Evidence Of Being A Writer - What I Do!

Jumping for joy

I've just had to provide an "evidence of trading activity" report to the Department Of Work And Pensions (for boring reasons I won't go into). Generally the required evidence is geared towards businesses such as shops with weekly accounts; it's very different for a writer because it takes c.12 months to write a novel, then further time for sales to begin, so providing reports over a period of a few weeks may not show lots of units shifted! Still, this request (which feels like "Justify yourself!") is a good way of making me look at my activity recently. What have I done?

Obviously, some writing. Or, in many cases, research and planning preparatory to writing. When I have a pile of notes for a story I have to sort them out before I can start writing: make decisions, and get rid of contradictory ideas written at different times. That way I can be clear about what I need to write to fit into a cohesive whole. So the writing and planning done could be potential evidence.

Because of where I am - still doing publicity for one work while planning the next - it means I've been doing lots of marketing work in order to drum up reviews, sales and interest. This is just a selection of what I've done, in a random order, but it gives you a flavour of this kind of task. Any item in the list will have taken a lot longer to do than to write out as a bullet point!


"Look At The Size Of That Thing!" Book Sizes.

Time to get the tape measure out

What is the ideal print book size? I never used to think about it. At one point in the distant past I probably thought all paperback books were equal. But as an author I do have to think about it now, since so much of the work depends on having a fixed size in mind at the start - cover dimensions, interior templates, image sizes. In the past I used A5 as a print size (or "trim size") for my books. It worked out cheapest when there are lots of pages; the cover ratio work for e-books too, so the same cover image can be used for print, Kindle, Smashwords etc. without redesigning it; and it looked nice when held in my hand. For various reasons I won't go into I'm now going to switch from A5 to another size, and I can tell you - it is a bit of a pain. Once I make this change I want to know that I won't have to do it again for a long, long time.

Once I started looking into this I realised that it's more complicated than I'd expected. I was told "these are the sizes of books" - promptly contradicted by other sources quoting different standard sizes. It didn't help that sometimes dimensions are given in cm, sometimes mm, sometimes inches; sometimes the horizontal dimensions are given first (6" x 9"), sometimes the vertical (210 mm x 148 mm); sometimes names are used instead of dimensions (Demy, A Format, Trade); and dimensions for the "same" sizes vary according to different sources. So much for standardisation.


Secondary Character And Other Stories - Launch

Secondary Character And Other Stories is an anthology of Welsh short-story writers, just published by Opening Chapter.
"The twenty-eight stories collected here offer a wealth of both connection and contrast in plot, theme and style. By its nature the short story is capable of leaping into the reader’s imagination to vivid and startling effect, as demonstrated here; each story in this diverse anthology plays with both the everyday and those profound and life changing emotions of loss, jealousy and regret."
My cheery story Miasma is included so I attended the Cardiff launch and read my work, along with some other lovely writers (Chapter Arts Centre, Saturday September 12th 7.00pm). An uneventful train journey got me to Cardiff, and I used it as an opportunity to work on some other short story ideas for my forthcoming collections.

On Saturday evening it was really sunny and bright as I set off walking to Chapter Arts Centre. A good omen. I chatted with people as the room filled up, then we got started. I was the second reader, which is good from the point of view that you can then relax for the rest of the evening! I said a bit about myself then read Miasma. It is quite a dark piece of fiction, disturbing to some (at the end I should have pointed out I was a cat lover), and it is always interesting to read out something challenging and watch people's faces. I've embedded a video of the reading below, and included captions you can turn on.


Launch Talk


Secondary Character And Other Stories is an anthology of Welsh short-story writers, just published by Opening Chapter. My cheery short story Miasma is included.

I'll be reading at the (free!) Cardiff launch, along with some other lovely writers:

First Space, Chapter Arts Centre, Saturday September 12th, 7pm

See here for further details about the book and the launch events. (Facebook event.) Maybe see you there!

What Do You Call Yours? Book Types And Their Value; Plus DRM

Another interesting and thought-provoking article I read this week: "Why Indie Authors Should Start Talking About Pbooks and Abooks" by Orna Ross (who wrote "A manifesto for self-publishing authors" in The Bookseller yesterday). The central idea is that all book formats are equal - i.e. e-books aren't secondary to print - and therefore it makes sense to categories them equally using the system pbooks = print books, ebooks = electronic books, abooks = audio books.

I have some sympathy for this: I'm a vegan, and categorise all milks with a prefix. Soya milk, oat milk, almond milk, coconut milk, dairy milk. They're all milks and dairy milk isn't the default (despite EU rulings that try to redefine language in order to protect the dairy industry). So I can see why something similar could work for types of book.

I haven't gone that far yet: with book formats I talk about e-books, print books and audio books, but generally see them as equal. I can see why some book champions would want to take it a step further.


How To Support An Author

I read an interesting post on Pamreader yesterday: is supporting an author just about buying books? No, it's not. That's just one of many ways in which we show appreciation to the authors we enjoy.

To add my personal spin: a single sale means very little financially - I would need many thousands to break even on a novel - though the sale means something significant to me emotionally, since someone has been interested enough in my writing to spend money on it. Book sales certainly aren't the whole story though. A single favourable review or comment means loads. My days are always brightened when someone says something nice about my books or writing. At present that’s one of my key rewards: connecting with people. That’s why I happily give away my books (often print copies) because finding readers who enjoy your work is why writers press fingers to keyboards. So thanks to all fans of writers and book bloggers who say nice things and make it all worthwhile. I can’t emphasize how important that is.

I plan to do a blog post about finances in the future - to counteract the view that published books = money rolling in! Since I started writing I'm probably about £20,000 down from if I had just done a normal job, and if you take all my income from writing over the years, and take it away from my expenses (research, cover design, editing services, proof copies etc) then I am probably on -£6,000 or more. Yes, that is a minus symbol! So I'd have to avoid spending a penny and sell over £6,000 books just to break even. Eek! Good job people who appreciate my work and write about it make it all worthwhile. :-)

Backup of the interview from Catherine Hokin's website


Book Metadata, Keywords, Tags - What, Why, How

Adding keywords on Smashwords

Because of my librarian past the word metadata means a lot to me. Basically it is data used to describe things, in order to make it easier to find the relevant item later. A book's title and author can be stored as metadata. Emails have metadata stored which includes who it was from, and the time of sending.

As well as titles, authors, date of publication etc, which are visible forms of metadata (the back the the title page in a printed book is basically just a long list of metadata!), there are also keyword descriptions which are used to help people find relevant books in search engines (including on-site engines such as the one that searches Amazon). Suppose a book is called "Rog Bottle". The title gives very little away. But the metadata about the book (book description, genre/category, and keywords) would give a lot of information. When someone searches for the kind of book they are interested in, the search engine will look at all this metadata and find things that seem relevant. So metadata is important for making a book discoverable.


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