I’d like to apologise for the continued non-appearance of the book on Kindle and Kobo. I’ve emailed Lulu Support this morning in the hopes that they’ll be able to unstick whatever’s got stuck. I’ll keep you updated.
Still, a month isn’t so long to wait, compared to some things. It’s my cousin’s sixth birthday today. He was born in 1992.
If I had a page of Frequently Asked Questions (I might some day – who knows?) this one would be at the top of it. And I always umm and ahh a bit when I answer it.
There are two answers, really.
In the autumn of 2007 I was writing about six people whose lives are affected by a political complication in which they are passively and tangentially involved. The point of view was passed around the six of them. They had their own views. They expounded upon their own views at great length.
That was about as interesting as it sounds, and I picked it up and put it down several times over the next few years. I restarted it completely in 2011. It got to about 95,000 words of scenes that worked reasonably well on their own, but lacked any coherency or interest when stitched together. Several times I decided that it was boring and gave up with it. I wrote down scenes when they occurred to me, and after a while they stopped occurring to me. By 2012 I had abandoned it.
Then Synod happened. Synod happened, and I learned how it felt to be comprehensively screwed over by a Church that I loved, that I had no intention of leaving, but which had made it very plain that it didn’t want me. It hurt. It hurt a lot.
I wrote a blog post but, like the Very Hungry Caterpillar, I was still hungry. No, not hungry. The other one. Angry. And I had a character sitting around in my head. She was the love interest of one of the original six. I didn’t have anything written from her point of view. But she was a character who’d been comprehensively screwed over by the Church she loved. So, having written what I felt like, I wrote what she felt like.
I was still angry into the new year. I ranted about it to anyone who would listen. I even used the story of Synod in a training exercise at work, where we were asked to give a brief verbal presentation on something we felt strongly about, because, my God, I felt strongly about that. And I kept writing.
Ninety-five per cent of what is now Speak Its Name was written after that Synod vote. (The remaining five per cent is mostly chapter headings and background infodumps, with the odd scene in which it was easy to flip the point of view.)
Now that I’d started writing Lydia from her own point of view, it became obvious that this was her story. I remembered a truism from somewhere: the hero of a story is the person who changes the most over the course of it. That was definitely Lydia.
Over the next two years, she took over the book. The six original viewpoints became three, and Lydia was one of them. From Georgia, Peter, Olly, Colette, Will and Becky, the focus shrank to Colette, Peter and Lydia.
Eventually I realised that Lydia had to be the sole voice, that the whole book had to be written from her point of view. This was not a welcome realisation. In early versions, her sexuality was the big reveal at the half-way point. It was meant to be a huge surprise to the reader and to all the rest of the cast. I had no idea how to write a character who wouldn’t even come out to herself until half-way through the plot.
I had another problem. The political plot was tedious. Too many committee meetings; too much talking; too many petty differences that took too much explaining.
Fortunately, moving everything that wasn’t from Lydia’s point of view into a separate document clarified things considerably. It cut out most of the committee meetings, not to mention a sub-plot about a pregnancy scare and a rant about Bristol VRs (buses, if you’re wondering). I read through what was left and worked out what was missing. I found that I could rework existing scenes to fill some of the gaps. Some of them had to be written from scratch.
After that, all I had to do was sort out the first half of the book. Go back to act 1 and place the gun on the mantelpiece so that when we get to act 3 nobody’s surprised when it gets fired. Scatter a few bullets around the place. Rewrite pretty much everything, because I hadn’t been letting anybody see inside Lydia’s head, and so there were huge chunks missing. After all, I’d had to take huge chunks out.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting some of the deleted scenes on here. If you’re wondering how Will came to live in such a dangerously liberal household as 27 Alma Road, what Becky told the Equalities Officer, or what Peter actually thinks about Bristol VRs, well, you’ll find out…
A novel about being queer and Christian at university – about faith, love, doubt and integrity. Read more here, or scroll to the bottom of the post for the giveaway.
Self-publishing in the nineties was grim. I know because both my parents did it. ‘Nobody’ wants to read about queer Christians now, and ‘nobody’ wanted to read about the physiological aspect of childbirth, or look at pictures of buses with passers-by getting in the way of the fleet number then. Doing It Yourself runs in the family. The kitchen table was perpetually shrouded in pencilled layouts for the next coffee table bus book, or hand-drawn diagrams of the hormone process in childbirth.
There was a corridor you couldn’t get through because of the huge bale of bubble wrap. There was a stack of corrugated cardboard that was taller than I was.
And there were books. There were books in the shed; there were books under the stairs. I’m pretty sure there were books in my brother’s bedroom.
There are still books. My parents have moved house four times between them since the last self-published book came out, and I have tripped over cardboard boxes of The Girl In The Street or shrink-wrapped bales of Childbirth Unmasked in every one of those houses.
The lovely thing about Lulu is not having to bother with all that. So far as I’m concerned, everything involved in the publishing process has happened within a square metre footprint. There’s me, and there’s my computer. If someone wants a book, they order it from Lulu (or, as of this lunchtime, Amazon) and someone who isn’t me gets it printed and posts it. It doesn’t go anywhere near me, and I have no boxes to deal with.
(The writing is a different matter, happening as it quite often does at seventy miles an hour, or in a park, or, for one blissful week, in a huge dormitory that I had all to myself. But the exercise books and the archaic Asus Eee on which I actually do the writing take up a lot less space.)
Having said all that, I discovered today that possessing a modest stack of books with my name on is a very good feeling. A lot of the books in the picture have been posted to the people named on the acknowledgements page, and the British Library, and other worthies. But not all of them. For a start, one of them is destined for one of you blog readers.
Leave a comment on this post to enter the giveaway. On 19 February I will use a random number generator to select one of the comments, and I will send a paperback copy of Speak Its Name to the person who left it. No matter where they are in the world.
Speak Its Name is now on Amazon. At least, the paperback version is. The Kindle edition has yet to materialise.
Note how I didn’t say ‘is now available on Amazon’; that’s because it’s listed as ‘currently unavailable’. When that changes I shall let you know.
Possibly more excitingly, it is actually available on the iBookstore (categorised as plain ‘Gay’, but I don’t have the energy to get into a fight with Apple over erasure…)
It wasn’t on Kobo when I looked a couple of hours ago, and it’s not in the Nook store. Again, I’ll let you know when it does show. In the mean time, if you’ve read the book, and if you liked it, and if you feel like reviewing it on Amazon, do go ahead. Or anywhere else, for that matter.
Today, I shall be making use of the Christmas present from my sister-in-law and her family. Thank you, Kat and all! I used to hate colouring – the legacy of a secondary school religious education teacher who used to set it as homework – but since it dawned on me that I didn’t have to finish anything ever if I didn’t feel like it, and nobody was going to mark me for ‘not putting enough effort in’ it’s become a joyful form of pointless quietening. Wine, chocolate and candle are of course guaranteed to improve a day.
I think taking today as annual leave was an excellent plan. If I’d been at work I would have spent the whole day drinking far too much coffee and refreshing Twitter every thirty seconds. This is exactly what I’m doing at the moment, but at least I’m doing it on my own time. And I like my day job. I wouldn’t want to give it up even if I could afford to (if you’re interested, Lulu tells me that I have made £28.61 so far; there’s a long way to go before I make back the cost of the ISBNs); the worst part is the fifty-eight-miles-each-way commute, and I can call that writing time. At least, when I’m awake enough to write I can call that writing time. Reading this article on the life of touring musicians reminded me how fortunate I am, that I can do what I enjoy and make a living, and enjoy what I do making a living, and make, if not a living, some money doing what I enjoy.
Returning to the subject of my in-laws, one of them asked me about my experience with Lulu. My first reaction was to point them at Ankaret’s blog (apart from anything else, she’s got a very nice post about Speak Its Name up there at the moment) because pretty much everything I know about Lulu I learned from Ankaret’s early posts. Things have moved on in Lululand since 2010, particularly in regard to their provision of ebooks, but there’s a lot that remains the same.
Apart from that…
Lulu is very intuitive and easy to use…
… right up to the point where it isn’t and you spend hours swearing at it and crying (not that this was me on Monday or anything)
Specifically, I have learned that if you have a paperback book on Lulu under ‘private access’, and you want it to be available to everyone, all you have to do is click on the title in the ‘My Projects’ thing and change it to ‘general access’. It sounds so obvious, but you’d expect that to be under the ‘Manage Distribution’ button, which is right next to it, and only deals with making it available on things other than Amazon.
You get out what you put in.
One of the things about self-publishing that I found daunting was the fact that I’d have to do everything myself, or find someone else to do it. Cover, type-setting, publicity, editing, proofreading – everything that would be somebody else’s job if I’d gone down the route of traditional publishing, I had to do, or organise its getting done, and the one that was freaking me out the most was the ‘making the book look good’.
Lulu doesn’t help you with that. It’ll chuck the book back at you if you’ve got the margins wrong, or forgotten to put the ISBN on the back cover, but that’s about as far as it goes. You have to make it look as good as you possibly can yourself.
I’m reasonably pleased with how Speak Its Name has turned out – I’m fretting a bit about the definition of the flower on the cover of the paperback, and I don’t much like Times New Roman as an ebook font (but it’s better than all the alternatives) – but it took a lot of work to get it to ‘reasonably pleasing’.
It really helps to know about…
… using styles in Word (or Word-alike – I use LibreOffice Writer) programs. The ebook converter insists on formatting being done this way. You can’t just hit the return key until the text goes where you want it to, because the converter strips that out.
However, if you are using a first line indent style and you want to signify a change of scene with a paragraph break, it will recognise one double return. And I only wish I’d known that before I’d gone through the whole document putting in line breaks with the ‘Insert… line break’ tool, because the converter strips those out, too.
It can be really, really sloooooooooowwww
This is partly the way that Lulu works and partly the way that everything else works. I submitted the ebook for checking prior to distribution to retailers other than Lulu nearly a week ago, and it’s still ‘pending’. And of course even once it has been approved there’ll be a delay before those retailers pick it up. Similarly with the print version – it will filter through to Amazon eventually, but by all accounts this will take the best part of a month, or possibly even longer.
I think that making all versions available on all platforms at the same moment is an impossible dream.
When you really, really want something, it takes longer to arrive
Which I suppose is just life, really. Lulu’s stated printing times for paperbacks are 3-5 business days, and of course with the first proof copy, which I really desperately wanted, it was the full five days.
This all sounds a bit negative
These are the whinges, but overall I’m pretty pleased with Lulu. I’ll post another time about the hell that was self-publishing in the nineties (I know because both my parents did it) but for the moment I’ll just say that Lulu cuts out ninety-five per cent of the hassle that I remember. I gave them a file and they gave me a book. What more can you ask for, really?
Free stuff that isn’t Lulu but that is useful
Paint.net, for the cover. Apart from the way it refuses to let you change text once you’ve added it, which is infuriating, it’s brilliant. Not entirely intuitive, but once you’ve worked out how to do something then it will do it.
LibreOffice, if you don’t want to pay for Microsoft Office. LibreOffice Writer does most of the stuff that MS Word does, albeit in a slightly different way.
the thing within your word processor program that converts to PDF. Essential, so far as I’m concerned, for peace of mind. I didn’t trust Lulu to convert my .odt document into a book. I didn’t really trust it to convert the PDF into a book, but it did do that properly, and the inside of the paperbook looks as I expected it to.
Calibre, for checking the ebook version. For doing just about anything with ebooks, actually. But I found myself downloading the ebook version over and over again, and Calibre lets me look at it on screen, add it to my Kobo, and convert it to different formats.
This is all that occurs to me at the moment, after a couple of months as a member of Lulu and forty-eight hours as a live author. No doubt I’ll discover more of its little quirks along the way. I’ll keep you posted – if, that is, its little quirks are at all interesting.
I have prosecco! I have been saving it for just such an occasion ever since my birthday party.
I have a book! It arrived this morning while I was at work.
The book is available as an ebook and as a paperback! It turns out that I have been maligning Lulu – though perhaps not entirely unjustly, because they could make things a lot simpler than they are at the moment.
Let’s have a party! Comments are open for celebration!