Bev's Blog

Returned from the editor (Blog 7) - 1/9/2016

The End . . .

It sounds final doesn’t it – but I’m beginning to realise that to a writer those two last words couldn’t be further from the truth.

Oliver & the Missing Scientist has now been edited, and re-read, and beta read, but still, the journey is only just beginning.

From the editing process, I have learnt so many things, especially about my writing style. This learning curve has gone something like this:-

  1. Although it is top secret and no editor would admit to it, they all trained as MI5 agents; they miss nothing, read between every line, and find words that not even the writer knew that they had written.
  2. . . . and there was me thinking that I had a reasonable understanding of grammar. Now where did I put that Essential English Grammar textbook?
  3. It is possible to overuse an explanation mark!
  4. The Oxford comma is important after all.
  5. It isn’t necessary to use a full stop after Mr or Mrs. (It may seem small, but how is it that I’ve never noticed this before?)
  6. To plan the next book in far more detail than I have ever done before to avoid the longer magical mystery tour diversions that need mopping up.
  7. The eye that I thought I had for detail, isn’t nearly as good as that of an editor.
  8. So that’s how you use a hyphen – or is it?
  9. I must love words much more than my editor does as I use far more of them. My sentences can say exactly the same as his, but can be twice as long.
  10. An editor really makes the magic happen.

Reading through the edits has caused a whole range of emotions. It feels wonderful to know that the text has been polished, but strangely, this has left me feeling like an intruder. In some ways, beginning the process of edits, felt as if I no longer had complete ownership; I began asking myself permission to reorder a sentence. I accepted that it was time to loosen my grip. I don’t want to hold the book so tight that I clip its wings, I want to share it, I want the words to soar, and readers to feel that the story is theirs to be interpreted in any way that their imagination decides to take it.

I had no idea that this part of the journey would be as emotional as it is. It feels real, it is real. The end of the story signals the start of my new journey and it is so very exciting.

It’s all in the planning (Blog 6) - 8/8/2016

[A lesson learnt, here’s the plan]

If there’s one lesson that I have learnt from writing my first book, that’s to thoroughly plan the second before I make the same mistakes all over again. As it stands today, book one is 89,000 words. I have no doubt that it will shrink even further when it’s returned by the editor. I’m certainly no mathematician, but from the initial 130,000 words, I’ve managed an overwrite of 41,000 words. That’s a lot of words. How did that happen?

I’m not sure exactly, but I can tell you approximately. The extra 41,000 words were unnecessary and irrelevant to the plot. I didn’t start with a clear plan, and I drifted. The characters had many ‘wordy-worldly’ adventures which quite frankly, they may have enjoyed but, slowed the plot. Each of these 41,000 words, were the raindrops on the track, creating muddy puddles, making the journey for the reader harder to wade through.

I certainly made work for myself. After the plot was finalised, I needed to evaluate each and every sentence. When writing book two, I am going to ask myself more often, ’is it necessary for the plot?’

This approach may sound more radical, but it doesn’t mean that my characters will from now on be battery-farmed instead of free-range. On the contrary, sometimes, you can’t tell how you’ll react in a situation until you find yourself in it. As a writer, I often lose myself in the story, and maybe not physically, but certainly mentally, I am there. My characters will have to think on their feet, make some spontaneous decisions, and even stray miles away from the original plan, but this time, for my own sanity, they will work to a more structured plan.

Too much information! (Blog 5) - 3/8/2016

I always try to read the book before I watch the movie. This is because I want to be able to make up my own mind on how the characters look. It is often the case that from reading the book, I have a completely different mental image than the one portrayed in the film. So, when characterising my website, I found choosing perfect images incredibly challenging. I understand the need to visualise the characters, bringing them to life, but I don’t know if a person exists in the whole world who matches the characters who I have developed. I could spend many years, searching the streets of London trying to find the person who I have written about, and may never find them. This is limiting when you have a selected few stock images to choose from.

I was pleasantly surprised by how one or two of the characters from my head winked back at me on the screen as I stumbled upon their faces in stock images. It was a strange connection. I have never met these strangers on the screen, but instantly felt that I already knew them so well. Some characters, were far harder to match. This is why I have decided to go with a mix, some faces, and some back of the heads. I hope that this is the perfect compromise; allowing the reader the opportunity to make up their own mind, but still giving a few clues and some outlines.

My story is a children’s book. Some people prefer to connect with a story if there are visual cues. Children’s books have always began as picture books, and gradually, as their imaginations mature, they become increasingly capable of forming their own visual opinions. I would hate to patronise my readers by forcing them to commit to the pre-packaged characters within Oliver & the Missing Scientist. Although, for some, the images may help to consolidate the characters.

Not everyone is alike, I know for a fact that my sister-in-law will not read a book until she has read the last page first. I feel that this is a tragic crime, and one that I could never commit. So perhaps the stimuli on the website with a mix of images, may appeal to some, but certainly not to all.

I suppose by putting the images on the website, and not in the book offers a choice. If I was the reader, then I feel that I would most probably make the choice after the reading the book, to see if what I imagined was the same as the writer. Often, it can be a time when the reader realises that perhaps their own mental image, may even be more perfect than that of the writer.

How can I possibly self-promote? I’m British! (Blog 4) - 2/8/2016

The book has been written and handed over to the editor, so this is the time when I get to ‘start sorting out the marketing’. Eeek! How do you go about marketing a self published book?

Marketing can be lots of fun, and incredibly rewarding… if you’re doing it for someone else, but self-promotion is something that I’m finding doesn’t come naturally. It seems so very ‘un-British’ to blow one’s own trumpet.

“Would you mind awfully, taking a look at this new book of mine?” doesn’t quite offer the sales line required; but to say, “choose my book over all of the others because it’s amazing”, feels somewhat arrogant! Oh dear, this attitude isn’t going to get me a great sales return. So how does one put one’s Britishness aside and focus on marketing?

So what is the best way to market the book? I don’t know. This is the beginning of a long learning curve I’m sure. From what I feel, I think that the best way to market is all about raising awareness. I feel that by telling people that the book is there, and available, then this will be the best place to start. Of course an author will tell you that their book is great, it is amazing, but at the end of the day, I’m hoping that the readers will discover this for themselves. If someone likes it, then perhaps they will leave a review, and tell someone else about it. Is this the way marketing a book works?

What about the fact that it’s a children’s book? How do you go about marketing a children’s book? Do the same rules apply?

It does feel that writing the book was just the beginning, the easy bit. I feel as if I’m stood at the foot of a very tall mountain, and I’m just fastening my boots, ready for the journey.

Choosing a Book Cover (Blog 3) - 29/7/2016

I always assumed that choosing the book cover was the nice part, the bit that you do at the end, almost as an add on. How wrong was I!? As a novice publishing my first book, I have found this decision incredibly difficult. Perhaps it would be easier if I knew exactly what I was looking for; but I don’t.

I have two weeks left to make the decision. From the advice which I’ve already received, I’ve concluded that there are two main routes; buying a ready made cover, or commissioning a graphic designer. I’ve looked into both.

Oliver & the Missing Scientist is a children’s book, about science, adventure, relationships, trust and mistrusts. I need one image and this is proving far more difficult than I had ever imagined that it would be. Does this get any easier with consecutive books? I hope so.

I do know what makes a great cover; an image which conveys the mood of the story, one which evokes words beyond, and at the end of the day, a cover which entices a reader to want to look inside.

I began my search on my quest to find a ready made cover… but couldn’t find the right one. I’m sure if I knew what I was looking for, then this would help, or maybe it wouldn’t, without a preconceived idea, then surely it would be easier to stumble upon a good fit.

I tried stock images, and here the choice was greater, only I could only imagine what these images would look like as a book cover. Trying to imagine how these would work as a book cover, with fonts, and colours becomes even more complicated. I found several which I liked, although not one which represented the whole story. I must be incredibly difficult to please.

The next step was to begin a conversation with a graphic designer who has been great, but my indecision has left me questioning, what is it that I really want? Without having read the book, they need decisions. As much as I try not to be, I’m one of the most indecisive people in the world. I blame this on being a Gemini. I’ve decided to leave it a few days to think before I make any rash decisions.

I think at the moment; the book cover will be about compromise. Perhaps, the perfect image for me, is not the perfect image from a marketing perspective. It’s certainly time that I turned to the professionals. The clichéd term, ‘never judge a book by its cover’, no longer applies. I don’t believe that this is a term authors agree with. I know for certain that when I select a book, the cover is the porthole and I for one am guilty of walking past the entrances which are not adorned with pretty flowers.

So here we have it, it’s graphic designer, and stock images. My brief for the designer needs to be concise. The story is about Oliver, do I use an image of the character, or a more abstract pitcure?

The question comes down to; how do I want the cover to look? My main audience will be ten to fourteen year olds; it’s about a young boy, it is about science and technology, it’s about adventure, adversity and judgements. So my choices are, do I humanise the cover, or demonstrate the science within the story? My heart says a picture of Oliver; my head says use an image of an exploding atom or a particle accelerator.

How do I create a cover which is gender neutral? Despite the main character being male, Oliver’s best friend Storm is female. Would using a picture of a boy on the cover appeal only to boys? Would it therefore be better to use a scientific design?

I’m thinking, the particle accelerator? I’ll show the designer and see what they can come up with. I’ll let you know what they say.

Handing Over to the Editor (Blog 2) - 26/7/2016

There comes a time in a manuscripts life, when it needs the attention of someone other than the writer. It’s now in the hands of the editor.

Having already gone through the process of parting with the story and handing the book to a number of beta readers, some may think that parting with it one more time would not be quite so daunting, but they’re wrong. It’s terrifying!

Just over a week ago, in fact eight days ago today, I pressed send, and put ‘Oliver & the Missing Scientist’ in the editor’s hands.

Well actually, it wasn’t quite as simple as that, it began with a sample edit, where I asked for a ‘line-edit’ and sent the first 1000 words. Wow!

I know understand what is meant by the term ‘emotional attachment’. I, am more than emotionally attached to the words, in fact, I feel emotionally glued. A pair of fresh eyes and a view of an editor blew me away.

There were a few sections where I felt that the editor’s recommendations were painstakingly obvious. How did I miss them? I’ve lived with these words for years, but how could I not see what was right in front of me? I blame the glue.

After making some of the suggested edits, it was amazing to see the manuscript changed, the deadwood removed, and the pace quickened. Despite this, the story remained unchanged. Hence, the decision was made, and the editor selected.

Firstly, I emailed ten editors, each selected from a bit of online research, that turned into six phone calls, of those six, only four suggested a sample edit. Of those four, there was only one who seemed to listen, instead of talk. The first 1000 words were sent, and within a few days, the recommendations returned.

Following this, the contract was signed, and the book sent. Now I wait. Actually, now I work on the marketing strategy, choose the book cover, get the website up and running, and arrange a suitable launch. Phew!

How do I feel?

My baby, my 90,000 words are being dissected by a stranger. What if this stranger doesn’t like them? What if this stranger doesn’t connect? Will this man be gentle? The pragmatist in me says, I bloody well hope not. He’s got a job to do, and for that, he needs to be ruthless. I can’t believe I just said that! Ruthless? With my baby!

Breath… Oliver & the Missing Scientist needs a reflective view, it needs polishing and refining, it needs something that my eyes cannot see. I’ve edited my story so many times that I’ve certainly got it scared, but the clever bits, they have learned to how to hide, and that is why I’m bringing in the professionals.

I’ve got two more weeks of waiting, and I’m so excited… no nervous… no excited… Let’s face it, I’m both! I’m looking forward to welcoming my baby home, and I know for sure that it will have changed, but more importantly, it will have grown. I just hope that I still recognise it.

My Journey So Far… (Blog 1) - 26/7/2016

Seven years ago, I decided to write a book. It certainly hasn’t taken me all that time to complete it, but it has taken a long time to reach the point where I am today. Why?

There is no denying the fact that I am a traditionalist; always have been, always will be. So, I began the journey looking for an agent, a publisher, and… that didn’t go according to plan. Maybe I wasn’t thick skinned enough, but receiving objections, I found tough. There’s no denying that emotionally, I was involved, attached to these 90,000 words. This book was like a child of mine, which I had nurtured. Somebody didn’t like it; I only sent a few letters, then began to fear rejection and stopped sending it.

After leaving the book safely filed on an old laptop, I took it out again, several years later and decided, that I should take a fresh look at it. I did, and I am so glad that I did. I read through it again with a different view, I looked at the words critically, and removed much of the emotional baggage which slowed the pace of the story. I even sent it out to beta readers. That for me was a massive step forward. I received such encouraging feedback, that I felt that actually, this book is for reading; stored on a file on a dusty laptop, it’s making nobody smile, including me. So, what did I do next? I left it again. Why? Because I was so confused by the next step that I had no idea where to start on the road to self publishing.

The telephone would ring on an almost weekly basis, with an author house with a hard sell message; ‘it's difficult’, ‘you need a professional huge organisation like us to give you a platform.’ ‘You can’t possibly take this journey alone and come out of it the other side.’ They almost had me convinced, and had it not been for the encouragement of friends and family, at this point again, I was ready to give up… but I didn’t.

To me, writing is my dream, but realising a dream isn’t always straightforward, or easy. A dream come true is worth so much more when the journey is longer or more troublesome. I may have strayed off the main route now and then, but the destination was never too far from mind.

Now, I’m waiting for the editor to return my manuscript. First, I dusted it off and I’ve sent it to the polishers. I’m so excited about the next steps, mainly because it’s a path which I have never walked before, and the views along the way are certainly going to be interesting.

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