Photo Inspiration for “The Bondage of The Soil”

“Progress is not an illusion; it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing.” – George Orwell

(All photos © Margaret McGoverne 2017)

So, dear reader, I’ve published my very first work of fiction  and the truth of the Orwell quote above has hit me hard. Writing the story is only the first step; I’m busy with guest posts, building up reviews, and wooing local newspapers to bestow a couple of columns on my book.

thincovertbows5It’s a bit like having children; having brought my first book baby into the world, I now have to contend with gestating and giving birth to another one while the firstborn is still a very demanding toddler!

On the plus side, I have renewed vigour for my current work in progress; I suspect this is because, after endless rereads and edits and Kindle uploads and proofing, I’m thoroughly sick of The Battle of Watling Street!

The Bondage of The Soil is the modern-day Sci-Fi sequel to The Battle of Watling Street (which was set in 1st century AD Roman Britain) , although it was the first in terms of the idea coming to me. The inspiration was a lonely detour on my way home from  work, excavations for a new motorway junction, a steep hill, lots of local Roman and Celtic history and a very old, lonely church. So as a taster, here’s some pictures and the Google street view from the road (I couldn’t get a shot of the creepy pollarded trees that edge the church as there’s nowhere to park on the country lane.)

I hope to finish the first draft by the autumn; I’m excited by this one, it’s my first full length novel, and I feel I learned lots from The Battle of Watling Street, even though it’s a less than 20K words novella.

(If you’d like to read the first two chapters of The Battle of Watling Street for free, you can subscribe to email updates, or I’d be happy to arrange a free PDF copy for a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads)

Lessons In Kindle – Twelve Things I Learned When Publishing My Book on Amazon (Part 1)

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My first published novella, on Kindle

I recently published my first work of fiction, an Alternate history/Sci-Fi novella, The Battle of Watling Street, using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

This may turn into a short series of posts, but for now I want to limit the discussion to the technical/formatting challenges and benefits I discovered with KDP. Hopefully this will help someone, somewhere with their own self-publishing journey!

The advice in this post could be summarised by the 5 Ps of preparation: (or 6 Ps used where I work – hey, it’s a utility/construction environment, these guys are plain talkers!) proper planning prevents (piss) poor performance. Here are 12 specific ways in which you can prepare, and make the process as painless and productive as possible.

  • 1.There are KDP resources and guides to help with uploads, formatting requirements etc – do read these before you start. There are some important things to note about which format to upload your book, as each type has its own requirements and limitations. For example…
  • 2. If you are uploading to Kindle (eBook as opposed to print version), you will need to set up styles in your document for chapter/section headers, and also to create and format a table of contents that will work in your Kindle book. Be warned, if like me you had to juggle between two different word processors to get all the required formatting (I have Word Starter and Kingsoft WPS Writer at present), things can change between formats, especially font type and size. I encountered an issue where some paragraphs changed font and size, and I had to manually change them all back. Check your uploaded file carefully for any font discrepancies!
  •  3. Page Numbers – for Kindle eBook uploads, which are ideally uploaded in a Doc. or HTML (filtered) format, you need to remove page numbers from your book, and from the table of contents, as Kindle will format your pages differently. Don’t do what I did initially, which was to then save that file as a PDF for my printed book upload. The first few copies of my paperback were sold without page numbers, much to my embarrassment.
  • 4. Page breaks: If you are uploading a Filtered HTML document, you need to insert an extra page break at the end of each chapter or section, to prevent the pages running on together in the Kindle version.I did this while the file was still in DOC format as it’s easier to confirm it has created the breaks.
  • 5. Zipped Files: for your Kindle format, if you have any images in your document, you need to create a zipped file that contains both the document and any images. When you save a Word document as filtered HTML, it should create a folder; drop your images in here. If not you can manually zip your files together. If you don’t do this, images will be missing from your eBook.
  • 6. KDP offers a paperback print option for your book but you have to format your document (I used PDF) to fit one of the default paper sizes, usually 6 x 9 inches. My Word document was 8 x 11 but it’s quite easy to change; go to Page Layout/Size and select from there. (NB, sizes on Word are displayed in cm. There is also a custom size option at the bottom of the page, which is what I used.)
  • 7. Viewing and approving your document: as part of the upload process, you are prompted to review your uploaded document and cover image, and approve them for publication. The online reviewer is long and a bit cumbersome and requires a screen with minimum resolution of 600 x 1200 (I had to move from my laptop to my desktop to see the “Approve” button) but it’s essential to getting the formatting right. You are looking to check that there are no errors (red crosses) as these will prevent you approving the document. You can approve a document if the errors are only warnings (yellow triangles). Check that page breaks etc are in the right place, images have come through correctly, table of contents and tables/tabbed paragraphs display correctly.You may also be prompted to check that page numbers are within margins, and that your cover image is of high enough resolution.
  • 8. Your Blurb: you’ve been messing about with document formats, zip files and cover images, but have you prepared your book blurb? Your blurb is the (semi) short description of your book, and it’s your chance to shine: don’t write it on the fly, have it ready. I searched Amazon for the top 10 books in the categories I was planning to list my book in (Historical fiction/Sci-Fi/Mysteries) and I looked at what caught my eye and made me want to read a book. I came up  with a short paragraph that summarised the premise, but also a few short and choppy sentences, each headed by a teasing title. I also did a quick author bio, for readers who didn’t click through to my author page. Here’s what my blurb looks like:
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  • 9. The waiting game: when you’ve finally approved and uploaded your files, set your royalty rates and done everything else needful, be prepared for a wait. Your KDP Bookshelf will show you progress, from “Live – In review”, through to “Live”. This can take a while; the paperback version took about 4 hours for me, the eBook was the better part of 8 hours initially. Edits and updates are a little quicker once your files have been initially uploaded.
  • 10. Once your books are published, you should head on over to the Amazon Author Page (here’s my UK author page) and fill it full of interesting information about the newly published author. But be aware, this Amazon Author page isn’t universal; you will have to create a separate one for the UK, US, India, Australia etc. So far I’ve set the UK and US pages up as I think these will be my primary markets, although I will complete duplicate pages for commonwealth countries. The US page in particular has some additional nice features such as a unique author URL; do use these!
  • 11. Giveaways and promotions: if you want to feature your newly published book in a free or reduced price giveaway, you will have to enrol in Amazon’s KDP Select programme; this isn’t currently an option on KDP. I haven’t yet enrolled in KDP Select as I need to read up on the pros and cons; while your book is featured in KDP Select, it must be published exclusively with Amazon, although it can be marketed elsewhere in print format.
  • 12. Your book on other platforms: so you’ve uploaded your book, it’s live on Amazon, and you have a nifty new author page (or two). Now you’re keen to head on over to Goodreads, Bookbub etc and set your author page up, offer your book as a giveaway etc. Be warned, it takes a few days (a week for me) for your book to show up on their search pages after being uploaded to Amazon, so be patient.

I hope these pointers help you in your self-publishing journey; if you have any more or have had a different experience with Kindle DP, please let me know in the comments!

The Battle of Watling Street is Published!

I am a published author of a historical/science fiction novella!

Yesterday was D-Day. After feverish last minute formatting and some tiny revisions (how can I still find things to tweak after dozens of self-edits, software edits, beta readings and more edits?), I took the plunge and submitted my book to Kindle.

I’ve entered Amazon’s Storyteller 2017 competition, so I also had to make the book available in print, which added a whole additional learning curve and some drama – chez McGoverne was tense! In fact, the uploading process was pretty simple and well explained; preparation is key.

A couple of tweaks later (I forgot the keyword for the competition, I didn’t zip file the Kindle edition so an image was missing and I had to reupload both versions, which took ALL day), and both book formats were live on Amazon! A quick Author update later and I am an Amazon author – yay!!!

Margaret McGoverne Amazon UK Author Page

I am really pleased with the covers, especially the paperback version, which was easier to create than I thought, thanks to the proofing and formatting tool on Kindle DP. I’ve linked the images below back to the books on Amazon if you’re interested!

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It was such a rush to see the back cover of the paperback version, complete with barcode and ISBN (free from Amazon).

As you can see, the paperback version already has the free Amazon “Look inside” previewer; the Kindle version should be up and running within a week.

And look! Look how prettily it renders on a Kindle! Oh, the formatting that went into this, the sneaky Word/HTML reformatting that I had to manually adjust, the mucking about with paragraphs, styles, and headings!

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I am so thrilled to see all the hard work translated into a thing, a book, that looks professional, has a working Table of Contents, has an engaging cover (I think), and is all my own work!

I let my personal Facebook friends, family and colleagues know, and have tweeted a link to the book, and the response has been great; purchases have happened, in both formats! Now I need some reviews; my mind already turns to promoting this book, and I’m looking at services such as Bookbub and The Fussy Librarian, but both require at least 10 4 star Amazon reviews. I’m not sure if Bookbub accepts novellas, and they are notoriously choosy!

I’m also promoting with local news outlets, Twitter interest groups etc.

I haven’t registered for KDP Select yet so I’m not sure if I can do a free promotion; these are things I need to research ASAP!

It’s been a tiring, an emotional and ultimately a hugely rewarding journey, with lots of learning curves. The work isn’t over for The Battle of Watling Street; I want to make it visible to as many people as possible, but I also have to crack on with the sequel, and the other novel I’m working on; no laurel lounging allowed!

My last note on here is a request/plea: I’d like to guest blog on your blog! I’d be happy to blog about the book, the writing process, the subject matter or the process of publishing with Kindle DP. I’d also love to do interviews, and have already compiled some great questions I’d love to ask my fellow authors in return!

So if you would like to include a guest blog from me or interview me, please do get in touch, and thanks to everyone, to all my dear constant readers and commenters, for your support!

Planning for your Writing Goals in 2017 and Creating A Personal Writing Contract

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My 2017 writing goals; my contract with myself

It’s January, dear reader, so of course, my thoughts turn to new beginnings, goals, and achievables; not for my fitness regime or healthy eating plan (recovering after a brief but brutal holiday tussle) but for my writing.

If you’ve read my last few posts you’ll know that 2016 wasn’t the most conducive year for my creative endeavours, but I’ve put that behind me; I want to achieve more this year, but I had a multiple choice of things I wanted to work on, both writing itself and tangential topics such as social media, this blog, etc.

In my day job (yep, I’m not actually a money-earning writer just yet), I’m a programme manager: I deal daily with forecasts, plans, deliverables, milestones and critical paths. For some reason, I haven’t properly applied this experience and knowledge to my writing, thinking maybe that my creative muse would frown on such quotidian tools to stimulate her.

But if I’m not writing simply for the pure creative pleasure of putting stories on a page, but with a goal of completing first drafts, editing them, and one day in the not-too-distant future looking forward to seeing them published, I need a plan, just as much as those projects do at work; arguably more so, because I don’t have the luxury of the systems, tools, and resources (people!) I have access to in my day job, to get the work done. This is all on me. I can use a bad personal year as an excuse for not feeling like writing, but I can’t claim to not have the tools to plan the best use of my time, to prioritise my tasks and to break down my target into less daunting, more manageable chunks or milestones.

The good news is that I do like a spreadsheet, for example, this early post on tracking wordcount and I’m comfortable using most MS Office or equivalent packages. So the intent is there, and I have the tools to map my goals and targets; great! Now what?

What was going on with me was conflating some issues around my writing; the will to create a novel was something apart from my day job, in fact, it felt like its antithesis. I didn’t want to wear my project planning hat for my beautiful fiction writing; I trusted to my creativity to write. And it’s there, true enough, but so is real life and all the delays and distractions it brings. That’s why we have an annual plan at work, with prioritised projects, and a monthly tracker for how we are doing for each deliverable against our forecast, which is a dynamic thing and often needs to change.

This is just the same with my writing, which is seen by many as a tolerable eccentricity or hobby (maybe even by me, too?), so it loses out quite often in the daily press of stuff-that-needs-to-get-done. I needed some suggestions and guidance; cue a very timely webinar I listened to at the weekend from Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. Joanna is an author who is also very active blogging articles, video, and webinars about writing and creativity, publishing options and book marketing.

If you haven’t already checked it out, I urge you to have a read of the Creative Penn site, as it’s a real treasure trove of ideas, suggestions, and content to boost your writing time with tangible suggestions. For example, I got the idea to create Pinterest boards for my works in progress from Joanna; it’s a great idea and not only to publicise your writing; it aids me in visualising locations, themes and period details for my works.

The webinar I listened to was Plan To Achieve Your Creative Goals in 2017 and although honestly none of the ideas were new to me, Joanna’s simple writing goals plan really inspired me to sit down and come up with the following:

A spreadsheet for each novel-in-progress where I calculate how many words I have to write weekly to hit my first draft target date; breaking it down made it seem much more achievable and structured, and I now have a (really simple!) weekly schedule, as suggested by Joanna.

The Spreadsheet Plan, Schedule, and Tracker

Screenshots of my writing schedule for The Bondage of The Soil below. Because I enjoy using spreadsheets, all I have to manually update on this file is the number of words I’ve written in the “weekly summary” tab; this then updates the “Calculations to complete first draft” tab, thus easily giving me a simple and powerful means of visually tracking my progress, and measuring if my word count is bringing the target first draft date closer or further away.

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I’ve set two of these files up, one for each of my works in progress that will be my big-rock projects this year. Which leads me onto…

The Writing Contract: Big Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand for 2017

I’m sure many of us are already aware of the Big rock, pebbles and sand analogy, that makes an important point about stuff like time management, planning, not getting overwhelmed and prioritising the big stuff (big rocks) from the medium and smaller priorities (pebbles and sand).

Joanna Penn used this analogy in the above webinar, proposing that we need a jar for our creative endeavours for the year; the big rocks being the one or two Priority One projects that you really want to progress or complete; the medium pebbles being other bits you plan to do that aren’t as important, while the sand is the smaller stuff that can wait, and should be done if there’s any time left over. When I was looking for some pictures online I found one that added another layer; water, meaning those things that just don’t matter, as they will flow into, then out of your jar of priorities. I liked these ideas and sat down to create what I call my 2017 writing contract. The picture at the top of this post is a screenshot of the first page; I created this contract as a presentation so I can print it off and always have a copy to hand. It also makes the whole thing seem more professional!

The last element for me was visualising and writing down the critical path to achieving these big rocks (you can do the same for your pebbles and sand but I want to concentrate on my big goals) -for me the critical path is very simple; to complete a first draft of one of my novels by the end of August this year I have to write so many words a week; if you scroll back up a bit you’ll see that visualised in my writing tracker and schedule, and if I stay on target that’s not a big number!

This great exercise only took me a few hours, yet it brought renewed and clarified focus to my writing goals for 2017, and the concrete things I have to do (and refrain from doing) to achieve them. Bringing some structure to the goals helps me visualise them, and provides a  powerful tool to measure my progress and keep me on track.

If you think that either of these tools would help you define and plan for your writing goals, please feel free to get in touch and I’ll be happy to send you a copy; my 2017 writing inspirational gift to you!

Margaret

Happy New Year, And May Your Creative Endeavours Ever Increase!

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Christmas 2016, New Year 2017

I’ve been working on a Christmas post for the last few weeks – I didn’t finish it off in time (waste not, want not, it’s saved in my drafts and may be recycled for Christmas 2017), but I’ve been thinking about the essence of what I was trying to say in that post.

2016 was a challenging year, it felt, for nearly everyone, and although that feeling was exacerbated by the plethora of too-soon celebrity deaths (David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Leonard Cohen, Lemmy and Rick Parfitt, thank you for the music), I do think it was a year of abnormal troubles for many. I wasn’t immune, and I struggled with some fairly momentous family issues; they haven’t gone away completely, but in 2017 I look forward to a new year with hope; I also struggle with extending that hope to the wider world, but it’s vital not to give up hoping for a better world, even in the face of the awful, latest atrocity in Istanbul on that dawning day of the New Year; that’s about the only thing I concurred with the priests and the nuns at my Catholic secondary school – the loss of hope, despair, is the only sin.

Getting back to my doomed Christmas post, I can distill what I wanted to say just as well here, in a New Year post; what I miss about Christmases past, and what gives me hope for Christmases and New Year’s in the future is people, good memories, kindness and the hope that I can and will make a difference for the better in this world, through my actions and hopefully through my writing, even if only in my own local sphere.

I may miss my parents and family and friends no longer with me, or estranged for whatever reason, but I am fortunate to have many more good people around me and to be in a position to follow (if only in my own time) my passion, which is to write; I have hope, and an ambition that I will work hard to finish at least one manuscript this year, and press on to publication, and I have the ability to change the world for the better, or at least to not make it worse. For years I’ve worked hard to be green and environmentally friendly in as many ways as possible, and to spread this message, long before it had the (rightful) exposure it now does; now more than ever we need to start with ourselves, our family, our house, our neighborhood and ask, what can I do, me, myself and I, to make a positive difference?

So, dear constant reader, to wrap up this brief, slightly preachy, but well-intentioned post, I’d like to wish you all a very happy, successful and creative New Year; take care, of yourselves and each other, and lastly I look forward to enjoying more of your creative labours, some of which have brought me such joy as has lightened my darkest days of 2016.

Margaret x