Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Copyright Challenges 21st December 2010.

I had an interesting weekend with a retailer this last week, when they decided to challenge our right to publish some of our books.

We were finally able to sign an agreement with this particular prime e-book retailer when they lifted their restriction on dealing with small publishers who didn’t have a US bank account. Since they’ve now changed this policy and will pay us by cheque I was setting up the agreement within 30 seconds of finding out they’d relaxed the restriction. That’s not to say they told us they were relaxing it, it was when I found out.

Obviously, to ensure the process is working properly (as much from our end as from theirs), in the first instance, I only loaded one book to them planning to check it on their site before going any further.

I was quite surprised when they challenged our “copyright” on this book, but that wasn’t that unreasonable when you consider their reason was the author’s name didn’t match the account name. Clearly this was an automated response, the word “Publishing” in the account name would have been a clue to a human operator (Ed - there again, perhaps not!).

Answering this question brought another automated response - it takes 2 working days to process e-mails. I waited for a day and then checked again – lo and behold the book was up on the site and I downloaded and checked a copy. I never did get an answer to my e-mail. Since the book was okay I continued with the upload process, and have currently uploaded 48 books.
Of these 48 books so far uploaded, some 15 (including some of mine and Paulette’s) had been published previously by an American publisher whose unlamented demise in mid 2009 is documented elsewhere.

Over the weekend this retailer challenged our “copyright” on two of these books since they had already been published by said publisher before. One of those books was mine, and one was Paulette’s. Interestingly the other 13 or so weren’t challenged and have been loaded onto their web site.

Of course, I have responded to the e-mail again, asserting our right to publish, and enclosed copy contracts, but again the response I received is the same “it takes 2 working days...”

Seeing as how, like all reputable publishers we only contract the “publishing rights” to a book and NEVER EVER infringe on the author’s copyright to the original material, it’s a little upsetting that this retailer throws the word “copyright” around with such abandon.

Mildly irritated would be the correct description of my current frame of mind...

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The Trouble With Text Boxes 18th December 2010.

Now, we all know, or should know by now, when we’re writing we avoid certain of Word’s little gizmos that are designed to help presentation material, sales literature or simply jazz up a business document.

There are loads of these, but the last thing a publisher needs is for an author to include them in a manuscript. Some are obvious, watermarks, document papers (i.e. backgrounds) and colourful ornaments of any type.

These obvious ones are very easy to spot, and essentially easy to deal with, preferably by the author, if necessary by the poor sap art the publisher who has to format these books into e-books. On our case, that poor sap, in case you haven’t realised it is of course me.

The less obvious ones are more difficult to track down, especially as for some of them Word doesn’t provide you with a mechanism to jump to them. One of these is a pesky little devil called a text box.

I have spent a fairly fruitless afternoon attempting to upload a 120,000 word book to one of our wholesalers, and each time their autovetter (the program that checks the uploaded book) rejects it because there is a text box in the document.

Now, in a presentation document you use a text box for all sorts of things, but unless it’s a heavily formatted illustrated book, it’s not something you would use, and if it is, there are other alternatives – mainly to using Word in the first place!

The autovetter doesn’t like it, because it would play havoc with the e-book formatting, essentially destroying the formatting in extreme cases. The problem is this particular autovetter doesn’t tell me where the problem is in the book – which is why I’ve had to parse through it so many times in fruitless attempts to locate the “wavy grey line” that is the only indication Word will give you that the box actually exists.

Can I find it?

Can I hell as like.

Have you ever tried to read through a 250 page book at speed, five or six times one after the other?

I have, and believe you me; it’s not something you want to try.

In near desperation I’ve called their customer support team for any clues, especially as I’ve now checked every version of the book we do and there is no hint of any formatting issue in any version.

Of course, it’s the weekend, so that’s another job that’ll get put on the back burner till Monday.

Damn it!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Double L meant double hell 14th December 2010.

I guess taking the time out from wring this blog in order to complete my double NANO challenge was a mistake – I don’t seem to have managed to get back into the swing of it since. Apologies to those few poor tortured souls who have been tuning in regularly to be faced with no fix for their addiction.

Anyway, on to the point for today. I had a really weird conversion problem last night, something of a seriously disturbing nature which I’ve never come across before. All revolving around the use of words containing a double L.

When a finished manuscript lands on my laptop from the editing team I have a lot of work to do in terms of formatting, adding copyright pages, dedications, biographies, cover images and so on. As well as to ensure the formatting meets all the input needs for all the conversion programs I subsequently have to use.

Then when the book is finally finished it’s time to fire up the convertors, you’d think one at a time, but in fact I have to produce two different versions of the Acrobat format and no less than three different versions of the Kindle format (due to the different security settings needed by different wholesalers!). Then it’s over to “old trusty” the 6 year old desktop machine that’s the only one that will run the Microsoft Reader conversion software before settling down in front of the third screen of the day to run the Epub conversion suite which takes as its input one of the Acrobat files rather than the Word file.

This final conversion involves a pair of programs since the converter will not allow you to edit the resulting file and has mangled the formatting, so you have to go in and edit the file to reinstate said formatting. This is where the problem came in. When parsing down the file I started noticing some odd spelling issues suddenly cropping up, ones there was no way our editors had missed, let alone our author had perpetrated.

Every single double L in the document had been changed to an L and a space. Since the main character’s name was Chelle this was a bit of a problem as it had become Chel e everywhere. As had every other word containing a double L.

The editor I have to use to work on an Epub file, doesn’t like long (novel-length) documents so won’t do find and replace all on them, besides I’m sure the author and readers would be up in arms with fruitfull rather than fruitful etc, etc, if I did a full mass replace. Do you know just how many words there are with a double L in them? It seems especially true of a Canadian author, but that’s another issue and I’m sure she will read this and know I’m joking. (Ed – He hopes!)

It took several hours of trying things, all to no avail before I tried something off the wall. I went back to the original Word document, did a find replace there for double L and replaced all 3409 occurrences with double L, reconverted to Acrobat, then reconverted to Epub.

Lo and behold it worked.

How bizarre is that?

Answers on a postcard...

Monday, 6 December 2010

A Gaffe that bites 06th December 2010.

Sorry, it’s been manic this last week so haven’t blogged as much as I used to – it’s been seriously bad weather and we’ve been dealing with a pre-Xmas rush, trying to get books released in time for Xmas orders to be fulfilled.

It was so bad last week, weather wise, that a proof copy of one book, which should have been delivered on Monday was actually delivered on Saturday – and this was by a national carrier. Luckily it was fine so the book has been good to go, and I spent yesterday “drowning” in a flood of print orders for it.

It’s clear; I’m going to have to look out our internal processes, downloading the order from our site, uploading it (manually) to the printer, updating the royalty spreadsheet and posting it to the account system, make four manual operations in an on-line business. Don’t yet know a way around that but the thinking cap is on.

I did however have a chance to take a good look at some of my author friends on Facebook and see what they were up to and look at both their promotional practices and, of course, opportunities for our own promotion.

This is where the gaffe of the title comes in.

I found a friend of a friend and went to look to see if this friend was worth friending. God, that’s a lot of friends in one sentence but it does make sense. (Ed. Huh? Hmmm... Maybe)

This person, whose blushes will be spared, is a freelance copy editor. Interesting, I thought, so I read a bit further, and then went back and read her public bio once more.

She had repeated the same sentence three times on her bio and I really had to read it twice to make sure I wasn’t seeing things.

“When I’m copy-editing for an author, I go through there MS line by line...”

Well, it made my day. What a lovely way to advertise her skills.

I wonder if I should pass it on to my son – he loves posting to FailBook but I suspect this is one for us writers and not one for the general populace.

By the way, I didn’t add her as a friend, but I did drop her a note to respectfully suggest a change. Well she had given me a laugh after all... No, I’m not going back to check if she corrected it.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Just out to prove me wrong 29th November 2010.

There was I happily droning, sorry, moaning, about the poor quality of submissions so far this month and lo and behold over the weekend we get three good ones in, as well as another one we’d seen previously and suggested the author rewrote parts of it.

All four, were not only submissions of a reasonable quality, but they also conformed to the revised, and some say draconian, submission guidelines, including the author’s ideas on marketing. I was really pleased to see that.

Maybe the message is actually getting out, you need to work on selling your book just as much, and possibly even more than the publisher is doing.

After all we can’t all be Jamie Oliver can we?

I was reading the paper (Ed – apparently he can read) this morning and I saw a list of the top celebrity chefs in the UK, ranked by how much they were worth. The aforementioned guru came top of the list with a fairly substantial pile, and a large portion of that pile was made from book sales.

Now, unlike ghost written celebrity autobiographies and kiss and tell books, at least these books have some kind of purpose that outlives the first few days after Xmas. Nevertheless over ONE HUNDRED MILLION POUNDS STERLING of book sales in this country is a heck of a lot of cook books by this one guy alone.

Maybe we took the wrong turning, and we should be concentrating on the non-fiction market rather than publishing, mainly, fiction.

There again, maybe it’s sour grapes he didn’t come to use first. Wink. Sob!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

So you want to Write a Novel.

I was going to blog today about the naivety of so many would be authors who think actually turning out a novel is a piece of cake.

Then someone posted this link on Facebook.

It says it all, and better than I could, the animation may be basic, but stay with it.

(Ed - I hope the link works - not tried doing this before.)



Friday, 26 November 2010

Submissions Again 26th November 2010.

It doesn’t matter how often I write about submissions to us, something new always turns up.

We changed our submissions policy when we reopened this time, much tighter guidelines and we added the dreaded marketing plan clause. In other words, we asked the prospective author to tell us what they knew about book marketing, specifically of their own book. Some of our authors are very good at this, some not so good, some have reasons for keeping a low profile, others want the limelight.

If a prospective author submits and ignores that section then that’s going to quickly become a TS situation – otherwise known as thanks but no thanks. The free ride to riches happens to about one author in every generation, and sadly (for the rest of us) that was J.K. Rowling for the last generation and Stephanie Meyer for this. Everyone else, else to get involved in their own marketing, like it or not, if they want to sell their books. If they don’t want to get involved, why should we get involved with them?

We’ve been running like this for four weeks now, and the number of submissions has gone down, and the quality of submissions has gone up. Given so many authors were, like me, getting involved in NANOWRIMO means it would probably have dropped anyway.

We have had two oddball ones though, which goes to show it doesn’t matter how you set things out, people still don’t read.

The first one was sent to me direct, not via the submissions e-mail address, despite the two being on the same page of the website. We ask for the complete manuscript as an attachment. What we got was an excerpt in the body of the e-mail, no supporting information, no synopsis and no bio. No name or title. The sentence at the bottom of the e-mail was remarkable in itself; it was the closest thing to correct grammar in the whole e-mail.

“What’s it worth to me if send you the rest of my masterpiece? It’s great.”

Yes – the I is missing in the original.

The answer was short, terse and two words.

“Not interested”

Sorry for those of you who expected something more to do with a biological behaviour and an outing, but I don’t think its good practice to swear in an e-mail.

The second one was even more unreal.

An aspiring, but as yet unpublished author sent a query to the submissions address on the web site, asking what our submissions guidelines are. Hello, Earth calling -.... It’s on the website.

It just goes to show, like so many of the rest of the world, some authors don’t read.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

I can blog again 25th November 2010.

Finally – I can blog again. Sorry for being so negligent toward my blog but I’ve been busy tied up on my NANOWRIMO projects. That’s right – plural. I said I was going to really push myself this year by doing two projects. Try to write two 50,000 word novels from scratch during November. Well I did it, one I completed yesterday and the other this morning. So that’s something over 101,000 words in 24 and a half days. Given one was a contemporary romance and the other a Ninth century Alternative military history piece, that seriously took some doing.

Effectively I’m written out (Ed: then how come he’s writing this – hey?)

At the same time though, I’m energised in other ways too – other projects spinning round in my head like there’s no tomorrow, and I need to get them down onto disk as soon as possible. Not actually going to happen but they’re bubbling there.

Neither book is truly finished, only the draft is finished, indeed the historical one needs at least another chapter inserting between chapters five and seven in order to link what appear to be disparate halves of the story. That’s what revision and editing and rewriting is all about.

I haven’t been idle on other fronts during this time either, in fact we’ll have some exciting news for our authors very shortly, which I will announce to them via the newsletter.

Two more books have gone to the printer this month, including our first non-fiction title, and I have high hopes for that one in particular in terms of sales.

I’ll talk in more detail about our news and a few other things over the next few days and into next week. The important thing was to convince y’all that I’m still here and getting back into the swing of blogging.


Thursday, 18 November 2010

Competition winning entry

A couple of people have suggested I should post the winning competition entry.
The theme for entries was the phrase "When Darkness Came" and the maximum word count was 250.
The pieces are read out by a panel of readers and voted on by the group as a whole by secret ballot.
I wouldn't say it's perfectly edited, my stuff never is until someone else has been through it!
I wanted everyone to think a woman had written it, rather than a man. I think I succeeded - certainly there was a lot of surprise when I owned up to it.
Anyway here it is:

I came awake suddenly, instinctively knowing the sanctity of my bedroom had been violated, I was no longer alone.
Half sitting up, clutching the thin sheet to my naked breasts I peered into the near darkness. The intruder was easy to spot, sitting in the chair in the corner, eerily lit by the yellow light reflecting from the street lamp outside
My breath caught in my throat, the reflected light giving shadows to his chiselled handsome features.
“What... I mean... Who...?”
He chuckled, the warm tones resonating round the room, plucking my heart strings. Slowly he rose to his feet.
“You may call me Cameron.”
He was nude, magnificently naked, his perfectly muscled torso drawing my gaze down to his sculpted six pack and then lower. I gasped again, heat rising to my face, as I surveyed his eloquent manliness, his words hardly registering as he took a pace forward.
His perfection stunned me into near insensibility as he reached out and gently tugged at the bottom of the sheet, pulling my only covering from unresisting fingers.
I licked my lips, unable to cry out.
He stepped closer and flexed his shoulders, his huge black wings unfurling behind him, the feathered limbs almost spanning the room, brushing the ceiling.
“What... What are you?”
Once more he chuckled as he held my gaze with eyes that captured mine without a fight.
He stooped and his arms cradled me as his wings enfolded us, then darkness came.

I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Trumpet Blowing Again, 3rd November 2010.

I’m writing this a bit late tonight, with very good reason. I'm sitting in here with a bottle of Coors next to the keyboard and a huge beaming smile on my face.

Tonight was the annual competition night at the Nottingham Writers Club. “Manuscript of the Year”.

And I won it!

For the second time in three years, (the only three years I’ve been a member). You should have seen some of the faces when I admitted the anonymous entry was actually mine. They were all absolutely certain it was written by a woman, just shows how you can deceive your readers completely if you set your mind to it.

Unfortunately this time, it was a tied result, meaning the two of us only get to keep the cup for six months, but hey a win is a win is a win.

Since I’m also ahead on both NANO projects this makes it a good writing day today.

Roll on tomorrow, I’m fired up and ready to strut my stuff!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The BEN Form 2nd November 2010.

Yesterday I said, depends on what comes up and bites me. Guess what? It was the bloody IRS! And we’re not even an American company nor are we American citizens! I ask you! Aaarrgghhh!
One of our major retail customers just sent us their payment for quarter 3. When I received the notification one thing was blindingly obvious. The amount was around about 70% of the total expected.

With a sinking heart, I immediately recognised the problem. The dreaded American IRS had struck again. If your company is based outside of the US and you are trading with a commercial partner inside the US then they are expected to withhold a massive 30% of the payment in order replicate the tax revenue they would expect to take if we were American.

The fact that 30% is way over the top is in itself annoying.

This can be avoided by registering the company with the American IRS and getting g an EIN number. I know, I know, but they’re not my acronyms! Then with each trading partner you need to fill out what is referred to as a W8BEN form – the eponymous form from the title above.
A separate from has to be filled in for each trading partner, and must be sent in paper from, the IRS have not yet joined the 30th Century let alone the 21st! You cannot fax or e-mail a scanned from. It has to be paper!

Of course the paperwork has transit time, and then has to be processed at the other end. In the mean time we’ve had to refund the partial payment in order to get the full payment later.
Luckily we’ve already been through this process with another retailer so we already have our EIN number.

The IRS hasn’t caught up with all our retailers yet, just some of them, so we have no way of knowing when the dreaded Ben form will be required.

Pity these guys didn’t ask up front for it, isn’t it?


Monday, 1 November 2010

NANO 1st November 2010.

To those of you who have been following this blog, you will know I’m being a total masochist and attempting a double NANO this month. That’s right I’m trying to write two 50,000 word novels in one month, each completely different in style and genre from the other. One contemporary and the other ancient historical in nature.

As a result entries to this blog through this month will be possibly sporadic but definitely shorter than average.

I suppose it depends on what comes up to bite me over the next four weeks or so.

Anyway, to those who are also doing NANOWRIMO this year, good luck and happy writing. I’m going to keep my FB status updated about my progress not here, so you know where to find me.

Have fun.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Impatience 31st October 2010.

I’m amazed at how impatient some authors can be, especially novice ones. Mind you, our worst experience with this came with a relatively experienced author.

The publishing industry as a whole is not the nimblest in the world and in fact an author I know just received a rejection slip. Nothing in any way unusual about that, but this was for a book proposal sent out three years ago!

Now I know some publishers are slow but this is the longest delay I’ve heard of... so far.
Of course, because we’re a new, and not only new but also internet based, people expect us to be nimble and quick too. What they don’t necessarily understand is we are fairly quick, believe it or not. LOL.

Consider the amount of work involved between getting a book submitted to getting it published. Okay, to be fair, at least with something of novel length, you’ve already spent a long time actually writing it. You might have written sections of it quickly, but on the whole it has been some considerable time in gestation. Even if you cut the elapsed time out of the equation, and just counted the minutes spent writing it, you probably spent anywhere up to several hundred hours writing it, and then hopefully the same amount, or more, editing and polishing it.

Why then should you assume the editing process we go through on your book is going to be any quicker? After all our editors aren’t already intimately acquainted with your characters, and the plot. Aren’t our editors also allowed time off for comfort breaks, coffee, sustenance and sleep? Even if you allowed for that, why should you assume there’s nothing else in front of yours, or that simply signing your name to the contract entitles you to jump to the front of the queue?

Of course, designing the cover, preparing the web pages, double checking the bio, the blurb, the dedication and the actual production of the book, in four formats, plus another for print, don’t take any time at all. Distributing it to the bookshops and aggregators just takes a snap of the fingers.

Everything takes time, and having witnessed and experienced problems with other publishers, we’ve applied those lessons to our processes. Some things, can be done in parallel, some can even be done in advance. We don’t queue jump work, we don’t play favourites and we don’t give a release date until the book is almost ready. It’s better right than on time.

Other, slightly bigger, publishers may be quicker, but as Nancy found out (above) the bigger they are the slower they become. Three years for a rejection is quite a leap. I gather the book is now finished and published by someone else in any case.

Patience is a virtue. Publishing ... now that is anything but a virtue..... LOL

Anyway, Happy Halloween everyone.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

How to read a submission 26th October 2010.

Tell me, how do you read a book? Are you a good boy or girl and open it at page one and then read through it page by page until you finally reach the end, then put it down, hopefully with a satisfied smile on your face having enjoyed it?

I suspect most people think that’s what we do professionally do when we’re reading a submission. Unless it’s a very short story, this is not the way we’ll tackle it. We’re much more like the naughty boys and girls who turn to the back pages first, or at least early on.

There are reasons for this, and one stems from the constant stream of advice you, as authors are given – which is to polish the first three chapters until they shine to prove to the publisher how good you are. Oops. We don’t want to judge you on the work you may have polished and polished, we want to see what you’re like when your guard is rather further down. I know, I know, you devote as much attention to the rest of the book. Do you, do you really?

When we look at a submission we have already read your bio, so we have an idea of who you are, and hopefully what makes you tick. If you have simply given us a brief, age, sex, marriage, children, live in, and like reading kind of bio you’ve already been categorised. We’ve also read the synopsis, which might or might not contain a blurb for the book. A normal reader only sees the blurb and bio, once they’ve been polished to a fine edge. Since we actively discourage you from disclosing the ending in the blurb, they don’t know what should happen. We’ve seen the synopsis, so we cannot read on with the hope of a fabulous surprise or uplifting experience.

So we turn to the last chapter and read that. See how you handle the ending, the resolution to your conflict, the triumph (or otherwise of course) of your protagonist, the demise (again, or otherwise) of your antagonist, the happy/sad/tragic/ ending, the set up for the sequel, all of it. Then we ask, did it ring true? Was it believable in the context of the book we haven’t read yet, only glimpsed through the synopsis?

You can tell a lot about the publishable quality of the book by reading the last few pages first. Then we go back and read from the beginning. How far we get into the manuscript is going to be influenced by our opinion about the ending.

Unlike many we do read the majority, if not all of a manuscript. We will rarely stop earlier than that unless the manuscript is so obviously a no-hoper.

What? Surely you’re not that naive to think we’ll read every single perfectly crafted word before rejecting it?

Sorry, I’m sure you’re not that naive.

Although we’re not quite as severe as the reviewer of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer “This book is one of the worst books I have ever read. I got to about page 3-4.”

Mind you, I did buy a copy of “Revolutionary Road” and didn’t get much past page 25.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Writing Groups 25th October 2010.

Sometimes involvement with a writing group can really help a novice or new author. Sometimes they can really hinder them as well; if the group is really good it can do both at the same time.

I have a case in point. I am just finalising a manuscript, doing the last little touches to the formatting and creating the various output files, and double checking the cover and the blurb for any last minute changes or touch ups before release in the first week of next month.

In this case the touch ups to the cover need checking as we had to ‘clone’ out a telegraph pole and wires from the background image on the cover to get the period detail right. The more important one to check is the blurb, never the easiest thing for any writer to produce.

But I digress; it’s the writing group’s influences that struck me, especially as I was part of the same writing group, and a vocal contributor of some of the constructive criticism given to this author. It’s interesting now to see the effect some of that criticism has had, now I’ve actually got the final manuscript in my hand, and the book is about ready to come out.

I remember our editor commenting on this particular book, it had no point of view errors, some grammatical stuff but not a lot wrong with it. This, no disrespect to the author here, is almost certainly down to the influence of the writing group. This particular writing group was absolutely white hot on the subject, even to the point of, at times an almost line by line scrutiny of the section being read to ensure no tiny point of view error crept in.

Score one for the positive side.

Similarly, the group was very clear in its criticism on tense, not allowing cross over from past to present etc, and pace, keeping the story moving and not getting bogged down in detail narrative. The dialogue in particular is sparkling and shows a lot of polish.

Score another for the positives.

Unfortunately the group had a downside too. One prominent member kept up the siren cry, don’t write something too long – no-one publishes anything much over 70,000 words these days so cut, cut and cut again. This particular book came down from nearly 120,000 words to just over 88,000 in its finished version.

While I agree it can be very important not to get bogged down and introduce too many sub-plots or unnecessary scenes, particularly when they don’t move the story along, but sometimes cutting too hard artificially raises the pace.

Honours even here I think.

A writing group is a microcosm of society as a whole – a disparate group of people with different, and different levels of ability. They may all like to write, and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from writing, but you have to learn when to take advice from some members and when to smile and ignore the advice. I will hasten to add, this was the writing group that got me started, and without advice from them, I probably wouldn’t have had my first book published. You have to learn to filter out the good from the bad, not what you want to hear from what you don’t. Most of the good advice will fall into the latter category.

Score one for the negatives.

I’ve been at writing group where they read out their work, but no-one is allowed to comment. I was engaged to give them an hour’s workshop on point of view, and didn’t want to be churlish and walk out at the break. I was utterly amazed when the second half of the session went that way. I seriously had to bite my tongue. I checked with the secretary of the group afterwards – and yes, that’s the way they work. No criticism of any type. What they got from group membership is thus beyond me.

Score another for the negatives.

Another constant comment from the group was on the use of dialect. At least one member of the group was adamant that the dialogue should be in the correct dialect for the period and location, while others argued to use a smattering of dialect to flavour, but leave the dialog understandable for everyone.

Honours even again.

Have I reached a conclusion?

Yes, I think I probably have. Writing groups can help, but they are not the final arbiters of your success as an author. Fortunately for all of us, it’s the reading public who will decide your popularity, or otherwise in the end. One of my favourite coaching books has a great line as a chapter heading. “Don’t take your best work to a writing group.” It goes on to say “If you must belong to a group, take your mistakes there instead.”

I kind of like that.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Charity begins.... 22nd October 2010.

Had some good news today.

A personal friend and writing buddy of mine passed away last year after a long illness. She had just completed the final draft of her novel but unfortunately her condition took her before she could submit it. Working with her family we’ve spent a lot of time sorting out a way to get her work to market posthumously.

That in itself has been no mean feat; for starters we had to wait for her estate to pass probate before we could allow anyone to sign a contract.

Having crossed all the hurdles, we approached a major charity about making a contribution to them from each book, with both ourselves and the family contributing, and them marketing the book through the medium of their newsletter and web site and possibly other publications.
I finally got the e-mail we’ve been waiting for today, the charity has agreed the proposal in principle, although due to the complicated mechanisms we have to go through to show due diligence and true intent to the Charity commission, we still have several hoops to jump through and i’s to dot and t’s to cross. (Sorry for the mixed metaphors – he insisted – Ed.)

Mustn’t name names, either of the author, the book or the charity just yet – but the book will launch early next year – watch this space. This could be big – a money spinner for the charity, and above all a fitting memorial for an author whose life was cut so short.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Retail madness or is that wholesale madness? 20th October 2010.

I’ve been having some serious fun since Friday and despite the fact that MPB (Male Pattern Baldness – Ed) doesn’t run in my family, I’m not far off a bald scalp. Mind you mine is bleeding and sore too.

All down to the, shall we say, peculiar, behaviour of our new wholesaler and a couple of retailers.
As you know from earlier posts, I spent several weeks of intense effort recreating book formats to new standards, resizing covers and renaming everything to its ISBN numbers before spending even longer sourcing and formatting the metadata necessary to upload our catalogue to the wholesaler’s web site.

I was ecstatic when the upload worked 100% the first time, and blew my own trumpet here. That’s unfortunately, when the current problem started.

This wholesaler also suppliers four of the retailers we currently supply direct, and two we currently supply via another wholesaler. Not a problem, according to their blurb and instructions, not a problem at all. There is a system in place which allows us, the publisher, to block our content from reaching individual retailers. Perfect from our point of view.
Guess what, without even updating their own web site information, or their user guide they discontinued this system, it is now up to the retailer to decide if they want to take particular content or not.

As a result of this approach by the wholesaler, I have spend oodles of time checking the retail sites to see if books were on there twice, and guess what – I found two retailers affected. One I e-mailed and they immediately responded by removing the wholesale delivered copies from their site. Thank you. However, I did get a slightly miffed e-mail from the boss there – why was the wholesaler offering 91 titles and we’d only uploaded 50 odd to her. (Luckily I had a reason – their site doesn’t have a relevant category for 38 of our books (as it happens all of them my own).

The other retailer is more of a problem – they managed to match titles and ISBN’s on most of the books, leaving something like 5 duplicates but their response was “we don’t block content from any contributor” which I felt was rather unhelpful.

The basic problem revolves around the insistence of the wholesaler splitting title into sub-title which we don’t and nor does the retailer – as a result the titles don’t match. We load our ISBN’s with the dashes in middle of the numbers, the wholesaler doesn’t.

How this is going to work in terms of the two sites we have no direct relationship with, I have no idea.

I have a feeling this one is going to run and run....

Anyone know a good balm for a tortured scalp....!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

NANO Update 19th October 2010.

Well, I’ve got to post a correction already! LOL.

Apparently my friend was deadly serious when she said she was going to use NANO to get the first draft of her PHD thesis written. Hey, why not, writing is writing after all, even if it isn’t actually a novel, Annette. Good luck to you.

I’ve also changed my mind – and decided to switch one of the projects I’m going to be working on. My very first published book, Seven Sisters, was always destined to be the first of a trilogy, and I completed the second book nearly two years ago. For some reason, usually other projects appearing to be more urgent means I’ve decided to work on the third book for NANO rather than my original choice project.

Before anyone states the unbecoming obvious – no I am not going to try and do three projects simultaneously. Tow is enough (well, for this year – we’ll see how I get on this year.

The problem for me wouldn’t be the actual output required – I can hit 5,000 words a day most days if I curtail other distractions, and on good days beat that enough to allow some bad days.

For me the problem would be technology leak.

Let me explain a little. My chosen project for NANO is now the third book in the Seven Sisters trilogy, which is geared to an alternative history where the Roman Empire still bestrides the world in a Ninth century Europe which is starting to use new technologies – not quite steam punk, but slightly beyond swords and sandals.

The project I’ve put to one side is my alterative history of September 1940 where the Nazi’s have overrun the Royal Air Force and are about to invade. The Royal Navy has one last desperate plan to stem the tide and Operation cormorant becomes reality when the Germans actually invade. Keeping naval and air war strategies out of a pre-medieval siege and not accidentally letting my sea captains slip into Latin and priming their catapults would be a challenge at that writing pace.

Keeping my Romans and my romantic Vampires apart won’t be easy, but it’s easier than the former.

I do have something to rant about on the publishing front – but that will have to wait till tomorrow – I’m waiting on an e-mail replay which might be an answer – or it might be a red rage to this particular bull. In any case, lock up the china, this here bull is blowing steam!

Monday, 18 October 2010

NANO 18th October 2010.

Interesting the responses I’ve had over my approach to NANO this year. In the past, events have conspired to ensure I don’t have time to write during November. Not this year though, I’ve finally decided to give away my official virginity and do NANO.

So there you have it. LOL.

Of course, me being me, I’m not going into this half-heartedly, I’ve decided to double my chances of success (or is that half them – ed) and enter twice, one under each of two pen names. Both projects are buzzing in my head and my fingers are itching to start typing now, but I’m no cheat so I won’t. The plots are fully formed in my head and I’ve got a few plot notes/chapter headings crunched out but that’s as far as it’s got.

Glutton for punishment, masochist, and big head are just some of the comments from my friends, but in truth it’s none of these. If I could go without sleep for the month, I’ve actually got something like four and a half complete plots dangling in there – I’ve had to make a choice between two of them in my own name – and in the end dropped the more demanding one. (It’s more demanding because I of the amount of factual research I’ve already done, and the hundreds of scrappy notes in the file. It would probably take me a month to get them sorted into usable sequence.)

So I’ve decided to stay on familiar territory with this one, writing the third part of my trilogy, characters I’m already comfortable with.

I normally write in bursts, once peaking at 12,000 words in a day, more normally 7,000 words, and usually for no more than a fortnight. So who knows, I might have two NANO’s done by 15th and decide to tackle another one. Doubt it very much though – I’m not that much of a masochist, and I’m sure the publishing business will decide it’s not prepared to take that much of a back seat.

SO are you doing NANO?

Come on, connect and buddy up, I’ll support any who are, with my own unique brand of encouragement – well maybe not, if you read the relevant post earlier this month – my hand would be too sore.

A friend of mine says she’s going to NANO her PHD thesis this year – don’t honestly think she means it – but good luck on both, Annette.

Happy NANOing.

Friday, 15 October 2010

E-mail Protocols 15th October 2010.

We just had an example of evolution in action, it could have been embarrassing and it certainly ruffled some feathers – let me explain. I had a lot of experience in the 90’s with introducing e-mail into companies that had relied on letters, fax and telephone. In fact in one medium sized company I came up against a Managing Director who was certain it would never catch on. Despite the fact he was my line boss, and the guy who was trying to drag the company “kicking and screaming” into the current century let alone the next he just didn’t “get it”. Eighteen months later, at a management meeting he praised his own foresight in insisting on introducing e-mail because “we can’t survive without it”. Everyone else tried to hide their giggles with various degrees of success.

I tell you this for a simple reason, when introducing e-mail into a corporate environment the big buzz word was “e-mail protocol” – how you reacted to an e-mail when you received it. From my recent experience it is becoming clear, different parts of the world have evolved different protocols over the last few years in terms of what is the correct way to deal with such a missive.

The European protocol, as far as I am concerned, in a business sense, not a personal one, is to respond to an e-mail as if you were talking to that person on the phone, I don’t mean in terms of the language used, which perforce has to be more guarded, but as if the “conversation” is in fact in real-time.

Clearly the Antipodean response is drilled the other way – emphasising the asynchronous nature of the communication – a much more laid back approach.

A case in point.

One of our authors sent in a question to both of us, which in fact required two answers, one from me in respect of half of the e-mail, and one from my partner on the other half. Following that protocol I’d spend months drilling into other people I politely responded with an answer to my part (the easy bit) and noted that my partner would respond to the other half when she was able. Since the author is in Europe, as am I, so my response was very quick. My partner, 12 time zones away was of course, not so quick.

In fact her part of the answer needed some research with a third party, together with the time zone issue added up to a delay which exceeded the author’s tolerance who promptly fired off a chase e-mail. Unfortunately this chase e-mail arrived at the dog end of the day, where after a couple of glasses of wine the response was quite forceful. Oopsie!

So which is better, the uptight European style, where you send an apology if you can’t answer straight away and you even send back a short thank you when someone sends you the information you requested – or the laid-back Pacific approach where you do it when you can.

The jury is still out... even though I’m prejudiced here.

Maybe there should be rule along the lines of "don't drink and e-mail" too.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

How can some high street retailers be so clueless? 14th October 2010.

Sometimes, I find myself deep in despair. I just don’t understand the thinking behind the actions of some companies.

Take a very well-known high street book chain, well; very well-known in this country, at least, they have a bricks and mortar operation on the high street of most major towns and cities on these islands. I actually think my home town is the largest in the country that doesn’t have a branch.

Now, I’m not silly, or overly optimistic – I know they are not going to provide their “valuable” shelf space for the books produced by a small press publisher such as ourselves. It would be nice, and I’d be over the moon but it’s not going to happen other than on a purely local basis anytime soon, if that and if then.

That is not of course true of their virtual store – their on-line presence, their attempt to carry over their high street prestige into the on-line world and challenge the purely on-line retailers. Certainly a worthy goal, I’m all for healthy competition, but I have to say I’m extremely disappointed in their offering in terms of our books, and by the look of it, books from many other small publishers.

You can search for any of our print books (e-books are a separate matter and that is being addressed via another partner) on their web site and find them. Well, sort of, you can find the book is on there, but there’s no cover image (Image not available), no blurb and no excerpt. There is nothing more than a blank rectangle, the book title, the author name and the reduced price. Scroll down a little and you find the ISBN number, the publisher and the date of publication and the number of pages. Not even a category it fits in.

I ask you, would you as a consumer buy something that tells you so little about itself? I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t unless I was looking for the product by name, make and model, and I’d found all the information elsewhere.

Our books are printed by a subsidiary of the largest book wholesaler in the US. They are actually printed in the UK and the US and next year will be printed in Australia too. I’ve seen the catalogue entry for our books, it’s obviously something I check like a hawk, and the entry is complete and conforms to what they tell me is the worldwide standard.

So why in four hells can’t this particular retailer actually put the information on their site? I mean, they probably get hundreds of thousands of books from these people on a weekly or monthly basis?

I know there are differences between computer systems? Heck, I worked in IT for thirty years, and if they were dealing with little old us I could understand, if not condone the problem, but this is a biggie dealing with an even bigger biggie. One they need in order to sell more books.

They actually are in business to sell books.... right? ..... Right?

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Blowing a trumpet, my own! 13th October 2010.

Well, going to have to do it, and in praise of our aggregator too.

Last week, I uploaded all 91 of our existing books (as it was when I started putting them together, we’ve released 4 since then which will go in the next tranche) to our aggregator. Each book in 4 formats, plus a resized cover plus a huge metadata spreadsheet – whose format I am not allowed to divulge under a non-disclosure agreement.

That was exactly one week ago.

They told me it would take up to 21 working days to accomplish the upload process – note that is 21 working days not ordinary days, and don’t ask why they used 21 and not 20.

An hour and twenty minutes ago, I got the e-mail. All the books have uploaded, perfectly, all versions, all books. First time as well.

Sorry, that is definitely worth a trumpet fanfare. I honestly expected they would want some changes, but no, they seem to be happy with it, no miss-named files, faults, errors, mistakes or omissions reported.

Their back office system, looked impenetrable to begin with, but is clearly quite swish and sophisticated, I’ve just spent the last hour scanning through the catalogue and I can’t see anything wrong anywhere.

I’m utterly amazed. Things like this don’t happen to me, I always make some error, or the process aborts or takes forever. It just doesn’t go right, and in less than a third of the time, not for me, not ever!

Life’s pessimist must now crank out a tune. Now where did I put that trumpet?

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Some people can be taught but never learn 07th October 2010.

I went to my writing club last night, a bit of intelligence gathering to be honest, since the guest speaker was another publisher who was going to explain how he worked. Interesting to see how another small press magnate (LOL) worked so I sat in the middle of the audience as he outlined how he did what he did and why.

As it happens his business plan and ours don’t really overlap in any real sense so I relaxed and enjoyed the flow. He’d brought a couple of his authors along who proceeded to outline why they had done what they did and then read out a sample section of their respective books. One was good, a contemporary book, with a real sense of humour in it, the guy could write.

The other one stopped me cold and I am certain by the end of her reading my tongue had teeth marks all over it. Now she wasn’t there for a critique of her work and to be fair her words did paint a picture, you could visualise the scene.

What I found really difficult to swallow though was a serious issue with what she’d actually written, a technical error that was so glaring it stood out. This is in a published book, with the publisher sitting next to her, just after she finished describing how she’d completed her master’s degree in creative writing – hence the title of this blog entry. It was gratifying to find a number of the club members sitting in the bar during the interval discussing the very same point.

Despite being taught creative writing, she’d broken one, if not two of the cardinal rules of fiction. Firstly you must show the reader what is happening, and when writing in the third person singular, you can show the reader what your view point character is thinking.

This author broke both with a repetitive series of sentences in the excerpt she read out. She consistently told the reader (or in this case an audience of listeners) what the viewpoint character was not thinking.

How can you possibly show your reader what your view point character was not thinking about?

Sure, you can do it by dialogue between the two people in the scene along the lines of “what will your wife think” followed by “I’m not thinking about her” but not in narrative form about his thoughts.

She didn’t do this once, but several times within the page.

Clearly this manuscript hadn’t been edited to an acceptable standard and was eminently correctable, and this author has a master’s degree in creative writing? What were the editor and/or publisher thinking about? Perhaps now you can see what I meant about teaching and learning.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Perverted Psychology 05th October 2010.

Before I get into next the next topic, let me just say I am not some kind of pervert – my sense of humour definitely is, but I’m not, and the author I’m talking about knows this as well.

I spoke yesterday about one of our authors on a downer thanks to the insensitive if not outright prejudiced approach to her work by one of her college tutors. She was down for another reason, completely separate from her college woes. Her books with us, simply haven’t been selling – at all, not just not well, but at all. Given how highly I regard her writing, as does my business partner and the editor who worked on them for us; this is not a quality issue. It has to be down to marketing.

There are of course five parts to that, the sites it’s sold on, our marketing, the book cover, the book blurb and the author’s own promotional activity.

Earlier in the summer we changed the covers for her, feeling this was the biggest factor holding them back, but this has had no effect. Our own marketing, and the sites we sell on are changing too, increasing dramatically over the next couple of months. This leaves the blurb as something we can target together. Currently we’re looking at that.

That’s a digression; the problem I was addressing was her “downer”.

Maybe because it was Sunday evening and I was a bit relaxed or maybe I was simply tired but I decided to take a different tack with her, apply some “reverse” psychology, or should that have been “perverse”. I’m not sure. Anyway, before I stopped to think I came out with something bizarre.

“If you don’t stop getting down on yourself, I’ll swim across the pond and personally spank you.”
Now, I don’t know about you but the idea of a man almost old enough to be her grandfather carrying out such an action should bring about some spluttering indignation and outrage. Instead she giggled and went silent. After a minute cringing, wondering how I could repair the damage, she came back on line and told me that had certainly broken her mood.

I’m fairly sure she’s not that kinky so it must have been the idea of someone, as old as I am, as unfit as I am, swimming the Atlantic was preposterous enough to make her laugh. At least I hope so.

So there you go, a little applied “perverse” psychology can work wonders, although I’m going to have to watch my own mouth in future, I’m so glad she took it as the joke it most assuredly was.

Monday, 4 October 2010

What is it about some academics? 04th October 2010.

I know at least one of my followers is a teacher – so she will understand what I mean. Why is it, some teachers feel negative reinforcement is is the way to motivate someone? Personally I feel, if you tell someone they’re crap at something for long enough and often enough, they’ll believe you and stop trying.

Case in point. One of our authors is a college student, studying a rather eclectic mix of subjects which happens to include creative writing. She is a published author, with two novels out there as well as several short stories in her chosen genre. For someone, as young as she is, I regard her as real and rare talent achieving a level of maturity and character development rarely seen at her age. (Her work is also published elsewhere, not just with us, so I’m not simply bigging up one of our own).

Her creative writing tutor though, clearly does not share this opinion – she comes down hard on the young lady, and belittles and rubbishes virtually everything she does. Okay, part of that is to shake her out of her comfort zone, and partly, like all of us, we write best in our own genre or genres, but having her almost sobbing on line to me last night was pushing it. Her boyfriend sums it up, “don’t stress it – she’s just jealous – you’re published and she’s not”. I have to say listening last night made me wonder along these lines too.

We all react better to constructive criticism – so why do some, by no means all, I’m not generalising here, some teachers and tutors go so far the other way.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

When is a review not a review? 02nd October 2010.

When is a review something it is worth sending a free copy of a book to the reviewer?

On the face of it, the answer could be construed as.... it always is. As always the truth is somewhat more complicated. One of our authors presented me with this dilemma – and my response, although not kneejerk certainly provoked an exchange.

This particular author approached me to ask if I would send an Epub format book to a particular reader on Goodreads who had promised a review. Let me just add, I’ve been a member of Goodreads myself for a couple of years, not particularly an active one, but a member none the less. I find the site useful, and helpful, and I’d recommend it to any book lover. It is essentially though a peer review site and designed for ordinary readers to give their opinions of books they have recently read.

I did a little research, e-mailed a couple of contacts and asked the question of my author contacts on Facebook. The result, universally, was sending a free copy to a peer reviewer was not the right thing to do – after all if you gave a copy away to everyone who ever asked you’d never sell any books, the author wouldn’t earn royalties and as a publisher you would go bust. Since these opinions matched my own, armed with this I wrote a polite, but in hindsight possibly too firm, an e-mail to the author.

Although the reply didn’t blister my screen or my hide, it was certainly forceful enough.

It turns out that yes this person had contacted the author through Goodreads but in actual fact ran a review site, although admittedly one I hadn’t heard of. A separate research project ensued and I have now sent the copy, apologising for the delay, apologised to the author (even if I wasn’t given the full information at the get go) and the book now appears on the preview page of the site.

You live and learn.... but at the same time – surely if you want someone to do something for you – you should provide all the information, or at least all the information that will aid them arriving at the decision you want – not hiding the most important bit?


Friday, 1 October 2010

An Interesting Question 01st October 2010.

A potential author asked us an interesting question yesterday, a real potential banana skin one.

This particular person submitted a manuscript which we read through and after a discussion between us decided the book was potentially marketable and was of a suitable quality for us to offer the author a contract. So far so good. When the author received the contract we received a question back in return.

No harm in that, for sure, we anticipate there would be some questions coming back relating to contract terms etc. etc. that would be entirely normal. What we didn’t expect was a question along the lines of “How big are you and why should I place my book with you?”

Just think about that for a moment.

This person has trusted us enough to send us their manuscript in all its glory and we’ve spent a long time (each) reading through the whole book and making comments, and then discussing and finally drawing up a contract offer. At this point we’ve already committed a lot of time to the book, now they are effectively asking us to “sell” our services to them.

We don’t represent ourselves as being a large organisation – that should be blatantly obvious to follows of this blog given the number of “hats” I personally wear. Our Notes for New Authors pages on our submission section (which is always open even if Submissions is itself closed), paints a fairly bleak picture in order to discourage those who think “I’ve written a book – now I’m rich”.

So how do we answer this question? If we give the author too much information, then we risk that information being passed on to other publishers – who, like ourselves, don’t provide this information up front. We are not a public company – we actually don’t have to disclose information we don’t want to the populace at large, only, regrettably, to the taxman.
Of course, we answered the e-mail in a reasonably polite manner – I left that to my business partner – she’s much politer than I am.

My point though should be clear – why ask these questions at this point? – why not ask them first? – before committing us to the amount of work we’ve now undertaken for what may turn out to be nothing.


Thursday, 30 September 2010

A Strange Day 30th September 2010.

It’s been a strange day today, all sorts of peculiar developments to weave my way through, almost like walking through a minefield.

Not that anyone was going to explode if I put a foot wrong, nothing as dramatic as that but we had a long trans-continental management meeting yesterday – something like two and a half hours. Thank heavens for internet chat – god knows how much it would have cost on a phone!

Now I’ve started to implement some of the things discussed, and at the same time, work out the full implications for some of the rest. On top of that personal pressures built up as well – not least comforting my mother after some light-fingered asswipe stole her purse while she was up town shopping. Luckily she keeps her cards elsewhere, so only the cash went missing, although the feeling of violation hasn’t left her.

I’m also on the final verification stage of checking the upload for our new aggregator, I have three new releases to format and prep for release at the start of next month, and it is of course also the final day of the quarter – so from tomorrow I’m going to be buried in finalising and checking the quarter end figures – which incidentally look much, much better than the previous quarter.

One day I’ll find the time to start writing again, managed a little last week, but this week is definitely a washout from that point of view.......

Ah well, soon be Xmas.....

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The death of the long set up 28th September 2010.

Sorry, I haven’t kept up with my self-imposed six times a week blogging schedule, but things have got a little hectic around here.

I’ve been very busy spending the last four days, including the weekend, formatting stuff for our new aggregator. I’ve had to extract all the bios, blurbs and extracts and then format all of them to a different set of standards.

Not difficult you might think but that’s because I haven’t told you the standards. Firstly I have to strip out ALL formatting – and I do mean all, and then insert a limited set of html tags to replace them. This limited set includes only three the tag <> for italics, the tag <> for bold and the <>tab for paragraph. I had fun writing this - when I copied it in, it activated the actual tags and turned everything into bold italic! Hence the unnatural spaces in the tags.

It doesn’t even include a centre tag – so for starters, how am I supposed to centre the scene breaks where there are any in the extracts?

Just to make matters worse each of the above are limited to 3750 characters in length. I mean, who counts in characters these days? Answer – they do. Since the introduction of blobs (colloquially know as bloody large objects) into database technologies twenty years or more ago, together with the inherent flexibility of html – you don’t need them. Still I suppose they have to work to the lowest common denominator among their clients.

It’s annoying though – almost all of our novel length excerpts had to be trimmed to fit – a couple of them by more than half! Given the excerpts are usually picked from the first chapter and the original excerpt (as seen on our web site) was carefully chosen to reflect the book in the best possible light, you can probably see why I’m finding this annoying.

This is where the long set up point, comes in. If you can’t complete the plot/character set up in a short number of sentences, you are going to have a problem when it comes to the retailers – they won’t/can’t take these long passages as the excerpts. Ergo – your excerpt might end up being half the set-up, no action and your potential readers (those who look at the excerpts at least) end up being put off rather than encouraged to read on.


Keep the set up short.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

To continue ... 22nd September 2010.

I had some interesting comments by e-mail and on Facebook about my blog so I thought this opened up the subject wider and I’d continue in the same vein.

When we first started this company we decided we wanted to appear “friendly” and as a result we had a very relaxed set of submission requirements. Even then, we didn’t necessarily enforce them strictly.

We had all sorts of strange submissions sent in, including one very early on that was clearly the scanned handwritten copy of a school essay, complete with the marks given to it by the teacher – I won’t embarrass the young lady by telling you the mark just in case she actually reads this. Actually, that sounds a bit pretentious, so I will, it was a C+.

That kind of “silly” submission can be dealt with easily enough, it is so clearly a rejection it only takes a few minutes to write a polite rejection, without even reading it. We can’t process it ergo we can’t accept it.

The more subtle mistakes do take time to deal with, so when our submissions page reopens we will have a much harder set of requirements, and this time we will be enforcing them.

Look at it from our point of view. Each guideline breach takes us time to deal with. It might not be much time for each one, some of them are time consuming, but if you add it up for twenty to fifty submissions a month it will add up. Time is money, and neither of us involved in this part of the business has that amount of time to spare not if we want to grow the business and heaven forbid actually start making real money from it!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

While I’m on the subject 21st September 2010.

While we’re on the subject of what not to do on a submission, let’s talk about title pages.

As a publisher – what am I going to be interested in on the title page of your manuscript? Your title, your pen name, and probably the word count. The later isn’t absolutely necessary if I’ve insisted on it being in the e-mail the manuscript is attached too – but others prefer it this way. So it doesn’t really bother me.

I can probably accept your contact details on the top but there are several things I don’t want to see.

One is your taste in decoration. Sure – there are some very nice colour schemes for title page graphics out there, and I’m sure they may even help you to “see” your own work, but I don’t want to see them. Seriously, I don’t, and for two reasons.

Firstly – they won’t match our “corporate colour scheme” (a particular two shades of blue) and I might not even agree with your “dodgy” taste in any case – remember putting me off your manuscript in any way is a bad thing!

Secondly, they distract me from what I want to do, which is to read the thing. In fact we’ve accepted manuscripts for publication without a title page – we don’t require one but accept others do.

The next page of your submission is critical too. We (and I know others differ) ask for your bio, your synopsis and genre for the book to form the body of the e-mail. Why then, would we want to read through them again as pages 2 to whatever of the manuscript? Okay, so you’re sending it to three hundred people (which is frowned on by probably 298 of them) and you want to send the same thing to all of them.

I can understand that, but I can’t accept something that is going to cost me time to scroll past to find the story, heaven forbid, I can’t find the start of the actual book because it starts halfway down page 4 of the synopsis.

Don’t get me started by the complex attempt at a copyright statement on page 5 either. There are two things wrong with this. Every publisher uses their own, usually legally checked, copyright statement so we WON’T use yours however much you kick and scream.

Secondly, it’s a trust issue. You’ve sent us your manuscript – usually we haven’t asked you for it. It represents a big slice of your creative life and it’s important to you. WE KNOW! We only contract the publishing rights – the copyright remains the author’s at all times. I’d be very concerned about a publisher that wants more than this. If you don’t trust us to honour that – what in four hells are you doing submitting it to us in the first place? Not only that, you insulted me, and my company. Not exactly a brownie point winner – is it?

If you must put a copyright on it, then just put the copyright symbol next to your name and leave it at that. I can respect that; you don’t know me (probably) after all, but no more than that.

Any more negative brownie points and it’s a reject slip. Simple really.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Why make it harder? 20th September 2010.

I want you to think about something for a minute. When you submit a manuscript to an agent or a publisher (yep – I’m back on that horse again) – you are taking the position of supplicant. You want them to accept your manuscript as worthy of publication, and although an actual begging letter isn’t in any way good from, you are begging them to find something g in your work that stands out head and shoulders above the others.

So surely, it’s reasonable to suppose that you’ve followed the publisher’s submission instructions to the letter (I’ve already covered that in earlier blogs), but isn’t it also beholden on you, the author, to ensure the internal consistency of the manuscript as well.

Hopefully, by following the submission guidelines it’s in the correct font, correctly spaced, and where applicable with (or without) page numbers, page headings etc. etc.

That’s reasonable – but have you checked everything else?

Have you stripped out your working cover, unless they’re already asking for that – which would be unusual, the pretty margin graphics, the fake parchment background and the “Draft” watermark.

You have? – Good! Second set of brownie points – the first was for following the explicit submission instructions.

Now for the one I bet you haven’t thought about – the embedded metadata.

You know - the author, title etc, which is embedded in the document. I bet some of you didn’t even realise it’s there, but it can create havoc for the publisher later in the process.

About from having an author name as your real name (when you want to use a pen name) or a title for the document which is actually the opening sentence there are worse effects still – the corporate ones.

Word, is an absolute menace in that respect. Let’s say you’ve been taking your manuscript in to work and using your company desktop to edit the manuscript during your lunch hour. As far as I’m concerned there’s no harm in that – but Word has a couple of tricks and your company system administrator has probably, and correctly, utilised them. Some companies have a policy to stamp the company name into the author metadata field, or you inherited the machine from your predecessor and their name gets inserted when you save. Companies can set their systems to automatically stamp any document processed on their system with additional metadata fields, identifying company department etc. etc.

For commercial purposes this is perfectly acceptable behaviour – but you don’t want them in your manuscript and you don’t want to force me to remove them either. If I have to remove them, or edit or alter them at any point in the process – believe me you just wasted my time and that is a serious mistake – remember you are the one who needs this, not us. You’re the supplicant.

Where is this metadata, you ask?

Well, I’ll tell you for Word 2007 – because I’m nice like that, although exactly where to find it in other systems or older versions – I can’t help you.

Click on the big start button, scroll down the New, Open Save menu until you reach Prepare. The second pane of the menu should now open up and the top option is Properties – a.k.a. Document Properties.

You should be able to follow your nose from there.

The next manuscript I find with corrupted properties is going to get a “reject, try again” notice immediately. You have been warned....

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Issues with being International 16th September 2010

The very nature of our business meant we could truly classify ourselves as international from the very first moment of the company’s existence. After all – one of us lives in New Zealand and I live in the United Kingdom. Until they actual start getting space habitats up and running I don’t think we could be physically further apart. Just to further complicate matters are editing staff are predominantly domiciled in the US.

All of our work is done electronically so the physical distances aren’t a problem, although the time differences can induce frustration, but it’s something we can generally work around.
Of course from the eBook point of view we don’t have any issues either –the web transcends distance in ways no other system can, and we deal with retailers on a worldwide basis. In fact, since many of our retailers and distributors have overseas subsidiaries it can be convoluted to keep track of who is selling our eBooks where.

It took us a while to find an accounting package that dealt neatly enough with our, often three-cornered, currency movements, but we have now and that’s up and working. (We bill in US dollars for eBooks, and many of our suppliers bill us in US dollars, which are paid from a Sterling account and recompensed in New Zealand dollars. In fact one particular supplier bills us for some transactions in sterling and some in US dollars just to complicate matters.)

The thorn in our side though, remains print shipments. We print books in either the US or the UK, depending on which location is the most economic. This is where things get very complicated and very frustrating very quickly.

(Yes I know you shouldn’t repeat a word like I did in the last sentence – but I did it for emphasis!)

For example – if I ship a book by post in this country, it costs the same, whichever part of the country I’m shipping it to. (Courier is different of course, but post costs the same). In the US the size of the country dictates different charges for different states. If I have books printed in the US and shipped to Canada we incur customs duty, despite it being the longest land border in the world, and they even speak the same (well almost) language. If I ship the books from the UK – no customs duty but the extra freight cost more than makes up for it.

If I need to ship books to New Zealand, it’s more economic to do this from the UK, but if the order exceeds NZ$ 500 then it will incur customs duty. Bear in mind the printing company and the courier are billing us in sterling at least a week before the shipment arrives and in the meantime the currency rate can fluctuate which might push a shipment over the limit.

These are just two examples, there are many others. No wonder I get a headache some days...

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Bizarre little exercise for you 15th September 2010.

A little bit of fun today.

Like most modern authors, I am totally reliant on my word processor and my keyboard skills – and sometimes they can let me down.

I use autocorrect to pick up my common errors so I don’t even think about the fact I sometimes type yuo instead of you (and I had to type that twice to get it to register – autocorrect corrected the deliberate mistake).

Autocorrect, spell-check and grammar-check are integral parts of our lives as writers now, and most of the time we don’t even stop to think about them.

By the way, my autocorrect list contains about 70 items I‘ve added to cover my common errors – so don’t be ashamed to admit to the odd dozen or so – Please comment and tell me how many – as long as it’s not zero – I don’t like braggarts.

Anyway, back to the point of this blog. I had a bit of a finger “spasm” as I was typing yesterday’s blog and one particular work was seriously mangled. It was of course awarded the wavy red line and I went to retype it from scratch. By accident, I caught the right mouse button rather than the left and was surprised to see that despite the a, r and s being the only letters that were correct in the word authors, that was the only correction offered.

So the exercise for today is to find the weirdest, strangest and most impossible misspelling you can for either that word, or another of your choice of 7 letters, which still gives the correct spelling as the only choice when you right click it.

It’s harder than you think....

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Beware the Tricksters out there 14th September 2010.

Since I subscribe to several web services and blogs, and belong to some newsgroups and so on , s well as having “author” prominently on my Facebook profile, I tend to get quite a bit of spam e-mails about the writing world and profession.

Some of these are offering services to us as a company, which we don’t want or need. “We’ll convert your books to the most popular format for free.” “We’ll help you get your books on the Apple iBooks store - worldwide.” You get the picture – and for those guys information – we already have our eBooks in the most popular format, and we have them on Apple too, and apple are not yet marketing their iBooks store worldwide so how they can do something that Apple don’t do beggars belief.

My all time favourite was one I recently yesterday and which sparked the thought train that became this blog.

“Sign up as an author with us and we can guarantee you will receive twice the average earnings.”
I just about rolled on the floor over this one. Let me explain why, to those of you who don’t already know.

There is NO minimum wage agreements in force for authors anywhere. Sure one or two reach the stellar heights and the millions roll in, there are many who make a comfortable living from their writings. These fortunate souls are the very pinnacle of our profession, there are vastly outnumbered by those who scratch around at the bottom of the pyramid hoping to make it big someday. Authors live in hope rather than expectation.

Something like 0.1% of authors are fortunate to actually make a living wage from their writing – that’s one in a thousand. Around about 10 times this many, i.e. one in a hundred make enough to consider it more than pin money.

The rest, me included, don’t really make enough to buy the pins. LOL. Certainly not enough to put the food on the table. It’s why I moved into cover work, submissions handling and eventually publishing as well.

So, if only 1% of authors make anything close to decent money, and there is a vast pool of authors who end up with nothing to show for it, and the rest make peanuts – how low is the average going to be?

You do the math.

Anyone want a couple of peanuts?

I’m not trying to discourage anyone, far from it, but it’s these “I can help you make money from your writing” guys that really get to me.......

Monday, 13 September 2010

Is it a science or an art-form? 13th September 2010.

Sorry, pressure of work has meant the blog has bene neglected for a couple of days.

There’s a poser for you, is what we do, as writers, a form of artistic expression, or a scientific progression?
Do we fly freeform into the storyline with no heed paid to rules or do we progress from preposition to supposition to theorem to experimental measurement to eventual proof. Given that not all forms of science actually follow the latter, don’t discount it immediately.

In my last post I talked about a particular rule that is often applied to novel length works. “The reader should be introduced to both the protagonist and the antagonist within the first three chapters and preferably given a good idea of the cause of conflict between them.”

On the face of it – it’s not a bad rule. But could you run that rule over every successful book from the Twentieth Century and would every single one of them pass? Not even close. Let’s look at one of the most successful American novels of the last century – “To Kill a Mocking Bird” – where is the antagonist in the first three chapters? Not present – in terms of the final dénouement – although you could perhaps argue the Great Depression and prejudice were in fact the real antagonists.

Before anyone adds me to the effigy burning pile, I rate this book as one of my all time favourites, and make a point of rereading it every couple of years or so.

The fact remains; there is no clearly identified antagonist in the first section of the book. Take, arguably the book voted the best British book of the Twentieth Century – Tolkien’s epic – where does the real antagonist appear? Sure we meet the protagonists early, but not the enemy.
So there we have it, two very successful books that do not fit the rule as stated above, indeed you could even say they deliberately flout the rule. You can’t even class this as down to the author being well enough known for earlier works to be able to get away with it – Harper Lee was unpublished before Mocking Bird, and Tolkien only had academic credits.
So, unlike proven science, we break the rules, sometimes extremely successfully. OS ergo, this proves we are practitioners of an art from. Q.E.D.

Sorry, it does nothing of the sort. We have arrived at a conclusion based on insufficient evidence, to quote a cliché (again) “one swallow doth not a summer make”. There are many, many rules in fiction writing, from basic spelling rules, to grammatical rules (ed: note this writer can’t use commas to save his life) to structural rules.

Note – the two books discussed above both confirm to another age old writing rule – each story must have a beginning, middle, and an end. Admittedly Tolkien took three volumes to reach that point, but some authors take even longer, the late and prolific L Ron Hubbard once taking ten volumes, and Harry Turtledove these days rarely writes single volume anythings.

There are rules in writing, just as there are rules in science. There again there are rules in most forms of art.

Personally I believe it’s a craft rather than a science. Mind you, the jury is still out...

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Submission Fail 09th September 2010.

Sometimes, people do the submission thing right, only to fall short and fail for a far more obvious reason – a major problem with their manuscript. A very good (or should I say bad) example of this, is the case I’m going to relate to you today – and I’ve changed the numbers (slightly, only slightly) to prevent embarrassment.

The actual story concept was really exceptionally original, and certainly the synopsis was intriguing – so far that’s a pass.

The manuscript formatting was within acceptable parameters and at first glance the writing was technically (i.e. grammatically, spelling wise and word choices) within acceptable limits so that’s a pass too.

Now we come to the structure of the piece. It’s roughly 81,000 words long and it had 80 chapters. So that’s an average of only 1,000 words per chapter, and it was almost metronomic in the way each chapter was approximately the same length as each other. Sometimes, a choppy style like this suits the work, but usually this makes the piece very hard to read. The author did restrict the points of view to one per chapter – which is very good for a tyro, but changing them so frequently is disconcerting in a novel that has no pretentions as a saga where this is more acceptable. SO the first warning flag is now flying, and it’s a fairly serious one, we are now at best dealing with a possible after rewrites for structural issues.

Having flashed through the book making the general assessments noted above, it’s time to actually sit down and start reading it. Unfortunately that warning flag has lowered the enthusiasm level; still I don’t want to risk losing it by prejudicing myself. An open mind is key.
As I said, my first flash view impression of the technical abilities of the author was good, and now reading it carefully I can confirm that impression. It is well enough written. “Felicity of style” is perhaps the correct cliché – structural issues aside it’s readable.

Now we come to the killer blow, again this is a structural issue – a real serious mistake and one that converts the possible into a no.

Let me lay it out for you.

Chapter 1. – We are introduced to the main protagonist, we get to understand him, his history, his motivation for the very risky undertaking he is about to leap into. 90% Narration, 10% Dialogue, 0% action.

Chapter 2. – We are introduced to someone who will be a bit player in the drama, on his own as he gets ready to leave his flat at the start of the day. We know him, his history, and his (venal) motivation. 100% Narration. No action.

Chapter 3. – We are introduced to the next player in the drama. We get to know his motivation in aiding the protagonist, his history. 95% Narration, 5% Dialogue, 0% action.

Chapter 4.......

You get the idea. After several chapters of this, we get back to the main character and the story tries to limp off to a start. By the way, we don’t actually meet the main antagonist during this phase, which breaks the traditional rule about meeting both the protagonist and antagonist in the first three chapters. I know, some rules are meant to be broken, and can be very successfully, but not all the time.

Combine this with such a choppy structural style and tell me I shouldn’t simply reject it outright. Go on... tell me...

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Grindstone Time Again 08th September 2010.

A small observation today, seeing as I’m going to be spending a good portion of the next few hours reading submissions I thought I’d mention an observation about writer behaviour that has become apparent over the last week or so.

We closed submissions at the beginning of this month in order to allow us to catch up on both the existing submissions – those that came in before the deadline, and also our work in progress (or should that be works in progress?).

Before, when we put the closure notice up on the submissions page on the web site, we left the page intact, and put the closed line at the top. Despite this, we still continued to get a steady trickle of submissions being sent in. This time, I did it differently, literally gutting the page and removing all references to submissions, the formatting and other guidelines. The page says we are CLOSED and that’s it.

I did leave the general points and links to information and sample contract in place but that is all there is on the page. Result – you guessed it – no unsolicited submissions.

So there you have it – a conclusion, drawn on insufficient evidence, writers are selective readers, and they practice selective blindness, only seeing what they want to see.

Not exactly earth-shattering is it – oops, must stop the puns about the earthquake.

We have 4 or 5 submissions sent in at the tail end of last month before I put the closed notice up, so I’m about to pull on the harness, shrug on the aqualung tanks, spit in the goggles and jump right in.
Wish me luck on this particular fishing expedition.

Retrospective 07th September 2010.

Today has been a retrospective kind of day. I’ve spend the entire day so far ploughing through our start up and first full quarters on the new accounts system. After several hours I’ve finally balanced the figures back to the manual figures – the only difference being a couple of journals my partner needs to post. (I know the amounts but not the dates). So that’s it – the accounts are done for the period to 31st December.

Once we’ve tidied up those last couple of points we can move on to the next quarter and so on. The big advantage will be we’ve broken the back of the learning curve already, and created all the missing cost centres etc. etc. – so the next quarter will be comparatively easy.

What has really made the whole process a retrospective one isn’t the fact I’m working on historical figures, actually ancient history really, but more the things I’d kind of forgotten about.
The sheer frenetic level of activity reflected in the number of e-mails flying between the two countries, particularly during August and September. The constant passing back and forth of press releases and articles, and text for the web site as we competed with each other to get everything right.

That’s aside from the little incidental costs and invoices I’d forgotten about. They were in the old system; they simply hadn’t remained in the old memory.

So there’s no other news today, I’m simply relaxing now, done enough for the day. Not quite feet up but almost, certainly the St Clemens is going down well (for those who don’t know this non-alcoholic cocktail – it’s made from Bitter Lemon and fresh orange juice), in fact I could do with a refill – see ya!

Monday, 6 September 2010

Real Life Intrusion 06th September 2010.

Over the weekend real life intruded into our operations in a way that was luckily nothing more than disturbing – but it could so easily have been catastrophic. Working on the tag end of an eleven hour time difference doesn’t help.

You see, we are based in two countries, half a world apart – here in the United Kingdom and my business partner in Christchurch, New Zealand. No doubt, by now you will have heard, how, at approx 4.35 am on Saturday the city of Christchurch was rocked by a massive 7.x earth quake.

Thankfully she, and her family are all okay, just a couple of minor bits of damage to their house and two very panicked dogs and a cat that disappeared for 24hours and came back smelling of “the bowels of the earth”. There have been over 60 aftershocks, not all of them minor and there is widespread devastation and damage throughout the city, both to buildings and the vital infrastructure.

Still they came through it, they have heat, light, water and comms, there are others much worse off, although the amazing thing is the total lack of fatalities. Only two people seriously injured, other than that a plethora of bruises, and several dozen broken bones.

Thank god, for decent building codes, rigorously enforced.

Compared to other major quakes and tsunami, the damage is not so much of a much, but to the people in the middle of it, it’s more than enough.

It’s the kind of intrusion I, and more particularly, Paulette could do without!

Friday, 3 September 2010

The Dreaded Block 03rd September 2010.

We closed down the submissions page a couple of days ago, to allow us to do some catch up work on the work in progress we already have in hand. For the first time in a couple of months my e-mail inbox isn’t bulging at the seams with submissions that are in one way or another unusable or unsuitable or just downright not good enough. On top of that, with respect to yesterday’s demi-rant I’ve sent off my support e-mail but as yet had no reply, and I’m waiting on a confirmation from New Zealand on the edited Chart of Accounts for the new accounts system. Finally, the SEO work discussed last week has had the first phase down and I have to wait for a couple of weeks to see if there’s any impact before I start the next tranche.

Suddenly that massive work load has dried up leaving me, not exactly at a loose end but with some time where I could actually write!

Wow! Amazing! Writing time! That precious gold dust that is so elusive I usually don’t see any from one week to the next. Of course real life is going to intrude and claim some of it, but there’s still some left.

Only there’s a problem – my own peculiar form of writer’s block has me in its terrifyingly icy grip.

We all encounter the dreaded can’t write won’t write syndrome from time to time and we all develop strategies to deal with it and I thought it was an appropriate time to share my three pronged strategy with you. You never know it just might help.

My first strategy is to do something completely different. No, I don’t mean run down the street with my arms outstretched singing the theme song to Top Gun at the top of my voice. That would just be silly. What I mean is to tackle a form of writing I don’t like. In my case this is poetry – and for those of you who know me personally you will know – I don’t do poetry. I can’t write and won’t write poetry. It’s just me. So I sit down for ten or twenty minutes and force myself to do so. End result – going back to whichever piece of work in progress then takes my fancy is a blessed relief. Bingo – no block.

My second strategy is the photographic one. This one I used to use on a creative writing course I used to teach, and it works, even with the most recalcitrant student. Find a photograph that takes your eye and then write a couple of sentences about the photograph from each of several different points of view. It must have a foreground object, a background and preferably no people in it, certainly no family. For example if it’s a picture of a road tanker, write an accident scenario, a comedy scenario, an environmental story ... you get the picture. Sorry about the pun. Try half a dozen headings and the creative juices are flowing again and away you go. The only problem with this technique is procrastination – sometimes you just don’t allow yourself to find the photo that will work

The third strategy – oh come on now. You must have guessed this by now – what am I doing? That’s right – I’m writing. The fact I’m writing my blog means I’m writing and I don’t have writer’s block anymore.

So.... Where did I put that best-selling romance novel I’d written the first two pages of......?

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Down to Earth 2nd September 2010.

After the euphoria of yesterday it’s down to earth with a bump, if you will pardon the deliberate cliché.

The list of technical requirements to upload our work to Content Reserve is daunting to say the least. Let me give you a sample – and I mean a sample:

1. We have to supply metadata (that’s title, author, description etc), in a specific spreadsheet format according to their template. Only thing is they haven’t sent me the template yet – ask the support department for it.

2. The book covers have to be sent to them at a particular minimum size (which is larger than the maximum size used by every retailer we deal with direct. The problem with resizing jpegs to suit is every time you do this the image quality may degrade. Especially when you are increasing as opposed to decreasing. The size they want is in fact larger than the size they use so it’ll be resized a minimum of twice.

3. All files must follow a strict naming convention – using the ISBN numbers as the file name followed by the file type as the extension. Not a problem you’d think – except do they mean a 10 digit or a 13 digit ISBN – and do you leave the dashes in or take them out? Not clearly explained – ask the support department.

4. Epub files (Apple, Adobe Digital Editions etc) – please submit a set of between 5 and 15 files for quality check before proceeding. You are not told where to send them – you guessed it ask the support department.

5. Microsoft Reader files – you need to set certain security parameters that don’t exist in the program we use to create them. Going to have to investigate those.

6. PDF files – remove all existing security features – they’ll add the DRM to replace them.

7. Kindle files – please send files with level 4 security only (this prepares them for DRM but prevents you from opening them on your own Kindle or mobipocket reader to check them first).

I don’t have a problem with them wanting things their way, after all so does everyone else – it’s simply a rather long list and it’s going to take some considerable time to resolve all issues – especially if they decide the Epub files don’t match their quality conditions. As far as I’m aware, from the retailers who give us feedback and our own site sales we haven’t sold a single Microsoft Reader version, so I suspect point 5 will become depreciated.

Seeing we are talking upward of 90 existing books at the moment, and many more in the pipeline, several of which will be published before this process has been completed, I could very well be here till Xmas....

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Not so little after all 1st September 2010.

About an hour after I posted my blog entry yesterday, talking about real life since the intrusion of real life had prevented me working and as a result I was a little slow to find a topic, I checked my e-mail inbox and there it was.

Seriously momentous good news – finally after looking at them with envious eyes as we weren’t big enough for them, and then when we did attain that required minimum size and apply, and then wait and wait and wait Content Reserve finally accepted our application as a publisher for them to carry our work.

They are the largest e-book aggregator on the planet – they supply literally hundreds of e-book retail web sites all over the globe. Some of the big names are exclusively theirs (like WHSmith and Waterstones in the UK). This single deal literally means we will now be selling our books in far more e-book stores than previously.

Not only that but they are the leading supplier via their parent company in the provision of e-book lending systems to libraries worldwide. As the e-book revolution sweeps through those hallowed halls, that could be even bigger news.

Although it will take some months before everything is loaded, distributed and sales information and actual revenues start coming back to us (see earlier rants on that subject!) this is a really big step for us – it rounded off August in a huge way.

Not only does it provide potentially a huge revenue stream for us and our authors it also says one other thing about us.

When it comes to the size ladder for publishers – we have climbed another rung – we are no longer among the “smallest of the small” small press publishers.

It’s not exactly industry recognition or anything resembling it – but it is an important step.

As you can tell I’m pumped!

Sorry about that.....

Not Enough Hours 31st August 2010.

Why is it, when real life intrudes, it’s always on the day or days when you have so...... much to do.

I have Augusts’ print book (Errata came back late from the author) and September’s to upload, umpteen book files to the new retailer, and another batch to another retailer. That’s before we start on the admin tasks that are piling up.

The real life intrusion’s I do have to mention – they were two different sides of the coin, one a happy, if a tad embarrassing, the other rather sad. Firstly, my prospective son-in-law asked for my permission to marry my daughter. Not that he needed it from a legal point of view, but it was really nice he thought it important enough to actually ask. Seeing as how my daughter has never been happier I was hardly likely to say no, was I? (Actually I did but laughed and spoiled the joke, couldn’t actually keep my face straight). That was last night, the second event, the sad one, was a funeral I attended this morning – a retired teacher who served at my children’s school for a very long time, all his working career, and he was my daughter’s favourite teacher too.

The contrast between the two events is startling and it has a tendency to throw off my thought patterns as my brain constantly wants to re-evaluate either of the two events. As a result it’s hard to concentrate on the grind of uploading files and descriptions and prices to the retailers.

I doubt there are enough hours in the day to clean up the workload for today – still it beats sitting still twiddling my thumbs...