Thursday, 13 May 2021

Feedback, families and the future.

Hi. How are things with you? We've been able to get out in the van a bit recently, and I'm trying to get back into the habit of using it as my mobile writing retreat. 

Feedback on your writing

One of the things The People's Friend mentioned in a recent tweet is that they can't critique stories or give detailed feedback. As far as I'm aware no magazine editor does this – please correct me if you know of any that do. This service is sometimes offered to competition entrants, either as part of the entry fee, or for a small additional charge. It might well be worth the money, especially for an ongoing competition.

Feedback, critiques, constructive criticism – whatever you call it, it's very valuable for a writer. That's especially true when we start out, but most experienced writers (myself included) also have at least one other person read their work critically before they submit it, as they've discovered how useful this is.

If you're really lucky there will be a local writing group which provides just the type of feedback you need. Often that's not the case – there might not be a group you can attend reasonably conveniently, or they might not be at the appropriate level for you, or might write in a very different genre. That's where online groups, forums, and critiquing partnerships can be immensely useful. If you know of an online group or site which is open to new members, please post details in the comments. And do the same if you'd like to swap critiques with someone else, or offer a feedback service, or are looking for somewhere to ask for feedback. Hopefully a few of you can find a suitable match.

You might like to consider joining the Facebook group run by Rosemary J. Kind and I in association with our writing book. We don't offer a full critique service, but you can ask for help and advice, plus there's sometimes an opportunity to post up a short extract for feedback.

Womag news

The People's Friend have given more information about submitting via email on their Twitter page. The gist of it is to only use the email address for short stories and that, just as with postal submissions, these must comply with their submission guidelines.

Following the guidelines is important with all markets. The magazines can only publish stories of certain lengths and they're sent plenty of these. If yours is too long, or too short, they would either have to request that you altered it, or do so themselves. Obviously this takes time, something no editor has lots of. I think you can see that they'd much rather buy a story from someone who has followed the guidelines and supplied something they can use without a great deal of further effort.

I've been in contact with Andrew Shaw at Future who has confirmed that fiction for Woman's Weekly, Woman and Woman's Own can only be accepted on an 'all rights' basis.  Stories submitted to him will be considered for all three magazines.  If I'm supplied with guidelines for any of these I'll share them in a future* post. Andrew doesn't deal with the 'Best of' magazine – that's a different department with different requirements.

*See what I did there? Future publishing, get it?

My news

I have a new book out! Happy Families is a collection of 24 family related short stories. The paperback can now be ordered from Amazon, your local bookshop, or in some cases your local library. The ebook is on 'pre order' and will be available in a few days.

I'll be back with more news, and some free to enter writing competitions soon.

Monday, 10 May 2021

Guest post on self publishing with Ingram Spark

Today’s guest is Sarah Holroyd. She is the owner of Sleeping Cat books, which offers publishing services for independent authors. 

Thanks for joining me today, Sarah, and sharing some of your publishing know how! Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself, the company and your role as editor and book designer

Thanks for having me, its great to be here! Im American, and a native English speaker. I have a degree in archaeology, which obviously was very useful. [laughs] I started Sleeping Cat Books in 2010, but Id been doing freelance copyediting work since 2006. I provide copyediting, proofreading, and book design services to indie authors. But beyond that, I consider myself a bit of a guide through the whole publishing process. A lot of my clients are completely new to this business, so I try to provide as much guidance and advice as I can to help them navigate what is, admittedly, a very complex world.

You're right, it is complicated! 

I recently posted some information on publishing with Amazon, but of course they’re not the only option. I know you suggest that authors use Ingram Spark, can you tell us a little about this company and why you recommend them?

IngramSpark (IS) is owned by Ingram Content Group, the largest US book distributor. For many years, Ingram has operated a self-publishing company called Lightning Source, Inc. (LSI). As other platforms, like CreateSpace (later KDP Print) gained in popularity, indie authors began to find LSI as well, which had, until that point, catered mainly to small independent publishers. LSI wasnt really set up to deal with indie authors brand new to the business. So Ingram spun off IS for individual authors and small publishers with fewer than 30 titles in their back catalogue. LSI remains available to small publishers with more than 30 titles in their catalogue. So IS is like LSIs little sister. Since both print on demand (POD) platforms are owned by Ingram, they both benefit from the widest US distribution possible, along with a global distribution network through Ingrams Global Connect program.

IS publish ebooks, paperbacks and hardbacks. Would you suggest an author use them for all three?

IS is great for print books, but not so much for ebooks. They keep too much of the revenue from ebooks compared to going direct to ebook retailers or using a distributor like Draft2Digital or Smashwords. Also, some ebook retailers and platforms provide promotion opportunities (such as KDP and Kobo) that you can only access if youre direct with that platform. IS also doesnt give the publisher much control over ebooks on their platform. You have much more control through other distributors.

I'm pleased to hear that, as I'm currently using KDP for my ebooks! 

Would it be a good idea to put the IS paperbacks on Amazon as well? 

Absolutely. You can get the best of both worlds by using both KDP Print and IS for the identical paperback. But the key is to use the same ISBN for the same book on both platforms, which means you must own that ISBN. There have been cases recently of one or the other rejecting the ISBN as being in use with this method. My suggestion to avoid any such issues is to set up the project on both, through entering the ISBN and imprint information, and then saving your progress. Once both platforms have accepted that ISBN, you should be fine to proceed in whichever order you wish.

A good tip, thanks. I'll make sure I do that as like you I've heard of the rejection of ISBNs.

There are no up front costs with Amazon. That’s not the case with IS is it?

No, its not. IS does charge a $49 title setup fee, and a $25/file revision fee for any changes after youve approved the online digital eProof file. But members of some professional organizations may get an IS discount code as a benefit of membership, and its sometimes possible to find other codes to waive these IS fees.

Yes, I'm a member of Alli and they have a code members can use. 

Are there benefits to using IS that authors don’t get with Amazon?

Other than the widest possible distribution? True, KDP offers Expanded Distribution (ED), which lists the book in the Ingram catalogue. But the wholesale discount for KDP ED is fixed at 60%. IS allows the publisher to set the wholesale discount as low as 30%, so you can potentially earn a *whole* lot more through IS than through KDP ED. IS also allows the publisher to accept returns, which KDP doesnt do. So if your goal is to get on brick & mortar shelves, youll need to allow returns (and set a 55% wholesale discount) through IS.

I’m already a convert. I’ve begun uploading my back catalogue and will publish all my new books through IS as well as Amazon. For those who are thinking of doing the same, can you explain how to publish with IS? 

It can be intimidating using the IS website for the first time, especially if youre already familiar with the KDP website. The good news is that I have a step-by-step guide to the IS title setup and file upload process: And Im always interested in improving my guides, so if you see any gaps in my documentation, or theres anything you wish Id included, feel free to contact me through the website and let me know!

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

My, it's May!

May already! Perhaps it's just that I'm getting older making it seem like the months are whizzing by, but I like to think it's because I've been busy. The first of my audio books is now available (here's how I achieved that) I have a new short story collection coming out soon, I've written new stories, had some published in magazines, been preparing for a zoom workshop I'm presenting tomorrow, tended my garden, baked and even managed a couple of short trips away in the campervan. 

That's all happened since my last Insecure Writer's Support Group post! And yes, I have felt a little insecure at times, but I've mostly managed to put that aside and keep going. Somehow I got up the nerve to make a cheeky request for promotion in one of the magazines I write for. I didn't get exactly what I asked for, but was offered a nice alternative! The lessons I've learned from this is to have deadlines so there's not much time for anxiety to strike, and if there's something you want to ask nicely and hope that sometimes you might get lucky.

This months optional IWSG question is – Has any of your readers ever responded to your writing in a way that you didn't expect?  If so, did it surprise you?

When it comes to beta readers / critique partners then, gosh yes! But also, crikey no! I expect to be surprised, as I know not every sentence will be perfectly clear, not every character's action come across exactly as I intended, not every clue, red herring or line of foreshadowing lead readers precisely in the direction I hoped. That's why we invite feedback on our work, isn't it? I've had some brilliant reactions and suggestions which have helped make my work much better than it would otherwise have been.

I used to be surprised sometimes by the reactions of editors. One might reject a story as predictable, the next accept it praising the great twist. The same thing happens with reviews. The characters which some reviewers found delightful, well rounded and completely believable have been described by one person as two dimensional and not worth caring about. The lesson I've learned there is that, as with everything in life, we can't please everyone. I've disliked books which have won awards or been highly praised, so it would be ridiculous to expect every reader to have the same reaction to my work.

Free to enter writing competitions

This competition is for writers aged 12 and under. They're asked for up to 300 words written to a monthly prompt and there are prizes.

Entrants can be a little older, up to 19, for this one. Entrants are asked to complete the story supplied. UK only.

Reedsy have a weekly competition for pieces written to one of the prompts they supply. You don't need to be a child for this one! There's a $50 prize, plus publication. You do need to create an account and sign up for the prompts emails, but that's free and so is entry.

If you're a woman who has written a comedy novel, or even just made a start on one, then this competition might appeal. Prizes include publication with a cash advance.

Womag news

I've updated my submissions database including the addition of the little I know about Woman and Woman's Own. I've requested full guidelines and submission requirements for both of these and Woman's Weekly. 

Here's some useful information about story lengths for The People's Friend. If you pick the right length it just might help your chances of success.

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Producing an audio book

The audio version of my romance Escape To The Country is now available! The narrator is actress Claire Storey (you may have heard her voice doing those BBC intro things or voice overs) and she's done a fabulous job. As my main character Leah spends quite a lot of time eating the delicious food and drinking herbal concoctions created by her aunt Jayne on the small farm, it seems very appropriate to have someone who worked on The Great British Bake Off reading the novel!

I still have a few codes for review copies to give away. If you have an account with either or and are willing to leave a review then contact me, or leave a comment – saying which site you use. If you don't yet have an Audible account but would like to try it, you should be able to get a free 30 day trial complete with my book by using this link.

It's not too difficult to self publish an audio book. Several companies offer a service to help with this including Audible (Amazon), Findaway Voices and Tantor. There are a few things to keep in mind which don't apply to ebooks and paperbacks. The most obvious is the choice of narrator. 

If you have the right equipment, or hire a studio, you could read it yourself. That might be a good option for a memoir or non-fiction book. However not everyone is good at reading aloud in a clear, consistent voice, or at bringing different characters to life. I sometimes give talks including readings of a few of my short stories, but I couldn't narrate a novel. 

You also need to consider if your voice, or that of the narrator, is appropriate. In a first person story

particularly it would be confusing to the listener if the reader is clearly a different gender, age, nationality etc. It's best to listen to several 'auditions' (just short recordings of the person reading part of your book) to be sure you've selected the right person. It's common for the narrator to also be the producer.

Something else to consider is the financial aspect. If you use a narrator you can either pay them a flat fee (rates vary hugely – and some really are huge!) or do a royalty split. With the former you'll receive all the royalties and take all the risk. Sharing both might seem a better option, but you'll need to convince the narrator it's worth their time. Apparently each finished hour of recording takes about six hours to produce.

As with ebooks and paperbacks you also have the option of 'going wide' (making the audio book available through more than one platform) or being exclusive with one. The affects your royalty rates, and those of your narrator if you're doing a royalty split.

Even if you don't narrate the book yourself it will take up some of your time. The narrator may have questions about pronunciation, accents or tone. You will also need to listen carefully to the entire recording and note anything which isn't right, until you're happy with it.

You'll also need a new cover as those for audio books are square!

The blurb can stay the same as for the ebook and paperback. Here's mine for Escape To The Country

Leah is accused of a crime she didn't commit. Dumped by Adam, the man she planned to marry, she escapes to Aunt Jayne's smallholding in the Kent village of Winkleigh Marsh. Heartbroken and homeless, she strives to clear her name and deal with her emotions.

Jayne treats Leah's unhappiness with herbal remedies, cowslip wine and common sense in equal measure. In return Leah works hard for the delicious home-cooked meals they share. She wrestles with sheep, breaks nails and gets stuck in the mud – learning as much about herself as she does about farming. Soon Leah is happy milking cows, mucking out pigs and falling halfway in love with Duncan, a dishy tractor driver.

Back in London, steps are being taken to investigate what's happened to the missing money. It looks as though the real embezzler must soon be unmasked and Leah will have to choose between resuming her old life or starting a new one.

That's when her problems really start.

My novel Paint Me A Picture has also been recorded and is awaiting release, and one of my short story collections will follow.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Guest post from Womagwriter Sharon Boothroyd

Today I have a guest post by Sharon Boothroyd


It amazes me when writers say, 'I'm not on the closed lists, so I have limited places where I can send my work.' These mags all pay:

Ireland's Own - Max word count 2, 300 words. 

UPDATE: April 2021 – I've been told they are currently closed to subs due to a backlog (But I don't think this includes the children's fiction slot).

Woman's Weekly – 800 words – take all rights

Woman/ Woman's Own - 1, 800 words – take all rights

Fresh material is also appearing in the 'Best of' WW fiction special

The People's Friend and their special - various lengths from 1,000 to 4, 000.

They also publish poetry in their mags, and both fiction and poetry in their fireside book and in their annual

UPDATE: Unpublished TPF story writers can now email their work in.

The regular YOURS – max 1, 200 words. They also publish poetry in their letters page.

They publish an annual year book and need stories and poetry for this.

The YOURS fiction special – various lengths

Allas, a Swedish magazine – max 1, 500 words

YOU in South Africa - max 1, 500 words. They have 6 month periods when they close to subs.

Woman's World USA. They have an active FB page that focuses on fiction, and the fiction ed regularly posts call- outs for what they require. I think they take all rights.

Spirit and Destiny - take all rights but they are currently closed to subs due to a backlog.

Candis magazine - (Subscription only) will consider stories from published novelists. Whether this includes self- published ones, I don't know. Not sure of the length they require but they do pay.

Best run an ongoing themed short story competition that's free to enter and the writer keeps their rights.

Prima – 800 words. They take all rights to all entries in their ongoing competition.


Amateur Gardening magazine publish poetry in their letters page and pay £20 per published poem.

Reader's Digest pay for jokes and funny stories.

Letters, daft photos and top tips in most magazines pay a fee.

I hope this list will keep writers busy! Please contact the editors for more details.

(From Patsy – My guidelines database might be useful in finding out more details about each magazine, but it's always a good idea to read a recent issue.)

Monday, 26 April 2021

A couple of things

Just a couple of quick updates today, as I'm madly busy. The enthusiasm which wained somewhat under COVID concerns and restrictions is back and attempting to make up for lost time!

Perhaps part of the reason for that is that I'm recently back from a few days on a sunny beach? It wasn't exactly hot, and a lot of time was spent on my other job, but I did manage a paddle in the sea each day.

Free to enter writing competition / womag news

Thanks to Alyson Hilbourne for sending me the link to the latest Best magazine short story competition. There's £500 on offer for a summer story of up to 1,200 words.

Womag news

The People's Friend are now allowing emailed submissions from 'new to them' writers – a very welcome move. Full details can be found here.

UPDATE Sorry, it seems the link for the Best competition isn't working for everyone. Here's a screenshot –

Saturday, 24 April 2021

Publishing terms continued.

More explanations of common publishing terms. Eventually I'll be putting all these together in one alphabetical list, to make searching easier. Until then, you can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here. If you have any words or phrases to add, even if you're not sure of their meaning, please do say so in the comments.

Imprint The name given to a publisher's specific range of books. For example Puffin and Penguin Classics are both imprints of Penguin Random House. Self published authors may also have different imprints, particularly if they write in very different genres.

ISSN International standard serial number A code which identifies 'serial publications'. It applies to all issues. This week's issue of The People's Friend will have the same ISSN as last week's and next week's. The specials will have a different ISSN. This number is important to writers as we need it to claim ALCS payments.

ISBN International standard book number A code to identify a particular book. You'll most likely
need this if you self publish in a physical form.

The alignment of text on a page or in a document. This blog post is left justified, meaning each part begins at the left margin, and stops wherever the words run out. In books it's common for the words to be left and right justified, meaning they are spaced evenly between both margins. You can also right or centre justify. 

Kill fee If a writer is commissioned to write a piece which is never used, depending on their contract
they may be entitled to this payment as a form of compensation. 

Lead time This is how long elapses between us submitting our work and it being published. With womags it's not unusual for this to be six months or even longer. Some editors will help us out by stating that they're looking for seasonal stories to be published at a certain time. When I can, I pass on such information. For example The People's Friend are currently interested in autumn stories of 3,000 words.

Manuscript Your story (or article). Sometimes abbreviated to mss.

Multiple submissions
This is sending the same piece of work to more than one place at a time. It's a VERY BAD IDEA to do this with womag fiction. It is however perfectly fine to send different stories to different magazines simultaneously; in fact that's a good idea.

It's also perfectly acceptable to send a story rejected by one magazine to another – provided of course that it fits their requirements and you've read it over just in case you can now see room for improvement. 

Novella A really long short story, or very short novel. Exact definitions vary, but somewhere in the region of 10,000 to 40,000 words is generally considered novella length.

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Over To You!

 Do you have any womag news?

Are you researching, writing, subbing? Had any acceptances or rejections? Any other news?

Feel free to use the as a picture prompt. If you'd like other writing prompts, short exercises and story/scene suggestions then you might find this book useful.

I'd love to hear your competition news.

Have you entered any writing comps? Had any luck? Heard about interesting contests? Got any tips to pass on? (Although I only feature free to enter competitions in my posts it's fine to share news about other competitions too.)

Anyone having a go at self publishing?

Do you have writing tips to share, questions to ask, or suggestions for this blog?

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Guest post by 'publishing buddy' Paul Burridge

Today's guest post is by 'publishing buddy' Paul Burridge.

Self-publishing is what you do after your book has been rejected by traditional publishers. Right? So, let’s start by demolishing the self-publishing is for losers myth. The self-publishing revolution begun by Amazon is massively significant. It’s on par with Caxton and the invention of movable type. Maybe more so – we are in the eye of a publishing storm; people just haven’t realised yet. (For the purposes of this article the term self-publishing, will refer to Amazon Self Publishing/Kindle.)

That’s because, even amid these dramatic advancements in publishing, we remain fixated by the patterns of the past. Traditional publishing, the writer completes a manuscript submits it to a publisher who recognises its genius and publishes it. Didn’t matter if the manuscript was scrawled with a quill or hammered out on a vintage Adler or for that matter keyed in Microsoft Word. You provide the words the publisher provides the book. It’s a two-component process.

We are like the WW1 generals fighting today’s battles with yesterday’s strategies. The conventional publishing industry reinforces this attitude. Look at the typical format an agent imposes on a query submission: A4, 12pt Times New Roman, double spaced, ranged left. You’ll never see a book laid out like that. The inference is clear. Demarcation. Words are your business; we’ll take care of the rest. They may use email, but they are stuck in the days when queries were dispatched in sheaves of badly typed foolscap.

Now we come to my big point. Self-publishing is an opportunity, and invitation, to break away from the shackles of the past. Self-publishing requires a whole new mindset. Importantly, thinking like a self publisher will add an extra dimension of creativity and satisfaction to your writing.

But this requires turning the traditional publishing model on its head.

Ask yourself: ‘What’s the last consideration of a writer?’ The book cover design, of course.
That’s a publisher’s job, right? That’s a job for an artist not a writer.

Not anymore, that’s your job now.

This is a brilliant exercise to clarify a writer’s thinking. Envision a single image which encapsulates the subject of your book. Something that not only accurately represents your subject but gives it market appeal. Constantly revisit (or adjust) that image as you write.

Cover design as an afterthought so often relies on a montage of imagery, that’s just the product of woolly thinking. Someone has lost the plot – literally. A single powerful image is the one punch KO of the graphical world. So, if you are writing about, say, about a forest. Your go-to image will be a tree. Tell me that’s not what’s happening with Stephen King’s ‘Christine’ or Herman Melville’s ‘White Whale’.

Now what’s the next last consideration as a writer? The typography. That’s a publisher’s job, right? That’s for a typesetter not a writer.

Not anymore, that’s your job now.

Again, this comes with a benefit. To understand how typography can help a writer, we need to address to the basics of written communication. Those strange abstract squiggles on the page which miraculously cause images and emotions to arise in the mind. Those 26 individual shapes, collectively forming a pattern evoking meaning. Simple equation – shape = meaning. This doesn’t just apply on a micro level (individual letters/words) it’s also applicable to the macro level the shape the letters form on your page, and ultimately to the shape of your manuscript. Writers should learn to be playful with their typography. Modulate sentence, paragraph, section, and chapter lengths. Write shorter punchier dialogue, or longer, whatever suits. Maybe break a few conventions for the sake of visual appeal. Maybe invent a few of your own. As long as what you do forms a logical consistency you’ll be fine. Always keep in mind shapes convey emotion and pace.

Here’s a few lines from my books, The Other Worlds of Eliot Prufrock (in this case I’m purposefully favouring triangles)…

‘So that’s your limo?’ said the barmaid.

‘I have temporary use of it,’ I said.

‘And the goons minding it?’

‘They’re on staff.’

‘Whose staff?’



Indifferent typography can render a book unreadable. Creative typography can be inspirational. For a self-publisher typing in double spaced twelve point across an A4 page is plain dumb. You have no impression of the final appearance of your book.

The quick and dirty way to get a book feel to your manuscript is to simply jack your text up in size. Between 16pt and 18pt depending on the font. You’ll need to be looking for 32 lines on the page and an average line length of 11-12 words.

The absolute best way is to type directly into a book template. That involves opening an Amazon account (cost free), choosing your page size and downloading a template. They come in two varieties plain, that is empty, and with sample text. Best way is to get the sample text version and type over the text. (You’ll notice that the gutter is wider on the right of a left-hand page and vice versa.) This provides you with a ‘what you see is what you get’ version of your book as you type.

Then the fun starts. When you have finished your story it’s time to start killing the widows and orphans (typographically speaking). Nothing looks less professional than a single word left over at the end of a chapter, or even a single line. You want your dialogue to flow, you don’t want to have to turn over a page to see the last dramatic word of a sentence. Typing into a template provides a level of control unavailable to a conventionally published author. (I have a rule that no page has less than four lines.)

So, what do you do? Scan the previous page, for opportunities to either reduce the line count or extend it. They will abound. Then begins a massive game of whack-a-mole. Kill a widow, she potentially gives birth to an orphan later in the chapter. Sounds like a pain, but it’s so much fun.

By now you will have discovered that self-publishing is a misnomer. The very term self-publishing perpetuates the myth that there are two involved in this process. There’s self and there’s publishing. In truth there is only you. The sooner you integrate publishing into your writing process the more successful and fulfilling the results will be. Self-publishing should be called DIY publishing. That makes you the editor, proof-reader, typesetter, a graphic designer, printer, and publicist.

And now we come to the biggest differentiator between conventional publishing and self-

publishing. When you have finished your book, you haven’t finished your book, you’ll never finish your book. With conventional publishing you discover a catastrophic mistake, and you’ll have to trash a massively expensive print run. With self-publishing, no problem. Say you receive an adverse review, maybe decide to revise a section, the additions, alterations, correction appear within 72 hours of a resubmission. Want a total rethink, just unpublish it, take your time and start again. The only things you can’t change are the title, authors name and paper colour (choice between white and cream).

The paperback is a print-on-demand service which means it’s a digital process. In terms of finish, it has two major differences to the conventional offset process. Fonts were designed for traditional printing which is a wet process. They allow for ink absorption into porous paper. Digital printing is a dry process eliminating absorption. Traditional publishing fonts can appear much too light so use a heavier font than you would for offset. The upside being that digital paper quality is much better than traditional books, especially paperbacks.

Colour printing (cover) can be disappointing, digital printing is not great for subtleties. You should bear that in mind its limitations when choosing imagery, colour, and title font. But there’s an upside; with self-publishing, all sales and marketing take place online. The physical cover which is paramount in attracting conventional instore book sales is not even a consideration in online sales. What attracts and influences online buyers is all onscreen, which is unaffected by the digital printing process. The first time the buyer sees the printed paperback when it’s delivered. At which point, they are (hopefully) only interested in reading it.

The self-publishing twin to the paperback is the eBook. Having completed your paperback, it is a simple process to convert to an eBook. Just download an application, and it’ll guide you through the process. All the same rules and opportunities apply, save you rather unnervingly surrender your hard-won typography to the reader, who can change the font, style, and size (although your line breaks will survive).

Self-publishing was a steep learning curve even for me, with all the experience and tools at my disposal. What I have found helpful as a writer, and what I encourage others to do, is to incorporate self-publishing into their creative process. It’ll enrich your enjoyment of writing and produce better books.

A bit more about Paul (who writes as Saul Ben)  – 

I spent five years at art school. Practiced design and copywriting for thirty-five years and taught design at three universities I had my first book (conventionally) published in 1975 (yes, I’m that old). On retirement I promised myself I’d single-handedly revive abstract expressionism. Had all the paint and brushers ready, the canvasses primed. The Turner Prize committee on speed dial. Then my wife bought me a writing course for Christmas. And much to my disappointment, I discovered I was an obsessive writer. I completed my first novel a couple of years ago. I’ve written two more since. I joke that my last one book broke Amazon. Didn’t realise the max length for a paperback is 830 pages, my last book was 883 pages – rookie mistake.

Paul offers his help with self-publishing via the Amazon service (manuscript processing, cover design, ebook design and administration) for a flat fee of £380. Find out more here.

Sunday, 11 April 2021

Updated womag guidelines database

I've updated my womag guidelines database with as many of the official guidelines as I can find. That was more difficult than you might imagine, as many editors seem reluctant to share this information. That's understandable if they're closed to unsolicited submissions of course, but when that's not the case it seems odd. It wastes everyone's time if writers send in work which is the wrong length or genre, or otherwise unsuitable for publication.

Oh well, I've done my best and put it all on a new page which you can find here. I hope it's useful. As always I appreciate your comments letting me know when posts are of interest, so I know which things are worth spending time on.

Something else you might find useful is this online workshop for creating and developing fiction writing ideas.

This post wasn't written in the campervan.  It's been a very long time since I've been able to properly use the mobile writing retreat. However the COVID restrictions ease tomorrow, so hopefully I'll soon be out and about writing in, and getting distracted by, scenic locations.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Reasons to be cheerful

It's spring, my favourite season, and the garden is looking lovely. The lockdown restrictions in the UK are starting to ease and I, and many of my friends and family have had their first vaccination. I've got a new book coming out this month. The audio version of Escape To The Country has been recorded and sounds really good. And it's Insecure Writer's Support Group day!

Free entry writing competitions

A reminder about the Erewash romance
. You can enter a short story or poem, or both. There's a small cash prize, plus publication. There are other competitions listed on the website.

For this competition you're asked to explain why you love your favourite book, poem or play. You can do that in up to 750 words, or via a short video. There are several categories with a £300 first prize in each.

This poetry competition is only for those aged 11 to 17. Apparently the prizes are 'amazing'.


This month's IWSG question is, "Are you a risk-taker when writing? Do you try something radically different in style/POV/etc. or add controversial topics to your work?"

My answer – I don't make a point of it, but it happens. If I come up with an idea I'd like to write I wouldn't shy away from it just because it was potentially controversial, and if I felt a story would work best written in a less usual format then that's how I'd write it. 

Most of my short stories and novels could be described as nice, cosy

and cheerful. They generally start at the beginning, go on to the end and look like a typical story on the page. But I've written and sold stories which don't. I've used second person, unusual layouts and non linear timelines. I don't do that for effect, but because it feels the right way to tell that particular story.

My published works include topics such as racism and homophobia. I've created transgender characters, and gay ones and those with mental or physical disabilities and
. I don't do this to shock or get a reaction. It's simply that I think of my characters as real people, and we're all different.

How about you? Do you take risks in your writing?

Womag news

If you've submitted work to The People's Friend and not yet had a reply, you can find out why here. And here's detailed info on their requirements for the annual.

I have a story in the current issue of Swedish magazine Allas – and it's nicely purple!

Other news

In May I'm presenting a workshop titled Creating and Developing Fiction Writing Ideas. It will be on Zoom, so you can take part from anywhere.

If you'd like to keep up to date with my latest book releases and news, get a free short story and be in with the chance of getting review copies of my audio books, you might like to sign up to my newsletter. I also have a website.

Sunday, 4 April 2021

Publishing with Amazon

There are pros and cons to publishing with Amazon, but if you've definitely decided you want to self publish your book and have it publicly on sale, I think it's the easiest and most effective place to start.

Some of the advantages are –

You don't need to qualify or be accepted, and there's very little waiting time. It's entirely possible for you to start the process now and have a complete stranger reading your book the following week.

There are no up front publishing costs. Amazon take their cut of each sale before passing the remainder on to you.

You are entirely in control of all decisions such as book content, editing, cover design, title, pricing etc etc. 

The process isn't particularly difficult – and there are lots of online resources showing you exactly what to do.

The author is free to choose their own editor, proofreader, formatter, cover designer etc etc, or opt to do some or all of these things themselves.

Any royalties due are paid monthly (a couple of months in arrears) and you can check frequently to see

what you've earned.

You can see your sales figures promptly and as frequently as you wish.

You may publish an ebook (kindle) version, a paperback, or both.

Copyright remains with you.

If you wish to make a change to the book (because you've become aware of a typo for example) you can do so quickly, easily and at no cost.

You can buy 'author copies' at a cheaper rate to sell in person.

Amazon are probably the largest book retailer, so you have the potential to reach a huge worldwide audience.

Some of the disadvantages are –

There is almost no quality control. You may get alerted to some typos or the fact that you've spelled your own name incorrectly on the cover, but most errors will go through unchecked. If you accidentally upload only the first seven chapters not the whole book, that's what will be published. If you upload a story with huge plot holes or grammar so bad it's almost unreadable, that's what will be published.

You will be completely on your own. Unless you pay for help or can get support from a writing group or knowledgeable friends you will have to make every decision yourself and undertake every part of the process yourself. This includes marketing. You may have had adverts from Amazon suggesting you buy a particular book – they usually only do this for books which are already selling well, or if people have chosen to 'follow' you. They won't do that until they've heard of you.

Bookshops very rarely buy from Amazon. That's because they'd have to pay the full cover price and therefore can't make any money. (Some will buy from you directly, if you ask nicely, are a local author and a regular customer.)

Libraries very rarely buy from Amazon. It's easier and cheaper for them (and bookshops) to buy through book distributers – and these companies will be able to supply all the best selling and most frequently requested books.

If you decide to go ahead, here's a quick checklist of what to do...

1. Write a book.

Rewrite it, edit it, get feedback, rewrite it, edit it etc etc until it's as good as you can possibly make it. A professional editor, and / or experienced and reliable beta readers are advised.

Get the book proofread. I strongly advise NOT doing this yourself.

Buy or create a cover image. That's just a front cover for ebooks. With paperbacks you can create the front back and spine and upload as one pdf, or just upload the front cover image and use Amazon's cover creator to sort out the rest.

2. Choose whether the book will be ebook or paperback and format accordingly. If both you will need two files as ebooks don't have page numbers and headers and footers. Amazon provide templates you can use which will take care of things such as the correct page size and margins. Ebooks can be uploaded as a Word doc. For paperbacks you'll need to convert it into a pdf – you can usually do that easily using 'save as' or by selecting the pdf icon in your toolbar.

3. Create an Amazon author account. They might want to check you're really you, and you might have to complete tax forms. You'll need to give your bank details so they can pay you. This can take a while, so maybe do that in advance. You won't be committed to publishing with them if you change your mind.

4. Follow the step by step instructions for uploading your book. You can either use their free ISBN or provide your own. You'll be asked for a description – that's your blurb or sales pitch. Keywords are the words people might type in when searching for books like yours. Categories are the genre (or genres) which best describe your book.

5. Once the text and cover are uploaded you can preview the book online. I strongly recommend you do that carefully, even if you intend to buy physical proofs as it will be quicker to make changes at this stage and spotting mistakes now will save you money on further proof copies after you've made corrections.

You will then have the option to buy one or more physical proofs before you publish the book. Although that will cause a delay it's probably a good idea to see what your finished book looks like before you put it on sale.

6. Next you say where you want the book to be on sale, how much you want to charge and what percentage of royalties you want. There will be a price range to select from and there's an option to get a suggested price guide.

For ebooks you can choose 'KDP select enrolment'. If you do that, readers who subscribe to kindle unlimited can 'borrow' your book and you'll receive a small payment for each page they read. You can only do this if your ebook is available exclusively with Amazon. You enrol for three months at a time, with the option to automatically renew. You can take your book out and publish it other places later if you wish.

7. Press the button to publish your book.

8. Sit back and wait for the money to roll in – or do some marketing to give yourself a chance of that happening.

In case you're wondering ... All my books are available through Amazon. Some of my novels are also published through Ingram Spark (all my new books will be published with them and my entire back list will be added over time). My ebooks are currently available exclusively through Amazon and are enrolled in KDP select (meaning that if you subscribe to kindle unlimited, or sign up for a free trial, you can read them for free.)

If you have any questions feel free to ask. I can't guarantee I'll be able to give a sensible answer, but it's possible!

If you found this post useful or interesting please say so in the comments, as that will encourage me to make further posts on things such as publishing with Ingram Spark, book marketing, creating audio books ...

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

It's an age thing

Free entry writing competition news

Writers aged under 21 may be interested in this competition. There are cash prizes for the authors, plus book tokens for their school to be won.

It was my birthday yesterday (these gorgeous flowers are from Gary) and I'm not 21 anymore. (Not that I was at the start of the week!) Do you know any writers that young? I don't think I do.

I may have mentioned this crime writing competition before. My memory isn't great. It never was, and I don't suppose it's going to get better. Still, it looks like a great opportunity so it won't hurt to have a reminder.

I definitely have mentioned this sci-fi and fantasy writing contest before. The closing date is today – but don't worry I've not lost the plot and you've not lost your chance of winning the £1,000 prize as another one starts tomorrow. In fact there's a new one every quarter.

Good things often come in threes. which is why I try to include links to at least three free to enter writing competitions each week – and why there were three different types of chocolate chunk in my birthday cake!

You may remember that I was a finalist in a short story

competition run by Nottingham Writer's Studio last year. I've already had the cash prize, my paperback copy is on the way and the ebook is available here. I love the striking cover image and the way it references several of the stories – mine included, I think.

Womag news

Thanks to Carrie Hewlett for the following ...

"Just to let you and other members of your blog know, I'd been having trouble putting in the ISSN number for the PF Special on ALCS. Got fed up today so rang them and spoke to a lovely, helpful girl, who told me they use the same number for the specials.
It's called A People's Friend (not the!) for some reason and number for the special is 14790467
I tried it whilst the girl was on the phone and it went through a treat."

My news

Several years ago I won a novel writing competition and Escape To The Country was published (on my birthday) as a result.

Unfortunately the publisher didn't last long, but I got my rights back and re-published it. It's available as an ebook and paperback – and I've just got the cover for the audio version which will be released later this year.

If you've read the book, is this how you imagined Leah, Tarragon (the dog) Rosemary (the cow) and Aunt Jayne's home of Primrose Cottage?

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Publishing terms continued

More explanations of publishing terms. (Part 1 is here.) Once the list is reasonably comprehensive I'll find a way to put it together and/or make it easier to refer to. See here for the first part of the list. Please add any you can think of in the comments – both those you know the meaning of and those you don't! 

Cliff hanger A chapter or serial instalment ending intended to make the reader keen to continue reading, for example having your hero hanging onto the edge of a cliff by his fingernails. 

Do NOT have a cliffhanger at the end of a book, even if it's a series, unless you want your reader to feel cheated. I warn you now, if you do it in a book I read I'll give it a one star review and say it's not finished and whinge about it every time your name is mentioned.

Elevator pitch A short description or sales pitch for your book to be used in advertising and to deliver

to an editor or agent should you ever share a lift with one.

Filler A very short article or story used in a magazine or newspaper. Examples are news snippets, letters to the editor and useful tips. Writing these can be an excellent way to get used to submitting work and earn a little money.

Freebie A free book (usually an ebook such as this one) or anything else offered for free to potential readers in the hope of getting them interested in your writing. Some authors give away bookmarks, or offer prizes connected with their book as freebies.

Exclusive Having your work available through only one publisher. This may be temporary.

It's common for magazines (those which don't take all rights) to have the story on an exclusive basis for a period during which the author can't submit or publish it elsewhere. 

In order to offer books through Amazon's kindle unlimited service the ebook must be published exclusively through them.

Fair use In some cases, such as reviews or quotes, small sections of copyrighted material may be used without gaining prior permission. This does NOT apply to all written work.

Genre Classification in which a book or story falls. Eg romance, science-fiction, historical

Ghostwriter Someone who writes a book or article which is published under another person's name.

This might be because the person has enough knowledge, experience or fame to interest a reader but not the skill, desire or time to write. The ghostwriter is generally paid a flat fee, but might earn a royalty share.

Hook An aspect of the writing which sets it apart from other similar work and draws in the reader.