Working with a publicist for the first time – both exciting and daunting!

Apologies for my absence of late.  Hope everyone’s well and gearing up for either a hot or a cold festive season :-)

Aussie Father Christmas

One of several reasons for neglecting my blog is that I’ve invested time and money into a real, honest-to-goodness publicity campaign.  After e-shopping around a few US-based book promotion sites, I went back to my first choice, Authoright (http://www.Authoright.com), because they were the only company that offered a single, co-ordinated campaign across both the UK and the US.

Social media for indie authors is great for meeting other authors, some of whom may become readers, but attracting Facebook likes and Twitter followers doesn’t necessarily equate to generating sales!  I’ve been involved on the periphery of a few advertising and marketing campaigns at work, so decided to commit a lump of scarce resource and back my messed-up, introverted self for a change :-)

Well, what a ride so far!  Two weeks in to an 8-week campaign, working with two highly professional, friendly and encouraging book publicists has completely taken the focus off my writing.  Since I had already fallen behind schedule for “A Life Singular – Part Four” and have shifted my self-imposed deadline to March next year, I am managing (almost) to handle the stress of halted progress!

In my first week, Kate Appleton in London managed to secure me a spot in the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper, which has an online readership of 175 million per month!  On the other side of the Atlantic, Diana Rissetto has successfully placed me with a couple of well-patronised book blogging sites and is targeting several more specific to my serial’s themes.

Which leads me to the “daunting” part…

What’s that old saying?  “If it bleeds, it leads,” I seem to remember.  When I wrote my biography for Authoright’s initial questionnaire, I had a fair idea that journalists might want to delve into the more painful aspects of my background.  This is why I’m writing, after all.

However, despite Kate’s careful hints that mainstream media might come across as heartless by focussing more on my own story than on the books I’m trying to promote, I have been somewhat distressed by the intrusive nature of their questions, looking to name and shame particular individuals, etc.  While doing this would secretly give me an intense amount of guilty pleasure, I have always thought public humiliation for acts which have gone for years without punishment was only stooping to their level.

For someone whose goals are to bring a positive message through my writing – i.e. to inspire fellow sufferers of mental illness to rise above their symptoms and find success, and more importantly to encourage non-sufferers to understand, tolerate, support and even love us in our quest to live “normal” lives – I hardly wanted to spread my own negative experiences in such gory, gruesome detail.

It has been difficult to dredge up past experiences which I’ve buried so well that I barely recall their detail, inducing panic attacks while on the telephone to journalists and keeping me awake for hours as to the potential consequences.  Even though I managed to convince them that I’m not interested in revealing actual names, it is still frightening to wonder who has the power to make connections…

Oh, well…  I agreed to run the campaign, therefore I need to accept whatever it conjures up.  Hopefully it’s a big boost in sales and nothing more!  That would be awesome.

Very cool editing tool – Text to Speech Translator

Hello everyone!

Firstly, apologies for the prolonged bloggio silence. My social media obligations have suffered lately due to so many more immediate demands on my time, such as work and interstate visitors :-)

With my next writing deadline fast approaching, I’m deep into editing “A Life Singular – Part Three”, which I have commenced through the wholly unarduous, “traditional” method of creating an e-book and lying on the couch pretending to be a real reader.  Yet today I am unveiling a new editing tool which I hope will assist other authors to steady their voice and identify those annoyingly evasive typos:  Text-to-Speech translating software.  I wasted a few hours yesterday playing with trial versions of Verbose (http://www.nch.com.au/verbose/) and Natural Reader (http://www.naturalreaders.com/), switching between the available voices and accents.  Hours of fun!

There’s not much to choose between these two products, but I ended up purchasing Natural Reader (US$69.99) because its British accents sounded less silver-spoon.  It goes without saying that neither product offers an Australian male or female voice, and since my books are set predominately in Melbourne, I have gone for Peter and Rachel as the closest to Aussie accents I could find :-)

To use these products, simply load your Word document or .PDF into the program, pick a male or female voice and press play.  The algorithms are much more intelligent than they were even last year, and clever intonation gives you great feedback as to whether your phrasing and punctuation will give the reader the right cues.  The voice “learns” as you go over the same paragraph a couple of times, and it’s worth selecting the words they regularly mispronounce and adding a phonetic spelling into their vocabulary.  This works particularly well for unusual names and abbreviations.

Needless to say, the novelty of having my own book read to me kept me awake until 2 in the morning, but this is such a great addition to my editing toolset that I just had to write about it :-)

Work-in-Progress

This post represents my final leap on the current round of Ruth Snyder’s Blog Hop, where we are all presenting our Works-in-Progress.  I have enjoyed being part of this bouncing band of blogging bookists, and hope we have more opportunities in the future to air our extremely diverse views!  If you have enjoyed these fortnightly blasts too, please go on over to Ruth’s blog and send her a message of appreciation.

In my search for a definition of work-in-progress, I came across two amusing images.  The first exhibits serious ergonomic concerns, and I have already reported this unfortunate androgynous individual to his / her Occupational Safety & Health representative, as any diligent manager should.  (Looks a bit like Gollum from “Lord of the Rings”, donchathink? :-) )

wip                   wip 2

The second is more my kind of work-in-progress.  A pause for thought.  When I think of my six-part novel serial “A Life Singular”, which I’m submitting as my perennial work-in-progress, I can safely say that 38 years and counting ought to qualify it quite well for this label…  With two parts complete, the third is well on its way, leaving the rest to appear at six-monthly intervals thereafter.  The story spans almost fifty years, and I trust I’ll be able to stick to my schedule so that Part Six releases contemporaneously.

Were it not for this self-imposed deadline, I wouldn’t much care if my books remained works-in-progress indefinitely, since this creative process is the most self-sustaining pastime I’ve found.  Each night I rush home from work, where I have sat in front of the computer for a fair percentage of the day, eager to plonk myself back down and start again.  [Please don’t tell my OSH rep…]

Since self-discipline is a vital sanity preservation tool for me (as it is for my protagonist), I ensure that my e-mail, blog and social media obligations are attended to as the first activity after watching the evening news.  Up until recently this task was second, after feeding the dog :-(, but that’ll change again in a few months’ time.  Next up is transcribing the numerous yellow sticky notes, onto which were scribbled the previous night’s brainwaves, either into the current piece I’m working on or slotted into my trusty Extras.doc for future reference!

Then and only then do I allow myself to dive into my work-in-progress.  Several people have asked me how I already know my serial will have six parts, to which I give my standard response:  ‘Because I’ve already written “THE END”.’  I describe myself as 80% plotter and 20% pantser when it comes to writing, having all four outstanding parts at varying levels of completion.  I score myself in the pantser column purely because I’m frequently amazed when I finish a paragraph and realise I’ve typed something I had no intention of typing before I began!

This is the most fascinating aspect of writing for me, as someone who labours fastidiously to control her own mind to function appropriately in the “real world”.  Sometimes I re-read a passage that might be several months old and ask myself, ‘Did I really write this?’  Fortunately, I usually like what I rediscover.  Just imagine the frustration if it were otherwise… :)   I have said many times that writing is the only place where I can truly be myself, a sentiment which I’m sure is shared by many authors.

If anyone’s interested in finding out more about my serial, I’ll leave you to check out the Synopses page on my website:  http://www.ALifeSingular.net .  As for specifics around my actual work-in-progress for the coming week, I have just finished the first full draft of a chapter entitled “Welcome To Me”, where my protagonist explains to his soul-mate, from whom he has been separated for two years, why her father has every reason to be suspicious of him.  It is a stark and sinister confession which delves into gangland wars and childhood violence, describing the mental and physical scars sustained by family members caught up in crime, neglect and general disadvantage.

The next chapter “Face-off” is where the privileged celebrity, who has absorbed her boyfriend’s plaintive soliloquy, mounts her case for their relationship to continue.  The serial follows our hero’s journey back through his spectacular life while he writes his autobiography, and Part Three is where the significance of the title “A Life Singular” is revealed.

My intention is to self-publish Part Three by the end of June this year, after which I’ll move on to…  Three guesses?  Yes, you’ve got it.  …Part Four.  Predictable, huh?  Rest assured I will have been dabbling in Parts Five and Six along the way, as more mysterious twists and turns emerge from the interplay between characters with minds of their own.

My clear and present fear is for January 2016, when I will have published the book with the final line, “THE END”.  I have written to authors who live with a particular character for many years, to find out what they went through after they wrote the final word.  What will it feel like never to immerse myself in my hero’s world again?  So far I have not received any replies, so will continue with my own private conclusion…

Many thanks for joining me on this blog hop.  I’m looking forward to reading about my fellow hoppers’ works-in-progress now.  Please join me by clicking on the graphic below:

Ruth Snyder's blog hop

A bientôt, mes amis :-)

New interview on the writing of the “A Life Singular” serial from Self-Publisher’s Showcase

Hello everyone,

I have been fortunate to be interviewed by Self-Publisher’s Showcase about my writing.  They asked some particularly relevant and challenging questions – a very interesting exercise!

Please check it out at:  http://selfpublishersshowcase.com/interview-lorraine-pestell-a-life-singular-author/

Thanks,

Lorraine

Great, new, professionally-designed covers!

Very exciting!  Thanks to the wonderful Ida Jansson of Amygdala Design in Norway, here are the covers for all six parts of my serial “A Life Singular”.

all 6 fronts

If you’re looking for a creative partner, I can’t recommend Ida highly enough!

Re-blogged interview from my host, The Complete Self-Publishing Indie Authors Resource Site

Hello!

The end of January already!  Where did that month go?

I’m halfway through my first book blog tour, put together by Fire and Ice (please see this link for the remaining dates).  Today’s stop is at The Complete Self-Publishing Indie Authors Resource Site (http://selfpublishingindieauthors.blogspot.com.au/), whom I thank for publishing my Qs&As.  Here is a transcript, which delves into why I am writing the “A Life Singular” serial:

What inspired you to write A Life Singular?

My earliest inspiration came from a wonderful English teacher who brought our language to life! As a teenager in a leafy London suburb, I grew up revelling in the richness of words and obsessed with perfecting the art of stringing them together to convey a deeper meaning.

The enduring love story at the heart of the “A Life Singular” series emerged from an adolescent fascination for pop stars and the music world. I developed a habit, purely for my own entertainment, of writing journalistic pieces that presumed a backstory about my favourite celebrities, and as I grew older and began to understand the world’s complexities, I longed to discover why so many of our ‘rich and famous’ seem to struggle in their private lives.

Later on, when my own life took several wrong turns (and continues to do so), I found myself coping with severe depression and an inescapable death-wish, and so took refuge in writing, writing, writing… From here, the notion of a serial sprang forth, transforming the cute romance between a pop star and a rock guitarist into a sharp yet tender examination of the human condition.

My two main ambitions for “A Life Singular” are firstly to inspire sufferers of mental illnesses to rise above their symptoms to achieve happiness and success, and secondly to appeal to non-sufferers for their understanding, love and support in our efforts to live a ‘normal’ life.

Did you run into any snags along the way?

‘Snag’ is Australian slang for sausage, by the way; a favourite at barbies…

Well, I never suffer writer’s block, that’s for sure! Quite the opposite is true. The need to establish a career and earn money, coupled with a gipsy tendency which has spirited me all over the world, conspired to limit the relentless flow of words from my fingers. I seldom get more than a couple of hours’ sleep at a time, because my story ideas wake me and demand to be recorded, or else they refuse to let me fall asleep again. An array of sticky notes covered with scrawl on both sides typically litters my bedside table by the time morning rolls around!

Snags a-plenty in the publishing journey however, more of which can be found in the question below about my publishing experience. The regular rejections from agents and traditional publishers are somewhat discouraging of course, as they are for everyone. Also, my series is predominately set in Melbourne, and it has been important to preserve my characters’ use of Australian idioms and vocabulary in a way that’s clear enough to American and Canadian readers to prevent confusion, but without boring them by explaining every nuance or creating a glossary!

Genre classification was fraught with danger. I didn’t wish to restrict my audience only to women, readers of contemporary romance or people in need of help. It was the classic case of “all of the above”. Unwittingly, I fell into hot water when I used the word “inspirational” in my synopsis, suddenly being inundated with evangelists tweeting to save my soul. After checking with a reliable source, I realised that this word in the US and Canada suggests a Christian or religious message, which is conspicuously absent in my writing!

My most recent bugbear is the fact that Amazon does not consolidate customer reviews across regional markets. Australia is an enormous island continent with a tiny population. Consequently, an aspiring author from the southern hemisphere, whose early reviews are likely to come from local contacts, friends and family, will find it difficult to gain exposure in the larger markets of North America and Europe without some indication of the quality of their work. Amazon’s regional sites do not currently copy local reviews to other “stores”, and therefore we are required to impose upon our reviewers to paste their reviews in up to 12 places.

How did you remain motivated?

Motivation is an eternal challenge for someone with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Without venturing too far into the morbid, living each day depends on garnering considerable motivation from external sources. Mine comes from my old dog, volunteering for non-profit organisations and the promise I made to outlive my alarmingly healthy parents.

I have vowed to accomplish this mission through completing all six parts of the “A Life Singular” serial, thereby giving new meaning to ‘a life’s work’. So far it’s going well, and I remain driven to help destigmatise mental illness and to encourage people to embrace it as one of the many complex non-negotiables of the 21st century.

Part Two was released in December 2013, and I’m currently working on Part Three. I aim to publish at six-monthly intervals, which will see a story which spans nearly fifty years reaching its conclusion in contemporary times.

What was the publishing experience like for you?

There were several false starts at the hands of the off-shore publishing elves with their westernised pseudonyms and lack of awareness that Australia has more than one timezone. Wake-up calls at 6am were a regular occurrence, so much so that I have now migrated three hours forwards and 4,000 kilometres eastwards to accommodate them! These issues derailed progress until we grew accustomed to each others’ ways of working. Thankfully, my IT career has helped me greatly in dealing with far-flung people whose culture and interpretation of language are very different from my own. They key is to be very precise and unambiguous with their instructions.

My most unwelcome hurdle was being censored by this self-publishing company due to what they termed ‘under age sex’. Despite Part Two of my serial containing no abusive or exploitative content and certainly nothing below the age of consent, their ‘customer satisfaction specialist’ informed me that their policy is black and white. Life is not black and white, I tried to point out, but to no avail! A reminder that his company had happily published underage drinking and drug-taking in Part One was not considered a valid defence either. I expect to use Amazon’s CreateSpace for Part Two onwards, given the freedom it offers authors who seek to be unconstrained by such outdated, self-righteous and overprotective policies.

As mentioned earlier, my books don’t slot nicely into a conventional genre. It has been tricky to come up with the single-sentence ‘elevator pitch’ for those chance encounters either face-to-face or via the metaphorical elevator of the little blue bird. Social media is an exhausting necessity that takes authors away from their true passion. However, the unprecedented access it affords us to new audiences far outweighs the annoyance of having to constantly generate catchy soundbytes.

Is there anything you wish you would have known about writing when you started?

I was particularly naïve about the publishing process prior to beginning my journey to authordom, and my lessons are too numerous to mention here.

Without question, the value of an editor is huge, yet the cost is prohibitive for a new writer. Oh, for a magic curio capable of spotting errors and repetition in my work more quickly than my own reviews. This would save me hours, if not days of effort!

Using friends or relatives as a substitute for an editor is good for general feedback, although they don’t generally say anything more specific than “I loved it” or “It’s not my kind of book”. I also find that people who know me often cannot remove themselves adequately from the author to truly get into the story, and neither do they have eagle-eyes trained to spot those annoying misspellings and grammatical bloopers.

Lastly, I was also disappointed by the snootiness of some creative writing professionals, especially from academia. Aren’t lecturers supposed to educate? Attending the Perth Writers’ Festival this year as an e-chick looking to self-publish, I have never felt so inadequate as when seeking information from the literary cognoscenti of the world’s most isolated city. All power to independent authors who are proving these learned fellows wrong via the bestsellers lists!

What did it feel like when you finished the book?

Amazing! I’ve spent almost thirty years writing business cases, system specifications and project plans, leaving me in no doubt that I had the discipline to finish what I started. However, I was not prepared for the euphoria of receiving my first printed copy of “A Life Singular – Part One”. My cover design, my name on the cover, my picture on the back… A true sense of achievement, even though it’s the first of six!

More surprising though was how much the physical book meant to me, as a technocrat who converted to e-books many years ago. With an e-book, we only get an idea of how “long” the book is by our progress along the blue line at the bottom of the screen. When I saw Part One as a paperback and checked the number of pages, I was blown away with how long it is!

Have you made any changes to your book based on reader feedback?

Yes, a few changes have been made to Part One, mostly correcting errors that slipped through. I am definitely incorporating readers’ comments into the subsequent parts though. One piece of constructive feedback I received from a respected work colleague was that I use too many adjectives, which I later discovered was criticism levelled at JK Rowling. I might sit on that one for a while… At least until my second or third billion.

I am fortunate to have lived and worked in various corners of the globe, and I like to try my writing out on friends in different countries to make sure there are no more strange interpretations that might get me into trouble.

I must also mention my mother here, who’s opposed to any form of swearing and explicit sex scenes. I tried to create a swearword-free version for her, but abandoned it almost immediately because the dialogue no longer suited the characters and the result made me laugh out loud. Also, her e-mail response to the first sex scene was “Phew! Brings back memories.” Sorry, Mum, I couldn’t resist!

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Thanks for asking! In truth, I still consider myself a new writer, so don’t yet feel qualified to give advice. My biggest obstacles were my lack of self-confidence and the fear that no-one would like my writing. Yet the moment I took the plunge and released my story into the wild, this terror miraculously vanished and I became comfortable with talking about my work and what I’m hoping to achieve.

In terms of the technical quality of my work, I find that regularly downloading a digital draft and sitting down with it in “reader mode” enables me to pick up inconsistencies, overuse of particular words and other typographical errors much more easily than in “writer mode” in front of the computer.

To conclude, my mantra has become ‘Be true to yourself.’ If you feel compelled to write about something, then write about it with all your emotions laid bare. Particularly if people are battling a persistent mental health condition, they tend to live a life of pretence in their day-to-day existence. I know that writing is the only place where I can truly be myself.

Many thanks for inviting me to this interview. Best wishes for 2014 to you and all your readers from the blisteringly hot Melbourne summer.  And thank-you, Shelly from Fire and Ice Blog tours, for organising a month of interesting blog travels for me!

Useful Writing Tools

Hello!

For those in Australia, Happy Australia Day!  Hope you’re all having fun in the sun!  For those of you stuck in the northern hemisphere winter, here’s a picture of Bondi Beach, near Sydney, to keep you warm:

Image

This is the second of my contributory posts to Ruth Snyder’s Blog Hop, where this time we’re exchanging our tips and tricks for recommended writing tools.  As a quick comic diversion however, another blogger I follow posted about her self-improvement resolution to metamorphose from a “jerk” into a “tool”, quoting the awesome track “Tool” by Forty Six & Two .  Funnily enough, in Australia the words “jerk” and “tool” are synonyms!  What transformation therefore, I wonder? :-)

Anyway, now to writing tools.  [Not writing jerks, of whom I have come across plenty during recent forays into the Twittersphere…  Perhaps that’s a future post?]

(1) Brain (left) – by far my most useful tool, fast submitting to atrophy in these months of unemployment.  I am currently engaged in providing critical reviews of draft manuscripts for a couple of other authors, which also serves to hone my own composition skills.  Whereas most of my writing originates from another facet of my being (please see note 5 below), I strive to use the left brain’s analytical powers during editing and proof-reading, to eliminate as many style inconsistencies, typographical errors and most of all repetition.  That was repetition…  Did I say repetition?  Yes, I think that was repetition.  This is repetitive.  And annoying, huh?

I was lucky to learn from an extremely inspiring English teacher in high school, who by now I expect is a thoroughly decomposed writing tool.  Miss Baker (or “English Baker”, so as not to be confused with “French Baker”, who once told me that I’d better look for a job soon because I’d never get into university.  A less inspiring teacher I cannot imagine, but this BSc (Hons) graduate is anything but bitter…) forbade us to use a character’s name twice in the same paragraph, unless for specific emphasis or when it was the only way to avoid confusion.  Permission for this latter concession required pleading on several occasions, or much shorter paragraphs at the very least!!

This discipline does not seem to be widely followed, however.  Surely we can think of other adjective-noun combos which will both enable readers to recognise our characters and afford a little more insight into their personalities?

Vocabulary overuse is also easily avoided between similar scenes with a thesaurus, a vivid imagination and some extra effort.  I can’t remember how many times I flashed over “he found his release” when conducting my own research into what makes a mega-bestseller…  Come on, own up!  I’ll give you fifty guesses.

(2) Brain (right) – creative writing, IMHO, is an exercise in open-mindedness and perspective.  Using all five senses to describe a location or event using our emotional responses to these sensory inputs is common enough, but I prefer to be mindful that my characters, whether central or peripheral, would not necessarily react in the same way as I would.  This technique, with great fortune, also has a positive impact on repetition.  Doh?  There it goes again.  How repetitive!  Apologies :-)

(3) Tablet – and yes, I’m the first to admit that medication can attain tool status also…  My most indispensable physical tool would undoubtedly be my tablet computer.  Mine is an Asus EeePad Transformer Prime, running Android, for any fellow geeks.  The productivity and quality gains I achieve by saving drafts into e-books on a regular basis and then uploading them onto my tablet are enormous.  My shiny, silver friend allows me to behave like a reader, with my feet curled under me on the couch or outside in the sunshine (Oh, did I mention that it’s summer here?), rather than as a bug-eyed writer staring at a vertical workstation screen in pursuit of those ever-elusive bloopers.

I can’t tell you how many more errors I pick up in “reader mode”.  Using the annotation features available in most e-reading software, it’s a fairly painless process to correct these in the working document.  Having said that, I may well be disadvantaging myself by using Android, since there may be some other fruity tools available to automagically make amendments between iPad and Mac, or between Windows tablets and Microsoft Word.  Another option to investigate once I have an income…

(4) Social media helpers – I don’t know about you, but I never realised that authoring would entail so much manic manipulation of minuscule morsels of media material.  NOW THAT IS TRULY REPETITIVE.  Please, pleease, pleeease, Miss Baker, allow me this one…

“So you’ve written a novel?  Well, that’s the easy part,” the hero said with a sexy half-smile and a sly wink.

“Ain’t that the truth!” I groaned.

Never fear!  There are tools to help minimise our social media hours, if we abide by the maxim “Geeks to the rescue, caveat emptor”.  [Is it acceptable to attribute the word “maxim” to something one makes up on the spur of the moment?]

My favourites so far are Hootsuite, SocialOomph and RoundTeamIt’s probably overkill to use all three, but no one product seems to do everything I need.  These reasonably-priced tools allow us to combine the different types of feeds from Twitter, Facebook, our blogs and LinkedIn accounts into a single browser interface, from which we can schedule tweets to each social media outlet and make good use of Twitter lists for retweeting purposes.

  • Hootsuite‘s strength is the ability to communicate to all platforms through the same messaging function.  It’s weaknesses are the inability to tailor the post to the character limit, e.g. Facebook does not limit us to 140 characters, and that it forces you to log back in with frustrating regularity.
  • SocialOomph / TweetCockpit is great for scheduling a number of blasts at once across Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn only.  It’s better than Hootsuite in that, once created, we can tailor the number of times the message is sent per platform, i.e. we may want to tweet several times a day, but only once a day to our professional LinkedIn network and once-and-only-once to our fondly-held Facebook friends, who are undeserving of exploitation.
  • RoundTeam‘s all about re-tweeting our followers’ tweets, which increases the likelihood of them retweeting ours!  It’s all about community, folks!  [Essential note:  make sure RoundTeam’s “Sensitive” and “Profanity” filters are set, because I’ve been caught retweeting some particularly unsavoury content without my knowledge.  Thankfully a friend notified me before I lost too many followers.]

(5) Heart – while I would credit my left brain as useful, without question my most valued writing tool sits within my ribcage.  If returning to my chapters after an absence doesn’t make me smile, cry, moan, gulp or rile to some extent, I am not satisfied with them.  In fact, one of the most pleasing aspects of reviewing old work is the element of surprise:  did I really write this?  This leads me to wonder if I’m simply the messenger, as does my equally cynical and irreligious protagonist.  Where does inspiration come from, given it’s oftentimes transitory and that we require a reminder of past thoughts?  If I knew, I might list a sixth writing tool.

Ruth Snyder's blog hop