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Monthly Archives: November 2012

I did it!

I finally did it!

Some time ago I was very excited because I self-published my novella on Smashwords: Silkskin and the Forest Dwellers.The excitement died down when I made only one sale, after having the book free for a month and getting lots of (free) downloads. Obviously my marketing techniques are less than brilliant. However, this was primarily by way of experiment and learning and at least I got to grips with the self-publishing system.

I have at last published two other books on Smashwords, another novella, Lord of Shalott, and a collection of three short stories, Three Legends.  I also published these, plus Silkskin, on Amazon. They have all gone ‘live’ although Smashwords hasn’t approved the new ones for distribution to sites like Apple yet. (That can take about a week.) So at least I have kept one of my New Year’s resolutions, which was that this was the year I would self-publish these three books.

Here are the links to my ‘author’ pages. On Smashwords, make sure you have the adult filter off. These are adult books with some mild erotic content.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Jay+Mountney

http://www.smashwords.com/books/search?query=Jay+Mountney

I read a lot of self-publishing advice and I thought for ages about the marketing ploy of making Silkskin free, but it backfired. New titles get some interest but are quickly buried under a mass of other publications. By the time I set a price, interest had waned. So for the other two, there’s a charge from the start. I’ve kept them very cheap, and I’m hopeful. If they go well I might do some giveaways later, and meanwhile I do have some Smashwords discount codes (100%) to hand out to anyone who’s desperate or – and this  may be the main thing – willing to leave a helpful review. I can’t do that for Amazon – it’s free for all or none there.

I should perhaps say that I did everything – writing, obviously, but less obviously formatting and cover art – myself. You’ll realise if you read my last post that it was an arduous process and I’m quite proud of the results. It rather took over my life for the last few months and has been the reason I haven’t done much actual writing recently. Soon I intend to start on the formatting of a couple of my novels but at least I now know what I’m doing!

If you are interested, you can find the books on Amazon, or on Smashwords, under the author name Jay Mountney. You don’t have to be interested in the books themselves to comment here about my work on the formatting etc!! I’m always delighted to discuss those issues and ideas about cover art.

Apart from Silkskin, which was originally written for a fanfic challenge (yes, fairytales are a fandom, but of course there’s no copyright so the lines are blurred), the stories were not recent efforts. But they have been polished recently and I’m happy to have them out there as samples of my work.

Here are the covers for your entertainment, a little larger than they appear on the sale pages but not, of course, full size.

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2012 in publishing

 

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Surviving the Self Publishing Minefield

Last January I made a resolution. I declared that 2012 would be the year I finally got some of my work self-published in e-book format. In June I put one book (a short story) on Smashwords. For a variety of reasons, mostly my marketing failures, it did not do well once I set a price on it. However, I still wanted to keep my resolution. I was determined to do everything myself and spend as little as possible on the process. I am finally ready to launch two other books – another short story and a collection of three flashfics – on both Smashwords and Amazon. It has been a steep learning curve and I thought I would share the main aspects of it with you.

I have spent approximately six months researching and practising. I have read widely about the phenomenon of self-publishing. I have investigated the myths surrounding tax issues and ISBNs. I have wrestled with the great god Formatting. I have learnt how to construct a linked Table of Contents. I have grappled with new cover dimensions. I have explored and come to terms with Word10. It has been exhausting. I hope it has also been worthwhile.

I was amused to realise that learning all this has taken me longer than writing the three books in question. In one sense, of course, that is not true. I wrote the first of the three in 2005 and it has taken a long time to polish my work, to have real confidence in it and to decide to launch it on an unsuspecting world, a world that might well take little notice. But I have definitely spent more hours on the practicalities of publishing than I ever spent writing or editing. Thinking is harder to quantify, but the same probably applies.

So what have I learnt? I will summarise my new knowledge here and anyone who wants more detail on any of the issues is welcome to email me. I wish I’d had someone to guide me through the minefield. That isn’t to say that my friends haven’t helped; they have, enormously. That includes some of you. They have shared their findings, allowed me to use them as sounding boards (and occasionally to rant), and encouraged me. They have attended conferences and courses and passed on the notes. They have pointed me at websites, blogs and books. None of them had the full set of answers to my queries, and many of them subscribed to the ‘myths’. This is even true of Writing Magazine, which I tend to use as a handy reference guide. And I still have one query, which I will leave to the end.

1. Self-publishing. During the past year, the self-publishing industry has really taken off. Last Christmas was the first time people started talking about the way e-readers were taking over the reading public, and the traditional publishers started worrying. There will, I think, always be a place for traditional publishing, especially for reference books, art books, the books we call ‘coffee table books’, maps, some children’s picture books, some ‘comics’ and other publications that don’t lend themselves well to an e-reader, or even an iPad or laptop screen. But for the bulk of ordinary fiction, the e-reader is just fine. It is small enough to slip into a shoulder bag, or even a capacious pocket, it has a long battery life, it lets you carry a whole library of books on a journey or on holiday, and it suits the way people nowadays interact with the world. Most people are easily converted to using e-readers.

There are issues related to piracy and copyright that need to be solved, there are arguments over pricing structures and distribution, and there are other problems that will be dealt with and yet others that will arise. They shouldn’t worry the writer. The things the writer needs to worry about are writing and editing. The writing needs to be good if the book is to stand any chance against all the thousands of other books competing with it. The writing also needs to be well edited and proof read; readers are soon turned away by too many typos or misspellings, never mind other errors.

Self-publishing is no longer synonymous with vanity publishing. The stigma is disappearing very quickly as longstanding authors appreciate how much control they have over a self-published book, how much greater the royalties might be, and how long, in comparison with a printed book, their work remains available.The only thing the big publishers still offer is marketing, and I gather they don’t do a great deal of that. They also offer validation, but so do sales. So for the new writer, there is no reason not to try self publishing but I should stress that you need a good editor and beta reader to help you polish your work.

2. Tax Issues. I did a separate post about this when I got my EIN and was wildly excited. So many people told me I needed an ITIN which would have been costly and difficult. In the end, I got my EIN which exempts me from American tax, for the cost of a phone call to Philadelphia. I used Skype so the cost was negligible. Now all I have to do is download the W8-BEN form and send a completed and signed copy by snail-mail to Smashwords and to Amazon once I have actually sold some books. Again, postage to America. All told, the entire operation will probably have cost me less than £2.

3. ISBNs. Basically, you don’t need one for Amazon, which has its own internal numbering system, and you don’t need one for Smashwords. You do need one for some of the other retailers e.g. Apple, but if you distribute to them via Smashwords, Smashwords will very kindly provide you with a free ISBN – provided you click on the right box on your dashboard.

4. Formatting. This is much harder than tax or ISBNs though it doesn’t initially engender as much panic. You need:

The Smashwords Style Guide (free pdf)

Building your book for Kindle (free download; you can read it on Kindle for PC, also free)

Word. Yes, really. You can write in any program/word processor you like but you need a Word document for upload to Smashwords and Amazon. No exceptions.

Notepad This should be in your ‘accessories’.

Calibre. A free download that does a good job of converting things into e-book formats.

Patience. In really large quantities, probably accompanied by tea or coffee but preferably not alcohol as you will need all your wits about you and wish you had more – wits, that is.

Go through the guides, make sure you understand them, go through again and memorise as much as possible, go through again and make notes, and go through again just in case. Practise what you have learnt. Use text that doesn’t matter – I used some flashfics I was never going to publish. Add chapter headings, add italics, add a title, add anything you think you might want till you know the rules backwards. Use Calibre to convert your formatted text into ebook format and use either Kindle for PC or Adobe Digital Editions to check how things look. Learn from your mistakes and make notes. Then apply the rules to the text you do want to publish.

Something you need to learn quite early is that Amazon and Smashwords are not singing from the same hymn sheet. Most of the instructions are similar but the devil is in the details so don’t get over-confident. For both, however, it is worth applying what Smashwords call the ‘nuclear method’. Copy/paste your book into Notepad (which should be in your ‘accessories’) then copy/paste from Notepad into a fresh Word document that has had the formatting you want set up. This clears previous formatting and lets you start with a clean slate – invaluable. By fresh, I mean close Word down and open it again; don’t just start a new document.

Once you’ve done your best with the formatting you need to save two documents – well, more, because you need back-ups, but two types. For Smashwords you need a Word document in .doc format. For Amazon you have to save your text as a filtered web page. Make sure you get the right formatting saved in each kind… There are all sorts of pitfalls. Read your notes! Read the two guides again!

(If you’re considering selling your book from your own website, you still need to do all of this – then you can create a mobi version, an epub version, a pdf version and an html version – which should satisfy most needs.)

5.Table of Contents. You have to have one, even if you are publishing a single short story. You have to have a linked, navigable one. Why? Well, because e-books can have them, so retailers think they’re smart, so…  There are various options.

(i)Smashwords version.

If your work is a novel with standard chapters, you just give all your chapters the heading Chapter…. and Smashwords will create your ToC. You format your chapter titles using a heading style.

If your work doesn’t have chapters, maybe because it’s a short story or a collection of stories, you have to build the ToC yourself and this is as difficult as the initial formatting. You mustn’t use the heading style but have to creat a custom style for your headings.You use Word’s bookmarking and hyperlink functions and they can be seriously strange. Even when you’ve finished, your converted book (via Calibre) might show anomalies. This whole process is not for the faint hearted and has made me resolve never to write anything else that doesn’t have ordinary chapters.

There’s a minor query here. You are advised to add a link to your end notes ‘about the author’. I formatted the heading for that exactly the same as the stories I had put together, but in the final ToC the line ‘about the author’ insisted on centring itself even though all the rest of the ToC was left justified. I decided to leave well alone rather than risk having to do the whole thing again. Mystery…

(ii)Amazon version. You use the heading styles and then you use Word’s ToC generator, which you must not touch for Smashwords….

(If you’re selling from your own website you don’t have to go through all this but your readers might expect aToC so you could use either the bookmark method or the ToC method to produce one. Of course, they don’t work in pdf which has another system altogether but then any reader who buys a pdf isn’t going to expect a live ToC.)

6. Cover dimensions. Recently, both Smashwords and Amazon issued new guidelines about the size of the covers they expect. Smashwords have chosen to align themselves with the new standards set by Apple and by Barnes and Noble. Amazon just seem to be following the trend. The new sizes are approximately 1500×2500 pixels. Huge. The reasoning appears to be that as screens of all kinds get better and better the covers need higher resolution to look good. Whatever the logic  or necessity of this, new uploads have to follow the rules. There are a couple of problems. You might, like me, design your own covers, using your own photographs or free/cheap stock photographs and a cover generating service. You might use a cover artist and pay them to produce a design for you. Whichever route you used you might well have designed your cover or had it designed before the new rules came into being earlier this year. You or your artist might have been working while the editing and proof reading was going on. Or you might be issuing a new version of a book, with a new cover. The trouble is, your beautiful cover might have an original file source that is too small to look good in the new dimensions.

Smashwords warn against merely using a photo editing program to re-size because it can cause pixelation and a rough outcome. If you’ve paid an artist you might have to go back to them and pay them some more to fix things, which might be easy cheap) or difficult (expensive) depending on the originals they used. Or, if you did the work yourself, like me, you might have to spend a great deal of time… I even downloaded a trial version of a seriously posh and expensive editing suite which promised the earth and did not deliver anything better than I already had.

I use Photoshop  and Fireworks, and sometimes use online editing sites for special effects. I am a keen amateur ‘artist’ and enjoy designing covers, cards, icons, etc. I eventually found that if I used the filters in Photoshop I could end up with a re-sized picture that was slightly different from the original but which had no pixelation or strange halo effects round the fonts. That last point is quite important because not all fonts work well at larger sizes. There are a number of filter effects that work but the ones I liked best were mosaic tiles, and sandstone texture. In future I will make sure I start with a larger source picture and will only use filter effects for effects, not for hiding problems! The photo at the top of this post is taken from my bedroom window in Portugal, in autumn with vine leaves showing autumn colours, then the picture has been subjected to Photoshop’s ‘plastic wrap’ filter effect.

7. Word10. There are probably those amongst you who are perfectly happy with Word10. Spare a thought for someone whose computer crashed and who had to get used to Word10 overnight with lots of documents that were already written in Word 2003-2007, Open Office, or RoughDraft, and which had all undergone beta and editing and tranfer through different programs, different computers, and so on. I don’t normally write in Word because I like RoughDraft – I like its tab system, its notepad system, etc. etc. I don’t mind copy/pasting into Word once I’ve finished and of course Smashwords’ ‘nuclear method’ helps. However…

I have dealt successfully with almost everything but still have one serious glitch and would welcome advice.

Both Smashwords and Amazon advise writers to format fiction with Times New Roman 12pt,  indents at the start of paragraphs and no line space between paragraphs. Fine. In theory you can set normal style in Word10 to produce exactly this effect. It works, for new writing. But I can’t get it to work for anything that has been imported in block paragraph style from elsewhere. I get the first line indents and the correct font. The extra line spacing between paragraphs remains stubbornly in place. If I work in compatibility mode and use Word 2003-2007 as default the problem remains, even when the imported work was written in that form. My crashed laptop was recovered, and the only workaround I have found is to reformat the work on that  (in Word 2003-2007) – which happily removes the line spacing, then copy the work via a pendrive to my current laptop which accepts the new layout of the text with no problem. So what on earth is going wrong and how do I fix it? I’m wondering whether to remove all my documents that matter from the current laptop, use Word’s reset to default function, and start again but that seems drastic and in any case might not work. Has anyone ever had a similar problem and if so, what did you do? (Feel free to be reasonably technical – this is someone who can understand the Smashwords Style Guide…)

Now all I have to do is actually upload the books. 🙂

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2012 in publishing

 

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Unicorns

I have used unicorns as characters in my series of ‘fae’ novels. A few years ago I was looking for art to decorate the fae blog I was writing to expand my ideas, when I came across a website of unicorn illustrations and ‘information’. I got into online conversation with the site owner and ended up writing a poem for the site. The site is not actually to my taste – the unicorns there are too sweet and innocent – which is why I’m not advertising it here. But I thought you might like to see what I wrote. The piece is another series of haiku-style verses. I am, by the way, well aware that these are only a modern and western approximation of the haiku, and not true to the Japanese concept.

Unicorns at play 

In the moon’s white light

We play in our soft meadow

Dancing over grass.

Beneath the gold stars,

Piercing the dark of the land,

Our bright horns shimmer.

While the black clouds roll

Our manes flicker with lightning

And our hooves thunder.

At dusk in the trees

You may see a faint shining

Welcoming the night.

When dawn opens day

Our shadows might still linger

In a loving heart.

As you can see, I still haven’t persuaded Word10 to agree with me on line spacing, and by the time whatever I’ve typed reaches WordPress the spacing seems to be set in stone. I’ve tried retyping, to no avail.

 
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Posted by on November 12, 2012 in poetry

 

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October reading and viewing

Reading

10Oct P Ice, Wind and Fire***** – Mel Keegan. An excellent thriller featuring a pair of gay investigative journalists who are holidaying in Jamaica when they run foul of organised crime. Exciting, interesting and well written. Even the explicit sex scenes, which are frequent, were always carefully designed to further character development and plot. I borrowed this from a friend and was glad to be introduced to such a competent author.

 13Oct P Firewall*** – Henning Mankell. This is one of the Wallander series, made popular by two TV shows, one Brit, starring Kenneth Branagh, and the other Swedish but shown in UK with subtitles. I haven’t watched either but am assured that the Swedish version is better. I think the same might be true of the books. The plots are complex and fascinating, and the characters are well drawn but the language, I suspect, suffers in translation. Almost all the sentences are short and simple which gives a staccato effect. Occasionally two simple sentences are joined with a conjunction which comes almost as a relief. The plot, which centres around internet crime, must have been original and startling when the book was first written in 1998. Translation took ten years and was probably only undertaken in response to the TV shows. The story is no longer ‘cutting edge’ but is still very plausible.

16Oct P Death’s Head***** – Mel Keegan. Another exciting m/m romance, this time sci-fi. There were, for me, too many detailed battle scenes and these could have been cut without affecting the basic story, but I’m sure a lot of readers would be enthralled by the futuristic armour, weapons and strategies. A pair of ship captains are involved in policing drug running and riots  – one stays with the ship while the other goes undercover. They want each other but the service doesn’t approve of involvement that might endanger missions. When one is caught by the drug lords and forcibly addicted the other agrees to a permanent empathetic bond to save his friend. The results are fascinating. An unusual and interesting novel.

19Oct P Love Song**** – Charlotte Bingham. This was a traditional romantic tragedy with a helping of hope at the end. It was, in some ways, over sentimental but it was beautifully written and interesting from a point of view of studying the writing technique. It follows the dissolution of a marriage and the growth of a new love, with sub-plots detailing the lives of the adolescent children. I thought the epilogue was unnecessary and the few things it told us about the future could have been worked into the body of the novel, but apart from that I found the story gripping and could only admire the execution. It was also wonderful to read a book that had no typos or other infelicities. Not my usual choice of reading matter but I enjoyed it.

23Oct Before the Frost*** – Henning Mankell. Another Wallander story – I picked up three at a charity stall. I didn’t enjoy this one much although the translation was slightly better (or the original writing was…). At the end of the previous book I read, Wallander’s daughter is about to join the police force, and this book is written from her point of view. I found her a less interesting and sympathetic character than her father, even though the case revolved around some of her friends. The plot grows out of the 1978 James Town massacre of the Christian sect led by Jim Jones but the beliefs of the supposed survivor are not well explained.

28Oct Anguished English** – Richard Lederer. A book of idiotic abuses and misuses of our language by students, politicians, newspaper headlines, etc. Something to dip into rather than to read at one sitting.  I imagine that when it was first published readers split their sides laughing. The trouble is, so many of these readers have since shared their favourite quotations with the rest of us via ‘joke’ emails that the originals no longer raise a smile.

October in general… I have been reading some online zines, especially Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Each issue contains at least two short stories or a short story and the first (or second) part of a slightly longer one. From time to time the zine publishes an anthology of ‘the best of’. I loved the cover pictures and thought there would be plenty of sci-fi and fantasy. I was very disappointed in the contents. Most of the writing was pretentious and quasi-experimental. There seemed to be a ‘fashion’ for setting the stories in a pseudo-oriental world with the addition of magic. Altogether disappointing. I also read a couple of issues of Silver Shorts – free short stories by authors who publish with Silver Publishing, presumably intended to showcase and advertise their skills, and available to people who purchase from the publisher’s site. These were better, for the most part, than the Ceaseless Skies offerings, but were too short to appeal to me much – I like to get really into a story and settle down to enjoy it. The occasional ficlet can be entertaining but a diet of them left me feeling cheated.

I have also been spending a lot of time reading the stories in a fandom ‘big bang’ which is when writers and artists join to provide a diet of illustrated novellas spanning a month. As I was one of the authors I felt a need to check out the offerings of my fellow contributors and spent a great deal of October enjoying their work and entering into fandom discussion about it.

Viewing

11Oct A Very Long Engagement**** – French film about a girl searching for her fiancé – she does not believe reports of his death in the first world war. Exquisite filming and direction, and some good acting, but the film was long, dark and quite depressing, with gruesome footage about the trenches, so I had mixed feelings about it. However, I had wanted to see it for ages, and am glad I eventually did.

19Oct Taken*** – Liam Neeson as a CIA operative rescuing his daughter from sex traffickers. I kept getting distracted (this was on TV) and followed the main story but never got truly involved.

23Oct  Bride and Prejudice** – The Bollywood version of Pride and Prejudice. I have heard about this film for ages and finally rented it from LoveFilm. It crashed, twice, and the second time, I gave up, because I wasn’t particularly enjoying it anyway. I find musicals tend to bore me, Hollywood, Bollywood, or otherwise. The plot adaptation was clever, but didn’t live up to Miss Austen’s standards. The acting was mediocre. So I haven’t actually watched this film to the end, but I can imagine the ending because I know the original story so well.

25Oct Priscilla-Queen of the Desert*****- some excellent acting. Terence Stamp was amazing as Bernadette. I loved seeing parts of the Australian landscape again, and the plot was endearing. I had heard of this film but never seen it, and LoveFilm sent it quickly as compensation for the breakdown of Bride and Prejudice. I enjoyed it. I wish I had seen it before I saw the play Ladies Down Under at the theatre (which a friend produced) because I now realise that the play was in some senses a kind of homage to the film. I think the cross references would have been fun to recognise at the time. One thing I hadn’t known in advance was that the Priscilla of the title was a bus.

31Oct Going Postal*****. This is the third in the Terry Pratchett DVD trilogy of films my sister-in-law bought me last Christmas. I absolutely loved it and found it really exciting even though I have read the book and knew perfectly well that the hero was going to survive. Well, I thought I did, because of course Terry himself endorses these films. But it’s a measure of both the original story and the film version that the ending is truly gripping. The filming is superb, with wonderful attention to detail in both the locations and the ‘machinery’, and all the acting, from a host of well-known names, is great. David Suchet, for example, makes a fantastic villain, and Charles Dance is convincing as the enigmatic Lord Vetinari. Highly recommended, and one I will re-watch.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2012 in reviews

 

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Wheee! I have an EIN.

I am feeling really good today. I finally managed to get an EIN number for US tax exemption. I blogged about the problems ages ago and Martyn Halm was kind enough to point me at a fantastic WordPress post by Catherine Howard and David Gaughran, which explained how to get an exemption number with little hassle and at almost no cost. The only drawback was phoning a US number and risking being put on hold for ages, sending our BT phone bill sky high. Then my daughter bought me some headphones with a microphone for my birthday, and I downloaded Skype when I realised it could be used to phone landlines. Even then, I was reluctant to do anything. Smashwords have only sold one copy of my short story so the world wasn’t going to end if I didn’t get a tax exemption on it. Amazon didn’t seem prepared to let me open a publishing account without a number, and without an account I didn’t feel inspired to investigate formatting any further, so everything ground to a halt. However, my daughter was nagging… I made copious notes from the helpful blog and associated comments, and took a deep breath. Everything was finally in place.

It took ten minutes at a cost of 20p.

It is totally amazing to me that I now feel able to tackle the formatting and publishing hurdles. The tax issue was clearly affecting me more than I realised. Amazon publish a formatting guide (Building Your Book for Kindle) and the latest edition is evidently intended to wrestle with Word10 so I have hopes. It is a Kindle book, so not as useful for search/research purposes as the .pdf version which is available to customers in US, but I’m sure I can make notes as I go through it.

Feeling more confident about the technical side of things has made me feel more inclined to write. I was restricting myself to creating fanfic whilst I thought publishing was out of reach.

For anyone reading this who wants to know more about EINs or who has friends who are asking, the blog post that changed my life is: http://catherineryanhoward.com/2012/02/24/non-us-self-publisher-tax-issues-dont-need-to-be-taxing/

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2012 in publishing

 

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