Friday, 24 April 2015

Little by Little

My mother died when I was sixteen. She was thirty-seven. Far too young to die, most people said, which seemed odd to me at the time, because it's not like there's an age restriction on death.

One of the many effects on my life of Mum's death was, weirdly enough, on financial planning.

When I graduated and got my first 'proper' job - not the house-cleaning, baby-sitting jobs I'd been doing up until then - the salary came with optional pension contributions. I turned it down. Why would I need a pension? I was unlikely to live past forty. I mean, look at Mum. Better to have the money in my hand, and spend it while I could.

Mum's type of cancer wasn't genetic. I still have no idea how she got it; she never smoked, never drank, had five healthy kids, breast-fed all of them. Her food was from our massive vegetable garden - no pesticides or herbicides, because Dad couldn't be bothered with that, if the plants didn't grow that was their fault. There was no reason, really, for her early death. And there was no reason that I would die in my thirties too. But that's how people think when a parent has died young. There's an implicit (sometimes explicit) thought: "I'll die at the same age as my parent."

Upshot of this was, that by the time I reached thirty I had no retirement savings. Not that that's a big problem, plenty of time to save and all that. But the pension contribution options had long since disappeared from government salaries. I would have to fully fund my own retirement. Gulp. That's a heck of a lot of money to save when you have little children and you only work part-time.

So I started small. A couple of hundred dollars in a unit trust fund. Added to it every week, or month, or when I could. 9-11 happened, and the world's share markets dived. I bought. The market recovered, and my units were worth more. I kept saving. Little by little.

We sold our house, put some of the proceeds aside. I did a business degree, found out about the sharemarket.  Kiwi-Saver began, and I entered that scheme. I kept saving. Eventually we had around $20K built up. I approached three share broking firms to see what they could do with this. Two weren't really interested, and said to make it worth their while I'd need to have considerably more! One, Craigs, was really helpful. I had an interview with a share-broker and we talked for a couple of hours about different options for us and our kids, and the best use of our money.

Fast-forward seven or eight years. We've been buying shares slowly and steadily while the market rose and fell and rose again. We only buy on the recommendation of our share-broker. He emails us or calls us if there's a good deal coming up. Perhaps once a year, there's a good deal. Little by little, says our broker. That's the best way of making and saving money. And thanks to compounding interest, money breeds money

From Mr Money Moustache

Anyway, long story short, I'm now ten years older than my mother was when she passed away. I've been saving for the last seventeen years and I have more money saved now than I had ever dreamed I could manage. I don't have a highly paid job, I don't have a great deal of non-cash assets but I don't have any worries about retirement (still many years away). And, best of all, I can afford to work part-time and write.

The point of this long post? (this is a blog about writing, after all) is to remind me and to remind you, dear reader, that nothing worth doing happens quickly. Writing is a very slow process. One word after another after another, until you have a book.

Making money from writing is very much like that too. Large book advances and Harry-Potter profits are the exception, not the rule.

But get the basics right - write a good book, have a good cover, make it discoverable. Gain more readers. Write another word, another book. Another reader finds you, and another. These are little by little things that gradually add up.

From Will Write for Chocolate

At least, I hope they do. That's what I'm banking on, anyway. It's challenging to look at the sales data and realise it's a good day if I sell one book. It's very difficult when a publisher closes, or says I can no longer sell your books, do you want them back or shall I just pulp them. But I used to have those moments when I started saving, seventeen years ago. Those why do I even bother. This is So Hard moments. I'll never make it.

The thing with writing, and with anything else that's hard and takes time, is to while you may have a goal, sometimes it's a big stretch goal. Sometimes there's little moments that you need to celebrate. For me it was having the first $1000, then the first $10,000. And with writing, its the 4 star review, the comment 'I can't wait for the next one!', and the 2000 people entering a Goodreads giveaway. That's what I'm trying to focus on at the moment anyway.

If I'm still writing this blog in seventeen years, I'll let you know if this approach was right.

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Importance of Proofing

Last post I talked a lot about formatting. Formatting is laying out your work on the page so it is easily readable on an e-reader and looks attractive to the eye. Formatting is about font choices and margins and layout.

This week I'm talking about proofing. Proofing is, basically, about typographical correctness.

The reason I'm talking about it (again) is because I absolutely suck at it. Every time I think I've done an okay job, the next time I look - oops! there's another mistake. Mistakes are BAD. They turn readers off the book and they make your work look amateurish.

I find proofing really really hard. It's incredibly difficult to check for errors in a script that you I've read hundreds of times and that, to be honest, I'm well and truly over.

Tips to Prevent Proofing Errors

1.  Relax. A manuscript can be easily changed - it's not as though manuscripts are physically laid out with little metal letters any more.

2.  No-one's perfect. Most books contain at least one error. It's unrealistic to expect a 100,000 word manuscript to be without fault. Some errors have made their printers famous (or infamous). Take the Wicked Bible. It contained a typographical error advising readers to commit adultery. Copies of the Wicked Bible are now extremely rare; the authorities, perhaps concerned about the popularity of this edition, ordered it burned.

The Wicked Bible. Image from Wikimedia

3. Decide on US or UK spelling. New Zealand uses UK conventions but most of my sales are in the US. So I've decided on US spelling. I find this quite tricky as some these aren't immediately evident. Everyone knows about colour/color but skilful/skillful was a new one.

4. Do a final spellcheck. Sounds obvious, but I've had a real problem with spellcheck on a Mac, particularly because I have a character named Will. The spellcheck kept telling me I was using a verb incorrectly, so in the end I turned it off, and missed a whole lot of duplicate words.

5. Read in hard copy. Proofing a manuscript on a screen is quite difficult. I print out the final pdf and read it with a pen in hand. Sometimes I run a ruler under the lines as I read, to make me slow down. I also order a paper proof from Createspace. This has been invaluable, as reading as a book format changed my attention and for some reason it's a lot easier to concentrate.  It's a little expensive, but it's definitely been worth it.

6. Some writers use the text-to-speech function on a computer (this is particularly good if you write using a voice-activation software). Hearing the words read aloud makes it easier to spot things like word duplicates. I haven't tried this myself but it seems a good idea.

7. Use a professional eye. I engaged a copy-editor for Inner Fire. This was relatively expensive, although very useful. I haven't used Jean for Necklace, as it had been through a thorough edit by harperCollins. After getting the proof from CreateSpace I wished I had, as there were a lot of spacing errors.

8. Use a second, or third, pair of eyes. I often ask my husband to do a final proof. He edits a scientific journal and is a very slow reader, so he picks up spelling errors. I also request advance readers - that's those readers who have kindly offered to read an early copy in exchange for a review - to let me know if they find any mistakes.

9. Do your own formatting. If you know how to construct a good epub and mobi file, you'll be able to make the changes to ensure mistakes are removed.

10. Use print-on-demand. If, like me, you are prone to proofing errors, print on demand seems a lot more sensible than paying for large print runs!

And finally - See Point One. Remember, even if one or two or three errors have crept through, at least you haven't altered the Word of God.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Formatting Woes

This last month I've taken a break from creative writing, and oh, how I miss it! But it's time for a massive pre-publishing work up and so I've been doing the proofing/editing/more proofing/formatting cycle that every writer needs to do before their book is ready.

Here, dear reader is a very brief summary of this painful process...

Proofing and Editing

Proofing and editing is one of those dreary-but-important tasks that every writer has to do. In brief, it involves going over and over and over your manuscript, refining the words. Making them tighter, more effective. Saying more with less. I lose between twenty and thirty percent of my word count in the edit phase.

If you have decided to self-publish your work, after the editing phase comes the formatting phase. Formatting is involves the final design, the layout of your manuscript and a final check for errors. It's a crucial step.


If you have a traditional publisher, they will take care of all formatting, although they might send you a final proof for you to do a quick check on before it hits the printers. Tip One: SAVE A COPY of that a word version of that proof.  Because one day your rights might be returned, and then you will be pleased you have an easy-to-format version.

I hate formatting. I am not very good at it, and it takes me ages. But just in case you're struggling too, here's what I do to make the process bearable. (This process only works if you write adult fiction without footnotes and very few illustrations. Formatting is quite different if you write picture books, graphic novels or illustrated non-fiction.)

First, I put a good music track onto iTunes. Then, following the Smashwords Style Guide I do the following:
  1. copy and paste the entire manuscript from word into TextEdit (or the PC equivalent). This strips all the formatting out of the document. 
  2. Then I reinsert the formatting. 

Yep! first I take it out, then I put it back in. Insane or what?

No , the reason is that Word is really buggy. It gets little glitches in it and then it doesn't seem to convert to other file formats very easily. So doing this properly at the beginning actually saves me time later on.  (I've tried doing it the other way, too. Like, not cleaning it up first. Big mistake.)

Formatting includes:
  1. double check for errors
  2. first paragraph no indents
  3. section breaks at the end of each chapter
  4. chapter headings
  5. re-insert all italics
  6. insert any images 
  7. write the back matter (that's the 'About this book' section that you might want to include at the end of the book)
  8. write the front matter (dedication, map etc)
  9. insert hyperlinks in the back matter 
  10. check all spelling is US
  11. insert table of contents (if required)
  12. check spacing around any poems is correct and that all lines of poetry have no indent
  13. check the spacing around the dinkus (asterix breaks) is correct
  14. remove all page numbers
This is my Master File

If I'm doing a print version of my book, I also: 
  1. insert page headers (I follow the templates on Amazon, but I've customised them a little, so they look a little smarter)
  2. insert page numbers
  3. remove the table of contents
I save this as my Print File.

This takes Ages!

I've covered this really really quickly. This whole process takes me at least a week, sometimes longer.  You can find details on how to do all this in the Style Guide (but be warned, the Style Guide is set out for PC. Plus, it's very colloquial. I prefer a recipe book-type instruction with screen shots, but No. The SG is all friendly and tells you about chickens and stuff. Plus, if, like me, you work on a mac, you'll find it a bit more complicated).

I do all the above in word, and then convert the files to a pdf for print on demand or to epub/mobi for e books. 

File Conversion:

Conversion to epub or mobi can be tricky. I've tried two ways of doing this, but I know of three.  These ways are:

  1. Pay someone to do it. I've used Ebook Launch and they're really good, very professional, very fast. The downside is, you can't insert the hyperlinks or make changes easily to the final file. So if you suddenly spot a typo, you need to pay to get it changed. 
  2. Use a conversion software, like Jutoh or write in inDesign and export as an ePub or mobi. Downside with this is you have to buy the conversion software, and you have to learn how to use it. Personally, my life is too short to use inDesign, although if you know the software, I would definitely give it a go, as people who do use it rave about it.
  3. Run it through an online conversion tool. I use the one on Draft 2 Digital. Then I have a mobi and ePub file generated relatively easily (although not always, the last one I did was really buggy and I'm still sorting it out) and once I'm ready, it's very easy to upload it through to the various vendors.
Tip Two: Do not believe any website that tells you formatting is easy. "in three easy steps upload your book now!" It is not.  Unless, I guess, you're a programmer or something.

From Dilbert

So there you have the summary of an awful lot of learning. It's not immediately obvious when you read this blog post, probably, but an enormous amount of heart-wrenching time and effort went into the knowledge set out here. 

I am now a lot better at managing a large document. I can clean out most errors from a word file. But still, I struggle. So just be warned, if you do go down the self-publishing route, you will spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen.

And Remember:

Tip Three: make sure you back up everything. 

And Tip Four: get the best and largest computer screen you can afford!

And finally: 

The difference between success and failure as a self-published author is your proofing, your editing and your formatting.

 Because no-one will read your work if it is full of errors.