Sunday, 25 November 2012

Why fiction genres are a Bad Thing

Publishers and bookshop owners love genres

It makes their life so much easier, not just to know which shelf to put a book on, but also how to market it. Enjoyed last year's big steampunk hit? Then (handing over shiny new book) you'll love this steampunk novel that's just come out.

Newbie writers are told that to have a hope of securing an agent and a publisher, their novel must fit neatly inside a genre. Some genres, like Young Adult, have very restrictive rules. Apparently, teenagers can only relate to heroes their own age or a little older (luckily no one told me this when I was that age). But the 'rules' change. Sometimes a surprise hit makes publishers accept a new genre. Since Fifty Shades, we all know about Mommy Porn, God help us. Now Thursdays in the Park has sprung back to digital life and topped the charts after a lacklustre print launch a few years ago, we must expect an avalanche of Gran Lit. Because when publishers are not busy curating content, such a vital part of their jobs, they are pouncing on whatever seems likely to be the next big money-spinner.

I got to thinking about this while trying to decide what categories to put Ice Diaries into when loading it to Amazon's KDP.  Two years ago, you were allowed five. Now it's two, and for anyone whose novels cross genres this makes for hard choices. Fiction...that was easy. Now, Action & Adventure, Contemporary Romance, Romantic Suspense, Thrillers, or Science Fiction? Darned if I know. 

I recently started reading Divergent, because the sample looked promising. About 15% into the book it occurred to me, this is Harry Potter meets The Hunger Games, and I bet that's how the book was sold to a publisher, too. This thought was so off-putting I stopped reading.

Rigid genres are a bad thing, as bad as narrowly specifying ages on children's books. Readers don't really care about genres, even if they think they do. What readers want is an absorbing story that will take them away from their lives for a brief spell and preferably leave them with something to think about afterwards. That's all. 

Suppose publishers published only the best books, regardless of all other considerations? They'll never try it, but if they did, it just might be the answer to their current self-inflicted woes.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

How to format ebooks for Kindle KF8

EDIT July 2020: I've just formatted my latest book, The Last Enforcer, for KDP and realized the advice in this post is out of date. Amazon has improved its systems to the point where you can load a Word document and get a perfectly formatted ebook. You still need to check thoroughly on the KDP Previewer and make the odd adjustment, but the process is much quicker and easier than the one below. Hurrah!

When I realized Ice Diaries' formatting was not changing size/fonts correctly on the Paperwhite Kindle, I did some research and reformatted all my books using Kia Zi Shiru's method you can find here. It worked for me. I'm writing my own version hoping it may help other indie writers. Be warned, this is an exacting fiddly process that took me a day the first time - the second was quicker. If you want to see what the end product looks like by this method, download Ice Diaries' sample, or better still buy it :o)

IMPORTANT NOTE: to demonstrate without fusing Blogger, I have changed pointy brackets for square, i. e. < for [, and > for ]. If you are going to format my way, I'd advise pasting this post into Word and changing the brackets so you can copy and paste the codes into your HTML document. Print it, and you can cross off each stage as you go.
  • Make a new copy of your book in Word and call it 'TITLE for formatting'. Make sure the chapter headings are consistent, and the text is single-spaced. Remove any extraneous spaces at the ends of paragraphs by selecting the whole text, centre justify the selection and then left justify the selection. All the extra spaces will disappear. Do a Search and Replace replacing two spaces with one. Mark each pagebreak PB on its own line. 
  • To format italics, go to Search and Replace. Leave the search box blank, but in the Find/Replace dialogue box, under the Replace box, is a More button. Click it, then click Format at the bottom of the box. From the list that pops up select Font, and from that dialogue box, under Font Style, select Italic. In the replace box put:
    [I]^&[/I] (remember to change the brackets)
    Click Replace All.
  • Download Libre Office and Notepad++  which are free.
  • Copy your Word document into Notepad++ in order to strip the formatting.
  • Copy the text from Notepad++, open a new document in Libre Office and paste it in. Libre Office is good because unlike Word, it produces nice clean HTML. Close the Notepad++ file without saving, as you have finished with it now.
  • Change the character set that LibreOffice uses for HTML, under Tools, Options, Load/Save, HTML compatibility. In the lower right there is Character set with a drop down menu next to it. Change this to Western Europe (ASCII/US).
  • Go to File, Save As and save as TITLE html, as an HTML Document (Writer) (.html) from the drop down menu. When asked if you are sure, you are.
  • At this stage, your whole text should show as Default in the top left box. If it doesn't, Select All and change it to Default.
  • Go through the text making changes. Select the chapter headings and change them to Heading 1 in the box in the top left corner which otherwise says Default. I use H1 for the title on the title page, too. Don't bother centring at this point.
  • Select each chapter title, if you have them, and change them to Heading 2.
  • I change my name on the title page and Contents to bold.
  • Put in bold and underlined in the text as required.
  • Table of Contents: Amazon requires this at the front of the book. Highlight the heading Chapter 1 at the start of your first chapter, go to Insert and click on Bookmark. Type in Chapter 1 and OK. Do this for all your chapter headings.
  • Go to your Table of Contents list. Click on Chapter 1. Go to Insert, Hyperlink. In the pop-up screen click on Document. Click on the circle with a dot on the second row, which opens a new pop-up. Click the + sign next to Bookmarks, and select Chapter 1. Click Apply, then Apply in the other window. Do this for all your chapters.
  • Select the title CONTENTS and add a bookmark; call it TOC. Bookmark where you want the book to start; call it Start. This is for Kindle navigation.
  • To add links to your website or other books, highlight, click Insert, Hyperlink, and click on Internet. Paste the URL of the site you want the link to go to, and click Apply.
  • Click File, Preview in Web Browser to check your links work. Don't worry that it looks kind of plain.
  • Open Notepad++, click File, Open and open your Libre document, 'TITLE html'.
  • Add your title in line 5, between the tags. Delete lines 7 and 8.
  • Look at the first of your [P] tags (Paragraph tags, in your normal text). Anything between the [P and the last ] can be cut; copy the whole tag and go to Search and Replace. Paste the whole tag in the top line, [P] in the bottom, and Replace all
  • Do the same for [H1] and [H2] tags, but leave the [A] tags well alone, as they are your link tags.
  • Go to everything coloured green between [STYLE] and [/STYLE], delete what is there and paste the following - but remember to change the square brackets in the code to < and >:


p { text-indent:1.2em;} { margin-top:0em; margin-bottom:0em; }

.center { text-indent:0em; text-align:center; }

.noindent {text-indent:0em;}

* {

margin: 0;

padding: 0;



  • Now to add the page breaks. Do Search and Replace all, replacing [P]PB[/P] with [mbp:pagebreak/]
  • Centre lines you want centred: to do this, add  class="center" between the first tag. So [P] becomes [P class="center"] (note there's a space after P) and [H1] becomes [H1 class="center"]. Do [H1] and [H2] all at once with Replace all. Woohoo!
  • If, like me, you like the first line of a chapter or scene with no indent, then you need to change [P] to [P  class="noindent"] where you want no indent. You will have to do each individually, I'm afraid.
  • Save, and open Kindle Previewer on the KDP Upload page. Open your book and check every single page. Looks good? Then email the file to your own Kindle for a final read-through and check. If you find any problems, go back to the Notepad++ version and tweak.
  • You're done. Pat yourself on the back and have a stiff drink.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Clicking Publish on Ice Diaries

I have now clicked Publish, and ICE DIARIES is available to buy (or indeed ignore, according to taste) on Amazon UK and US.

It's an extraordinary moment for any self-publisher. Traditional publishing is very different; your book won't be on sale until about two years after you write THE END. By that time you've probably written another couple of books and have almost forgotten the one you now have to promote.

For indies like me, it's all much more immediate, and the buck doesn't just stop here, it's in permanent residence. I really hope readers are going to enjoy the story of Tori and her life in a post-apocalyptic London. They'll let me know.

Here's a virtual toast to Ice Diaries - and readers, without whom writers would be nowhere.

N.B. I've loaded pictures relevant to the story here on my website.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Title, cover and blurb - your opinion?

I'm nearly ready to publish my latest novel, and I'm doing my usual dithering over the title. Ice Diaries and Snow Globe are the current contenders. So I thought I'd ask you, my trusty blog readers, for your opinion. While you are here, would you cast an eye over the cover - figure/no figure - and the blurb for Amazon too?


It’s 2018 and Tory’s managing. Okay, so London is under twenty metres of snow, almost everybody has died in a pandemic or been airlifted south, and the only animals around are rats. Plus her boyfriend never returned from going to find his parents a year ago when the snow began. But she’s doing fine. Really.

Home is an apartment that’s luxurious, if short on amenities, in a block which used to be home to rich City bankers. A handful of fellow survivors are her friends, and together they forage for food and firewood, have parties once a month and even run a book club. It’s all very civilized. The problem is that long-term they have no future; eventually the food will run out. Tory needs to find a way to make the two-thousand-mile journey south to a warm climate and start again.

Enter Morgan, a disturbingly hot cage fighter from a tougher, meaner world where it’s a mistake to trust people. He’s on the run from Mike, leader of the gang he used to work with. And he has a snowmobile.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

No paid professional will care as much as you do

I'm sure you all recognize the quote...
Passive Guy posted recently from a US agent's blog a piece entitled Why agents collect your money for you

The agent, Janet Kobobel Grant, explained that having publishers send the entire amount to the agent, instead of her 15% commission to her and the author's share to the author, was really for the author's benefit. She could check the amount (she didn't explain why a statement wouldn't do just as well) thus saving the author "happily skipping off to the bank to deposit an incorrect check".

This picture of the naive little author saying, "Ooh! Money!" and in her enthusiasm failing to notice it was the wrong amount is typical of the patronizing way writers are treated by the publishing industry.  We are told there are all sorts of things we can't possibly do for ourselves, so we need to pay most of our earnings to others in order to get them done for us. Of course this learned helplessness is handy for getting rights-grab contracts signed - don't worry your pretty little head with the details, just sign on the dotted line.

When dealing with professionals, it's best to bear in mind that you care an awful lot more about your job than they do. Whether it's a plumber, a solicitor or a literary agent, to them you are just one customer among many. 

I've learned not to let other people do my thinking for me. I still remember the time I paid a for an opinion from a QC on the advice of my solicitor. The combined hourly charge was mind-boggling. I mentioned a possible problem I'd noticed, and they shook their heads in unison while reassuring me. I turned out to be right, they were wrong; they moved on to the next client and I paid for their bad advice each month for the next nine years.

Look at the comments on Janet Kobobel Grant's page from grateful authors agreeing with her. Then check out the comments beneath Passive Guy's post. It's herbivores and carnivores.

Don't be a herbivore. They'll chew you up and spit you out.