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Writing Challenges Work

Back in March I wrote this:

This August is going to be a big month for us. On the 9th, Chris and I celebrate our silver wedding anniversary, and on the 13th, it will be five years since we arrived here. We’re having a big party on the 7th to jointly mark these occasions. And I’ve set myself the challenge of having self-published a book on the Kindle by then too. And why not? It’s something I want to do and it’s achievable with a bit of hard work between now and then.

I had envisaged having Heads Above Water, the first of my living in France books out, but in fact it’s my children’s book Oh Auntie! that pipped it to the post. I’ve finished the second draft of Heads Above Water and am currently reading through. I’ll be talking to Roger Fereday about the cover very soon, so I foresee epublishing it in September, all being well.

 

My next book on Kindle will be Beat the Hackers which I’ve just finished typing up and updating. Caitlin has designed an excellent cover for it. Like Oh Auntie!, this is a book that was previously published in traditional format by Mentor Press, but since that publisher closed its children’s publishing arm several years ago, the rights have reverted to me. So the plan is to re-release all my twenty-odd Mentor books and this time round give them the publicity they deserve. I’m writing new books too.

So – I met my challenge. In that case I’ll set another. I’m coming round to the view that writing challenges can be very productive. I want to have my work of adult fiction, Something Fishy: A Marcus Summers Mystery up on Kindle by December. This is a racy fishing-related mystery. There aren’t many in that genre yet but I think it’s a winning combination.

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Kindle Author At Last!

Oh Auntie on Kindle Previewer

So – I’m a Kindle author. I said I’d do it by August, and I did. I’m very pleased with myself.

Oh Auntie is up there now! Take a look, and if you feel like hitting the like button, well, that would be great.Or better still, treat yourself to a copy. I priced it at 99 US cents, so it’s a bargain!

Amazon.com customers go here.

Amazon.co.uk customers go here.

Amazon.de customers go here.

It was a steep learning curve to prepare the book for Kindle. I did a good bit of research but the book that was the most helpul was Jason Matthew’s How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks, All for Free. (Check out his website here.) So step by step I worked my way through the conversion process.

I had a Word copy of the book originally, which I put into a .doc document (not .docx). I then saved that as html (webpage) and was going to work with that, but then discovered that I could use Mobipocket Creator. I’m not that hi-tech so that looked like a good option for me. I have my two resident computer experts at home – Chris and Caiti – but I didn’t want to impose. I downloaded Mobipocket for free, followed the instructions given on the Kindle direct publishing site, and soon I had a version on Oh Auntie in .prc. To check how things looked, I then downloaded Kindle Previewer and uploaded my file to that. Everything was good, so I went back to Kindle Direct Publishing and uploaded the file, my cover and filled in all the essential info that you have to put up. It took me the afternoon but I know what I’m doing now.

And Oh Auntie was up there this morning. Impressively quick.

So, now I must start some serious marketing, although this book is just my Kindle guinea pig. I have some heavier weight books coming soon which I really want to push. But, this is a super little book, and worth trying to sell.

As I pick up tips and advice, I’ll pass them on.

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Why Young Girls Shouldn’t Read Novels

I blogged about a 1909 copy of the French journal Bonnes Lectures on my living in France blog the other day. In this same issue was a short article about why young girls should never, but NEVER, read novels.

Here’s what it says:

Novels

It’s a shame that people read these so often these days. Those that do read them should remember that novels do nobody any good at all and they are above all dangerous for young girls. False ideas, irresponsible attitude, impossible ideals, a loss of innocence – this is what you find in novels.

Even Jean-Jacques Rousseau, famed for his profanity, has said: No chaste young girl ever read a novel.

Bear this in mind!

 

I think times have changed, thank goodness!

 

 

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Beat the Hackers – Sample Sunday

My samplesunday contribution this week is the opening chapter from Beat the Hackers, the next of my books to hit Kindle in the very near future.

Currently revising this cover

Monday 13 May 2013

Heather Mayhew strode briskly up the steep hill towards home. She’d just got off the school bus. It was running late today, so that was why she wasn’t hanging about. Her father would be watching the clock, and if she was more than a few minutes later than normal, he’d be out looking for her. He was a worrier.

Ray Mayhew ran a computer programming business from home. And what a home it was. He and Heather lived in a large, rambling house surrounded by several acres of garden and orchards. Ray was extremely successful these days. He’d had a big breakthrough a few years ago when he’d developed an app that made it really quick and easy for people to monitor their emails, Tweets and Facebook messages. It quickly emerged as the best by far on the market, and he’d made an awful lot of money from it. So Heather had everything she could possibly need – and a few more things besides. She didn’t think of herself as particularly lucky, though. She simply took it for granted.

“Hi Dad!” Heather called as she opened the front door. “It’s me!”

“Hello!” Ray replied, shouting from his office at the top of the stairs. “I’ll be down in a mo. Pop the kettle on, please.”

Heather and her father always had a cup of tea together when she got back from school. It was one of their little rituals. Then she would get on with her homework, and Ray would go back upstairs to work, apart from Tuesdays when he drove Heather to town for swimming club and Fridays when it was Scouts. But today was Monday so Heather had the evening to herself. She decided she’d get her inline skates out later since it was warm and bright. And then maybe she’d read and catch up with her friends on Facebook. She hummed happily as she filled the kettle. She was very content with her ordered, steady life.

A clumping on the stairs signalled that her father was coming down. She pulled the biscuit tin out of the cupboard. It contained a mixture of digestives for Ray and ginger nuts for her.

“So what did you learn today, princess?” smield Ray, as he came into the kitchen. He was small and wiry, with unfashionable thick, black-framed glasses, a bushy beard and a lot of ginger hair. He was usually scruffy, except for when he met clients. Today hadn’t been a day of meeting so he was dressed in baggy jogging pants, a shabby checked shirt and odd slippers. But Heather wasn’t surprised at his appearance. Ray always looked something like that.

“Oh, we did loads of stuff,” she replied vaguely. “Mainly pretty boring. How’s your new program coming along?”

“Fine, fine,” smiled Ray. “Not too much more to do on it now.”

“It’s an anti-hacking program, right?” Heather asked conversationally, dunking two ginger nuts at once into her sweet, milky tea.

“It certainly is,” her father nodded, adding a fourth spoonful of sugar to his mug of black tea. Neither passed a comment on the other’s greediness. They were too used to each other to even notice.

“So you’ll stop all those wretched hackers messing up other people’s computers just for fun then? Cool.” She munched her biscuits thoughtfully. “But why do hackers, you know, hack? It’s so nasty.”

Ray shrugged. “Because they can mainly. And because they’re mean. Well, most are. Some hackers are harmless enough.”

“They don’t sound harmless,” protested Heather.

“What I mean,” Ray went on, “is that some hackers break into systems just to prove a point. They leave a message describing what they’ve done so the person at the other end can tighten up on security before a malicious hacker, or cracker, gets in the same way.”

“Still sneaky,” observed Heather. “But why is there so much hacking these days? A few years ago there didn’t seem to be so much going on. It’s all the time these days.”

Heather was right. In the last two days alone a thirteen-year-old girl in America had crippled three huge corporations by hacking into their websites. And in Strasbourg the computer systems of the European Parliament had been sabotaged by some as yet unknown hacker.

“It’s easier these days, Heth,” her father sighed, “because of WiFi. Most people connect to the Internet wirelessly now. The days of cables and modems are over. But it does mean that unless you physically disconnect from the WiFi network, or turn your livebox off, your computer has a static address that’s there all day, every day.”

“Twenty-four seven, you mean,” Heather corrected her father. “That’s the cool way to say it.”

“OK. Twenty-four seven it is,” agreed Ray, helping himself to a third digestive. “So it’s easier for a hacker browsing around to find an address to attack.”

“When you say address,” frowned Heather, “do you mean the website name?”

“No, the IP – Internet Protocol – address. Each computer on the Internet has a unique IP address, which is a series of numbers in groups of three. These numbers are the way information finds its way from the source to where it’s going. The website or domain names aren’t what the computers are using. They’re just there for the humans. People are better at remembering names than numbers, although that might change in a few thousand years’ time.” Ray smiled. “I read an article the other day saying that our brains are evolving to be better with numbers since they are becoming such an important part of our lives. You know, telephone numbers, car registrations, PIN numbers – that sort of thing.”

“Well, I wish mine would evolve extra fast,” sighed Heather. “I’d do better at maths then. You know how much I it! But about hackers, Dad. How will your new program keep them out?”

“That’s top secret,” her father winked.

“You mean I wouldn’t understand,” laughed Heather.

“We-ell, it is a bit technical,” admitted Ray. “Basically my program makes personal firewalls stronger.”

“I’ve heard of them, but I don’t really know what they are,” confessed Heather.

“A firewall is just a pair of mechanisms,” Ray told her. “One blocks unwanted traffic while the other permits authorised traffic through. In a nutshell, it keeps the idiots out of your computer and lets you get on with what you’re doing. And what’s more, the firewall can act as a tracing tool. My program sends an alert any time someone comes sniffing round, trying to crack the system. I may even install an automatic shutdown at that point as extra defence. But that might annoy the user too much. I’m including a virus detector too, to pick up viruses coming from the Internet and email. People are still so sloppy about computer security. They seem to think they’ll never get a virus.”

He trailed off and looked thoughtful.

“But your progam will beat the hackers, right?”

“I certainly hope so, Heth,” shrugged Ray. “I’m pinning a log on this program of mine. Talking of which, I’d better get back to work. And you’d better get your homework done, young lady.”

Heather pulled a face, but Dad was right. Time to tackle maths.

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Studying to be an Ebook Author and Samplesunday

I’m steadily working my way through Jason Matthew’s excellent ebook How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks. It’s aimed at people like me who aren’t the most informed about all the Internet tools out there that we can use to produce and sell our books. It’s a positive goldmine of information. There’s a Facebook group that Jason has set up too. I’ve joined that and am cyber-meeting some very enthusiastic and talented writers.

I’m very positive and excited about producing my ebooks. I’m mugging up on SEO at the moment. Up to now my eyes had glazed over every time I’d seen it mentioned and thought there was no way I could ever get the hang of it. However, I’m starting to see how it all fits together, thanks to this book, and I shall try harder to be less of a Luddite!

I’ll review this book properly when I’ve finished it, but so far I’m really impressed and am finding it invaluable.

And it’s Sunday, so here’s this week’s#sundaysample. The first chapter of Oh Auntie! (for 7-11 year olds).

Chapter 1: Auntie Arrives

 

Cover artwork for Oh Auntie!

“Auntie’s here!” yelled Robyn as a sleek, silver Porsche pulled into the farmyard.

She had been watching out of the kitchen window with her younger brother Paul.

“At last,” cried Dad. He and Mum were already late setting off. They were heading away to a big conference about organic farming, up in the city. And so Auntie had come to babysit for the weekend.

Auntie was Mum’s big sister. Her name was actually Jane but she’d never liked that, so she kept changing it. Over the years she had been Jade, Joy, Janet, Jemima, Jasmine, Judy and Jennifer. It was very confusing so that was why everyone, even Mum and Dad, just called her Auntie.

Auntie was very rich. She had an important job in the city. She drove fast cars and had a huge wardrobe of designer label clothes. She was tall, elegant and beautiful. But she wasn’t much fun. Robyn and Paul were reckoning on having a very boring weekend with her.

Auntie picked her way carefully across the muddy farmyard in her crazily high stiletto shoes. She was wearing a Ralph Lauren lilac trouser suit and a matching Deva pashmina with glittering crystals on the tassels. She shimmered into the kitchen. Mum gave her a hug. Auntie winced.

“Don’t crumple my suit, there’s a dear,” she said, smoothing imaginary crinkles out of the fabric. “George, run and get my suitcases. And don’t scratch the car.”

Dad went outside grumbling. He didn’t like Auntie much. She was very bossy. It took three trips to bring all Auntie’s matching Burberry suitcases and bags into the guest room.

“Goodness, whatever’s all that for? You’re only here for a couple of days!” laughed Mum as Dad staggered by with the last of the luggage.

Auntie glared at her. “I assure you, it’s all essential.”

Mum shrugged and winked at the children. “Right, we need to go. Be good for Auntie please.”

“And do keep an eye on Barbie,” said Dad. “She shouldn’t calve just yet, but if she does, tell Billy at once. OK?”

Robyn and Paul nodded wearily. Dad had told them what to do at least fifty times already that day. But Barbie – named by Robyn when she was a little girl – was his favourite cow and Dad was a bit of a worrier. Billy was the farmhand and he lived just down the road.

“Time we went!” said Mum.

And after lots of kisses and hugs and more sets of instructions from Dad they did.

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Nearly Ready to Self-Publish

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!

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Eighth Kindle Million Club Member

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!

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On the Shelfari

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.

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Mindmapping

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.

 

 

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Gallic Books

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 !