was all new to me.
    3. I researched the different self-publishing platforms as I knew nothing about them, and I wasn’t really in any kind of group or society or anything where I could ask other people. I was at that time completely out of touch with other self-published authors.
    4. Then I had to write the books. And edit, then rewrite, then edit, the rewrite, then edit… I knew that you couldn’t just finish a first draft and put it on Amazon as a book. I now know that when I’ve finished a first draft, that is just the beginning of the process. It’s the bit I find hardest, actually. I love rewriting, that is freeing and creative, but putting the bare bones down on the page? That’s tough.
    5. I tried using betareaders. That didn’t work for me. All that happened was the nice ones said, ‘Yes it’s wonderful’, and the others all just said the opposite to everyone else. I ended up with a new opinion for everyone I asked. Not helpful. So I didn’t bother with that again. Though I do now have writer buddies I occasionally run an idea or dilemma past.
    6. I had to learn how to create book covers. I tried Fiverr, and sorry to be mean to anyone but I got nothing worth using. And again, I couldn’t afford to pay anyone to design and create my covers, so again, I had to learn to do it myself. Now I find it so satisfying and it helps me to fix a book in my head, makes it come alive. To begin with I used PowerPoint, with stock photos from Morguefile or Pixabay. You can create a slide the size of a book cover (research the correct size—a quick Google search will give you that) then when you’ve finished fiddling with it, you can save itas a jpeg. And hey presto! This is one of the first ones I made.

    It’s not great but I used it for quite a while before I made something a bit nicer.These days I still make my own covers, and I still use Pixabay or Shutterstock, but I now use Canva—which is wonderful flexible and FREE to make some very acceptable covers. And my other marketing materials. Here’s a couple of examples of covers I’ve made on Canva, I’m really proud of these even if they still look a bit homemade. I love them, and more importantly, the books are selling. so take time to think about a good cover for your work. It needs to both blend into your genre or niche, yet stand out. Prospective readers should get a vague idea of what the story is about, and know what to expect from your cover. It’s essential the title and your author name can be read in the thumbnail size, so make sure they are really bold and clear.

       

    Part Two of this blog next week:

    ***

  • Rose or Rat?

    I recently got into a conversation about my name – which is a pen name. (You know who you are – Caron Eastgate Dann, I’m looking at you!) So here’s the true story of Caron Allan.

    Firstly, to explain the title. In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet says that famous line, ‘A Rose by any other name, would still smell as sweet,’ (my paraphrase). So whatever I’m called, I’m still me, right? Erm… well, let’s leave that on one side for now. The Rat bit is a sideways smirk at Umberto Eco who wrote a brilliant book about the perils and pitfalls of translation. It’s called Mouse Or Rat, because, he says, in a lot of languages it’s the same word, though in English it’s obviously not. Plus in English, along with the different word, you have a completely different connotation: mice can be cute and teeny with droopy little whiskers and dainty little paws whereas rats are gigantic, plague-ridden rodent-devils.

    And so my problem.

    Six years ago, when I decided to opt for self-publishing, or being an Indie author, as we now, more politely call it, I wondered what to call myself. I didn’t want to use my real name for a couple of reasons. One, people might find out where I lived and come round and throw my books through my window whilst screaming and waving pitchforks. Two, people might attack me at work – I had a real job back then. Three, I’ve always hated my real first name – Carolyn – (there, I’ve said it, massive sigh of relief as onerous burden of guilt at my deception is lifted), so I welcomed any chance to ditch it. And four, I felt that my first name was old-fashioned, and conjured up all too clearly the image of a fat old woman (which I am), which would be incongruous (or so I thought) with the readership I wanted to reach.

    Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I now know that: most of my readers are probably my age or older, and that there’s no such thing as a secret identity. Especially if you can’t keep your own mouth shut. To start with I often post something on my author FB page then respond to comments from other people on my personal page – thus letting the cat out of the bag. In addition to my first name, my surname is also a horrid one. We just don’t think ahead, do we, and realise when we begin walking out with a handsome young gentleman, that his surname will someday become ours, and lead to a lifetime of explanations and misery and ridicule. So that had to go too.

    So what to call myself? I’ve agonised for years over the possibilities of what to call myself if I changed my name. And I’d never really narrowed it down to one final choice. I thought about taking my children’s middle names and creating a name out of that. To be on the safe side, I searched on Amazon to see if there were already authors with that name. There were! Eek! Good thing I checked, though.

    So bearing in mind the adjunct to authors to avoid using adverbs, I took the LY out of the middle of my name, and closed up the gap. Ta-da! Caron. Then I took my hubby’s first name, gave it an extra L. And Behold – Caron Allan appeared! (Cue applause!)

    Thank you very much. I love you all. I’d like to thank my agent – Oh wait, no, they all turned me down! 🙂

    By the way, completely off topic, I had my third post-cancer check-up at the hospital this week, and I’ve been discharged with a clean bill of health. Wow!!!! Eighteen months ago, I thought I was going to die. Now I know I will get to live first. One day I might write about that, but not just yet. Real people, behind the pen-names on your book covers.

    ***

  • Plodding on…and a sneak peek

    I feel that I haven’t achieved very much in the last few weeks. I didn’t publish a blog post last week, and I haven’t done a great deal of new writing. But I’ve been looking through my notes for the WIP, book 4 of the Dottie Manderson mysteries. This one is going to be called, you might remember, The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish. It should be published at the beginning of November this year. I’ve been thinking about this book for about three years, and I now know – or at least I think I know – where it’s going. It’s exciting, I feel like I’m embarking on a journey I’ve been planning for a long while.

    There’s quite a bit involved in working on the early stages of a new book. To begin with, I have to refamiliarise myself with the minor characters who have appeared in the first three books, as I’m terrible for remembering names. When I’m writing an actual first draft chapter, if I forget a character’s name, I just write X or XXX then go back later and fill in the person’s name. I don’t stop in the middle of a writing session to go and look up the name as I never want to interrupt the flow.

    I’ve also had to look up a few things to do with train travel in the 1930s, and to look up details about various places in the UK. Not really research, just kind of getting things straight in my head. Obviously I spend a lot of time tidying pens and notebooks and making sure I have enough sticky notes. I’ve checked that I’ve got the right month of 1934 printed up from my computer, so I can see where the weekends fall and that kind of thing. I always need to have a specific day worked out in my head to orient myself in the era and make sure my plot works.

    Unusually for me, I’ve made quite a lot of notes about this book. mainly because, as the series progresses, there are things I need to remember for future books. Whilst my books are stand-alone, there are also continuing storylines from one to the next, and sometimes across more than two books, and there are essential strands I want to make sure I don’t leave out. Hence the notes. Also, i did have a few plot quibbles I couldn’t decide on. Sometimes too many ideas is worse than too few; I find it hard to make a decision.

    Then, I have started typing up the handwritten first drafts, and I’m making a few amendments as I go, though I wouldn’t call it a rewrite, more tweaking along the way. Now I have three full (rough) chapters, and about 9000 words so far. I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve got. I feel like this might work.

    Later on, I will reach the panic stages of ‘It’s not going to work, it’s not going to work!’ But at the moment I’m calm. usually, when I get to the 45,000 to 50,000 word point, I again relax, finally confident that this book will actually come together and will be finished.

    In case you’re interested, here’s a little snippet of Chapter One. It’s not set in stone, it might disappear, and will undoubtedly get rewritten a dozen times, but at the moment, this is what sits at the outset of the story of The Last Perfect Summer of Richard Dawlish:

    The war was over. That was the main thing. That was all that mattered. Not the lives lost. Nor the devastation. Not even the hostile, resentful power struggle throughout Europe. Or even the victory. In the end, all that mattered, was that the long years of anguish and despair had come to an end.

    Up and down the country, people celebrated the fact that life could now go back to normal. Whatever that was. Women left the factories in their tens of thousands, and went home to cook, clean and have babies. Men lay aside their rifles and bayonets and took up their hammers and saws once more. They hammered their swords into ploughshares, figuratively if not literally, and tried to forget what they had seen.

    Across the nation, there were street parties, tea parties, balls, lunches, drinks evenings, galas and dances to celebrate the return of the heroes and the return of everyday life as it had been years earlier.

    Obviously, no one mentioned the dead.

    The Member for Hamfield and West Nottingham, the Honourable Peter Maynard, along with his charming wife Augustine, hosted one such event at their elegant home in the leafy suburb of Hamfield.

    It was a glorious evening. The weather for the first week of an English June was perfect: warm and sunny, with a cloudless blue sky and the merest hint of a breeze ruffling its fingers through the early roses, bringing their fragrance lightly into the house.

    The ballroom, a recent and somewhat garish addition from the outside, inside followed neatly from the hall, the dining room and the drawing room by the simple expedient of moving back the furniture and flinging back the folding doors that separated the rooms. The result was a vast flowing space where guests could mingle and roam, drink in hand, from the dancefloor to the buffet and back again.

    In one corner of the ballroom, on a small, purpose-built raised platform, the little orchestra played a series of dance tunes, and couples, young and old, circled the floor as they had done just five years earlier. All around them, people gathered in little groups and laughed and talked then laughed again. Cocktails of all kinds were drunk in large quantities.

    And obviously, no one mentioned the dead.

    The war, Richard Dawlish reflected as he sipped his champagne cocktail with great reluctance, might never have happened.

    No one mentioned the dead, but he could still see them, their clutching, decaying flesh protruding from muddy dips and hollows, and at night the rats would come out of their hiding places and nibble the naked limbs. Richard didn’t even need to close his eyes. The images were always before him. He carried them with him wherever he went, whatever he did. He began to think they would never leave him. Even when he was an old man, he would still see those corpses, like so many strange species growing in a wasteland of a garden.

    Turning, he looked out through the open doors at the long lawn surrounded by blossoming borders. Was this what those millions had died for? He took another drink.

    Behind him in the ballroom, someone tapped a spoon against a glass to get everyone’s attention. The chatter stopped, the laughter faded, and everyone turned to face Peter Maynard, at the front of the orchestra stage. He embarked upon a long and largely predictable second-hand speech, culminating in, ‘So let us raise our glasses in a toast as we welcome back our heroes, and thank them for their part in keeping England’s green and pleasant land free of tyranny and destruction.’

    There were loud shouts of ‘hear, hear’ and ‘just so’, and everyone repeated some rambling form of the toast and drank. Maynard then said, ‘And another toast to celebrate the fine achievements of these young men in the field of combat: Captain Algy Compton,’ there was a loud and raucous cheer, ‘Group Captain Michael Maynard,’ and further, louder chorus of cheers and catcalls, and someone at the back shouted, ‘Thinks he can bloody fly, so he does!’ There was general laughter, though some of the ladies tsked at the language. Peter Maynard, smiling proudly, ‘From what I hear, he can fly!’

    ‘Showed the bloody Boche a thing or two, let me tell you!’ came another voice from the back. Again, everyone laughed, and Maynard said, ‘Indeed. But let’s keep it polite, gentlemen, remember the ladies. Er, next on the list, is some young scallywag by the name of Second Lieutenant Gervase Parfitt. A second lieutenant at just nineteen. That’s a sterling achievement, my dear boy!’ A lanky youth nodded, and received with blushes the back-slaps and cheers of those around him.

    The audience turned back to Maynard, whose glass was being topped up by a manservant. ‘Then we mustn’t forget Gervase’s big brother Arthur, better known as Captain Arthur Parfitt,’ he paused to drink his toast, then went on, ‘And yet another of the overachieving Parfitt brothers, this time it’s none other than Reggie, a lieutenent in the navy, which as we all know, is just some strange, salt-water name for a Captain! Lieutenant Reginald Parfitt, and last, but by no means least, our good friend and my nephew Algy’s comrade-in-arms, Lieutenant Richard Dawlish. Richard, my dear fellow, do step up with the others for the photograph.’

    Richard had smiled dutifully and raised his glass for each toast. He had wondered if he would be mentioned and was a little surprised that he was. As a ripple of polite applause went around the room, he made his way forward, embarrassed but smiling. Maynard shook his hand, then the six young men stood together whilst the photographer arrived to capture the moment for posterity. The photographer had some difficulty getting the right light reading and focus.

    ‘Your black face is mucking up his lens, Dickie,’ Algy laughed. He swayed, clearly fairly tipsy. The others joined in with the joking and laughter. Richard smiled politely and said nothing.

    ***

  • The Books Made Me Do It…

    Is it possible to gauge the influence reading exerts over us during the course of our lives? Think back to the first books you ever read as a child. Do you still remember them? Have you read those same books as an adult and still found those same ideas grabbing you just as they did that first time?

    I can remember my mother reading The Wind in the Willows to me when I was a very young child. I know the house we were living in at the time, so I know I was only 6 or 7. I can remember that sometimes I was bored, sometimes I couldn’t find my way through the complex language to the story inside. But I always wanted to hear more, I always longed for the next chapter, begged her not to stop reading. I can remember thinking, when I’m older I can read and read and read and never stop. In fact, I often got into trouble both at home and at school for doing exactly that. I can remember reading fairy stories from a huge colourful book, to the poor guy who came to mend the boiler, when I was no more than 5 or 6. I remember I loved to read about pixies and elves and fairies, all living in little toadstool houses or hollow trees with brightly painted doors and a polished door-knocker. How I wanted to live in a house in a hollow tree in the middle of a forest!

    I can remember being so inspired by these stories that I started writing my own. They weren’t very long, usually about a page to begin with, and they weren’t very original or interesting. But spinning stories from my imagination, I loved to do that so much.

    The books that have shaped my life? I shared some of my favourite books in a recent blog post. You can read it here, if you wish. I loved Treasure Island, Jane Eyre, the Famous Five, the Lone Pine Five, all the usual books that kids in the 1960s read. The Ann of Green Gables books by L M Montgomery were very special to me, as were the Little House on the Prairie books. The Wind in the Willows taught me that children’s stories don’t have to be facile. Shakespeare’s plays taught me that I have a brain and I’m not afraid to use it. Enid Blyton’s books showed me that being nosy is a sure way to get into trouble and end up tied up in a cellar (but, oh the adventure!).

    Over the years, many, many books taught me to believe I could write, whilst their authors, people like Agatha Christie, Tom Holt, Jasper Fforde and Patricia Wentworth taught me what I wanted to write and that you don’t have to be highbrow or obscure to be a good writer. Books made me take that leap of faith: try, experiment, and when things didn’t work out, I had somewhere to go to recover. If all else fails, they make a bloody huge pile you can hide behind.

    But over all of this, the books themselves, crowding about me like friends, took over my life to the detriment of all else, apart from my family, and I can honestly say that nine times out of ten, I’d sooner spend my money on a book than a bar of chocolate, and those who know me know that is really saying something. Plus bear in mind, chocolate is a paltry moment-on-the-lips purchase, whereas books can last forever.

    Books made me who I am and I am soooo grateful that they did. So please read to your children, your nephews, your nieces, your grandkids. It is the biggest gift you can give them.

    ***

  • The small ads: “ordinary writer seeks same for mutual support.”

    Some weeks(most weeks!) I just don’t know what to say on here. It’s quite hard if you’re writing a blog, to pick a topic with a broad appeal. Usually I witter on about ‘life’: things I’ve observed on my jaunts around town, or I might have something to say based on my own experiences as a self-published author, sharing tips and hints that I hope might help other authors. And occasionally I share about what books mean to me or why I write.

    I think I’m a typical middle-aged, middle-educated, Indie author – I mope around the house a lot, don’t write as much as I should, and yes I’ve got cats and I love coffee. So that’s all pretty ordinary, even a kind of author-cliche. This is why when it comes to the big topics of Marketing and Promotion, I struggle enormously. I find it hard to put into words what it is that makes me different, that special ‘whatever’ that enables me to stand out from the crowd and make my voice heard above the rest.

    But in a kind of epiphany moment, I realised it is through my very ordinariness that I stand out – because being just like everyone else is my superpower. Being so… dull… is how I relate to others, know what makes them tick and what motivates and interests those around me. So I am able to write books that hopefully will have a broad appeal, not be hidden away in some secret little niche or so highbrow even highbrow people need a stiff drink before they resume reading my immortal prose. I am here in the everyday world and it suits me.

    I’m not saying it’s wrong to have aspirations, to aim high or to strive to achieve. I believe it is important for adults to continue to learn and discover new things. I don’t believe for a minute that education is something only done by children. Learning should be life-long process. If you don’t continue to learn and move forward, the world will leave you behind and you will not be able to communicate with your children, grandchildren and others in the future. You will be a dinosaur, extinct and known only by a few highly-educated professors.

    So don’t be a dinosaur, be ordinary, blend in with the crowd and enjoy being surrounded, actually or virtually, by a bunch of people who are always there for you, and whom you in turn can support.

    ***

  • The Top 20 – or what I could fit into a shoulderbag, if I had to.

    I’m unashamedly cheating this week–in two ways, as this should have been posted three or four days ago, so it’s really last week’s, and I’m also recycling material… Quite a lot of my friends on Facebook are doing the Book Cover challenge, where you post a picture of the cover of a favourite book, every day for seven days. I rose to the challenge because I love to bang on about the books I love, and I am often stuck for something to say to connect with my loved ones. So I quickly selected my top seven.

    But.

    That left soooooo many books neglected on my shelves. And if the house was on fire, and computer, family and cats were safe (not in that order, obviously), surely I would have time to save more than seven??? After chatting with a few mad book lovers like myself, we decided to create our top twenty books, as seven just doesn’t seem enough.

    And so I decided I would share these with you, the world. It’s just a list of the twenty books I would buy first if the worst happened and I had to replace my library, or the twenty books I would shove into a sizeable shoulder bag if things got serious.

    But in no particular order….because you can’t choose between your babies, right?

    1. Danger Point by Patricia Wentworth. Why? a) I love old-school murder mysteries especially romantic ones such as Wentworth used to write. b) This one cost me a fair bit as it’s quite old and gorgeous now, and I love it. c) Unusually, it’s about a heroine in an unhappy marriage. (Spoiler – soz!)
    2. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde. Nothing to do with sexy goings-on and shenanigans, it’s a clever and hilarious novel about a society that is halting the relentless progress of technology, and has a new take on social divisions. My particular favourite moment is where some of the characters help out at an accident in the street, then give each other feedback on their performance.
    3. Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. I really like Umberto Eco’s works, and have quite a few of his books, but this is the one I come back to again and again, even more so than The Name of The Rose. With more historical facts and conspiracies than all of Dan Brown\’s books put together, this is the book for challenging your brain.
    4. Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie. Again, as a mystery aficionado, it’s no surprise that I would include a book by Agatha Christie, but this one is a mystery with a difference. I was a teenager when I first read this, and there is a little mild romance as well as the mystery in this, but the shining star of this book has to be the historical period. It was the first time I realised that people from ancient history were real people like us, with goals, ambitions, loves and hates. This books made me want to study history.
    5. The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte. This was the first book I read by this author and it remains my favourite. If you enjoy an intellectual challenge, or if you just like mysteries,this is a great read.
    6. If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino. I love books that are a bit quirky and unusual, and this one is certainly that. I really enjoyed the premise about a reader whose new book turned out to have the wrong book inside, but also the actual story is a strange, pleasurable little secret just waiting to be discovered. I’ll say no more about that. Just buy it and see.
    7. Red Bones by Ann Cleeves. Ann Cleeves is a great crime writer with an incredible eye for a setting, and a creator of a wide range of characters. This is another story where the events of the past reach forward to wreak havoc in the present. And boy, does this woman put her characters through some stuff.
    8. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. A perennial evergreen. For those who dismiss it as early chick-lit, think again. It is subtle, witty and intelligent, and takes the closest look you will ever find at family life. Yes, true it is well-to-do family life. And any woman who could support herself with her writing gets my admiration. This is my favourite book of all time.
    9. One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters. Another historical whodunit, beautifully crafted, intelligent, elegant, and entertaining. I love the very human characters in these books, and although this is the second of the series, I always think of it as the first establishing novel.
    10. Lone Pine Five by Malcolm Saville.  This is a children’s detective series written in the middle part of the twentieth century. It was the natural successor to the less absorbing (for me anyway) and less intelligent Famous Five series, and featured a variety of children and young people who were friends, relatives and who stumbled into mysteries and solved them without too much help or intervention from adults. I wrote to Malcolm Saville when I was about 10 or 11 to tell him how much I enjoyed his books, and he kindly wrote back to me. An integral part of my childhood.
    11. Madam Will You Talk by Mary Stewart. Now mainly remembered for her Arthurian series, Mary Stewart wrote a number of ‘romantic suspense’, mysteries with a strong romantic flavour, and this is my favourite of those. Oh for the days when we could all get away with chapter titles that were taken from quotations from literature! I usually just all mine, ‘chapter one’, ‘chapter two’, etc.
    12. Death In Kashmir by M M Kaye. I do so wish M M had written more than six romantic suspense novels before going on to write what I consider to be ‘literary’ fiction. I don’t much like anything too literary, but as you’ve probably guessed, I LOVE romantic suspense!!! (It’s coming back into vogue, you know.) (At least, it had better be.) I love the settings of Stewart’s books, though sadly often portrayed only through the eyes of the colonial population.
    13. A Double Sorrow by Lavinia Greenlaw. I don’t read a massive amount of poetry, I can’t concentrate long enough for that, but I adored this book which I read in two sittings, each time from cover to cover. The language is beautiful and finally I read the story of Troilus and Cressida!!!
    14. The Lewis Man by Peter May. Superlative novel, I loved this. A story with it feet rooted firmly in the past: history and crime, two of my favourite combinations.
    15. Free To Trade by Michael Ridpath. This book was so, so new and sophisticated when it first came out, and seriously took the publishing world by storm, not least because of the massive advance paid to Ridpath. It was followed by a number of other books set in the financial or business world, and I have really enjoyed them all, but this first one was exceptional.
    16. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. This is a slow moving, beautiful, wistful monument of a work. It unfolds like a flower, capturing your heart. The movie was great, but the book is better. Exquisite. Tissues required.
    17. The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Another intellectual challenge, but it really doesn’t matter if you’ve forgotten all the ancient Greek you learned at school (!!!), this murder mystery will keep you guessing. After reading it for the first time, I felt that Tartt had created a whole new ballgame for crime writers. A modern classic, and should be required reading for all aspiring authors.
    18. Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen by P G Wodehouse. This book should be available on the NHS. So funny, so clever. I really struggled to choose just one Wodehouse book. If you’ve read any of the Jeeves books (of which this is one) maybe try a Blandings one next? I feel Wodehouse makes the writing of humorous fiction look very very easy, when in fact it is extremely clever. Plus, I loved the title.
    19. The Evil Genius by Wilkie Collins. I only started to read Collins about ten years ago or so, I’m rather ashamed to say, and then only because it was a set text on some course or another. But I quickly came to regard his works as great page-turners, and The Evil Genius is my favourite, with it’s Gothic overtones. Who wouldn’t want to be considered an evil genius???
    20. The Listening Eye by Patricia Wentworth. You didn’t really think I’d only choose one Wentworth book, did you? The title of this one is very clever. Wentworth is really in her prime here with this book, which I first read when in my early teens, or maybe a bit younger. I remember raiding my mother’s books for something to read when I ran out of my usual stuff, and she started me on Patricia Wentworth and then, of course, Agatha Christie, both of which became lifelong favourites both in terms of the individual author, and the genre. 

     

    What are your favourites?

    ***

  • Happy Anniversary

    In a recent blog, I wrote that it was Time For A Little Celebration, following the completion of a new book, and by some miracle, meeting a publication deadline. Thus week, my hubby and I celebrate 37 years of marriage. So I thought I’d combine those two ideas and talk about the importance of celebrating achievements in our writing, both small and large.

    It’s really easy to get despondent about our writing, especially if sales are not great, or reviews are negative or completely lacking, or if you cherish a dream of being published by a traditional publisher ad have just had another rejection letter fall on your door mat.

    There are a lot of books ‘out there’ to inspire creativity, and a few of them even help you to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and move on.

    But here are a few ideas that have helped me to overcome depression, discouragement, and the temptation to give up.

    1. You’re not alone. Surround yourself with loving people. You may feel like the loneliest person in the world, but with the ever-expanding array of coffee shops you can get out of the house and meet up with a friend, it will do you good. And with the wonders of social media, in fact you can quickly build real relationships with people you’ve never even met. If things are going badly, you can be tempted to retreat from others, as I often do, but it’s not a good idea. For a number of years, I’ve been friends with some people I’ve never met, in many countries around the world. They listen to my woes, give me encouragement and feedback, and I try to do the same for them. We tell each other tall tales, laugh and rejoice together in good times, and commiserate and encourage in the tough times. Writers need people, we need human contact, and we need someone to talk to. Do it. Lots of authors advocate steering clear of social media but I say it’s not a good idea to cut yourself off. When pouring yourself out onto the page, you need to replenish your energy, and spending time with other people can help with this.
    2. Don’t be tempted to compare yourself with others. No two people’s experiences are the same, and don’t add to your discouragement by looking at those writers you envy, whose work sells better than yours, who win accolades and awards or have millions of followers. They are a kind of writing royalty, and yes, one day you may be up there with them, but in the meantime, don’t grudge them their success: it’s not at the expense of yours. See yourself as an employee in a large organisation: you need to spend some time working your way up the ranks; learn your craft, improve your skills, and don’t put yourself down.
    3. Celebrate the small victories. If you have written a book, be proud of that. Everywhere we go, people tell us, ‘Oh I thought of writing a book once.’ The difference is, you’ve actually done it. If you’ve written 2,000 words or 100 words today, be proud. Try to do the same tomorrow. If you published a short story, won a prize, got a new follower, made a sale, be proud, be grateful, and celebrate.
    4. Remember how quickly things can turn around so don’t ever give up hoping or trying. Don’t give in to the temptation to feel you’ve arrived, we are all moving forward at different speeds. There’s not an actual arrival point with writing, just the journey. So whether you are a new writer, an old writer, a young writer, a middling writer, or an aspiring writer, keep learning, trying new things, supporting others, and be proud of your every achievement.

    Meanwhile, thank you to my hubby for being laid back, (most of the time), occasionally encouraging, and even better, for being out of the house most weekdays so I can sit at a computer or with a notebook, instead of fussing over him! Thirty-seven years! Wow!

    ***

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