I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

ClearFormattingWord2010

I wish I had written the lyrics and not just used them for a title to this blog, but they belong to Messrs Jagger and Richards so I will have to be content with enjoying the song if not the sentiment. And the song is of course all about frustration. So is writing. In that it is not unique. There are so many aspects of human life that expose us to frustration of one type or another.

For the most part I find things other than writing are the cause of my frustrations, a lack of time to sit and actually do the writing bit is my particular peeve. That is not what I am complaining about today, however. No, today it is formatting. I am not sure if I have touched on this subject previously but formatting is an important and boring part of the job of being a writer these days.

I write using Microsoft Word. It is a word-processor that I know very well and consequently I am comfortable with it. The problem is that when submitting my manuscript to Kindle they did not, in the past at least, mention that they convert the Word document into the EPUB format and that this can cause problems. When writing in Word the program automatically puts code into the text. There is nothing suspicious about this, it is not some proof of the existence of the Matrix, it is just designed to help display our lovingly written words in the best possible light. The existence of this code can cause problems during the conversion process though.

When I published my first novel, The War Wolf, I was unaware of this problem simply because Kindle Direct Publishing did not mention it at the submission stage. I was horrified when I saw how the first version looked! There were all kinds of mistakes in the body of the text. I quickly investigated the matter and discovered that I should have removed all the pretty formatting from my manuscript prior to submitting it.

Back in the early days of ePublishing it was quite common for reviewers to complain about weird looking lines in the body of the text, but they, like the author, probably did not realise that there were technical reasons for this. I have since discovered that converting the Word file to an RTF file, or putting it through a program like Sigil, can cure the affliction of spurious formatting, as can converting it to a PDF, which is very easy to do.

As I am finishing The Blade’s Fell Blow I find myself thinking about this formatting issue. I have taken to writing my books using Createspace’s Word template as I like having a paperback version of my books. The manuscript is formatted accordingly, with different sized fonts for headings and use of italics for emphasis where necessary. My intent is to make the text look good to the reader and also uniform in respect of the two previous books in the series. Once I am happy with the way it looks, however, the frustration part will kick in. It is then that I will have to consider how I re-format the manuscript for uploading to Kindle Direct Publishing.

This not really a monumental task, just tedious. For an author with a publisher it is something that they do not even have to consider, people are employed to do this on their behalf. I am still waiting to have that luxury. Apart from the interminable checking that everything is okay, which it seldom is on the first attempt, or even attempts, what I find frustrating about the whole process is knowing in the back of my mind that I could be writing instead!

I want to write.

I do not want to do all the file conversions, the self-promotions, and the website maintenance. I want to be like a reasonably successful author and spend my time crafting enjoyable tales. It is frustration avoidance of course. It is also just a dream at the moment. The fact is that I am going to have to bite the bullet and bury myself in the formatting and re-formatting process in order to get my book other there for people to read. If there is anything that helps keep me going it is the idea that someone will read my book, it would be nice if they gave me a review as well but that is another matter.

So, in all honesty, the title of this blog is a little misleading as I can get some satisfaction at the end of the process. To be honest the whole procedure of producing a novel in both hard and soft copy has got easier over the years. This may well be because I am no longer a stranger, or even inexperienced, in the whole process from original idea to finished product. In fact I would say that that has a lot to do with it. Experience is a very valuable asset to have. The Blade’s Fell Blow will be my fourth novel and it will be available in both paperback and eBook formats. I must be getting some satisfaction somewhere then?!

 

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From the Silent Page to the Talkies

Audiobook concept

I have had several readers ask me if I was going to produce an audio book version of my work and I have to admit that I found the idea quite interesting. I have listened to a couple of audio books myself, although not on a regular basis. The market for this kind of product seems to be growing so I decided to have a closer look at what is involved in the process of turning a written piece into an audio piece.

My first discovery was that it is potentially very expensive. You are paying someone for their time and skill in reading allowed the words that you have written. For an author who is already successful this might not seem to great an obstacle. Indeed, for such authors even famous actors will take a turn at the microphone and add their name to the product. For an independent author like me, however, the upfront cost is indeed a barrier to success.

There are alternatives of course, the first being read it yourself. I tried this by investing in a microphone and a piece of software to record my voice; I sounded awful! I really hated the sound of my own voice. Perhaps I could have improved things by investing in better recording equipment, even used a little voice distortion, but to be honest the sounds coming out of the speaker just turned me off to the idea.

Another route, and one I have seen promoted over the internet, is the use of Text To Speech (TTS) engines. These are pieces of software that use a recorded voice to ‘read’ your text. If you have heard a Sat-Nav giving directions you will understand exactly what I mean. Some people use these to turn eBooks into Audio books. I tried them myself but I was not convinced. They are, obviously, very robotic even when done by someone with an accent. I also found that any unusual words, and The War Wolf has a few from Middle-English, can prove too challenging for a robot voice.

To be honest I had given up on this idea but then another reader asked the same question and so I had another look at the whole situation. That was when I discovered Audio Book Creation Exchange (ACX). I have to admit that I found this to be a very exciting development. Basically ACX matches authors with narrators (they call them producers but I find that term a little confusing) and vice versa. There are several ways to arrange payment, for strugglers like me the 50/50 royalty share is the best way forward. The idea is simple, I, as the author, make my book available, and someone, as the narrator, records themselves reading it, which could take up to eleven hours apparently. The finished recording is then sent to ACX who turn it into an audio book and, in partnership with them, it is distributed to a new audience.

I made up my mind to give it a try and posted an invitation for narrators to audition for my book on a 50/50 royalty share basis. I got some auditions and they proved quite interesting. I think that I was right to remove myself from the recording process, after listening to these talented people I clearly had no hope of doing my own work justice. Eventually I chose a narrator by the name of Jack Glanville. We are in the process of discussing turning not only The War Wolf into an audio book but also the other two volumes in the Sorrow Song trilogy. He’s very keen on this idea.

My next step is to provide Jack with some background material as to characters, Saxon culture and society, and the general scope of the books. Nothing heavy, just pointers in the right direction. Then we agree a contract with dates for the recording to be conducted. If I am happy with his work, which I expect to be after hearing his audition, the book moves towards being properly produced and a new door opens for me and, by association, Jack as well.

I will write more on this as things develop.

War Wolf

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In Need of Reviews

Grace Flag 01.4Eugenica appears to be a difficult book to get people to interested in. I suppose the themes of the book, the persecution of the disabled for example, are not that attractive. I can understand that there is nothing attractive either about the issue or the nature of disability. Nevertheless, wrapped around that theme is a rather positive story that attempts to portray the disabled in a very constructive and affirming way.

Although eugenics and its rather more infamous cousin, dysgenics, are not attractive to most readers today the spirit of adventure, I believe, always is. At its heart, Eugenica is an adventure story. It features mystery, discovery, fights, chases, and narrow escapes. There are heroes and villains, a femme fatale, a (bit of a) mad scientist, a superman, and a monster. The characters use cars, trains, aeroplanes, and even an airship. All the stuff of high adventure really.

I think that this book is a very good read. No, a damn good read, actually. I want to spread the word and to that end, I am looking for people who will read this book for FREE under only one obligation, which is that they will provide an honest constructive criticism of it.

That is the deal. I will provide a free eBook for you eReader and you, in return, will send me a totally honest review. I do not want flattery. I do not want appeasement. I want honesty and integrity. If you are interested then please leave a message below or contact me at: petecwhit@gmail.com

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A Book’s Life Beyond Kindle

There is no doubt that Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) has revolutionised publishing for everyone. I published my first book, The War Wolf, through KDP after going through the usual frustration of trying to find a literary agent. I do not regret this action. I can remember how I felt when my book first appeared on Amazon’s pages for sale; it felt great!

The ePublishing industry has grown enormously since then and KDP is not the only player. Kobo has their own slice of the pie and doing rather well and Smashwords are also carving out a niche for themselves. Although Amazon makes a great first launch pad there are reasons for why an author like myself should consider putting their book out with alternative publishers like these two.

Amazon is a very controlling organisation. They want an author to submit their book for ‘KDP Select’ but that means giving them exclusive rights to it, that is, the book cannot be available anywhere else, like Smashwords for example. I did not mind this back in 2013 when I first submitted The War Wolf, the book seemed to do well, but as the market has grown so much since then I find little advantage in this exclusivity. My sales have dropped and interest seems to have waned somewhat.

Grace Flag 01.4Now, Eugenica is a book that I have struggled to get readers interested in. I believe that it is the themes of the book, eugenics and disabled people, I always knew that these would be difficult as I found them equally difficult to write about. Eugenica has more than that, however. It is an adventure as well. A dark one, I admit, but it possesses all the traits of a classic adventure tale. There are fights with fists, guns, knives, and even canes. There are chases using cars, aeroplanes, trains, and even an airship. Brave heroes achieve escapes from desperate villains. It is all quite a thrill ride really. There is also a little humour thrown in there and an awful lot of cultural referencing. The weird fact is that although I have found it difficult to convince readers to look at this book all those who have done so have told me how much they have enjoyed it. One reader who has a daughter suffering from Cerebral Palsy even suggested that everyone should read this book because it will change people’s opinion of the disabled.

The fact is that Eugenica has not done as well as I hoped in terms of sales through Amazon and so I have decided to make it available through Smashwords. One of the things that I like about Smashwords is that they offer books in various formats, whereas Amazon only caters for the Kindle. This approach widens the field of new readers considerably I believe. I have now enrolled the book and it is ready to go so to mark this new venture I have decided to run a discount campaign by offering a 50% off coupon. The idea is very simple, a prospective reader is given a coupon number, they visit Smashwords’ website, select the book and then when they reach the checkout they enter the coupon number and viola! They get the book with the discount applied instead of at the regular price.

As this is my first attempt at applying a coupon to one of my books on Smashwords I am running it for a fixed period, until 25th August to be exact, and what I do after that will depend on how successful it proves to be. My aim is to get more people to read the book and, hopefully, talk about it, either with a review or with other readers. I will not make much money out of this but I am alright about that as that is not the purpose of these sort of campaigns. If you would are interested in trying Eugenica at a discount price of only $0.99 then please visit here:

Smashwords

And apply the coupon number ‘SA59Q’, and then enjoy a rather good book at a bargain price!

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So, I got a 5 Star Review

I have written previously about how much I value readers’ reviews of my books and also how frustrating it is not having very many such reviews. Well, I finally got another one.

Anders Bloom wrote a very pleasing review on the KOBO website and gave Eugenica 5 stars, but that is not the important part, this is:

“Reading this book made me change how I look at disabled people.”

Wow!

Grace Flag 01.4Now when I first started work on Eugnica one of my aims was to present disabled people in a positive light. Here in Britain the politicians had launched a quite shameless attack on the disabled in order to rob them of any public sympathy prior to reducing the state disability benefits. They were very successful. So successful that hate crime against the disabled rose dramatically. This was also at the time that disabled Olympians were being raised to new heights, kind of a weird contradiction really. On one hand genuinely disabled people were being demonised as work-shy scroungers for qualifying for state benefits, even though those same benefits were not actually work related (never let a fact get in the way of savaging a minority group), and on another disabled athletes were being lionised for their attitude towards dealing with their disabilities.

I have suffered some personal abuse simply because I am physically disabled. It was not pleasant and the comments used were very similar to what was being published in the media at the time. Mostly I seem to get ignored, which should not be preferable, especially when you are stood in line like everyone else, but it sometimes it is as well. If the idiots ignore you then you do not have to deal with them.

With Eugenica I tried to be as honest as possible about disability, especially in respect of the main characters, all of whom have one type of disability or another. They are not, I hope, shallow caricatures of people. They have the full range of emotions that ‘normal’ people have. That was my goal, to present them as people, just people, like everyone else.

It would seem that with respect to at least one reader I have been entirely successful in achieving that goal, which makes me very happy indeed.

Here is a link to the full review: Kobo

 

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Promotion, Promotion, all this Self Promotion

I have touched on this subject previously, I know, but it is a subject that I keep returning to so I thought I might as well write about it again. As an ‘independent author’ I have to do everything myself. I write my book, I design the cover, I upload it to Amazon and other sites, and then I promote the book.

This is a necessary evil.

The fact is that when you are independent then everything falls down to you. It is a question of responsibility I suppose, but it is a double-edged sword. I want to spend my time writing but getting new readers, which I also want, demands that I invest some of my valuable time in getting my books noticed. To achieve this I have opened a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a WordPress blog (obviously), I have my own website and I am on Google+. I put a lot of effort into maintaining this ‘presence’ as the promotion gurus call it and I even turn out the odd promotional book trailer as well.

Here is one of my most recent works:

Sorrow Song

Sorrow Song Video here

It is not the first that I have done this but like so many creative enterprises it is a learning process. My first attempt was clumsy in retrospect but then aren’t they always? I learnt that it was too long and too wordy, so I trimmed it down and added some better images.

For my next effort I turned to ‘Eugenica,’ my dystopian alternate history novel, and produced this:

Eugenica Video

Eugenica Video here

Again, this was not my first attempt at promoting ‘Eugenica’ but I had a much better idea of what I wanted this time.

I have put both videos out into the public domain but I know that it is already saturated with similar products. There is only one way to know if these will work and that is with a positive response in terms of book sales, reviews, and comments; to date all I have had is a request from someone on YouTube for a dollar!

It could be that I have wasted my time with these efforts but then that is something that you only know after doing. Theorizing about it is all well and good but, like Schrodinger’s Cat, you only know for certain after you have opened the box!

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Take Science Fiction

When I was younger Science Fiction was one particular genre that always fascinated me. I was a fan of Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury and such. I found their alternative worlds rich in texture and imagination, even the darker tales. I have to admit to enjoying ‘space opera’ as well, a sub-genre that is probably best illustrated by ‘Star Wars’ I suppose.

I have to admit that my recent forays into contemporary Science Fiction have not proven very satisfactory. It seems that all I have been able to find is very long books that contain very little science and an awful lot of opera, of the space variety of course. Even when I found a book that had a rather interesting idea, a huge station tethered to an alien planet, the write opted to point their readers to internet pages that explained the whole theory and practice of this possible technology. This was an example of lazy writing to my mind. Not every writer can invent original concepts and technologies for their books, I agree, but if you find something, an idea, that you then build a story around, then surely there is a necessary test in writing about that idea in a way that your readers can understand. If nothing else this shows that you understand the idea and probably some of the science as well, which I would have thought was a prerequisite of a Science Fiction writer.

Many of the books that I have read recently that carry the tag of ‘science fiction’ have seemed very lacking in any qualification. It seems that most, rather than work at something new, just offer a shiny version of American society projected into the future with no thought as to how such a society might grow, develop, change, over the next couple of centuries. Capitalism is still there, all kinds of bigotry, the same institutions, only instead of flying from London to New York the characters fly from one planet/system/galaxy to another with no explanation as to how this is achieved. It all seems to very lightweight, like a gloss applied to a story that could take place anywhere and almost in any other genre.

I have yet to read a contemporary book that has an account of a believable alien race that is not based on humans. I blame Star Trek for this, but they did suffer from budget restraints, which made painting people blue and dressing them up funny a genuine option, but that does not excuse the same approach with today’s Science Fiction writers. So many just make lizards look like humans and give them a funny name and present them as something new, which they most certainly are not.

It is curious that early Science Fiction writers seem to produce far more imaginative work than those who have the benefit of seeing how far we have come since the 1903 Flyer took to the skies. Technology now is burgeoning with new ideas, developments, and possibilities, most of which seem to be getting ignored by those writers who identify themselves with Science Fiction. The next time I peruse the eBook market I hope I that am proved wrong.

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