Becoming a Scrivener-er…a new adventure.

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Mattox MS

On Tuesday 21st May, I finally decided that I’d had ENOUGH of writing in Microsoft Word and took a long, hard look at Scrivener.

But why, you might ask, when more than half of the writers I’d spoken to said it was the best thing ever, had I waited so long???

Well, (long story short) I’d always been happy to use Word in all of its incarnations since before Office 95 was ‘the latest thing’.  But now, as I began to use Office 2010, acquired in March 2013, my heart sank. The darn thing seemed to have a mind of its own.

From paragraph formatting to bullet points it suddenly felt as if Word didn’t want me to be there any more.

I use *   *   * to separate paragraphs – have you tried to type that in Office 2010? It turns into bullets!!

Still, I persisted and wrestled with it for another four weeks, working around the peculiarities as I assembled articles, short stories and…my CreateSpace version of  ‘A Construct of Angels.’ Huge gaps between paragraphs and page breaks that refused to undo became the final straw. For three nights, I was forced to cut and paste sentences in order to get around this idiotic formating problem and when the time came to begin my next project, my brain cried ‘ENOUGH! I can’t go through all that again!’

So, in desperation to soothe my addled mind, I Googled the best price for the latest (or even the previous, for I am not proud) version of Scrivener.

Not so easy, for here in soggy England, we’re unable to take advantage of the NaNoWriMo offer price on Amazon (unless you know of a way around that…) as it’s only on Amazon.com…and we poor Brits aren’t allowed to download from there in case there’s none left for everyone else. We’re quite a ravenous bunch over here – we have been since WW2 rationing ended.

But I managed to uncover a trial download from PC World – priced at $40. Why dollars? Well the download linked to Literature and Latte dot com who seem to have no problems with feeding us hungry Brits.

And so I went for it, desperately hoping that this shining light, this gift from the Gods (they are there…they’ve just retired) was everything that it had been purported.

All right, Toynbee…don’t oversell it!

So far, so good. It downloaded (49MB), installed (even on my stone-age Windows Vista Netbook) opened and allowed me to explore. The tutorial looked daunting, but because it’s interactive (‘try this…see what happens; now try this…isn’t it good?’) it’s more kinesthetic than cramming.

I think that Scrivener and I are going to get along just fine. My ex (Word 2010) will still  be allowed to visit at weekends, but that relationship has definitely cooled.

I will let you know if romance blossoms with the new girl in town.

So, with Scrivener in mind, Write On!

*   *   *

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CreateSpace – Part II of my anticlockwise journey towards a paperback

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books and pages

Following on from my previous post, I have moved a little further along the road towards creating my first-ever paperback *shivers as a life-long dream seems possible*.

Firstly, I set up a CreateSpace account alongside my Amazon author’s account, then proceeded to navigate CS’s user-friendly set-up menu. I was offered a plethora of differing sizes for my physical book, and after having discussed this with other bloggers, I finally settled on the 6×9″ format.

I then downloaded the novel template (6×9″), after which ‘A Construct of Angels’ (already formatted in Word) was pasted into the template so I could make any adjustments to the layout.

Here’s where the gnashing of teeth began…

When I scrolled through the virtual book (complete with flipping pages feature…it’s looking more like a real book already), I found a problem. Not Major by any means, but nether was it minor.

For some reason, my the formatting contained within my original layout caused the whole MS to leave random (it seemed) spaces at the bottom of every page, giving it a chewed-off appearance . I had to spend three nights inside the Word document copying and pasting text from the top of the previous page into the end of the text from the one above. Sometimes there was only one blank line; other times there were five.

Weird. This was the point where I wondered if I should finally make the move to Scrivener…

Patience required, definitely. Still, I wanted it to be right, so I put in the time to set it all up properly.

Save, copy, paste and check the format on CS once again – more flicking through virtual pages with a beady eye on the spacing.

Then the next problem reared its head. I use two images within my text. CreateSpace’s automated formatting checker decided that the resolution of these images was too low to print properly. Now, this is an image of some handwriting – some very poor handwriting, as it happens…if you think ‘spider that scuttled through a puddle of ink’ then you won’t be far off. Yes, it’s ncessary to the plot.

Guys, it doesn’t NEED to be hi-res.

I DID try to change the resolution using Paint and then PhotoImpact, but to no avail. I can live with it. The question is, will CreateSpace let it pass?

The next stage is the cover.

I sent the details of the size, page colour and page count to Ravven who has tweaked the original artwork to match.  Thanks, Ravven!

Now that the final piece is in place, and CreateSpace is happy with the format (low-res image notwithstanding), I have ordered the proof copy from the US printers (the proof has to come from the US, but subsequent purchased copies are created in the UK for UK buyers) and wait for its arrival with teeth gound and breath held.

The tension mounts…

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Woot! Awesome! 200 followers!

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untitled7

I’m very please to share this congratulatory message from WordPress – fresh from yesterday.

Can I offer a great big

Thank You

to everyone who has chosen to follow my random ramblings over the past ten months. It’s been a hugely enjoyable and education journey and I hope you’ve been able to glean at least one interesting or useful fact from my pages.

No laurels will be rested upon – the learning curve continues ever upwards!

In the meantime, Write On, everyone!

.

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CreateSpace – Part I of my anticlockwise journey towards a paperback

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books and pages

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but never really imagined that it would be possible for me to have my novel on a shelf alongside the likes of of Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke and David Eddings (I did say I’d been writing for a long time).

But when I began to imagine that it could be possible, I began to write with a serious aim – to see my work in print.

However, I could never have imagine the circuitous, nay, labyrinthine route that my journey would entail.

I’d imagined that I would complete my book, send it off to a publisher and they would dance for joy at my having approached them. And for a while, I continued to entertain this (flimsy) dream.

But then things began to shift within the literary world. It became de rigueur to approach an agent first if any hope of publishing was to be entertained. So, with my first attempt at a novel completed in 2011, I began to make the Royal Mail postal service earn their keep by querying over one hundred UK-based literary agencies.  

To no avail.

I received a smattering of replies (less than half) from the agencies, during which time I began to take notice of the rumblings regarding self-publishing for indie authors. In July 2012, when I received John Jarrold’s extensive rejection letter, it prompted me to write my first-ever post and I plunged into the world of electronic authorship, swimming with my other published and want-to-be-published fellows. In the three months that followed, I learned a great deal fom my fellow bloggers (thank you, one and all!) and October saw me uploading y debut novel, ‘A Construct of Angels,’ to Amazon.

I couldn’t have been happier. I’d achieved a life-long ambition – to create a novel that could sell.

But now, thanks to potential buyers’ feedback, I find myself in the peculiar position of considering a paper book once again, except this time, I will be the publisher, agent, publicist and distributor. CreateSpace, the printing arm of Amazon, has opened up whole new possibilities for the independent author. Books and novels (for they are not the same animal) can be created for a modest cost and shipped directly to the buyer via Amazon or bought in bulk and delivered to retail outlets such as Waterstones.

This work-around route to getting a paperback novel published still seems a little crazy to me…but, hey, we gotta do what we gotta do.

I’ll keep you posted as to how this all works out. :)

In the meantime, Write On!

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To CreateSpace…or not to CreateSpace?

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hbrinkman bookseller

Over the past six months I have introduced ‘A Construct of Angels’ (using my bookmarks) to hundreds of people. In that time, a clear pattern of responses has emerged from my endeavours.

Pretty much everyone is initially startled by my ‘Do you read much?’ query, but they soon settle when I hand them a free bookmark and ask them if they’d care to try my book. Most stare at the bookmark, then at me and I can almost hear the penny drop as they say; ‘This is YOURS? You actually WROTE this?’

It always surprises me how people change when it dawns on them that they are standing next to someone who has (self) published a novel. Having had six months to get used to the idea, the shock and awe of finally completing a book has worn off, and I often forget how humbled I always felt in the presence of Jenna Burtenshaw, the author of Wintercraft and Blackwatch. Last year, I attended her book signing in Darlington and there she was – a published author and there I was, a newbie wannabe unpublished speck of nothing. I wasn’t fit to stand in her shadow…and so on.

It’s very strange hearing people using words like ‘honoured’ and ‘amazed’ when they talk to me – words that I try to shrug off. I’m not a movie star. I’m simply a writer who managed not to succumb to the depressing idea of never having a book see the light of day – nothing more.

Generally, the people I talk to are quite receptive to the idea of the bookmark and most will assure me that they will have a look at the free chapters available via Amazon. Of those who tell me that they don’t own eReaders, most are surprised that Amazon will offer them free software, ‘Kindle for PC’ that allows them to read Kindle books on their PC, Laptop, Netbook or Tablet. I’ve probably been responsible for a few dozen non-Kindle readers now being able to buy and read Kindle eBooks. :)

I also point them towards Smashwords, where ‘A Construct of Angels’ is listed in ePub, pdf and several other formats.

With the remainder, I have hit a stumbling block and I feel that the time has come to address that problem. Some readers, for various reasons, remain committed to paper books – something that I am currently unable to supply for sevral reasons. For one, I have been rejected by every genre-relevant agency in the UK, which is one of the reasons that I decided to self-publish. The other reason for my remaining entirely electronic is that the cost of a paper book was so far above that of an eBook, it seemed prudent to sell my work at the lower cost rather than try to push the more expensive paper version.

But I have seen so many faces registering disappointment when I admit that my book doesn’t exist in physical form, I am now reconsidering my decision to remain purely and unshakably twenty-first century electronic.

CreateSpace seems, for the moment, the best option for me. My book is already uploaded to Amazon, so having it available on the same site would appear to make sense. I’m currently using Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo and Scribd to shift copies (some with better success than others), so a fifth site would just complicate things – unless of course that new site was far better than CreateSpace.

If you’re also in the position of thinking about offering a paper book, Karen Inglis has posted a huge amount of information on the subject. As a UK-based children’s author, Karen is favour of using a combination of CreateSpace and UK print-on-demand company LightningSource to save on shipping costs and delays.

*One day later;*

A couple of my blogging friends (thanks guys) have advised me that CreateSpace may now be advanced enough to be able to use for distribution on both sides of the big pond.

Sounds like a plan…although the goalposts are constantly shifting.

Watch this space…I might be entering the twentieth century once again. :)

.

keep calm plus author inside

Writing is not for the impatient

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patience mrsmas

It’s now just over six months since I self-published my first novel, ‘A Construct of Angels’ and I have learned many a lesson in just that short time – and I know that I still have much to learn before I finally end up in a long wooden box.

The first lesson, as the title suggests, is to have patience.

L-o-t-s of p-a-t-i-e-n-c-e.

Writing is a long, slow process – even if you have just emerged, breathless, from a month-long NaNo sprint. Not only must you have patience in yourself in order to create that precious first draft, but you will have to watch and wait as your query letters flow first out, then back in as (hopefully) requests for the full MS or (more likely) rejection slips. There are many agents and publishers out there and the water must be tested with each one before moving onto the next. If you’re a nail-biter who doesn’t like to wait, then this will be a nervous time for you. Even if you choose to self-publish, then all the fun of formatting your book lies ahead.  And boy, does that take some patience!

The second lesson is to keep, keep, keep plugging away at spreading the word. Unless your sole ambition is simply to see your poem / artwork / novel listed on-line and you have no further desire to engage with it, you owe your magnum opus (or opus minus if you are less confident in its greatness) some degree of dedication towards seeing it flourish even briefly within the publishing world. As much as you’d love to imagine the scenario, there will not be a stampede of global proportions for your newly-published works. Yes, there could be an initial (and quite encouraging) surge as your friends, followers and family click ‘purchase’, but that interest is finite and unless you are very lucky, your eBook could languish in the doldrums for some time, only picking up the odd sale here and there.

Patience, my friend…spread the word as thoroughly as you are able via word of mouth and your (essential) author platform. If you tell everyone that you meet about your book, then you can rest a little easier knowing that you are doing everything possible to encourage sales. Last week, for example, I managed to generate some interest amongst the Polish community in North West England – something that seemed counter-intuitive at the time – because reading English-language books helps to improve their written English skills.

The third is to absorb every piece of advice from other authors, editors and publishers that you can. You don’t have to use it all as not everything will be relevant to your situation, but take note anyway. You never know when your self-published book might get picked up by a publisher and you suddenly need to know about contracts, or you may suddenly decide to begin giving away swag and have to find a printer or jewellery / fridge magnet maker in a hurry. There are always new skills to learn and the number of published authors is ever-increasing…as is the wealth of experience out there. Many of us have made mistakes, spent money unnecessarily or gone with the wrong publisher. Some are happy to relate their experiences and we owe it to them to pay attention and do things better. But all these lessons cannot be learned in a single day – and they do not arrive on our doormat in a brown-paper-and-string parcel. This is where our author platform becomes an essential tool, connecting us to our peers and more experienced colleagues.

Your book might be listed on Amazon / Kobo / Smashwords / Scribd (delete as appropriate) but at this stage the process is far from over. As my driving instructor told me on the day I passed my test; ‘Now you can really begin to learn how to drive.’

And so it is with publishing. Many lessons lie ahead – but so do many adventures.

keep calm plus author inside

Six Sentence Sunday – the battle

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Monumeto a los Lanceros de Boyaca<br />Monumento ubicado en Boyaca, en un lugar llamado Pantano de Vargas. Escultura dedicada a la memoria patria y la batalla allí ocurrida en busca de la independencia de Colombia.

This week’s extract is from ‘A Construct of Angels’ and describes the impromptu angel Michael’s battle against the self-named Damocles, an Anakim, or demon’s offspring.

At this point, Michael is only just beginning to realise his powers and has very little to time to explore them before Damocles attacks him with deadly force.

White light exploded across Michael’s vision as a hurricane of force roared about him; the world spun away in a dizzying blur and the ground hurled itself aside to give way to a vast body of water.  Something dark slammed into Michael’s chest, smashing the breath out of him.

Spinning wildly, he ripped across the sky, supersonic shockwaves exploding from his arms and legs, but Michael willed his hurtling body to stop and the shockwaves instantly vanished from his limbs – but even as he slowed, a dark blur rocketed straight towards him. 

This time Michael’s reactions were faster – he spun around, avoiding the hurtling shape just as he had side-stepped the black sword and watched as Damocles exploded past him like a missile, already turning to strike again. Watching the black dot grow larger by the second,  Michael’s determination resolved –  he would no longer be pushed around by the approaching Anakim.

Damocles cannoned into him faster than a fighter jet.

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Wednesday Woes

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sspivak image

Some time ago I scoffed at the notion that my sequel to ‘A Construct of Angels’ might be as difficult to …er… construct as the original.

See The difficult second novel?  Nah!

Well, my confidence has taken a knock.  I’m not afraid to admit it, although I do feel slightly foolish at having to retract my former statement.

The high wave that I had been sailing upon, fresh from the joy of having finally achieved a lifetime’s ambition of publishing a book, has now flattened and I feared that I was facing a spell in the doldrums, bereft of the guiding wind that was my Muse.

As the tale within ‘Construct’ drew to a close, I had a clear and certain idea of where the sequel was heading and I’d even planned the ending – something which had been of tremendous help when I’d initially drafted ‘Construct’.

But now that idea is wavering.  I still know how the sequel (A Vengeance of Angels) is going to conclude, but as I passed 25,000 words, I lost focus, the thread and my sense of timing.

I can’t tell you much, but ‘Vengeance’ doesn’t follow directly on from the end of ‘Construct’.  Rather, it meshes with it, beginning two days before ‘Construct’ ended.  That, dear reader, is how I painted myself into a very tight corner.  I still have several events that need to transpire before the ending of ‘Construct’ is briefly revisited and the story continues from that already-published conclusion.

sol one image

So, rather than despair, I reached deep into the archives and dug out my old day-by-day spreadsheet.

hour by hour

click to read spreadsheet

(The above is a sample I put together to illustrate its uses.  If this inspires you in any form, feel free to create a story from it.)

This is one of the very few ‘planner’ tools I used in ‘Construct’ (I AM a confirmed ‘pantser’ after all), but it was invaluable to me.

Armed with this, I intend to review what I’ve already written, then forge ahead and plan out exactly how my self-imposed spiders web of a narrative will unfold.

What was that, you say?  Why can’t I ever do anything the easy way?  For the answer to that, you’ll have to ask my Muse.

Where is she, by the way?

*sighs*  Well, as Kenny Rogers nearly said; ‘You picked a fine time to leave me Loose Wheel.’

Watch this space for a word count that will clock up faster than Clark Griswold’s Christmas electricity bill!

Write on in 2013!

It’s all about the journey

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I’d long been an avid cynic of reality TV shows such as X Factory, Pop Idle, Big Brooder, (disparaging mis-spellings intentional) et al, citing them as simple ratings magnets that were all hype and no substance.

I’d avoid them like the cliche, eschewing Saturday night television altogether, tutting at the oft-hyped results and the acres of tabloid coverage they seemed to generate.

But little by little, weekend visits to a friend’s house resulted in the television (which seemed to have no ‘off ‘ function) drawing my eye and ear towards the (often hapless) auditionees on ‘X Factor’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ every Saturday night. 

I found myself becoming intrigued, for no reason that I could fathom.  I didn’t know these people, these fame-seeking wannabes (only some of whom were quietly talented and later became successful) and yet I found myself increasingly drawn into their stories as they inched their way towards the stars.  I followed them from their earliest beginnings.  I saw their spotlight-dazzled faces as they shuffled reluctantly onto an over-large stage to croak out a few nervous bars of their favourite song.  And then I watched their eyes light up as the crowd called out its approval.

But why was I watching this IQ-sapping drivel; this thinly-disguised attempt to solicit viewers (and before you mentally compose hate-mail, please let me finish), this apparent waste of valuable writing time?

It suddenly became clear to me when I unexpectedly became hooked on yet another reality TV show – Masterchef.  

Hooked? Why?  I know nothing about food.  I can barely make mashed potato or an edible cheese sauce.  To this day I am still able to slide rock-hard frozen food onto a microwave platter with only a basic idea of why it emerges twenty minutes later as a hot, steaming meal.  I have no aspirations to create Langoustine consommé with lemon tuiles and pea puree, or to begin experimenting with molecular gastronomy (although liquid Nitrogen does look like a wonderful toy).

The chemistry of food defies my kind of logic.  It’s a pleasure to eat, true, but the assembly is an alien process to me and most likely will forever remain that way. 

But there I was, week after fascinated week, watching untrained but enthusiastic amateurs, their fumbling fingers creating elegantly-assembled dishes of confit duck on a bed of celeriac mash to Michelin-class standards.   But why?  In the name of the knife, fork and spoon, why??

Then it finally clicked.  The title of this post says it all.  It was about the journey.

We aspiring writers have very similar goals to those clumsy cooks, those shaking singers, those jittering jugglers.  We are all on the same journey of self-discovery – with the hope of our own selves being discovered.  Or our work, at least.

I realised that by watching these rising stars gain new skills and achieve undreamed-of heights, my thoughts were paralleling their journey with my own aspirations, because I hoped that I would also (one day) experience a similar journey. 

My mind had latched onto these stories in an unconscious act of self-preparation.

It may be that every individual who achieved the final three of Masterchef, X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent has already inspired me; proved to me that it IS possible to lift our (literary) voices from behind the background noise of society enough to be heard. 

Ordinary mortals like us can achieve great things.  But it takes time.  It takes a measure of confidence.  But it can require a good measure of encouragement from our peers too. 

It is perhaps because of all of this that I am mentally prepared for the next step of ePublishing, the quiet, stealthy equivalent of seeing my work in Bookers or Waterstones.  I dare to touch my toe to the chill waters of public consumption and say to them ‘nibble on that,’ whilst thinking ‘pleasedon’tbite, pleasedon’tbite!’

The journey from ‘I could write a book’ through ‘could I write a book?’ to ‘I have written a book’ is moving forward.  Who was it that said; ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’?

But where is your journey taking you? How far have you already come?

Have you been inspired by stories of success or sheer determination? 

Have you watched others climbing the ladder towards success, feeling that your journey was headed the same way?

Do you feel (particularly with ePublishing opening up new possibilities) that the impossible is now possible?

Share your story with us.  Tell us where your journey is taking you.

Write on – and encourage others to do the same in every way that you can.

  

Do you empathise with your characters?

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Do you?

I mean really get down into the mud with them and feel their pain as if it was your own?

In this age of guts, gore and death on both the big and the small screen, it’s all too easy to sit back and munch popcorn as a larger-than-life action figure takes a bullet, then fights on to the expected victory.  The heroine, meanwhile, hangs by a single finger over a fatal drop before she is rescued in the very last instant by a strong grip around her slender wrist.

Yeah, sure he groans as the bullet buries itself in his flesh.  She shrieks as her finger slips. 

But what do they really feel?  Can you, as a writer, firstly imagine the pain, the sheer terror that these characters ought to be feeling?  And can you, secondly, convince the reader that these unfortunate, suffering characters know that a life-stopping moment is but a heartbeat away?   We are all buzzing bags of emotion, not unfeeling machines.  Readers know this – and we must deliver. 

I’ve dreamed of plunging to my death in a car, then woken in a cold, shaking sweat, hardly able to convince myself that I’d survived.  In one brief moment, I’d mentally wrapped up my life, regretted things unfinished, and wondered if non-corporeal existence or oblivion awaited me.  Then; bang;  I was a crumpled statistic – but one with an answer.  One with an edge to create better death scenes; and to recognise shallow ones.  And although it was a dream, I’d been there.  I’d actually felt it.

If you’re in any doubt that you are tuned into your characters, retire to a quiet place after you’ve written your action sequence.   Become one with your character of choice.  Climb into their skin, then re-run the action.  Hang from a stone gargoyle one hundred storeys above the city.  Plunge over a waterfall, not knowing if you’re going to see the next minute.  Switch off all the lights and spin around three times to experience some of the disorientation of being inside a darkened warehouse (but please don’t injure yourself – even if you are researching pain!).

Better still, if the geography or architecture allows, visit the closest possible parallels to your scene and lean over that edge; feel the power of the wind and water.  Picture the last seconds of your life as gravity claims its prize. 

Your character would.

Imagine how you’d feel if someone close to you went over the edge instead; feel that anger, that helplessness, that utter and permanent loss.

And relax…breathe.  Then get it down on paper / screen.

I’ve dealt largely with falls so far.  Other fates are available, naturally. 

And of course, this technique doesn’t just apply to action scenes. 

Pain is not the only emotion;

Betrayal?  Your best friend has just eloped with your significant other / taken your expensive car / smuggled out your priceless show cat.  Get angry; feel betrayed.  Just don’t call that friend until you’ve simmered down and put your hurt and anger into black-and-white.

Love?  A trickier one this, one that relies on previous experience.   Think of it as the ultimate head-and-heart battle.  Except that the head belongs to an adult, and the heart is a wanton, wailing, selfish four-year-old that (almost) always gets their way.  How wrenching would that be as an internal monologue?

Fear?  There are many shades of fear, too many to list here.  Briefly, though; Fear of death (brief pain and it’s all over – but you might leave everything unfinished); Fear of loss – what is it that you could not stand to exist without?  Fear of change; your comfort zone – obliterated.

Feel them all – no, really.  Feel them all.  And then create characters that we can really relate to – and emotions that stir our own. 

What better than a novel that takes us upon a roller-coaster ride that leaves us emotionally wrought, but thoroughly satisfied?

For further reading I’d recommend Rivet your readers with Deep POV.  Please note that I am in no way affiliated with this work  – I just found it to be instructive.

So, over to you;

What techniques do you use to get beneath your character’s skin?  

Do you perform mental walk-throughs? 

Do you research on-line for the experiences of others, or even query them face-to-face?

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fisticuffsandshenanigans

It was all fun and games, until the fisticuffs and shenanigans... -Deutschmarc

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