Sunday, 29 August 2010

You should not have come here, human...

For those of us who are having a puny human day (like a bad hair day, but more all-encompassing).

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Career choices for 19th century women

I was thinking about Emma, and I realized Jane Austen could easily have written the book from Jane Fairfax's point of view. I doubt I'd like it as much, and I think she made the right choice, but it would still have been a good book. We'd get to meet the Dixons, and we'd have less about Mr Woodhouse and Mr Knightley (a pity, as he's my favourite Austen hero). Its theme would have much in common with Jane Eyre. This got me thinking about career choices for educated impoverished women in the 19th century.

If you were working class, the options were greater, if unappealing. You could toil on the land, be a servant, serve behind a bar or work in a brothel. But for genteel young ladies, marriage was the main provider: failing that, they could become governesses or teach. And that was about it. Mary Wollstonecraft tried being a lady's companion, then set up a school. Writing was as uncertain a way of earning a living then as now, and few achieved it.

Being a governess was not generally much fun. Governesses occupied an uneasy position between the gentry and the servants, were paid little and seldom had a change of scene, their happiness completely dependent on the family for whom they worked. One can see why Charlotte in Pride and Prejudice was willing to marry the tiresome and unattractive Mr Collins rather than face such a fate.

Jane Fairfax says, when Mrs Elton misinterprets a comment as a criticism of slavery: "I did not mean, I was not thinking of the slave-trade. Governess-trade, I assure you, was all that I had in view; widely different certainly as to the guilt of those who carry it on; but as to the greater misery of the victims, I do not know where it lies."

I feel sorry for the children, too, taught by such reluctant teachers. Little Adele in Jane Eyre, parentless and needing affection, gets a chilly response from Jane, who clearly has no interest in her pupil and discharges her duties without enthusiasm. I said this to my daughter, who argued that she could tell that Jane would have been good with Adele, even if it was not in the book; look at how she was loved at the school she taught at. "Lowood?" I said, dubiously.

But it turned out she'd got her confused with Esther Summerson in Bleak House.

(The picture is by Rebecca Solomon; compare the daughter of the house in pink, enjoying the attentions of an admirer, and the poor governess drably dressed, her mind not on the child.)

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Typography and the self published novel

I've been preparing Remix for publication as a paperback (with my own micro-press, Hoxton Press) and thought others might be interested in some typography tips I've learned.

I believe the way a book looks matters enormously, and there is more to consider than you'd think. I'm lucky because I enjoy formatting, and have an obsessive and nitpicky nature that enables me to carry on tweaking until, as far as I can see, there's no more to be done.

I'm not going to discuss page numbering, headers and section breaks, though I know a lot of self-publishers have problems with them; I'll cover them in another post if there's any interest in this one.
  • Choose your font carefully; don't just go with Times New Roman. For instance, Minion, Bembo, or Warnock Pro are all recommended by Penguin typographers. I settled on Adobe Caslon, which comes in many weights and has a capital Q to die for. Consider using a different font for chapter headings, numbering and headers.
  • Don't be put off because the font you want is expensive. You can often find free font downloads on the internet. This is a good site here.
  • If preparing your text in Word rather than a specialist program like InDesign, go to Tools, Options, Compatibility, and tick Do full justification like WordPerfect 6.x for Windows. This has a magical effect on the spacing; the text immediately looks better.
  • Adjust the space between the lines till it looks right. Go to Format, Paragraph, line spacing, and choose Exactly from the drop down menu. Select a number of points 3 - 4 greater than the font size. For instance, if you are using 11 point font, try 15 point spacing. Experiment and see which looks best printed out; compare with published books.
  • Aim for around 66 characters on a line, which is said to be the easiest to read. Indents should be no more than three characters.
  • Go to Format, Paragraph, Line and page breaks and turn off Widow and Orphan control. If you leave it on, many of your pages will be shorter, looking messy. (But you will then have to check manually to avoid pages with just one line or word on them.)
  • Hunt for crowded lines of text, or lines with too large gaps between words, and improve them with an optional hyphen where you can. (Press Ctrl and -.) An optional hyphen will disappear if you make changes and the text flows so it is no longer needed.
  • Read the whole text, checking for spacing, particularly around italics. You will often find putting in a judicious extra space makes all the difference.
  • Print it out, and check it again. Make changes, print it a second time and check.
  • You're done.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Reviews and stars

This morning I wrote a five star review of a socket spanner set I bought on Amazon for a bargain £8.07 including delivery. I did it because I was pleased with my purchase, so cheap and so good, and wanted to spread the word.

That's the sort of reaction I'm hoping for my ebook on Smashwords. Good reviews and ratings will make it rise in the chart and increase its visibility, and make it more likely to be considered by people looking for something to read. Of course I want it to be a success.

But the nice thing is, at this stage there isn't much I can do about it. I can jump up and down on forums, squeaking 'Look at my book!' but if people look and don't like it, I can't change their minds. Which is just how it should be. The public always has the last word. And readers don't have to review; it's entirely voluntary. They don't get anything out of it, and have no reason not to be honest. (I haven't noticed other writers touting for a reciprocal review, though I'm too much of a newbie to be certain yet.)

It's great when somebody loves my book, and tells me so. But I am grateful to anyone who takes the time to share their thoughts about my writing. The correct response to any review is thank you. One just has to hope there aren't too many where one is typing thank you sobbing over the keyboard.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Ebooks and pbooks

Love them or hate them, ereaders and ebooks are going to be big.

For £149, readers in the UK can now order a Kindle with Wi-Fi and 3G that is lighter and brighter than earlier more expensive versions. Wherever you are, you will be able to download books; many, including the classics, free of charge.

Readers here, like those in America, will embrace the new technology because it's just so darned handy. I remember sitting in the Fracture Clinic at the Royal London Hospital, envying the American woman next to me who had a whole library in her handbag (and with the waiting times at that clinic, I could have read several entire books during my four visits, the longest of which was nearly six hours).

It's good for writers, too; because while publishers are clinging to the notion that ebooks should cost about the same as a paperback, writers can sneak into the gap in the market, self-publish an ebook on Smashwords and Kindle, charge a minimal amount and make a decent profit.

I've just epublished Remix on Smashwords: it's available in all formats, and for a week, in the hope of drumming up reviews and ratings, I'm offering free downloads. Just go to Smashwords and use this coupon code: QE49G.

I'm covering all bases. A paperback version will be along shortly.