Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Beating a retreat with a dog-eaten manuscript

Ah yes - 'tis nearly December and we are preparing for the annual pilgrimage to Mallorca.  This will be the 15th consecutive year that Dave will have worked at the International School - Queen's College in Genova near Palma.

It is also going to mark the 10th anniversary of the first draft of "the dog book", a manuscript that has been revised more times that I can remember without yet reaching publication.  It shall be accompanying us on the journey again and hopefully this time it will emerge as a beautiful butterfly.

Why is is that some books just don't seem to ever be finished?

It began as an autobiography but the character of "Sandy", the naughty Labrador Retriever, rather took over.  It evolved into episodes told by the canine protagonist where he is forever duping his humans in his eternal quest for food.  We paid for a professional edit way back in 2007 (I think) but the work needed just didn't appeal and so it lay in a dusty cupboard until 2011.

2011 saw a brief and hasty re-edit of early episodes in an attempt to release a canine ebook to tie in with the release of the music album and "Poo on your Shoe" video.  It even had photos of a neighbour's dog to stand in for Sandy (thanks to Lewis, Sue and the wonderful Hugo).  Dave was just not happy to send it out there so back to the cupboard it went.

In the course of its evolution, we have lent many people sample chapters and received favourable feedback.  One of these fans sadly will never read the final book as she passed away this year, still only in her twenties (stupid cancer!).  I feel it would be appropriate to dedicate it to her when it is completed.

Anyway, tally-ho to the retreat we go!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Cheap children's Kindle books for the Summer holidays

Grab something cheap for the journey and the holiday - avoid the "are we nearly there yet" syndrome!

Busy time in the garden for me and doing things outside with the family, but have found time to press a couple of buttons on Kindle Direct Publishing bookshelf to offer two of our books for under a pound each.

You don't need a Kindle - Amazon offers free reading app to read the books on any tablet, phone or computer.
Promotion starts on Friday 25th July at 8am and finishes Thursday July 31st at 9pm.

Books on offer are:

"Midnight Mystery" - ghostly adventures on a Spanish holiday island.  First of a trilogy.

"A Sky full of Sunshine" - illustrated poems for readers aged from about 6 years

Enjoy them!

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Why it is important to have a good relationship with your digital printer

Slightly random post this week but very topical in terms of our business at the moment.  Dave (yes I can't be bothered with that "Itinerant Poet" anonymity any more) has been working his little socks off down in The South for the last few weeks.  Performances, workshops, parents evenings, INSET/CPD sessions...you name it!  The upside is that schools and students have been buying loads of books.

Managing the stock levels is always tricky when you run on budgets as tight a ours.  Fortunately we have built up an excellent working relationship with the digital printing company we have been using for several years now - Orbital Print Services (they also offer litho printing and many other services).

Last week they helped us out of a very tight spot when we had to place an order for reprints of three different titles for delivery on the Friday of the same week.  They did it!

Sarah, Mark, Oliver and Leon
at Orbital

Sarah at Orbital
Orbital's digital print room

I need to ask them for more reprints this week after a primary academy in Merton bought a full class reader set of "Mr Smile investigates...Ten Ways to Happiness" for use in PSHE yesterday.  This cleared out most of our remaining stock so I pinged Jo and Sarah at Orbital again this morning - at least I won't need the delivery for Friday though.

If we have occasional issues with quality (and these are extremely rare) e.g. sometimes a page may be smudged or wrinkled they replace the affected copies without cost or quibble.  They are always cheerful and yet remain thoroughly professional.

They also do special offers.  In February, they offered ten free A5 spiral bound notebooks (with your own cover art if you supplied it).  In April, orders came with 6 free Cadbury's Creme Eggs - shame the kids ate them all before we got a look in.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Indie children's books on Kindle

I have just added "The Jenie Jazzles" to my Listmania list of the Itinerant Poet's works available on Amazon for Kindle.  It is a re-working of a story the Itinerant Poet wrote back in the 1990s.  It was originally published in a single volume alongside "Leo's Magic Shoes" under the (sub)title "Another quarter pound of chocolate drops please".  It was extremely popular with children and many schools bought entire class reader sets.

Plot summary:  Leo loves to visit Mr Bowers' old-fashioned sweet shop every Saturday morning to spend his pocket money.  One day, he buys some different sweets from his normal favourites.  He hides in his secret den while he eats them all - rather too quickly - well, nearly all of them.  Strange things happen to his eyes and he realises the Jenie Jazzles have given him x-ray vision.  The following Saturday, he buys more but they do not have the same effect.  He doesn't tell anyone about the magic but discreet enquiries of Mr Bowers reveal he had sold the previous batch to Leo the previous week.  Leo fears his adventures have finished.  However, on accompanying his mother and sister to the hospital for her hearing test, he finds the last remaining two Jenie Jazzles in his pocket.  He overhears doctors talking about a boy whose life is in danger and realises he and his sister can save the boy's life by using the sweets' power.  Hailed as a hero, he is rewarded by going into business with Mr Bowers.  Scientists never manage to discover the secret of the Jenie Jazzles.

Original Cover

Illustrations and litho vs digital

The original versions of both "Leo's Magic Shoes" and "..Chocolate Drops..." had illustrations created in ink and paint by our artist friend, Kirsty Munro.  The books were litho printed back then and I did not hold digital copies of the files though I did keep the physical artwork.  The books were originally created in Word then saved to RTF (I think!) before being loaded into Pagemaker 5 by the printers for further processing by them.  Our minimum print run was 500 but 1000 was more usual so when digital printing came on the scene, it was an obvious route for us due to the possibilities of smaller print runs for our increasing list of titles.  However, we chose not to reprint the original combined book and so it just disappeared from our stock list.  It is still present in many of the schools who bought sets, though the copies are a little battered now - obviously much-used!  I often wonder if our digital print copies will last as long.

Converting ancient graphics files for modern use

Years later, I approached our former litho printer and asked them if they could dig out the old files and send me the manuscripts and pictures.  They duly did so but I put them away in a cupboard and largely forgot about them until I started to e-publish our books.  Initial attempts to load files from an ancient format into a modern graphics programme failed but I kept on trying different conversions until I finally succeeded with what turned out to be the most simple step of all - amending the file extension!  The original filenames were such as LeoGoingIntoShopTIFF with no file extension.  The final solution was to change the filename to LeoGoingIntoShop.tif and it loaded straight into Photoshop Elements 6.  I added layers and semi-transparent colours to the black and white originals before saving "for web" as JPEGs to reduce the file size and reduce download costs of the book.  I like colour and think it best to offer it to people who read on Kindle for tablets/computers with colour capacity even though I personally only have an original black and white Kindle.  Link here to free downloads of reading apps for computers/iPads etc and device purchases from Amazon.

Future plans for the book

Although digital printing is still a possibility for this title, we have so many now in print or in the process of production, that I wanted to make this available purely as a digital version.  If you do purchase a copy, please do me the huge favour of writing a review for the book on Amazon - a wonderful review, of course ;)

 You can buy "Leo's Magic Shoes" as an ebook too.

New version available from Amazon for Kindle
(Look Inside available on Amazon page)
(Look Inside available on Amazon page)

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Is it worth paying for a structural edit?

We are putting huge efforts into finalising the manuscript of the latest book.  As the Itinerant Poet ploughs through the printout from 6-9am most mornings and I sit for hours processing the myriad of handwritten changes, I am once again at the point when I ask myself, "Will this one sell?"

It is about a dog.  People who like dogs buy books about dogs.
It is set in the 1970s.  Retro is good if you capture the atmosphere effectively.
It is written "by the dog".  Different perspective could be appealing?
It is humorous with elements of pathos (knock on effect of Itinerant Poet reading David Lodge books lately?)

If it is going to succeed, we may need a professional editor and that is going to cost some dosh.
It is written in episodes that are a bit like short stories with time gaps in between - not conventional.

Truth be told, we DID pay for a professional editor to look at a very early version way back in 2006.  The book was deemed to have potential and some very good points but needed work to be a success.  This was not an easy view to accept and resulted in the manuscript being shelved until 2012 when it popped up for a short rework to potentially coincide with the video release for the "Do the Dinosaurus" album. It never quite happened but here is the ebook cover I prepared at the time.  Any comments gratefully accepted.

For the first time since 2006, I have just re-read the editor's report and it now doesn't seem nearly as harsh as it did back then.  In fact, I can see what she was driving at AND I can see that the Itinerant Poet is implementing some of the changes even though he cannot remember anything much about the report.  Perhaps he has "grown" as a writer and it is showing through.

I recently read an article about the importance of a good editor to self-publishers (read the page at A Dystopian Future) and am now thinking that it may be worth laying out some more cash.  However, I will use the old report as a guide first and then look again.  I may even consider documenting the re-birth of the book via the blog and include some excerpts.  What do you think?

In the meantime, here is the video we made way back in 2011/12 that just happens to start with a bouncing retriever...

...NOOOOO that's not a bouncing (much) retriever, that's my backside!  Watch the next bit!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Maria Miller bound to bounce back - nothing new in politics!

Just had to put this poem up that the Itinerant Poet wrote way back in the 90s but, unsurprisingly still resonant today with the Maria Miller fiasco.


Let's all do the cabinet reshuffle
If you can't do a job
Don't worry it's no trouble
'Cos nobody can
Despite the nod
Come on and a-shuffle
Like policeman plod!

Let's all shuffle with the cabinet.
Hubble, bubble, toil, no trouble.
Ip-dip-applepip and you are out of it
One potato more and you are back again.

(C) 1998 David J. Mason www.InspireToWrite.co.uk

Friday, 4 April 2014

Experimenting with social media and brands

I currently find myself venturing into the world of social media.  I have toyed with it before and used Facebook to keep in touch with friends but I have not yet been brave enough to take on the challenge of trying to make it really WORK for our business.

 It occurred to me that one of the problems with Inspire To Write, is its identity.  The creative consultancy side is the main earner and is the service delivered to schools.  However, there is also the performance poetry side (overlapping with the consultancy), ditto the story-telling.  Then there are the books and the music.

Divide and conquer?

I decided it would be easiest to start with the creative consultancy.  I set up a Twitter account for this purpose @mason_creative and started selecting educationally related sites/people to follow.  This extended occasionally to publishing and poetry.  The good news is that currently 22% of people I followed have followed me back plus a few who found me and followed - I have generally reciprocated.  I have yet to find out how come some have tens of thousands of followers and if they have been generated via an app, just dedicated clicking or otherwise!  Hootsuite is the next phase, automating the posts to each Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn account.

I intend to set up a separate identity for North Street Publishing that leads to our book shop page, Amazon and any other platforms I upload the digital books on to.  The music and poetry will lurk on the YouTube channel that I set up some years ago but which needs some updating.  I just need time to get my head round the rest of it before taking that on too.

My thanks go to...

Stephan J. Myers who spent time talking me through some strategies that have been successful for him.  Hopefully I can return the favour regarding the creative consultancy aspects in due course.  Stephan is the author and illustrator of the wonderful Loss de Plott stories and The Prayer.  Here is a link to his page on BookViral.com

Friday, 7 March 2014

Time to revamp my blog

I have been blogging for a year and a bit.  I only ever started  as an experiment and to let loose a bit of my own creativity in the form of writing, not just illustration.  I was only playing at it really.  While it has been pleasant to see that people around the world are finding it but has made me realise that you really need to put a lot of effort in to spreading the word if a blog is going to really generate traffic and, one fine day, increased book sales.  Perhaps I am ready for that now.

Although there is loads of information on the internet, I feel there is too much to digest on screen so I have turned to my local library and picked up a good old-fashioned book:  "Blogging All-in-one for Dummies".  I still prefer paper to digital publications despite being sat in front of screens more than I used to be.  Reading this book (a substantial tome so reading is also a physical work-out) has made me think that I ought to split the blog up into separate blogs for self-publishing and home-education.  The travel elements come into both so I will just incorporate them as necessary.

I had never even heard of Technorati or IceRocket - blog search tools.  I had heard of "backlinks" and I knew they were important in promoting a blog but I never found time to investigate how key they are.  All that is changing...gradually.

I intend to run three blogs:  one for self-publishing; one for home education and finally one for my Mr Smile character.  The Itinerant Poet and I have decided that Mr Smile's success with children and adults merits his own outlet for all things happy.  This will range from poems to thoughts for the week, videos, podcasts and whatever else we dream up.

Here they are then:

Home Education blog - Doing it our Way


Mr Smile's Happy Blog

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Publications that don't fit standard Genres

If your book does not fit into any of the marketing pigeonholes for age range and genre, you are even more likely to have your manuscript rejected by publishers.  The Itinerant Poet's latest creation will definitely fall in this gap so we are not even considering submission of the manuscript.

When a writer has a eureka moment and the muse is riding high, I don't believe it is possible to deny the creative urge: a book is begging to be born.  The decision needs to be made to commit hundreds of hours work to its production - it is not for the faint-hearted.  So, why should it matter that no one will publish it?

There has been much coverage in the media of the extent of mental illness in adolescents and adults.  Often the sufferers go undiagnosed and untreated because they feel the condition to be a social stigma.  There are obviously too many other related issues to consider in this post but the topic came up in conversation between the Itinerant Poet and myself about what we might be able to do to help children avoid sliding down the slippery slope.  What could we do to help children manage their lives so that they learned how to be happier and more content?  A book is born!

Further inspiration came in the form of a post by the Canadian blog Collective Evolution entitled Ten simple things that you can do today to make you happier backed by science.  The post was obviously aimed at adults but made us think that we could use it as a basis for a self-help publication for children, in the more palatable form of fiction, that could act to prevent the slide to begin with.  So we did.

The finished product needs one more edit and a few illustrations but it looks good.  I just can't decide which cover to go for.  However, there is only one way to offer it to the world...self-publishing!

The Big Warm Shed

Once again, the above book was created in the warm seclusion of Son Antem near Llucmajor in Mallorca.  Our annual pilgrimage extended to four weeks in November and December.  The lack of responsibilities and every day chores freed up the creative juices.  The first draft was completed on the final day.

Further editing has been done in the rather cooler climes of Cheshire.  For economic reasons, the Itinerant Poet does not switch the heating on when he keeps to his early morning rising as per the Central European Time Zone.  Hence he has been at the dining table from about 6am each chilly morning.  He definitely finds it more difficult writing back in the home environment.  In our new house, there is no studio to escape to so the small hours are the only quiet times of isolation when he can shut out the rest of the world...and the household.

Home Education and the Teenage Years

Home-educated or not, there is no doubt that the teenage years can be very challenging - both for the teenagers and their parents.  The children are emergent adults and wish to take more responsibility for themselves, it is just not always in the direction parents may wish.  At what point do you stop trying to guide them according to your experiences and let them make their own mistakes?  I don't believe there is any REAL text book for being a parent, you just have to fly by love, instinct and your own upbringing.

We continue to pursue IGCSE Geography and Physics with our two teenagers.  It is difficult sometimes when the desire to create worlds on Minecraft or trade horses on Howrse outweighs the appeal of text books.  These are the only computer games we allow access to and we try to strike a fair balance between the two.  However, it never happens without a bit of animated discussion!

Recently, I found some solace and re-balancing of my own approach when I stumbled across the video by Logan Laplante - a home-educated 13 year old boy in the U.S.A. - that has accumulated over 4 million views.  It is well worth watching and made me think again about what makes children happy versus what makes adults happy.  There are plenty of areas for consideration and discussion so take a look...