The Pros and Cons of Beta readers.

A few months ago, March 1st actually, I submitted what I thought was a completed manuscript for review with a critique group. I asked for specific feedback with three things: The progression of a love-hate relationship (between two of my MCs), whether a sub-plot was completely predictable or not, and the history of my world. I also asked for the usual general feedback on the story, plotlines, characters, likes and dislikes and anything they felt could be improved.

The deadline for said critique group responses was the end of June, and often poeple will sumbit with minutes to spare. Thankfully, mine was not amongst them. I had four reviews back early in June.

Three of the said for reviews were really helpful. They answered my questions, pointed out a few things that I’d overlooked, and made sure I was aware of the loose ends I’d forgotten to tie. They also raised a few questions that I had answers to, but hadn’t thought to bring to the readers’ attention.

Their feedback was valuable, direct and exactly what I needed.

Critique number four however, well… there was a lot of it. About every aspect of the whole book. From the color of the paint in my MC’s bedroom, to the attitude of my faeries. My faeries like to giggle, maniacally btw. It’s infectious, and annoying and it’s very inappropriate when you’re hiding from the bad guy who’s been hunting your for weeks. She said “faeries aren’t infectious like that. They’re naughty, but they don’t giggle and they don’t put people’s lives in danger”. Likewise, I have two dragons; one of which is kind of jolly in a mildly sinister way, the other who is reputed to be bad tempered and quick to snap but we don’t really meet him, we just avoid him like the plague. She said their personalities conflict. Are dragons grumpy, or happy? Apparently they can’t be diverse in character. I’m not allowed both, or anything in between. And I should be specific about the one who’s rumoured to be grumpy. I should answer that question directly, instead of leaving the reader to wonder if the hearsay about his personality is just a false rumour set in place to keep people at bay.

Whilst I appreciated she’d taken time to do a line-by-line critique of the whole thing (which currently stands at 115k words), I was a bit… put out that she’d not bothered to address the issues I’d asked for help with, and had very little to say in terms of positive feedback. I realise I hadn’t asked for praise, but I crit other people’s work regularly, and whilst I’m honest, I like to balance out the good with the not so good. I think that’s fair. I think that’s motivating, and I think that’s the best way to encourage someone to keep writing and to improve without sugar coating.

I don’t know if she just hated the whole thing, or figured I only wanted comments on the parts that needed amendment. Or rather, the parts which in her opinion needed amendment. Which was pretty much all of it.

I couldn’t past the second page of her rants, which were blunt, in places outright rude and imo, unnecessary. I have never and will never use “FFS!!” or “Yawn. Do I really have another 200 pages left to crit?” in my feedback. So… instead I fumed a while, shelved it and came back to it when I calmed down, which was about a week later. In the meantime, a friend of mine gave me some good advice. She said, the thing to remember is, that you don’t have to take everyone’s word as gospel. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and in this particular critiquer’s world, maybe her faeries don’t piss people off. But in myworld, they do. So her opinion can be ignored on that matter. Likewise, if my prince charming wants to marry the local butcher’s daughter, then let him. It might be an unwise decision politically, but Prince William did it, and so can Prince Charming. If my clouds are purple, that’s okay. Because this is my story. I felt a lot better for that, so I printed it off and whipped out a highlighter pen.

As I suspected, within all those comments, somewhere I’d find solid examples of what I was looking for. Useful help to improve my story. Going back to the original questions, she had in fact raised some interesting points on the development of my characters. She had also highlighted a few issues the others had missed, including a raging plot hole that nobody else, myself included had seen.

So, how do I feel now? I feel great, knowing that just because one person might not like my story, doesn’t mean that someone out there will. And I’ve learned a new lesson. How not to critique a manuscript, and how to take the bad with the good. I think I can honestly say I’m pretty thick skinned by nature, but sometimes people can push you a little too hard. And if they choose to, then that’s okay. Because it’s the way you percieve things that defines what happens next. Maybe I pushed her first. Maybe she doesn’t like faeries who giggle, or princes who marry for love. Maybe she wants the bittersweet ending instead of the HEA. Maybe that was the only part of the book she liked. I don’t know, she didn’t say. But wehat one person likes, and what one person sees as set in stone, is written in the clouds for the next person.

Either way, I did find her crit useful, even if I did have to read between the lines.

My half completed map of Luensa

This is driving me nuts. I’ve spent hours trying to draw a river into the bottom half of the page, but every time it looks like a “draw something” sketch. Gah!

If you have any tips, I’d be grateful 😀

My completed cover art

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As per yesterday’s post, I wanted to add in some embers and the title etc to my cover, and this is how it turned out! To say I’m pleased is an understatement!! **happy dance!!**

What I really want to know is, do you think it’s the kind of book you’d pick up based on the cover? Is there anything you think I should change?

The back cover blurb is as follows:

Elsa’s best kept secret is that she wasn’t born of this world.

Raised in rural Shropshire, she lives as normal a life as can be expected of an heir to the throne of a magical land. Even Elsa finds it hard to believe the scale of responsibility, let alone the fact that one day she’ll have to leave everything she’s ever known in this world behind.

That is, until her tenth birthday when her doubts are quashed by the new blue eyed, black haired oddball of a tutor who shows up to teach her a thing or two about how to rule a kingdom.

Years later she and her best friend James are involved in an accident which catapults them back to her own war stricken world. They must journey thousands of miles through perilous snow peaks, faerie forests and the treacherous deadwood marshes in a race to beat her darkest enemy back to Luensa. The only beings they can trust to see them home safely are the centaurs, an un-dead knight and a dangerous black unicorn named Vodou.

Turning a manuscript into an e-book – not as easy as it sounds!

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For a few months now I have been on a mission to delve into that God-awful black hole which is e-book publishing. I mean, I have a completed manuscript and it’s about as ready as it will ever be. However… editing, polishing and seeking second opinions from beta readers was not what scared the living bejeesus out of me.

The first real obstacle was creating a cover. I design and print tshirts for a living so vector illustrations were never really an issue. Photo manipulation however is a completely different ball game and the branding of a document so precious (to me), which took almost three years to complete needs so much more consideration than a £10 t-shirt. Even so, I thought long and hard about the design and after a month of relentlessly faffing about with photoshop and sitting through hour upon hour of online tutorials (I can’t grumble about that, it was a lot of fun) I finally finished my cover art. I’ve blogged about it on here somewhere, feel free to check it out. Cover – check.

Then there was the matter of copyright info, back cover blurb, acknowledgements and author info. The cover blurb was written a long time ago, way before the story was ever finished, but it needed polishing and the rest is just as important. Nonetheless, all of the above is drafted. Blurb – check.

I looked at different places to sell my work. For example; Kindle Direct Publishing aka KDP (amazon’s self publishing platform for e-books. Createspace is what you’d use for paperbacks), and after trawling through a billion forum threads realised that that wasn’t as cut and dry as you might expect either. Copying and pasting your document into a pre-set form sounds too easy, doesn’t it? Well you’re right. It’s much harder than that! You could try it that way if you’re happy with formatting errors and what-not, but for me, as a perfectionist that’s not good enough. I want my book to be presentable and as near to impeccable as it can possibly be. And to boot, e-readers come in so many shapes and sizes and formats (.mobi, .epub etc) that I really didn’t know where to begin. *Sigh*. Amazon use a different format to Barnes & Noble to apple to… you get the picture. There are so many resources out there and the process of formatting correctly by pasting into HTML and then checking line by line after I’ve already read over it like four times looking for grammatical errors… *Sigh again*. This topic alone made my brain hurt so I decided to leave it on the back burner.

On top of that, because KDP (and other alternative publishing sites) are US based and I’m a UK resident there are a lot of forms to fill out to prevent them from retaining 30% of non-US author profits. If you’re in the same shoes I strongly recommend reading the following marvellous blog written by Catherine Ryan Howard: Createspace info for UK residents: the US/UK tax treaty. Then make sure you also read this one too: Update on the same saga.

Effectively, by law the publisher has to retain 30% of your profits to pay US tax unless you can obtain a US non-residential tax number known as an ITIN. If you’re a non US resident and dont pay US taxes, the ITIN along with a W7 and W8 forms have to be sent to your publishing company (KDP, Smashwords etc) which will ensure that you are:

1) refunded the retained funds for the current tax year (if you’ve published already dont delay, you’ll miss out!), and

2) You wont be subjected to the 30% tax in future. Bear in mind that the process of applying for an ITIN and then having it approved is very long winded and may result in hair loss and/or repeated tantrum throwing. Additionally, you are then responsible for declaring your taxes within your home country. Lastly, if  for example you launched your book in April, applied for your ITIN the next December, received the number in March and sent it to the publisher in April, you might not be entitled to arefund for the “current” year. I’ve read that some people couldn’t claim it, and others had to wait until the end of the following year for the cheque. It pays to do this early.

So I downloaded all the right forms – check. Next thing to do was to look at marketing methods. I looked at a lot of sites dedicated to this subject, and found so much information I’ll probably blog the details another day when I have a little more time.

Then I looked at print on demand publishing (paperbacks). I’ve reviewed lulu, Createspace, Smashwords and a number of others, but basically, because they aren’t UK based whilst the setup fees may or may not be free, the shipping goes through the roof when they distribute to your UK customers from America. Assuming your marketing is UK based, that might cause you problems because you are the one who loses out as a result. Another reason is that many of these companies charge a setup fee which turned out to be three figures, and they were figures I just didn’t have. So, I settled for Lightning Source, a UK based company with minimal setup fees, no requirement for an ITIN, based only forty miles from my hometown and are very much affordable in terms of cost. But… that brought me to another bump in the road.

In order to print with Lightning source (and most other POD companies) you need to buy your own ISBN (this is basically the barcode number that is printed on the back of your book). Realistically, you can’t buy just one ISBN, you have to buy them in blocks of ten. Actually,  that’s not entirely true; I did find a site where you can purchase individually, but you’re looking at £90 for one or £119 for a block of 10. The Nielsen agency are the place to buy them as I understand it.

“Do I need an ISBN for my e-book then?” I hear you say. In most cases no. KDP will allocate you one for free, but you can only use it on their website. Therefore Smashwords will give you a second number for their site and the next site probably will too.

Paperback publishing is something I’m not going to even second glance as of now, until I’ve got the e-book up and running but I’m glad I’ve at least researched it at this stage. As you may or may not know, purchasing an ISBN is only the first of many steps. You also have to decided on the size of your book, work out how many pages you’ll need, download a cover generator and faff with the internal format til you’re blue in the face – at least that’s what everyone else is saying on t’interweb. I’m not ready for that yet, my priority is the e-book.

So… with the exception of the ITIN application, finally my e-book is ready to rock! Except for that one last thing I keep putting off…. the conversion process. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thrown a massive hissy fit over this. It all seems so… complicated. Whilst I am computer savvy I am not by any stretch of the imagination a genius and with all that information out there talking about using HTML coding and what-not, I just buried my head in the sand and left it right to the last step. An online friend and fellow writer who has indie published a lot of e-books and is very familiar with the process tried to explain it to me (God bless you Ester!) but even that was a little too complicated for my understanding. Additionally, even the download page for the software was enough to make me shut down my computer and go to bed sans program.

Then, randomly, by chance I called into the online writing forum where I usually chat with said friend and someone linked me to a page set up by another FMWriter. This guide talks you through the process of converting your manuscript in plain, simple, jargon free English. Happy days!! It really isn’t as bad as I thought, in fact nowhere near! Everything I read in the past basically told me I can’t convert a word document, it’s just not an e-book friendly program. But that isn’t true, not at all.

Lisa J Cohen,  the lady who very kindly put the guide together uses a program called OpenOffice to correct all the formatting errors (If you normally use MSword you can download OpenOffice for free and use it to open your word document. Don’t be scared, it looks pretty much identical!). The website says it is not available in UK English but I just downloaded the US version without a problem (spellchecked in MSWord anyway). Then she uses a program called Calibre to convert it to e-book format. You just change the output method to .mobi or .epub blah blah. I won’t go into detail because Lisa already did that but you can find the help guide here: ebook Creation: A guide for writers. I really can’t thank her enough for taking time to help save other people from trawling through all that incredibly complicated information.

I also hope that the above will help people thinking about self publishing in ebook format.

The graphics for my novel cover…. eep!!

I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am about this. Not only did I draw the characters myself from scratch, I layered it in red, added the lens flare effect, everything! Now all it needs is the text and some new embers which didnt translate from my old vector program to photoshop so well.

Any feedback very welcome!

Image: Copyright Voodoo Creations May 2012. All Rights Reserved

New banner

Just spent an hour or so tinkering with my banner which is the basis for my book cover; hopefully this one doesn’t look too bad:

For the record I designed it myself, completely from scratch but this is a really really rough first draft. Firstly, I used any old silhouette for Helenora, she doesnt really wear her hair up much. Secondly, the unicorn was hand drawn in inkscape by yours truly and I haven’t figured out how to add hair in photoshop yet (hence he’s currently bald). I’ll have to tinker with the embers a little too so they dont look like they’ve just been thrown onto the page and find a nice font but am otherwise quite happy with it

Nobody said photoshop was easy, but I’m learning! 🙂 What d’you think?