Sunday, 30 October 2011

When is a book not a book?

Well, I did it. I fought the Kindle formatting and won.

You don't need to know about the blood, sweat and blasphemy that went into sorting it all. (Though I will, here, say a huge thank you to Anna, a daughter, who kept her head when I was in danger of losing mine.)

And, should you have a Kindle, you can even buy it by clicking here!!

I will get the linky-thing working at the side of the blog over the next few days. Hopefully that will also link to the smashwords version - yes, I'm even doing battle with their (different) formatting requirements, and believe that, too, is almost cracked. I'm just waiting for - I think it's some sort of review, and then they give me an ISBN and I have to do something mysterious with that, and then the smashwords version will also be available.

Smug - of course. Not only have I done the travelling, I've written the book, and mastered the technology. Worth a little smugness, just for a day or two? Even some celebratory wine? (Yes, please join me in that. Especially my little band of loyal followers who drop by every blogpost and have cheered me so much these past few weeks. I've raised a glass to you, too - you have definitely helped keep my spirits up in those bleak moments when I wondered if I was ever going to get the hang of this. Thank you all.)

Ah, but this is not the whole story, is it? I am still waiting for the proofs of the 'real book' to come from createspace, and there are bound to be mistakes in that (I rushed it), so there will be more amendments and waiting. It may well be the New Year before I have the final, polished, version to offer you.

And so - my ebook, that lives in the ether and cannot be held or smelled or leafed through - it is real? It has no substance, no body, fills no space. I'm in an odd limbo, knowing my efforts already exist in the contents pages of a Kindle or few, and yet with nothing to hold - nothing, if you like, to show for it.

So - does anyone else experience this odd existential questioning when the ebook is there for all to see, but there is still nothing for anyone to hold?

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Did someone tell me this would be easy?

Oh groan.

First - all the formatting for createspace. I did complicated things with copying and pasting and retyping bits to get rid of the wretched lines. Reread it. Yippee - nearly there.

Don't rush, advises Catherine Ryan Howard (find her website here). This is not the time to throw it all together. Make sure it's right first time. You'll only end up with a rubbish proof that you've paid for, and then you'll have to redo it to order a better proof which you will also have to pay for. What's more it will take time - the book has to be shipped from America.

Don't rush. What planet is she on? I know she's right, but let's be realistic. When you're that close to getting the show on the road all you want is to tick the right boxes and get it going. So yes, I rushed. And am now sitting back, waiting for proofs that will need changing and I know it will cost time and money but ho hum, I was impatient and that's just how it is.

While you're waiting, she said, you can be getting on with formatting for Kindle.

She warns me to make plenty of coffee.

Right, I was sitting comfortably. Delete all formatting from the document. No fancy lines, no additional spaces, no tabs, no surprises that Word dropped in when you weren't looking. Then, begin again. Indent paragraphs. (No tabs - repeat, no tabs. I got that - there are no tabs. No extra spaces - got that too.) I checked it, checked it again, saved it. Saved it again.

And opened the kindle website. Registered. Uploaded the cover - this was going well. Uploaded the book. Wait a minute or two while kindle recognises my masterpiece and rearranges it for their readers. Now, check out the book - this is almost done.

A page appears on the screen that looks like a kindle - and I could go through it page by page.

How did those tabs get there? Those line spaces? How come it read all my old formatting which I'd deleted - rediscovered tabs and lines? How can it see things which don't exist any more?

I checked my document. No - that was fine. I really hadn't let one single tab, one stray space, survive. I tried again. Stupid, really, trying the same thing twice. And no, it didn't work the second time either. Fortunately it was late by then, and I had the sense to shut the computer down and head for the wine.

There's been an awful lot of swearing in this house since then.

Sunday, 16 October 2011


Don't get me wrong. I am enjoying working with two huge projects (beginning the MA and getting the book-show on the road) at the same time. It's just that sometimes I feel a bit disintegrative.

The MA head needs to read, reflect, re-read, make a note or two and carry on reading. It is a quiet, creative process and takes time. And I love it - though it isn't always easy. My mind seems to find new ideas in quiet spaces; I notice things between the lines in a way I don't when I'm simply reading for fun.

Meanwhile, the book is at the typeset stage. It needs reading for mistakes. My head is looking, not for ideas (please not ideas - this book is, basically, finished!), but for sentences that don't scan. Or the confused 'thats' and 'thans' and 'ifs' and 'its' and 'it's'. The lonely lines at the top and bottom of pages. It needs a logical, more detached, clinical approach. I cannot let it get under my skin - not now. This is a mechanical process and I am trying to approach it as such.

Which means I am asking my head to switch from clinical to reflective mode, like brain-skipping. And, though it's rare that I move directly from one task to another, they may be separated in time by nothing more divisive than a cup of coffee. I am aware that my thinking is beginning to feel like a sort of cognitive soup - a soup with bits in coalesce in an almost unidentifiable way. (Surely we've all tasted soups like that - they might have begun life as vegetables, but who knows what they are now?) When I wake in the morning one or other book is at the top of my thinking agenda, but in a floaty way. It will neither make itself knows as an identifiable problem, nor sink to the bottom so something recognisable can appear.

I will, I tell myself, get used to this. And my book will, before long, be on its way, with a real cover and read pages and (gulp) real readers? Which will clear the decks a little.

But in the meanwhile, I'm drowning in thinking-soup. Anyone have any ideas how to start swimming?

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Reading like a writer.

Every 'how to write' book and webpage includes the mantra that we must read. Read anything, and everything. More than that - we must read as writers.

The pages of bumf that accompanies my first MA module instruct me to read as a writer. I must keep a reading log, note down anything that excites me, or surprises me, or betrays the writer's thinking.

I've tried this before. And it's not so easy. For a start, I read in all sorts of unusual places. In bed, of course, and on the sofa in my sitting room. In the garden (on precious warm days, with the drone of bees and the smell of mown grass from next door). I can read while I'm stirring a saucepan. Read in the bath (though I rarely have time). When my children were little I would read while pushing a swing (Bad idea. Doesn't do the back any good). I read on buses and trains. Leaning against the wall by the bus stop. In cafes. In restaurants if I'm eating alone. Anywhere it is possible to hold a book. But there are too few occasions when it is also possible to hold a notebook and pen.

But that, I can see, is making excuses. So I've bought some little stickers; it is easy to slip them into a page if I notice something, and then go back later to think about it again.

Even so, I find it hard to know what it is I'm meant to be noticing. Years ago, when I tried to keep a reading log, I gave up as I found I had no idea what I was looking for, which made writing it down pointless. My MA tutor has given a list of questions, which give me notes at the moment are scrappy, and mostly meaningless; but I have a term to practise this. There are other students to bounce ideas with (when we learn to listen to each other). A tutor who might drop in a thought or two. It is, I confess, exciting. By Christmas I might have a handle on what reading like a writer looks like - and feels like.

Unless, of course, any of you know better - are there short-cuts? Codes? An alternative to this try-it-and-see method? (Helping me out is not cheating - it's just helping!)