I’m just about ready to self-publish my first book on Kindle.

The book is Oh Auntie! that I wrote in 2005 and which was published by Mentor Press in Ireland. I’ve updated it slightly and am rereleasing it since the copyright has reverted to me when Mentor pulled out of the children’s publishing market. It’s a nice story for 7-11 year olds – no issues, no nasties, just plain entertaining, which is how I feel kids’ books should be.

I’ve prepared the text for formatting for the Kindle, I have my ISBN number and I have my fantastic new cover artwork. What do you think of this?

It’s by the wonderful Roger Fereday.

So – time to start the publicity machine rolling while I work through the final stages. And then, well, I just hope the world’s ready!

Less than a fortnight ago I wrote about the Kindle Million Club’s seven members. Well, there’s an eighth member now – John Locke. He’s the first self-published author to join the club, so it’s all very inspiring for those of us looking to go the Kindle self-publishing route.

John Locke writes the Donovan Creed series of mystery-thrillers. He sells these on Kindle priced at 99 cents, and makes 35 cents in royalties per book. Since he’s selling a book every 7 seconds every single day, he’s doing rather well!

I for one shall be snapping up his non-fiction book How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months, which is priced a little higher at 4.99. But it could be money well worth paying if I can pick up some hints on how to be as successful as he is!

I’ve just signed up to Shelfari. I came across a mention of it in a tweet as being a good idea for authors to get involved in. So I had a look at the site. Shelfari is owned by Amazon, so I used those account details when it came to signing up.

It’s a ‘social cataloguing website’ for books. Any the wiser? Nor me initially. I had to think about it. OK, you build up virtual bookshelves of books you’ve read to rate, comment on, tag and discuss. You can create groups with other members to discuss certain books, topics etc and build wish lists etc. I think its value will come from seeing what other people think of books you’ve read and have your own opinion on, or are thinking of readin.

I joined the French books group

Shelfari automatically goes to your Amazon.com purchases to create your bookshelf once you’ve joined. I clicked about half of the 26 that showed up for me. A lot of mine are freebies and I didn’t want to appear too mean!

The next step was to find friends. It said to look in my address books for gmail, yahoo, aol and Windows msn but I have not knowingly got any friends there. I use Opera as my email so it looks like I’ll be friendless for a while!

Shelfari then suggests you join groups. Had a look but wasn’t immediately grabbed by any. However, I guess whole thing is about being in groups. I must be more sociable. So after another search I joined the Travel books group, the French books group and Publishing.

I’m still puzzled by the friends bit. I looked up members in France as a starting point but most of those hadn’t posted in the last 2 years so not much point contacting them!I’ll keep working away on this front.

One of the few suggested books I actually like!

Next, for comparison’s sake, I went to Goodreads which looks very much the same as Shelfari. I signed up, skipped the friends bit for the above reasons and carried on. First came a book compatibility test. I like tests so this was fun. You had to rate certain books or click if you wanted to read them but hadn’t already. However, the list that came up wasn’t inspiring. There were a lot of books I hadn’t read and didn’t want to, and a lot I didn’t like (e.g. The Shining, Animal Farm, Dickens etc! Maybe I’m not cut out for this! It then offered me a list of the current favourite books  but I refused to cooperate! Actually, not may of them appealed. I’m going indie on this one. So I selected some titles independently to go on my shelf. I soon saw that any book you put on your shelf, Goodreads offers to sell you via Amazon or worldcat etc.

My enthusiasm fading fast, I quickly joined the Kindle Group and then logged off.

I shall persist with both these sites to see what comes of them. I wasn’t a Twitter fan for a long while, but after several attempts I got the hang of it. I imagine the same will be true of Shelfari and Goodreads. Time will tell.

Mindmapping is all about avoiding the disadvantages of making a list i.e. thinking in a non-creative, linear way. It’s about emptying your brain to get ideas which you can tidy up later. This is what makes it such a great tool for creative people e.g. authors. It’s inspirational and keeps those brainwaves pulsing.

If you’re not sure how to construct a mindmap, then look here for a walkthrough.  Using colours and little pictures along the way keeps both sides of your brain busy and therefore you’re working more efficiently.

How many mindmaps do you need? As many as it takes. Perhaps one for the overall plot, and then more detailed ones for each main facet of the plot. I do one for the overall dramatis personae of the book I’m working on, and then one for each character so I know him or her inside out and will always give the correct shoe size or hair colour when it crops up! The moment writer’s block threatens to descend, I rustle up a mindmap to keep me functioning.

Non-fiction benefits as much from mindmapping as fiction, and it doesn’t end there. Do a mindmap for marketing ideas and another for promotion strategies. A third for publishers and agents to contact.

Once you start using mindmaps to help your writing, it’s hard to stop. They’re a very valuable, effective tool that give a great boost to your creativity.

Here’s a list of some mindmapping software packages.

 

 

Gallic's big summer read for 2011

Five years ago Jane Aitken set up the publishing house Gallic Books with fellow Francophile Pilar Webb with the aim of introducing British readers to French literature. A bold move in a country where works by foreign authors make up less than 3% of the market. But it seems to be a gamble that is paying off.

Every year around ten French books make it across the channel and end up on Britain’s bookshelves. The publishers specifically look for books that will make the transition well. Amongst the first books they published were detective novels and historical fiction. However, now anything contemporary goes, after the runaway success of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Books have to prove themselves in France before Gallic Books will consider taking them on.

Marketing is of course extremely important, and Gallic Books uses all the tool it can lay its hands on – including Spotify, posters on the Tube, postcards, and tours by authors. It all works closely with book bloggers, book clubs and indie bookstores. And they are beginning to produce Kindle editions of some of their books, very reasonably priced, so that gets a huge thumbs-up from me!

This is the perfect publisher as far as I, a British expat in France, am concerned. I’ve been wanting to read French literature but have struggled with it in the native language and quickly given up. I’m a French speaker, rather than a French writer and reader. I will start with Armand Cabassson I think, in paperback since his Quentin Margont books look like being exciting reads. And in the meantime I  may succumb to a Kindle book too, probably one of the Hector’s journeys series or Anna Sam’s Checkout – A life on the tills. Décisions, décisions !

 

 

So, the Kindle Million Club now has its seventh member – Michael Connelly. He joins Stieg Larsson, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Charlaine Harris, Lee Child and Suzanne Collins.

Which isn’t good – I haven’t knowingly read a book by any of these guys! Let’s see what they’re about.

Michael Connelly – he has written some standalone thrillers, some series (Jack McEvoy and Harry Bosch). Said to better than Grisham and Archer.

Stieg Larsson – author of the Millenium Trilogy. His fame has come post mortem as he died in 2004. He is described as using ‘machine-tooled plotting’. I’ve heard of these books but not read them.

Nora Roberts – 190 romantic novels, 300 million books sold. Wow. Again, I’ve not read one of them.

Charlaine Harris – aha! She writes the True Blood series about vampires, which I’ve seen on TV so all is not completely lost. I’m not a particular vampire fan, but if the TV accurately reflects the books, then I think she’s the  most appealing out of these authors for me.

Lee Childs – thrillers, the Jack Reacher series. He apparently prides himself on the plausibility of his settings and characters.

Suzanne Collins – from chief writer for Clifford’s Puppy Days on TV to bestselling author of YA science fiction. Seems to get more mixed reviews than the other authors.

So I’d better start reading these guys to see what I can learn from them. Quite frankly none of their material is really literature that appeals to me. I like modern mystery, some chick-lit, travel memoirs and history. And at present, I’m writing those sorts of stories. This could be why I’m not likely to be number eight in the club!

It all boils down to whether you should write what you want to write, or what people want to read. Decisions, decisions …

At the moment I’m reading The Fashion Police by Sibel Hodge, or at least a sample of it. It’s extremely similar to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels in my opinion. I’d hoped for something more orginal. So I shan’t be investing in that book. Next up on my list is Tourmen by Les Woodland about Tour de France cyclists. That looks promising so I plan to review that and French Revolutions by Tim Moore, another cycling book, in a timely fashion just before the TDF gets going on 2nd July.

 

 

Three things that caught my eye this weekend. The first two are good morale boosters for all authors like me thinking of self-publishing on Kindle.

A recent Pollack book

1. Neil Pollack in a New York Times interview says: “My self-published product may not be the easiest proposition for mainstream publishers. It will be short, it’s about Jews and basketball and bumbling fascists, doesn’t involve teenage vampire sex or the Knights Templars, and wouldn’t be likely to sustain a $9.99 download price, which is the low end of what publishers are charging now for new e-books. Here are the economics: I’m going to charge five bucks, or $4.99 a download. For every book sold, my online vendor will send me 70 percent of the revenue. In raw dollar amounts, that’s more than three times what I’d get from a mainstream publisher for each paperback sale. If I manage to score a thousand downloads, which I almost certainly will at that price point (I have a large family), I’ll make 3,500 bucks, and if I get 5,000 downloads, I’m looking at $17,500. Quickly, I’ll have earned the equivalent of a pleasant advance for this book.”

2. From: Kindle Self-Publishing. John Locke, author of Saving Rachel says: “The first time I saw the business model for selling eBooks on Kindle, my eyes lit up like a kid at Christmas,” says John, “because Kindle doesn’t just level the playing field for self-published authors, it actually slants it in our favour. For the first time in history there’s an advantage to being an independent author!”

His advice: Write the types of books you like to read and are good at writing. In John’s case that’s light entertainment. “I offer my readers a fun, breezy read,” says John. “If I can give them some chuckles and hold their interest for a few hours, I feel I’ve earned my 99 cents.”

3. And here’s a cool free e-book of poetry by Christopher L Jones. I can honestly say this is the best poetry I’ve read in a long time.

 

Ruadhri really loves the Smurfs – or rather the Schtroumpfs, as they’re called in French. He is addicted to the comic books (bandes desinées) about them. I decided it was time to find out more.

In case you didn’t know, Smurfs are fictional characters with blue skin, white trousers and white hats. They live somewhere deep in the forest, and travel long distances by stork. They began back in 1958 as a comic strip in Spirou magazine, drawn by Belgian cartoonist Peyo (Pierre Culliford). Soon they got their own comic, and then books and films, and then the merchandising machine swung into action. You can now get Smurf toys, figurines and games.

I’ve had a browse through the books. The stories are straightforward with lots of action. And they use the word ‘Smurf’ a lot – as a noun or a verb. You get sentences such as: ‘This time I’m going to smurf. I know it!’ and ‘It’s going to smurf us like a mouse’. Sounds confusing? Probably, but the pictures give an idea of what’s going on. The French version has an advantage over the English as we get the distinction between ‘schtroumpfer’ (verb) and ‘schtroumpf’ (noun). That probably helps the kids work out what’s going on a bit easier. And there was I in my books, trying to use as varied a vocabulary as I could!

Anyway, Ruadhri loves the books and I haven’t noticed him saying Smurf all the time. So I’ll let him work his way through the series. They’re the first books he makes a beeline for at the library. Closely followed by Scrameustache, another comic books series (but I’ll save that one for another day).

The Smurf books have been translated into 25 languages, and more than 25 million copies have been sold. Now I could do with sales like that!

However, see this article for another viewpoint on the Smurfs as racist and anti-Semtic. Who’s right – Ruadhri or this professor?

Five things you have to know before you start writing are:

  • your plot
  • your characters
  • your genre
  • your voice
  • your limits!
Maybe this is going to happen in your story?

1. Know your plot – I’m as guilty as anyone here for having only a vague idea of how things are going to turn out when I sit down at my computer and start to type. I make use of mindmapping these days to help me devise an interesting plot and keep me on track. It’s likely that your story may start to take its own direction once you’ve begun. Think about this. If that’s OK, and you can replot successfully, then go with it, but if the change of direction is only going to derail you in the long term, then be firm and get back to your blueprint.

2. Know your characters – not necessarily all of them, as who knows what minor ones are going to appear along the way. But you must have a concrete idea of what your main characters are like – their names, ages, shoe sizes, favourite colours and foods, senses of humour. I’m not kidding. And you have to know how they’re going to react to what you’re about to throw at them as the plot unwinds. The more you know about each character, the easier it will be to write about them.

3. Know your genre – what sort of book is it going to be? Steamy sex romp? Genteel historical drama? Fast-moving spy thriller? Children’s non-fiction? The type of book is central to all the other facets here. It will determine the sort of characters that will appear, what the plot is going to be, the vocabulary, the voice you will use. You can mix and match genres to some extent – for example, a romantic interlude in a hard-hitting cops and robbers story won’t come amiss – but there has to be one overriding one that will become the soul of your writing.

4. Know your voice – first person or third person? First person is more fun to write and it’s easy to construct a personality for the book to work through. But its limitations are that this person can only know so much of what’s going on around him or her. And if you use first person, is it you with your personality, or are you going to be stepping in someone else’s shoes? The third person gives you an all-seeing eye, allows you to swap between characters easily, but the disadvantages are, in my opinion, that it can easily become passive, and definitely convoluted when describing action involving two characters of the same sex. ‘His’, ‘her’, ‘him’ and ‘she’ become confusing, and the only way around that is to use clumsy over-explanatory sentences.

5. Know your limits! You know your energy levels, your time available, your likes and dislikes, your strong points and weaknesses. Work within those and you’re much more likely to be successful. Don’t set your sights on writing a ten-book historical saga when your preferred medium is the short story. You can’t organise your way out of a paper bag? Maybe best not sketch out that complicated, internationally-ranging, high-tech thriller.

You know what you can do. Now do it!

Something Fishy has become enormous. I’m at 180,000 words and not finished. It’s too big. So I started thinking hard about what to do today while lugging hay and water around for the llamas and goats. It’s amazing what a spot of not-so-gentle exercise can do for the old grey matter. I found the solution. I’m going to break the whole thing up into two (or more) books. I’d already been planning the sequel. And the sequel’s sequel! So … it will mean a fair bit of replotting and rewriting, and of course new writing, but I’m confident the project will work a lot better that way. Just need to jiggle the plot here and there. Watch this space!

I’m starting to think about a cover. This website was brilliantly helpful. I need to start taking lots o fishing photos to choose from. Here’s one that will be on the ‘to be considered’ list:

It’s maybe a bit too ‘quiet’ for my story but it’s a beautiful picture and an inspiring starting point. The only books out there that are even remotely like my book are in The Syndicate series by Mark Cunnington. Here’s the cover of one of them for comparison:

You know what – I can do better!