Last minute stuff.

I’m not doing a ‘proper’ blog post this week, as I’m frantically busy trying to do a final, final, final proofread of Easy Living ahead of uploading for publication on 29th March.

If you’ve read what I’ve said about it previously, you’ll know I’ve been working on this book for a long time, and it’s very special to me. I’ve made it a lot longer. The first draft was about 80,000 words, and with all the successive drafts and rewrites, that grew to 110,000, even with a lot of waffly, woolly bits being cut out. As I sat down to give the final rewrite before Christmas, the total was up to 113,000. Now, with all my tidying and polishing done, it’s up to 116,000. I can’t help it. I tried to cut it, honest. You know what it’s like. The words keep flowing.

Anyone who’s daft lucky enough to self-publish will know how many little typos seem to sneak through no matter how many times the manuscript has been edited and proofed. I’m still finding a few stray typos, and I’m having a last trawl through for overused words, (my main guilty words are And, So, Well and But. I also have too many gasps of surprise and a lot of anxious biting of lips. This book also features several sexy chuckles!)  and culling some of my exclamation marks. I use far too many of those!!! At least six people have worked on this book, but even so, I’ve still found a couple of things to correct. I think I’ve done enough. I hope I’ve done enough. I’d like to work on it for another year or two, but really, I mustn’t. It’s always hard to let go of a book, but in this case, I feel like it’s almost there. As Nina Simone would say, ‘And I’m feeling good…’

To recover from the trauma of getting my eighth novel out there in the big wide world, Mr Caron Allan Author is whisking me off to Birmingham (UK, not Alabama) for an all-expenses paid weekend in a hotel near the city centre, so we are handy for a concert on Sunday night and breakfast at a Wetherspoons of my choice. There will be a sumptuous dinner the night before. There will be ice cream. There will be book browsing and possibly notebook purchasing. I can’t make any promises about restraint or budget-keeping.

Have a good one!

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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?

The Constant Lover – be consistent!

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I’ve mentioned a few times that when writing we need to be aware of the importance of consistency. But why is it important?

To begin with, it will infuriate your reader if Jane turns into Jean every few pages and back again. Trust me, they will notice! So remember to make notes for yourself concerning the physical appearance and age and background of your characters. These type of errors look unprofessional and as if you don’t care a bit about either your work or your reader.  I’m a great fan of Patricia Wentworth’s murder mysteries and her elderly spinster detective Miss Silver. But even the greatest fan can’t deny that there are a number of books where Hannah Meadows, Miss Silver’s trusty cook-housekeeper, renowned for the lightness of her scones, mysteriously changes her name to Emma Meadows, cook-housekeeper with scones of equally great fame. It’s clearly the same woman. They’ve both been with Miss S for years… This is a silly error which frustrates me, and makes me want to go back in time and tell Pat to get a grip. Because trivial though this may be, it detracts from my enjoyment of the story – I am jerked out of my little fiction-reverie and into the reality of proofreading and editing. The illusion is shattered.

We writers are always told you can’t proofread your own work, and this is so true. Time and again I’ve gone through my own books – spell check isn’t enough, we all know that, so you have to proofread ‘manually’ – and yet numerous typos and missed words creep through. I suspect our minds automatically furnish the missing word or transpose the letters that are in the wrong order. So it is essential to have at least one person and preferably two, proofread your book to search out these miscreants and destroy them via ‘track changes’. It may sound obvious but it’s important to check the spelling of place names, peoples names. Just this week on Amazon, I read a sample of a book I was thinking of buying, and on the first page, in the second paragraph, a real place name was misspelled.  Eek!

(btw the word Misspelled is another nightmare…)

Even if you don’t actually create a style-sheet, at least keep one in your head. Ensure all your headings are in the same font and size, indent the first line of your paragraphs by the same amount every time, keep your spacing the same, decide on the speech-mark you are going to use (single or double) and stick with that. Oxford comma or not? Whichever – stick to the same throughout your work. If you are writing for an American audience, you need to remember to end -ise words with -ize, miss out your letter u and scores of other alternative spellings – invest in a US English dictionary. If you’re a British writer and writing in British English, ensure you are in fact using British English throughout – and what ever you do – don’t use a mixture of styles. As a proofreader, there is nothing that grinds my gears more than reading ‘realise’ on one page and ‘realize’ on the next. Again these are minor irritations that will turn off a reader and turn on a critic.

Similarly, ensure the passage of time is dealt with in a consistent manner. Even if it doesn’t matter to the plot which day a certain scene takes place, it is best to work it all out on a calendar at least in the early stages. It is so easy to forget to allow for school holidays, weekends, birthdays, anniversaries and other significant dates when writing a story about a family or even just a couple. These are things that have an impact in real life, and they could well be significant in your fiction. Nothing and no one exists in isolation, unless your main character is the only character and they are living in a desert in 1712. The internet is obviously a wonderful source of information and you can find old calendars which will tell you this information.

Likewise, don’t set your Easter holiday in March if you’re stating a particular year in case it was April, don’t assume the weather would have been cold as April can be very warm, check when the moon phases were or are; if talking about a hot dry summer in Australia, what part of Australia are you talking about? Queensland, for example is hot and damp… Do your homework to ensure your underpinning facts are correct even when writing fiction. And don’t have character one say they’ve got to be up early for work the next day then have them laying in until ten, unless it is clear to the reader they were lying. Don’t have it getting dark in Paris at 5pm in the summer, or still light at 7pm in London in November. Locals will know!

Not only do you need to remain consistent within your own work, but your story needs to be consistent with its own setting. If you’re writing a novel set in the past, you need to use idioms that were around in that time. It’s no good having adolescents of the 1930s telling each other that something is ‘sick’ ie very good, as that is a (hideous) modern term. Similarly, don’t call 15 year olds of the Elizabethan era ‘teenagers’ – again, that is a relatively modern term. In terms of the passage of time, don’t leave huge unexplained gaps for no reason. Readers will assume that chapter two follows on immediately from chapter one, so if it doesn’t, you need to make this clear and explain why.

Consistency is an important key to creating a believable world in which your reader can willingly, delightedly, suspend belief and sink right in. But the inner critic never sleeps and it will only take one misplaced slang word, one change from blue eyes on page 52 to brown eyes on page 113, one confusion over the day of the week, or a winter sunset at 10pm, for your avid reader to be jerked out of their happy little book-world and back into reality. And you don’t want that to happen, do you?