Changing things . . .

Over the past month or so, I’ve been serialising Regarding Avalon on WattPad. It’s an experiment in getting a bit more exposure for my writing, which by happy coincidence has also given me an excuse to read the whole book again. (Being a vain sort of writer, I don’t need much of an excuse to re-read my own books, but if I do it as often as I’d like then I’d have no time to read anyone else’s.)

Odd thing about reading your old stuff though: new stuff pops into your head. You think to yourself:

‘Oooh, now what if she’d said this?’


‘Now hang on; it would have been a lot funnier if he’d done that!’

Ideas that are sometimes better, sometimes just a different take on things.

In the bad old days, once your book was out then it was out. If you wanted to make sweeping changes then tough buns (This is probably why I’ve come across so many spelling mistakes in books over the years.) But now, with the miracle of digital distribution, you can go back, make changes and release it again. Hell, you can rewrite the whole book under the same title if you want to.

But that doesn’t mean you should.

For one thing, it’s a little bit unfair on the folk who’ve already bought your book, unless you can get the revised copy to them with a note of apology:

‘Dear reader; I woke up in the middle of the night and decided I’d prefer to kill Susan in chapter 4 instead of chapter 9. Here’s the new book; just start reading from chapter 4 – everything else is more or less the same.’

No, not fair, especially if, a week later, you decide that Susan’s one-in-a-million mishap with the power drill was better in chapter 9 after all:

‘Dear reader; you haven’t started on that new revision yet, have you?’

I’m a consummate meddler (I think the correct medical term is ‘George Lucas Syndrome’); if I let myself then I’d be changing released works every week. So years ago, I established a single, simple rule for myself:

Once it’s out, it’s done.

Sticking to the rule means that I don’t rush stuff out because I think I can fix it later. The book gets read, changed, edited, changed, read, edited, copy-edited . . . You get the idea; it has to be best it can be before I hit the ‘publish’ button.

And if I have new ideas and new directions for the characters then that’s what the sequel’s for.

Why do you write about women?

I guess the quick answer is ‘Why not?’
I can’t really say it’s anything I’ve really thought about too much. Regarding Avalon was always going to be about the hardships facing a disabled female progatonist; Leonard Bliss and the Accountant of the Apocalypse started life as a tale of a demi-god trying to overcome the stresses of his job. As the book evolved, it became about the woman who was in love with him. (I should have renamed it, but Magdelena Cane and the Accountant of the Apocalypse seemed a bit of a mouthful).
And now I’m about half-way through book number three which is about two women who fall in love during WWII, and the effect it has on a third woman some forty years later.
‘So tell me,’ came the question, ‘as a six-foot hoodie-wearing black fella, why are you writing about women instead of, say, the struggles of your people?’
Hmph! Bit racist, I thought, but several years and two-and-a-half books down the line, I think the question deserves a better answer.
Well for one thing, I’ve never been a believer in sage advice, and the piece of advice I’ve always steered clear of is ‘Write what you, know.’
I’d rather write what I don’t know because it gives me the opportunity to learn about people and places and religions and cultures, and explore new forms of writing. I also like to challenge myself by writing far outside my comfort zone, and writing about women is certainly one way to do that.

Maureen DunlopThere are many segments of the population that face discrimination and hardship for no other reason than how they choose to live, whom they choose to love, or simply the skin they were born with. But I don’t think that is any group that has faced such far-reaching discrimination, for so long and in so many different forms, as women. And as a result of this, I don’t think any particular group has raised so many who have stood up and become heroes (of all genders) by challenging this discrimination.
I think that’s why I enjoy writing about women.

Incidentally, the woman in the picture is Maureen Dunlop who flew Spitfires, Hurricanes, Lancasters and Mosquitoes for the Air Transport Auxiliary during World War II.  Although they were not allowed to fly combat missions alongside their male counterparts, the women of the ATA were still tasked with the hazardous job of delivering aircraft to military airfields in Europe. Approximately one in ten women serving in the ATA were killed during these operations.


Diving into CreateSpace

Believe it or not, there’s a subclass of humanity that prefers real books over Kindles and iPads. I should know; I’m one of them, which is why I decided to give Publish On Demand a shot. To be honest, I think I saw it more of an adventure: I’ve always been a little curious as to what goes into putting a printed book together and, without too much outlay, this seemed like a pretty good way to find out.

There are a couple of well-known POD outfits out there. I think Lulu is probably the most well-known, closely followed by the Amazon-owned CreateSpace. As far as I can tell, when it comes to POD there’s not much between them, but Lulu also covers eBook publishing so has the advantage if you’re looking to do the whole thing from a single service. Since I already had the Kindle and the iPad covered I thought I’d give CreateSpace a bash. From looking at the instructions (and you must read the instructions), CreateSpace looked like much less hassle for a good result. I also thought as they were owned by Amazon then it would be much easier to get the book into the Amazon store – that was mistake number one.

Both services offer a set of Word templates to help get your book into the correct format (I picked a 6×9 because I wanted to show off the cover … :-)), and as long as work slowly, don’t bugger about with the template’s formatting,  and save often then you shouldn’t find the process too difficult. Tedious, yes, but not too difficult.

You should only worry about the cover design once the book is in print format. Why? Well, you need to know how many pages the finished book will contain to work out the width of the spine. Your cover designer will know all about this, but if you’re doing the cover yourself, both Lulu and CreateSpace have onsite calculators to help with this.

Incidentally, I’ve never seen an author-drawn book cover that I’ve actually liked. If  you’re taking the time and trouble to go to print then you may as well stump up the money to get a decent cover designed.

Once I’d uploaded the book interior (pages) and the exterior (cover),  I ordered the proofs. And this is where I realised I’d made something of a mistake. Although it is attached to Amazon, a company with an almost galactic reach, CreateSpace is very US-centric: the proofs had to be shipped from the States (not cheap). What’s more, even though CreateSpace is attached to Amazon, there is no guarantee that your book will appear in any Amazon store other than the US one.

Bizarre, I know.

Although I haven’t tried them, I understand that you may have better luck with Lulu if you want to sell on Amazon UK. That’ll teach me to read the small print.

Anyway, a couple of weeks(!) later, the proof arrived.

If there comes a time when you feel like jacking it all in, here’s what you do: get a single copy of your book made up.

Hold it in your hand, caress the paper, drop it onto the dining room table and listen to the sound it makes. You can even read it again if you want to.

Trust me, you’ll feel renewed.

Speaking of reading through, CreateSpace will allow you to order the books without ordering the proof first. This is madness, I tell you, sheer madness! I cannot imagine why anyone would order a boxful of books without a thorough proof-read beforehand. It’s a false economy; don’t do it.

And if you are new to self-publishing then you could do a lot worse than spending a few hours on Catherine Howard’s extraordinarily useful, extraordinarily honest and extraordinarily pink website. In my case, not doing so was mistake number two; if I had, I wouldn’t have made mistake number one.

Or would that make it mistake number…well, you get the idea.

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