Sunday, 31 July 2011

What Authors Need

Perhaps the writer's requirement for coffee or other caffeinated beverages is accepted as a universal  truth, because it didn't appear once in the top 40 results for 'what authors need'. What I did get, multiple times, was what authors need to know about publishing contracts, including everything from how to get one to how to wriggle out of it later.

Needless to say, I immediately dispensed with that lot, instead opting for the 5 tips that follow, on the basis of their rank position or repetition.

1. 2 Key Things Writers Need to Know About the Oxford Comma
Andy McPhee

When deftly placed, a punctuation mark is a marvellous thing. When daftly placed it entirely transforms meaning, as Lynne Truss expertly highlights in 'Eats, Shoots & Leaves'.

A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then pulls out a gun and shoots the waiter. "Why?" groans the injured man. The panda shrugs and walks out, tossing a badly punctuated wildlife manual over his shoulder. When the waiter consults the book, he finds the explanation for this behaviour. The entry for "panda" reads: "Large black and white mammal native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."

It could be argued then, that the most important of all punctuation marks, in Oxford or bog-standard form, is the comma. Andy McPhee demonstrates:

  • The patient was visited by his wife, a co-worker and a friend.
  • The patient was visited by his wife, a co-worker, and a friend.
In the first, the wife was apparently the only visitor. In the second three people showed up.

I would contend that in both of the above statements the number of visitors in attendance is ambiguous. The first variation (without Oxford, or serial, comma) could mean that there is only one visitor - the patient's wife, who also works with him and is his friend. However, in the second, the two commas could potentially be read as parenthesis:

  • The patient was visited by his wife (a co-worker) and a friend.

This now indicates the presence of two visitors and is semantically correct in a contemporary context, where a spouse is likely to be a 'friend', although historically this may not have been the case. Nonetheless, if we assume that there is only one visitor, then the colon provides a clearer alternative:

  • The patient was visited by his wife: a co-worker and a friend.

On the other hand, if there were three visitors, a statement to this effect aids clarity:

  • The patient was visited by three people: his wife, a co-worker(,) and a friend.

In this instance the inclusion of the Oxford comma is a stylistic / publishing choice and given that McPhee is subtitled as 'Author, nurse, and acquisitions editor publishing textbooks for healthcare education', he is likely referring specifically to the publishing requirements of healthcare textbooks.

Thus, if you are producing a particular type of non-fiction, then previously published work in your specialist area (of which you will have read plenty, it is hoped) is perhaps the best indicator of conventions in punctuation, linguistic style, referencing and so on. This might not work quite so well in fiction; following the stylistic features of other authors 'to the letter' removes individuality from your own work. That said, basic punctuation rules still apply... most of the time.

He sprinted to the car, fumbling in his pocket for the keys, his assailant hot on his heals, the blade flashing menacingly in the beam of each streetlight passed. The keys caught in the lining of his jacket and he tugged desperately, tearing the fabric to free them. It was his best suit, the one he wore at his wedding, but it didn't matter. He jabbed frantically at the fob; the headlights flashed their response and he clambered into the driving seat, slamming and locking the door behind him. The man was nearly upon him now and that knife would make easy work of the convertible's soft top. Hardly able to draw breath, he readied his foot on the accelerator and turned the ignition. Nothing.

In conclusion, when it comes to the Oxford Comma, or any other punctuation mark for that matter, your judgement should be based on the requirements of the work being published.

2. Thirteen Things Writers Need to Know About Twitter By Patsy Terrell
Writing from the Peak

"To enjoy Twitter you must build a network. Twitter is as interesting as the people you’re following. If your Twitter Stream isn’t holding your attention, follow smarter people."

This is sound advice, although it might be helpful to consider the kind of network you want to build. Separating our private lives from our writing is tricky on Twitter, but consider how the some of the most successful celebrity Twitterers accomplish this:

@stephenfry: Simply adoring all your vodka tweets. I may accidentally have spilled half a bottle of Grey Goose down my throat...

@jamieoliver: so what's going on with everyone then? loving the weather today...maybe its summer ay?!

@eddieizzard: I am in Paris having a bite to eat and doing my French conversation lessons. What's everyone else doing?

@derrenbrown: Now over Reading. WTF? Everyone has a trampoline.

This is about striking a balance: we need to present a public face, but with personal insights, so that our followers get a sense of connection. Likewise, we should choose carefully who we follow when building our network, to ensure these insights are both interesting and appropriate.

@ZacharyLevi: That last tweet was done while on the toilet. I shall call it a twoop. Thankful it wasn't twiarrhea.

OK, so that's quite amusing, but you see what I'm getting at!

3. The Very Basics: Ten Things All Writers Need To Do - Andrew Jack Writing
Andrew Jack

Write And Learn To Write Well: You might be thinking ‘no kidding?’ right now, but you would be amazed how many writers simply don’t write. This says nothing about their skill level, they may in fact be excellent writers... when they actually get down to it. But it can be easier to talk about and research writing than to actually do it. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but my writing skills didn’t improve until I started writing on a consistent basis. Put simply, writers write.

If you don’t write, you’re not a writer.

Hear hear!

4. Seven Things An Author's Website Must BE

I can't comment on the credibility or efficacy of Romance University (tagline 'RU Ready?'), but their purpose is stated as:

Dedicated to helping writers establish and advance their careers, introducing readers to a variety of authors, and delving into the ever-inscrutable male mind.

Without putting too fine a point on it, the male mind, when considered in this kind of abstract (euphemistic?) context, is rarely inscrutable and the statement reminds me of the Windows 7 / IE8 advert of the man browsing for an 'anniversary gift': "No-one knows what you've been up to. Your secret's safe."

Anyway, the one point that RU make that I can agree with is that authors need to ensure that their websites are:

Bottom line: a website’s no good to you if no one can find it.

Now, there are a few things you can do to ensure that your website is findable, which, let's face it, means Google-findable. These include using meta-tags for your site's description and keywords, including information on your index page that clearly indicates the nature and purpose of your site, using descriptive names for other pages / sections of the site and so on.

Beaten Track Publishing don't build websites, but if they did...

Joking aside, we can help you optimise your website so that it can be found. You'll also need to ensure that your online presence elsewhere is obviously connected to your website.

5. The One Thing Authors Must Do in 2011

The original post comments on how publishers are already getting to grips with what is required of them in this new publishing era, but that one thing authors must do, it says, is build a list of readers and fans.

...authors are too uneasy about marketing/branding/position. It is high time authors get on the horse. Become the brain trust. When you ignore VITAL skills that help you sell what you produce, you will always end up selling used cars.

I have run out of coffee!

Do you have any top tips for other writers? Comments welcome, as always.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Progress Update and Invitations

The 'official' launch date of September 1st 2011 looms ever closer - I say 'official' as obviously we're already up and jogging via this blog, Twitter (@b10track) and Facebook. However, the website is still in progress and therefore yet to go live, although it will in essence be a portal, connecting our presence elsewhere online to a single location.

More importantly, the website will include information about authors and their work, with purchase / download links. If you are a writer and would like to include your work on our website, contact us (email link etc. at end of post).

Needless to say, it would be nice to make a living out of all this hard work, notwithstanding that I awoke from a dream this morning where someone had posted very rude comments on here about the inclusion of advertising - a direct reflection of my own fear of 'selling out'. In justification (to myself and anyone else), the intention of Beaten Track is not to take money from authors (other than for directly purchased services), so other means of generating revenue are required. If you would like to advertise on our website, contact us (email link etc. at end of post).

Currently then, we are building bridges to like-minded individuals, organisations and independent authors, some of whom have a wealth of publishing experience, whilst others may only just be starting their journey down the beaten track. Please feel free to add / follow us wherever you may find us (links at end of post).

Our ethos is simple: writers should be free to write and publish without losing ownership of their work.

Another person's success does not necessarily come at the cost of our own - readers will always want books. It is only in the realm of traditional publishing that we are pitted against each other. Our independence is resistance, not to each other, but to the publishing industry.

If ideology isn't your thing, remember instead that as a community of independent writers, we are increasing our potential readership exponentially with every new writer that joins us. More readers = more money. Now how does that sound?

The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world.
~ Allen Ginsberg

 Where to follow Beaten Track Publishing:

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Preparing a Novel for Print #2: Proof-reading and Adjustments

How exciting it is to receive a copy of your first published novel: turning the book over and over in your hands, admiring the binding, flicking through the pages, that 'new book smell' delighting your nostrils. You select a page at random and scan the text, squinting in the darkness to avoid creasing the spine. Then, snuggled in amongst all the perfect prose, you spot it. Your heart sinks and you try hard to convince yourself that it's nothing major, hardly noticeable at all in fact. But you found it, on the very first page you read. And if you saw it, then so will your reader.

It probably serves as little consolation to know that the vast majority of published work contains at least one error of some sort, whether it's a missed word, inappropriate punctuation or questionable paragraphing. Whilst judgements on punctuation, sentence structure and paragraphing are to some extent subjective and thus unlikely to draw our attention (unless they're really bad), absent words or those that are present and shouldn't be are the mistakes that jump out from the pages of our own work, almost as if someone has already highlighted them with a bright red pen, just to belittle us.

Perhaps the first point to be made here is about accepting that, regardless of how many times we give our manuscripts a good going-over, there is a every chance an error will slip by unnoticed. In the self-publishing process, this problem is confounded by the creator of the work being the one who will also undertake most of the proof-reading, with each read-through leading to further tweaking and tinkering and each change increasing the probability of mistakes occurring.

Case in point: the following is a section from the current novel I am proof-reading; originally written in 2007, I've checked it through literally dozens of times and can still find phrasing I don't like.

It was all getting too much and he wasn’t used to feeling like this. True, there was always this empty feeling, since Adele, and when she married Tom something had died inside. He loved her enough to want her to be happy, he’d always believed that, and yet, now she was happy it made him mad and destructive.

Changed to:
It was all getting too much and he wasn’t used to feeling like this. True, there since Adele married Tom, there was always this empty feeling, like something had died inside. He loved her enough to want her to be happy, he’d always believed that, and yet, now she was happy it made him mad and destructive.

It was all getting too much and he wasn’t used to feeling like this. True, since Adele married Tom, there was always this empty feeling, like something had died inside. He loved her enough to want her to be happy, he’d always believed that, and yet, now she was happy it made him mad and destructive.

As this demonstrates, any changes I make at this stage will require yet another reading if I am to stand any chance of spotting the new mistake. However, I've now been through this manuscript so often that I'm starting to skim through whole sections, which means I'm unlikely to notice one extra word that shouldn't be there.

Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

The problem here is psychological, because our brains are used to filling in the gaps. Consider the image on the left: we presume that underneath the hat, the fence post is the same as the four that we can see in their entirety, because our experience tells us that this is usually the case. Likewise, we don't believe that a person's legs have disappeared just because they're obscured by a pair of trousers.

When reading a sentence (in English at least), the object, subject and action are the most important. The rest is largely irrelevant to understanding the meaning, hence we can skim through entire paragraphs and follow the action without recourse to reading every single word. The more experienced we become, the easier it gets to accurately fill in the gaps and we start to do this unconsciously - a mental shortcut we can usually afford to take. Unfortunately, to override this requires considerable conscious effort, but is absolutely essential to the editing and proof-reading process.

Our innate capacity for language enables us to convey thoughts, emotions and actions through intricate, yet shared, symbolic communication systems. This gift gives physical presence to our imaginations and can be trained and refined, as every writer knows. However, it is also a curse, in the sense that we are designed for efficiency; reading the same thing over and over again defies this natural instinct. The key then, is to be vigilant: disable autopilot and consciously read your work, whilst remembering that, despite extensive proof-reading by author and editors alike, somewhere in Harry Potter there is a stray capital letter.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Indie or Self-Published?

Earlier this year, American author John Locke became the first self-publishing author to sell one million books on the Kindle platform - an achievement he celebrated with a further release, descriptively titled 'How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months'. Without detracting from future sales, some of the key elements of his success include reducing the price of his books to less than 1 US dollar and fully utilising Kindle Direct Publishing, which, he explains, tips the scales in favour of the independent author.[1]

Perhaps Locke's success isn't too surprising, given his background in niche marketing,[1] not to mention sharing his name with the founding father of liberalism. The self-publishing model of electronic and, to a lesser extent, hard copy 'publish on demand' formats follows closely the philosopher's understanding of supply and demand:

Hence it is, that the best, and most useful things are commonly the cheapest; because, though their consumption be great, yet the Bounty of Providence has made their production large, and suitable to it.[2]

As author John Locke argues, the lower percentage return on Kindle ebooks priced outside of the $2.99 - $9.99 range is negated by the volume of sales it generates. Put simply: 35% of 100 copies sold at 99 cents ($34.65) is more than 70% of 10 copies sold at $2.99 ($20.93) and in the case of ebooks, the production costs are the same, regardless of the selling price.

Freed from the costs of traditional publishing, the availability of self-published work is limited only by the author's propensity for selling it; however, independent control of pricing, relatively low overheads and bountiful supply come with a hidden cost - the intrinsic value of an object, determined by its perceived 'cheapness' and the processes involved in its coming into being. Thus, discerning readers are urged to continue to make their purchasing decisions against the rules set by large publishing houses, unquestioningly subscribing to the notion that you do indeed get what you pay for.

The growth of the 'Indie Author Movement' is a direct challenge to the market power of traditional publishers, whose position as the gatekeepers to quality literature is no longer viable, given the quantity of excellent, independently published fiction that is now available. In such circumstances, the likes of Penguin are endeavouring to re-establish 'the paperback', once considered the scourge of modern publishing, through a process of slander and aesthetic revaluation[3] as a commodity that will enhance the reader's cultural capital far more than the purchase of a self-published alternative.

The problem then, becomes one of labels and the meanings associated with these. In the music industry, the term 'indie' traditionally referred to independent record companies (or 'labels') who struggled to establish themselves in a market hogged by the big record companies. More recently, 'indie' has come into use to describe artists launching themselves entirely independently: whilst musicians' performance has always been their commodity, in the past, getting the product onto the market depended on the prestige and economic clout of a well-known record label. The technological advances that increased access to recording and online marketing tools for 'indie' artists are those currently being harnessed by 'indie' authors.

Yet, somewhere between the indie labels of the 60s and 70s and the indie artists who rose with the dawn of the internet, the term 'indie' came to be associated with a particular type of music. The 'indie scene', as depicted in the Wikipedia entry for 'Indie Rock',[4] is typified by bands such as R.E.M. in the USA and The Smiths in the UK, amongst others, who offered a product at odds with contemporary mainstream pop/rock, accompanied by outspoken frontmen. R.E.M. initially rejected the advances of RCA and signed with Miles Copeland III's IRS[5] - a small, independent label who nonetheless distributed through A&M, MCI and EMI[6]. Likewise, The Smiths started out under the Rough Trade label[7], but both bands later signed to Warner Bros.[5,7]

'Indie' in the music business is now a synonym for this particular blend of non-mainstream music and outspokenness - The Happy Mondays (Elektra - part of Warner Bros)[8] and Oasis (Epic, Columbia, Sony Music)[9] are amongst those who fit the indie model but are signed to major labels. Like R.E.M. and The Smiths before them, it would seem that 'indie' was a means of becoming 'mainstream' and obtaining a major deal - the ultimate measure of success. Whether it's pop or rock, the indie genre exists as a pretentious spectre of its former self, over-shadowing the toils of the truly independent artists, many of whom continue to rely on MySpace, LastFM etc. to reach the masses and build a fan base.

There are many lessons to be learned here and questions that we, as self-publishing authors must ask. Firstly, how do we measure our success as an author? Are we to follow naively in the footfalls of the indie bands, self-publishing and marketing our wares with the sole intent of gaining the attention of a major publisher? Alternatively, should we derive meaning from the volume of sales? John Locke is a highly successful author: there is no argument here, when more than one million readers have voted with their 99 cents. The problem is with our persistence in believing that the approval of one publisher is worth more than the combined opinions of our readership.

Secondly, how do we become our own gatekeepers? The beauty of self-publishing is also its downfall, because anyone can do it, which is not to say that everyone should. Some of the independent fiction I've read (or at least partly read) has been truly awful, although the same is true of 'properly' published fiction and not just the stuff on the supermarket shelves. Worse still is the so-called 'literary fiction', with its broadsheet critique credentials, spouting the sort of meaningless, cliched drivel that belies the genre. The experience of appreciating a book is entirely subjective, indicating that ultimately it is only our readers who can decide what stays and what doesn't.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, do we really want to be 'Indie'? Thankfully, the dirge of vampire fantasy appears to be heading off up the high street, but sci-fi / fantasy fiction remains the most written and least published of all genres. This isn't necessarily because no-one wants to read it, reflecting instead the penchant shared by publishers and record labels for telling us what they think we should like. However, there is every possibility that the term 'indie author' is about to be hijacked, as 'indie artist' was before it, and we need to resist this, by remaining resolute in our independence and not succumbing to the temptations of the major publishers. After all, we have the tools and technology at our disposal and we don't need them. That's why they're running scared and it would serve them well to pothole us all as 'indie authors'.

In this context, a publishing deal is not a reward, it's a leash, but we need to step carefully. Once we make the decision to self-publish, we need to stay self-published and build our reputation as truly independent producers of quality publications. Only then can we safely pin the badge of 'indie author' to our lapel.

  1. Joe Konrath (2011) 'A Newbie's Guide to Publishing: Guest Post by John Locke' (March 08, 2011).
  2. Vaughn, K.I. (1978) 'John Locke and the labor theory of value.' Journal of Libertarian Studies, 2, 4, p311-326. p316.
  3. Thompson, M. (1979) Rubbish Theory: The Creation and Destruction of Value,
    Oxford University Press. 
  4. Wikipedia - Indie Rock: 
  5. Wikipedia - R.E.M.:
  6. Wikipedia - I.R.S. Records:
  7. Wikipedia - The Smiths:
  8. Wikipedia - Oasis:
  9. Wikipedia - Happy Mondays:

Friday, 22 July 2011

No Dice: Preview by Nigel Paice

In the back of Ryan's mind lingered a childhood daydream of some day in his own distant future, where he was standing next to a fabulous sporty hatchback, girlfriend by his side, eager to go places. He had the car, he had the girl, he was young, tall, handsome and successful. As the years passed, one by one, the aspects of this dream failed to materialise.

Except the sporty hatchback, for there it was, right in front of him, goading him with its lilting headlights. "Love me, I am your dream car," it whispered seductively in his ear, "We can be anything you want us to be."

And he realised all at once that he hated that car.

It was that unique and special moment in every young man's life: the day he buys his first car and this one had style, class, a pedigree... and a mind of its own.

Reader's Preview
Being a man in his forties, a trip back to the 1980s, which was my heyday, seemed like a great idea. This book didn't fail to disappoint. The attention to era specific detail was spot on (or it was at least to my vague recollections).

Maybe it was because I had a friend with an XR3i AND a 'mobile' phone that I found it so entertaining. Maybe it was because I am a huge fan of the 'Back to the Future' movies? Probably it was a combination of both.

As a reader, I instantly identified with Ryan and found myself agreeing with him on almost every page. We all had a 'friend' like Saul - annoying to the point of wanting to hit him hard with a spanner, but nonetheless still managing to spend a disproportionate amount of time with him.

I'm told this book was written with older teenagers and young adults in mind. What I think it does better than most, is allow us 40-somethings to be those teens and twenties again, even just for a short while, from the safety of our comfy slippers and cocoa. Or maybe that's just me.

No Dice by Debbie McGowan
Coming soon from Beaten Track Publishing

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Preparing a Novel for Print #1: Document Set-Up

As a self-publishing author, it's fairly likely that you will be doing most, if not all, of the preparation for publication and as such, there are a few things you can do early on in the process that will keep the journey relatively bump-free in the latter stages.

In this post, I outline some of the steps you can take to ensure that the document you write into is set up properly from the outset. Once you've created a document formatted exactly the way you want it, it's a good idea to save it as a template for future work.

The Software
The proliferation of word processing packages available for free hasn't changed the reality that Microsoft Word remains the software of choice for most writers and sometimes it really does seem to have a mind of its own. Bullet points automatically de-align themselves from previous bullet points; type fonts appear to randomly change without warning; tabs and indents don't stay where you put them.

Settings / Preferences
One of the first things you can do to avoid all of this auto-formatting is to change the settings / preferences to suit your requirements. For instance, auto-correction of typing errors such as capitalisation of second letters and mistyped words can be quite a useful tool, but as a UK author, I find the correcting of UK to US spelling (behaviour to behavior, realise to realize etc.) is really not something I want done on my behalf. Thus, you should play around with the settings until they perform to your liking.

For more on the pains of auto-correct 
(and a little light relief - adult language - you have been warned):

Next, set up the styles as a template for this and future publications, saving these to the global template if all you ever do is write novels. There are some standards that work for most paperback formats:
  • 11pt Times New Roman font
  • Justified, single line-spaced paragraphs
  • 0.5cm / 0.2in indent at the beginning of paragraphs
Set up a minimum of 2 styles - 'Normal' for your default text is the least labour intensive; something like 'Header' or 'Heading 1' works well for chapter titles.

Page Setup
The size of your book depends on several factors:
  • The industry standards for the type of work you've written;
  • The options available from your printing company;
  • Your own preferences.
Where possible, you should set up your page size and layout first, because more often than not, copying and pasting your novel from a standard word processing document into a 6x9 paperback document will result in your new set-up being overwritten by the original document's dimensions. The outcome is that the 'Page Setup' properties will tell you that the document is the correct size, but there's every chance it won't be.

If you do need to format an existing manuscript, then the failsafe way to do this is to copy a bit at a time from your old document and paste it into your newly formatted one, checking that your settings stay put after each action and saving regularly. Keeping the document on multiple page view will also highlight any sudden changes in page size.

Most of the companies offering printing for self-publishing purposes provide very comprehensive information on page size, margin widths and so on, but it does differ from one company to the next, so have a good read of the information provided beforehand. Depending on which service you opt for, your manuscript might be returned to you with a report on any problems you need to rectify (which is good), but they might just shrink it to fit your selected page size (not so good).

You're also going to need to create at least 2 sections: the first section is for your copy pages (title, copyright, dedications and quotations) and doesn't usually have page numbers; the second section is for your novel and should have page numbers.

Concluding Thoughts
Getting professional results from your self-published work can take a bit of time and know-how, so experiment with your word processing software - try a few different packages, layouts, settings etc. until you find what works for you.

If you can, create a template document in advance - not only does it save a lot of hassle later on, it's also fun to see your novel-in-progress looking like 'the real thing'.

Finally, if you just haven't got the technical stomach, then no fear! This is one of the services that we at Beaten Track offer and at a very reasonable price!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

About Beaten Track Publishing

Publishing is a ruthlessly cut-throat industry, driven by the (often conflicting) forces of canonical snobbery and economics. Securing a publishing deal is, for most of us, impossible and in any case leads to the loss of intellectual property for a miniscule return.

Self-publishing has, in the past, been cast as a second-rate, vanity driven substitute for the 'real deal'. However, when harnessed appropriately, it is by far the best way to ensure that your work is available to your readership.

Beaten Track provides publishing and pre-publication services to authors and writers of all types and genres. From a simple proof-reading or critical review, to full preparation for print and distribution, we can help you to self-publish. You keep full control of your work at all times.

We offer a free initial read-through / consultation and if you opt for our paid-for services, you will only pay for what we do, fully agreed in advance and with no hidden costs.

On this blog, we will be providing information and advice on self-publishing, previews of upcoming publications - articles that we hope will assist and inspire. As always, posts derived from syndicated content and/or penned by guest writers will be duly credited to the author.

If you would like more information about our services, want to contribute to this blog or have any other queries, please contact us via email: