Category Archives: Writing

Printing and Distribution for UK authors

If you decide to produce a print edition of your book, you need to think about two issues: how to have them printed and how to get the print editions into the hands of readers (a process called distribution). If you want your book to be able to order from all good bookshops, you also need to see if the distribution system you choose is used by Gardners, the main UK book wholesaler.

Print on Demand with Createspace
Createspace offers many advantages. The system is user-friendly and, provided you create your own files, it’s completely free with no set-up charges or fees for making changes. This makes it the ideal place to get started with publishing print books as your mistakes won’t cost you anything other than wasted time.  Another big plus with this system is that your books are automatically listed as in stock on all Amazon sites.

On the minus side for UK authors, Createspace is based in the US. Although books sold from amazon.co.uk are printed in the UK or Europe, any books you order for yourself come from the US which means they are subject to time delays and high delivery costs.  In addition, Createspace’s Expanded Distribution system only works in the US. I’ve heard that it’s a good solution for US authors, but it’s not much use to UK authors trying to sell this side of the Atlantic.

Ingram Spark
Ingram Spark is the self-publishing arm of the major POD supplier, Lightning Source. Although it’s a US company, it has a UK branch so you can get pricing in pounds and phone a UK number when you have a problem. They offer global distribution, and any copies you order yourself are printed in the UK with discounts for larger numbers and reasonable delivery costs. You choose the discount you offer retailers, and you decide whether to accept returns or not. 

In my experience, the service offered by Ingram Spark is steadily improving. Their staff are friendly and helpful, delivery is prompt and the quality of books is good. They handle the whole process from taking the order to delivering the books so you don’t have to do anything, and Gardners are willing to order through them.

The downside is that the price per copy is a little higher than with Createspace, although there are discounts for large orders. There are also set up fees and fees to make changes so mistakes can be costly.  But Ingram Spark is a good way to get worldwide distribution at low cost, especially when paired with using Createspace to supply Amazon.

Clays
Clays are a major UK book printer who are used by many traditional publishers. They have now set up a service for independent authors where, if you have a short print run with them, they will retain some in their warehouse and distribute them to Gardners for you in return for a small percentage of each sale (on top of Gardners’ discount). This gives you UK distribution but doesn’t supply any other countries.

Clays offers lower per copy prices than a print-on-demand service can give you as the more you order, the lower the cost of each book.  It can work well if you are in a good position to sell print copies yourself at events and also want the book to be available to order through bookshops.

Clays offer a wider choice of paper than you get with a POD service which may interest you if your book includes full colour illustrations and photographs. They can also provide covers with special features like spot laminating, although this will push up the price.

Other Printers
There are many other printers around the country who can produce a print run for you. Clays are the only one I have I have found so far who will handle distribution but there may be others. If you are in a good position to sell direct to readers and specialist outlets and you are happy to store and distribute the books yourself, this can work well. It all depends how much of a business person you are, how well placed you are to handle orders and how much time you can spare from your writing to deal with them.

There are also other companies that offer print-on-demand,  including lulu.com. I haven’t used Lulu myself but, judging by the sample prices on their website, the price per book is higher than with Createspace and Ingram Spark. Also, like Createspace, they are a US company and don’t appear to provide distribution to UK bookshops. 

Combining methods
It’s possible to combine using Createspace to supply Amazon with using Ingram Spark or Clays to supply bookshops and still have a supply of books at home that you can sell at events. It’s what I do, and I find it works well. However, if you want to use more than one printing method, you need to have your own ISBN. The free ISBN supplied by Createspace can only be used on their system.

Diana Kimpton

 

 

 

 

 

Linking to multiple Amazon sites

When we’re publicising a book online, it makes sense to include an Amazon link to make it easy to buy. But that link will only be effective if it takes readers to the relevant Amazon shop for where they live.

I’ve struggled with this issue for a long time. As I live in the UK, it makes sense to link to amazon.co.uk, but I know some of my readers are in the US so they would like the link to take them to amazon.com.

Now I’ve finally found a solution to the problem. Booklinker.net can give you a universal link that takes the reader to whichever is the appropriate Amazon site for them.  The link looks like this – mybook.to/aliensheep – so it’s short and straightforward.

The service is free and works well so it’s definitely worth considering.

If you are an Amazon Associate, you can enter your ID after you’ve set up your first link. but if you do, make sure you only use the link in a way that follows the Amazon Associate rules.

Diana Kimpton

Title Trouble

It’s important to have the right title for your book.  The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul taught me that, because as I was so intrigued by the title that I made the decision to read Douglas Adams’ novel before I even knew what it was about.

matadorfrontcoverAs a result, I took care when choosing the title of my first young adult book. Throughout the months it took to write, I’d called the book Sasha’s Story. However, a quick search of Amazon showed this style of title usually belongs to “misery memoirs” – books about people who have overcome horrendous childhoods.

Although Sasha is in foster care and her childhood has been pretty miserable so far, this book wasn’t about her past. It was about her future and, in particular, about her love of horses. As my target readers were horse lovers, I realised that I needed to change the title to one that would appeal to them and show up on relevant searches they made on Amazon.  I decided to concentrate on the keyword “horse” and, after a lot of trial and error, I settled on There Must Be Horses – a title that’s worked well and proved as effective as I’d hoped.

Unfortunately, in my case, a lesson learned isn’t necessarily a lesson remembered.  When I published my children’s novel about an alien who comes to earth disguised as a green sheep, I forgot about the importance of finding the right title. I’d called the book The Green Sheep while I was writing it so, without thinking hard enough, that was the title I used when I published the book towards the end of 2014, Continue reading

Indents in ebooks

One of the most frequent questions we are asked by self-publishing authors concerns problems with paragraph indents. If you print out your Word document and everything looks OK, why do things get in a muddle when you turn it into an ebook?  Continue reading

How many books will I sell?

 It’s impossible to tell how many books you will sell because it depends on so many factors.

  1. The quality of your book
  2. Whether people like it enough to recommend it to others.
  3. The strength of the opposition from other similar books.
  4. The size of your target market.
  5. The price you are charging
  6. The quality of your marketing.

Notice that I’ve put marketing last. No amount of marketing will sell a bad book, but a good book may sell well without much marketing if it gets word-of-mouth recommendations. Continue reading

Making your readers care

The success of your story depends on your readers identifying so strongly with the characters and events that they care about what happens next. If they don’t care, they’ll stop turning the pages and, in the case of an ebook, they won’t want to hit the buy button after they’ve finished the sample.

To work out how to make your readers care about your stories, start by thinking what holds your attention. And to help you do that, take a look at this piece of writing.

A man lay behind the  hedge holding a rifle. He took aim at another man walking towards him and fired.

This should be a dramatic scene with lots at stake because someone might die. But do you care about it. I know I don’t. I feel distanced from what’s happening because I don’t know anything about the people involved. Who are they? Why are they there? Which one should I be supporting?

So let’s look at the same scene again with the addition of a few extra facts. Continue reading

How an author collective works

Before looking at the nitty-gritty of how an author collective works, we should firstly ask why this current rise of the author collective is happening. It seems obvious the main reason is a reaction to today’s depressed traditional publishing industry, with many authors turning to self-publishing as an alternative means of publication. As self-publishing blossoms into an economic force, the number of organisations offering writers’ services––both good and bad––is growing at an alarming rate. An author collective can look at what is best for a group, more effectively than an individual; it provides a wall of defence, thus making the group less vulnerable to all those circling sharks.

Triskele Nov 2014 collage 2The Birth of Triskele Books
In December 2011, three writing colleagues found themselves in similar situations: literary agents unable to sell their work to traditional publishing houses. They’d met via an online writing group, and gravitated towards one another on the strength of impressive writing and valuable critiques. Here were opinions they could trust. So they got together and discussed their options: they wanted to have their cake and eat it––to produce well-written, professionally-presented books while maintaining their independence and retaining full creative control. They thus decided to form the Triskele Books author collective––not a small publisher (each author retains her own rights), not a business (each keeps her own profits) but a collaborative platform for a mutually supportive team of writers.

The Nitty-Gritty of the Author Collective Manuscript Editing
A traditional publication deal brings an editor who casts a critical eye over your work with the aim of improving it. Triskele Books consists of five core members (and now several associates), all talented writers and all determined to raise one another’s game. So manuscripts whizz around in cyberspace, edited and critiqued by four pairs of eyes. This could be confusing and counter-productive, but we always keep in mind the writer’s goal and help her/him get there.

Marketing & Networking
Five individuals scattered across Europe, who write historical fiction, crime and literary fiction, have a variety of networks. Local media, Facebook friends, writing workshops, Twitter and Google + followers, bookshops, blog tours, reviewers, Pinterest boards, book clubs and Goodreads groups are all useful in marketing our books.

We scan the latest developments in publishing, pass on tips and share experiences. We promote each other’s books via our own (each carries ads for the others in the back, our bookmarks illustrate the other covers), we support other writers who aren’t part of the collective and reinforce the message that the indie author community is a friendly, helpful place. We are all members of The Alliance of Independent Authors. This organisation provides indie authors with a unified public presence, a respected voice in the media and myriad benefits to its members.

Communication
Since we are, geographically, all over the map––The Lake District, London, Zürich, Buckinghamshire, Lyon and Birmingham––this has proved one of the most difficult areas to manage. Daily business is done via our private Facebook page. We also use email and Skype for sharing documents and having more complex discussions. Collective decision-making is slow, but unanimous approval is non-negotiable.

Financial Aspects
Finances are kept relatively simple. We all keep our royalties from sales of our own books. If we market or advertise Triskele collectively, through posters, bookmarks, etc, we all contribute equal shares. And for joint ventures, like our eBook The Triskele Trail or launch parties, we divide initial outlay and profits go into our Triskele bank account to cover future overheads like webhosting, print materials, advertising etc. Our most financially-savvy member deals with each transaction, keeping us all informed and ensuring we stay liquid.

Copy of Triskele_Logo_Books_POS

Professional Presentation
Not all independent publishers feel the same way, but Triskele authors want their books to stand out for all the right reasons: no typo-riddled manuscripts or poorly Photoshopped covers. This means using a professional cover designer, proofreader and typesetter. Only books that meet these professional standards carry the Triskele brand logo.

Tips on Forming an Author Collective
A collective like Triskele Books is a group of personalities, for better or worse, so it’s impossible for us to offer advice to others on how exactly another collective should work. There’s no one way to do this, but we believe one of the most vital things, when forming a collective, is to ask yourself who is reliable and trustworthy. Are these people you’d be happy to go into business with in the real world? Because even though this isn’t a company set-up in the strict sense of the word, the commitment is identical. There’s a lot of hard work and energy involved in self-publishing, and no ship can afford to carry unseaworthy passengers.

Of course, the Triskele route isn’t the only way, and we’re always curious to know how other collectives operate. Here are our interviews with a few more from around the globe:
Five Directions Press
Notting Hill Press
Indie Visible
Writer’s Choice

Cover of the Triskele TrailIt’s been almost three years now, since the birth of the Triskele Books author collective, and in our updated, new 2014 edition of The Triskele Trail , we have collated what we’ve learned into a road map to self-publishing.

 Members of Triskele Books
Gillian Hamer
Crime writer and columnist for Words with JAM magazine, Gillian is the author of the crime novels: The Charter, Closure, Complicit and Crimson Shore.

JJ Marsh
Based in Switzerland, Jill is the author of the Beatrice Stubbs international crime series, half of the Nuance Words project and a columnist for Words with JAM and The Woolf magazines.

Liza Perrat 
Liza is Australian, but has lived in rural France for twenty years, where she works as a part-time medical translator and a novelist. She is the author of the first two books of the French historical trilogy: Spirit of Lost Angels, Wolfsangel, and the short story collection, Friends, Family and Other Strangers from Downunder.

Catriona Troth
Catriona Troth is the author of the novella, Gift of the Raven, and the novel, Ghost Town. A former researcher turned freelance writer, she is a regular contributor to Words with JAM magazine.

JD Smith
JD Smith (Jane) works predominantly on book cover design and typesetting. She is the editor of the writing magazine Words with JAM and Bookmuse, the author of Tristan and Iseult and The Rise of Zenobia, the Overlord series.

by J J Marsh and Liza Perrat

You can find more details on Triskele Books, as well as useful writing and publishing industry information at:
Website: www.triskelebooks.co.uk
Blog: www.triskelebooks.blogspot.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/triskelebooks
Twitter: @TriskeleBooks
Bookmuse:www.bookmuse.co.uk

Buy “The Triskele Trail” from amazon.co.uk

Buy “The Triskele Trail” from amazon.com

Choosing the best route for publication for your book

In order to decide the best way to publish your book, you need to think about your goals. So let’s look at the most common ones.

I’ve written my family history and want to make it into a book to give to my relatives.
A print edition is a good choice here as it gives you something to actually put in people’s hands. A straightforward print-on-demand system like Createspace or Lulu can give you a paperback with no set up costs – you just buy the copies you need. However, as this is something to cherish, you may want to pay extra for a hardback. Lulu offer this as an option and there are also some companies online that specialise in this market by producing high quality books in small numbers. You may want to do an ebook too, but it’s definitely not essential.

It’s a good idea to get someone else to read your book before you publish it as a fresh eye will pick up mistakes you’ve missed, but it’s not necessary to have a professional editor. As you’re not selling the book, you don’t need an ISBN and you could create the cover yourself, maybe using a family picture.

I give talks on marketing to business professionals and I want to publish a book on my methods that I can sell at these events.
You obviously need a print edition, but print on demand isn’t the best solution if you expect to sell hundreds of copies. It will cost you less per copy if you have a short print run produced by a printer who specialises in books. It’s important that the book is good quality so make sure you have it professionally edited and that the layout and cover design are professional standard. Of course, some people may want to buy the book after the event so you could use Createspace to produce a POD version for sale on Amazon using the same ISBN as the print run. You might also want to produce an ebook version too as the costs of doing that are very low.

My novel has been rejected by every publisher and agent I have sent it to so I want to publish it myself instead of leaving it to moulder in a drawer. However, I’m not expecting to sell many so I don’t want to spend much money.
The cheapest option for you is to take the ebook only route. You can always add a print version later if the book starts selling well. Even though you have low expectations, you’re planning to sell the book so you need to make sure the book is technically competent. That means you need a copy editor or a friend to check the grammar, spelling and punctuation and to pick up other errors you can’t see because you are too close to the book. You won’t need an ISBN for selling on Amazon, but you will need a cover that looks competent.

My book has been traditionally published but it’s gone out of print. The rights have reverted to me so I want to self-publish in order to make it available to readers again.
Your book has already been edited so you just need to recreate it as a new book and create a new cover. If you haven’t got an electronic version of the text, you can either scan in the original book using optical character recognition, type it out again or pay someone to type it for you. Whichever option you choose, a proof read will be vital to pick up any errors that have crept in. OCR often produces some really weird ones – when I tried it, the pony pricked its cars!

An ebook is a good starting point: it lets you test the water at minimum cost, and you don’t need to bother with an ISBN in order to sell on Amazon. You can always add a POD print book if you wish, but you will need a fresh ISBN for that – you can’t reuse the one from the original edition.

I am sure my book is good enough to be traditionally published but I’m going to self-publish instead. I want to give it as good a chance as if I was following the traditional route.
In order to produce a professional quality book, you need to go through the same publishing steps that a traditional publisher would follow – structural edit, copy edit, proof read, professional quality cover and print layout – and you’ll need to pay for help with the steps you can’t manage by yourself. Aim for a print version as well an ebook as print gives you a greater chance of reviews and something to display and sell at events.  As you want to look professional, buy your own ISBNs for use on the print edition and epub versions of the ebook. (You don’t need one for Kindle Direct Publishing.)

I want my book to be stacked in piles in bookshops, sold in airports and advertised in the mainstream media.
You need to go down the traditional route of submitting to publishers and agents because, at the moment, only traditional publishers have the distribution necessary to get your book into bricks and mortar bookshops. But being accepted by a traditional publisher doesn’t guarantee that you’ll meet your goals. Most traditionally published books don’t get the marketing hype that you are hoping for, and some get very little.marketing at all.

Diana Kimpton

 

 

 

Writing fiction for newly confident readers

PerfectPlanSomewhere between the ages of 5 and 9, children develop enough confidence and skill to start reading books by themselves. These newly confident readers provide a good market for children’s authors but, if you want to write for them, you need to think carefully about their needs.

At this stage, reading is hard work so children are not going to do it unless it’s worth the effort. That’s why you need to give them strong stories with fast-moving plots that keep them turning the pages. Don’t think you can get away with weak stories because your readers are young. They are a very discerning audience and will give up on anything that’s boring.

Lengths and styles
Books for this age are short by adult standards (usually less than 8000 words), and divided into several chapters. (I find 650-1000 words is a good length.) These short chapters break the story into accessible chunks, help new readers see they are making progress and provide plenty of sensible places to stop. As with all fiction, it’s a good idea to put a strong hook at the end of each chapter to keep children wanting to know what happens next.

Newly confident readers (and others) can feel daunted when faced by pages of closely packed unbroken text. Try to keep paragraphs short and include plenty of dialogue to make pages look more accessible. Illustrations can help to break up the text too – at this stage, they are usually black and white line drawings. If you’re publishing your own books, use an easy-to read font but beware of making the letters too big as that can put off readers by looking too childish. Increasing the space between the lines makes reading easier without making the book look too young.

Readability
It’s important that your writing is simple enough for new readers to tackle. Don’t use a long word when a shorter one would be work just as well, and try to choose names that are spelt phonetically so children can sound them out. But don’t let that put you off long words completely. Sometimes they are just what you need, and tyrannasaurus might cause less problems to young readers than cough.

Readability isn’t just about individual words. It also applies to sentences. At this stage, children are reading one word at a time so they may work their way slowly through a complex sentence without understanding what it means. To stop that happening, keep your sentences short and simple, avoid sub-clauses and use full stops rather than semi-colons or too many commas. Don’t worry if this leaves you starting a sentence with but. That’s perfectly acceptable these days, despite what you may have been told at primary school.

As an example, the relatively simple change from

Throwing off his invisibility cloak, Hector attacked the monster with the magic wand which had belonged to grandfather.

to

Hector threw off his invisibility cloak. Then he attacked the monster with his grandfather’s magic wand.

drops the reading age by 4 years without detracting from the story at all.

You can explore how to improve the readability of your own writing by cutting and pasting a piece of text into readability-score.com and editing it on screen. Be careful though – the results you’ll get are US grade levels, not age, and are only there as a guide. Don’t get so hooked on the numbers that your storytelling suffers.

Avoiding boredom
One of the best bits of advice I have ever been given is that everything we write should add humour, build character or move the story forward. That is especially important when writing for this age group. There’s no room here for lengthy descriptions, waffle or moralising. That doesn’t mean you can’t have any descriptions at all, but keep them short and concentrate on what’s essential to the story.

Building on success
Once children have enjoyed one book, they tend to want another that’s similar which is why series are so successful with this age group. (See our article on Writing a Series). Even if you prefer to write one-off stories, you can brand your books with similar covers to help young fans choose another one by you.

Diana Kimpton

 

 

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What makes stories work?

To succeed as a fiction author you need to write stories that work so well that readers enjoy them and recommend them to friends. But what are the components that make a story work? Let’s take a look at six I find particularly important.

1 At least one main character that readers care about
It’s vital that readers care what happens to the main character in your story as that’s what keeps them turning the pages. That doesn’t mean the character has to be perfect.  In fact, it’s often better if they’re not, because readers like reluctant heroes and characters with flaws. However, you’ll find it hard to make them care about someone who is totally unlikable. 

2 A problem that the main character needs to solve
A character with a problem lies at the core of every good story. It’s important that the problem  is one readers can understand and relate to so you need to choose it carefully to suit your target market. For instance, the problem of something being lost is universal but under 5s will relate to a story about a lost toy, romance readers will be interested in lost love and sci-fi fans may prefer the mystery of a lost spacecraft.

3 Plenty of Jeopardy
The more that’s at stake, the more the reader will care about your character’s attempts to solve the problem. So make sure that failure carries high consequences: death, the triumph of evil, unjust imprisonment, loneliness, separation and loss can all work.

4 Rising tension
The tension in a good story rises steadily from beginning to end with a few slight lulls along the way.  As a result, a graph of the tension in a good story  looks like a  series of peaks and troughs with each peak being higher than the one before as they build towards the final climax. Your character’s unsuccessful attempts to solve the problem can provide some of  these ups and downs and so can the arrival of new complications.

One of the surest ways to make sure those peaks keep getting higher is to set a deadline: your couple have to get together before one of them marries the wrong person, the bomb has to be defused before the timer hits zero or the murderer must be caught before he strikes again. The resulting time pressure guarantees that the tension will rise as the deadline comes closer and closer.

5 A black moment when all seems lost
Your readers want your character to succeed, but they don’t want that to happen too easily. Make the most of that time pressure by giving your character one last failed attempt just before the deadline – a failure that makes it look as if all is lost. Now there are no more options left. As the clock ticks on, the bride is walking down the aisle with the wrong man, the bomb has reached the final countdown or the murderer has already captured his next victim. Your reader is on the edge of their seat, holding their breath as they turn the page to find …

6 A climax where the main character solves the problem
After all those failures, the main character finally achieves success against all the odds, preferably in a way that’s not too predictable. To make your climax work to maximum effect, two things are vital:
a) The main character (or characters) must solve the problem themselves. This is not the moment for the cavalry or anyone else to ride to the rescue unless their arrival is a direct result of your main character’s behaviour earlier. So, if the problem is lack of money, it’s better if your character receives some as a reward for bravery rather than by winning the lottery. 
b) The climax mustn’t depend on your characters using powers the readers didn’t know they had. If your character’s success depends on being able to fly a plane or use karate effectively, you need to have dropped that information into the story earlier, at least once, even if you choose to do it in a very subtle way. Your aim should be for readers to think “of course”, not “what!” or “that’s not fair”.

It’s easy to think that the last component is the most important of the six – if you get the climax wrong. you’ll leave your readers feeling dissatisfied so they are less likely to recommend your book to their friends. But even a perfect ending is no good if readers give up earlier in the story because they don’t care what happens.  To make a story work well, you need to weave all the components together with skill.

Diana Kimpton