It was my pleasure to be a guest on Paul Teague‘s Self-publishing Journeys podcast this summer – in spite of Skype’s best efforts to scupper our conversation!
Despite Paul’s renowned technical expertise, we eventually had to resort to finishing the conversation by phone. Paul told me afterwards that of the many podcasts in this series of over 120, (mine was #119), mine broke all records in technical challenges! Hats off to Paul for turning it into a seamless podcast.
I’ve known Paul on the self-publishing circuit for several years. He’s easy to spot, as he’s usually the one sitting at the front of a conference, engineering the recording, always with a infectious smile, which I’m sure must boost the confidence of the speakers he’s filming.
Paul’s earlier career was as a radio journalist and television broadcaster, including a stint on the BBC Breakfast News team. You can find out more about Paul on his website here and also by following him on Twitter at @secretbunkerfan.
To listen to my interview on his podcast, click this link to take you to his podcast website:
I’d first come across Edward a few years ago, when he won a prize awarded by publishing service provider SilverWood Books and ebook distributor Kobo, which I’ve just enjoyed reading. It tells the story of a little-known historical episode when Tudor explorers attempted to find a north-east trade-route passage via the Arctic to China. His prize was to have his novel beautifully produced by SilverWood, and as you can tell from this stunninng cover, they did their customary great job. (You can find out more about his book on the SilverWood website here.)
When he invited me to speak at Cheltenham Writers’ Alliance about my own writing and publishing activities, I didn’t expect to know anyone else there, so it was a pleasant surprise to see in the audience the lovely bookseller Sallie Anderson from the Suffolk Anthology bookshop and Dr Terri Passenger, a trustee of Read for Good (formerly Readathon), the wonderful children’s reading charity that I used to work for.
Edward had asked me to talk about my books and writing, and about the self-publishing process. Fuelled by coffee and Kit-Kats all round, I managed to talk for nearly two hours, with lots of show-and-tell of my books, and plenty of questions from the audience.
Afterwards, Edward kindly invited me to be interviewed on his blog, so that members who were not at the meeting, and anyone else who was interested, might catch up with what they’d missed. He’s now posted the interview on his website, and it includes my answers to the following questions:
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
What did you do before you became a full-time writer? How did it contribute to your writing?
Tell me about some of the things you have written. What is your current project?
What made you decide to self-publish?
Can you describe your writing day?
You convene two local groups of ALLi. Can you tell me about ALLi and how it can help self-published authors?
You have a lot of other activities including the Hawkesbury Festival. How did that come about?
When you spoke to Cheltenham Writers’ Circle you told us about Beta Readers. Could you say something here for those of us who were not at the meeting?
Could you give us some links to tell us more about your work?
In 2010, realising that no matter how hard I worked in my day job, it was leaving me unfulfilled, I made the radical decision to walk away from it without a job to go to. I intended to refocus my life on my writing ambitions.
Reading Between the Lines
It felt like a miracle when I almost immediately landed a part-time job with a wonderful children’s reading charity, Read for Good, which served two purposes for me (apart from giving me an income, that is):
It reinforced the importance of books and reading not only for children but for all ages, which in turn validated my ambition to write books myself.
It gave me space to explore different ways in which I could write what I wanted to write – and indeed to discover exactly what that was.
Using commissioned non-fiction projects and experimental short stories as stepping stones, I gradually gained the confidence and competence needed to achieve my long-term goal to write a novel.
Now I’m hooked, with three novels published in the last year, the fourth due out next month, and my planned series of seven, the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries, now starting to morph into a series of ten.
Planning for Success
But as in all of life, the things that you don’t plan are often some of the most exciting.
Here are five serendipitous things that have happened to me over the last few years while I was making other plans. Not only is my writing life is the richer for them, but it turns out they’ve helped other people too.
1) Being invited to join a regular monthly spot on BBC Radio Gloucestershire‘s lunchtime show, in its Book Club slot, alongside its delightful presenters, initially Clare Carter and now Dominic Cotter, and The Bookseller’s Caroline Sanderson, to talk about our chosen book of the month and any other book-related topics that take our fancy – and I’ve discovered I love doing radio.
2) Launching a free local literature festival to bring indie authors, poets and illustrators to my community at the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest, with no admission charges so that visitors could save their money to buy the speakers’ books instead. This started out as a simple plan to spend a few hours in one of the village pubs with a few writer friends – four years on, it’s somehow morphed into 50+ authors in a packed day-long programme, this year with an art exhibition running in tandem.
3) Being the inadvertent catalyst for a new book by other authors – the panel of authors I’d introduced to each other for the second Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest to discuss writing about difference (that’s politically-correct-speak for disability, to be clear) got together afterwards to collaborate on Silent Voices, an anthology by carers and the cared-for, venting their feelings.
4) Encouragingother writers to grow from nervous debutant to confident published author, either through their participation in the authors’ groups I run in Cheltenham and Bristol or through their participation in the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest. (I’ve observed a direct relationship between the most nerves and the biggest post-performance smile at every event.)
5) Helping other people achieve their publishing ambitions through what I’ve learned on my own journey as an indie author, such as enabling a 95-year-old, terminally ill refugee to turn his memoirs into a book before he died, or helping a retired neighbour revive children’s stories she’d written decades ago. Not only was I able to publish them as books, I also sent her into the village school as guest author on World Book Day, where she was very well received.
Is It Karma?
Some author friends swear there is such a thing as book karma: if you’re helpful to others, that helpfulness will come back to you in some other form at a later date.
So is it karma that this week that I spotted the first book in my Sophie Sayers series rising up the cosy mystery charts?
If so, I’m fine with that. When I started self-publishing my books (I’d written stories all my life but hadn’t seriously pursued publication), I thought just writing the books would be satisfying enough for me. And if anyone else benefited along the way from anything I did, I’d jokingly tell myself that virtue was its own reward, or I’d get my reward in heaven, and that wouldbe enough for me.
And if there aren’t any books in heaven? Then I’m not going.
If you’re within reach of the Cotswolds, come along and join in the fun at this year’s Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival this month, on Saturday 21st April. Download the full programme from its website, www.hulitfest.com, to help you plan your day in advance – but there’s no advance booking required, and no admission charge. Just turn up on the day and enjoy!
I’ll be launching the fourth in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, Murder by the Book, at the Festival, but you can pre-order an ebook copy here in the meantime at the special launch price of 99p/99c, and the paperback from 21st April, at viewbook.at/MurderByTheBook.
This post originally appeared on the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Self-publishing Advice blog here, where it was obviously aimed at indie authors and aspiring writers, a startling number of whom don’t touch-type. I’m reproducing it here because I believe the content is equally relevant and helpful to anyone who uses a computer keyboard for any purpose, business or pleasure.
Why the old-fashioned skill of touch typing can be a real boon to twenty-first century indie authors, and why you should add this accomplishment to your repertoire to help you increase your output as a writer.
Blog posts and books abound about how indie authors can increase their self-publishing productivity by various means, primarily by focusing on increasing daily word counts. Different methods exist for boosting your writing output, such as getting into a daily habit of writing a fixed number of words per session or day, or by writing in sprints, against the clock, or using popular schemes such as NaNoWriMo to squeeze out a fixed word count in a set time frame.
True touch typing means it doesn’t matter if you’ve written so much, you’ve worn the letters off your keyboard
Missing a Trick
But most of these schemes fail to mention one of the most straightforward practical tips there is: to learn to touch-type. In an informal survey I’ve just conducted of over 100 indie authors, around 40% of them admitted they didn’t touch type. This included writers of multiple books. I wondered how much more prolific they might be if they mastered this important art.
What is Touch-typing?
Touch typing means typing accurately without looking at the keyboard. Thanks to an ALLi member in Russia, Alexander Kirko, I can tell you that in three other languages, touch typing is known as “blind typing”, which I think is a more graphic description.
When you can touch type efficiently, you can set down many more words per minute than you can when you have to look at the keyboard. This frees you to concentrate on picking the right words, rather than hunting for the right letters.
There’s no such thing as a “sort of” touch typist. It’s like being “a bit pregnant”. You either are or you aren’t.
Many Ways to Learn
Many of the respondents to my informal poll reported that they’d learned to touch type early in their careers, either at school or at college or on first entering the world of work, and plenty went on to say it was the most useful skill they’d ever learned.
But the good news is, it’s never too late to learn, and by throwing a little time at the task each day, you can quickly acquire the skill. It’s simply a question of putting in a certain number of hours to program your brain.
How you do it is up to you, and there’s plenty of choice.
I learned fresh out of university, using a tried-and-trusted traditional approach: a typing manual with a cardboard chart that taught you to match the right fingers to the right keys, building up your skill one row and one new finger at a time till you’d mastered the alphabet.
These days there are plenty of automated programs available online to make the process more fun.
Whichever route you choose, make sure you pick one that serves the layout for whatever language you write in. When I went to work in Switzerland in my twenties, I had to reprogramme myself to use a German keyboard, in which the Y and the Z trade places.
If you’ve learned to drive a car, you can learn to touch type. And you won’t even have to master hill starts or parallel parking.
So if you haven’t mastered the art of touch typing yet, and are seeking to increase your writing output, don’t dismiss this simple technique. Once you’re hammering out 80 words a minute (my current rate – I just checked on this fun online gadget), you’ll be glad that you persevered.
I originally wrote this post for the Alliance of Independent Authors‘ blog, but I hope readers of my own blog will also find it entertaining. I certainly enjoyed writing it!
(This is an abridged version of the original post, but you can read it in full on the Alliance of Independent Authors‘ website here.)
Editors: Unsung Superheroes Who Save Authors from Themselves
No matter how well authors polish a manuscript before submitting them for professional editing, and regardless of how dazzling their prose, a good editor will always polish it further. In true superhero style, editors and proofreaders daily avert disaster, and I’m glad I’ve secured the services of two brilliant professionals to help me with my books, Alison Jack and Helen Baggott.
Classic Errors Spotted by Editors
Here are some typical errors recently shared by authors and editors on ALLi’s private member forum, spotted either in their own books or in books by other writers.
Continuity errors are too easy for an author to miss:
two unrelated characters sharing the same surname
eyes or hair spontaneously changing colour from one page to the next
a character’s medication changing from one chapter to the next
someone at the theatre sitting in mid-air (in the front row of the circle, they leaned forward to tap the person in front on the shoulder)
a character entering a flat twice without leaving in between times
a person landing at JFK before the flight has taken off from Heathrow (and in a different model of plane from the one in which the journey began)
Global search-and-replace can trigger disasters:
changing Carol’s name to Barbara was fine until the carol singing scene
swapping “ass” for “butt” resulted in a case of embarrbuttment
There are also comical typos that a spellchecker will let through because the words are correctly typed, but the meaning is wrong in the context:
a bowel full of sauerkraut left on the balcony to ferment
a female character becoming enraptured by the scent of a man’s colon
a trip on an udderless boat
the stoking of cats
an acute angel
the Suntan of Brunei
Serious Consequences (Bad Reviews) Averted by Editors
Author Geoffrey Ashe, in The Art of Writing Made Simple, classifies readers into three different groups:
the critical reader
the lazy reader who won’t make an effort
the one who has the eye for the comic or incongruous
If you’re an author, it’s worth keeping all three in mind while you’re writing and self-editing.
While an indulgent reader of the third kind might simply smile and move on, it’s also very easy these days for dissastisfied readers to post scathing reviews online, deterring others from buying your books in future.
So although this is a light-hearted post, the message is a serious one on the importance of the editor’s role in helping you publish your books to professional standards – or indeed anything else that you happen to be writing for public consumption, including blogs of business reports for work.
In Praise of MY Editor and Proofreader
While ALLi policy precluded me from giving a shout-out in the original post to the professional editorial people that I employ for my own books, I would like to take the opportunity to thank Alison Jack (www.alisonjack-editor.co.uk) and Helen Baggott (www.helenbaggott.co.uk) for regularly saving me from myself when editing and proofreading books for me.
I should add that this post has been edited only by me, so any errors it contains are entirely my responsibility – and proof of how dependent I am on the likes of Alison and Helen!