If you’re struggling with that minority language called ‘British’…

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aleazzurro  keyboard

I have occasionally ecountered comments that pointed out my failings - one of them being misspellings.

My spelling ‘mistakes’ often get picked up on Facebook and (occasionally) on WordPress.

I like to think I’m very thorough when I’m writing and take pride in my spelling and grammar.

Yes, I soemtimes mis-type (who doesn’t?) as my ‘want to type’ speed exceeds my ‘able to type’ speed and my fingers become a pink blur above the keyboard.

However, when I begin to receive feedback that I ‘should check my speling’ (sic) and see one-word corrections for my spelling when there is nothing amiss, I begin to see red.

I’ve been told (more than once) that I use a lot of British English (BrE). Yes, that’s true. I’m British, my characters are English and their story takes place in England. That would follow, wouldn’t you think?

Apparently not.

Ciara Ballintyne appears to have the same problem and states her case here .

So recently, I’ve been writing British English, but with the knowledge that non-Brits may very well read my work. For instance, my character drives a Volvo ambulance instead of the (correct) locally-sourced type because only Brits would know what a Vauxhall Astra was. However, I don’t compromise on ‘labour’ or ‘honour’, ‘realise’ or ‘criticise’ because Brit readers would hate me for it. My characters use Pounds rather than Dollars. I was astounded when I was told that someone had to Google ‘Biro’ because it wasn’t clear that it was a ball point pen.  What are those cheap, crystalline ball point pens made by BIC known as in the US - BIC pens?

These are things we need to know…

British English

I had considered adding a disclaimer stating that the book contains ‘British English’ just to clarify. In this electronic age, the written word is spread far and wide and a novel in English could easily have been written in Australia, South Africa, Japan or any number of countries. I learned recently that along with Australia, Canada still uses BrE, which was a bit of a surprise. I wonder how many other countries do? I’d be interested to know that Britannia does not stand alone…

Write On!

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Published for a year…

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CoA post its

On October 17th, 2012, I clicked a button marked ‘Upload’ and sat back, nervously awaiting the delivery of a stream of electronic information to Amazon KDP. Twelve hours later, ‘A Construct of Angels’ was live and I realised that I had finally achieved my dream – to complete a novel and put it up for sale.

Thirty-seven years ago, I could never have dreamed that in this future age of flying cars, silver jumpsuits and daily trips to the Moon, my book would exist only as data and that it would be held in storage in a distant country. Readers would only have to tap it with their finger if they wanted to select, pay for and read it.

Cool.

I am still working to make the paperback version a reality, but with the recent bout of editing that I have subjected the poor thing to, that particular realisation has been delayed yet again. Configuring an electronic (Word-based) template with paragraphs, page breaks, chapters and the odd image isn’t as straightforward as it ought to be. *frowns* It’s now back with my new editor, Tara, after receiving some swathing cuts, including the complete removal of two characters.

In some ways, I hardly seem to have moved on at all. I am still editing and I really need to put A Construct of Angels to bed and pick up the sequel. But it will haunt me if my first book isn’t the best it can possibly be. Only when that’s sorted, can I let it go…

However, as I mentioned in a previous post, One Year On,  a great deal has changed for me in the last twelve months (plus I now have 300 followers - who’d have thought?) and I still can’t quite believe how much has been crammed into such a short space of time. I can only wonder what the next twelve months will bring, although I can’t imagine them being as crazy as the last twelve. The learning curve, I feel, is no longer as steep as it has been and for that, I am grateful. :)

Regular readers will know that my job sends me all around the UK. Well, by sheer chance, this week happens to have landed me back at the exact same desk from where I uploaded my book, one year ago. I am experiencing an eerie sense of deja vu – again.

It’s another reminder of what’s changed. If I could borrow Sandra Bullock’s time-travelling postbox (The Lake House), I would send my past self a message that says ‘hang on to your hat.’

Not that I wear a hat. I’m not Terry Pratchett. :)

Anyway, until Tara has finished looking over my new edits, I’m hoping to press on with the sequel,  ‘A Vengeance of Angels.’ I’d really liked to have completed it, one year on, but life has a peculiar way of rearranging even the best-laid plans of mice and authors.

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The genre system – is it good enough any more?

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digitalart, freedigitalphotos dot net

I’ve been browsing through the ‘Blogs I follow’, trying to keep up with all the discussions, concerns and new releases and I’ve been seeing a lot of posts where authors are grumbling (quite rightly IMHO) about the trouble they’re having with squeezing their novel into a genre category.

And it’s not surprising. For instance, on Wikipedia, there are currently 80 genres and sub-genres listed under fiction alone. Yikes! My own novel,  ‘A Construct of Angels’ would currently fit into the horror, romance, Urban fantasy, religious fantasy, thriller or mystery categories.

There are How-to-Write books on the market that happlily suggest that writers should choose a genre and write within its boundaries if they want to sell. But why should we have to work within such restrictions? We’re not aiming towards library shelves. Some of us aren’t even looking towards bookshops any more. The electronic age has changed all that.

In these days of indie eBook publishing, with sub-genres and even sub-sub-genres sprouting up, the whole idea of ‘genre’ feels overloaded and outdated. Of course, to declare that, an alternative is needed and here’s my (fledgling) idea;

Wouldn’t it benefit both readers and retailers if some sort of ‘tick box’ or a graphic system was introduced where the elements of the book can be highlighted (or illustrated) by a sliding colour scale such as we have with rated domestic applicances (in Europe at least)?

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energy rating

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I experimented with a few variations on this theme and didn’t find them to be flexible enough as I was still having to insert genre labels. It was colourful, but no better in terms of classification. Perhaps you could see a way to make it work.

So I tried a pie chart instead. This is a simple chart, created using ten subjects that are most relevant to my debut novel  ‘A Construct of Angels’;

CoA pie chart

Note that I said the ten most relevant subjects – there are others that I could justify adding in there, but ten is plenty. Perhaps ten is too many and five would suffice. Who knows? This is all hypothetical and open for discussion.

BTW, for you with your magnifying glasses against the screen, there’s only 0.5% sex in the story. :D

In an ideal world, the catergories would be listed from most relevant to least relevant, top to bottom, thus;

CoA pie chart sort

This arrangement should make it easier for the potential buyer to interpret. They would be free to scan the top two or three subjects and decide if the story is for them or not. They might still be swayed if their favourite genre was listed as number four or five – something which wouldn’t happen if the book had been listed under ‘Thriller’ when they prefer to read about religion- or horror-based stories.

I don’t think it would be too difficult for an algorithmist like Amazon to feed the percentages into their version of Deep Thought deep in the heart of Amazonia and begin to categorise the books in this way.

As I said, this is all hypothetical.

Do you think the time has come for the library shelf-based genre categories to be given a shake-up? Perhaps you have a fledgling idea that leaves my suggestion eating dust.

If so, please share! I would be happy to eat humble pie chart. :)

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How to accept editing feedback

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Professor at work

Within the last few weeks I have been on both sides of the editing fence, in a non-professional capacity, and it’s been a fascinating and emotional experience.

It’s surprising how much this editing lark tugs at the heartstrings…probably because I was working with friends’ MSs, not an ‘author unknown’ whose work I could have viewed more dispassionately.

At first. there’s the realisation that I am holding someone’s hard work in my hands. I handle it like fine china whilst wearing thin white cotton gloves. Eventually, once I have carefully tip-toed through the copyright page and the dedication page – pages that look uncannily similar to my own – I get down to reading the actual story.

Fairly quickly, I begin to read it as an editor, albeit an amateur one. I discover small errors. There are the obvious typos, misplaced words that the spell checker skimmed past, stray aspostrophe’s :) Those are all straightforward and easy to highlight. At this stage, I feel no guilt for messing with someone’s hard work.

But then there are the ‘clumsy’ sentences; the ones that find you circling the same spot on the page like a buzzard as you consider rephrasing; ‘The stars appeared in a velvet sky along with the shining object that as a child, the cow had jumped over – the Moon – just before the clouds began to roll in.’

I should emphasise that no-one actually committed that sentence to ePaper. It’s just an example…but it’s awkward, right?

But I’ve stared at many similar sentences, wondering if I’m just being mean, picky or plain British-awkward by even considering the idea of changing them. If I correct it, will it then jar with the rest of the MS? Will I have ruined the artistry that the writer sought to inject into the words?

Will it change the mood if I type it up as; ‘Clouds mushroomed along the horizon, building quickly, threatening to swallow the moon - my childhood inspiration – and spoil the cobalt, star-spotted beauty of the late evening sky.’ That’s more my style – but do I have the right to impose it on another writer?

Guilty questions begin to rattle my brain;

‘Do I leave that alone?’

‘Is it actually wrong – or do I just not like it personally?’

It’s the same thing when I read ‘Phil pushed himself off of the table.’  Brits hate this – but it seems to be normal in the US.

With some phrases, I wonder;

‘Is that how an American would phrase it – or is it wrong?’

Take; ‘He dropped the tailgate of the pickup and drug out the fishing nets.’ Brits would throw up their hands in horror – but in the US? I honestly don’t know if drug is an acceptable past tense form of drag.

If it’s speech, then I leave it well alone. Characters can talk exactly as they want to – unless I stumble across someone suddenly saying ‘I did not want to…’ or ‘I shall not do…’ when they would normally contract their speech.

Then we have; ‘The teenagers hung around the park most of the day, but one by one they began to slope off home.’

‘Would American readers understand that term? Is it too British? Should it be international-ised?’

It’s been pointed out to me that I use a lot of British English. Yes, that’s probably true, but short of avoiding all words that end in ‘-ised’ or changing them to ‘-ized’ and cutting out the letter ‘u’ from words ending with ‘-our’, I’m not sure of the best way around that issue. I am (mostly) English, my story is set in York, my main characters are (for the most part) English and at no point do they leave the country. If I was to convert my MS to American English, I would then be turning my back on the very ‘Britishness’ of my story. It’s a no win, no win situation.

I find myself thoroughly quandried, plus I feel a growing respect for editors who must straddle these intenational conundrua.

On the receiving end;

The edited MS arrives as an attachment – I download it and crack it open, wondering how much red I will see.  The first comment pops up, and I instantly feel (in turn and within the space of a few seconds) the following;

Irritation

Annoyance

Anger

Resignation

Acceptance

Determination

Purpose

Is it just me? Am I unique in that I see red because someone has dared to question my writing? I mean – how dare they?

Oh, they’re editing it for me. Fair enough.

The ire quickly fades as my Muse nods sagely and persuades me (diplomatically) that the editor could well be right and that perhaps a small change would benefit the MS.  So I sigh, I change it, I move on to the next comment.

It’s a hard thing, to accept the critique of another. If you’ve a thin skin, it feels as if someone is simply telling you; ‘No, you’re done that wrong.’ If you’re thicker skinned – and writers need to be – then it should be seen as ‘fine tuning’, as necessary as – for example – a haircut. The hairdresser may not actually hate your hair, but they still need to take off a little bit here and tidy it up there. It’s not personal.

But it can sure feel like it. >.<

Just think of it as the next little step towards presenting your best possible work to the world. Grit your teeth, thicken your skin, go get that haircut and let it happen.

So easy to say…so tricky to accept.

:D

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OED – a very useful on-line resource

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myles detail

No, it’s not the Oxford English Dictionary, although the initials are an interesting coincidence. What I found was the Online Etymology Dictionary, a site that goes into extensive detail about the origins of words and phrases.

For fun have a look at the page I stumbled upon;

http://www.etymonline.com/baloney.php

I found this site whilst researching the origins of the word ‘shit.’ If I tell you this, then the page above will make more sense.

The reason I was searching? I needed to have a tenth-century mythological character (old Norse) swear correctly, without the danger of anachronism.

I DID find what I was looking for, but I think I have stumbled upon a very interesting site…interesting if you are writing historical fantasy or fiction.

Or if you just love words – which many writers do. :D

This site now joins my bookmarked sites listed under ‘Writer Resources.’

Enjoy!

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CreateSpace – Part IV of my anticlockwise journey towards a paperback

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CoA post its

Isn’t this is the BEST justification EVER for ordering a Proof copy of your Print on Demand novel?

I used nearly three packs of Post-it strips marking out typos (not too many), weird spacing issues (loads) and missing or shifted text (scores – mostly at the bottoms of pages where text had been moved to fill the silly gaps).

I also took the opportunity to have one last crack at polishing the prose as I went. Who says a writer is never done editing?

Anyway, Big Lesson learned here; Never assume that because it looks fine on the screen, it’ll be fine in print. WRONG!

And don’t order TWO copies in the naive hope that the print will be fiiiine *casually dismisses problem with a wave of his hand* and you would be able to send one of them to…for instance…your mother.

So glad I didn’t…

Unless you are planning to use an editing buddy, someone who will be reading the second copy, don’t waste your money. Order ONE, fix it, THEN order another proof – just to be certain.

Sure, it all takes time…an interminable period during which you are champing away, desperate for the process to be completed. But as I’ve posted before, patience is most definitely required in this self-editing game.

So, now that I have completed my read-through, I only need to update my electronic version and re-submit the document to CreateSpace…and order another proof copy, which must come all the way from the US… by snail mail..and then read through THAT…and identify any remaining errors.

*drums fingers in agitation*

How long is the average human lifespan?

Muse; Patience, Mister Toynbee, patience.

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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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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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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

Introduce your villain competition

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Bloomsbury have just launched a competition to describe your villain in 500 words and win a pair of signed books.

See http://www.writersandartists.co.uk/competitions for details!

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