Not long ago I celebrated 100,000 views of my blog. Back then the most visits I'd ever had in a month was 5,490, but with an average of 2,500. Since then things have moved up a gear: this month I had over 10,500 views! In just a short period the number of people regularly visiting my blog has doubled. 2016 is my best year yet, and with the recent releases of Harvest Festival and They Move Below, things are looking even better. Thanks for visiting!


Name That Unexpected Horror Tale

The wisdom of the crowds is needed. Because I'm stuck. This is personal rather than writing-related, though it ties in to my life-long love of horror.


I recently watched my way through every episode of Tales Of The Unexpected. 112 episodes, originally shown on UK TV between 1979 and 1988. I'd seen some of them when I was a kid, and remembered a few vividly, such as the one where a man develops a machine to listen to plants (The Sound Machine [#41]) - then realises they are screaming when the lawn is cut, or a tree cut down. Most of the tales were dark, involving murder, and some of them were very dark e.g. The Flypaper [#26], about a girl trying to evade a suspected child-killer - I can't imagine that being filmed nowadays. Occasionally there would be a funny tale instead, such as Wink Three Times [#108] where a mixup leads two hotel guests to have sex with each other, both believing the other to be the prostitute they'd requested. Three key features define Tales Of The Unexpected for me.
  • Early episodes were introduced by Roald Dahl in full raconteur mode, sat by a fireplace telling anecdotes. I aspire to that persona.
  • Each episode ended with a twist of some kind. (For a modernised version of this, watch the 20 Seconds To Live series).
  • The unforgettable opening title and tune, involving various vaguely-horror elements and a dancing woman silhouette that scared me as a child.
There was a particular episode I was excited about seeing again. Every time another year went by and the pile of finished DVDs grew, I assumed the episode must be in the remaining and rapidly-diminishing pile.
I eventually reached the final episode, full of excitement. It must be this one!

It wasn't.


This is where people of the world come in. Who can help me find out what programme I am thinking of, in the vague hopes that I can watch it again?

The Programme - A Mad Scientist Story

I'll give you as many details as I can. First is what I remember of the plot. Take each detail with a pinch of salt as to how well I remember it.

Three characters: a husband, wife, and some kind of mad scientist (a bit of a Peter Cushing type). Somehow the scientist captured the man and woman and kept them in a high-tech prison that had invisible, electrified walls. He was going to observe them. Towards the end the couple overpowered or tricked him and escaped, leaving him dead. They rushed back to their home. But as they closed the front door there was a click, and invisible forcefield beams blocked every window and door - they were trapped. The scientist must have set this up, perhaps intending to let them go home so he could observe them in a new location. However, because he was now dead, they would be trapped in the house until they died. End of programme.

It was a UK TV drama. It was most likely shown between 1978 and 1985, but there is a spread of possibility on each side. It could have been a repeat. If I had to take a best guess, I'd say 1979 while I lived at Cinnamon Brow.

I suspect some kind of series where each episode was a standalone story. There were many series like that, e.g. Play For Today (which ran 1970-1984, but I read every episode synopsis and don't think it was this); Screen Two (1985-1994); Play For Tomorrow (1982 – but again, none of those synopses fit); ITV Playhouse (1967 to 1983). I can't rule out the possibility of it actually being a story within some sort of portmanteau film.

I presume it was shown in the evening, some time between 7pm and 10pm. I think it lasted 30-60 minutes.

So, do any of you remember that story? Do you know what the programme was? I would love to see it again and find out the intricacies of the story and compare it to my memory of the time. Of course, even if we identify it, there might be no way to see it. The annoyance of copyright law is that things like programmes and computer games can disappear forever: we're not allowed to keep and share copies, then time moves on, companies change, technologies change, buyouts, collapses, and so on. Suddenly old computer games and TV programmes are not available anywhere, lost forever, culture fading away like the library of Alexandria. We can no longer watch old drama such as this or this.

... And The Woodsy Demon

While I'm thinking about half-remembered stories that had an effect on me, there is another that stuck in my mind. I'd also love to track this down and watch it again, to see if it was as effective as I remember. Being able to compare memories and reality in some areas can help to recalibrate  memory in others.

The story seemed to be a person wandering alone through some thick woodland. It was a sunny day but everything was filtered to bright greens by the foliage. The character may have been a hunter, or someone lost. Set in the UK. It was tense as they wandered through the thick woods, claustrophobic, and they soon began to feel that they were being followed. All shadows and hints and rustling branches whenever they turned round, but nothing concrete. Then near the end the camera panned behind them to show the horror that had tracked the character, just for a second - not human, but a hooded being with a wide mouth and big teeth. In my mind it was detailed and realistic, but maybe it really looked like a bad rubber mask ...

The reason it stands out in my mind is because my mother had a friend round and they were chatting away while I lay on the floor watching the programme, wide-eyed and tense. At the point when the stalking monster was revealed I started screaming in horrified shock, which terrified my mother and the visitor who had no idea what was going on, leading to spilt drinks and me being told off and sent to bed. I wasn’t allowed to watch the very end so don't know if anything else occurred after the monster's appearance, and I also wasn't allowed to watch future episodes of the programme.

The episode I watched was the first from a new series of specifically creepy/supernatural dramas, where each episode would be a different, standalone story. I don’t know how many were made – I saw the first episode, and the trailer for the second, but there may have only been two episodes ... or twenty. I was living in Winwick so would estimate the new series was shown between 1980 and 1987, maybe on Channel 4. The programme was shown during the evening, so some time between 7pm and 10pm. Based on the minimal plot I'd guess at a 30 minute episode.

In case it helps in identifying the series, I remember the trailer for the second episode was quite different. Lots of camera shots of a baby's pram, which looked abandoned on a flat grassy area – maybe mist, maybe a moor, maybe a cliff. I think it hinted that it was a ghost story, perhaps a ghost wanted to push the pram off a cliff, or the pram/baby was possessed.

Will I ever find out? Can you help identify either of these programmes?

Fingers crossed!


We have answer #1! Thanks to the lovely people who shared the query on Twitter I had many people point out that the answer was The Silent Scream, 1980, from a Hammer House of Horror series. It fits: I used to watch the Hammer House of Horror double bill every Friday with the babysitter. Best bit of the week. I ordered the DVD so I can watch all those episodes, it's very exciting.

No idea on prog #2 yet. :-(
I had a suggestion of Thriller but I think that was too early (pre-1980). Still, the series sounds good, I have bought a copy to watch.
The other suggestion was: "I *think* the second one might have been an episode of the appalling Worlds Beyond." However, although I can't find a proper synopsis of it, none of the episode names rings a bell. Also their IMDB cast lists look too long - BUT it could be. I'll try and find a video. Or someone who has watched the series and can answer for sure!


I Am Not A Number

Except I kind of am a number, in that my work gets rated and the scores aggregated on sites like Goodreads. And I'm pretty pleased at how well received my work has been considering I am at the early stages of my writing career. And so: many thanks to all the readers and fans who took the time to leave a good review or rating. It all helps to establish my work, and one day to maybe earn an income from writing! I couldn't do it without you.


Harvest Festival Updates

Harvest Festival has a new cover!
Harvest Festival is going to be available in print as well as e-book!
Harvest Festival has another great review, this time on ByTheLetterBookReviews!
On top of all that, Harvest Festival will be getting an audio-book version! I auditioned for a producer/narrator for both Harvest Festival and They Move Below. I was lucky in finding the ideal person, approving the auditions, and signing the contract within a couple of days. Also lucky that both the narrator and myself are excited about the project, even though I was incredibly evil and included off-key singing as part of her audition.
Exciting times, my little pumpkin heads, exciting times. Keep watching the skies.


A World Of Writers And Readers: Understanding Modern Publishing

Good books - that is what it's all about

Some people might see this as a contentious post but I intend it to be entirely positive, informative, and forward-looking. Just like me! Along the way we'll establish some truths, define some terms, discard some myths, and look at the current publishing landscape.

It Is A Great Time To Be A Reader
Traditional publishers can only publish a limited number of books. They usually have to schedule them well in advance. They can't publish all the good books that get submitted. In particular they are unlikely to publish a book which may be good, but which only has a very limited audience. In the past this often meant good books were never published. This is just a truth of the market. They need to make money to keep going, though sometimes a more popular book will be used to subsidise a less popular one. Now the market for books is so huge, and access to that market so open, that even niche books can be made available. Sometimes this is done by traditional publishers, maybe through electronic-only imprints: a financially-viable option they didn't have in the past. Sometimes the book is made available by the author themselves. This is great in terms of catering to all readers. It also means it is a great time to be a writer.

Defining Some Terms
  • Traditional publisher: a service provider to which an author assigns rights to publish their book. The publisher takes over many of the tasks to get the book to market; in exchange they profit from every copy sold, and pass on a percentage of that profit to the author as royalties. Called "traditional" because for a long time this was the main route from author to reader.
  • Royalties: this is the percentage of the profit from each book sold that goes to the author. Publishers are often secretive about the figures, but I think 10-25% of net revenues is usual (10% is often the figure for print sales, or even less) in traditional publishing. Total royalties are generally dropping.
  • Advance: a figure that may be paid to an author by a traditional publisher in advance of publication as a lump sum. It is not a "bonus" - it is the only money the author will get until the royalties surpass this figure and they start receiving royalty payments. Many books never "earn out" the advance.
  • Self-published book: any book published by the author, with or without help. As with everything, there is a range of quality, from the unedited teenage fanfic to the professionally edited and designed book that sells a million copies. So in itself this term is nothing to do with quality, it is just about process. Self-publishing is not new. Amongst many other famous names, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, and Virginia Woolf self-published books. Nowadays independent authors get around 70% in royalties per copy sold.
What Are The Publishing Options For Professional Writers Today?
You can go with a traditional publisher; you can self-publish; or a combination of the two.

The hybrid approach is increasingly common. Some books go from one system to another. For example the bestselling hits The Martian (Andy Weir), and Wool (Hugh Howey), began life as books published by the authors; the books were such huge successes that traditional publishers then came begging for the rights to distribute them too. It can go the other way: one of my friends is a very well-respected traditionally-published author of many great books. Some of them are now out of print and the rights have reverted to her. The titles were doing nothing - unavailable to readers and providing no income. She decided to create digital files of the texts, get them edited, design new covers, and publish them again herself. I gave her advice on all those steps. She then has some books with traditional publishers, some which she is publishing herself. The end result is a win-win situation for everyone. The key point is that you adopt the route to market that is best for the project and your own skillset.
"In 2008, for the first time in history, more books were self-published than those published traditionally. In 2009, 76% of all books released were self-published, while publishing houses reduced the number of books they produced." [Source]
Doesn't Self-published Mean Low-quality?
I've already mentioned some books which disprove this prejudice, but it's worth spending a bit more time on it.

In an open system, anyone can contribute. Some contributions will inevitably be poor quality. Others will be fantastic quality. There will always be a range, from amateur to professional. This is not a bad thing. It is fantastic that my gran can write a memoir and make it available in print for friends and family. Yes, it may have a scrappy cover, and contain some mistakes - but she is not aiming at bestseller lists. More power to her, and everyone that creates. This is the case in every artistic sphere, not just writing.
  • Anyone can paint and try to sell their work. Some of what people paint is probably amateur and unsellable (please don't ask me to post my "Still Life 1996" watercolour), but it's still wonderful that people try to be creative. Galleries just focus on the quality, professional stuff.
  • Anyone can play music, write songs, and try to sell it. Some of what people create is probably amateur, unsellable, but it's praise-worthy that people try to be creative (you should hear me mis-playing the guitar - but the key point is, I'm having fun and smiling). Music shops just focus on the quality, professional stuff.
  • Thanks to easy-to-use software, anyone can make a computer game nowadays. Some of what people create is probably amateur and unsellable, but can be distributed for free to people who might enjoy it. Game vendors like GOG just focus on the quality, professional stuff.
Writing is no different.

Who decides what is the best, anyway? That doesn't change. It is always a combination of the critics, and the audience. They don't always agree, but they are the ones that we go to. Returning to my examples, it is the same with music: critics and music fans help us decide what is good, not the big music companies (big music companies only decide who to sign - often based on commercial decisions rather than quality, which is why so much chart music sounds the same). When it comes to books, the critics speak through reviews in newspapers and journals; the audience through reviews on blogs, Goodreads and Amazon.

When I talk about self-published books I am talking about the quality end of the spectrum. I often use the term "independent author-publisher" to mean a professional writer who strives to make a living from writing, who self-publishes their books, who aims at excellence at every stage, creating books to the highest standards (to the extent that standards can exist in subjective topics like art and creativity). In many ways, for this kind of writer, it is a misnomer to call their work "self-published", because that implies they did it all on their own. That is incorrect. Professional author-publishers usually manage a team - saying the work is self-published takes away acknowledgement of all the people who contribute to a book. I'll clarify this in the next section. Basically independent authors are owners and founders of a small business, who have committed to it because of their passion. That's a good thing.

So for the rest of this post, when I talk about self-publishing I am not concerned with amateur work, only with the best: quality books by professionals. The best in this realm matches the best quality of traditional publishing, and can exceed it (after all, traditional publishers have been known to publish things of debatable quality because they know they will make money from it, such as ghost-written celebrity memoirs; generally if something sold well in the past, we will see more of it in the future!).

The Process Of Getting A Book To Market
I feel cheap starting here - it skips past the years of thinking, researching, plotting, agonising, rewriting and so on that every quality author goes through in creating their work. I'm pretending the book pops into existence, all shiny on the writer's desk, a gift from the magic book fairies with a tidy satin bow around it. Anyway, let's look at what happens to a book from the point where a decision to publish has been made. This applies both to traditionally-published books, and professional self-published books.
  • Editing, looking at the whole book and story process (often called substantive/literary/developmental editing) 
  • Beta readers/feedback from fans (possibly an additional layer of feedback mainly used in self-publishing)
  • Copy editor checks for errors, and to improve the writing
  • Cover designer creates outside of book
  • Interior designer works on the inside
  • Proof reader checks for final errors 
  • Book formatting/digital conversion 
  • Distribution
  • Marketing/PR - sending out review copies, social media and so on
As you can see, this involves a lot of people, and a lot of skills. Quality publishing is not free. Or cheap, even: for my books I usually spend over £1,000 per title for all the services; this article gives other figures. All the stages cost money, and one way or the other, the author pays for it. Building on what I've already said, there are two main ways to pay.
  1. A publisher acts as a third party intermediary, and subcontracts all these services, or does them in-house. In exchange they get a slice of the profit from every copy sold (which is what they're gambling on - they are investing in a title in the hopes of it being a success). So the author pays the publisher via some of the profit from each copy sold.
  2. The author finds professionals to subcontract and pays upfront for all those services; in exchange for spending time and money on the processes the author then keeps all rights and royalties.
As you can see, the author always pays, with the only difference being whether they pay upfront with an initial outlay (self-publishing), or later, via reduced profits per copy sold (traditional publishing).

Money isn't the only issue. All these tasks can be complex and time-consuming. Many authors do not want to engage with them, and are only too happy to go with the convenience of traditional publishing, and let the publisher deal with it all. They don't mind not having the final say in the cover or book title or edits: they just want to get on with writing. It's a perfectly valid attitude, and is why traditional publishing is the best fit for some authors. On the other hand, some authors want to deal with all this and be hands-on. They want to control the creative vision from start to end - the book title, the marketing, cover and so on. For them, professional self-publishing is the best way. They don't do all the tasks themselves but they choose who to hire, and what brief to give them; they manage the process.

I reiterate: in neither case (traditional or self-publishing) does a professional author do it all on their own. The work is done by a team.

As such, one route to market is not better than another. One does not guarantee quality; one does not automatically offer the best option for an author. They are both viable options, depending on the project, the market, the skills and motivation of the author and their team.

Prize And Prejudice
"The best book award schemes, however, perform three important tasks:
• recognise and validate excellence;
• bring good books within a defined field to readers interested in that area;
• help talented writers build careers that enable them to write more."

[Source: Opening Up To Indie Authors by the Alliance of Independent Authors, p91]
If a competition is to be legitimate it should find the best. Otherwise it is doing a disservice to everyone. To find the best it has to include all the possibilities.

This week the Wales Book Of The Year competition announced its shortlist of quality books written by Welsh authors or published in Wales. Unfortunately ...
"Regarding eligibility, the competition specifically excludes self-published authors. The Welsh national book award therefore differs from Ireland’s national book award, since the latter does not preclude self-published titles from being nominated." [Source]
 Yes, eligibility criteria 6 of the Welsh award says books must be:
"6. Be published by an established publishing house, which is here defined as a house that publishes a list of titles by a range of authors and distributes its books through recognised booksellers. Self-published books are not eligible." [Source]
So the smallprint of Wales Book Of The Year excludes quality books by many Welsh authors from consideration. Based on the figures earlier, that means up to 75% of books will not even be considered. Which wouldn't be so bad if the prize was called The Traditionally-Published Wales Book Of The Year competition - at least that would be honest and technically correct.

It seems unfair to exclude books based on who funds their publishing process, not on the basis of their quality. Further, Wales Book Of The Year is supported by public money. That money is to support the arts and writing in Wales: not just traditionally-published writing.

The competition is currently misleading because it reinforces the mistaken idea that the only good books are those that are traditionally published "because self-published books never win prizes, never win Wales Book Of The Year" etc. A self-fulfilling prophecy is established, when in reality self-published books can't win because they are excluded from some competitions, either through explicit criteria slipped into smallprint of entry, as here; or through a huge fee to enter or get on to a shortlist.

If a competition excludes certain books then how can we ever know the winners really were the best when the field was artificially shrunk? To be valid, a competition must leave submissions open to all. In return it enhances the credibility of the prize, which benefits everyone.

Wales is different. Maybe that is due to its small size. It's one of the reasons so many creative-types here know each other and are counted as friends. But the smallness also makes the boundaries between different publishing systems even more blurred than usual. One of our top authors, Jo Mazelis, said:
"To be published in Wales is a very particular sort of thing, seemingly just one step removed from being published by a vanity press." [Source]
So it is even stranger that such a prejudice creeps into the smallprint of our biggest national writing prize.

Literature Wales even admit that self-publishing does not mean low quality. 
"Poet Charles Boyle won the Society of Authors’ McKitterick Prize in 2008 for a self-published novel, 24 for 3. The novel had previously been rejected by an agent and several publishers. It is now republished by Bloomsbury. The fact is that agents and publishers are not always right." [Source]
This example is interesting - he's praised, his work is great, yet Literature Wales would have excluded his work from their poetry category!

I should add here that I'm not bashing Literature Wales. I'm involved with the organisation in many ways. I consider us to have a great relationship. Literature Wales showed faith in my writing and awarded me a small bursary many years ago, for which I am grateful - their support gave me confidence that I had some talent. I've used their critiquing services, which were excellent - I still have the reports because of the pithy advice they contained. I am on their Writers of Wales database. I have been on writing courses at their excellent Tŷ Newydd centre a number of times, written about it, and promoted the courses at the request of Literature Wales staff. I'm sure I'll go again in the future. I've made many contacts with other writers through Literature Wales. Ask me about them and I'm full of positive stuff! It's just this one issue I don't understand, which seems so contrary to their general openness.

Honoured to be among my friends

So it is strange that Literature Wales has refused to answer questions about why they exclude self-published books (as has their funders, the Arts Council For Wales, who just said "Ask Literature Wales"). I count among my friends many people in the Welsh literary scene - writers, editors, award-winners, publishers and libraries - all of them work incredibly hard to promote literature: yet none of them knew why Literature Wales inserted this strange clause either. It's a Celtic mystery. Maybe it is a prejudicial overhang from the past, lurking on as a form of embedded discrimination. Some organisations take time to change. Gladstone's Library is another example: Gladstone was a liberal who believed in removing barriers, yet those who run the library's Writers In Residence scheme include smallprint saying "We do not accept self-published authors of any kind" (presumably also excluding my successful author friend who is both traditionally-published and self-published). Gladstone must be turning in his grave...

Maybe this will change. My friends in Literature Wales do seem to have more forward-looking views than maybe the organisation had in the past. Perhaps there's hope to remove that criteria and make it more open, for example changing it to include only print books with an ISBN, or print books that have a copy in the National Library of Wales. In those cases at least all published books by Welsh authors would have a chance of being eligible, whether self-published or traditionally-published.
"Ireland’s premier national book award [...] does not preclude self-published titles from being nominated, requiring only that a title should be written by an Irish author, published within the year of the awards, and in print and available through Irish book wholesalers. Titles are nominated and voted on equally by a panel of book industry experts and public online voting." [Source: Opening Up To Indie Authors by the Alliance of Independent Authors, p94]
Other prizes are more open. Recently the new Arnold Bennett Prize was established - open to all authors. Times are a-changin'.

The Wales Book of the Year Award criteria should only be quality; not the number of pages, not the colour of the cover, and not the publisher.

Funding Should Support Writers
In Wales there is currently an independent review of the Welsh Government’s support for publishing and literature in Wales [source]. I've been liaising with the staff who are running the review about the terms of reference, the constitution of the panel of members, which stakeholders they will speak to, whether the review will address independent author-publishers, and issues to do with funding. The culture is slowly catching up to the connected and empowering world we live in, where there are more options than ever before. Let's hope they recognise this in their findings.

And So, I Reach The End
Books appear in different ways. As everything else has opened up, so has publishing.

The key factor isn’t how a book is published. It is how good the book is. That is the only thing that should concern readers. That is the only thing that should concern writers. That is the only thing that should concern awards.

Forget the past: let's look forward to a future, in a changing landscape where there are many opportunities for everyone. It's an exciting time. Let's all move forward and embrace it.

Note: Also see  


Harvest Festival Teaser

Woken in the night by terrifying visitors. Welcome to the Harvest Festival.

Dash The Rules - Dashes, En-rules, Em-rules; When And How To Use Them

This will be my last post for a while on issues to do with book formatting, layout, and style, but it seemed remiss of me not to write about another source of confusion. Dashes!

  • can be used (alone or in pairs) to emphasise information. That could be to indicate sarcasm, act as an aside, create humour, give an additional piece of information, or a single dash can be used for drama – like this!
  • can replace "to", as in Open Monday–Thursday 10.00–12.15; they can also be used between words of equal importance, such as patient–doctor confidentiality.
  • can show that the end of a sentence that has been broken off by an interruption, or re-started following one.
There are two main widths:
  • en-rules (en dashes), the width of a letter "n" –
    [a shortcut to get one in Word is to press CTRL + the keypad "minus" key]
  • em-rules (em dashes), which are wider, like the width of a letter "m" —
     PS these are the keyboard shortcuts in Windows:
    [a shortcut to get one in Word is to press CTRL + Alt + the keypad "minus" key]
Em-rules tend to be used in the US; en-rules in the UK. I favour using one or the other, and it doesn't matter which, but I dislike styles that use both. Dashes shouldn't be overused in prose, but can be useful in capturing the nuances of speech. Sometimes a semicolon is better than a single dash.

If you think of ellipses as a gentle pause or trail off, a dash is a more active break in the flow, or represents text being cut off. So a dash is a more aggressive form of an ellipsis.

I'm based in the UK so use the UK standard form of a space on each side of the en-rule except when it comes up against other punctuation (e.g. quotation marks, question mark).
  • She ran – well, more of a drunken hobble – but the pram rolled faster.
  • “When will we –” he began, before being beheaded.
They can be used to show we are carrying on where we left off after an interruption, too.
  • “I would like to –”
  • “You never listen to me!” Bertie yelled.
  • “– propose that we split up.” She folded her arms and, with satisfaction, watched Bertie's mouth fall slack.
However, there is a tricky case which is rarely mentioned in articles about dashes in the UK. What if we have a partial, interrupted, word? Is that different from between-word interruptions? For this reason some people suggest that, even though the spaced en-dash is standard in British writing, they would use an em-dash with no space for interruptions of that kind. So possibilities could be:
  • “I will but Karl's bo –” (spaced en-rule)
  • “I will but Karl's bo–” (unspaced en-rule)
  • “I will but Karl's bo—” (unspaced em-rule)
I referred to Hart’s Rules, and Butcher’s Copy-Editing for Editors, Authors, Publishers. As expected, they offer conflicting advice. Hart's Rules agrees with the suggestion above; it doesn't give examples of en-rules for abrupt sentence breaks, but it does for the em-rule:
  • "An em-rule closed up can be used in written dialogue to indicate an interruption, much like an ellipsis indicates trailing off:
  • "Does the moon actually—?"
  • "They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist—"
However, Butcher's says:
  • "An en-rule with a space before it can be used to indicate that a speech breaks off abruptly"
    (it does not include that as a function of em-rules).
In the end I decided to use spaced en-rules, but miss out the space that comes before it if the interrupted word hasn't been finished.
  • “I will pay to –”
  • and
  • “It’s okay, the machine’s turned off, I won’t get electrocu–” Buzz etc.
To my mind that distinction makes it clear when a word is finished, so there’s no need for the reader to ponder if “to” was the start of another word (totally, tomorrow, too) or not.

"Intelligent" Line Breaks In Word

Lastly, a problem with dashes: if you use Microsoft Word then you may run into the issue that if you use a spaced en-rule (or even an unspaced em-rule) Word may still use it as a breaking point and puts the speech marks (or other punctuation) on the next line on their own, as here:

What a mess. It's because, although Word allows a non-breaking hyphen, it does not have a non-breaking en-rule or em-rule. Therefore you can't tell Word not to break the line at that point. If you encounter this problem then here are three possible solutions - let me know if any of them work for you. You could:
  • Select the line of text. In the Font box, click the Advanced tab. Set the Condensed spacing to be 0.1 pt (or 0.1"). It will act like kerning to shrink enough space out of the line to fix the problem while still being readable. To use that setting repeatedly, you could create a custom "Condensed" character style.
  • Try a hard space ("a space that thinks it is a letter"): Ctrl + Shift + Spacebar
  • Make a non-breaking hyphen by holding down CTRL/Shift/Dash. Highlight it. In the Font dialogue click the little arrow on the bottom right. Make sure you are on the Advanced tab. Click 200%. Italicize it.
That's all for now. Here are some other recent posts I wrote on similar topics:

Images In Books - Quality Versus Compression

I'll continue with this short series of posts about creating books. Yesterday I looked at running heads. Today I'll delve into the world of using images in books. This follows a recent question I was asked by another author about the best way to work with illustrations, so is a truncated form of the advice I gave to her.

If you are going to include images in a book then you always start off with the best quality images you can. High resolution, usually at 300 DPI (or, more accurately, 300 PPI). This also means they will be larger files, taking up more disk space. You can downgrade images (shrink them, or lower their quality) later if required; but if you start with a low-quality image you can never put extra detail back in. So start with the best.

That will be great for print, where you need high quality and the file sizes don't really matter. However, you probably need to lower the quality and compress the images for e-books. My print version of They Move Below is around 70mb with a few illustrations; for the e-book I compressed it to 7mb by dropping images to 220dpi and it still looked good. Since Amazon charge for e-book distribution based on file size, if I'd left it at 70mb I'd probably have had to pay THEM for every Kindle copy sold!

"How many illustrations are okay for an e-book? At what size?"

It depends on a lot of factors. For example, a small line drawing with no shading will be smaller (more compressible due to lots of areas of the same colour) than an image where every pixel is different from the next (e.g. a very busy photo). The image size in pixels, the format (png, jpg etc), the level of compression and so on are all relevant.

I always start with the print book and include images at maximum quality, such as uncompressed png files. (NB, if using Word, you have to turn off automatic compression in the advanced settings - see the screenshot halfway down this post). When the book is finished I save that print version, then copy it multiple times, adding the suffixes 96, 150, 220, and default. For the ones with numbers I open the file, right click on an image, choose compress, set the DPI at the appropriate number, tick to apply it to all images, then save the file. Do it on each version. You then have a file with the image DPI listed, and can compare the file size and quality for each, and decide which one to use as the basis for your e-book. You want to trade off a teeny bit of quality (ideally hardly noticeable to the naked eye) for a big filesize saving.

This is an example I did recently. As you can see, compressing to 220 DPI made a massive difference to filesize. Since the quality was good and further savings negligible, I used that as the basis for my e-book version.

This was how I set it up to compare the quality of each version. (This image is now compressed so is just to give you an idea of how to compare - when you do it live on your screen you can then make an informed judgement.) 220DPI was almost as good as the original. 96DPI was quite blurry. I should add that this isn't an illustrated book, but in a short story about social media I felt that I needed fake chat and fake Windows error messages as images to look more real.

The ideal is to minimise work in these processes. It's why I write fiction in a specially-formatted document and use styles to control everything; it is already set up for correct formatting, such as new chapters beginning on odd-numbered pages, numbering beginning on the first page of the novel (not the frontmatter), new chapters and sections having a no-indent paragraph as the first one and so on. I end up with a master doc that can then be copied so I have a print and e-book version, and each only needs a few tweaks. Software strips out the page numbers, running heads etc when converting to epub, so I don't need to do anything with that; for the print I already have the running heads, high DPI images and so on. The main tweaks with print are to add any extra fonts and spacing.

The other principal use of images is on the cover. Print covers in particular are a challenge, since the number of pages in each book varies, which alters spine width: and that is the central part of the output PDF so is hardest to fiddle with. It helps to record all the steps you take and make sure elements are replicated consistently (e.g. the font types and sizes, colophon and ISBN placement). This week I finished a print cover which wraps around, but also has a front that can be saved as a separate file for the e-book. Again it is an efficient way to do things.


Running Heads

You can tell I've switched from writing mode to editing-and-book-production mode recently, due to my posts on analysis tools for writers, use of ellipses, tables of contents, and drop caps. Even though my work is now done and I'm waiting for printed proof copies in the post**, there are a few more issues to do with book design I'd like to share.

Today: running heads. These are the headings at the top of the page in many books which act as reminders as to what book (or section of a book) you are reading, and maybe who wrote it. Not all books have running heads - some readers and authors see them as fussy, distracting or pointless. Running heads are more common in non-fiction, but aren't exclusive to it.

You only have two running heads - even and odd pages - but there are potentially three different things they might display:
  • author name (either for the whole book, or the individual chapter/short story);
  • book title;
  • chapter/short story title.
Note that you don't have a running head on the first page of a new chapter.

It's interesting to flick through books on your shelves and realise how much variety there is, which books include them and which don't, and how they are formatted. Go and do it! Now! Revel in the feel of the pages, the smell of paper, and the presence or absence of squiggles at the top of each page!

(Time passes.)

Are you back? What did you find? I found that generally:
  1. If the running heads show the author and book title, the author goes on the left of the spread (even-numbered pages); the book title on the right (odd-numbered pages). This is most common in US fiction.
  2. If the running heads show the book title and the chapter title, the book title goes on the left of the spread (even-numbered pages); the chapter title on the right (odd-numbered pages). So the book title switches sides from the first example, in an annoying lack of consistency.
  3. There is no standard as to whether running headers should be all caps or title case; italics or not; the same on facing pages or different; or some combination of those. I saw every permutation, the most distracting of which used two styles just for the author's name (lower case italics for their first name, and caps non-italic for their surname). Madness!
Okay, so how does this affect my own books? I see no point in running heads that list the author and book title alone. The reader knows those things, sees them on the cover every time they pick the book up, and repeating them on every page looks like nagging self-aggrandisement. However, suppose it is a short story collection: it can be handy to double-check the name of the story without having to flick back to the start, or the table of contents. The same applies if the chapters have individual names (as opposed to "Chapter 1", "Chapter 2"). So far all my books have chapter names relevant to the content (or short story names, in the case of They Move Below), so I decided to show book title and chapter/story title. If I ever write a book without chapter titles I'll probably drop the running heads completely for that novel. I will have the book title on the left (in caps), and the short story/chapter title on the right (title case italics). Of course, I'll need to see how it looks when the proof copies arrive, but it seems fine in the PDF.

I'd be interested in your thoughts on running heads, or what you found when looking at the books on your shelves. Comment away!


** (I said I'm waiting for printed proofs - earlier today a book-sized parcel arrived. I was excited, set up my my camera, and filmed myself opening it so I could share a video of me displaying the first printed copy to the world. I felt like a fool when the parcel was torn apart and turned out to be a boardgame I'd helped fund then forgotten about over a year ago!)

(At least it wasn't something really embarrassing in the parcel, with my mortified face livestreamed and perpetually archived.)


Drop Caps

Recently I had to make a decision as to whether I should include drop caps/initial caps in my books or not. If you want a refresher on drop caps, then have a look at this article, or this one: both are excellent.

Drop caps can make a bold statement.

 Something new is beginning, with a large thump to attract attention

However, although they work well in many cases, they can cause problems in some scenarios. Look at what happens here:

There are a number of problems with that.
  • The drop cap is larger than the title (workaround = make the drop cap smaller or the title bigger).
  • The quotation mark takes up too much space and looks wrong (workaround =get rid of it entirely and put up with the nagging irritation that you have untidy speech that ends in a quotation mark but doesn't begin with one; or use a text box to insert a small quotation mark, though that is fiddly and also looks a bit strange).
  • Because the character A slopes, it is too far from the H on the first line, too near the H on the third (workaround = increase drop cap spacing - but that makes the first H even further away)
  • The second paragraph is indented as it should be, but looks wrong (workaround = don't indent paragraphs for the lines of the drop cap).
An improvement, but still fiddly
(image thanks to an editor I discussed this topic with)

Of course, you could also rewrite the beginning of the text, but it starts to get ridiculous that content has to change to fit the requirements of format, not the other way round.

The final thing that pushed me away from the idea of using drop caps was superfluousness in many cases. They were meant to indicate a new major section (a new chapter). However, we don't need that extra visual indication: usually there is a lot of white space, a chapter name, maybe even a blank page before. So we have lots of indicators that a new chapter has begun. The exception could be a book with no chapter names: drop caps could work then for distinction.

As such I decided not to use drop caps in my printed books. They can look nice but their use is rapidly dropping out of fashion, often for practical reasons such as those above.


UPDATE: I now use small caps in any new section or chapter for the first five words. That way if a new section begins on a new page it is much easier to spot it.

Small caps in action


To TOC Or Not To TOC

Here's one I made earlier

A Table Of Contents (TOC) is standard in non-fiction, but what about fiction? Well, opinions vary.

Let me start by clarifying that I am talking about printed fiction. Generally all e-books have a TOC to make navigation easier, and it is a requirement of publishing on some sites. Amazon KDP says "A working table of contents allows readers to go directly to chapters or sections by clicking links in the table of contents (TOC). This feature is so important to Kindle customers that Amazon requires all Kindle eBooks with chapters or sections to have a working TOC." [Source] Their guidelines also specify that "To avoid interrupting the customer’s reading progress, we recommend placing it at the front of the book."

But for printed fiction a TOC is generally optional, with the exception of a collection of poetry or short stories which would definitely need a TOC.

If the book is made up of chapters that are just numbered sequentially - 1, 2, 3; Chapter One, Chapter Two - then a TOC adds little and is rarely added. One book I saw recently alternated between two chapter titles as the perspective switched, something like The House, followed by On The Island, then the next chapter being The House again - another case where a TOC would look strange.

That leaves a liminal area, such as books with evocative chapter titles that can be enticing, and may benefit from being grouped together at the start of a book. Or if there is a lot of endmatter (book club questions, notes, a section about the author, and so on) then a TOC can help in finding the section you want. Some people say include one in those cases because the reader can ignore the TOC if they want, but it is better to offer the option than take away the reader's choice. Another benefit is that a TOC can be useful and intriguing; sometimes I refer back to them to get an overview of the novel's structure and thereby (sometimes) its meaning; or just to remind me of what happened after a break from reading. On the other hand, since traditional publishing generally doesn't bother with them in a normal printed novel, a ToC can look amateurish and indicate self-published status.

How do you feel about a TOC in printed fiction? Old fashioned, or useful?


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