Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Editing and Proofreading

As the writing of the book continues to progress (well past the half way mark now) I am continuing to think about some of the other aspects of producing a book other than the writing.

You'll recall last time I talked about cover art and categories. Today I am thinking about proofreading and editing.

It is generally accepted that books need to be proofread by someone other than the author. I didn't take this seriously when I put my first book out, I considered I could do it myself. I was wrong. The end result was a first draft that went out riddled with errors.

Fortunately I was able to pick up on this and get it cleaned up relatively easily and reloaded back on to Amazon. It wasn't as if there were thousands of paperbacks full of mistakes sat on shelves across the country. Even so, it was a lesson learned.

Since then I have been really careful with everything I have done and checked and re-checked. Last month when I spoke to my editor at the Oxford Mail he said that they had never found a single grammatical error in any of the columns I had submitted to them, which I felt was something to be proud of. As far as I could see they had never edited any of them either. However - proofreading a 500 word column each week compared to proofreading a 50,000 word novel is a completely different kettle of fish. A 100x bigger kettle of fish if we want to talk numbers.

So this novel is going to require some professional proofreading. How much is this going to cost? Well, looking around at websites it appears to be quite expensive. Many quote per number of words. For example one I looked at locally wanted £8.50 per 1,000 words which mounts up for a 50,000 word novel.

Personally I think charging by number of words is pretty harsh. After all, some books are going to need a lot more proofreading than others. I am not going to pretend that mine won't have errors in it but I am experienced enough now as a writer to know that it will only be a handful, and I will proofread it myself before I give it to anybody. Compare that to someone who sends in a novel riddled with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Surely that's more work for a proofreader, isn't it?

Who knows. Perhaps I shall get lucky and someone who reads this blog has a past life as a proofreader and may offer to do me some sort of deal. I was lucky enough to find someone for my cover art the same way, so who knows?

There is also the question of editing which is not the same thing as proofreading. Editing is more a case of going through the manuscript and checking for inconsistencies, making sure the work flows properly and that sort of thing. For example, it might be that two scenes might work better for plot development if they came in a different order. Some dialogue may need tweaking. This is the sort of job which in television terms is knows as a Script Editor. For example, if I were to land the dream job of script editor on Doctor Who I'd need to be familiar enough with the history of the show to ensure a new writer's script didn't contradict established Doctor Who history. And there is a lot of that. I'd love that job, by the way.

I don't think my book requires an awful lot of editing, but then I could be wrong about that too. So I shall definitely be looking further into the possibility of paying for some sort of editing service.

So that's proofreading and editing. Next time I want to talk about marketing which includes facebook, websites, twitter and more.


Monday, 19 May 2014

Target audience

The Time Bubble is progressing better than I could have hoped for. You'll remember before I started all of this that I questioned whether I would find writing fiction more difficult than writing non-fiction.

As the weeks have gone by and the novel has taken shape those concerns have fallen away. I've become completely immersed in the tale and am managing to write around 7,000 words a week at present as I move onto the second half of the book.

When I began I had a broad framework in place - a skeleton if you like of the basic structure of the book. I knew what the book was going to be about, the story I wanted to tell and how it would end. I had drafted a rough chapter structure and knew what was going to happen and where.

Since then the writing process has been very much a case of putting the meat on the bones and as I've progressed there have been many opportunities to add in little scenes and bits of dialogue where they fit in nicely to the plot. It's not all set in stone, I'm allowing myself the flexibility to do that which is very good for the creative process - and more enjoyable for me - and hopefully the readers too.

I tend to do my writing in the morning but in my head I am planning what I am going to write during the previous day. By the time I come to write it down I've got a very clear idea of what I am going to write and the words just flow.

Now that I am on to the second half of the book I am allowing myself the time to begin thinking about the launch of the book. As I've mentioned before, the book won't sell itself and there are all sorts of things to take into consideration.

I've talked about the importance of covers before and I was very pleased when one of my facebook friends who is doing graphic design at University contacted me and expressed an interest in the cover design. We've talked a lot about the concept of the book and she's opened up a discussion with the rest of her class who are working on some ideas. This is great stuff and I'm really pleased that someone has taken an interest like this. In the past I've used companies on the website to design covers for me - and although I've been pleased with the end results it is not the same as having someone you personally know take an interest. I shall let you know how it works out.

The other thing that's been in my thoughts has been "target audience". It's easy to answer the question "Who are you marketing this book towards?" with the answer "Everyone" but in reality the book market does not work like that. It's very genre led and people are looking for specific things. We would all like to have mass market appeal but a book needs to have an identity and belong somewhere. That is why Amazon use categories.

You can pick two categories for any book that you sell. For example I have Fortysomething Father in two categories. Back in the heady days of June last year it reached the #1 position in both its categories which was a very proud moment for me. The categories I placed it in were as follows:

Books > Humour > Parenting & Families
Books > Health, Family & Lifestyle > Families & Parents > Fatherhood

It's not that difficult to categorise a non-fiction book. After all, a cookery book is a cookery book, it's pretty obvious where to place it. And the target audience is easier to define too e.g. people who like cooking.

However, fiction can be a little more difficult to categorise and deciding where to place a book like The Time Bubble isn't immediately obvious.

There's an element of sci-fi in the book as it involves time travel but I don't want to aim it at the hardcore sci-fi market alone because it is not hard core sci-fi. It's more of a RomCom with a sci-fi twist. I see it as being appealing to the sort of people who've enjoyed movies like Sliding Doors and Back To The Future.

Then there's the question of the age of potential readers. Although I didn't initially set out for this to be a book for teenagers it would certainly appeal to that age group. The four core characters are in Year 12 and are aged 16 or 17. But then there are older characters too.

I am considering categorising it in the "Teen/ Young Adult" section but in the hope that older readers will find it appealing too. After all, many very popular books aimed at that age group have been equally popular with adults e.g. Harry Potter.

This does raise the question of what is and is acceptable for younger readers. Books don't have certificates in the same way as films do but I guess if mine was to have one, I would probably class it as a 12A. There is no graphic depiction of sex at all in the book, but the teenagers do talk about it in the way that teenagers do, including topics such as losing their virginity. I don't think many parents would be too uncomfortable with a 13 or 14 year old reading this - after all I am sure they are exposed to far worse.

Then of course there is the question of bad language. Bearing in mind I've DJ'd at kids parties before where 7 year olds have asked for uncut versions of Eminem etc in recent years, I doubt very much whether my book is going to corrupt anyone. There are a few minor swear words in the book e.g. "twat" and "bollocks" but only one usage of the word "fuck". I am not one for swearing prolificly anyway. I think people who use fuck three times in every sentence as a verb, noun and adjective aren't making best use of the word. I think it is far more effective when used sparingly - especially when it's from someone you wouldn't normally expect it from. I hope this might not be considered an ageist comment but I always find it really funny when old people swear.

What's even worse is when the word "fuck" is substituted by "f*ck" or another word altogether. If you are going to have someone use it in a scene where that is what they would realistically say, then for realism it should be used. I have seen TV shows in the past where hard core cockney villains have used phrases like "Naff off" which is, for want a better word, "naff".

In the scene in which it is used in my book, Lauren, a feisty 16 year old girl who is not to be messed with loses her temper with an obnoxious lad in the canteen and has a huge rant at him in front of everyone ending with the phrase "Now why don’t you do us all a favour and just fuck off".

Lauren is one of my favourite characters, I can picture her, even imagine talking to her and this is exactly what she would say in this scenario. So I am leaving it in. I can't believe that there is a 14 year old in the country who is not aware of and has not heard this word - if you think I am wrong, please correct me before I drop myself in it, even if Mary Whitehouse isn't around any more.

In order to find out if my book really will be of appeal to teens/ young adults, I am conducting a little market research on the subject which you may be able to help me with. If there are any of you out there with teenage children, or even if you are a teenager yourself and you would be interested in giving me a feedback, please let me know and I'll send you a PDF of the first few chapters and you or they can take a look at it.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Work in Progress

One of the things I am going to be using my blog for over the next couple of months is to record my thoughts as I put together The Time Bubble.

Why am I doing this? Well, I'm still somewhat of a novice writer but it is incredible what I have learned over the past year. "If I had known then what I know now" is an oft quoted phrase but how very true it is when applied to this business.

I have spent many hours reading other writer's blogs, forums and any other information I can get my hands on. Hardly a day goes by when I don't have a question that I need to Google. Here's a couple of examples of the sorts of things I have searched for.

"How many words should a novel be?"
"How many words should I write per day?"
"What category should I place my book in?"

And many more. These questions may sound newbie like but we all had to start somewhere. I am immensely grateful to all of the other writers out there who have provided information to help budding writers. What a supportive community it has turned out to be - and I have made a number of new friends in the process.

These writer friends, not to mention my readers and blog fans are the support network who keep me going. I am one of the most optimistic people that I know - never afraid to take a gamble or follow a dream but even I am not so naive as to not be under any illusions about the huge market I am competing in. There are tens if not hundreds of thousands of writers releasing ebooks these days - that's a big pond to get noticed in.

I imagine it is very similar for aspiring musicians, actors, artists, footballers and anyone else who is trying to make it big in the world of entertainment. There are a huge number of hopefuls and only a fraction of winners. But I would say to any of them, if you believe in yourself, don't be downhearted - follow your dreams and never give up.

After all, every TV programme, play or film you see has to be made, every book and magazine has to be written, that's a huge amount of entertainment being produced and consumed every day. The opportunities are there to be taken. You need a lot of determination and self-belief and probably more than a slice of good luck too, but as long as you keep going, you always have a chance. And you, my friends who read this blog and offer me support all the time are part of that fuel that keeps me going - every kind word, message, comment and review means the world.

So - what can I tell you about the Time Bubble? I am going to talk about the writing process and how I'm putting the whole thing together. I am going to talk about cover design, characters, and more.

How can I find time to blog this when I should be writing the book? Well it's like this. I have found that it is better to write short chunks of the book each day rather than working for hours at a time. I set myself a word target for each day - if it is a day when Jamie is at nursery all day I aim for 2,000 words. If he's only there in the morning, I try for 1,000. This does not sound a lot, but it soon starts to mount up. It comes to about 7,000 words a week (I don't write at the weekend). I also find that's about my limit in terms of quality. If I tried to write more, the quality would drop.

Usually by the time I come to write in the morning, I am all ready and raring to go. Over the previous 24 hours I've worked out in my head how the next part is going to go. Although I had a broad framework in place of the main plot before I started, as I go along I am able to fill in more detail and add amusing scenes/ dialogue along the way.

How many words in total? Well traditionally published novels come in at about 80,000 words but the conventional wisdom regarding ebooks is that they tend to be a good bit shorter. I am aiming for about 50,000 with this book which seems to be about par for the course. As of today I hit the 20,000 word mark so I'm up to 40% and going strong. I will have to take a break at the end of next week though - it's half term.

Categorisation? I'll come on to that later.

One of the main questions I have been asked about this novel is "What is this book about?"

Well - rather than go into great detail at this stage - I thought it might be an idea to just give you a teaser in the form of the "blurb".

The "blurb" is a term writers use for the Product Description on Amazon. It's the equivalent of the back cover text on a paperback. I have come to realise that this is a vital piece of the whole book launch process to get right. I didn't think it was that important when I launched my first book (as well as the cover). How wrong I was. Fortunately such things are easily remedied and Fortysomething Father now has a decent cover and more attractive blurb.

Obviously I haven't written the blurb yet as the book isn't finished but if I was launching the book tomorrow, I would write something like this. Reasonably short and snappy (unlike this blog) and giving you just enough information to pique your interest without giving away too much of the plot. I'll be interested to know what you think:

Proposed "blurb" for The Time Bubble (It will probably change before launch but you get the idea):

""Charlie and Josh’s main interests were the same as most other teenagers: drinking, parties and girls. That was until the day they discovered the Time Bubble.

What started at a bit of fun, jumping a few seconds into the future soon begins to have more dramatic implications as the leaps forward in time increase in length. When a teenage girl goes missing and the police become involved, suspicion falls on Charlie. How can he explain where she is? Will anyone believe him?

A time travel tale with a little romance, humour and mystery thrown in, this book will appeal to anyone who enjoys sci-fi stories set in the real world".

So now you have an inkling of what the book's about. More to come soon.

The scandal of Eurovision voting

Before I start, I want to reassure you that this is not going to be an utterly predictable and clich├ęd rant about block voting about how certain countries always vote for each other etc etc.

That subject has been done to death by all manner of people over the last few years, usually the "clever dicks" who like to offer "informed" opinions that they've either heard other people mouthing off about or that they've read in "The Sun".

Yes, there is an element of that, but it's nothing like as pronounced as people would have you believe. But that's not the only reason we don't win.

"All the other countries hate us" is the other xenophobic chant from the ill-informed masses. No. The truth is all the other countries hate our entries because they are on the whole, rubbish. We've no god given right to win the Eurovision song contest any more than we've got a right to win the World Cup because we "gave the game to the world" - allegedly.

All of that aside though, as a statistician by trade (15 years with Nielsen has left its mark) I think the methodology for the voting is hugely flawed for another reason.

You may or may not be aware that the points awarded by each country are made up of a combination of votes from a jury, and votes from a telephone phone in. But the weighting methodology used to combine these numbers is done by a simplistic formula which adds the numbers together and allows the juries opinion to completely sway popular opinion.

Take this Saturday - a prime example. You - the British Public, with your telephone votes (which I hasten to add you PAID FOR) voted the Poland song by Donatan & Cleo your favourite.

Let's leave aside the reasons why they were so popular (bet there were a lot of men voting!) but the simple fact is that out of thousands if not tens of thousands of voters, we made them our top choice. That's a big sample and what we at Nielsen would deem "statistically valid".

Then you've got the jury. There are five people on that and they are meant to offer their "expert opinion" to rank the acts. Their opinion is given equal weighting to the phone vote. So what we are saying here is that these five people are considered equal to the rest of the British voting public. So if they want to sneer down their noses at a song and vote it down they can. For reasons known only to themselves (perhaps they objected to the sexual content of the performance) they voted the Poland song the WORST of the contest.

The net result of this? Instead of getting 12 points from the UK, as it should have done, the snooty jury's decision dropped it far enough down the list meant that we gave it no points at all. Nul point as they say in Eurovision land.

So what is the point of all of you out there phoning your votes through if your collective opinions are going to effectively count for nothing? I'd be asking for my money back if I'd spent any money on a meaningless phone call such as this.

This pattern was repeated across Europe by the way, not just here. Exactly the same thing happened with the Poland song in Ireland and there were similar The people did not decide the winner of the Eurovision song contest. The juries did.

Either scrap the juries with their prejudiced opinions and let the people decide or change the weighting system to give higher weight to those songs at the top of the lists.

Here comes the maths bit.

Currently they just combine a total of the two rankings using a simple 27 points down to 1 for the order of points allocation and then just adding together the scores from the jury and the phone votes is simple and naive. i.e. 27 points for first, 26 for second, 25 for third and so on. Such a system leaves Poland in this instance on 28 points which would rank them below a country who came say 13th in both the phone vote and the jury vote (15+15 = 30) which is clearly ludicrous.

A weighted system with points on a sliding scale from say 100 down to 1 would be much more efficient. I would propose something like 100 - 80 - 60 - 50 - 40 - 30 - 25 - 20 - 19 - 18 - 17 - 16 - 15 - 14 -13 - 12 - 11 -10- 9 - 8 - 7 - 6 - 5 - 4 -3 - 2 - 1.

If they had done it that way and then added the points together then Poland could have come no worse than sixth in our overall rankings and even with the jury hating it, at least our public votes would have got them five points. A much fairer system. Are you listening, Eurovision organisers?


Saturday, 10 May 2014

Writing a bestseller

Well, I am well and truly stuck in to writing my novel now, as some of you will be aware.

It took me a long time to take this plunge into writing original fiction. My published works in the past - books and newspaper/ magazine articles have been almost exclusively in the non-fiction sphere.

However, that's not to say I haven't written some pseudo-fiction in the past.

Back in my school days, myself and a classmate started writing plays based on the antics of our friends in the school. I call them pseudo fictional because although they featured all of our friends rather than fictional characters they were all placed in ridiculous and outlandish scenarios. I guess satire would be the genre you would have placed these in. We were lampooning our friends in the same way Spitting Image were lampooning the politicians and the royals.

These plays continued on in various shapes or forms for many years as far as the late 90s, even appearing as comedy sketches on the wall in the White Horse and Plough newsletters I used to issue.

I still have many of them, hidden away in exercise books bought from WHSmiths. Some of it, quite frankly makes me cringe now, so who knows if they will ever see the light of day again?

This new book is a whole new ball game though. I am writing a full fictional novel. So my novel shall have the standard disclaimer on the front "Any similarity to people or places blah blah blah is completely confidential" and all that.

In reality I think most writers base their works on at least some personal experience - for example someone who has lived their whole life in central London is not that likely to write a novel based on life on a remote Scottish Island so it will be no surprise I guess for me to reveal that the novel is set in a fictional South Midlands market town. I hasten to add though - it's not Bicester, any more than Candleford is Bicester in Lark Rise To Candleford.

I am working towards a summer publication and I am putting my all into making this novel a success. I am very confident in my ability as a writer and the more I write of this book, the happier I am with it. I want to use this blog to share my experiences with you along the way in the hope that this will inspire and help others of you who may one day wish to do the same.

Over the next few weeks I am going to keep you posted with how things are progressing, as well as giving you snippets and extracts from the book as it develops.

To begin with - I guess you want to know what the book is all about?

Very broadly, it's a light-hearted novel with a sci-fi twist - I hate to use the term RomCom as I've never been fond of that term though if it were made into a movie by Richard Curtis it would probably be labelled as such. It follows the story of a group of teenagers and the discovery of a time portal that transports people forward in time - at first by only a few seconds, but later by longer time periods.

There are a number of plot themes running throughout the book related to all of this -comedy, romance (that's the RomCom again) and more serious issues - what happens when someone disappears for hours or days at a time?

Characterisation is one of my strong points in writing, and I have developed around ten main characters for the book, all of whom I can picture as clearly as if they were standing in the room with me right now. One of the most rewarding things about writing (and reading too) is when the characters come alive in your head and to me, they, and all of this seems incredibly real. To say I have completely immersed into the world of this book would be an understatement. I am living and breathing it right now, and feeling every character's every though and emotion. Perhaps it is like this for all writers, perhaps not.

The title of this blog entry is "writing a bestseller" which may seem egotistical and over optimistic but I'm determined, dedicated and driven by an overwhelming desire to succeed, and I see no reason to sell myself short. The truth of the matter is, just as "faint heart never won fair lady", the fear of failure or rejection is not a reason to not pursue ones dreams.

I could never be one of those people who looks back on their life regretting the things they didn't do.

More soon.

Jason xx