How getting a Kindle and starting to write has changed me as a reader

A few weekends ago, my husband and I set to the task of organising our book collection. We had books on shelves in the living room, in the kitchen, and in two bedrooms. Aside from most of those in the kitchen being food-related, there was little in the way of categorisation! Now, by being somewhat ruthless and sending four boxes of books that we thought we’d never read again to the charity shop, we have all our books in one room and they’re fairly organised: essentially, we have our own little library.

Since taking up creative writing, I look at and read books differently than I did before. I find I pay closer attention to style, voice, characterisation and structure. My mode of reading now is akin to how it was back in high school English class when I knew I’d be expected to discuss the material or write an essay on it. I’m consciously absorbing little details that previously would either have been picked up subliminally or would have gone completely unnoticed. In recent months, I’ve also been studying the formatting of the books that I own – both those I have a physical copy of and those that I have on my Kindle. I’ve read forewords, endnotes, and acknowledgments – pages that I’ve generally skipped over in the past – and I’ve had a good look at cover designs (graphics and wording).

I do most of my fiction reading on my Kindle these days. Not only are the books usually cheaper to buy, but I find the Kindle much easier to hold. There is also the benefit of reduced storage space (our library shelves don’t have much room for more books). I love having the ability to highlight passages that I like (or sometimes dislike) and make notes (I have the Kindle Paperwhite so the benefit of a touchscreen). After finishing a book, I’ll flick back through the highlights and try to analyse what makes those passages stand out for me. Again, it’s a little like being back in high school. If only e-readers had been around twenty years ago!

Another aspect of my reading that’s changed since I started writing is the type of fiction that I read. Sorting through my book collection reminded me that the bulk of my paperbacks can be categorised as science fiction. I have virtually the complete works of both Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert. I have a large section of a shelf devoted to the likes of Alastair Reynolds, Dan Simmons, and Kim Stanley Robinson. I do have quite a few ‘literary classics’ as well – Orwell’s Animal Farm, Shute’s A Town Like Alice, and Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, for example – but, in the days before online shopping took over, it was always the sci-fi section that I’d head to first when I walked into a Waterstones or a WH Smith or the local independent bookshop.

On my Kindle (which I’ve had for nearly two years) it’s a different story: I’ve read numerous out-of-copyright classics (most of them free editions) in electronic form – The Great Gatsby, Around the World in Eighty Days, The Turn of the Screw, to name a few. And I’ve read more modern literary fiction as well: short stories by Margaret Atwood, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (which I somehow never studied in school), novels and short stories by Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, and Kazuo Ishiguro.

Very recently, I’ve started looking for good quality self-published fiction to read. Having self-published a book now myself, I know how difficult it is to get a self-published book noticed (especially when it’s a first attempt at self-publishing). I always use the ‘look inside’ feature before buying, and, for every book that I’ve purchased, there have been several that I’ve decided weren’t really my thing judging by the free sample. But I know there are some real gems waiting to be read out there for about the price of a Sunday newspaper.

Do you read books differently since you started writing them? Has getting an e-reader changed what you choose to read? Feel free to comment below.

Improve Your Writing: Free Tutorials and Exercises

In today’s post I’m going to share the link to a series of free tutorials and exercises that I’ve found really useful for improving my writing. The introductory page can be found here as part of the online learning material from the University of Bristol’s Faculty of Arts. Links to the various sections are on the left-hand side of that page.

Grammar and punctuation matter. It can be very off-putting to the reader when those basics are not in place (however good the content might be otherwise). Although I got good grades in English at high school, we never seemed to cover much in the way of punctuation beyond apostrophes, full stops, and question marks. In any case, it’s been a long time since I sat in a classroom. My memory definitely needed refreshing.

I don’t claim that since working through the exercises I’m now an expert and I never get anything wrong. I still need to get my work proofread/edited before publication (as should every writer). However, I certainly have a better understanding of the basics than I did before. There are now fewer annotations on my work when it comes back to me after it’s been proofread/edited. (There may well be some minor crimes against the English language in this blog post. If so then I apologise! I don’t usually get my blog posts proofread.)

I should point out that the tutorials and exercises are aimed at writers of UK English, but I expect writers using American English or other variants of the language will also find much of the content helpful.

If you have any similar online resources to recommend, please feel free to post the links in the comments section at the bottom of this article. Happy writing!

Multiple WIPs – A good way to bypass writer’s block? Or a recipe for procrastination?

With Departure and Other Stories completed and published, I found focusing on what to work on next to be somewhat of a struggle. I wasn’t out of ideas but rather in the opposite situation: I have a sizeable list ranging from the very vague (just a character/theme/setting in mind) to the more detailed.

At this moment, I have four writing projects on the go: two blogs (this one and another that is unrelated to my fictional writing) and two short stories (one of which would likely form part of my next collection). I thought that having multiple projects in progress would be a good way to avoid the dreaded writer’s block – i.e. that, when I reached a sticking point on one project, I could simply move on to one of the others until inspiration for the previous one returned. I still feel that it could be a successful strategy (certainly writing for the blogs shouldn’t be a problem), but I’m also well aware that it could be a slippery slope: I may end up with a ridiculous number of WIPs and be nowhere near to finishing any of them!

I wonder what other writers think. Do you work on several pieces of fictional writing concurrently? Or do you prefer to wrap each one up before starting another?

‘Departure and Other Stories’ now available in five more digital stores

Departure and Other Stories is now available from the following digital stores in addition to Amazon:

Barnes & Noble (for Nook)

iBooks

Kobo

Scribd

Page Foundry

I like the fact that the book’s page in the Scribd store shows the number of page views and shows me an attractive image of what the book would look like in hardback.

It would be useful for authors/publishers if all digital stores provided figures of how many page views have accrued, how many times the ‘look inside’ feature has been accessed, and how many times a sample has been downloaded. I’m sure the retailers have good reasons for keeping those figures to themselves, but I imagine it would be fairly simple for them to make it a feature alongside the sales reports.

Increasing My Book’s Availablity: Draft2Digital

I set up an account with Draft2Digital yesterday evening. As I don’t intend to put Departure and Other Stories into Kindle Select (more on this decision in a future post), I can make it available for distribution through other channels in addition to Amazon. This will increase the book’s visibility and, hopefully, bring in more sales.

The publication process was very simple: D2D converted my Word document to an epub for distribution via Barnes & Noble (Nook), iBooks, Kobo, Page Foundry, Scribd, and tolino. I downloaded the epub file for review and it looks good on the first attempt with no formatting errors. Hooray!

As with KDP one can either just set a US $ price and have the prices for other currencies set automatically or there’s the option to set those prices individually. With D2D there’s the option to pick up to five BISAC subjects for the book (although it says many vendors only support the first one or two). Keywords/phrases are not limited to seven as with KDP, so I added fifteen in total! So far, my only complaint has been that, unlike with Amazon, the IRS form I need to fill in so that tax is not withheld on any royalties (I’m a UK resident) has to be submitted by e-mail. So I need to print it out, fill it in and sign it, then photograph or scan it so I can send it to D2D.

D2D has no up-front charges for any of their formatting and distribution services. According to the FAQs, they take a fee of approximately 10% of the retail price (technically 15% of the net royalties). Unlike with KDP, D2D assigns the book a free ISBN number. Authors can submit their own ISBN if one has already been purchased elsewhere.

I have to admit, I’d never heard of Page Foundry or tolino before. It will be interesting to see if I get any sales through those outlets. Apparently, it can take between two hours and two weeks for a book published through D2D to show up in the digital stores. When I got up this morning, the book was already live in the Kobo store. When it goes live on all platforms I’ll update this blog with the relevant links.

My Experiences with E-book Cover Design

In this post I’d like to share the links to several websites that I found useful whilst I was putting together my book’s cover design.

I don’t claim to have produced the best e-book cover in the world. I’m not a graphic designer, but I am a keen photographer with a reasonable knowledge of Photoshop. The image on the cover started out as a photograph that I took myself. I then manipulated the image, cropping it, adjusting the colours and the contrast. Finally, I ran it through one of Photoshop’s in-built filters (Comic).

There are several advantages to working from an original image. Firstly, I don’t have to worry about the copyright or licensing issues that come from using web-sourced images. Secondly, the image is exclusive to me. Unlike images I might have sourced from galleries online, it won’t be used on anyone else’s book cover. Thirdly, it didn’t cost me a penny.

It seems to be a widely held belief that if as a self-publisher you can afford to outsource just one component of the publishing process then it should be the cover design. I agree with this, but, with no guarantee I’d ever recoup that money from book sales, I find it hard to justify spending out for a professionally-made design at this stage. I don’t feel this is a pessimistic viewpoint to take: I believe I’ve written a good book that readers will enjoy, but I’m just being practical. Of course, with a professionally-made cover perhaps I’d make more sales. I’m getting conflicting advice on this elsewhere. One rather prolific forum commentator has vehemently suggested that it’s a complete waste of effort to spend time on the marketing and presentation of all but certain genres of self-published books. Others have suggested that it would be worth me investing in a professionally-made cover. I won’t rule out changing my book’s cover in the future – even if to one of the several other designs that I’ve made myself – but it’s still early days. For now, I’ll leave it and see.

My main intention with the cover was to avoid making mistakes of the kind that are often featured on sites such as http://covercritics.com and http://www.lousybookcovers.com and http://kindlecoverdisasters.tumblr.com/. Those sites are worth looking at before you go about making your own book cover. The worst culprits exhibit one or more of the following:

• Illegible or difficult to read text – either because it’s too small or because it doesn’t stand out from the background image
• Genre-inappropriate/weak fonts or too many different fonts
• Pixelated or similarly poor quality images
• Poor compositing
• Compositions that are an overcrowded jumble of different images with no clear focal point

Hopefully, by erring on the side of caution and not being overly ambitious, I have avoided those serious bloopers. I’ve aimed for clarity and relevance and tried to ensure that the cover image works at thumbnail size and also translates well to greyscale.

http://www.fontsquirrel.com has a huge range of fonts that are free to download for commercial use. I found an interesting article on cover fonts here at The Book Designer. The Book Designer website is also full of useful information on other aspects of book design and its monthly e-book cover design awards are another great resource in which one can see what works and what doesn’t on e-book covers.

I found http://diybookcovers.com/ (offers free and paid templates for MS Word) to be another informative site. There are also numerous sites that offer ready-made book covers. The designer replaces the text on the ready-made cover with that of the author’s choice. If I were to go down this route in future I’d want to use a site where the cover template is unique and won’t be sold to someone else as well. Of course, if the designer has used non-exclusive stock images there’s no guarantee that another book cover sourced from elsewhere won’t have a very similar look even if the designer removes the purchased cover from sale. I’ve seen professional-looking ready-made covers for under $50/£40. That’s still a lot of money, but if, for example, one expects to sell at least fifty books at a $1 royalty each (or twenty-five at a $2 royalty) it could soon be recouped. http://paperandsage.com/site/category/pre-made-book-cover/ and http://www.thecovercollection.com/ are two examples of ready-made cover retailers, and their galleries are well worth browsing through.

Please note that, as I have not purchased any products or services from any of the linked sites, I am not endorsing any of their paid products. I’d be glad to hear about readers’ experiences (good or bad) of any products or services from the listed sites (or similar). Or did you design your own e-book cover? If you paid for a professionally-designed cover what criteria did you use when choosing where to purchase it from? Should I throw caution to the wind and invest in a professionally-made cover? Please feel free to add your comments below.

Self-published authors of ‘general’ fiction: recommend your book here

As any author who has self-published via KDP will know, Amazon allows the publisher to select up to two categories on the ‘Your book’ page of the submission form. Some books clearly fall into a specific category and, within certain categories (fantasy and thrillers, for example), there are also numerous subcategories. My own book, Departure and Other Stories, does not seem to fit well into any of Amazon’s categories except for ‘Fiction > Short stories’ and ‘Fiction > General’. The book is about real (well, they could be) people living in a realistic, modern day town, dealing with issues and situations that real people face. Amazon has a ‘family life’ category, but that’s not a theme in all of the stories that comprise my book.

Non-genre or ‘general’ fiction seems to be one of the hardest categories in which self-published authors can garner interest for their work. One contributor on a ‘support’ forum told me (and I’m paraphrasing): not to bother even trying, that I should switch to writing in a genre that sells.
I can see why it’s difficult to get ‘general’ fiction noticed. I’ve purposefully been looking for self-published works of fiction to read that are categorised as general like my own and I’m struggling to find many with the search parameters I am using. I’ve tried browsing in ‘Kindle Books’ under ‘Literature and Fiction’ and then in: ‘British & Irish’ or ‘Contemporary Fiction’ or ‘Literary Fiction’ or ‘Short Stories’ and narrowing down further from there. I’ve also tried using keywords/phrases such as: ‘contemporary short stories’, ‘modern British short fiction’, and similar. Even using those parameters, I’m finding a lot of genre fiction.

So, here’s an invitation: if you’ve self-published a book on Amazon that falls into the ‘Fiction > General’ category (whether it be a novel, a shorter work, or a collection of short stories) then please feel free to leave a link to your book in the comments section at the end of this post. Obviously, I can’t promise to buy and read every book submitted, but I’ll definitely aim to take a ‘look inside’ with the requisite free sample. If I like what I see then, you never know, you might make a sale. You will also be making your book known to other readers of this blog.

NB: If your book is categorised within a genre but you genuinely feel it has general appeal then you are welcome to also submit the link. But please don’t submit links to books that are predominantly horror, crime, romance, erotica, fantasy, science fiction, poetry, non-fiction, or installments in a longer series. Those are not what I’m looking for in this instance.