Living the dream (bastard).

This post is dedicated to a self-publisher who made it work for him. He is an example to us all and I hate him already. That’s him, the sworn enemy of shaving on the left.

I want to share this. It’s something that all aspiring self-publishers should have a look at. It’s proof that it can be done. I know he’s not the first, but I have a tenuous personal interest in this guy’s achievements. Check out the link below first then come back to me and read the rest of this post. Or don’t. I couldn’t care less.

When I was deciding to go down the self-publishing route a couple of months ago I started doing some research. Part of that research was to download a few free books from Amazon’s Kindle website. I wanted to see what I would be up against. I wanted to find out more about how to go about it all and what I should do and include. What was involved?

I actually downloaded this guy’s first Inspector Mclean book, Natural Causes. It was doing rather well in the free download chart at the time. I even read it. Then I stalked him for a bit. I was able to do this primarily because within the covers of his e-book he provided his blog and web addresses. He wanted people to track him down and see what else he was responsible for. That way, if they enjoyed his first book they might be encouraged to part with some money and buy one of his others (I didn’t). At least they would have known that he had others to buy.

I learned that he narrowly missed out on getting a publishing deal and so had thrown his lot in with self-publishing. And it worked for him spectacularly as you can see. Hats off to the man. (Grinding of teeth.)

Out of unsolicited interest I just happened to check up on his blog yesterday (I have him on my blog’s blogroll, even though he hasn’t condescended to reciprocate, despite my repeated begging emails. If he doesn’t add me soon he’ll end up on my bogroll, although with the money he’s probably now wiping his arse with for fun he has no need of us ‘little people’ anymore) and saw the article and learned something else from his experience.

One thing that I hadn’t been able to make my mind up about with my own impending self-publishing venture was how to price my books when I put them out there. Initially, I thought of putting them on for free, or at least the first one and then having a sliding (upwards) scale of purchase price for the others. People will want them. (Oh, God, please, let the people want them!) Then I thought, bugger it. I sweated blood on these. If people want to read them they can sodding well pay for the privilege.

But people won’t. People – like me – want their books for free like they don’t want to pay for anything. Read the article in the link and see Oswald’s experience. He says that when he had the book on the web for 99p he sold about 15 copies. When he made them free that download figure went up to about 50,000 copies. It’s just become a no-brainer for me. One has to appeal to the cheapskate masses. Why do you think that The Sun and The Mirror are so popular? All right, maybe it’s because they have big pictures of women with their breasts out. But maybe it’s because they are cheap! (Yes, in every sense of the word.)

Anyway, back to the hero of the hour. Those numbers ensured that he got seen and noticed and famous; on a list (the good kind) and with publishers fist-fighting each other in the street for the rights to his books. International rights. He must be rolling it. Bastard. The book wasn’t even that good. (Anyone else smelling sour grapes?)

If he can do it we can all do it. Let them eat cake. Give it all away. I’m going to. The greedy grabbing public will gobble up my free output. I’m going to make all three in my Romney and Marsh series downloadable without charge. I’ll get famous and hunted by the suits with their fountain pens.

I shall be dreaming about Bodrum nights again tonight.

If you haven’t got anything nice to say…

Here’s a word or two of sobering warning regarding the whole self-publishing malarkey.

One can write a terrific book (in one’s own opinion); get some wonderful cover art done; work out all the ins and outs of formatting one’s novel for the e-book market; get it all together and offer it to the world, then sit back and watch some arsehole torpedo you.

When one looks at downloading a particular title from the Amazon Kindle ebook catalogue one has the opportunity to view some of the reviews given it by those who have read it and taken the time and trouble to pen their opinion for others to peruse and be influenced by. RJ Ellroy – a now infamous as well as popular, award winning and best-seller writer – has recently been exposed and vilified for assuming identities and ‘bigging-up’ some of his own books with five-star reviews while simultaneously panning the writing of some of his peers (allegedly). I’m not the first to say shame on him. I now use his books for bog paper, if I can get them for free.

In the name of research and because I am more than a little interested to see what others have made of some of the books that I’ve read and formed a strong opinion of I checked out some of the reviews of a couple of titles…and I learned something else. People can be arseholes. Actually, I knew that already. I’m a teacher after all.

The personal opinion of readers is as wide-ranging, baffling and difficult to understand as religious faith. Take a favourite author of mine, CJ Sansom. I think that his Shardlake series is outstandingly researched and written. I love them all. And it’s not just me. He is critically acclaimed and an award winner. And yet, there are people giving his books one-star reviews on Amazon!!! And they are idiots (you can tell from the way they write) with idiotic opinions and stupid world views. Read some of them if you don’t believe me. Some of his critics can barely string a sentence together.

Another example is Hilary Mantel the double Booker prize winner. She has must have some talent to win that twice (or some bloody good connections or some bloody good photos of the judges involved in practices that they’d rather not have plastered all over the www and would do anything to make that not happen like award her the Booker – twice) but she gets lots of negative reviews alongside her scores of five-star ones.

Mind you, it’s not just Joe Public who are guilty of this. Even judges in literary competitions are prone to bouts of literary blindness (or blackmail/corruption). A couple of years back one of the Shardlake books was beaten in the CWA historical thriller (I think) competition by a book by Rory Clements in his John Shakespeare series. I’ve read the first two in Clements’ series and if you ask me he isn’t fit to sharpen Sansom’s pencils. I only read the second because I couldn’t believe that it would be as bad as the first. It was worse. They lack the qualities that the Shardlakes have in spades: substance and depth. They are shallow and obvious in comparison. The characters are just too stereo-typical and the dialogue isn’t in the same league as Sansom. If I had them on my kindle they would be in my ‘shite’ folder. But they’re not free to download – yet.

The point I’m labouring to make is that these negative reviews that any Tom, Dick and Harry can post on the internet can hurt an author’s reputation and sales immensely. They go up on the website forever and for all to see. Alan Cambell the fantasy writer says on his blog that one of his books was doing quite well on Amazon’s Kindle until he got a one star review. And that, he bemoaned the fact quite justifiably, was from someone complaining about something that was nothing to do with his writing. People are arseholes. Did I mention that?

I’m also reminded of another berk who gave an author a one star review because when he was reading his book on his Kindle he dropped the device and broke it. Cock. What was the author’s fault there?

Why am I concerning myself with all this? Well, when I’m in my deepest of sleeps I dream of people downloading and reading and then reviewing my books on the Amazon Kindle page and I’m afraid that idiots will pan me for nothing to do with my writing, which I’m quite sure is excellent and in so doing will scupper my literary ambitions to get rich and famous and quit work and live in the sun off movie deal options.

As a bibliophile the acid test for me is how the book collecting world judge a book. That’s not by its cover but by its price in the second-hand market. Actually, the cover is very important, but not in the way that you might think. Fine condition Sansoms command good prices and in my opinion represent a sound investment for the future. Signed copies can double the price at least. Copies of Rory Clements John Shakespeare series can be picked up relatively cheaply, even signed and lined.

Just saying, this is my blog where I can speak my mind, but I wouldn’t dream of writing so candidly about another author’s work where people will see it (I’ve already established that no one reads this). It would be very unfair and churlish. After all, who am I? Who are you? Who are any of us to piss on dreams and creativity? As my dear old nan used to say, if you haven’t got anything nice to say button it.

Is it just me?




Is it just me or do other/all writers find that after they’ve gone through the drawn-out process/slog/torture/life-altering experience of writing a novel and then editing/correcting/proof-reading it over and over again they develop a nose for (shouldn’t that be an eye for?) and heightened intolerance of shite writing?

I’ve got a Kindle. I think that I should have, really. Last week, in preparation for a flight and a week away, I downloaded some free books (I expect people to buy mine when the time comes, but I’m not spending my money on other people’s plop). In the past I’d have stuck with some of them and hoped that they might buck up. In the past I wouldn’t have been so critical. In the past I probably wouldn’t have paid so much attention to grammar, syntax, semantics, punctuation, plot development and layout. Now I do. And it’s refining my reading experience to the point of ruining it.

I tried three books put up on Kindle by wanna-bes like me and after a couple of chapters all three ended up being filed away in my Kindle shite folder. And then I unwittingly found that I’d done the same with an author who had a real publisher and hard-copies of his books out there. All the time that I was reading these I was thinking, ‘my books are better than this rubbish’. They were appalling; painful and depressing (owing to the quality or rather the lack of it). The guy with the publisher had a plot development that made no sense and saved his hero from drowning. I went back and read the build up four times and was still none the wiser. He just copped out and waved a magic wand and up to then it hadn’t been that bad, actually.

But that’s not good enough. The book has got to be very good in every respect and without flaws in the plot or it’s sunk.

I suppose that I’ve been learning from all this too, but, man, it’s sure sullying my reading for pleasure. One of my few.

So, what to do to get over it? What’s the antidote? Download a free classic. Enter The Thirty-Nine Steps. I’m two chapters in and finally I can relax and immerse myself in the reading experience. It might be dated, but, like Conan-Doyle for example, Mr Buchan’s writing has a timeless quality. No complaints here. Sometimes it’s true that the old’ns are the best. That’s him up the top by the way.

Mind you, now that’s reminded me of that awful BBC adaptation of the book a few years ago starring Rupert Penry-Jones, who I rather fancy for the lead in my Patrick Sansom books when they are optioned by Hollywood. Alas, so much to do.

In all their full-size glory


That’s one small step for English literature, one giant leap for my self-publishing. Actually, for English literature it might be more of a trip in the dark than a proper forward-moving ‘step’. I don’t care. Screw my critics. I’m moving again. And I’m whistling from the right end.

The old self-publishing grindstone got a bit stuck lately. I’ve had a week away back in the real world i.e. home – responsibility, property maintenance, family, big jobs, little jobs, socialising. It’s all fun and frantic and depressing and consuming. Nanna used to say that a change is as good as a rest (she never went anywhere) but I can’t sit down and ‘work’ on my writing when I’m ‘home’.

But someone was busy. The guy who has been creating the ebook covers for the series has been industriously beavering away and after a couple of drafts and some discussion he’s realised a set for the three books that I’m really very pleased with.

I told him that I was looking for some common identifiable themes on the jackets of the first three books in the series that can be taken forward and exploited on covers of future books. I think that we have a good few going on with what we have.

One letter of each book’s title is replaced with, and depicted by, an artefact from the story. Each cover has a strong silhouette that hints at a prominent locational theme of the book. The typography is common to all three and strong. The background wash of colour is in keeping with the season in which the story takes place. And each cover had a contrasting splash of red in the form of a ‘rubber stamp’ indicating which in the series of the Romney and Marsh Files the book is. Now, all this might not be to everyone’s taste, but appreciate this: the cover has a very important job to do. It must attract the attention of the reader who is looking for a certain type of read. It must reflect the genre and stimulate interest. It must be instantly recognisable as part of a series. I find them simple, subtle, reflective of the content and effective. That’s what I was after and to my mind (and I know the stories better than anyone) that’s what I’ve got.

Now, maybe, I’ll treat myself to one more, final, final, final proof-read…

Learning by doing.


I could never look at Charlton in the same way after watching this scene. I still think that he made a big mistake. I mean, Dude! It’s a monkey. I don’t care how long it’s been!

Walking home after work today, I felt like I’d achieved something. I’m coming to realise that this self-publishing lark is a bloody time-consuming and involved process. A veritable labour of love. It is so much more than jotting down what’s in your head and uploading it to Amazon. It’s all about little steps and they need to be celebrated – if one wants to remain sane – hence I put an extra sugar in my hot chocolate tonight.

I’ve just finished my final, final proof-reading-then-computer-version-updating-emailing-the-document-to-Amazon-to-have-them-ping-it-back-to-me thing of my second Romney and Marsh book. So I now have the first two in the series on my Kindle awaiting my attention. For the record I will be reading them on the device with a hard copy next to me and any alterations or corrections that I feel I need to make I can record them on the hard copy with a highlighter and then do the whole process once more with feeling.

I have mentioned here previously the value of proof-reading using various and varied outlets. It helps to bring a new and novel perspective, something that one needs when one is reading a book for maybe the fifth time or more for errors that one missed in previous readings.

I’m still learning about writing as well. I mean the physical presentation and arrangement of my output as much as anything. All I’ve done in the last few weeks is ride the merry-go-round of edit and proof-read and update and do it again. (The only ‘new’ writing I’ve done is this blog.) And the whole revision process, while at times I would have to admit has been pretty tedious, has also been really educational. This might sound less than encouraging to any would-be readers of my books (I don’t know about anyone else, but I want to read the work of people who have some mastery of their craft before they write a novel and expect me to read it) but even with the final drafts of the books ‘finished’ (inverted commas because they are never, ever finished) I still was not sure about/comfortable with the way that I had chosen to layout the text. I need to clarify that for myself.

My biggest issue, specifically, was paragraphing where speech was concerned. I think that I’d been educated to conform to the model whereby one writes a bit of something and when a character then speaks a new line is started. When the character stops speaking a new paragraph is started. But I’ve realised something over my reading years that jars when I’m reading; that interrupts the flow of the reading experience for me and I don’t like it, so I have changed my layout so that I don’t do it. When I re-read my stuff it now flows better, I think.  Here is an example of what I’m talking about.

The Old Way

‘What do you reckon? Holiday snaps?’ said Romney.

Marsh was disappointed not to have stirred something more in the DI. She had amends to make.

‘Might not even be Emerson’s. Could be his son’s. If he ever stayed over here, this probably would have been the room that he slept in. Better check it out, anyway.’

He wrapped it in the little plastic sack, handed it to Marsh and checked his watch.

‘There doesn’t seem to be anything here. Come on. They do a very nice bacon sandwich and proper coffee at the De Bradlei centre in the next street. We’ve just got time before we meet the girlfriend, if we get a move on.’

The New Way

‘What do you reckon? Holiday snaps?’ said Romney. Marsh was disappointed not to have stirred something more in the DI. She had amends to make. ‘Might not even be Emerson’s. Could be his son’s. If he ever stayed over here, this probably would have been the room that he slept in. Better check it out, anyway.’ He wrapped it in the little plastic sack, handed it to Marsh and checked his watch. ‘There doesn’t seem to be anything here. Come on. They do a very nice bacon sandwich and proper coffee at the De Bradlei centre in the next street. We’ve just got time before we meet the girlfriend, if we get a move on.’

It’s a personal thing, I suppose. I could be breaking writing conventions (just to clarify, I don’t ever have two people speaking in the same paragraph. I’m not that reckless.) But I don’t care. Plenty of authors create their own writing style. They must have their reasons. Some don’t even put inverted commas around speech, choosing to indicate that someone is speaking by italicising the font. By the way, I’m not saying that I’m a pioneer in this. Others write like it. Better authors than me.

Something else that this ‘style’ allows me to do is to dump dozens of ‘saids’ and the like. If I were splitting up those paragraphs into the old way I would definitely need more ‘saids’, but keeping it all together I don’t.

In a previous post I also mentioned that I was changing all my qualifying adverbs into ‘saids’. I’m not going to explain it again here. It’s just down the page a bit if you’re interested. But I’ve also gone further. I had a lot of ‘saids’ following the speech. Example,

‘What is that stink?’ said Romney, sniffing loudly.

Too many. It was boring me to read them all. I’ve changed a lot of that sort of thing to something like below.

Romney sniffed loudly. ‘What is that stink?’

Again, I prefer this. It is a personal preference. I think that it makes the reading more interesting. Looking over the texts I would say that the reader has got to concentrate more, work harder at understanding who is speaking (or still speaking); who is performing what action. Is that a bad thing?

I wonder – am I making any sense today?

I’m also in a good mood because I stayed late at work under the pretence of sorting out some fresh straw for the monkey enclosure tomorrow, but really I printed off the first hard-copy of the third title in the series. I’ve not read it all the way through yet and, like shagging someone for the first time, I’m really looking forward to it. (Didn’t think that I was actually going to write a whole post with nothing rude in it did you? I don’t like to disappoint myself.)




Eons ago, I received a comment from another blogger. It felt a bit like first contact from outer-space (and incidentally it was the last). The gentleman concerned was commenting in response to my post that I was engaged in the final, final proof-read of my book. He described proof-reading as a humbling experience. Astonished and excited to receive a comment I then commented on his comment. My comment (that’s a lot of comments) was rather flippant and, as is my bad-habit, I tried to be funny. I said that proof-reading the book was more embarrassing than humbling. The implication being that I had found a number of school-boy errors. If memory serves, I think that I even spelt embarrassing three different ways just to make my point and demonstrate how funny I am. How that has come back to haunt me. Talk about self-fulfilling prophesy. Talk about foot in mouth. Talk about dumbass.

My last blog post detailed contact made by me with an artist who is going to design some e-book covers for me.  Among other things (like money) he asked me for a sample of each of the three books that I was commissioning covers for. I duly sent them off. I did add the note that the latter two samples were still in the stages of editing and proof-reading (I was trying to cover myself for typos and the like that he would see) but that the first was ‘Kindle-ready’. I believed it was.

I had read the book in both computerised form and hard-copy. The book had gone through several drafts and edits. I had proof-read it at least five times (yes really. I would look at it again and see something that I wanted to change; an errant speech-mark, or lack of; two speakers in the same paragraph (HOW THE HELL DID THAT HAPPEN?). In the end I had to leave it or it would have consumed me. One has to say enough is enough at some point, doesn’t one? I should add here that I live in a place where I do not have the luxury of being able to call on (plague/annoy) other native English speakers to read my books for me to help me out with things that I just can no longer see because I’ve become blind to the text.

I’m so familiar with this book I could probably recite it off-by-heart. And therein lies my problem regarding proof-reading. I can’t concentrate. I can’t focus on the writing like I should and I must. I was so sure that it was ‘perfect’ and typo free that I had formatted it for Kindle and sent it off so that it could be dinged back to me and I could read it on my Kindle to check how the layout had survived the changes before pressing the publish button.

Now, picture me in bed. Sorry, let’s try that again. I’ve learned another lesson for future self-publishing: when proof-reading the book use as many formats as you can because each one can give you a different and valuable perspective not to mention the novelty value that just might see you more engaged in your task.

I didn’t see my humiliating error on the numerous read-throughs of the computerised version; I didn’t see it on the three hard-copy drafts that I printed out and went through with a fine red pen and I obviously didn’t twig when I first penned the sentence. I only saw it when I was lying in bed with my Kindle, propped up on several pillows, shawl draped around my shoulders, hot-chocolate cooling down on the bedside cabinet and looking forward to the novelty of reading my ‘finished’ book on the device (even if it was just the result of me emailing it to myself).

Enter the first chapter of the ‘Kindle-ready’ edition of the book that I sent to the cover artist. In fact make that the first effing page (talk about first impressions – excuse me while I hang my head in shame for a moment).

Can the horror and the disgrace be imagined? Can the hot flush of embarrassment that I experienced when I got to the bottom of page one and read the following be felt?

Marsh came to meet him as he stepped out of the vehicle. ‘Evening, sir.’

‘Sergeant.’ Detective Inspector Romney busied himself with his overcoat, trying to hide his disappointment. ‘Where’s Sergeant Wilkie?’ As a casual enquiry it failed.

Marsh’s features hardened a little at the implication. ‘As of this evening, sir, Sergeant Wilkie’s on maternity leave. His wife had the baby an hour ago. Also he’s a man.’

Do I have to explain it?

It took all of a nano second for my thinking and imagination to explore the probable scenario that played out in the home of the cover-designer. It probably involved lots of laughter and the summoning of friends, family and neighbours to ‘come and read this hahahah…

I turned off the Kindle, then the bedside lamp. The hot-chocolate was left untouched. In the darkness I huddled myself down under the duvet and assumed the foetal position. I think that I might have wept before finally succumbing to sleep.

At the weekend I’m going to find some peace and quiet, some space and time.  I’m going to get myself comfortable with another hard-copy of the book, power up the Kindle again, take a deep breath. Then I’m going to read the Kindle version and annotate the hard-copy and then I’ll have to correct the computerised version and send it to myself again.

As Jesus probably said at least once, when is enough enough? So another lesson learned to pass on to myself. Thanks me. I’m welcome.

Coming soon. I’m going to enter a competition……

Desperate times call for desperate measures.



A couple of days ago I posted that I had run into problems with my e-book covers and that I thought that I might/should seek some professional help (for the covers, not for me).

I looked through a couple of years of entries in the monthly e-book cover design awards on the website (a great resource) and found a couple of artists that impressed me with their work.

I tracked down their websites and gave them the once over. And I’ve settled on someone to approach. His artwork is really good, he has good testimonials on his website and his prices are quite reasonable, especially when compared with the competition. £100 a cover. I want three.

In line with keeping a record of my foray into self-publishing I’m including a copy of the letter that I’ve sent to him today. (I haven’t got anything else to report and it is all relevant).

His name is Kit Foster. He is based in Scotland and his web address is

Hello Kit,

I have written three novels that I am going to self-publish as e-books. Not wanting to spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar I think that I need, and would benefit from, professional help with the e-book covers. I’ve done some research. I really like your work. I hope that we might work together to our mutual benefit.

I’m approaching you after reviewing a couple of years of entries in the e-book cover design awards on Just for your information, regarding any designs that you might undertake for me, I generally agree with every comment Joel Friedlander makes, which is good because he obviously likes your covers.

My books are the first three in a police detective series. I shall be writing more. They are set in Dover, Kent in the present day. The series is pretty formulaic in that each book involves the two main characters from the local police force, solving crimes that the town throws up. The two main characters’ names are Detective Inspector Romney (male) and Detective Sergeant Marsh (female).

I’m looking for a striking design that can be used as a common theme throughout these books and others that will follow. I want my books to be visually instantly recognisable as a series with certain common features. I want a brand. To this end, I would like to incorporate on the cover, as well as title and author’s name, a phrase something like ‘ The First Romney and Marsh File’ The Second Romney and Marsh File’ and, obviously, ‘The Third Romney and Marsh File’. I’m not sure if this should be done in a novel, logo-type – maybe something like a rubber stamp imprint? – way or would be better as a simple sentence.

I hope that I’m writing in the crime/police procedural-with-an-element-of-thriller genre. If I’m not, I’m screwed.

My target audience is readers of contemporary police detective novels set in the UK; who expect to be kept guessing to (just about) the end and who don’t expect either regular graphic scenes of brutality and violence and the text peppered with bad language, or little old ladies in surgical stockings solving crime. I don’t mind blood and guts and swearing but there’s not too much of it in my books.

I don’t know whether I want the covers to specifically reflect the town. I don’t know if that’s necessary. My personal opinion of Dover that I’m writing the books through is that it has some wonderful historic and geographical features going for it, but that as it is today it is tawdry and neglected with a dark underside and peopled by, not exactly low-life, more unsavoury elements.

I don’t want clearly definable images of people’s faces on the cover (see Martina Cole novels) but I don’t think that that is your style anyway. I’m not looking for a quaint English village feel either (see Agatha Raisin books). I want something gritty and implying darker elements of society portrayed in a simple effective way.

I need e-book covers for these three titles that, specifically, Amazon will accept for uploading as a Kindle e-book. I’m sure that you will know these specifications better than I do.

I would like the books to have a strong contemporary feel and strong typography. I’m not necessarily looking for something visually suggestive of the location. If you think that’s best then fine; I’m not averse to it either. I like simple and striking and uncluttered and clever and memorable and subtle and effective. Who doesn’t?

Anyway, assuming that you’re interested in doing the covers here is some detail. If you want more please ask.


I have no publisher logo to consider.

Probably of no significance to the design process, but I’ll include it anyway, is the fact that I come from a place just down the coast from Dover called Romney Marsh. Hence the sir names of the two main characters.

Having just read through all of this I would like to add that as the titles of the books are revealed as being very relevant and suggestive of the overall main storyline for each novel I would like the cover artwork to be a visual suggestion of the titles as much as anything else.

I do hope that all this makes sense to you.

If you require any content from the books I can send it to you.

I would appreciate you letting me know whether you’re interested in the commission and if you are your initial thoughts and price.

Have a good weekend.

Oliver Tidy