Is your book good enough to self-publish?

I wrote a children’s book, sent my manuscript to a few agents, and kept my fingers crossed. The rejections came quick and fast, but I was lucky enough to get some feedback, along with the bog standard rejections. I rewrote it and sent it out again. I had a similar response. Self-publishing seemed like the ideal solution. I have written previous posts on my self-publishing journey, so I won’t go into detail here, but I certainly learnt a lot! I got as far as ordering my second proof from Createspace, and knew that after a few more tweaks (correcting a newly discovered  spelling mistake on the back cover, and reformatting the contents page) I could order my third proof and hopefully that would be it; I could press the big red button on Createspace and bam my book would be in circulation. But something held me back.

I realised that I wanted more than to self-publish. I wanted to be a good writer. I thought about doing a degree in creative writing, but practically and economically, it wasn’t an option. But I knew that I needed expert help, so I decided to hire the services of a literary consultant. After a bit of googling, I narrowed my choice down to Cornerstones and Shelley Instone. These were two of the names attached to my rejection emails.  I found it really difficult to decide between the two, but went on gut instinct, and booked in with Shelley Instone.

I received my editorial report a couple of weeks ago, and if I’m being honest, initially I was disheartened.  Why was I doing this? I’ll never be a good writer. Why don’t I learn to sew instead?

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of self-doubt; sometimes you need it, to motivate you. After the horrible feelings had passed, I read the report again, and I started to follow the advice I had been given.

My editorial report contained a list of books which Shelley thought I should read. These are mainly children’s books e.g. books by Sophie Mckenzie and Robert Muchamore. However, Shelley also suggested that I read Steering the Craft, by Ursula Le Guin, as she reckons it is the best creative writing book on the market. I will let you know how this goes, in a future post.

A day after reading my editorial report, I suddenly felt the urge to start rewriting and I managed to get out 5000 words very quickly.  My twelve year old was nosing around, over half term, and found and read the new beginning. His exact words were, “It’s awesome! Way better than the last one! When are you going to finish it?” This was encouraging, as he was rating it much higher than previously, and I was also intrigued by the fact that he didn’t recognise it as the “same” book. It was at this point that I realised that my “rewrite” may in fact turn out to be another book. This can only be a good thing – right?

I thought it would be helpful for people to know what kind of things were in my editorial report, and I would love to know what you think about certain issues, to help me along, so here’s a summary:

1) My editorial report suggests some of the writing is “twee”. It’s true to say that the books I read when I was younger, were more “twee” than books of today, and maybe, subconsciously, this influenced my writing. Also, the report suggests that my characters are too deferential, and the main character is too dull. Ouch! I know that kids of today are very different from my day, but I didn’t realise it wasn’t coming thorough in my writing. My children certainly answer back more than I did when I was a child, and to a certain extent, I think this is a common feature in all children; but the children themselves don’t think they are being disrespectful. Kids portrayed in books and TV these days, do seem to come across as having more attitude! What do you think? Is this a good thing?

2) Shelley suggested that I remove the adults from my book, as they appear to act as a safety net for my characters, and that I need to focus more on the child characters. This is a fair point, but I’m wondering whether it’s the way I included the adults? Many children’s books have adults in them.

3) I use technology to move my story forward, but the report suggests this lacks credibility and it makes things too easy for my characters, as they never face real adversity. Again, I think I need to find the right balance. What do you think?

4) Apparently, my plot is very predictable and poorly constructed. Well – I obviously need to work on that one!

5) Avoid physical descriptions – my last post was about this very issue and the report suggests I was wrong! Shelley says that the characters’ personalities have to connect with the reader, first. However, this contradicts with some of the books that she has recommended, which dive into character descriptions immediately. Very confusing! Later on, the report also suggests that the physical descriptions of my characters are mundane. Hmmm…

6) Avoid clichés – this is an interesting one because I didn’t think that I had that many in my book, and the first couple of books I have read from my editorial report reading list use more clichés than I do!

Examples of clichés in my work (as from the report):

…and gasped.

…in amazement

…quickly grasped…

…open mouthed…

…a sudden black hole formed…

…scowled menacingly…

and everything about the weather! Which makes me think that it’s difficult to write about the weather without it being a cliché! Any suggestions?

7) Pace and tension  is described as lacking in a lot of the chapters. I knew this was absent from the middle of the book, so I obviously need to work on this.

8) Grammar – there was no mention other than one obvious comma that needed inserting. It made me realise that I concentrated too much on this, rather than the plot construction.

The main thing I agree with in my editorial report is that it was a brave first attempt, but I am at the beginning of my creative writing journey. I have learnt so much over the last couple of years, but I am glad that I sought professional advice to point me in the right direction. I can now focus on improving my writing. The only question that remains is … should I self-publish the first book, or wait till I have a better one?

Here’s a link to a website which explains about literary consultants:

Writing and Self-Publishing: Colour, race and names of characters in books

What skin tone do you picture in a character? The writer knows the race and colour of their characters, but in many books the author doesn’t actually state whether a character is “white”, “brown”, “pink” or “black”. Most people picture a skin tone depending on the name of the character. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the ‘race’ of the character is subtly described, sometimes very well, so immediately an image is formed in your mind. But I’m guessing that most people picture a character as ‘white’ unless the text suggests otherwise. There are so many shades of skin colour that I doubt we all picture the same image, no matter what is implied in the text.

Does it even matter? Probably not, because there is more to building a strong character than describing their physical appearance. However, I find this a fascinating subject because I am of Indian origin, and due to the wonder of genetics, I have two beautiful “white” children as well one beautiful “brown” child, but all three of my children would describe themselves as Indian. In fact my “white” children will be very unhappy that I am describing them as “white”! (In the UK, if you describe yourself as “of Indian origin”, then it means your family were originally from India). The physical appearance of the two main, male characters in my children’s book, The Book of Thoth, are based on my boys. Daniel is described as having auburn hair, freckles and hazel brown eyes and Yakub is described as being olive-skinned with black hair and shiny brown eyes. It’s odd how we feel the need to add description to imply that a character is non-white and I wonder whether it is because we have been indoctrinated in this way; because we are assuming that all other characters are “white”?

What colour and race is a tall, dark and handsome John Smith?

What colour and race is a tall, dark and handsome Imran Khan?

Are you making assumptions based on the name? Or are you waiting for further description? Both of them have frizzy, black hair and brown eyes?

Still not sure?

They both have chocolate brown skin.

John speaks Hindi and lives in India. Imran speaks French and lives in France.

You still need further description, don’t you? Because it’s hard to be stereotypical these days!

I don’t see my protagonist as “white”, but I suspect anyone that reads my book will, especially because I named him Daniel.  I chose the name Daniel because it’s one of my all time favourite names. It is a name used in many countries and in many cultures and religions, but the only reason I chose the name was because I knew it would suit my character.

I am fortunate enough to live and work alongside many different races and religions, and it follows that my characters will come from many different backgrounds. I want to describe my characters as I imagine them. I find this difficult because what is considered offensive in one country, may not be in another. Some people may find “chocolate brown” offensive as skin colouring; however this is perfectly acceptable when describing hair colour. Others may find the use of the words “white” or “black” offensive. “Asians” are not pictured in the UK in same way as “Asians” are pictured in America. And so on… (Incidentally, I love the Russell Peters sketch on the difference between Indian and Chinese “Asians”).

If you are published via the traditional route, then there will be country-specific changes to your book, and the published book may vary from country to country (e.g. mum versus mom). However, where political correctness is concerned, sometimes it’s debatable whether they get it right or wrong (e.g. Dean Thomas being described as “black” in the American Harry Potter books, but not in the UK books).

But if you are self-publishing, then you are most likely to have only one published book available, so you have to hope you are subtle enough to get the tone right for all countries. And it’s not only skin tone I’m referring to!

Writing, Self-Publishing, Indie authors and the Power of Social Media – revisited

I can feel the power of social media, but is there a dark side? Does it consume you? I am now on Twitter and I even understand what hashtag is all about! I have followed friends and family, and now I am feeling more comfortable about following “strangers”, too. I was worried that nobody except friends and family followed me back, or if they did, then they ‘unfollowed’ me, pretty quickly. Is it me? Am I not interesting enough? Okay, from a tweeting point of view, I may have lacked substance, so I have been working on it. I now try to tweet or retweet things that other people will find interesting. I have organised my lists so it’s easier to skim through tweets. But this has involved spending more time on social media than writing my book -aargh! There aren’t enough hours in the day as it is! Thankfully (or should I say hopefully), I think I have found my happy tweeting balance. I spend no more than a few minutes checking tweets that may lead to an interesting article, and I tweet/retweet on the go.

Blogging and tweeting both have the power to reach people. If my blog or tweeting helps someone on their writing or self-publishing journey, then that to me is just as rewarding as someone reading my book and enjoying it. Through social media, I have discovered writers that are way ahead of me on their writing journey, and I have discovered writers that are just starting out. I have learnt a lot on my journey and I still feel like a novice. When The Book of Thoth is finished, I will use the social media to market its existence. But in a funny kind of way, I am enjoying my blogging and tweeting for the sake of it. But I won’t let social media consume me; I will find the right balance.