It takes a whole team to indie publish a book!

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Even when you indie publish, it’s not something you do entirely alone.

My fifth novel, In a Manhattan Minute, was published on Thursday 20th October. I have been indie publishing my novels for a while now, but contrary to what many people think, it’s not just me sitting in a room until the final novel is finished and then pressing a button. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of sitting at a desk and getting those words written, but once the first draft is finished and I’ve been through the book at least another three, four or sometimes five times to edit it myself, it’s time to involve a few other people.

Usually, by the time I’ve gone through my novel that many times I can’t even look at it and I need to take a step back. Most writers will tell you this works very well and I usually take a step back after my first edit. But then the real letting go comes when I send it for the substantive round of edits.

Substantive edits are thorough. They look at how the story works as a whole, taking into account the plot, pacing and structure. It’s scary to get the substantive report back because it’s usually several pages long, in addition to comments throughout the manuscript. To manage the substantive edits, I take a deep breath, then separate the report into manageable chunks.  I also cross out sections once I’ve been through the entire manuscript to ensure they’ve been dealt with, and it’s quite satisfying!

Once the substantive stage is finished, the manuscript is returned to the editor and it’s time for the copyedits. I find this stage much less scary. Copyedits are a lot more specific. So, for example, does your character sit down for breakfast and then on the next page clear the table after finishing their lunch? Or do they have blonde hair at the start but then all of a sudden their hair is described as ebony?

Following the copyedits and my subsequent changes, it’s time to use the services of a proofreader. I like to use someone different to who I used for the editing, because it’s a fresh set of eyes on your manuscript. This is the least painful stage because by now the big issues have been ironed out and the story is almost ready. The proofreader will particularly focus on grammar and spelling but they will also spot any inconsistencies you may have missed. When the book is 70k plus, mistakes are easy to overlook.

When the proofed manuscript is returned, I make changes and then go through yet again to check. Next, I pass my manuscript to my husband. I either print a paperback proof or put the book onto my kindle for this. He’s a great final proofreader because he’s not afraid to tell me if there are any mistakes! And again, it’s a fresh pair of eyes. Once he’s checked and I’ve made any necessary changes, I go through yet again and then it’s time to load the manuscript up onto KDP.

During the editing and proofreading stages, I usually get in touch with my cover designer and we discuss my requirements for the book. I may find examples of styles I like, or I may want the cover to tie in with a particular theme. Once we’ve discussed the brief, my cover designer will send me about half a dozen visuals. Usually there’s something there that I either really like, or that we can tweak. It may be a case of taking a font from one, an image from another and putting those onto something new. It takes a few goes back and forth but I end up with a cover I love.

When it’s time to publish, I use Amazon’s KDP. It’s pretty straightforward, especially once you’ve published a few books. You can also read through on the screen again which I usually do, and it’s particularly good to check the layout. I make sure chapter headings are centred, there are no mysterious blank pages, and the cover is as it should be.

I usually multitask too. So right now I’m working on promoting In a Manhattan Minute, I have another Christmas book with my editor for the substantive stage, I’m writing book seven, and I’m thinking about what I’ll do for book eight. It’s hard work but I absolutely love it and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

It’s so important, if you’re self publishing, to take the time to get each stage of the process right. It does cost, but it’s an investment and good edits, proofreading and book covers will last a lifetime. By investing in each stage it will also help you to produce a book that is just as professional as those titles produced by a big publisher. And it will give you the best chance of success and great sales.

I hope you enjoyed the blog post…if you’d like to sign up for my newsletter, I have an exclusive giveaway coming in mid-November!

Helen J Rolfe x

 

 

 

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The Tightrope Women Walk – a Jane Lythell guest post

At my launch with lesley and sinnetToday we are joined on the blog by good friend of the Write Romantics, the very talented and totally lovely, Jane Lythell. Jane’s guest post explores the ways in which her new novel mirrors the challenge so many women face in balancing their work and home lives. Over to you Jane.

 On the dust jacket of my new novel Woman of the Hour it says: Meet Liz Lyon: respected TV producer, stressed-out executive, guilty single mother… Woman of the Hour. This sums up the dilemma of my central character very well. I was keen that in this, my third novel, I would put the focus on a working mum who has a high pressure job as a TV producer and a stroppy teenage daughter at home.

My heroine Liz Lyon is 41 years old and divorced; her daughter Flo is 14. Liz took on a big mortgage so that she and Flo could have a decent home. She is stressed by the demands of her job but she needs the TV salary to pay her mortgage. She calls this ‘golden handcuffs’, being paid so much that you feel you can’t leave your job.

Liz is in charge of the feature output of StoryWorld TV station which puts out a daily live morning show. It is her job toE-book and Paperback cover woman of the hour_rough 2_new_1 manage and soothe the huge egos at the station. There’s Fizzy Wentworth the star presenter, Gerry Melrose the astrologer, Ledley the Chef and Betty the Agony Aunt. There is also Liz’s team of researchers and a power-crazed boss called Julius Jones.

A television station often has a feverish atmosphere and even more so when the shows are live. Live TV is more dangerous than pre-recorded because things can go wrong. When it does go wrong presenters have to cope under pressure, there’s a surge of adrenalin and feelings run high. I try to capture this in a number of scenes in Woman of the Hour from the moment when a guest won’t come out of Make-Up because her hair looks awful, to the scene where a prominent politician tears off his mic and storms out of the TV station. Liz is left to pick up the pieces and has to be the calm sensible one who sorts out the problems.

When Liz gets home she has to deal with her daughter Flo who she loves deeply but who is doing that teenage thing of pulling away from her mum. Liz often can’t say what she means when she’s at work but when she gets home she can let her out her emotions, and she does. She’s sometimes like a pressure cooker ready to blow. She worries that she’s a better mother to her team at work than she is to her daughter Flo who presses all her buttons.

Why did my rows with Flo escalate so fast? Why was I able to control my anger at work but not at home? I felt a failure as a parent and I wanted to call Ben (her ex-husband) and tell him that he didn’t know what he was missing.

Liz feels a lot of guilt about the length of time she spends at work. She knows she should put Flo first but all too often the demands of work take precedence.

When Janis first came to work for me she told me a story that has stayed with me. It was a hot afternoon and after she had picked Flo up from school she took her to Primrose Hill to find a breeze and to eat sandwiches on the grass. They had walked to the top of the hill where there is this panoramic view of London spread out below with all its buildings, cranes and spires. Flo pointed to the view and said: ‘That’s London and my mummy works there.’ It makes me sad when I think of Flo saying that. She was missing me and she probably wished she had a stay-at-home mum who would pick her up from school every day.

When Liz gets home she often cooks to help her decompress from the stresses of work. At the end of the book I’ve included three recipes called: Comfort Recipes for the Stressed Out. I do think that many of us find comfort in cooking after a particularly bad day at the office!

Doing an interview for TV-am at car factoryI worked in television for 15 years, first at TV-am and later at WestCountry Television doing live TV. On Good Morning Britain I was one of the people who booked the guests for Anne Diamond to interview and I’d write the briefs for her. The hours were long and unpredictable and this made it difficult for me as a lone parent. I left my career in television when my daughter was nine years old.

Many books depict the emotional and family lives of women. I’ve seen much less fiction about a woman struggling with the pressures of work. Yet that had been my life. A working mother, trying to keep all the balls up in the air and feeling conflicted about competing pressures and I wanted to explore that in Woman of the Hour.

Jane Lythell

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Thanks so much for that insightful post, Jane. The Write Romantics loved Woman of the Hour and here’s Jo’s review:

 I’ve loved both of Jane Lythell’s other books – The Lie of You and After the Storm – but I think she hits new heights with ‘Woman of the Hour’. This is a departure from the tense psychological storylines in her first two books, to more of a women’s fiction feel – although my husband is reading the book now, and loving it too, and there are still plenty of deeper themes around the complexity of family and working relationships.

I really liked the first person writing in this novel and it was as if I was living Liz’s experiences with her. Sharing her upsCover WOTH and downs, anxieties and frustrations, particularly at the treatment she received from some of her colleagues at StoryWorld and the huge egos battling it out at times!

It is obvious that the author has researched this book by living some of the experiences and the writing is all the more authentic and engaging for that reason. There are a wealth of wonderful characters in the StoryWorld setting, many of whom could warrant their own novel, so I’m really glad to hear that there is more to come from this series.

There are clever sub plots weaved into the story, but Liz’s life is undoubtedly the main focus. As a working mum myself – familiar with the constant guilt trip that accompanies it – I loved the way the book moved between Liz’s working life and her interactions with her teenage daughter Flo. Again, the authenticity with which the scenes between mother and daughter were written, had me hooked.

There are moments to make you laugh, bring a lump to your throat and even to make your mouth water! The comfort food recipes at the end were a lovely touch too. As I said at the outset, I think Jane Lythell is a fabulous author and once again her novel, as with the other two, had me reading into the early hours. This is her best yet, though, and I’m already waiting impatiently for the next in the series.

You can find out more about Jane Lythell on her Facebook author page here or follow her on Twitter @janelythell

You can download Woman of the Hour, and Jane’s other books, from Amazon and they are also available in all good bookshops.

A Bright New Start for Beltane by Alys West

downloadFor as long as I’ve wanted to write I’d hoped to one day sign with a literary agent.  And then I did and it was nothing like I’d imagined.  Possibly as a result of reading too many books set in the 1930s, I had this idea of literary agents as fatherly figures or blue-stockinged, strong minded ladies who maybe smoked too many cigarettes or took too many long lunches but knew the publishing industry inside and out.  I thought they’d pick up my book and guide it, with a firm hand, out into the world.  Perhaps that’d involve wining and dining the right editor, or shaking the right hand at a book fair, but sooner or later I’d have a book deal on the table.

Only it didn’t work out like that.  I got a series of very polite rejections for the most baffling variety of reasons.  One editor loved this about it but not that, the next turned it down because they enjoyed the rest of it, but hated what the first editor had loved.  At the end of that my confidence, which is never high, had taken a total battering and whatever belief I’d had in Beltane had pretty much disappeared.  And my faith in my agent was being shaken at the same time.  They made promises they didn’t fulfill, often didn’t reply to emails until they’d been chased and, hardest to forgive, turned down two offers from publishers in the US without discussing them with me first.

Then last autumn my agent suggested that I publish Beltane through Amazon’s White Glove programme.  White Glove is only available to people who have an agent and, I was told, is like an enhanced form of KDP and would allow access to Kindle Monthly Deals.  Once I got started with it there was little evidence of the additional marketing support that I’d been promised.  It turned out that Amazon had changed their rules, since we’d originally talked about it in the autumn, and books could only be nominated for Kindle Monthly Deals quarterly and I’d have to wait until the end of March to be nominated for spring promotions.  But before that the price had to remain above £1.99 and it wasn’t possible to run any other promotions.  Anyone who has self-published will be aware of how hard it is to generate interest in a debut. Being unable to drop the price below £1.99 it felt next to impossible, no matter how great my reviews were or how much time I spent on Twitter.

It took something else to happen for me to leave but the end result of all of this is that my agent and I have now parted company and I’ve been trying to re-orientate myself in a new world.  I’m now with Fabrian Books. It’s lovely to be part of a small team but retain control of the way my book is sold and marketed.

Beltane new ebook coverNow I’ve arrived here, I’m wondering if it’s where I should have been all along.  I’ve tried to play by the rules, doing things the traditional, approved way and it’s not worked.  Perhaps I’m not cut out for dealing with the world of traditional publishing.  What I’ve seen of it so far has not exactly impressed me. Coming from the certainties of the world of law it’s pretty hard for me to understand that everyone in publishing seems to be desperately searching for the holy grail of the next big thing, but can’t actually tell you what it is they’re looking for.

Watching someone mismanage your book is a very painful process.  I never want to go through that again, so does that mean I’m now indie for life?  I don’t know.  I guess I need to try it and see.  I felt really fed up earlier this week about it not working out with my agent, about the time wasted and the opportunities I could have taken if I’d not been locked into this route that was supposed to be the best one for publication.  Thanks to the support of the other Write Romantics and an exercise at my yoga class about being upside down and looking at things that way (try it sometime, it really helps!) I’ve now been able to see that maybe I needed to try the agent route to find out that it wasn’t right for me.

Because of all of this, I’ve read Beltane again for the first time in about 2 years.  What really hit me this time is that it’s a book about outsiders.  Maybe it’s right that it’s now truly independently published.

Has your route to publication not worked out at all as you’d expected?  If you’re happy to share them, I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Beltane is now published by Fabrian Books and is available here and is only 99p until the Summer Solstice on 20th June.

Finding an Agent – Discovery Day 2016

Author photo - Helen J RolfeOn Saturday 27th February I took the train to London to attend Discovery Day 2016, an event held at Foyles bookshop where attendees had the opportunity to pitch their work to Curtis Brown and Conville & Walsh Literary Agents.

For any writer, the chance to meet agents face to face is an invaluable opportunity and as I walked to Charing Cross Road I was excited, if a little nervous.

We had been given allocated time slots for pitching but it was still an hour queueing on the stairs to get to the top of Foyles and the gallery where agents were waiting for us. This was a nice time, however, to meet other writers and talk about our work. It helped to calm the nerves!

Foyles

 

Once I reached the gallery and an agent was free I was lucky enough to pitch to the lovely Jess Whitlum-Cooper who works at Curtis Brown with Felicity Blunt. Jess read my first page and then I was given thirty seconds to pitch my novel before we discussed my work.

Following the pitch appointment we were also able to ask general questions about agents, writing and publishing, with another literary agent in a Surgery Session, and here were the top tips for writing a cover letter to go with your submission:

  • Provide a very concise description of what your book is about
  • Identify who potential readers are
  • Name similar authors
  • Talk about your own writing experience
  • Let the agent know what inspired you to write this particular book

I found the experience of Discovery Day extremely positive and a lot of fun. Jess showed a lot of enthusiasm for my novel which was a real boost and whether or not I end up securing an agent this time round, Discovery Day did a lot for my confidence and belief in my writing. It also really showed me that not only do I want to find an agent to represent me, but I want to find the right agent. I think the right fit is so important because an agent/author relationship is a long-term commitment from both sides.

So for now, it’s on with the submissions and the next book!

Helen J Rolfe

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What Rosie Found Next - bookcover - KDP versiontft front cover with quoteHandle Me with Care final front cover - for KDP

 

 

 

 

 

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Ode to a Writer

Conf 2014 3I had one of those conversations the other day, where you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. My head was wedged into the porcelain torture device more commonly known as a hairdresser’s sink and the young girl washing my hair was talking about her sister who’s studying English at uni.   I asked, as you do in these situations, what her sister wanted to do when she finishes. “She quite likes the idea of writing books, so I think she’s going to do that.” Did I tell her how difficult that was? Or ask her to pass on to her sister that she should have a back-up plan, a postgraduate certificate in teaching perhaps? Of course I didn’t, I just nodded and laughed inwardly. Drawing here on a melting pot of WR experiences, this is what I should have said!

 

Ode to a Writer

You want to be a writer and your mum’s your biggest fan,

Poems penned at eight-years-old convince her that you can.

Your dreams you keep them quiet, until you’re Brahms and Liszt,

You tell your friends who laugh-out-loud and soon you get the gist.

“A living as a writer? I suppose there’s always hope,

You stand about as good-a-chance to get elected Pope.”

 

You read a lot of ‘how to’ books, but not quite ready yet,

You spend enough on stationery to beat the national debt.

After learning twelve new swear words and an awful lot of graft,

Your book’s more holes than Swiss-cheese, but at least you’ve got a draft.

A hundred versions later, to submit it you’re all set,

And stop hiding from friends’ demands if it’s been published yet.

 

Out to publishers and agents, sure the slush pile it will ride,

But what if they all want it? How on earth will you decide?

You start to stalk the postman, your relationship you taint,

He’s forced by your obsession to an order of restraint.

He just brings pizza flyers, not a flaming other thing,

Your email’s also empty and your phone it doesn’t ring.

 

Then a meeting with an editor! To pitch it in one line,

It takes deep consideration and a bucket-load of wine,

A teenager in hot pants rejects the book as “out of style”,

You’d like to run her over, but you force yourself to smile.

“Your target market’s disappeared, your genre in the past”,

Another pitcher full of wine? You swear this is your last.

 

Who needs a publisher anyway? Self-publishing’s the key,

To notice it amongst the rest, you start the book for free.

You don’t let stats stand in your way, you know you’ll be the one,

To earn enough, once you charge, for mansions in the sun.

Your statement comes from Amazon, the sales they do amaze,

Enough to buy a whole doughnut, but only without glaze.

 

A fab five-star reviewer puts the smile back on your face,

But then there is the one-star for that comma out of place.

Mad to be a writer? We’re afraid that much is true,

Take comfort that you’re not alone, as we’re all crazy too.

And if we weren’t still writing, how would we spend the time?

Now pass us back that laptop and another glass of wine.

 

I probably could have written another twenty verses, but despite all this the WRs wouldn’t – or more accurately couldn’t – swap writing for anything else. Happy writing all you crazy fools! Jo x

Location, Location!

Melbourne at night - free image Pixabay

After living in Australia for fourteen years, we made the decision to return to the UK to be nearer to my family. We left Australia on October 20th 2014 and so it seemed fitting that almost a year on (we arrived in the UK October 26th), I write about the setting for my novels so far.

I spent nine years in Melbourne and five in Sydney and Australia will always hold a special place in my heart. I set my first novel in a fictitious town on the Central Coast with my characters visiting and working in Sydney itself, then Handle Me with Care was set in the fictitious suburb of Huntley. Handle Me with Care really let me embrace my love for Melbourne and talk about all the fantastic places that have seen it named the World’s Most Liveable City several years in a row. I love everything about Melbourne – the friendly and approachable people, the tram network that’s just so easy, the surrounding green space.

My third novel is due to be released in only two weeks’ time, on November 3rd, and yes, you guessed it, it’s set in Australia too. This time I’ve set the story in a fictitious town called Magnolia Creek and What Rosie Found Next is the first in my Magnolia Creek series. The series will be made up of standalone stories but will all be set in the same beautiful area nestled in the Dandenong Ranges near Melbourne.

The Dandenong Ranges always hold a good memory for me, not only for their beauty. When I first arrived in Australia a friend and I decided we would go to the Dandenongs and explore – we’d heard there were quaint little shops that sold freshly baked scones with cream so we were sold. Now, remember these were the days before iPhones and Sat Navs so armed with our copy of the Melways – an enormous book of maps – off we went.

Disappointed, we returned to work the next day moaning to colleagues, and a little embarrassed, that we hadn’t seen Melbourne’s Dandenong Ranges with their breathtaking scenery, low mountain ranges, rolling hills and Mountain Ash trees, and when we told them we’d been to Dandenong and seen a suburb much like any other, the people we worked with found it hysterical. Dandenong is a whole different place…’The’ Dandenongs were in a different direction entirely.

Anyway, we lived it down, eventually, until the day we went to visit the Grampians, but that’s a different story altogether!

koala - free pixabay imageSetting my books in Australia came naturally when I wrote The Friendship Tree. I’d been living in the country for such a long time that I never considered a different place. I had fun with fictitious suburbs and when I formed Magnolia Creek I wanted to return to Victoria but set my story in a small town with gorgeous Australian scenery, a vibrant community, characters who had stories to tell and problems to solve.

So will I always set my stories in Australia? Well, that I’m not sure of. What I do know is that I’ve had a lot of fun with the setting so far and I’m already back in Magnolia Creek as I work on the first draft of book four bringing new characters to town. But who knows where it’ll be after Magnolia Creek…maybe over to another country entirely. Now that could be fun!

Helen J Rolfe.

What Rosie Found Next - bookcover - KDP version

 

What Rosie Found Next is the first novel in the Magnolia Creek series and it’s available for pre-order now. The book will be released November 3rd 2015…

Secrets are unearthed, promises are broken, friendships are put to the test and the real risk of bushfires under the hot Australian sun threatens to undo Rosie once and for all…Will Rosie and Owen be able to find what they want or what they really need?

What Rosie Found Next – Available for pre-order now

 

 

Tears, tombstones and tittle-tattle

1174820_10201404510706309_1859499988_nI went *fake* camping the other day – I highly recommend it, by the way, it has all the benefits of meeting up with your friends who are sleeping under canvas, drinking wine and talking, but you get to go home and sleep in a warm, comfortable bed when they head off to their tents! My friend and her sister had both read my first full-length novel over the summer and we raised a glass or three to the new four-book deal I’d been offered a couple of weeks before. They asked me, though, if I was at all worried about having enough ideas to fulfil the contract. All I could do was smile and hope the red wine hadn’t stained my teeth too much.

Time is probably my biggest writing issue, fitting it around the rest of life’s commitments; ideas on the other hand crowd my brain and pop up at every turn. Some of them spark plots for full-length novels, novellas or even a series, and others for short stories for women’s magazines – a competitive market which I’ve finally managed to crack.

Everyone loves people watching, right? But my husband certainly thinks it’s a bit weird when we’re watching people inSS102271 a coffee shop and I start guessing what they do for a living, what their backgrounds are and giving each of them a life story. My mum tells me that even when I was tiny, she’d constantly lose me in supermarkets and shops and find me standing between groups of other mothers, listening to their conversations and asking them extremely nosey questions. Now, when my husband discreetly taps the side of his nose, to let me know that my eavesdropping is getting just a little bit too obvious, I tell him that I’m not just being nosey, I’m working!

SS102290Ideas can come from anywhere, take this past week for instance. Last Monday, I took the children to London and, standing-up on the tube, we noticed two impeccably dressed and made-up women with tears silently streaming down their faces. They weren’t talking to each other or wearing black, like they were on their way to a funeral, and they didn’t appear to have just received bad news on their phones. If it had been one woman, I might have imagined a relationship break-up but, with the silent tears and the two of them sitting side-by-side, my imagination was working overtime, trying to work out what scenario that had led to this point. Even the fact that everyone noticed, but no-one said anything, sparked an idea for characterisation – why we act the way we do? Maybe it was because if felt wrong to intrude on their grief, to check they were okay, or because there were two of them, but we all obeyed the unwritten rule of the tube… don’t talk to a stranger, whatever the circumstance.

Later in the week, my husband and I set off for a rare weekend away without the children and we spent a lot of time inAAA IMG_0226 restaurants and pubs, leisurely reading the papers over breakfast and avidly eavesdropping over bottles of Prosecco come the evening. Listening-in to the pub conversations of others is like sprinkling glitter on your imagination and the heated discussion one couple were having, about how there was no way they were letting their son borrow their camera for his trip to Paris with his girlfriend, who they clearly couldn’t stand, left me imagining another host of scenarios. Maybe he’d propose out there, then what would happen to the family dynamic? Or perhaps the girlfriend would prove to be as obnoxious as the parents clearly thought she was and the city of Paris would be anything but romantic! Of course, I’ll never know how the story panned out, but it sparked off an idea for a possible story about what happens when a family member brings someone new into the fold who just doesn’t fit it. Torn between your first love and your family, who would you choose?

IMG_0222Taking a break from eating and drinking, we decided to have a walk up to the Epsom Downs and, on the way back down, the phone’s sat nav directed us through a cemetery. It was quiet and leafy and, as I can never help doing when I find myself in one of those places, I just had to read the grave stones. There was one that really struck a cord – the burial plot of Luke and his Lily. He’d been killed out in Italy in the last year of World War II, she’d died some forty years later, clearly not having remarried. There was a whole life story on that stone, particularly as their three children had left a touching dedication, and she’d obviously raised them alone during a time when being a single mother was even more of a challenge than it is now. There’s definitely a novel in that.

For me, inspiration can be found anywhere and, whilst none of my characters are based on real people, conversations with friends definitely spark off ideas too. If they make a really funny comment, there’s a chance it might appear in some form or another somewhere along the line. So, as the sign says, be careful what you say or you might just find yourself in an eavesdropping writer’s next story!

Jo x