Sally Cronin has once more given my recent work on Far East POWs and my other work the kind of polish I dream about, but never quite achieve. My thanks to her and all her visitors.
Almost the first question an agent or publisher asks is who are your readers? I can’t be the only writer who fails to conjure up a collective market-speak noun for the person who has just turned the last page of my novel with (I hope) a sigh of satisfaction.
The people who read, and give me feedback, are people who know me. They have read my books because they are kind friends or relatives, fellow-writers or new online friends. They are male and female, aged 16 to 90, and include a wide spectrum of interests and incomes. As a writer I could not survive without these people, but they are not the distinct target group the agent or publisher is looking for. What is more, I really didn’t know who else in the world, would want to read my novels… but I got lucky.
In December I wrote about the moment when dreams and real life coincided (Writer (almost) faints). I met a reader totally unknown to me who loved my second novel, Unseen Unsung, and so, apparently, did her book group.
Last night I was the surprise guest, invited by this reader, to a birthday meal for a member of her book group. So I met Tracy, Susanne, Janet, Sarah, Marie, Tracey and Judy (who couldn’t stay to the meal). My presence was for the fun of it, I didn’t have to perform, or sell myself, I was able to eat, relax, and discover who my readers were as people. Tracy birthday girl Suzanne (Goldie) Janet (left to right) Tracey, Marie and Sarah
So what, if anything, makes Tracy, Susanne, Janet, Sarah, Marie, Tracey and Judy a group. They were vibrant, funny, unsentimental, open and tolerant people. Their energies and concerns were first for their family members, then for each other, and after that any individual in their orbit who was in need. In doing all this they also looked after themselves and made their own fun. They worked, played and read widely. In every other sense each was a distinct personality. We were in Tracy’s house, her mother was upstairs, recovering from an operation, her father appeared from time to time as did a fifteen-year-old son, an undergraduate son and her husband (and there was a daughter elsewhere). Apart from her own spaniel (?), she was temporarily caring for a couple of pugs to help a friend.
The Chinese proverb runs – Women hold up half the sky. These women were certainly holding up more than they share share of the sky and I feel all the better, as a writer, for being their choice.
Well I wasted (?) enjoyed (?) an hour of baffling fun. I took groups of paragraphs from different parts of my recent novel Border Line and apparently I write like:
H P Lovecraft – supernatural, extra terrestrial Arthur Clarke – science fiction Margaret Atwood – ?! James Joyce – double?! Arthur Clarke – perhaps this algorithm is on a loop
I put in a few paragraphs from my second novel, Unseen Unsung and I write like:
Anne Rice – vampire, Gothic fiction, Christian Literature, erotica H.G. Wells – science fiction Kurt Vonnegut – satire, gallows humour and science fiction again
And my first novel, A Small Rain and I write like:
H.P. Lovecraft – supernatural, extra terrestrial P.G. Woodhouse – out of left field
My unpublished non-fiction manuscript, Writing to a Ghost: Letters to the River Kwai 1941 to 1945 and I write like:
Arthur C Clarke – …what?
A short, short story, Barbed Wire, that I wrote in December on a course attached to the Reality Exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia. The story related to the painting by John Keane, The Inconveniences of History II and I write like:
Let that be a lesson to me; narcissism just leads to confusion. Or possibly the statistical analysis tool needs some adjustment. I have read none of the works of these writers apart from Margaret Atwood and P.G. Woodhouse, but I am reasonably certain that neither my style, nor, for sure, my content, has any resemblance to theirs.
My 500 word story is on this page.
I did finally stop pfaffing about and started writing today.
When Border Line came back from the printers, I couldn’t bear to open it for fear of coming across a gigantic error or a name missing from the acknowledgements. So I opened one box, took one copy out and gave it my husband, then shut the box. A week later I bumped into my dear supporter, neighbour and kind reader of early drafts, Maureen Katrak, and knew as I talked to her that I has missed her name from the acknowledgements.
Three days ago I discovered I had forgotten someone equally deserving of my thanks, David King. From the other side of the Atlantic, battling with MS and unable to read without voice software, David has read and given me feedback on at least three drafts of Border Line over the years.
I don’t know by what malign convolution my brain has managed to let slip these names as I wrote up my acknowledgements, I only know that these two people should have been there at the top of the list and I owe them both heartfelt thanks for all they have done.
So, dear writing friends, don’t be an idiot like me, keep a scrupulous record of those amazing people who give you their time, their thoughts, their honest opinions and their kindness.
On Saturday, still reeling from the mortification this last discovery, I attended The Linton Kitchen Christmas Fair on a sunny but freezing day.
I set up the tiniest stall possible with 15 copies of Border Line and two or three of my previous novel Unseen Unsung, mostly to prop up the newspaper article about me. In spite of thermals, my fingers froze and my toes seized up on the cobbles. I expected, if I was lucky, to sell half a dozen books. After a hurried re-supply from my husband, I sold 23 copies of Border Line and 6 of Unseen Unsung. For a small-scale self-published author these are significant numbers. So selling in a local venue where your face is familiar (notwithstanding the threat of frostbite) is a better bet than a getting your books onto a shelf in a book shop.
I had two copies left when I took this photo.
If Amazon put me through a two-week version of the author and publisher’s worst nightmare, today the gods handed out one of those moments that an author can only dream of. No, I didn’t sell 100 books, or get signed up by an agent or publisher. It was sweeter than that.
I was sitting in the corner of the friendly and comfortable café of the Gog Magog Hills Farm Shop (Like so – sorry, this only comes blurred.) I had distributed little booklets with info about Border Line all over the room and left a browsing copy on one of the tables plus various other signals. However the café was full much of the day and I remained hidden. Several friends came and we all chatted and I sold a satisfactory trickle of books and I had my photo taken with an interesting Chinese visitor, Josie, who bought a copy too. In the afternoon a couple of women came and sat on the table next to me, glanced at my leaflet and got on with their tea and chat. Finally, as they left, one of them leaned over and spoke to me, and I explained that I was signing my new book. Then she spotted copies of my earlier novel, Unseen Unsung, and said, ‘Do you mean you are the author of that book?’ I agreed I was. I was gobsmacked by her reaction and modesty prevents me from repeating… well actually I was so overwhelmed by all she said I can’t remember it enough to repeat. After saying many wonderful things, she explained to her friend that she had made her reading group get it and it had been difficult to get enough copies and they had had to share books, she didn’t have her own copy… I sat there is a state of blissful amazement.
Anyway, I think if you ask any writer what would make them happiest in the world, it would be to hear from a stranger, who had read their book, a spontaneous and generous appreciation of it. So Tracy and Alison, if you should happen upon this post, thank you for making all that sweat, uncertainty, aspiration and crazy numbers of hours shifting words from A to B (and often back again), all worthwhile in the end. I really mean that.
I started this blog, Green Writing Room, early last year. One of the first people I followed was a young music student from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Charlotte Hoather. As she started putting up clips of her singing, I could hear she had a generous voice with enormous promise. In the following eighteen months I have heard it develop in strength and clarity. Charlotte is warm, dedicated, disciplined, thoughtful, with a wonderful supportive family and she looks lovely too. She takes on every challenge that comes her way. Her blog has rocketed in popularity and I have every hope that she will one day be on the opera stages of the world. She is already giving many people pleasure in concerts and competitions around the country.
Recently she came third in the Voice of the Future category of the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod. For the last of her three songs she sang one of her favourites, Rusalka’s Song to the Moon (Dvorak), and I feel great delight as I hear the development of her voice in this version compared to her earlier recordings.
Do listen to the final song on this video recording from the competition.
Charlotte reminded me a little of the young man, Luca, that I had dreamed up for my novel Unseen Unsung. I thought her parents might enjoy reading the book. So, late last year, I made contact and sent them a copy. I did not expect Charlotte to read it, because she has a schedule that makes most of the rest of us look like sloths. However a few days ago, she wrote on my post about Unseen Unsung :
My last post didn’t come through don’t know why? Just wanted to say I love, love, loved this story, kept me guessing and intrigued all the way through. Really related to the story, loved the references to opera, good luck with the e-book promotion. Best wishes Charlotte 🙂
As Unseen Unsung had been originally been published in 2008 I was not expecting it to make waves as an eBook but this, along with other wonderful responses from you kind and generous readers out there have made this writer delirious with happiness.
Luca, a brilliant and self-absorbed young opera singer, is buried in the rubble of a collapsed building. A girl crawls through the debris to comfort him and then vanishes. perhaps she died in the ruins or maybe she just a figment of his imagination. When he discovers the strange truth, he is unwilling to accept it.
This is a story of love between two people who would never have met and never have found common ground without one of the catastrophes of modern life.
Unseen Unsung celebrates the power of music and the force of human survival in a complex world.
The concept for Unseen Unsung started life way back in 1999 when I imagined people stuck under the rubble after an earthquake in Turkey. I was enjoying myself plotting, writing and character-building when 9/11 jolted the world. I found the axis had shifted; the story felt too light in the changed world and I set the project aside for over a year.
This is a book, not about disasters, but about life and music, about ordinary people coping with what life throws at them, big and small. In it I have allowed my passion for music, in particular opera, (fairly) free rein, but, as one reviewer wrote, “please don’t think you have to be an opera lover to read this book”.
Although Unseen Unsung was published as a print version in 2008, I went to talk to a reading group last year, who had obtained second-hand copies through the Internet, so I am hoping people will still find it enjoyable. I decided to turn it into an ebook in order to learn the ropes for the publication of my new novel Border Line, which will be coming out in December.
The ebook of Unseen Unsung is available at http://www.amazon.com/Unseen-Unsung-Hilary-Custance-Green-ebook/dp/B00LSRI2PO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1405942187&sr=8-1&keywords=Unseen+Unsung and https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/unseen-unsung/id899213653?ls=1&mt=11
I hope some of you will try it and enjoy it. Correction. That’s supposed to read – Please buy my book!
The idea that you can upload an ebook and be on sale in 24 hours is a bit of a myth. I decided to learn about the process using my last novel Unseen Unsung (published as print book by Threadgold Press in 2008).
Step 1. The original printers, Antony Rowe, converted the novel into the two forms of ebook (.epub and .mobi files) for the ibook and Kindle platforms respectively. This entailed writing a new imprint page as a pdf and a remastered cover as a JPG (I wanted to keep the original cover by Anthony Furness, but sharpen up the graphics so they would be visible in thumbnail pics). This took 2-3 weeks. So far so good. Step 2. I could now see and read my ebook on my iPad and I could email it to anyone, but to sell it I needed to upload it to iTunes and Amazon KDP. Both of these are US-based and pay taxes in the US (see http://kareninglis.wordpress.com/paying-uk-income-tax-on-book-royalties-uk-authors/). If you live elsewhere you must have either an ITIN number (as a foreign individual), or an EIN number (as a foreign publisher). The first requires a complicated and lengthy process involving posting your passport to the US, the second can be done on the phone to the US. See http://catherineryanhoward.com/2012/02/24/non-us-self-publisher-tax-issues-dont-need-to-be-taxing/ though this is a shifting process, so read the post and the later comments.
In my role as Threadgold Press I opted for the latter, but it took up to a week of getting my head round the forms (SS-4 and W-8BEN), the process and choosing the right time and day to phone. Once I had got to this point, it went as planned and I obtained the magic EIN number for my SS-4, in order to fill in the W-8BEN, so I will not be liable to tax in the US.
Step 3. Try to upload to iTunes. This should have been straightforward, but for reasons still unclear, I am not receiving a verification email from them. I am in touch with their helpline and have had a call and several emails from the iTunes Support, who are on the case and will I am sure sort this out. This has lasted a week.
Step 4. Try and upload to Amazon KDP. I have spent a couple of hours filling in details and, rather importantly, reading their Terms, which are frankly alarming. I have now ‘agreed’ and waived my right to almost everything you can think of. I have filled in their online W-8BEN with my magic EIN number and now have to wait for approval of this. I have no idea how long this will take – but I understand it may be weeks.
This is the simplified version of events so far, it doesn’t include things like the revised W-8BEN having no box for an EIN number… I hope the next post will show the end of the process.
M-R, you asked what Threadgold Press is. Well, in 2002 I had my first novel published by a stupendously chaotic one-man independent publisher (he had a colleague, but she resigned). So with my second novel, after I had tallied up a few rejection slips, I became a (fairly chaotic) publisher myself. Threadgold Press is a small thing, but mine own. You can be a publisher by giving yourself a name, and applying for ISBN’s, jumping through a whole load of hoops and publishing a book. I published Unseen Unsung (Hilary Custance Green) in 2008, I’ve sold around 400 copies, and reckon I have broken even. Amazon.co.uk currently offers 7 copies (used) for .01p and 1 (new) for £999. Uh? (I won’t see a penny from these either way).
On a different (more important) subject, I am deeply worried that I cannot go into the garden without stumbling over a dead bee. These are usually smaller bumble bees and I see one or two most days. Is anyone else finding these? We don’t use pesticides.
One the upside, a few days ago, my husband called from the glass area near the back door. He had heard what he described as a four-engine job. An enormous fat golden stripey hornet was bombing around in there. It looked magnificent and sort of new-born, metallic shiny; it also sounded very fed up. Sadly, I do not have a picture. I love bees, wasps, spiders etc but I’m an all-out wuss when it comes to hornets. I gazed in admiration from a distance as my husband wielded the butterfly nets we keep for such events. I am now steeling myself to look into the loft (not my husband’s territory). I saw a big ‘something’ flying around near the eaves and then popping in.
I have been utterly committed to the garden (and, of course, to our visitors) for the last two months and writing has been low on the agenda – but not forgotten. Just over a week ago I finally bought InDesign (publishing software) and my extraordinarily patient cousin has come all the way from Sweden and is walking me through the basics of setting the text of my novel into a printable format, and creating a cover.
We have also discussed (argued about) the desirable qualities of a cover illustration. How much should it indicate either genre or content? Do people really pick up a book (or reject it) because of it’s cover. All opinions welcomed!
The novel will be titled Border Line. I shall be glad to know if this suggests a genre to people… and if so, which?
And it’s past midnight and my husband and cousin are asleep… oh for a few more hours in the day.