Improving Your Writing Craft

The Punishment of Sisyphus

At the beginning of October, I had my first round of edits back on my From Here to Nashville sequel novella, Over You, with suggestions as to what I might rewrite before submitting it for the final, final edit. As I wrote this book some time ago, before The Vineyard in Alsace in fact, there were a lot of things that I thought I had improved on since then. So I got to work and sent it back to the editor again, hoping that I had put most of those rookie errors right.

Then while I was waiting for that one to come back, my latest novel, let’s call it The Bistro, came back from the Romantic Novelists’ Association. This is a first draft that I had sent in for my final New Writers’ Scheme assessment. I told one of my writing friends that I thought this was the best first draft I had ever written. Famous last words! The report I had back is nine pages long and very thorough, and also very supportive, but I was gutted to see the same comments coming up about where my writing isn’t quite hitting the mark. You know: show don’t tell, ‘goal-motivation-conflict’, make sure you describe the setting etc. And my heart sank because I really thought I had worked on all those things and cracked them. Still, I left it for a few days while I tried to think positively about where I stand with my writing craft four years down the line.

And just as I was getting there, Over You came back with its final edits as well. Many of the comments are about things I really should have got to grips with by now – or at least, I feel I should have. Everything I have to do is manageable but it still leaves me feeling like I’m not making any progress, and that is so disheartening. It has left me wondering whether if I was traditionally published, with an editor guiding me, I might actually be a better writer by now. Don’t get me wrong, I know in my heart that I am a better writer in many ways, but the progress really does seem slow sometimes 😦 I keep reminding myself that a first draft will need work, and so will the second, third etc, and that the final draft is the one that needs to be the most polished, so if it’s not perfect yet, it doesn’t matter. And that’s what we use an editor for of course – to help us produce the most polished version we can. I can at least say that I have been very lucky with the majority of editors I have worked with.

I have picked myself up enough to make a start on the novella edits from tomorrow and then I’m going to push on and write the next, and final, From Here to Nashville novella which will tell Jenna’s story. Then I hope to publish them both together early next year. After that, I will come back to the next novel and hope that with the passage of time, I will feel better about my report and not so vulnerable about my weaknesses as a writer.

I’d be interested to know whether anyone else feels like this when they get their edits back and whether, if you’re traditionally published, you have an editor who is more like a mentor for you?

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News

As you know, in September, I auditioned to be added to the WI’s directory of speakers in my region. At the audition, I was really nervous but it seemed to go well. I have heard back since the last time I posted to say that I have been accepted into the directory and I am really pleased about it. I have also received my first booking but incredibly, it is for January 2019! I thought it was a mistake at first but it’s not – they just like to plan ahead! Still, I’m looking forward to it and I’m glad I applied.

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Marketing

As you may know, I did a Kindle countdown deal last month for From Here to Nashville, which saw my debut novel reduced to 99p. I tried to get a BookBub featured deal for it but to no avail – apparently, they only accept 5% of the submissions they receive so that did make me feel a bit better! I did have some success with some smaller promotion companies but although I sold a fair number of copies, it wasn’t earth-shattering. Many people supported me though, especially on Facebook where I also did a promotion, and for that I was very grateful. I also sent out a newsletter to my subscribers (you can join it here if you’d like to be kept up-to-date with what I’m doing), and this was well-received and widely shared.

I have now taken FHTN off its automatic re-enrolment to KDP Select and towards the end of the month, I’m going to expand distribution to other platforms again to see what happens. However, I should say that this year, since The Vineyard in Alsace came out, I have sold five times as many copies of From Here to Nashville as I did last year, so that is good news.

I have had a number of guest appearances on other blogs since my last post was published here. I was featured on the Love Books Group blog for their #FavFive feature and I was also on Delightful Book Reviews talking about a typical day in my writing life as an author. Not only that but The Vineyard in Alsace was also reviewed in France magazine and it was a favourable review too!

 

 

 

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Social

Next week, I will be giving a talk at our monthly Society of Authors meeting about how I use Scrivener in my writing. Scrivener’s not for everyone but it works for me and our group of writers is very interested to know more about it. If you’re engaged in NaNoWriMo at the moment, Scrivener is usually offered as a prize if you make it to the end. I bought my copy for my half-price way back when I did NaNoWriMo and it has been worth every penny.

I’m also meeting up with my local RNA group for lunch this coming week. Next week, I will be attending the RNA Committee’s Christmas lunch to which I’ve been invited as the Deputy Editor of our quarterly newsletter, and after that, it is our Winter Party in the evening. The week after that I’m meeting another RNA friend for a writerly catch-up as well so will be keeping myself busy, and full (!), with all these social activities.

In the final week of November though, I’m going to The Society of Authors’ AGM because they’re holding some workshops as well, one on ‘Building Your Brand’ with Joanne Harris no less (swooning already!) and one called ‘Beyond the Book’ which is about innovative ways to market your book and reach new audiences. I will report back on all this activity next month.

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As always, another busy month lies ahead and that’s all before we even get to Christmas. I hope all is going well for you with your writing. Please do leave me a comment below and tell me how you’re getting on. Thanks for reading!

 

Expanding Distribution of your Novel

amazon-logo_blackThis weekend saw the end of the first three months of my debut being on sale on Amazon. I signed up to the exclusive KDP Select programme, partly because it was the easiest thing to do in the first instance and also because the thought of trying to get my head round uploading to other sites at that point in time filled me with dread!

By the time the end of my first three months was in sight though, I felt ready to think about expanding the distribution of my novel to other online sites. I have learnt a lot about it during those three months, mainly through the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and its members, and I decided not to sign up for another three months of KDP so that I could dip my toe in the waters elsewhere.

There are an awful lot of other online retailers but the main ones to consider are Smashwords, Kobo, Nook and Apple’s iTunes. I still feel as daunted now about uploading my book to all those sites, not to mention the time it would take when I’m desperately trying to get on with book two! Thankfully, there is a way round this.

Afterd2d-logo-dark-sm a bit of research, I came across an aggregator called Draft2Digital who will upload to all the main sites mentioned above, with the exception of Smashwords, and they will also upload your book to a whole host of other sites as well. For this, they take 10% of your sale price but only when you sell. There’s no charge for the service. It was very easy to upload to them, especially as I write using Scrivener so all I had to do was to upload the epub version of my book and they’ve done the rest. All in all, this took no longer than half an hour.

SW_Vertical_ColorSmashwords also distribute to the other three main sites but for now, I’m using Draft2Digital for that. I have managed to upload my book to Smashwords as well and I’m using them for the retailers that Draft2Digital don’t distribute to as yet. I’ll have to see what happens in terms of sales before deciding whether to leave it like this or to change. One thing I’ve noticed is that ALLi members differ in their views on what the best process is. Some feel it’s worth uploading directly to the main sites; others have used Draft2Digital and others have used Smashwords for their distribution to other sites. So, it will be an experiment, as everything is for the indie author and who knows, it may be that selling through Amazon only is the only viable option but if I don’t try it out, I’ll never know.

The other thing I’ve done since expanding the distribution is to try a new price for a while. So ‘From Here to Nashville’ is now for sale at £1.49 as an ebook. It is still only available through Amazon as a paperback, priced at £8.99. I have ordered my own paperback copies through a UK printer as well and I’ve been doing a roaring trade with those at my workplace! I’ve also been able to offer signed copies to them, as well as one of my limited edition guitar magnets because I’m selling face-to-face.

I am planning a giveaway soon through my Facebook site so if you’d like to take part, keep your eyes peeled over there. Here’s the link: Julie Stock’s Author Page.

Thanks for reading as always and look out for my next Author Spotlight feature next week!

My Piece of Sky

DSCN3409A long, long time ago, I sat down at this computer to start writing a story. The date was Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013 to be precise and fuelled by the TV programme ‘Nashville,’ I’d come up with an idea for my own story. I had no idea whether I would get to the end of the story or not at that point, I just wanted to write it all down before I forgot it! 😉 Today, 642 days later, I’m about done with my story and I’m just a few weeks away from self-publishing my first novel as an ebook in the first instance, followed shortly after by a paperback version.

I have spent a fair bit of time over the holidays (understatement of the year!) wrestling with formatting my novel in Scrivener, accompanied by the brilliant book ‘Scrivener for Dummies’ by Gwen Hernandez. It is now formatted to my satisfaction, I think (eek!) I have also worked my way through my own and my beta readers’ edits and got to the end of them without doing myself an injury. Finally, I contacted my proofreader to see if it would be possible to send it to her a bit earlier than we had planned. Her answer to this was yes and all of this means that I can look at a publication date of sometime during the week of the 16th February, 2015 which will be half-term week for me and therefore, a bit easier to manage. As it can take a few days for your book to upload to Amazon though, I’ll probably aim for a ‘soft’ launch in the week before to deal with any major upsets before the proper publication day.

My next task then is to send out my first newsletter. I have already started designing this and it will include my Cover Reveal and also the Book Trailer I’ve been working on. If you want to see both of these before anyone else, don’t forget to SIGN UP to my newsletter! All you have to do is click on the link. I will be doing a blog post soon about how I made the book trailer as well.

The next major thing to think about is marketing: yes or no? I have taken part in some giveaways myself run by authors and I even tried running one a while ago on my Facebook page but there wasn’t much take up. Similarly, although I have enjoyed ‘attending’ a number of Facebook launch parties, the attendees always seem to be other writers so I’m not sure how useful they are in terms of sales to new readers. Finally, there’s the issue of book blog tours. I know of many lovely people running these but I have no idea how useful they are to writers. Obviously, we all want to make our book stand out in a veritable ocean of others out there. So, if you have any advice on this topic, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Some of the more experienced self-publishers believe that the best marketing is to get on with your second book and don’t worry, I fully intend to do that! I feel that some other marketing is necessary though and should be fun.

This is where I’m at for the start of 2015 then, folks. Thank you for accompanying me along the path so far. I hope you’ll keep on reading over the next few weeks and holding my hand as I edge closer to publication. Thank you for reading and supporting me with your advice and I look forward to reading your comments 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decision Fatigue for the Self-Publishing Newbie

The-key-to-good-decisionAt long last, my friends, the moment has come – I have finished my final edits. It has taken me five weeks to do everything which was longer than I’d planned for but I needed that time to get my head round it all. Today was the day I had originally booked to send ‘From Here to Nashville’ to the proofreader but I postponed this as soon as I saw the extent of the final edits. I now have a new date for the end of January.

In between time, I’m sending my book off to my beta readers for one last read through. I am very lucky that I have two beta readers who are writers as well and not only that, I am proud to call them my friends. I have come to know both these people online and one of them even read my book in its very early form so her dedication to my little book is even more humbling. I am extremely grateful to them both for the final read they’re going to give my book.

I am also going to give ‘From Here to Nashville’ one last read through to check how well it reads after all the edits I have done over the last month or so. Although I have uploaded my second book to my Kindle before, I wanted this upload to be as correct as I could make it in terms of formatting. As some of you will remember, I write in Scrivener and I hope to format my book myself when publication day finally rolls round. Well, this is obviously going to take some time to get right as I spent most of yesterday afternoon exporting copies to my desktop, only to find that when I looked at them using the Kindle Previewer facility, something was wrong. I persevered though, reading lots of articles on the internet along the way, and finally, I managed to get close to what I was looking for. It was also the first time I had uploaded my actual cover with it and it was a great feeling to see that.

I hope to get my beta readers’ comments back by the end of the year and to spend January inputting their comments and mine before sending the book off to the proofreader. This will take a couple of weeks and then I will have the proofreader’s comments to deal with which would leave me looking at the middle or possibly the end of February as my publication date. I am still having to be fairly flexible about this though because so much could change between now and then. Once it goes to the proofreader though, I can feel fairly confident about the date of publication day.

I am considering a number of other issues at the moment. The biggest one is whether to aim for a paperback of ‘From Here to Nashville’ at the same time as I plan to publish the ebook. If I do want to do this, I have to consider whether to go with Amazon’s CreateSpace or whether to go with someone else, like Ingram Spark who seem to be the front runner otherwise. This will also involve having to make a decision about ISBNs, which I must have for a paperback but don’t need for an ebook. In the UK, ISBNs are purchased from a company called Nielsen at a price of £132 for a block of ten numbers minimum. They take ten days to come through so I need to think ahead on that one. In addition to this, paperbacks have to be typeset which will take me some more time to master!

I am also considering what to do in terms of marketing. It is so interesting to see what other authors choose to do in the run up to their publication day. For example, I want to do a cover reveal of course but I’m still not sure how long in advance to do this. I was thinking of doing it when I send my book off to the proofreader which could be three to four weeks before publication. Is that enough of a lead time or too much? Now that Amazon have the pre-order facility, I am wondering when to do that as well. Decisions, decisions…Apparently, there is a real condition known as decision fatigue – I can vouch for this!

As you can see then, there is no rest for the wicked 😉 My journey continues. Tune in next week to see whether I managed to make any more decisions 🙂 Thanks for reading as always and please do leave any comments or suggestions below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Top Tips for Formatting your ebook before self-publishing #1

Learn-the-rules-like-aAs I continue to wend my way through my final edits, the issue of formatting my novel correctly for publication has started to weigh on my mind. This is mainly because my editor has been less than happy with some of my formatting and it has made me realise that I don’t know what the rules are or if there even are any!

For example, I have indented every first line of a paragraph or section in the novel. I did this simply because that was the advice given in a blog article I was reading about how to format your book in Scrivener. I didn’t think twice about whether this is the normal thing to do when formatting your book. So when my editor pointed it out, I went and had a look at some of the books I have read, ebooks, paperbacks and hardbacks and guess what? There was a mixture of approaches. Some publishers indent, some don’t and for ebooks, especially self-published ones, it seems to simply be down to personal taste.

I scoured the internet then for some guidelines and of course, there’s no single definitive list but there are some generally accepted guidelines that I thought it would be useful to reproduce here. Please note that this list is for ebooks. I have tried to consider formatting in both Word and Scrivener.

1. Use a 1″ margin on all sides (Done for you in Scrivener).

2. You don’t need page numbers in an ebook because technically speaking, there are no pages (Done for you in Scrivener).

3. Left align the text (not headings) but don’t justify it.

4. Make sure the text is single line spaced.

5. Start each new chapter on its own page about a third of the way down the page (Done for you in Scrivener).

6. The body of the chapter should start about four to six lines below the chapter title (Done for you in Scrivener).

7. Indent each new paragraph of flowing text but don’t indent the first line at the start of the chapter or after a section break.

8. Don’t put in asterisks to show section breaks. Apparently, these date back to the days when people used typewriters.

9. Use a standard font like Times New Roman, Arial or Courier and use 12 point size.

10. Make sure your hyperlinks work! (This will usually be links to your details so it’s very important!)

You will have noticed that I labelled this post as #1 because I know for sure that you will all tell me of other tips that I can add to the list in the future and I’m sure I will come across other things when I finally come to format my book. So let me have it if you agree/disagree/have other ideas and yes, in case you were wondering, I know that rules are there to be broken!

Good luck with your formatting if you’re tacking it yourself. Thanks for reading as always and I welcome your comments 🙂

P.S. I hope you noticed the snow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 7 Stages of Editing I have used from First to Final Draft

Poker-sm-228-7hI started writing ‘From Here to Nashville’, my debut romance novel in April 2013. By the end of October that year, I had a first draft which was over 100,000 words. As this is my first novel, I really had no idea how to go about the next stage so I turned to the internet to help me. Naturally, there was a whole ton of information and advice out there so I had to sift through it and work out what was right for me. I thought then that it might be useful, as much for myself as anyone else, to summarise the stages that I have gone through with this first novel in the hope that I will be better at it next time round!

1. Reading aloud

It is generally accepted that this is a good first step to take after writing that messy first draft without having stopped to edit along the way. This was the approach I had taken with this first novel and it’s also what I did with my second which was written during NaNoWriMo 2013 when I discovered that there is simply no time to stop and edit. For this process, I printed the story out. When I came to reading my story out loud, I realised that this is not something you can do quickly and the very act of slowing down meant that I found lots of little mistakes and was easily able to highlight them for editing later. This included the repetitive use of some words and I also found, for example, that I repeated characters’ names too much so I deleted quite a few of these. I noticed that I hadn’t been consistent with my writing of numbers, dates and times so I decided on a style and then I stuck to it. I found some obvious plot-holes that would need correcting later and I was able to ponder the structure of the story and think about whether it needed tweaking.

2. Replacing Passive sentences with Active sentences – E-Prime

I first wrote about this on my blog in May this year and you can read the full post here. In summary, this involves finding and replacing the verb ‘to be’ with a more active verb in your writing. The example I gave in the article still holds good, I think but here’s another one for you:

Before – ‘We were strolling along the promenade…’

After – ‘We strolled along the promenade…’

You won’t be able to do this for every instance but when you can do it, you will notice that it definitely improves your writing.

3. Over-used words

As I use Scrivener, it was really easy for me to see which words I was over-using using the ‘Text Statistics’ function which is an option under the tab ‘Project.’ I have taken a screenshot today of the most used words in my manuscript and I can still see that ‘I’ is at the top, as it was in May! I have managed to reduce the number of times I use it though 🙂

Screenshot 2014-09-08 09.47.08

As you can see, these are all every day words and I feel pretty happy that I have managed to eradicate over-use of most of them. Words like ‘that’ are often put in unnecessarily and can bump up your word count no end. There are lots of articles about these over-used or filler words and you really should have a look at eliminating these during the editing process. Here are just a few things to look out for:

  • over-use of adverbs.
  • using clichés. Work out what you’re trying to say and then write it differently.
  • using ‘began to’ or ‘started to’ or ‘decided to.’
  • using ‘seemed to.’
  • using ‘very’, ‘really’ or ‘just.’

4. Showing not Telling

Once my manuscript came back from the RNA, this was the first big thing I had to tackle. This was to be expected as it was my first novel so I didn’t beat myself up about it too much. Half the battle is in working out when you should show and when telling will be alright. Once again, I wrote a blog post about it here and there are also lots of articles written about it which you may or may not find helpful! The best one I found is listed in my blog post and remains the one I found the most useful.

5. Cutting Scenes that are not relevant to the story

This speaks for itself and has been painstaking because I have found it difficult to be sure whether every one is relevant or not. Sometimes it was very clear and I was able to delete without any worries but at other times, it was hard. I suspect that this comes with practice. If you write a good outline for your story and keep to it pretty much through the first draft, then hopefully, the redundant scenes will be fewer at the end. I’ll have to let you know on that one next time 😉 For now though, only you can know what you think is relevant or otherwise to your story but the general advice is that a scene is not relevant if it doesn’t move the story forward.

6. Killing your Darlings!

We’ve all heard this phrase, I’m sure but I hadn’t really absorbed it until I was advised that I had too many minor characters in my story. When I thought about it, I had to agree and I realised that this would mean quite a change to the plot of the story. Once again, it has been hard to make these changes at this stage but I know it has helped my story to improve and that’s what all this editing is about. We’re trying to make our story tighter and to make it a great read. To be honest, most of my secondary characters weren’t all that ‘darling’ to me and I was kind of relieved to release them off into the sunset. Who knows, maybe they’ll find another home in one of the books I have yet to write?

7. Adding Emotion to your Romance

The final piece of advice I have been given so far is that there needs to be more emotion on the page whenever my two main characters, Rachel and Jackson, are together. This advice came as a result of the partial edit I had done on my first three chapters and was really useful. The reader knows that your main characters are going to fall in love but you have to keep ramping up the tension every time they meet and although I knew this and it’s what I want as a reader, I could see that I hadn’t really written it into my story as much as I could have done.

And there you have it. This is only a brief summary of what I’ve done so far. I hope to send it off for its final edit next week and only then will I really know if I’ve done everything I can. It has been a steep learning curve for me as a new writer and I couldn’t have got this far without the help of a lot of other people, including the early readers of my novel. In the beginning, I allowed a fair few friends and family members to read parts of the novel and to tell me what they thought. This was only partly helpful because they all said it was great, of course and only picked up on typos. Some did want Rachel to go with a different love interest and that was certainly useful for helping me to develop the plot. Next time, I won’t ask so many people to read it in the early stages though. I will stick with my beta reader and writing friend, Cat, if she’ll still have me (!) and I have another writing friend who has offered to read my final draft this time (she knows who she is but she may have changed her mind since making that offer!) It is a big time commitment to beta read and you need writers to do it for you because they can be impartial, unlike your family and friends.

Good luck with your editing if that’s where you’re at and if you have any questions for me, do ask in the comments below or tell me of something you’ve done which has been really helpful for you. Thanks for reading and see you next week 🙂

 

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia