Three Weeks To Publication. Emphasis on eeks.

In my journey towards publishing Before and After, I’ve been learning a lot about the self-publishing process, with the help of the rather impressive guys over at a company called Socciones. They support Indie Authors to get their books onto Amazon. Indie Authors is the sexy, preferred term rather than self-published authors, because that has too much baggage and suggests a Chartered Accountant wondering why no one will publish his memoirs about spreadsheets.

I’m sure they wouldn’t object to my saying that it’s not actually impossible to do the work yourself, but there was quite a lot to do in a short space of time so I thought I’d recruit some help. They were friendly and helpful to me on Twitter and so I thought I’d go with them. So far, so excellent.

The stuff that they’re doing is mostly around the admin of the book. There’s typesetting the manuscript. This is where you take the Word document and change it into a file that Kindle readers know how it should be displayed. There are some basic formatting choices but this is more for the print-on-demand paperback than for the Kindle version, as readers can obviously change font size and line spacing themselves. I tend to have my Kindle on settings so large that you could read over my shoulder from a different county, so as ever with design stuff I will defer to the opinions of others.

They are also setting up an Amazon ads page so that I can play with that and see if I can get a reasonable return on putting out little ads on Amazon.

The idea is that if I can figure out what sort of keywords my readers would be typing in then I can pay X pence per click and have my book appear at the top of their search results. I’ve been researching and it seems to me that possible keywords are:

  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Morbid obesity
  • Dog ownership
  • Living like a hermit
  • Rage
  • Drones
  • Violent post-apocalyptic hellscape

Best-seller charts here we come!

I’m also working with my good friend Iven Gilmore to make a short book trailer for Before and After. I made the cardinal sin of briefing quite a complex and involved trailer, which Iven then dutifully went and started to make only for me to realise that it wouldn’t work, thus undoing all of his good work. Bad Shanahan, sorry Iven.

Other than that the book has now gone out to the ARC team. This handy little initialism stands for Advanced Reader Copy. This is where you hone, buff and polish your manuscript and send it out to very kind people who agree to read it and give you feedback on it. Their role isn’t to spot typos and spelling errors, although depressingly it seems they often do that too. Ideally, when the book comes out they’ll be in a position to review it, so that people wondering if they should buy the book will have an idea of what people think.

It’s three weeks today that the book is launched. That seems surreal. I’m in a weird space with it now. I feel sickened by it, but also there’s a deep connection of love to it. It’s like those awful marriages that end up with husband and wife stepping pointedly around each other in the kitchen, one waiting to get to the cutlery drawer, while the other waits for their toast to pop up. No, carry on. No, I’ll move. It’s fine. For clarity, our toaster is next to the cutlery drawer but Em would just push me out of the way in the above scenario.

I’m not saying I hate the book – I really don’t. I think it’s just part of this weird relationship you have with an idea, where it first blows your socks off and unrolls the turn-ups from your trousers. Over time, that novelty necessarily wears off because you spend so long shaping the idea and working with the characters. By the end you’re not best-placed to have any sense of the thing’s innate value because it seems old and all you spot are the scratches. Man, that’s depressing, no wonder arty types drink so much. Does make you wonder if Donatello spent a few hours after knocking David out thinking, “I reckon I could have done his knob better. Oh well, fuck it.”

The pre-sale page of the book on Amazon should go up hopefully by Wednesday and I’ve got some PR going out this week too. Not sure what will come of it but it’s nice to be working on something concrete. Well, that and starting to wonder what the next book will be…

Three weeks. Cripes.

Please help me pick a tagline for my book

So…I re-read the book while we were away at half-term and it turns out that I’m actually pretty proud of it. I don’t know if it has artistic merit exactly, but it talks about some things that matter to me, I think it’s a fun read and I’d like to share it with people. I’ve also had the early beta reader feedback which has been encouraging and given me lots to work on next. So, full steam ahead!

That means that in the coming weeks I’ll probably be asking you your opinion on various aspects of the book, from the cover to the inevitably horrible author photograph (still think I might go with this one…)

The first thing I’d like to get your thoughts on is the tagline which designer Yo is thinking about adding to the front cover. Now, I know you probably haven’t read the book at the moment (more on that coming in a later post) but which of these taglines would tempt you to read a book by a random author with a publicity headshot like that?

Vote now or forever hold your peace!

Before and After: The Publishing vs Self-Publishing Debate

I’ve been having the conversation around publishing vs self-publishing with a lot of different people recently. To those who aren’t au fait with the publishing world there’s often real surprise, especially around the earnings details, so I thought I’d put together a post about my current thinking in case it helps anyone else and to explain my current quandary.

First a bit of background. In total, so far, I’ve published three books. Two of those – the Not Going to Uni Guide and the MAN v FAT Weight Loss Manual were published in conventional ways i.e. with a publisher (Pearson and then Headline) who paid me an advance to write the book and then I negotiated a percentage of future book royalties for when I’d “earned out” my advance. So in theory when you’ve earned beyond your advance you start receiving a percentage of the retail price per book. Typically, this can be anywhere from 5%-15% depending on the skills of your agent and how much clout you have at the negotiation phase. The publisher receives the rest.

The other book that I did was the Staggered Groom Guide. That was self-published. We paid to have about 5,000 copies printed (which cost around £3k) and then listed them on Amazon, through the I Am Staggered site and via affiliates. We held all the stock and then posted them out whenever an order came through. The finances for that were simpler, we had production costs (design, copy, printing, postage) and anything that was left over from the retail price was revenue. I think typically it ended up being about a fiver per book. In the end I think we had a box or two left, so we more or less sold out. We considered doing a second print run but by that point we’d started to think about selling Staggered so it wasn’t really on the cards.

On the plus side of working with a publisher there is undoubtedly the consideration of ego. Being published, getting an advance, working with an agent all sounds incredible, especially to anyone who has always dreamed of being a writer – it’s the way it’s supposed to happen. Plus, saying “I’ve got a meeting with my publisher on Monday” is never not going to sound cool. Conversely, you mention self-publishing and your mind drifts towards people writing endless fantasy epics that merge the worlds of Harry Potter and 50 Shades of Grey. There has been some improvement in recent years with the breakout success of self-published efforts like The Martian, but it still has the stigma of vanity project to it.

In theory, publishers also have a PR network going for them that will boost the sales of your book and give you insights into getting the biggest readership for your book. There’s also the simple fact that they’re taking the risk. If your book doesn’t sell then you’re sat on the advance and the publisher is out of pocket.

On the negative side of working with a publisher is pretty much everything else. I was surprised on both occasions just how little the publisher actually did compared to my expectations. Once the book was agreed it pretty much came back to being my responsibility. Because they want as much time as possible to look at marketing the book, they want the finished manuscript as soon as possible. I think I had four weeks for the Not Going To Uni book (around 50k words) and 7 weeks for the MAN v FAT book (60k words). I’m not sure why but I always thought that the actual process of completing the book would be more of a collaborative process where I would bring ideas/chapters/suggestions and the publisher would use their experience to help shape things. As it was, more or less everything was left to me. That’s great in one way, but I’d expected more.

The other real surprise was my misconception that the publishers would take the lead on the marketing of the books. Not so. You’ll notice that the majority of books published these days are connected to authors or organisations who have a significant online following, whether it’s Mrs Hinch, A.N. Other YouTuber or MAN v FAT – publishers essentially bank on you being able to sell your book to your existing readership. They use that as the break-even audience and if your book expands beyond that, then great. If not, then they’ve not risked too much. To be fair, that makes sense. As stated, they’re taking the risk by putting up the advance, so naturally they want to ameliorate that risk by going for someone with an existing readership.

Since I self-published the Staggered Groom Guide by printing it and posting them out to purchasers another player has entered the arena: Kindle Direct Publishing. Essentially, self-publishing onto KDP means that your book can be on Amazon and available as a print-on-demand product (i.e. they don’t print a load of books, they just print a physical copy every time someone orders one) for free. Yep, free.

The real eye-opener with KDP is that depending on what the price of your book is then you would make around 70% of the retail price. A typical Kindle book price would be around £3, which means you’d take just over £2 of that. The book also lists on Amazon and makes it easy for anyone around the world to buy your book. Of course, it does potentially lock out anyone who reads on other e-readers (kobo, etc), but there are options within KDP where you can also sell via your own site and through other e-tailers. I’ll hold my hands up here and say that’s something I need to look into a bit more.

I think the crux of the question is that if the majority of work falls on your shoulders when working with a traditional publisher, and you receive a commensurately smaller slice of the pie – why would you bother? Does my fragile ego really need that much underpinning? I should issue a hearty disclaimer here and say that that your mileage may vary with a publisher. It could be that I should have been better informed of the expectations with previous books. Or it could be that publishers do a lot more work with other authors, I don’t know. However, that’s my experience in a nutshell.

So for now, the quandary I have is whether I should even bother to approach publishers at all for Before and After? After a lot of reflection I think I’m going to ignore them entirely and just focus on self-publishing. Hopefully, I’m going to be writing a lot more books in the future and I think the joy of getting a book out to readers in the way that I want to, marketed in the way I think it should be is just too tempting. I have a real advantage in that I already have a brilliant team to work with who can help me design and create the best possible version of this book that I can. Plus, if I can retain a greater percentage of the retail price then over time it makes more business sense.

The clincher is the fact that if the book’s out there and gets a good reception then there’s nothing to stop me approaching a traditional publisher (shortly after amending this blog post to say how much I love working with publishers) and seeing if I can get a deal on the basis of the success of the self-publishing. So, onwards, to researching how to make self-publishing work!

The End

Wow.

I’ve been writing this book since the 24th of June and today on the 24th July I got the excitement of writing those two little words that writers both love and fear…

I’m a pretty fast writer once I’ve got a plan that I’m happy with, but 60,919 words in a month is a decent return, even if I need around 20k more to really make it a real piece of work. The thing that really got me through it without too many speedbumps was being able to focus exclusively on this as a project. Sheer enjoyment also played a big role. Whatever happens to the finished book I emphatically loved my time writing. At times the book fell out of my fingers. Characters sometimes did things that I had expressly asked them not to do. I made myself laugh out loud several times. I think as long as I had paper and pen (or preferably a laptop) then solitary confinement would be fine by me.

Some disclaimers: this is only a first draft. There are many, many moments where the writing is laughably bad. Plot points that don’t make sense. Jokes that I will definitely edit out. Characters that will be set on fire and then cast into the sun to ensure they never darken a page again.

But that’s ok.

Because the mantra of the first draft is – everyone altogether – don’t get it right, get it written.

Time for a glass of wine.

Smart Globes: The Conclusion

On Friday I was musing about what to do with the globes that I’d ordered for Blue Dot and feeling that there was some level of mischief that I hadn’t quite grasped. Fortunately, inspiration struck in the form of becoming curious about the fact that Blue Dot had moved to an entirely cashless payment system which relied on everyone wearing a band which had an NFC chip embedded in it.

I’m a huge dork when it comes to technology so I knew a bit about NFC and it’s older brother RFID. It was really interesting to see this technology being thrown in at the deep end and pushing people to adopt it. There was a lot of resistence and ultimately I think it wasn’t really explained properly, or early enough to allow people to adjust to the change.

Our Pale Blue Dot, but smarter.

That said, overall the tech worked *ok* although I saw at least four instances where payments couldn’t be made. Despite that though there wasn’t any big meltdown and people mostly adapted with grumbles. Festivals – especially festivals celebrating science and innovation – should be making bold choices like this and I wholeheartedly support the idea, but I hope lessons are learned on the application.

Anyway, it reminded me of NFC (simple explainer here for anyone who wants it) and I started to wonder about this in conjunction with the globes. One of the cool things about NFC is that it’s cheap as chips (lolz) and so I got a big long strip of NFC chips from eBay for about £8. They arrived the next day and so me and Frank discussed possibilities.

What we decided to do was try and Rick Roll random people in the audience. So we got our NFC chip and the ever-excellent app NFC Tools. Then we stuck one of the chips to the ball. We then wrote an instruction for the chip using NFC Tools. This makes it sound like coding is involved, it’s not. Take a look at the app and you’ll see how blinking easy it is. The instruction was – whenever someone reads this chip on their phone, open up YouTube and show them this classic:

We then wrote some instructions on the globes and took them along to the festival. Frank and his friends thwacked them into the crowd and then, contrary to the plan, ran and fetched them. I don’t think they wanted to let them go. So instead they just ran around telling people to hold their phone to the globe and laughing at them when it worked. It was amazing to see them engaging with the technology like they did. Children have such a low barrier to acceptance of new tech that they mostly bypass the “What? Huh?” stage and move onto the fun bit which is asking, “How can we use this to do weird and possibly dangerous stuff?”

It wasn’t perfect, the things I hadn’t anticipated were that so many people have older model phones, which don’t have NFC readers in their spec. What’s the deal people? Upgrade already! The other minor thwarting was that festivals have 20k people in a field all communicating with one mobile mast which is somewhere nearby melting down. Consequently, someone would activate the chip and it would open YouTube and then hang, as it waited for connection. At that point the reveal of the gag was slightly lost. However, as a proof of concept/bit of fun it definitely worked.

Plus it means that I’ve still got a strip of NFC chips to mess around with! I’ve got a few ideas already which range from the odd to the almost certainly illegal and in my experience that’s usually where ideas start to get interesting…

Sending Globes Around The World

In place of a Starter for Ten today I’m going to type up a stupid idea I had for Bluedot Festival and see if I can think it through. Feel free to add any thoughts.

So Bluedot is a festival that celebrates music, science and is all-round pretty darn cool. Best of all it’s more or less in our back garden, which means that we can cycle to it and *BRACE YOURSELF FOR THE BEST THING EVER*: not camp. Not ever. Never camp. I hate camping*.

So as a fun tribute to that I thought I’d get some beach balls to smack out into the crowds because that always passes a few minutes and given that it’s a festival that celebrates the “pale blue dot” that we live on (thanks Carl!) what better sort of beach ball to use than a globe one. So I’ve got one of these buggers coming today.

Tiny Atlas!

I then started thinking maybe it would be fun to write a message on the globe and encourage people to take it home and maybe keep them going rather than just becoming plastic waste. Fortunately, the world has been neatly organised that there’s plenty of boring blue spaces where I could write a message. I was thinking something like this:

Hi! Please keep this globe bouncing around the world. Take a selfie with it wherever it lands and hashtag it to #bouncingallovertheworld on Instagram.

I thought it might be a fun way for the children to learn a bit more about the world/social media. Of course it might end with the globe being binned (I made sure they were recyclable obviously, I’m not a monster), or someone sending nude photos to that hashtag but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

What do you think? I feel like there’s a better idea just around the corner with a bit of a tweak…

*Super Danny Ward says it better than I can.

Starter for Ten – 17/07/19

Starter for Ten is a daily writing exercise where the aim is simply to write for a full 10 minutes. No editing or revision is allowed after the 10 minutes is up. The aim is to try new things, experiment with voices and styles and be bold. Suckage often occurs.

**********

ANCHOR: “Just Shake, rattle and roll” makes it seem so easy, but is that all there is to the latest dance craze that’s sweeping the nation? We sent our Topeka correspondent Jonas Mirne to find out.

JONAS: Thanks Holroyd and welcome to the Carson Diner where we’ve all come out of the kitchen to rattle some pots and pans on the dance floor today as we learn about the dance craze that’s keeping the teens swinging until the early hours.

PRODUCER: Ok, we’re at VT – Mary, get Jonas some cover he’s looking slick.

JONAS: Don’t plaster it on Mary, it’s sweltering – can we get these fans switched on please?

PRODUCER: Sure thing. Hey! Can we get these fans on here? 15 seconds Jonas then we’re into the demo. Let’s get the teens in here.

JONAS: Thanks Mary.

PRODUCER: 5 seconds, positions.

JONAS: And if you’re thinking that you don’t know where to start with the high kicking, all energy dance moves that you see on the floor then we’ve got some of Carson Diner’s famous floor fillers to share their moves. What’s your name sugar?

TONYA: I’m Tonya, I’m 15 and I’m from Topeka!

JONAS: Ok, that’s great! And you hun?

KATHY: I’m Kathy, I’m 16 and I’m from Dallas Lake, although originally we were-

JONAS: That’s great – and I gather we’re going to get a bit of a demonstration now on how to do some of the spins and lifts that all the kids want to learn how to do – and so let’s bring on your partners. Ok kids, let’s shake, rattle and roll!

FX – Music starts

JONAS: So as you can see this style of dancing is all about keeping it high tempo – we’re not talking about fox trotting around the floor! And you can see Kathy there is being swung by her partner and she actually flies through his legs and slides out the other side – that’s called a double-hand slide. And Tonya here spins and her partner picks her up and literally lifts her by her waist up into the air and OH MOTHER OF MERCY!

PRODUCER: Back to the studio! Back to the studio! Cut to the stu-

ANCHOR: You’re watching KNBC, The Talk of Indiana, we’re going to a commercial break.

No Greater Authority Than My Wife

No greater authority than my wife told me the other day that people don’t want to read my Starter for Ten practice pieces. The cheek of it! The accurate, understandable cheek of it! I know she doesn’t read them herself because a) she’s too busy doing all the work that I don’t do because I’m an important writer and b) she never gets the references to my own writing that I pepper our conversations with.

ME: Huh, do you think Trump did pinch/punch/first of the month on Kim Jong Un, that’d be pretty funny, right?!
HER: Look, either help me change this tyre or sit in the car.

ME: Hee hee! Do you think Brett Anderson from Suede could be a hitman?
HER: What? I’m a bit busy here Shan! No darling, don’t shout – just put pressure on it and the bleeding should stop.

I thought to remind her of this spousal betrayal the other day when she was eating a packet of Peanut M&Ms. This is because those very comestibles were the literal (not literal) fruits (not fruits) of my labours on this blog. My good friend and loyal reader Yolander Yeo sent me a box of 24 packets as a “I suspect you might be starving through lack of income” present based on one of those very practice pieces that no one wants to read!

Do the M&M men know that they themselves are M&Ms, thus wanting to eat a bowl of M&Ms is cannibalism? Or are they the evolved form of the M&M? In which case it would still be like me eating a chimp, which is wrong and I wouldn’t do it.

True story about Yo. She’s not Ugandan or Chinese, she’s actually Glaswegian, the best designer there is and she’s been making my work look much better than it is for a long, long time. We worked together for 15 years before we ever actually met. Look at this picture, which was taken on the very night of our first meeting, and ask yourself if you’ve ever seen a worse case of hoverhand. I’m honestly the oddest person I’ve ever met. Thanks Yo. Sorry everyone.

I wasn’t touching Yo’s shoulder but I was firmly grasping Tom’s buttocks.

Em is, of course, right – the Starter For Ten posts are annoying, especially this morning’s which sucked donkey teeth, but then as I pointed out at the beginning, this here blog is almost certainly more for my benefit than yours. I did promise Em that I would try and write more about what I was doing which I’ve been a bit lax on lately so I’ll try and remedy that. To neatly close this narrative loop – Yo will actually be designing the front cover of Shut In, providing that I/you/others deem it worthy of publishing.

I’ve just started on the final section of the book and I’m now just eight seven (forgot I done wroted one today) chapters from the finish line. I still really like the story and I’ve grown to be very fond of Ben Stone (name shamelessly stolen from one of my favourite films) and if nothing else I want to know what happens to him. There is plenty of implausible and downright bad writing that needs to be excised, but as the mantra goes the first draft is all about getting it written, not get it right. Off to eat the delicious tea that my long-suffering wife has cooked for me. I hope it’s Peanut M&Ms.

Starter for Ten – 15/07/19

Starter for Ten is a daily writing exercise where the aim is simply to write for a full 10 minutes. No editing or revision is allowed after the 10 minutes is up. The aim is to try new things, experiment with voices and styles and be bold. Suckage often occurs.

**********

Bio

The Furious Twelve (formerly The Dores) were the breakout act to make a name for themselves from the small ska scene in the Scottish city of Inverness. Centred around the club The Noise Hut, the scene was also home to bands like The Grave Roberts and Ian Wants It All. The Furious Twelve’s local reputation was secured through a series of house parties they threw which were chaotic but focused on the music.

The Twelve, as fans knew them, consisted of four members – Ian Roberts (who also briefly played in The Grave Roberts), brothers Tony and Ian Cowan and the one-woman horn section Carol Tobin. All of the band played at least three instruments, hence the origin of the name. Tobin was the driving force behind the band but thanks to the restrictive views of gender politics of the time she had to

Starter for Ten – 11/07/19

Starter for Ten is a daily writing exercise where the aim is simply to write for a full 10 minutes. No editing or revision is allowed after the 10 minutes is up. The aim is to try new things, experiment with voices and styles and be bold. Suckage often occurs.

**********

Computer Keyboard Shortcuts I Want Right Now

Alt+Shift+t = my computer mouse urinates hot, sweet tea into my mug (NB – scientists will make this hygienic maybe?)

Screenlock+8 = A USB headstrap add-on drips moisture with electrolytes into my eyes after a user-defined period of staring at blank spaces on the wall.

Ctrl+b+Arrow That Points At Where I’m Sitting = I am emboldened to write from the heart

F11 – Military Jet Flypast

Insert+P+A+I+N = Whenever I accidentally hit Insert and it does that weird thing where you start writing over the text and you think you’re going insane it punches the person who invented the conventional “Insert” in the nuts/lady nuts.

Alt+Shift+P = my computer mouse defecates peanut M&Ms onto the desk.

(Also when I roll the mouse wheel I want it to purr.)

Ctrl+V+End – my book is automatically finished and I am happy with it but also oblivious to the fact that I didn’t write it.

F5 – The Gaviscon Fireman oozes out of my speaker, reforms and climbs into my mouth. He smiles and tips his helmet to me as he climbs my arm, leaving tiny calcium footprints on my sleeve. Oh god he’s in my mouth. I feel him moving, is this what he wants? Do I let him make this sacrifice just for my indigestion? Someone