Friday, 7 December 2012

Self-publishing for Amazon: Part 4 - Summary

So now I've given you the dubious benefit of my pearls of wisdom about Kindle and CreateSpace publishing - I'll answer the thousand-dollar question: do I think it's been worthwhile?

From the Kindle point of view - I'd say it's a definite yes. Worthwhile from the point of view of personal satisfaction, from hopefully gaining some more readers, and from making ... some pocket money. As I've said already - I didn't do this in the hope of becoming wealthy, so I haven't been disappointed! But then again, I'm pretty realistic about such things, having been published for quite a few years in the traditional way and never having become anywhere near wealthy from that either!

I'm really glad I got 'on board' with Kindle just as it was really taking off. It's been an exciting experience. I've loved the feeling of being in control of my own destiny - of being able, within reason, to set my own prices, to experiment with reducing them and even offering free promotions, and watching the sales figures and Amazon rankings to see the effects. None of this was possible with a traditional publisher - the decisions were out of my hands, and I only found out what I'd earned every six months when I got my royalty statements.

The free promotions, which you can do by joining KDP Select, have I think definitely been worthwhile. Some authors don't like the concept of offering your work free, and up to a point they're right ... ebooks may not have a physical production cost, but my books still represent about a year of my hard work, and who would be prepared to work for a year for no pay? Yes, it irritates me when readers say they don't expect to have to pay for ebooks at all (?!) or that they refuse to pay more than the absolute minimum (so maybe they lose out on some of the best books?).  But a free promotion of just a couple of days - you can do up to five days at a time with KDP Select - is an interesting experiment. The first time I tried this, I watched in amazement as about 1000 copies of the book were downloaded in a day, even in the USA where my books don't usually sell so well. All free! But the point is, none of the people who downloaded it free were ever going to pay for it. And having read it, they might well go on and buy one or more of the others. AND, the biggest surprise was the increase in sales of the book during several weeks AFTER a free promotion. So I've done several more since, with different books.

The most annoying problem I've encountered with KDP is the way royalty payments from the USA are made. The UK payments, as long as the £10 threshold has been achieved, are paid into my bank account every month and that's great. But with the US earnings, you have to achieve a threshold of 100 dollars - which took me a while, because I sell far less books over there than in the UK. And then - the only options are payment into a US bank account (needless to say, I don't have one and couldn't use it if I did), or by a cheque in US dollars.  When I got the first cheque of just over $100 I was pleased ... until I tried to pay it into my bank. The bank charges are so high, for a relatively small cheque, they refused to handle it. I tried other banks - discussed with other people - all agreed it's a real problem unless you're earning bigger amounts (in which case the charge is a smaller percentage of the amount). I ended up asking Amazon to void the cheque, and hold my royalties until they mount up to something more worthwhile so that the bank will agree to handle it. I also asked them why they won't consider paying by PayPal or even payment into my Amazon account. (Surely that would benefit them too). They pretty much told me to 'watch this space', but nothing has changed.  So I've not received a cent yet from the USA ... and to think I went to all the trouble, including a trip to the American Embassy in London, to get myself certified for not paying US tax!!

As for CreateSpace - it's really too soon for me to say whether it's worthwhile as I've only just created my first paperback with them. I'm pleased with the finished result, although the cover is a bit flimsy. The paper is good quality, the print is good and clear. But I'm not sure whether it was such a good idea to produce a trade size paperback, as a mass-market size would presumably be cheaper and attract more sales.

So far my sales have been minimal but I didn't expect to sell in shedloads and that was never the reason for doing it. The royalty is poor, but then again the service is free so it's hard to be too critical of that. Kindling is also free, easy to do, and the returns very much better so I don't think there's any doubt the ebook is the way to go for self-publishers. But to give your readers a paperback option too, CreateSpace makes it possible and relatively easy.

The most annoying thing with CreateSpace was that author price copies are currently only available from America. By the time I'd added shipping costs to the price of a reduced copy from the States, to say nothing of waiting for it to arrive, I decided I might as well pay full price from the UK website - but I'm not happy about it. I took this issue up with CreateSpace, and their reply was:

'Member orders are currently printed in the U.S. We understand that improving shipping time lines and cost for our international members is important and want to assure you that this is a priority.'

The point, for me, is that until or unless I'm able to order author price copies from the UK, I will not be buying a stock of books to sell myself. This is a great pity, as I normally sell a few books whenever I give a talk, and could have offered copies of this book for sale if I could have bought them at a slightly reduced price. To buy a quantity, at full price, with no guarantee of selling them and no chance to offer anyone a slight discount, is just not worthwhile.

With either option, as with any self publishing (and indeed even if you're traditionally published, nowadays), the promotion is all down to us, as authors - and I've tried to tread a fine line between telling people about my new editions via Facebook, websites, author newsletters, etc - and irritating the life out of everyone by overdoing it - bombarding them and talking of nothing else. But you obviously do need to make readers aware, somehow, of what you're doing!

Despite everything, if I get the opportunity to be published by a mainstream publisher again, and the conditions are right, I'll still go for it. In fact the rights of my most recently traditionally-published book, 'Tales From a Honeymoon Hotel', are still with my publisher and they are planning soon to publish their own ebook version. I'm going to find it very interesting indeed, comparing its progress with that of my self-published Kindle versions of the other two titles in that series.

But I'm really pleased I've had the experience of self-publishing, now that it's so much easier, cheaper (or free) and more 'respectable'. I've definitely enjoyed it and will be doing it again. Good luck if you plan to give it a go yourself, and I hope these posts have helped a little!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Self-publishing for Amazon: Part 3 - CreateSpace

This part of my feedback about the self-publishing process is probably going to sound a little less confident - because I've only recently taken the plunge with the CreateSpace arm of Amazon myself. But you might find my 'beginner's' experience interesting.

Having self-published seven of my backlist, and two brand new books, as Kindle editions, I was being asked by some of my readers for print editions of the new books. Not everyone has a Kindle, and I was quite keen myself to see the books in print. My decision to self-publish with CreateSpace was based on this, rather than on any real hope of improving my financial situation!

Self-publishing through one of the many companies set up for this purpose can be very expensive, so when I heard about the free service through CreateSpace, I decided it was worth a try, especially as I'd been pleased with the results of Kindle Direct Publishing. So I've started off with 'Sophie Being Single'. Here's the finished result on the Amazon page.

In much the same fashion as I started experimenting with Kindle, I started looking at the CreateSpace website expecting to recoil with fear and confusion ... but once again, I found the process easier than I expected. I'm glad I was already experienced with 'Kindling' because the process is quite similar and felt more familiar than it would have done if I'd jumped straight into CreateSpace.

One thing I found surprising was the size of book recommended - trade paperback size (6x9), bigger than the usual mass-market paperback. I'm not sure why they recommend this size, but being a newbie, I went along with it, although other sizes were on offer. I now wonder whether it's such a good idea as it's obviously a slightly more expensive option for readers to buy.

Someone who'd already used CreateSpace had given me a couple of tips, including changing the text of my Word document to single spacing before uploading it. I hadn't needed to do this before uploading my Kindle editions, (I presume that was part of the conversion process), but followed the advice, to be on the safe side.  It's then necessary to make sure every chapter still starts on a fresh page.

I used the same blurb, and the same cover image that I'd used on my Kindle edition of 'Sophie', so those two processes were already sorted; but because the cover of a physical print book has to wrap around the spine and the back (obviously!), you have to do more than just upload an image. CreateSpace gives you a good choice of cover templates so you can drop in your image and get the text in the right places provided, and I used one of these. There was also room, on the back, for the blurb and an author pic.

Once you've completed the book, it has to pass through Amazon's review process. This isn't a review of the book itself - but a check that it's all uploaded properly and that there aren't any 'issues'. I had a couple of minor problems flagged up at this stage which were easy to rectify - eg a chapter starting halfway down a page, which I'd missed, and the fact that the text of the book started on a left-hand page ... it should start on a right-hand page, so if necessary you have to put in a blank page first, after your title page, 'about the author', copyright lines and whatever else you want.

You then have to proof the book. This can either be done on-line, or by buying a physical proof copy. As my book had been edited and already published on Kindle, I opted for the former, but checked it very carefully, especially the pagination again.

The big headache, for me, was the pricing - and much more so than with Kindle. Depending on the size of your book, CreateSpace specify a minimum price below which you can't go. In my case, this was set at £7.04 for the UK market. The royalty per book, if I'd priced it at £7.04, would have been 2p! So to make slightly less of a pointless exercise, I priced it a little higher, at £7.35, still giving me a very small royalty, which is why I've said it's not a money-making project.

I realised this price might sound prohibitive to some Amazon shoppers who are used to bargains!  But CreateSpace obviously have to cover the cost of print-on-demand, and make a profit - and after all, the cover price of a typical mass-market size paperback is usually now about £7.99. I could write another whole new blog post about whether books are being sold for a realistic price - but that's another story!

I was stunned by how quickly the book appeared on Amazon - after only a couple of days, which is much sooner than they said.  But irritatingly, a week after publication, and after I'd done a lot of promotion about the book, giving its price as £7.35, Amazon in its capacity as retailer discounted the book to £6.62. (So there's a bargain for you!). I checked with CreateSpace that this doesn't affect my royalty, but thankfully not - unlike traditional publishing, where my royalty was reduced on discounted copies. With CreateSpace, the author's royalty remains as it was set at the time of publication.

In the final part of this series, I'll give you my summing-up on what I think of both the Kindle and the CreateSpace publishing.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Self-publishing for Amazon: Part 2 - Kindle

As promised, here's my feedback about creating a Kindle ebook for Amazon.

When it came to the actual process of submitting a book for Kindle publication, I found it didn't take very long at all; it's mainly just on-line form-filling, done through the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) website.  I tried to choose a day for this when I had some uninterrupted time to concentrate - but your submission can be saved, at any point, and completed later.

It's the preparation beforehand that takes time: checking the text document, writing a blurb, and creating a cover image.

* The text document: My previously-published books were professionally edited, but with my new self-published books, I'll always have at least two people whose editing abilities I really trust, to read through the manuscripts first to pick up any possible errors. Mistakes happen, but I want to lessen the chances!

I put a title page at the front of the document, and two copyright lines at the bottom of this page - one giving my copyright as the author, the other giving the copyright of the cover image. One thing I've found frustrating on previewing the document after it's been uploaded, is that there's now more than one size of Kindle page for the text to fit: Kindle Fire pages are bigger. I haven't found it easy to get the copyright lines at the bottom of the title page (rather than the top of Page 1 of text) in both sizes. Hopefully this is not too much of a problem for readers if it isn't right, though!

The blurb:  This is to go on Amazon's sales page. I found it best to write this, and create the cover image, and have both ready before starting on the submission process. For the Kindle editions of my previously-published books, I had to write completely new blurbs, as the original blurbs were the copyright of my publisher. Starting from scratch with a new book, you'll need to write one anyway.

As an example, here's the blurb I wrote for the Kindle edition of my first-ever book, 'The Trouble With Ally':
Ally doesn’t particularly want to turn fifty – but it doesn’t bother her half as much as everything else in her life is bothering her right now. Still smarting from the fact that her husband left her for a younger woman, she’s trying to cope single-handedly with a sick elderly cat, a sick elderly mother and a sick elderly car – to say nothing of two daughters who treat the house much like a comfortable hotel.  And on top of everything else, she’s having trouble hanging on to her job.
So why does everyone else seem to think turning fifty is the trouble? And why does everyone seem to think she’s losing her mind? She’s not really going crazy ... or is she?

* The cover image: At first I found this the most daunting part - but now I enjoy doing it.
As with the blurb, I couldn't use the cover images from my originally published paperbacks, as these are the copyright of the publisher/illustrator, so I had to choose new ones.

According to KDP's instructions, the dimensions of your chosen image need to be:
• A minimum of 625 pixels on the shortest side and 1000 pixels on the longest side
• For best quality, your image would be 1563 pixels on the shortest side and 2500 pixels on the longest side

It's possible to use a photo of your own, if you have something suitable - I did this with a couple of my books. For the others, I used Shutterstock -  there are several similar websites. Some offer a limited selection of free images, and if you can't find what you want there, you can view a much greater selection of paid-for images. I found the cost for these very reasonable and as it was the only cost I incurred in this whole exercise, I was happy to pay. It's great fun browsing for pictures - I've probably wasted hours on that bit!

I've found the 'medium' size photo image from Shutterstock is the right size, but any website should show the dimensions of the pictures offered. Where I used my own photos, I used the 'resize' option on my picture editing programme to adapt them if necessary.

To add the book's title and my name to the cover image, I used the 'Paint' programme. If you have Photoshop, I'm told that's the best, but I found 'Paint' worked perfectly well. I'd never done anything like this before, and it was a bit of a learning curve. That's why I think it's best to tackle all this bit well before you want to begin the actual publication process! With patience and practice, I got the hang of it, but one thing I learned was to make a copy of my chosen cover image, to work on while I was practising and playing around with it, and keep one 'unadulterated' copy safe in case it all went wrong and for some reason I couldn't get back to where I'd started. 

For my latest Kindle book, 'Debra Being Divorced', I used a picture from Shutterstock, and superimposed the title and my name in toning colours using a nice font from Paint:-
Any image that isn't your own copyright, has to be credited to the source. That's the image copyright line I put under my author copyright on the title page.

The actual publishing process:  I was very impressed with how easy KDP makes this. Go to the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) website and have a look. There's a whole section on 'Getting Started', together with FAQs.  They've even produced a downloadable document about publishing your book for Kindle. Personally though, being me, I just plunged straight in! Once you click on 'Add a new title',  you'll see the two-page form you have to work from, and there are notes and help all the way through it.

Since I started 'Kindling', they've introduced KDP Select. This is the system whereby, as long as you don't publish your ebook anywhere other than with Kindle, you can offer your book for loan, to Amazon 'Prime' members. They can borrow any enrolled books free - but each time someone does borrow your book, you get a share of the 'pot' Amazon allocates each month to the Lending Library. Also, by enrolling your book with KDP Select, you are given the opportunity to offer free promotions. This is something I've found very helpful: and I'll discuss it in the summary at the end of this series of blogs. It's your choice whether to sign up to KDP Select, and if you're not sure, you don't have to decide straight away; but if you don't intend to publish elsewhere, you've got nothing to lose.

The bit where you upload your Word document is simple and straightforward. The conversion to Kindle is done automatically, and only takes a few minutes. But I found it vital to use the 'preview' after it's uploaded, as sometimes it doesn't look right, for one reason or another - often because of the fit of the page, as mentioned above. But it just means making some adaptations to the text document, saving it and uploading it again. You can do this as many times as necessary - and even after publication is complete, you can go back and change anything and re-publish it. KDP will alert you when the book has republished - I've found it's always been within 12 hours.

I found the trickiest decision to make was the pricing. To earn the much-quoted 70% royalty, your ebook has to be priced $2.99 or over for the US market, £1.49 or over for UK . Lower than that price, you get 35%, but you have to choose the same royalty for all the markets. I could write a whole other blog post about the pricing of ebooks ... but suffice to say, I think people expect them to be as cheap as chips (in fact cheaper!).  It's a gamble as to whether pricing very low, you sell twice as many books, and therefore earn as much or more by going for the 35% royalty. We all have to make our own decision on that!  But the good thing is, you can go back and change the price as often as you like, publicise it as a special offer/ price reduction, etc. So we can experiment and watch the sales!

Within 12 hours, my new Kindle editions had appeared on the Amazon site ready for people to buy - a very fast service. It's worth bearing this in mind if you want to do any publicity prior to the publication.

My next post will be about my very new experiment with CreateSpace - making a print paperback.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Self-publishing for Amazon: Part 1 -Introduction

I've been asked by a few people whether I'd care to share my experiences with self-publishing for Amazon, both for Kindle and through CreateSpace. I'm certainly no expert, in fact, I'm amazed with myself for having managed it at all, not being particularly 'techie'. But honestly, if I can do it, anyone can!

Of course, we've all read about those amazing success stories, right? I'm not going to list them - you all know who they are - the authors who sprang up out of nowhere, having self-published a Kindle book when no traditional publisher would look at them, and hey presto, they became overnight successes and suddenly all the publishers were begging them to sign contracts. Well, I think we're all realistic enough to know we can forget those! They're the exceptions to the rule, and good luck to them - they deserve their success because basically, we all do. But sadly, for the majority of us, it doesn't happen. I think with self-publishing, it's best to start out with the mindset that this is an interesting, exciting experiment for our own satisfaction - and if we have any success, or make any money, that's a bonus.

I was fortunate that when I started my self-publishing 'experiment' I'd already had eight books published the traditional way, so I already had a small readership following me. But each book still has to stand or fall on its own merit - and I was aware that if I self-published anything less than my best work, it could affect whatever popularity I may have built up with my previous books. If you're starting out with self-publishing as a completely unknown author, your reputation depends 100% on this first book you bring to the world - and you also have to make more of an effort to get your name known - but as we've seen, it can be done!

On the plus side ... the new accessibility of self-publishing has given writers everywhere an opportunity, at a time when so many doors have been slammed in our faces. As you will know, there are many ways of self-publishing - both for ebooks and print books - but my own experience has been limited to the Amazon route because, like it or loathe it, I believe Amazon gives the best chance of sales. Others might disagree.

I started with Kindle, and my first experiment was to publish my own backlist - those of my published books where the rights have reverted to me from my publisher. None of them had been published as ebooks, so it was exciting to be able to reach out to new readers, the growing number who were buying Kindles. I have to admit, I set out with the idea of looking to see how it was done, and then probably retreating and handing the job over to someone more technologically savvy! But honestly, Amazon makes it quite easy; as long as you take your time and can follow instructions, there's no reason why you can't do it yourself.  Once I'd got the hang of it with the first book, I continued with publishing all my backlist for Kindle, and then went on to publish two brand new books - Sophie Being Single and Debra Being Divorced - both under my real name, Sheila Norton.

Here's my page on the Amazon Kindle store website - as you'll see, Amazon has collected all my titles together, even my Olivia Ryan titles, as I've published them as 'Sheila Norton writing as Olivia Ryan'.

Interested in having a go?  In the next part, I'll tell you how I got on with the Kindling process!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Letter from a Dead Man

I know I haven't been a very active blogger in recent months, to put it mildly - family issues have somewhat taken over, and what spare time I've had, has had to be devoted to writing, and publishing my new books as you might have read on my last post!

But enough of the excuses! One thing I always try to make time for, even if it's only in the last little while before I fall asleep, is reading - and I've just finished a book that I really want to share with you. It's by one of my oldest writing friends, Dawn Harris - and as always I need to stress that I mean oldest in terms of acquaintance, not age! Dawn and I met back in the early 1990s when we were both winners of short story awards, and we've kept in touch ever since. She's been the most amazing support to me throughout the ups and inevitable downs of my writing career, so I'm absolutely thrilled that she now has a book published too. 

It's called 'Letter From a Dead Man', and is currently available on Amazon for Kindle, but is due to be released in paperback too. At £1.93, the Kindle edition is a bargain, and I can really recommend it.

The story is set on the Isle of Wight - one of my favourite places! - in 1793 - against a backdrop of the French revolution, the threat of invasion, and a culture of smuggling on the Island. From the beginning, I was captivated by the character of the heroine, Lady Drusilla, who for a wealthy lady of the time is quite a feminist! The plot is murder - and the sleuth-like work of Drusilla who sets out to uncover the truth - but there is humour too, in the interaction between the characters.  The best test of any kind of crime novel must be whether it's obvious 'whodunnit' - and in this story, I honestly had no idea. Well, I thought I did! And then I changed my mind ... again ... and again ... right up to the very satisfying surprise ending.

A very enjoyable read, and I'm now hoping to read more by Dawn before too long.

Click here for the link to the Amazon page for 'Letter From a Dead Man', and take a look for yourselves!

And I haven't forgotten ... as promised, my next post here will be about my experiences with self-publishing for Kindle and CreateSpace.

Friday, 9 November 2012

I've been busy!

 I mentioned a few days ago on 'The Next Big Thing' that my new book 'Debra Being Divorced' was due to be published very soon on Amazon for Kindle.  And in fact, things have moved faster than I expected!  The Kindle edition of the new book is now ready for you to download for only £1.24 at this page on

Debra has the perfect life: a perfect marriage, a beautiful house and three perfect children. Or so it seems to the outside world – and so Debra’s always convinced herself. To admit to less than perfection would be to deny everything she believes in, everything she’s devoted her life to and worked so hard to achieve. Divorce? It’s unthinkable – barely even in her vocabulary. So when everything comes crashing down, it hits her harder than most. Can she survive, when her life is changed beyond recognition, or will she fall apart? Maybe she’ll give in to the temptation to go completely off the rails, cavorting with gorgeous younger men and shocking herself as well as everyone around her? Or maybe she’ll discover that by losing everything, she can finally find herself – and find out what really matters.

 This is the second book in the series about the Jennings sisters, and I know some of you have already read Debra’s sister Sophie’s story in 'Sophie Being Single'. But several people have told me they were disappointed that this was only available as a Kindle edition and not a paperback.
So my other piece of news this week is that 'Sophie Being Single' IS now also available in paperback format - yes, I always listen to my readers!  You can buy it now, from this link on Amazon.
Maybe you could ask for a copy for Christmas ...  or buy a few copies yourself as presents for your friends and family!
Eventually I hope to publish 'Debra Being Divorced' in paperback too.  This has been a learning curve for me, as I've self-published through Amazon's CreateSpace platform - and as requested, I shall be sharing the whole experience with you on a new blog post very soon. 
Meanwhile - as always - please do let me have your feedback on these new editions!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Next Big Thing

'The Next Big Thing'

I've been tagged by my good writing buddy Christina Jones to join in with this idea - answering some questions about my next book and getting another writing friend to do likewise next week!

So here are my answers to the questions.

1.What is the title of your next book?  'Debra Being Divorced', written under my real name Sheila Norton.
 It's the second in the series about three sisters, following on from 'Sophie Being Single' which was released as a Kindle edition on Amazon last year (and is soon to be released as a paperback).
'Debra Being Divorced' will be out at the end of this month (November), also as a Kindle edition.

2.Where did the idea for the book come from?  I always liked the idea of writing about three sisters - devoting a whole book to each sister's story - probably because I have three lovely daughters myself! I think the sister relationship is fascinating, and a rich source of stories for writers - sisters have the same parents and the same background, but often quite different lives and personalities.

3.What genre does your book fall under?  Contemporary women's relationship fiction. Some might say 'chick lit' ... I don't mind.  But although the stories are light and humorous in places, there are also deeper issues being explored in the course of the stories. Debra in particular has some serious problems to face.

4.What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?  I needed a bit of help with this one! - and have decided on Rachel Weiz to play Debra, Colin Firth as her husband James, as long as he doesn't mind playing the part of someone bad-tempered and unpleasant! And definitely Jimi Mistry as Hamid. Now you're going to have to read the book! 

5.Will your book be self-pubished or represented by an agency?  Although I've had eight novels previously published in the traditional way, and I also have an agent hoping to find me a publisher for my next new series of novels - set in the 1960s - this series about the three sisters is being self-published. It's been a whole new experience for me - and quite an enjoyable one. I do think it's good for writers to grasp new opportunities in this way, and self-publishing is a whole lot more respectable these days - and easier!

6. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?  I don't write full-time or every day - my writing fits around everything else going on in my life! And I write short stories too, as well as often working on more than one book at a time. So I'd have to guess: probably a total of about 6 to 9 months.

7. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?  This series, in a way, reminds me of Marian Keyes' books about the Walsh family - five sisters! - eg 'Rachel's Holiday', 'Anybody Out There' etc. If only I dared mention my books in the same breath as someone so good and so successful!!

8.Who or what inspitred you to write this book? As mentioned above, my own daughters, in a way - although I'm pleased to say they're all happily married with lovely children! There's also an element of the NHS in parts of 'Debra Being Divorced' - and this is definitely inspired by my own previous employment in hospitals. They are very inspiring places to work!

9. What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
I think readers who enjoyed 'Sophie Being Single' will be interested to read about the different lives of Sophie's two sisters. I also hope readers will find Debra an inspiring character, as she struggles to turn her life around against the odds.

For next Wednesday's 'Next Big Thing', I've passed on the baton to my fellow Essex writer
Maureen Lee.


Thursday, 21 June 2012

The Best of Times/The Worst of Times?

I've just received my new edition of 'The Author' magazine (the journal of the Society of Authors), and noted with some amusement that they're planning a discussion, after their AGM in September, on the subject of 'the best of times/the worst of times?'

Now, as it happens I'm giving a talk at my local village library (Galleywood in Essex, if anyone is down my way!) on Saturday 30th, and I'd planned to talk about the state of publishing these days (as I see it!), how much difference the e-book revolution has made to everyone, and where we might be going from here. And I might just pinch that title for my talk! 

I think it really sums up where we are today - in a state of flux. Some might say things have never been worse for authors; it's certainly never been harder to get a new publishing contract, with editors seemingly terrified of taking on anything, or anyone new, and agents just as wary. Unless you're already a best-seller (or a celebrity) it's also never been harder to make much money from writing. The days of big advances are long gone. And as for short stories, the markets have shrunk to almost non-existent and the odds of having a story accepted are diminishing all the time.

But is it all gloom and doom? As one of the many authors who have experimented with self-publishing on Amazon for Kindle, I do feel that this option has at least given us back some kind of control, in a world where we never had much before. Regardless of whether we earn very much from our sales, at least we can set our own price, choose our own cover image, publish when we're ready without waiting months or years for replies from agents/editors and stoically bearing the inevitable rejections.

Of course, I loved the kudos of being traditionally published, and despite everything this would still be my preference again. But meanwhile, I and many others are enjoying the freedom of having things our own way for a change! And publishers are waking up to the need for e-book-first lines, and the need to price competitively.

I don't know whether these times will turn out to be the best or the worst, but I do think they're exciting. And although I can't promise my talk at Galleywood library will be as exciting as the discussions at the Society of Authors' event, please do come along if you're anywhere in the Chelmsford area on Saturday 30th at 11am!

Meanwhile I've just been interviewed for the  'This Writer's Life' blog - pop over and learn a few of my secrets!

Oh - and I did write the 'Something Old, Something New' story eventually - and it's been submitted to W.Weekly. Fingers crossed. I haven't submitted anything there for a while, but I DO have a story coming out in their next 'Woman's Weekly Fiction Special' on 3 July.

Happy writing - and let me know what you think ... are these the best of times or the worst for writers?

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Something old, something new

'Something Old, Something New' - as soon as I'd written the title for this blog post, I thought what a good title it'd make for a story. Why can't I think of snappy titles like that when I need one?!

I'll explain the Something New first.  Thanks to fellow short story writer Susan Wright, who shared the news of her own success with the new short story website I recently submitted four of my own stories, which have all been accepted and are due to go live on the site from 20 June.
Alfiedog is a pay-to-download site featuring only short stories - they're very reasonably priced and I think it's a brilliant idea - it's about time there was a dedicated site where we could go to buy short stories. Please do visit the site and take a look - you'll see some writers' names you recognise! My four stories are all previously unpublished, so remember to pop back after 20 June too, to pick up an original read!  I'll be submitting more ...

Something Old?  It's my 'Tales from a Hen Weekend' book (written under the Olivia name) - which was first published in 2007 - and since I published it as a Kindle edition on Amazon, it's out-sold all my others on there. (Five original Sheila Norton books plus one new one, and one other Olivia Ryan book). Now, I'm thrilled of course that it's doing well, but I've been wondering what it is that makes one book sell better than the others - and I've decided it must be the title. Titles are what attract us to a book first, after all, even more so than the cover, I think - especially with Kindle books where there's just a small image rather than a proper cover.  The 'Hen Weekend' in the title of this book tells you exactly what you're getting (although one reviewer from the USA mentioned that they're not called hen weekends over there - they're 'bachelorette parties' apparently. I prefer 'hen weekends'!).

Which brings me back to my original point - how to come up with a good title? When one of my Sheila Norton books, 'Sweet Nothings', was published, I didn't particularly like the title. I'd wanted to call it 'Penny's Passion Pudding' because it's the story of a woman who accidentally becomes famous for her pudding, which people believe is an aphrodisiac! But my publisher didn't like that, saying the word 'pudding' is stodgy and not suitable for a title. In self-publishing the book as a Kindle edition last year, I toyed with the idea of changing the title. But past experience has taught me it's a bad idea.

The American publisher who bought two of my earlier books published them both under different titles from the UK editions. It wasn't made clear on Amazon that they were the same books, and one disgruntled reader who'd bought the US edition, believing it to be a new Sheila Norton book, gave it a one-star review because she was cross that she'd wasted her money. (I wish she'd just returned it to Amazon!). A one-star review really hurts an author's overall rating average, and although I was fairly philosophical about it, it has taught me the dangers of changing a title!

We just need to come up with good ones in the first place! So ... 'Something Old, Something New.'
I feel a short story coming on ...

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Where Have I Been?

 I'm quite shocked, on returning to Blogger after what I thought was a not a very long absence, to find two things - one, that I haven't posted on here since February; two, that the whole damn thing has changed completely while I've been gone. What's this all about then, and why didn't anyone ask me? Oh, well, yes, I suppose because I haven't been around to ask ... !

We stopped for 2 nights in Bangkok
So let's see how this new Blogger set-up works, then, and find out whether everything I write vanishes into the ether. Firstly, apologies for absence - but I've been away, you see. Somewhere beginning with A, where I saw creatures beginning with a K, and where (through the rain) I saw a famous bridge and a famous Opera House. Right!  We had a month in Australia, starting out in Sydney where we had three days of almost solid rain, resulting in flooding throughout the whole New South Wales area. 
Sydney Harbour Bridge on a dismal rainy day!

Remember, back then at the beginning of March, it had been dry in England for a long time, so this came as a bit of a shock! (And it feels like we brought it back home with us!) .

From Sydney we spent four days driving along the coast road to Phillip Island in Victoria, where my brother and sister-in-law now live. Fortunately the weather improved! 
Scenery on Phillip Island
Mallacoota - one of the beautiful places we stayed at along the road.
Melbourne from the Yarra River

A wallaby we 'met' on Phillip Island'
The Grotto, Great Ocean Road

The 12 Apostles, Great Ocean Road


We stayed for 10 days altogether on Phillip Island, seeing the lovely scenery and lots of wildlife as well as spending time with my family. We were close enough to visit Melbourne city from there, and eventually drove on  to Adelaide, seeing all the amazing sights of the Great Ocean Road on the way.

Our final stop in Australia was the beautiful city of Perth, where we spent three days before flying to Singapore for our stopover on the way home.

And we arrived home just in time for the last few days of the nice weather you had here in March - before the deluge began!

It was an amazing holiday - part of which was useful research as part of my next book is set in Australia!  But I must admit I'm finding it hard to get back into the writing groove now.  Of course it was great to be back with our lovely family - the babies had grown, and changed, so much while we were away!  And we've since had a great three-day break with the entire family down in the New Forest - in the rain!  I'd love to add some photos of that too, but adding pictures in this new Blogger set-up has just about done my head in, which explains why the pictures above are a bit all-over-the-place.  I hope it's going to get easier with practice!!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Good news!

It's so nice to have good news to report for a change! What with the awful weather, an awful sinus infection I've been fighting since Christmas, and nothing but rejections lately on the short story front, I didn't really have anything positive to say ... until now! So I'll waste no more time in telling you - I've got a new agent!

I've been 'around' in the writing business (and had enough disappointments, trust me!) to know this doesn't necessarily mean a cause for huge celebration ... having an agent doesn't necessarily spell success or even publication. My last brief experience with an agent was frankly, a disaster. But what it does mean is that someone, a professional, who knows the business, likes my new book enough to feel they can give it a chance.

As I've hinted on this blog already, the new book is a complete departure from my previous work - a different genre, because although I've had some success, the market for 'Rom Com', 'Chick Lit', Contemporary Women's Fiction, whatever you want to call it, has become so much more difficult that I realised I needed to make a change. Although I was pleased with the new book, I had no idea whether anyone was going to like it - so if nothing else, my lovely new agent has given my confidence a boost and convinced me it's worth a shot!

I'll say no more just yet - I've only just signed the letter of appointment. But I'll keep you informed!

Monday, 9 January 2012

In the news

I'm expecting to be in a nice feature in the Essex Chronicle newspaper this week - together with Elizabeth Lord from We're both Essex authors and members of the Essex group of the Romantic Novelists' Association. I contacted the paper a week or so back, as part of my promotion for 'Sophie Being Single', my new Kindle e-book. Local papers can be a great source of support (so can local radio) - and the Chronicle have been very good, giving me a mention every time I've had anything new to report on my writing career, right back to when my first book was published in 2003. I told them about the Kindle book, and offered to tell them more or even write a bit myself for the paper, explaining about why writers (especially those of us who are previously published) are making the decision to self-publish e-books. Instead, they called me to say they'd decided to produce a double-page spread about the subject, interviewing me and hoping I could suggest other Essex writers who would fit the bill.
Luckily Elizabeth Lord did fit the bill - but my other friends from the Essex RNA happen to live in the wrong area of Essex for the paper! What a shame. So I'll be interested to see whether the paper has managed to produce any other suitable Essex authors themselves, to be interviewed, or whether it's just going to be the two of us! (In which case I doubt whether it'll run to a double page spread!)
So this morning I had a date with their photographer, which is always a bit of fun - posing with my Kindle and a pile of books. Hope I don't look too ancient in the pic they choose ... but as they always like to quote people's ages in articles like this, I suppose it won't make any difference!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Ode to my Kindle (with apologies to Frances Garrood!)

Blogging mate Frances, over at
really made me laugh the other day with her 'Ode to my new Kindle'. Like many of us, she confesses that she didn't think she'd like one until she got one. I admired Frances' ode and she challenged me to write one myself, so here goes - hope it makes someone else laugh!
I Love Him
Slim, smooth good looks!
He carries my books
on buses and trains
and even on planes.
He doesn't run out
when I need him about.
He's lovely to hold
and easily controlled.
Oh, if I were single
I'd marry my Kindle!
OK, it's not the best piece of writing I've ever done, and not likely to get me a new publishing deal! (although I think maybe Amazon should pay me for advertising!). Anyone else want to try an ode? It doesn't have to be to a Kindle ... maybe your laptop or favourite pen or whatever. Right, that took my mind off the Taxman for a minute ... now to try once again to sort out the muddle of my tax statement. Grrrr ....
Happy New Year!