Writing Is A Journey. A Long One.

It’s my two year blogaversary and I’ve come one hell of a long way! I can see it in my books and I can see it in my blogs. So here’s to ever learning …

challenge-520x245If you look anywhere for tips on writing, ‘Learning to Accept Criticism’ is always listed in the top ten. It’s important for writers to understand the role of rejection, because there’s no way to avoid it. If you send your work to publishers, it’s going to be knocked back, if you let the public read it, there will be bad reviews. It is the nature of art, there is no perfect way to do it.

But handling the criticism doesn’t come naturally to writers, we’re often sensitive, thoughtful creatures who need to be handled with care. Everyone is different but I believe new writers in general are not ready to hear it. I wasn’t either. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In order to make it through the thousands of words it takes to finish your manuscript, you need to believe you were born with a natural talent.

You’ve heard about writers being rejected countless times, you know how rare it is for someone to write a best seller first time round, but somewhere deep down, you think you could be one of them. That’s what gets you through. And when people are brave enough to tell you the truth about your book, you justify it in your own mind. They’re not my target audience, they don’t usually read, they aren’t familiar with the genre. Anything to convince yourself their feedback isn’t relevant, or they just didn’t see what you were trying to do.

It’s something we all have to go through. The tip isn’t, ‘Accept Criticism’, it’s ‘LEARN to Accept Criticism’. It takes time, and how ever long that may, be will vary from writer to writer. For a whole bunch of different reasons.

For me, I was afraid the criticism would stop me in my tracks. I didn’t want to hear it because I know I can take things to heart and I was worried the harsh truth would knock me right off my perch. I wrote four books and self published them, I set them free into the world. But the truth was I wasn’t ready to hear the bad news. Which is perfectly okay, the only way to get there is to experience it.

I took that terrifying first step, I revealed myself and all my flaws to the public.

And that’s the point in every writer’s life when they realise they’re not naturally blessed with the skills. They’re blessed with the inspiration and determination—the skills have to be learnt.

That realisation can take years. Only once you have poured your heart and soul into a story and moved on to write something new, can you really look back and see it for what it is. Time and distance shows you that your work is far from perfect. You did your very best, but you’ve learnt enough to understand what’s wrong with it.

And eventually, hearing someone point out your weaknesses is no longer so hard to hear. You know exactly what they’re talking about—you can see it yourself. You look at the standard of your work now, and see how far you’ve come. It’s still not perfect, but if someone points out the flaws, you think,  I’ve come so far in the past year, give it one more year and I’ll be even better at this.

It’s a journey. A long one.

I’ve been writing seriously for eight years now, and I can finally say I’m ready. I know my writing isn’t perfect, I mean really know, not just saying the words for the sake of it. The difference now, is that hearing the truth won’t stop me. I’ve realised I’m not defined by my work, but by my ability to learnt from it. I’m not afraid of publishers knocking me back, I won’t bother reading between the lines when someone says my work is good, completely lacking conviction. I can see it for what it is, and it doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It means I’ve graduated. I’m ready to call myself a real writer.

 

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Part III Publishing The Shadow Series

Facebook bannerWe are in the middle of a publishing revolution, traditionally it was a long hard road to become a published author and the path was paved with rejections slips. Publishing a book is a big job and publishing houses don’t have the resources to print all the books that are sent to them. Instead they have to be picky, usually deciding whether or not a book is sellable within the first few sentences. It’s a competitive market and a lot of bestselling books were rejected by numerous publishing houses before someone agreed to take them on. For an unknown author the chances of getting a foot in the door are pretty slim. These days with the power of social media and the internet, doing it yourself is perfectly achievable. I’ve been reading since I was a child, I know books and felt confident I could produce one with a completely professional look.

Beyond the Shadows Book One

Book One Beyond the Shadows

I knew the first place I had to start was with the cover, it’s a cliché we’ve all heard before, ‘never judge a book by its cover’ but let’s face it, we all do. I searched long and hard for a cover artist for The Shadow Series and eventually decided on award winning designer Damon ZA. He was more expensive than other artists I’d found but he made an offer that was impossible to turn down. Two covers to choose from and unlimited changes until you were happy with the finished product. It’s pretty scary having someone put a cover to your book so the added security of unlimited changes was what sold me. Now I don’t think I could work with anyone else. He was creative and fast, I gave him full artistic reign and he produced the four amazing covers with just brief book descriptions to work with. I honestly couldn’t be happier with the finished product.

 

Writing the blurbs—that short paragraph on the back of the book—was one of the hardest things! I wrote so many and had numerous people critique them for me but it didn’t make the decision any easier. How do you use one paragraph to sum up an entire novel? And how do you make it intriguing without giving too much away? That little project in itself was a major time drainer. As a reader you don’t often think about who wrote the blurb and yet that’s the paragraph that draws you in. If it’s bad—forget about it. That’s a lot of pressure to work under! Same with book titles, they did undergo a few changes, it’s hard to get the balance just right. I wanted four titles that went well as a set but I also had to make sure they sounded like they were the right genre.

ShadowHunters_Ebook

Book Two Shadow Hunters

Then when it came down to formatting I had no idea of the drama I would face, I had to do two versions: a print and an ebook. They are completely different so there’s no way to get away with doing it just once. Even little things like choosing the font is difficult, it does actually make a difference in the readability of a book. If the letters are too close together it’s hard on the eyes, you don’t want it too big or too small and it’s important to watch out for tricky letters like w and x, they have a habit of running together. There are also a lot of fiddly things like choosing margin sizing, headers and footers, the positioning of your chapters and section breaks. Indents are a big one, a large indent looks ridiculous and if you pick up a book you will notice the first line in a new paragraph or chapter isn’t indented, how on earth do you set your computer to do that? I learnt a lot in the process of formatting the print book. I spent a lot of time working on the front matter: the title page, copyright page, the acknowledgements and dedication. I made mistakes like adding the front matter without formatting section breaks then I couldn’t set the headers and footers to skip the first few pages. All these little details impact the overall impression of a book, all I can say is, I don’t know where I’d be without Google!

And there were more hurdles after that. I needed my word document to be a PDF but all the programs I tried for conversion changed the custom page sizes back to A4 and then threw out all my formatting. I had a friend with Adobe which automatically registered my custom pages but his computer didn’t have the same font I’d used and once again it threw my formatting out. There was always a solution but it was certainly a test of patience.

InNightsShadow_ebook

Book Three In Night’s Shadow

Once the print version had gone to the printer I focused my attention on the ebooks, I published through Smashwords which offers a step by step guide to formatting, it was time consuming but I didn’t run into any major problems. My main fear with the ebooks is that there is no set appearance. With the print book I formatted everything and I know exactly where every indent or space is going to sit. With an ebook it’s not that simple, they are designed to be read on multiple devices so it will look different depending on whether it’s read on a phone or an ereader.

Then there’s Amazon *insert a big sigh of frustration here* oh Amazon. I don’t know why they make it so hard! They offer a program called KDP where you can publish your ebook to their kindle store. Months before I even reached this stage I did a lot of research and found that Amazon also liked to make you exclusive. Meaning that once you publish with them you can’t publish with anyone else. Amazon’s great for people who own a Kindle but what about people who have an ipad or other ereader? Being exclusive to Amazon would mean other people couldn’t read my books. I knew authors who were published on both Amazon and Smashwords so I knew it was possible. I spent many frustrated hours searching for the loop hole, in the end I have to thank my Goodreads author buddies for pointing me in the right direction. It turns out when you sign up for Amazon’s KDP program there is a little box waiting to be checked. If you tick it you’re exclusive, if you ignore it you can publish wherever you want. It’s so simple but Amazon made it very difficult to find that information.

So I thought I was good to go but when I tried to sign up for their program I discovered you can’t sell on Amazon with an Australian bank account, you need an account in an Amazon supported country. I had a traumatic couple of days trying to figure out how I was going to manage that. I was then thrilled to learn I already had a UK bank account set up by my grandad when I was child. Still that wasn’t good enough, the account had to be credit not savings. My sister currently lives in Ireland and she suggested I use her Irish account as she’ll be moving to Australia in a couple of months. Even trying to enter her details involved converted account numbers to internationally recognised numbers. And that’s not it. Selling a product in the US means you need a US tax number. But I’m Australian and I’ll be taxed by my own country for my earnings. In that case I need a tax exemption. I had a pretty amusing phone conversation with an American guy working for the IRS, I could barely understand what he was telling me but in the end I found out what I needed to do. I filled out their forms and sent my proof of ID to Texas, now I wait 10 weeks for a tax number, then apply to Amazon and Smashwords for my tax exemption.

The Shadow Thief Book Four

Book Four The Shadow Thief

All of it is achievable but I felt like every time I solved one problem there was another waiting for me, when I finally got to the point of uploading my books to Amazon I was literally skipping around the house in celebration. I made it!

As I am now a small business owner there is also the book keeping and tax details to get through but all of that will come, my website is up and running, the books are in stock and waiting to go. Now I just have to focus on book promotion and doing as much as I possibly can to get my books out in the public. So many people have helped me on this great adventure, I want to thank every single person who has played a part. All the people already mentioned in this blog series, a huge thank you to my brother in law for his hard work on my website, my family and friends for their ongoing support, my amazing boyfriend for showing me the ropes when it comes to marketing and receiving feedback on an artistic creation. For many years I kept my writing life separate from the rest of life but merging the two has made me feel complete and I’m stunned by the new opportunities crossing my path. Tomorrow is the big day, a quadruple book launch, I’m ready!

 

Am I A Book Snob?

the restorer

I have to admit I have been somewhat spoilt in the world of books. Since I was a child my sister, Sarah, assessed my tastes and preferences for storytelling. Unlike most people I never had to sift through piles of books, studying blurbs and flicking through the pages, reading numerous duds on the hunt for my next favourite novel. I was pretty lucky, she read the duds for me and every book she handed to me was perfectly matched to my needs. My own personal book shopper. I have to take a moment to say a giant THANK YOU to her, her influence in those early days has played a huge part in the life I now live.

Now I’m all grown up, I’m out there on my own—just like everyone else—scanning the libraries, looking for the next story to keep me reading past midnight. Goodreads has been a great tool, if you love books I would strongly encourage you to join. It is basically an online book club but you can choose how much you want to participate. If you want a more personal experience you can add friends and join reading groups, if that doesn’t take your fancy you can just use it to check out ratings and read reviews. Goodreads has directed me to a lot of great books and when my personal book shopper made a recommendation that also rated highly on Goodreads I thought I couldn’t go too far wrong.

The Restorer by Amanda Stevens has been on my reading pile for a long time. I finally downloaded it on my Kindle and to my horror it said, ‘Thank you for purchasing Mills and Boon.’ I had never read a Mills and Boon book before and I didn’t plan to start now. In protest I downloaded another book and proceeded to tell everyone how I was tricked into buying Mills and Boon. Then someone said to me, ‘You know what, you’re being a book snob. What if it’s really good?’

So I’m 80% through The Restorer and I have to say it’s the best book I’ve read in a long time! Before you laugh at me you must know, there hasn’t been any romance thus far. Mills and Boon you shock me! I did a bit of research trying to figure out exactly how this book came to be published by M & B but so far I haven’t found any answers. Maybe they’ve decided to branch out and publish in different genres or perhaps they’ve realised a lot of people want more than a cheesy romance, they want a compelling plot.

If you don’t like ghost stories The Restorer probably isn’t for you. It’s about a graveyard restorer who can see ghosts and I have to say it’s pretty creepy. For me that’s perfect, I enjoy getting scared in books and the vividly described hauntings in this story are absolutely spine tingling. I found myself tucked under the blanket with the light left on all night. To me that’s a good sign, the author reached me, she freaked me out—her writing skills and intriguing plot far exceeded my expectations of a M & B novel.

It turns out I was a book snob—so you should never judge a book by its publisher.