Still not self-published?

Still not self-published?

No I’m not, and I get a feeling of jealousy every time I see a friend self-publish their work. But then I remember that I chose not to self-publish. It doesn’t mean I won’t, but I’m in no rush. So after the jealousy, I feel proud of my friends. I wish them an ocean of success.

A quick summary for those of you that don’t know me. I wrote a children’s book  with the intention of self-publishing because, unfortunately, for us amateur writers, “the odds are never in our favour“. However, to satisfy my ego, I sent my manuscript to a few agents and was pleasantly surprised to get a couple of encouraging replies amongst the general rejection emails. I would much prefer professional publication to self-publication, so I halted my self-publication process and turned to a literary consultant for some advice.

Initially, I was disheartened by the editorial report that I received, but then I followed the advice that I had been given. The result was that I completely rewrote my book. With real life going on around me,  four years passed between my original book and my new draft.

I finished my rewrite in December 2016 and I plan on starting the editing process in spring 2017. In the meantime, I am writing a completely different book which has  just flowed out of me. It’s completely different to The Book of Thoth, but I am enjoying writing it.

My plan is to edit/revise both books and enter them both in various competitions over the next two years. Eventually, there may come a time where I self-publish these books, but at the moment I am happier trying to perfect my writing.

 

When kids get in the way of your writing – go with it!

In a recent blog, I said: I am aiming to write for half an hour every day. With work and family to look after, it’s extremely difficult to fit in time to write, but I think scheduling it into your routine makes you at least think about it. I must confess, recently, I am thinking about writing more than writing! Previously, I would have seen this as a “problem”, but now I don’t. The thing is, my children are growing up, and their demands have changed as they have grown; in some ways they are easier to manage, but in other ways they are more time consuming. There are a lot more activities to drive to and from, and more filled days which involve shopping centres, cinemas and even theatre trips. Fifteen years ago, I would have preferred to spend all my leisure time shopping, dining and watching movies and shows, but that was before I developed the writing bug. Now, I would like to spend most of my free time writing.

My eldest son will be off to university in four years time and even my baby has reached double figures 😦 The sand in the hourglass seems to be flowing faster. My time with them, as children, is diminishing. Time with my children is more precious than time with my characters. I would very happily trade work time with writing time, but I’m still waiting for those numbers to come up on the lottery. I have five hours of “free time” in a week, but it seems to go very quickly. Last week, I spent all my ‘free’ time spring cleaning and regretted it; but a little bit of cleaning does help to clear my mind, which helps me to write. I call it the housework guilt trade off!

So, yes, I admit, I’m not being as productive with my writing as I would like to be, but on those occasions when the kids do want to slob and watch TV, I get out the laptop, cuddle down next to them, and type away.

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.

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

For some reason, I felt a compulsion to Google the following phrase: Is there a difference between a self-published author and an Indie author? I’m still not sure that I got the answer that I was looking for, but I did come across a lot of material that I have not come across before, and I got that overwhelming feeling of being swamped by too much information. My interior sirens went absolutely berserk. The problem is that you can spend too much time trying to figure out what to do with your “potential best-seller”, rather than spending time editing, or writing new material. I want to be a writer, not a publisher or a marketing genius. Deep sigh. Then the realisation kicks in that you have to be able to do them all, if you want to be a successful author. Most traditional authors don’t have to find their own editor, or book cover designer, but they do have to get involved in the marketing. You have to be out there to get noticed, but the self-publishing world is getting very crowded. Why on earth would someone choose your book over the other thousands, especially when some of the others are free? It’s not a question that I can answer, but what I have realised, in a short space of time, is that blogging and tweeting are probably the most powerful social media tools out there. I’ve not been here for long, but I can feel the potential power. I don’t have the perfect site, yet, but at the moment, what I write is more important than how I present my blog. But I do know that I will have to give my blog a facelift in the future. I am getting better with Twitter, too.

I have kept my website, http://www.defendersofknowledge.com/, up and running because I have had over 1000 visits to it, without any publicising, but if I had discovered WordPress first, then I think I would have done it all through WordPress. I know I still have the option to pay and upgrade my WordPress account, but it’s on the backburner, for now. What I love about my blog is the fact that I have set it up to automatically publish to Facebook and Twitter. I think this is a fantastic feature, and I would recommend this to my fellow bloggers. Since discovering the acquaintance list on Facebook, I have started sending and accepting more friend requests, as I know it is essential for successful marketing via my Facebook Book page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Defenders-of-Knowledge/206456832744827 If I am being completely honest with you, I will say that I never saw the point of Twitter, until very recently. I did sign up for an account, a couple of years back, but I never used it. But because that little voice in my head keeps whispering marketing, I knew I had to take the plunge and get to grips with Twitter. Hint, you can follow me on “Ashia Mirza @ AshPrinceWriter”. Though I was sceptical, I am already seeing the benefits of Twitter – I have already been directed to articles I found interesting, and the school Twitter account keeps me updated with everything my children have forgotten to tell me (no more hidden school reports!). I find it amazing that some bloggers, tweeters and facebook users have thousands of followers (I’m only slightly jealous!). I’m guessing it takes time to build up a social media presence. The key is to keep blogging, tweeting and posting articles that people will find useful, interesting and even amusing. I really wish I could dedicate more time to blogging!

Self-publishing writing schedule and commas

This year, I am aiming to write for half an hour every day. With work and family to look after, it’s extremely difficult to fit in time to write, but I think scheduling it into your routine makes you at least think about it. Today was a bonus, because my half an hour turned into two hours, and I felt very smug by the end of it. This evening, I also spent some time reading up on commas, yet again. Have you noticed that even though there are “rules” for commas, well-known authors don’t seem to abide by them? This makes life very difficult for us “would-bes”, but the advice seems to be unanimous: stick to the rules. This is very unfair as sometimes you feel like sticking it to the rules! I still find myself taking out commas, replacing them, taking them out … you get the drift! (Yes, I know I could take them out  and add them to this paragraph too!)

If you have been following my blog, you may be wondering what I am writing about. Is it the re-write of The Book of Thoth? Unfortunately not; it will be February/March time before I underdo that task, and it’s not down to procrastination! Now, time for the fanfare – I have started writing the second book!! End of fanfare. Yes, I have the second book more or less plotted in my head, and hope to finish writing it by the end of the year. Needless to say, it will be put on hold whilst I rewrite the first. All I can be sure of, is that this year involves a lot of writing, and I believe that’s what any would-be author should be aiming for 🙂

Recommended Books For Children (2) — Bolton Children’s Fiction Award

At the moment I am in limbo with my children’s book, The Book of Thoth, as I have booked a literary consultant for the beginning of February, and I don’t want to do anything with it until then. It would have been so easy to go ahead and self-publish, but I have taken the harder route of consultant feedback, followed by rewrite, followed by an enormous amount of praying, good luck, crossing of fingers and toes, and whatever else it may take to get my book professionally published. There’s no guarantee of professional publication so, to the sceptic, it may sound like I am wasting three months of valuable self-publish sales. But I think this process is essential if you are serious about becoming a better writer. Yes, I know, I have argued the point before that terrible writers can be bestsellers and great writers can have poor sales, but for me it is important to go through this process.

To fill the void whilst I wait, I decided to read the books in The Bolton Children’s Fiction Award 2014 – (www.fictionaward.boltonschool.me).

The shortlisted books are:

After Tomorrow by Gillian Cross

Young Knights of the Round Table by Julia Golding

Chase the Dark by Sam Hepburn

Constable and Toop Gareth P Jones

Moon Bear by Gill Lewis

No Where by Jon Robinson

As a would-be author, it is important to read, and you need to read a wide range of books so you get to grips with genre, writing styles, narrative mode, narrative time etc. I read children’s books, as my target audience are children, and I need to know what is already out there. They say you should never judge a book by it’s cover and I say you should never judge a book by its blurb either. When I looked at these books, I created a list in my head of the order I wanted to read these books in, the first book being the one I thought I would enjoy the most. Once I had read the books, my first and last place books were reversed – my favourite was actually the one that I had placed last on my list!

I think this is a great way of getting children to read books that they wouldn’t otherwise be tempted to pick up, so even though most people that read this blurb will not have children that are taking part in the Bolton Children’s Fiction Book Award, I would still recommend these books for your kids. It’s mainly Y7 and Y8’s that are taking part, but most of the books are suitable for ages 9-13 years. If you have a child that is at a school that is taking part, then, the books will be available in the school library. My son assures me that there are plenty of them 🙂

Formatting a self-published paperback book

If I self-publish, it will be through Createspace (CS). There are lots of other options out there, but I decided that CS was the easiest option for me. I have been through most of the processes with CS, up to receiving my second proof, and I haven’t add any problems (other than deciding that I would try the traditional publishing route first!).

Note – this blog refers to a paperback book and not an e-book.

CS has templates which you can download for the size of book that you have in mind. I had already written my book before I discovered CS, so I had to format my book afterwards. There’s plenty of advice on the CS website to show you how to do this, but here are a few tips:

1) Font – choose a font for your headings and narrative text, and make sure it is consistent throughout the whole manuscript. I used mainly Garamond for the majority of the text, and Times for my headings. Justify the main text (sorry if I am stating the obvious, but this is done by selecting the “Justify Text” option in the paragraph tab in Word, or CTRL J)

2) Page numbering – add page numbers using Word. If there are pages at the beginning and end, where you don’t want the numbers to appear, remember to select or deselect  “link to previous”. This option is available when you are in “headers or footers” in the design menu. Look it up, if you are unsure.

3) Margins – follow the CS guidelines for your book size. The gutter setting will vary depending on the number of pages in your book (think thickness of the book). See CS help pages.

4) Widow/orphans – this is automatically set in Word, but it can make the top and bottom lines in your book look out of sync, so you may want to sort out yourself. If you are unsure, Google it!

5) Make sure there are no blank lines in your header or footer, as it will appear in your book. I noticed that in my first proof, the top line of the even page was lower than the top line of the odd page. This was because of an empty line in the header!

6) Drop caps – add a drop caps at the beginning (if you want to!)

7) Page break – make sure you have one at the end of each chapter.

8) Search for double spaces and replace with one space – I was amazed at how many extra spaces I had inadvertently entered into my manuscript!

9) Images – follow the CS guidelines for pixel size. I think they have to be 300dpi. You can change this in Photoshop Elements of Paint or whatever you have access to. Also, see PDF below.

10) PDF – I changed my word document to PDF before uploading to CS. I was lucky enough to have access to Adobe, but I did have to fiddle with the image size settings (open up Adobe, select Edit, then Preferences and amend image size to 300dpi). There are some free online tools which you can use to convert your document to PDF. You know what I am going to say – Google for more info – that’s how I learnt!

11) Paragraphs – I guess this should have been higher up! Use the paragraph option in word as opposed to “tabbing” or “free spacing”.

12) Don’t forget to add your copyright page, acknowledgements etc.

The first time I uploaded my manuscript to CS, I only had 3 issues, so I was well chuffed with that. Two of the issues were to do with image size, and the other was to do with embedding an image. I sorted these out in Adobe.

The Book of Thoth looks amazing in paperback format! I keep picking up the book and flicking through the pages 🙂

I am at the stage now, where after amending the errors in my second proof, I can upload again and order the next proof. Then, when I am happy with the proof, I can approve the proof on CS and I am a few clicks away from my book being available on Amazon. I’m still tempted! However, as you will know from the beginning of my blog, and previous blogs, I am trying the traditional publishing route first (fingers crossed!). Good luck if you end up self-publishing before me!

Check out my last blog if you need help with the cover.

The Self-Published Book Cover

So I thought I had better get back to the self-publishing advice. Today, I’m going to concentrate on the book cover.

Tip of the day: get someone else to design a cover for you (unless of course you are a budding artist as well as a writer).

The thing is, I doubt many people know someone who will design their cover for free, so it could be costly. If you can afford it, great,  go ahead, but if you can’t, what do you do? Use one of the Createspace (CS) covers?

Sure why not? It’s the easy option and better than nothing.

The only other option, is to design the cover yourself. BUT REMEMBER it still needs to fit into the CS template!

I designed a cover myself using Photoshop Elements and I’ll be honest with you, it was pretty infuriating, but annoyingly addictive. I’m actually referring to Photoshop Elements as infuriating, and not the whole design process. I ended up watching lots of tutorials on YouTube, just to figure out how to use the software! Tip: you can download a trial of Photoshop Elements for free. When your trial period runs out, keep the program running and don’t shutdown your computer, and it will remain active.

For The Book of Thoth, I knew I wanted a picture of Thoth in the background, so I took lots of pictures of Thoth at the British Museum and adapted one of those. I also designed my own logo as on my website:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Defenders-of-Knowledge/206456832744827

I used the logo as the letter O in Thoth.

I surrounded the front cover and back cover wording with hieroglyphs.

Back cover, I hear you say. Yes! You have to design the back cover, too. Obviously, the back cover needs to include the blurb. Once you are happy with the design, then you upload and submit to CS. They will email you back and let you know whether it has been accepted or not. Sounds easy, hey?

There is a bit more to it than that. So here’s a list of things to remember:

1) Book cover size – make sure you adjust your page  to be the same size as the book cover, before you start designing.

2) Always save you work!

3) The CS template has a border area where you are not allowed to have any text or anything that’s important to your cover. That’s because it will be cut off when printed!  I found that this area varied between proofs, so keep this area subtly blended in with the rest of the cover.

4) Always save your work!

5) Make sure you get someone to read and “spellcheck” your blurb, I only noticed an error on the second proof!

6) Always, always save your work.

I was really pleased with the cover I designed, in fact, the only issue I had was with the spine. For some reason, the spine was always a mm or so out on the proofs, but there was absolutely nothing I could do about this. Hopefully, CS will have this problem sorted soon.

If I am unsuccessful in my attempt at finding an agent, and I end up self-publishing my book, then I hope you will all like my cover, too.

Recommended books for children

Since I am not self-publishing my book, The Book of Thoth, before Christmas, I thought I would create a list of alternative reads, recommended by my children (aged 9, 12 and 14 years). Amazon categorises as 9-11 years and 12-16 years. Waterstone’s has the following age guide: 5-7 years, 7-9 years, 9-11 years and 12-16 years.

There will be some overlap, and it will be dependent on reading ability. I found that my eldest child was happy to read older aged books when he was 8, yet my younger two, preferred to stick to 5-8 year old books even when they were 9, so I had to find suitable books to encourage them to move up to the 9+ books. As long as your child is reading, it doesn’t matter if it takes them a bit longer before they tackle the older books, but I will try to provide some examples of books to try, if they are reluctant to move up to the longer books. Another thing to consider is that some of the older books may have swearing or references to sex.

My age ranges are not official! The books are just a selection of the masses of books out there, but ones that my children would recommend.

Beast Quest Series by Adam Blade (age 7+) – good books to start with for those moving up to read longer books.

Enid Blyton’s Adventure series (The Island of Adventure, The Castle of Adventure etc.) Age 7+ – no sex or swearing. Good books to start with for those moving up to read longer books.

Malory Towers Series by Enid Blyton (Age 7+) – good books to start with for those moving up to read longer books. No sex or swearing.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (age 8+) – good books to start with for those moving up to read longer books. No sex or swearing, but mild rudeness.

How to Train Your Dragon Series   (age 8+) – good books to start with for those moving up to read longer books.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (age 7+) – good book to start with for those moving up to read longer books.

Harry Potter Books – the first two books are shorter and suitable from aged 8+. The rest of the books in the series are a lot longer and may be a bit daunting for those that have just moved up to the 8+/9+ level. There is mild swearing in some of the books. No sex but references to snogging as Harry gets older.

Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan  (age 9+)no sex but references to snogging as Percy gets older in the series.

Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan (age 9+) – similar to Percy Jackson.

Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan (age 11+) – the characters are older so more snogging.

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy (age 9+) – starts off suitable for 9+ but as the series progresses it gets more violent, so more suitable for 11-14years.

A Series of Unfortunate Events  (age 9+) – no sex or swearing but a lot of sadness!

Artemis Fowl Series (age 9+) – more suited to 11+ as the books are quite long. Contains elvish (elfin or elfish?) swearing!

The Emerald Atlas by John Stevens  (age 10+) – suitable for younger, confident readers too. No sex or swearing.

Cherub Series by Robert Muchamore  (age 9+) – contain sex and violence. I have copied the following from http://www.muchamore.com/faqcherub.htm#cb11

My  books are primarily aimed at kids aged 11+ and the majority of my readers are aged  between 12 & 14. These  are the content guidelines I use for CHERUB and Henderson’s Boys:

1.  There are no sexual swear words in the books. Each book has roughly the same  number of mild swear words in it (yes we count them every time!).

2.  Characters (including the main character from CHERUB book 8 onwards) do have sex and issues such  as contraception and sexually transmitted diseases are touched on. However,  there is no explicit depiction of sexual acts beyond kissing and  non-genital touching.

3.  Other controversial subjects such as drug abuse, human slavery, brainwashing  etc are depicted in the books. Although individual characters may espouse this  behaviour in specific scenes, the overall message of the story is always that  these forms of behaviour are completely unacceptable.