Monday, 1 February 2016

Judging a book by its cover

Judging a book by its cover.

This last week has been trying. Why? Because I am trying to finalise the front cover for The Body in the Bath - The second book in the Chupplejeep Mysteries. The book is not finished - it's a long way from completion. If I'm lucky I'll get it out in time for Christmas but I wanted the cover for my website and I also wanted to deal with the stress of agreeing the front cover now...instead of during the publication process when I am stressed out! See, that's a good bit of forward planning stress reduction! There is a reason why they say with experience comes wisdom.

But it's tough this front cover malarkey because everyone has different, sometimes extreme opinions. Perhaps I asked too many people. I asked my writers group first and they were all pretty supportive with some good suggestions. I had actually failed to make it Goan in the first draft which one writer pointed out - that would have been a big faux pas.  Then I asked H, the family and the inner circle (they are my besties). These people don't hold back and they are opinionated. This is probably the main reason why we are friends and it was tiring listening to people and their views (Sorry, if any of you are reading this). Of course I needed to hear what people think and I know because of some of the comments  the cover is going to look fab...  but getting there has been an effort.

I haven't listened to everything they have said... it would have been impossible and quite frankly not worth the trouble. But I listened about colours and textures etc and the resultant product is perfect (to me). I will put it up on this blog later in the week when I get the final.

I'm also starting to look at front cover ideas with my publisher for Poison in the Water (remember this name people - this book is going to be huge!). This I think will be a different experience. Why? Because a professional is going to take the time to debate styles and ideas with me. Now I'm not saying self pubbed covers are not as good as trad published ones - that would be a stupid thing to say because it's not true.

The experience will be different for me because the burden is shared between the publishing house (who are paying for the thing) and me whose work it is and whose name will be emblazoned on the front.

And I think that is the difference,. It's not necessarily the quality of the cover, but your perception and your confidence. When you self pub you can ask a million people what they think but  when that book is published it's your fault if its good or not with a publisher I think you can share the shame!

The one saving grace is that when you self publish - depending on how you do it you can change the cover at any time. However, and its a big however, it really depends on how much time you want to spend on these ancillary matters. Do you really want to go back and change the cover?  Because after all if you are anything like me you want to spend minimal time on the cover and more time on the writing!

But hey ho, I guess if you get it right the first time your book will last forever, without the need of a facelift and it will work for you...on the beach (when people are reading it), on people's shelves. The possibilities are endless!

What about just an e-book cover? Well the cover looks great on promotional materials too so maybe we do need to take time, ask around and get it right.

However, on saying this I am also currently wondering how much is a cover worth these days? Most kindle readers I know never buy a book based on it's cover. I agree because I am in that category...but I can't deny that a good cover helps sell books. Maybe not directly, but indirectly. If you are attracted to something you will buy it. If you see a postcard with a pretty book on it you are more likely to remember the name so you can search for it on line later... Just a thought.

Until next time...

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Structural edits and all that jazz

Structural edits and all that jazz..

It has been a busy week for me. I received the structural edit suggestions from my publisher and I have been busy working on them. I have been able to sort out the issues relatively quickly - well all except one which requires more brain cells than I seem to possess at the moment. I think last night at some unearthly hour I finished it but now that the structural edits have been made I need to read through the whole darn manuscript again to make sure it all makes sense and flows.It is only too easy to assume consistency to avoid reading the whole book again, but although I am not someone who usually pays attention to detail etc., I know I need to do this. So tonight the task starts.

One of the structural edits was to change the ending - now when my writing group read the book they said the same thing and I thought -nooooo, I really like the ending the way it is. So I left it and that was the main thing my publishers suggested to change! So after a bit of sulking I came up with an ending I think readers would be happy with...Let's see what the publishers say.

I think that's one of the nice things working with a publishers - being able to bounce ideas off them and getting their feedback- although on saying that if you are self pubbing you can always hire a structural editor to give you their feedback. Personally, I have never done that but I am in the most amazing writing group that critique full manuscripts and they tell you exactly where you are going wrong - as the above example shows!  If you are a budding writer and not in a writing group I would definitely recommend joining one - and not a lovey dovey one - You need a group that keeps it real and points out the flaws in your plot, your 2d characters and generally keeps your feet on the ground!

Most writers I know get fed up with editing and I know that you can only read through your novel so many times until it all becomes so familiar that you can't see the wood from the trees.

Nevertheless, we authors persevere because that is what you have to do as a writer... yes, bring out the world's smallest violin! We are hard done by.

But it's not all doom and gloom. With my edits done and just one final read through before it goes to the line editing stage surely I am half way there already (If they like my structural edits that is). It wont be long before I am revealing the front cover and the release date!

To add to my workload I have also received the front cover proofs for the next Chupplejeep Mystery - The Body in the Bath. I like what JD&J have done but it needs tweaking here and there so I need to get back to them today. I have had some feedback from friends and family and other writers - which always helps. I don't think you can ever make a front cover decision in isolation!

And another thing - not sure if I mentioned this last time I blogged, but I realised the other day that I haven't written anything new since 2014!!! Crazy! So this year I need to start something new. I have an idea for a book which I will let you in on later. The opening scene is written (I wrote this a long time ago) but maybe I'll take it along to my next writing group meet and see what people think.

Anyone embarking on a new writing project? What are your writing goals for 2016? Tweet me @marissadeluna

Friday, 8 January 2016

So you've got that elusive publishing contract. Now what?

So you've got that elusive publishing contract. Now what?

Hurrah! I can finally announce that I have signed a publishing contract with the fantastic So Vain Books.  I should be getting the structural edits required in the next couple of weeks - so watch this space. I'm excited too for Poison in the Water - the book they are set to publish. They have classed it as a Romantic Suspense novel which I am happy about because I worried that it was between genres of Chick Lit and Thriller.

I have to admit when I received the contract I was a bit wary - why?  because a contract is legally binding and no matter what is said and done you need to make sure you are protected so if there ever if a fall out, if the relationship turns sour (I hope that will never be), you are covered.

Now,  I'm a bit of a researcher and what I have found is this: I have to admit you read some articles where people have signed away their rights to TV show etc, never seen a penny and all that and you think that wont happen to me - I can't see them buying the TV rights to this book I won't worry about it and so you don't. Typically the rights get snapped up and you didn't pay attention to that clause so you never make a penny. Most sites will tell you be wary ask them to take out this clause etc. and there are several clauses they will tell you never to sign. A contract is serious stuff and you should pay attention to it, but at the same time don't be so scared you have sleepless nights. There is a lot of scaremongering going on out there.

I think a little differently (often to my own detriment - well sometimes). I say pick your battles. Look at all the clauses and what they say and pick the ones that are important to you to have removed/amended.

You can go in and strip the contract bare - by all means that is what contract negotiation is all about, but at the same time be reasonable.

The important thing is to make the decision yourself and live by it!  You win some,  you lose some - yes your book may make millions of pounds if the TV rights are picked up, but will the rights ever be picked up if you don't sign the contract in the first place?

But in saying that don't be scared to stand up for what you want (once you have picked your battles) just because you are a first time author. For my first contract I asked a friend who had the same publishers to run me through the contract and it was fine. Looking back I would have added a couple of things to it definitely about termination rights (In this new era of ebooks) but I didn't so I chalk it down to experience. There is no use crying over spoilt milk and all that.

With this contract I was bold enough to ask for the removal of some clauses and the addition of another and they agreed. The best thing about this is that we are both happy and we can now file away the contract and work collaboratively which is how the best relationships evolve (If you keep referring back to the contract - you know where the relationship is going or isn't).

I rarely talk about my day job on here, but I do deal with projects and contracts all the time and the collaboration is a must to get something done (and have fun at the same time), so I have some experience here.

What I would definitely recommend though is to join the Society of Authors and either send your contract to them or read the various info papers they provide on what should be included/excluded for contract deals including E-book and POD deals.

You must also check out Stroppy Author's blog. the author goes through the clauses in the contract line for line explaining it. It's a must read...

And finally, you can of course consult a solicitor, especially if you have a friend who is one. If you are paying remember they need to provide a report on their findings which is more likely to scare you more than anything else.

So there you have it, my top tips for signing that contract! I hope it helps.

Monday, 4 January 2016

We need to laugh!

We need to laugh!

Happy New Year! 2015 went pretty quick, didn't it? Christmas was warm and fabulous in Goa. Some more research done for the second instalment of The Chupplejeep Series - The Body in the Bath - which should be out by the end of the year. New Year was spent in Devon - there is something raw about the British coastline in stormy weather that makes me feel quite at peace. I think its the bleakness of the landscape that makes me feel alive.  That may or may not make sense - I hope it does - but if it doesn't just don't think I'm completely nuts - I'm just having one of those days.

One of those days when I look at the year ahead and think we need to laugh more. We really do. Writers especially. We take it all so seriously sometimes and I for one think this year should be filled with more laughing and less complaining. I generally rant on this blog and I'm sure from Feb I will be back to normal, but I am going to make a conscious effort of laughing a bit more this year - and finding the humour in even the dullest of situations - like 1* reviews and rejections!  Why not - as the quote that keeps going around says - 'None of us are going to get out alive...'

My other resolution for the year is to do one awesome thing every month! It benefits me, it may benefit others (I may adopt a whale - yes that's how much Blackfish affected me) and hopefully it will encourage me to laugh even more.

And another thing, the author Mary Cavanagh has released a fantastic book to help writers decipher the publishing process and marketing etc. The book is titled 'Calling All Authors' and can be bought here
I read an earlier edition when I started on my publishing journey and I loved it - I'm now reading this edition and its even bigger and better - and features an interview with me!  It's a must read for any author.

So what about my writing plans for 2016!  I previously mentioned sending Posion off to a publishers and so far the feedback is good. I'm in discussions but that's all I can say at the moment. With any luck though it will be published later this year - Hopefully I can reveal all by the end of the month.  And I am still working on The Body in the Bath... A massive edit is due and I'm hoping it will be looking ship shape by the summer.

I have some dratted Quantity Surveying exams in March (I brought it on myself!) that may take my focus away, but other than that... I also plan on writing some new stuff this year. I have a preliminary idea for a thriller - work in progress title is Splinter and the third Chupplejeep book - Jetty Jalousie.

Happy writing people..... Remember this is 2016. Anything is possible!


Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Finding your feet – with Lizzy Huitson

Today's guest blog post is perfect for anyone who is thinking about writing (and a good read for established writers too!). Lizzy is a talented writer and part of the Abingdon Writer's set. I am certain you will be reading one of her novels in the not too distant future! 

Finding your Feet: Ten Tips for New Writers
So you’ve decided to take writing seriously. Maybe you’re a young person hoping to start a writing career, or a not-so-young person who’s ready to let writing out of that safe little box labelled “hobby”. Whatever your background, getting started is no simple task. Besides the actual act of getting words on the page, there are a whole host of other challenges you’re going to encounter, so here are some (hopefully) helpful tips.

·       Work at it, don’t play at it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing for fun – it can be a really rewarding hobby. If, however, you plan on taking it seriously, you need to prioritise it. Don’t bother cleaning the oven when there’s writing to be done – no-one ever looks in there anyway. Try not to write for five minutes, then watch fifty-seven funny cat videos on YouTube, then blame your real job/kids/dog for taking up all your time.

·       Find a balance. That being said, don’t work so hard that writing becomes nothing but a chore. If you feel you’re in danger of burning out, take a break. A change can be as good as a rest, so put down the historical novel and write a short crime story or some poetry or Doctor Who fanfiction. Anything that breaks the monotony will help get the creative juices flowing.

·       Try not to go crazy with isolation. If you devote a lot of time to writing, it’s likely that your social life will suffer and your friends may not take kindly to being rejected in favour of fictional characters. Saying “What do you expect? I’m working on a novel” does not have the same effect as “What do you expect? I have two toddlers.”

However, there are ways of using writing to socialise. Joining a writers’ group is a way of connecting with other writers and getting your work critiqued at the same time. You could even arrange a “writing date” with another writer (get together at a cafĂ© or pub, do some writing, drink/natter and repeat), and of course there are plenty of online forums for writers.

·       Self-doubt is perfectly normal and does not mean your writing sucks. Even if it does suck, that’s OK. You’re allowed to be terrible at first. Unfortunately, self-doubt tends to linger, so that when you experience any kind of success, you feel like a massive con artist who is days away from being found out and sent to prison. Take a deep breath. Remember that you deserve any success that comes your way – chances are you’ve worked your arse off for it. Also, nobody goes to prison for bad writing.

·       Jealousy is normal and does not mean you are a despicable person. Let’s face it – all writers have egos. So it’s only natural that when other writers become successful, you may experience jealousy and resentment. The only sensible thing to do is to push it deep down inside you where no-one can see it, smile and congratulate them. Success in writing never comes easily, so remember how hard they must have worked. We’re all in this together. 

·       Get some exercise. I’m not saying that in a “Careful you don’t get fat or you’ll never land a husband” kind of way. But if you have a sedentary job and spend the whole working day sitting at a desk, then spend large amounts of your free time sitting at a desk, you are going to feel crappy. Try doing some stretches at your desk to avoid aches and pains. Go for a walk now and then.

·       Develop a good bullshit detector. Most of the time, when people critique your work, they do it out of a genuine desire to be helpful. However, a handful of people have their own agenda and will either pointlessly bash your work or give you spectacularly unhelpful “advice”. Often, it is because they don’t agree with the content of what you are writing rather than the writing itself.

Oh, and ignore that guy you met on a writing course who said you’d never be a good writer until you got more “life experience”. He is probably going to try selling you drugs or persuading you to have sex with him in a graveyard or something. You know, to give you some of that “life experience” you need.

·       Don’t be held back by writer’s block. To misquote Churchill, “If you’re going through writer’s block, keep going.” Just keep writing. Ignore your inner editor and don’t worry if what you’re writing is terrible. Get those words on the page and sort them out later.

·       Cherish your first rejection e-mail. Print it out and stick it on the fridge. Maybe even frame it. In my opinion, this is the moment you become a proper writer. Chances are, you are going to get rejected a lot so you need to shake off the fear of it. I’ve received all kinds of rejection e-mails, from the boilerplate kind to the helpful and encouraging to the strangely poetic. I’ve never received a mean or spiteful rejection e-mail.

N.B. People talk about rejection letters but I’m not convinced they still exist. I’ve never seen one…

·       Find your voice. This is the difficult one. Expressing yourself in the best way you possibly can will always be a challenge. Developing that special something that makes your writing unique may be a life-long process, but the rewards can be immense.
N.B. I am not talking about financial rewards. These will most likely be puny. I mean rewards like creative fulfilment and a sense of achievement and all that woolly stuff.

Most people become writers because they are readers. Try to imagine every feeling, thought and experience you’ve ever had because of something you read. The ways in which writers can affect people they will never even meet are phenomenal. At the least, something you write might brighten someone’s day, and that’s always a worthwhile goal. So let’s get writing!

Lizzy Huitson is a 28-year-old writer who feels qualified to give writing advice mostly because she is no longer 23. Her poetry chapbook “The God of Cold Girls and Cold Places” has been published by Dancing Girl Press, and her poetry has also been published in journals around the world, including Salamander, Goblin Fruit and Vine Leaves Literary Journal. She has had short fiction published in Fiction365 and has recently written her first novel. She lives in Abingdon and has a proper job in Oxford.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

How to fall into murder...with Elizabeth Mapstone

The Coffee Stained Manuscript is proud to present a guest blog by Elizabeth Mapstone, an accomplished fellow author who has recently published The Amazon's Girdle – A mystery with a delicious twist! 

HOW TO FALL INTO MURDER... with Elizabeth Mapstone

I never intended to write a murder mystery. The Amazon's Girdle began as a love story, with former film-star Jacques, mouldering in a corner of the Michelin-starred Paris restaurant he runs with his wife Louise, remembering his all-too-brief time with the Amazon, the one woman he truly loved. But she died. I realized, rather belatedly, I had to decide how.

A natural death, by cancer say, was out – Eric Segal and “love is never having to say you're sorry” (what rubbish!) had done that. Death in childbirth was possible, but my Amazon was a medical doctor, so improbable; and in any case, I didn't want to deal with the concomitant inevitable guilt. A road accident seemed too facile. Suicide was out. Murder suddenly became essential to the story: it was the obvious way for someone as strong as my original heroine to disappear from the scene; she'd never have bowed out for anything less.

This was a bit of a blow. I had a small cast of characters, but now I had to decide which of them was a murderer. Each one might have had a motive, but how is it that all are carrying on with their lives 17 years later? What happened? Was it perhaps one of those murders that went undetected?

Who dunnit? And who decides to investigate this late in the day? And why? Inevitably, it had to be the young daughter of the doomed love affair between Jacques and the Amazon, inspired by her own heroine, the beautiful and malicious French film-star Madeleine Marvell, who deliberately sets out to disrupt the apparently peaceful and successful life of her former husband Jacques.  Complicated? I'd say. But then murder mysteries usually are. And MM makes a delicious villain.

Given the way this story evolved in my head, it is clear that the book is not structured like a classic murder mystery. Working out whodunnit, I think, is not difficult for those who enjoy the challenge. But the motivations of all possible suspects are psychologically sound, and several reviewers have said they were surprised, even shocked at the outcome. Which is hugely gratifying!

Would I ever write another murder mystery? I'd have said NO, until I launched this one into the ether (where else?). It's been fun. So when I have finished my quiet psychological novels (The Porcupine's Dilemma is now with an agent), I might dip another toe in those dangerous waters. Marissa writes them so successfully, I shall ask her advice.

Elizabeth Mapstone has lived in France, Belgium, Canada, and now England, and is a bilingual veteran of numerous occupations: in restaurants, offices, shops, news reporter, radio interviewer, teacher, translator, political commentator, book reviewer, and theatre critic. A new mid-life career began with a doctorate from Oxford, and she became Founding Editor of The Psychologist, then a psychotherapist, and published two books with Random House: War of Words, on the psychology of arguing; and a self-help book that really works, Stop Dreaming, Start Living. Now retired, she is writing fiction, has published several short stories as well as a mystery novel The Amazon's Girdle, and once won the Luigi Bonomi prize for the best opening pages to a novel (soon to appear in The Porcupine's Dilemma). You can buy The Amazon's Girdle here.

 For more information about Elizabeth and her books see:

Monday, 30 November 2015

The way we live

The way we live...

In the latest journal of the Society of Authors I read in interesting article about consumerism (I'm terrible - I can't recall who wrote it). But it got me thinking about the way we live now. Netflix and my recent purchase of this on-demand product is just one example of this. And I'm always a little late to the party. I got Netflix because I want to watch  tv show and movies when I want to watch them. I don't want to sit and watch mindless tv waiting for something good to come on. I want to watch the mindless tv I choose.

Amazon too announced they will charge readers as they read for borrowed books, no longer charging for the full book. I remember a time when if I started a book I had to finish it (admittedly that was just me - but sometimes I was pleasantly surprised at the end). Okay, so I don't always finish what I start anymore, but still... it was something I was doing – there was no incentive to stop reading like there is now. Will this mean more 1* reviews if the book isn't a page turner? Even if the end is crowd pleaser?

I could be wrong, but most authors are traditionalists at heart, or so I like to think. We may embrace the Kindle, after all it has opened up the world of self-publishing, but we still cherish a paperback – holding those carefully crafted stories in our hands. And in waiting for a particular TV programme you often stumble across a show you wouldn't have ordinarily watched.  You see there is a benefit of not watching stuff on demand.

You may not agree with this. Our time is limited you say, why spend time reading something we are not going to enjoy, why waste time watching television shows with adverts. Want to read something you normally wouldn't - they call it a book club - or film club for that matter. I see your points, I do, but my issue is this: the world we live in is fast moving and it seems to be going faster and faster... Will it stop - no, it's likely to get worse. The younger grow up with life happening all around them - documented with a photo and then they quickly move on ( Geez, I sound like a gran)

We are in a fast moving world. We expect things to happen quickly, we want everything to be perfect. I'm no different. I generally get twitchy if I send an email and don't get a response the same hour... yes I have a problem. But being constantly connected via our phones and tablets, I like to say I am just a victim. Social media helps us authors, but at the same time because it's always there on your phone luring you in, if you are like me you tend to feel guilty when for not promoting your book, checking the competition and of course as you can always see what other authors and entrepreneurs are doing, you can see what you should be doing and feel the guilt.

It's not going to change, this world we live in. If you try and slow it down, you'll get left behind, or worse still trampled by a FOMO (someone with the fear of missing out on social media). So what can we do? Well, we can change ourselves - amend our expectations. I'm not saying put your standards in the gutter, but perhaps we need to asses how important something is to us, what the consequences of our expectations are before having them. And I reckon we just need to start being kinder – to ourselves (we won't get everything right, we can't do everything all of the time), to everyone else – put yourself in their shoes before making a judgement, remember that we all make mistakes and for me to note more than anyone else - be patient. Some people take longer to respond than others and what is the hurry.

Right, rant over... What I really wanted to say is that this Wednesday and next I am hosting two guest bloggers. The fabulous Elizabeth Mapson – Author of The Amazon's Girdle who is blogging about 'falling into murder' . I've read her 2nd novel at Abingdon writers and this one is on my kindle, waiting in line. She writes so beautifully, her books are definitely worth reading.  The following week Lizzy Huitson will be giving you her top tips when you start out writing. I've read the post and I have to say even if you are an established writer you will enjoy reading this. Until then...