Those wine merchants

One of the best things about writing historical novels is deciding the location of things. Which police station for the inspector? where should he and his wife live? where did the murder take place?

The joy of this is in the tangle of old maps and sources to be sought out and studied. Sure, a street in London may look like this now, but what about then? You can’t set something on Shaftesbury Avenue when the street didn’t exist in 1860.

[My first mystery, Murder at Old St. Thomas’s, was actually based on a question involving location. Old St. Thomas’s hospital had existed quite nicely in Southwark, not far from London Bridge, for many years. Then it was forced to move because of the railway, and spent 9 years at Surrey Gardens before a new hospital was built on the Embankment, where it now stands. What dislocations and confusions would that cause? Traditional histories skipped right over the Surrey Garden period, and I was curious.]

So now I’m working on the fourth book, a prequel. I needed Sergeant Slaughter and his wife Ellie to reside in the City, because doing so was required for everyone working on the City of London police force. I read about the City then, and I “walked around” in Google street view, because I like to use buildings that still exist when possible (one of the joys of abandoning the medieval era for the Victorian). Much of the area is banks and businesses, but I needed a home, and one you could have for a sergeant’s pay. I liked the look of Philpot Lane, then I found this entryway:

It leads to Brabant Court, so I looked it up to make sure it was still named that. Then I found several current ads for flats on Brabant Court and Philpot Lane. I read that one building had recently been converted into flats as “its original use” after the private 18th century home had been divided up. A good place, then. I had read somewhere else that there there had been a wine merchant there. So I started writing a scene where the sergeant’s wife is sick of the smell of sour wine drifting into their lodgings. Then later I wrote a scene where she is out of kindling, and goes downstairs to borrow some straw, figuring straw would have been used in crates for wine bottles. So I needed the name of a wine merchant.

And the London Directory (thanks, Google Books!) helped me out. Now of course I couldn’t find one for 1860 (whatever year you really need, you won’t find it) but I could find the 1852 and the 1862 versions. I began with 1862. Google wouldn’t let me download it (oh I do miss Google Books Downloader) but I could search, so I put in “Brabant”:

Hard to read, I know, but in 1862 we have a Frederick John Duckworth and Co., wine merchants in Brabant Court. Were they there back in 1852 also? I searched for Brabant Court and read each listing, and found not one, but quite a few wine merchants (and a solicitor, and a tea merchant).  And yes, he’s one:

He’s moved from #2 to #3 but it’s the same one. So I can be pretty sure that if Ellie goes downstairs, it can be to Mr. Duckworth’s business. Plus I can have the solicitor and tea merchant there as well. And at best guess there were at least three wine merchants in the court, so yes, it would smell like musty wine.

Murder at Old St. Thomas’s is published!

My first Victorian mystery, Murder at Old St. Thomas’s, is now available at a number of shops, with more purchase options to come!

THE BODY WAS SEATED IN THE OPERATING THEATRE

In 1862 London, the body of a famous surgeon is found, sitting upright, in an old operating theatre. His dead eyes stare at the table at the center of the room, where patients had screamed and cried as medical students looked on.

The bookish Inspector Slaughter must discover the killer with the help of his American sergeant Mark Honeycutt and clues from Nightingale nurses, surgeon’s dressers, devious apothecaries, and even stage actors.
Victorian Southwark becomes the theatre for revealing secrets of the past in a world where anesthesia is new, working-class audiences enjoy Shakespeare, and women reformers solve society’s problems.

Murder at Old St. Thomas’s is a traditional historical mystery, meant to be read in front of a fire, real or electric, with a cup of cocoa. The story unfolds evenly, without jump scenes or shockers, and there is no graphic violence.

Real historical figures guest star throughout the book, bringing Victorian London to life. A book for lovers of Agatha Christie and Anne Perry.

Murder at Old St. Thomas’s
Novel, 240 pages
Historical Mystery / Historical Fiction
ISBN: 979-8-9853027-2-1 (print)
ISBN: 979-8-9853027-3-8 (e-book)
Library of Congress Control Number: 2022901917

Paperback ($11.99/£ 8.99/€10.99):

E-book: $7.99/£ 5.99/€ 6.99

 

A thumb-print among wagtails

I confess I am struggling to write my current mystery, and when this happens I sometimes allow myself to disappear down rabbit holes of historical research, following a trail.

Deciding that my victim was to be poisoned instead of garroted (which would have been unlikely for the accused to have achieved), I began researching poisons. Arsenic would be the obvious choice, but I was tired of arsenic: in 1860 it was in everything from wallpaper to rat poison, and there had been an accidental case of poisoning in commercial candy in Bradford two years before. The more I read about it, the more I realized it was appropriate for a slow poisoning, given in small doses over time to look like a natural illness. I needed a quick death. So, cyanide. It turns out many people cannot detect the trademark “burnt almond” smell, and it was quick and easy to obtain as “prussic acid”.

A bottle lying around the victim’s flat? Perhaps. If so, finger-prints would be nice. But everyone knows 1860 is too early for that; it wasn’t until 1887 that finger-prints were part of police methods. As a historian, however, I’m aware that things are often known earlier than we suspect. So what was the state of forensic science in 1860? Wikipedia mentioned that Sir William Herschel was doing it in 1858:

I followed that footnote and sure enough, I found The Origin of Finger-printing by Sir William Herschel, explaining how he knew that finger-printing ideas were much older, and that there had been isolated cases of a handprint or even a tooth being used to verify identity.

Sir Francis Galton, however, has pointed out that in our own times the engraver Bewick had a fancy for engraving his thumb-mark, with his name attached, as vignettes, or as colophones, in books which he published. As a boy I had loved Bewick on Birds: I regret that it is not now to be found in our library. Galton’s remark has reminded me that I used to see a thumb-mark there, as well as I recollect, in an ornamental title-page.

So naturally I had to find Bewick on Birds, in my library of the web. They had a copy of A History of British Birds (1832) at Google Books and I looked through the first few pages, but no luck. Certainly it wasn’t on any title page. So I image searched for “Bewick Bird thumb-print” and found two images. The Cleveland Art Museum said it was on page 180, so I went to look at a prettier version, at the Wellcome Collection, an 1847 edition. Not in the title pages nor on page 180, so I began scrolling through every single page.

Bird after bird scrolled by. Each bird had his/her portrait at the top of a section, then at the bottom of each section was some other illustration: a house in the snow, a team of oxen ploughing. Some of these images were rather strange, like one man carrying another, or a funnel in a bottle. But on a page about the Wagtail, which had no bird image at all, it was at the bottom:

A lovely thumb-print which, I must assume, was Thomas Bewick’s.  (I have a bit of a soft spot for Bewick anyway, not because I know his bird books but because I’m very fond of the Bewick’s wren. One nested on a counter outside my kitchen, and I accidentally flooded her out watering a plant, and since then I watch for them and am more careful, understanding that they nest a few feet from the ground and sing the most lovely song.)

Obviously Sir William’s memory was a bit off as to the thumb-print’s location, but there it is.

So now I have every intention of working Herschel and Bewick and finger-prints somehow into my mystery. When writing fiction, research rabbit holes are rarely traversed in vain.

Now, about that prussic acid . . .

When Medium isn’t the message

Somehow I missed this new policy sent out to writers on Medium last August, and I am slated to be removed from their Partner Program because I do not have 100 followers.

When I joined Medium and began writing there, I was charmed by the idea of a site supporting writers through micropayments. A bunch of people read my post, I get a few pennies. Obviously it wasn’t something I was doing for money. And I posted about both history and online teaching, as I do, and even contributed to a magazine there about history. Several of my posts, mostly the ones to do with online teaching, got a significant number of views, but I have only a handful of “followers”.

I’m miffed, for several reasons. The first is that I thought micropayments for authors were the point, and obviously they don’t care if you’re not allowed to earn any without 100 followers. The second is that they couched this as being better for authors. And the third is that it conflates the writer with the writing.

Since I posted articles in different topics, it’s unlikely anyone would follow me. Instead, they might want to follow the topics they’re interested in (online teaching or history) which, on Medium, they do. The fact that my work may have brought people to subscribe to these topics is in no way accounted for.

Instead it has to be a personality cult, the following of one author. The fact that this is more important than what the author is writing seems indicative of the celebrity bent of the larger culture, where “influencers” have “followers” and the content is irrelevant. My content is relevant.

Last, I am in the process of publishing a book where my bio notes that I have posted on Medium. I am now sorry to have advertised the platform. Perhaps I shall post this there.

The “M” word

That would be marketing. Now that I am independently publishing my books (Murder at Old St. Thomas’s is due out March 6), it is time to look at how to get them noticed.

Let me say first that I am a terrible customer. I do not respond well to marketing. When I want to buy something, I go find it. I do not enjoy the feeling that I am being manipulated. I use an ad blocker on my browser and the mute button on my remote. I find advertising interesting as a sociological demonstration of society’s concerns, but the last vendor I’d consider for anything is someone whose ad I’ve seen. I figure their company is spending too much on advertising to have a good product.

But now I have something to sell. This brings up ethical and personal considerations for me that many authors just don’t bother with.

The prejudice against independently published books

Everyone agrees that marketing books is amazingly difficult. With a traditional publisher, one would think it might be easier, but even there today’s authors are expected to market themselves. In fact, the only advantage to a traditional publisher seems to be the name recognition, and possibly getting ones books in bookstores.

Independently published books are of highly varying quality. So, in fact, are traditionally published books, but somehow no one blames the publisher for that. But it means that self-published books get a bad rap. Sometimes this is totally valid: I am reading a mystery right now that has so many errors it should never have been printed. But I’ve also just finished several that were wonderful, and better than some of the traditionally published books I’ve recently purchased.

Doing it on one’s own, all sorts of advice is available, and I’ve spent some time learning. Here are some recommended ways to market my books, and why I’m struggling with them.

Make it free

It is advised that if one is writing a series, one should make the first book free. Prices are already ridiculously low (99 cents for an e-book), and few authors talk about how this devalues books. My first book is literary fiction. It does not deserve to be in a 99 cent junk pile with a “non-fiction” book on how to talk to your cat.

It is also recommended that if one is publishing an e-book, it’s a good idea to enroll in Kindle Unlimited. KU, as it’s called, is a subscription service. Customers pay a monthly fee and get to read all the KU books they want. The author is paid in tiny percentages based on how many pages are tracked as being read. Trouble is, enrolling as an author means a contract where you cannot sell your e-book anywhere else, for 90 days at a time. Plus, it’s Amazon, who ran out all the other bookstores in the universe. So there’s an ethical problem here.

Take returns and give a 55% discount

Photo by Ashley Byrd on Unsplash

To get your books in physical bookstores, you must agree to accept returns. This means that if a bookstore orders, say, 20 of your books, and sells one and that’s it, they return 19 to your printer. The printer refunds the bookstore’s money, and you have to pay for these books. That can be incredibly expensive, and it seems to happen quite a bit. It’s kind of ok not to make money because one’s books don’t sell, but to owe money is a different story.

When you decide your price, you decide what discount bookstores will get when buying your book. This discount is set for all the print versions, not just those going to physical bookstores. If you choose less than 55%, bookstores won’t carry it. So your profit from a $10 book is $4.50 minus the amount it costs to print it (in my case, $4.44). The minimum at Ingram is 30% even if you don’t care about bookstores.

Sell them yourself

The alternative to bookstores and aggregators and Amazon is to sell the books yourself, ordering boxes of them and keeping them in your garage, mailing them out. Then you have to charge/pay postage, package and mail your orders, take returns (or not). This is a job in itself.

And, if you’re going to sell them, you need a seller’s license in most cities, so that’s a thing. Plus you must charge and keep track of sales tax.

Publish it at Amazon

I actually took this advice, to a point. I am publishing the e-books at an aggregator, Draft2Digital, but without allowing them to distribute to Amazon. Then I am publishing the e-book separately with Amazon for them to sell.

Amazon also offers publication of paperback, and now hardback, versions. When I chose to publish with IngramSpark instead, Amazon started screwing around with my book, first posting it, then a day later fobbing it off to BookDepository with a huge markup, then another third-party vendor with an even bigger markup. No matter what their price, I get the same amount. Amazon clearly makes it difficult, deliberately, for you to sell any book versions not published through them.

Get reviews

The only way anyone will notice your book is if it has reviews. The only way to get reviews is if you are already noticed.

Money, of course, gets around this conundrum. You can buy reviews. The most respected reviewer is Kirkus, where the price starts at $425. For those with less cash, you can use a site like Book Siren, where an account costs $10 and each copy of your book downloaded by a potential reviewer is $2.

Note the word “potential”. It is illegal/ill-advised/crass to pay directly for a review, because it’s assumed the review wouldn’t be honest. Book review sites get around this by not promising a review. So you offer free books to a certain number of people, hoping for a review. A rate of 60% is considered damn good.

What you really want is a review by Someone Who Matters, so you can quote it. People do this even on the cover, which I think is really tacky. To get a review by Someone Who Matters, you need to kiss up to them in groups of mutual interest (see “Join a community” below), or write and beg.

Win a prize

There are zillions of writing and book contests out there. Big organizations, like Mystery Writers of America, hold their own. Many do not accept independently published books; only major publishers can enter works. Some that are more inviting charge money to enter the contest, and may create the contest to collect entry fees, some of which are given as a prize. Others don’t charge to enter, but you have to buy the product if you win. I published a story in  a collection for one of these contests, and had to then purchase the collection to see my work in print.

Have a website

This was the easiest thing for me to do, so I did. It’s here. I’m not sure anyone knows it’s there. But it’s supposed to be connected to . . .

Start a mail list and newsletter

This is touted as the absolute “must have” for authors, especially independently published authors. You dangle something out there, like a short story, as a prize to get people to sign up for your email list. Then you send out a newsletter occasionally, but you wouldn’t want to be crass and just advertize your next book, so you need to have content. This content might be fun things about yourself, or your writing, or your dog.

I looked into this. I got a free account at MailerLite. I set it all up, and put the code on my new website. Then I read in one of the communities I joined (see below) that there is this interesting law called CAN-SPAM, and that you must have a lot of provisions to get around it legally. I don’t like getting around legal things, especially those that are protecting me from spam. I don’t want to receive email advertising. Why would I be ok with producing it?

Then there’s the content. The idea is to get known, to connect with readers. As I’ve mentioned before, this is not a good use of my time. I want readers to connect with my work, not with me. I hate to be all Hemingway about this, but it’s one thing to market my books, and another to market myself. I’m actually a very private person. I am on all the social media outlets and hardly ever post about my family or my personal life. My work is out there, not my self.

Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash

Buy ads

There is some disagreement as to whether Facebook ads or Amazon ads are more effective — some swear by one, some by the other. They don’t cost much to run a few ads over a week or so, but cost much more to actually have them work. And we’re talking those horrid little square ads that pop up everywhere, the ones I complain about, and skip or block with my ad blocker. Again, subjecting others to something I won’t allow myself to be subjected to seems unethical.

Go social

I’ve been advised to post on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. Post what, I ask? About yourself, what you’re writing, what you’re working on. Who cares, I ask myself. Then I look and see that what people are posting is just their book, an image or video (some professionally produced) to get people to buy their book. Could I do that? Yes, I could. Would it sell books? Well, I have “friends” lists in the mere dozens, so not likely. I will consider focusing on hashtags of people who buy books, but I have noticed that most of those are just filled with authors trying to sell books.

Do Book Tours

A book tour online is apparently posting about your book on a “book blog”, a blog run by someone who reads and reviews books. I went looking, and most of these are authors themselves. You can hire a company that does book tours, and they slate a blog post spot on some book blogs for a period of time. Apparently people go to those blogs to look for books to read. You can pay to just have posts, or schedule interviews, guest posts, that sort of thing. The more you pay, the more you get.

Join a community

I have joined several online communities related to writing, but I only belong to two or three having to do with history. The ones related to writing are very useful for learning about the process, and there are a couple of groups where I really enjoy the people. But the people are all authors, trying to sell their books and help each other sell theirs. So you don’t meet readers that way, but rather get the kind of advice I’m listing here.

Join groups about your era of history, they say. Well, there’s nothing that annoys me more than someone joining a history group to advertise their book. So should I do that?

But here’s the kicker

I’m a voracious reader of books. I decide what I am going to read based on books I already have (I liked the book, or used the bibliography), recommendations by friends, and the London Review of Books. I have never bought a book because it’s free, on Amazon, gotten reviews at places like Kirkus, or won a prize (well, once, and I regretted it). Nor have I bought one because of an author’s mail list or newsletter (I didn’t even know there were such things), social media profile, ads, book tours (didn’t know about those either), or belonging to a common community or organization. Never.

Now some would say, I am not a typical book buyer. That is true. But I am the sort of book buyer that I would like to buy my book. I honestly don’t think that a person who relies on a relationship with me as an author, or wants my newsletter, or responds to advertizing is the type of person who would enjoy my work. I realized this sounds like not wanting to be in a club that would have me for a member. So I’ll just have to think about it some more.

The WTF of publishing a book

Yesterday, January 5, was the release date for my first novel, Before the Time Machine.

It had been available for pre-order for a week or two, and during that time had taken its place on several vendor websites, including A-zon, at my suggested price of $9.99 for the paperback.

I got up in the morning and the price had been changed to $12.59, and the main page for the book had that price with the book sold by Book Depository rather than A-zon directly. An hour later, the price was over $16 with the same vendor. In order to get to the $9.99 price, you had to click the tiny “2 New from $9.99”, which popped up a window with A-zon itself selling the book.

I was irate, and posted in an author group for help. I was led to an article from 2017 about how upset publishers and authors were that Amazon allowed third-party vendors to purchase the “buy button” page. When I wondered why they would let another company usurp their sales, I was told that Book Depository is owned by A-zon anyway.

Now my paperback is printed by Ingram, so no matter what price a retailer sets I get $3.07 per sale. My profit doesn’t change regardless of the retail price. So Book Depository, if they sold anything at that absurd price, would make a clear profit of at least $13 for doing nothing but being the vendor ordering from Ingram.

But it gets weirder. Today, A-zon is no longer listed at all as a vendor for the book, and there is no $9.99 option. The paperback looks unavailable on the main page, and is only listed at $18.70 (!) with one vendor: a “californiabooks” with a residential address in San Francisco. If she sells any, that will be $15 profit for reselling my work.

I knew this wasn’t going to be fair, and I’ve read plenty of horror stories about the way booksellers mess with prices, and how the author can do nothing about the price of her book. I know that Ingram doesn’t allow the author to choose vendors. And I deliberately chose to publish with Ingram and vend at A-zon rather than have A-zon do the print publishing, and perhaps I am being punished for that (the listing for the Kindle version is okie dokie and at the original price). But I did not expect A-zon to refuse to sell my paperback all together, foisting it off onto a reseller who will sell nothing at their inflated price.

My whole intention was to get the book out there for people to enjoy, and like it or not, most people shop at A-zon and anyone who wants to buy my book will likely look there despite the fact that Barnes & Noble, Blackwell’s, and Bookshop.org (support your local bookshop!) are carrying it at the right price.

All I can say at this point is that this is disheartening in a whole twisty way compared to the disheartening experience I was prepared for.

Printed! (or the ridiculous importance of scene separators)


I finally submitted the final (!) draft of my novella, Before the Time Machine, to IngramSpark for paperback printing and distribution, and Draft2Digital and Amazon KDP for e-book.

The process was interesting, and I need to learn it since I’ll be repeating it.

The companies

IngramSpark allowed me to upload drafts and check them until I was satisfied. Formatting the interior was easiest in Pages, with an export to Word and then PDF, and now I know it needs to go through Adobe Acrobat to save it again as PDF-X. I went through two dozen versions at least, in all three formats.

Draft2Digital wouldn’t allow my scene dividers to be font text, so I had to create images for scene dividers in Word to make them look like I wanted. I also had to use their title page to make things look right, and even then there were things I could do nothing about. Regardless of theme, if I had a non-indented date to start the scene (June 1883) then the next line indented no matter what.

Amazon was easier to use to upload the e-book, but I already had the Word copy from preparing for D2D so that part was fast. Again, they allowed multiple uploads until I uploaded the version that looked best in the Preview.

E-books: must we?

I’m doing it, but an e-book is still a mystery to me — it seems like the TV movie or Napster version of a novel. Although it is my creation, I cannot determine the font, layout, or size of text. That’s up to the reader instead of me. My e-book will have sans serif font, which is inappropriate for my story though I know it’s better to read on a backlit device. The “book” exists in ones and zeros, not the printed page. It’s more like a website than a book.

But, says fans of e-readers, I can have 1,000 books to carry with me! I have trouble imagining the circumstances where that would be important. I’m an inveterate reader of several books at the same time, but surely for a few hours I can read just one book? or if it’s a whole plane flight, perhaps two? Is my attention span so short that I would jump around different books as one would change channels on the television? How would I follow a sustained narrative? And I’d miss the sensual experience of book reading — the feel and smell and sound. All books would feel and smell and sound the same, impoverishing the experience.

Workflow

The workflow going forward will likely be:

  • Write in Scrivener
  • Export to Pages to do draft formatting
  • Export from Pages to Word for IngramSpark, then save as PDF, then use Adobe to make it PDF-X and don’t worry about my publisher logo being too big when it isn’t
  • Adjust Word file for e-book if necessary and save with different name
  • Upload to D2D and Amazon

Formatting

For interior formatting, both Vellum and Atticus made blocks of text look lovely but didn’t have fine enough control over themes or scene separators. Atticus was better than Vellum because you could customize themes and upload your own images, but I could just add them in Pages or Word and have more control over size and placement, so I couldn’t justify using it.  I returned both products for a refund within the 30 days.

I realize most people don’t care about scene separators (also called flourishes or dividers), but I do. My book is dual timeline, part modern and part Victorian era, so I wanted a suitable font for the text (Garamond), and suitable dividers. The few Victorian-ish ones I liked were too fancy, though they might be suitable for the Victorian mysteries.

I had used a special font originally, then later took a screenshot of it and edited the image out of sheer frustration at not finding anything as good:

I will say it felt like 1998 all over again to be spending the day searching the web for free clip-art.

A learning curve

I underwent unnecessary stress because people kept telling me the book’s interior had to be final draft, fully ready, so I got the impression I couldn’t make changes. But all three systems let me upload as many times as I wanted so long as I didn’t click “approve” or “submit”, all allowed me to save my place on the pages of form fields so I could come back, and all had some form of preview so I could see if things looked right.

My publication date is 5 January 2022, to allow time for fixes, which means the books are in “pre-order” status. After I approved at IngramSpark (~$3/book royalty on $9.99 price), Amazon had the paperback book up within hours on its websites, with the cover appearing the next day. Barnes & Noble was close behind. But that’s been all so far, 48 hours later. Supposedly, it will appear at Apple Books and Kobo, as well as others, but it hasn’t yet. I may have to do Google Books separately.

For the e-book submitted to Draft 2 Digital (60% royalty on $5.99), nothing has come up yet at a retailer after several hours. For the e-book submitted to Amazon (35-70% royalty on $5.99) it came up almost immediately, but the two versions of the book are on different pages and will have to be connected, or they may connect themselves within a few days.

None of the services were very good at letting the author know what happens in the process, how it happens, and how long it takes. You literally have to learn by doing, which in this case means doing the web forms and uploads. I had to ask at the Alliance of Independent Authors Facebook group for guidance and reassurance, and I may have to ask again if the book doesn’t show up everywhere it’s supposed to.

 

A better workhouse (or the joys of doing a prequel)

You know you’re in sympathy with your protagonist when you need to put him in a workhouse, and the one to hand has horrible conditions and you want to move the whole plot to a borough with a better workhouse so he’ll be more comfortable.

I’m researching my fourth mystery, which is a prequel to the first one. It’s 1860. I’ve already set up that the character spent time as a boy in a workhouse, and that he was allowed to work in a gasworks, where the murder occurs. I’ve also set up that the policeman on the case is a Detective Sergeant who’ll make Inspector by the end of the book. So it all becomes about location: the Detective Sergeant’s station house, the boy’s workhouse, and the gasworks all need to be in proximity to each other.

Because the boy’s father is in Queen’s Bench Prison for debt, I initially looked at Southwark, and was able to find the Phoenix Gasworks on the river and St. Saviour’s workhouse less than a mile away. The Division M station, hard upon the prison, was a wonderfully rowdy place where the young constables living there raised a ruckus and were often told to pipe down by the police court next door, and likely frequented the brothel on the other side.

But that puts me in Southwark, where my first mystery is already set, and half the fun for me is exploring new parts of Victorian London in each book. And in 1860 most (possibly all) detectives were run out of Scotland Yard, north of the river in Westminster, so likely detective sergeants were too, although the whole detective division had actually begun in Bow Street, near Covent Garden. I just got some books on police history, so I’ll have an idea soon how it was set up.

As it happens, my first book puts the inspector’s old home in Covent Garden (it’s not published yet — I can change it). Covent Garden would be a new area for me, but the workhouse near there is St Martin’s in the Fields, which was so horrible that the Lancet ran articles about it and it was shut down a few years later. Children died there of preventable diseases because of the filth. I can’t put the boy there, can I? Especially once I found out that in Kensington there was actually a good workhouse, with a school and medical facilities . . .

Let’s just say it’s very strange when you start worrying this way about a character.

 

 

 

Learning curve: I never thought I’d . . .

As I stay up late nights trying to format my first novel for self-publication (Scrivener-Word-Pages-eek), I have begun a list of things it never occurred to me I would ever do. For example, I can’t believe that I:

1. spent 30+ hours going through every interior formatting program I could find, on and off-line, only to finally decide that I would

2. select a program based on how the scene separators and fonts look, then

3. spend $250 on Vellum, a formatting program that still won’t do everything I want, and

4. be so picky about how the e-book looks that I’d even bother, and then

5. replace my carefully chosen scene separators by hand, not once but three times, for each of 76 separators, then

6. actually consider selling my e-book on Amazon, and worse

7. consider letting Amazon print my book even though I’d already uploaded to Ingram to get away from Amazon (you can do both), then

8. make a bunch of accounts at Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, etc. with an idea that I’d upload my e-book to each of these even though I will also use Draft-2-Digital, an aggregator that publishes to all of these, and

9. worry about how my website and images of the book appear, even though my website will likely have few visitors, and

10. finally upload a file for the paperback to Ingram, five minutes before I receive my Library of Congress number (which should be in the book).

No one told me this would be easy, but really, I had no idea.

My wildly inefficient workflow

So I start in Scrivener, which I love for its instant outline format, and write a book. I think that is the hard part. It isn’t.

My Scrivener is a mess, with pages of notes. Plus all the research is saved on my hard drive, except when it isn’t and is saved in Shaarli (social bookmarking) using excellent cross-referencing (“mystery2”, “Wells”).

Already inefficient, I can’t figure out the complexities of Scrivener’s export, which they don’t even call export but rather “compile”. It is so complicated I can’t even get the size I want, or figure out how to fix things it won’t do.

So I save it as .docx and open Word. Then I edit it myself, twice, saving each version with a slightly different name. I have to print it out to do this cuz I’m old. Then I send the third (fourth? fifth?) draft to an editor, who sends me back an edited version (commented in Word) and a clean version.

I load the edited version into Word and try to click on Accept or Reject for each edit, but some really need to be batched somehow (because I want to change all of x back to y) and there isn’t a way to do that. So I do each change one at a time, then realize Word hasn’t really gotten rid of those edit boxes — they are still in the document, just hidden. Little artifacts pepper my document. So I open the clean version and try to change back everything I want changed back.

And while doing that, I see some things I want changed, so I change them. Then I think I don’t like a couple of the scenes, so I rewrite them. Then print again for another self-edit, and by this time I am getting a little lost. I am distant now from my research and my original book in Scrivener. As George Carlin said in A Place for My Stuff, supply lines are getting longer and harder to maintain.

So I decide to focus on the publishing for a bit. I want to publish the e-book in one place and the paperback in another, and I don’t want either of them to be Amazon cuz, you know, Amazon. Lots of research later, I decide (though not absolutely) on IngramSpark for paperback and Draft2Digital for e-book, plus more places later if I need to.

I am done with changes (I hope), so I need to format it for upload at Ingram, and I want to do the final proof in the final format. Book size! How to decide? I would love to go small, but then it wouldn’t look like books look now, so I go looking at my own books, measuring for size. Ingram has a list of sizes, so I pick one I like. Well, sort of like. I don’t realize till later that cream pages (as opposed to white) only come in certain sizes.

I can’t make Word look good with the size I’ve chosen, and the kerning (letter spacing) doesn’t look right — it looks amateurish, like I’m doing a newsletter. So I look into formatting programs, and Vellum is $249 and only has eight formats, although it’s so easy to use I am momentarily enchanted. I surf around and some people use Pages. I’m on a Mac, so I import the Word file into Pages.

Take a break to think about the cover. It will be both e-book and paperback, so I need a cover. People design covers in Adobe InDesign, a terrifying graphics program for those of us who live in word-land. I go to Canva and get a free cover, but it is only one image so can only be used for the e-book. To do a paperback cover, I have to go to Ingram, download an InDesign template that’s exactly the size of the book. This means I need the final page count. I can’t do the page count unless it’s formatted already. And it isn’t. Back to Pages.

My scene dividers have been achieved in Word by using a wingding-type font, so Pages doesn’t see them and changes them all to the letter “k”. Find and Replace won’t work because it’s a different font, so I go through them one at a time (there are many) and replace each one myself (having just done the same thing in Vellum). Then I export as PDF.

Only then do I discover, via a Facebook author group, that Macs only export as standard PDF, but Ingram printing requires something called PDF/X, which this isn’t and Mac cannot do. I open programs to try, and finally borrow Acrobat and I think I’ve exported it correctly, so I can print it now for the final proof. And now I have the number of pages, so I can do the cover. Except it’s InDesign. I start scrolling Fiverr for someone to do it for me, and I find a good candidate.

He needs all the information, including the copy for the back cover. Is that the same as a blurb? Yes, I think so. But my blurb is lousy — I used it to try to get an agent and I didn’t get an agent. That’s not why, probably, but it still doesn’t make the book sound exciting. Trouble is, the book isn’t exciting. It’s kind of a quiet little novella about a historian researching H. G. Wells (so the genre is clearly Fantasy, because who would be crazy enough to do that?).

No blurb, no cover. No cover, no book. And that’s where I’m at, starting the final (?) edit. I haven’t written anything in weeks while I’ve been doing this self-publishing stuff by the seat of my pants. It’s getting a little cold in here, and I’ve been in the 21st century too long . . .