A Grand Tour

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If we’re talking cycling (and we probably are, aren’t we?) a Grand Tour is one of the three big ones: the Giro d’Italia, the Vuelta a España, or, of course, the Tour de France. Ben, the – hero? anti-hero? narrator, anyway – of A Spoke in the Wheel, never got quite good enough to ride one of those.

If, however, we’re talking travel, a Grand Tour is a circuit of Europe undertaken by the privileged youth of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries before they had to settle down and be grown up, sometimes taking several years.

I couldn’t swing more than three weeks off work, but I am spending my Betty Trask prize money going InterRailing. When you read this, I’ll be somewhere between Brussels and Hamburg, assuming no undue disruption from the SNCF strike, of course. I’ll tell you all about it when I get home. (I am aware that I said this about the Camino Inglés. I’m still going to tell you all about that.)

And three weeks from now I’ll have a book to share with you, too. We’ll have a blog tour. A grand one.

The proof is a pudding

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‘Pudding’ is a lot more polite than what I actually said when I took my first look at the proof copy of A Spoke in the Wheel.

The front cover has come out beautifully; it looks rather better in real life than it does in that photo. The inside… not so much. The text on about half the pages had been misaligned, and came out an odd shade of purple.

The photo below shows (bottom right) one of the offending pages, (bottom left) one of the pages that was just about all right, and (top) a spread from Speak Its Name for comparison.

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Since then, I’ve been engaged in correspondence with Lulu, who have been very apologetic and promise that this is very rare. I do hope so. There was an article in the latest edition of The Author by a man who prints his own books, but I feel that this is taking things a bit far even for a control freak like me.

Having said all that, I’m feeling a lot better about the whole thing than I was this time last week. The cover looks good, the ebook looks good, the interior of the paperback will look good when it’s printed properly, and we are on track.

I’ve been here before

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Still no proofs. Well, no, that’s not fair – they’ve almost certainly arrived by now, but I haven’t had the opportunity to go and pick them up. I’ve been away for the last week, so I haven’t been fretting too much, but I am very aware of how much I just want to be done already.

That’s normal for this stage in proceedings.

Other things which seem to be normal for this stage in proceedings:

  • wanting people to read it. The more people who read it and tell me that actually my portrayal of [whatever I’m worrying about this week] is OK, the better I feel about it.
  • not wanting people to read it. People tell me about how much they’re looking forward to reading it and I mutter and shuffle. What if it’s a horrible disappointment? I’m putting my soul on a plate here. At least, that’s what it feels like. To everyone else, of course, it’s just a book. I have to remind myself that, even if they are disappointed, they’re not disappointed in my soul, but only in a book.
  • relatedly, the conviction that I’ll have managed to offend all my dearest friends.
  • being able to see, albeit from some distance, the point where what other people think doesn’t seem relevant any more, the point where I say: It’s done. I did the best I could. It’s just going to have to do.

Waiting

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I have this idea that I’m a very patient person.

One of the things that I’ve discovered over the last four years or so is that writing involves an awful lot of waiting. Waiting for agents and publishers to get back to me. Waiting for editors to finish reading the latest draft and tell me what they make of it. Waiting for myself, to get the perspective that I need in order to make any meaningful decision about what to do next.

Self-publishing cuts out some, but not all, of that waiting. I’ve talked before about the fact that I have to do absolutely everything myself. At least that means that I have something to be getting on with while I’m waiting.

Waiting for emails. Waiting – as I have been all this week – for the proof copy to be printed. Waiting – as I will be tomorrow – for the thing to arrive.

The thing about waiting for the proofs is that I can’t do anything else to the book. There’s no point reading through, because I might have to change something. And there’s no point in changing anything before the proofs come back, because then I’ll only have to order another set. And I can’t approve the book for distribution because something might need changing.

And actually it turns out that I am terrible at waiting. I’ve spent all week refreshing my orders page, waiting it to flip from ‘Fulfilling’ to ‘Shipped’. That happened today, and now I don’t have anything to refresh.

Maybe the book will turn up tomorrow. And if it doesn’t, well, there’s not much I can do. Except wait.

Late to the #IndieAthon party

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On Monday my mother texted me to say ‘Looks like ASITW is very timely’. I texted back to say, ‘Haha, it always is’, and felt slightly smug about being with it for once.

Yesterday I looked at Twitter and discovered that I’d missed a good thirty per cent of an initiative that’s very relevant to my interests, as they say, and now I feel less smug.

#IndieAthon is a month-long celebration of self-published authors and small presses. The organisers have this to say:

Throughout the month you can read however many books you want, not all of them have to be for the readathon of course, but the goal is to read as many indie-published or self-published books as you want! The only limitation to what you can read is that it has to be either self-published or published by a small or independent publisher to count for the readathon. The books can be old, new, popular, unpopular, fiction, non-fiction, anything!

We also would really like you to post reviews of the books you read on Goodreads, Amazon and wherever else you want to post it! Reviews are so important for authors, and especially for smaller authors it can make a huge difference!

There’s a bingo card and everything!

So, hello, #IndieAthon, here I am, sneaking in through the back door, hanging my coat over a chair, grabbing a drink from a tray, and pretending I’ve been here all along.

Um. Er. Yes. Hello. I’m Kathleen Jowitt, and my book Speak Its Name* was the first self-published book ever to be shortlisted for the Betty Trask Prize. I’m in the middle of preparing my second novel, A Spoke in the Wheel, for publication, and that’s my excuse for not having looked at Twitter properly all month.

I’m self-published and very glad of it. Why? One word. Freedom. Self-publishing gives me the freedom to do my own thing, and to do my own thing at my own pace. I’m only answerable to myself. I don’t have to worry about whether anybody actually wants to read a book about a Christian lesbian university student finding her way out of the closet, or, if they liked that, whether they’ll then be interested in a disgraced professional cyclist.

I don’t have to please other people to get my book into print. I just have to put the work in myself. I’m free to experiment, to tell the stories that nobody else tells.

And I’m free to do my own thing at my own pace. I’m the only person who gets to set me deadlines. If I decide that something needs an extra six months’ work to get it really good, I’m free to put those six months in. Conversely, if I have a spare couple of hours and I want to get going on the back cover copy or the front cover design, then I can do that. I don’t have to wait on decisions from anybody else.

Sometimes it’s a scary thing, this freedom. It means taking responsibility for every little thing. Every word that makes it into the finished book is there because I put it there, and it stays there because I didn’t take it out. I can – and I do – ask other people to read for inaccuracy and insensitivity, but the decision whether or not to respond with changes remains with me. The cover, typesetting and formatting, are exactly as good as I can get them.

Any errors or infelicities remaining, as it says on my acknowledgements page, are my own. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In good company

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A Spoke in the Wheel stands at 69,591 words, and I think it’s done. It’s gone through a ream of paper and goodness knows how many drafts.

So far, I’ve had comments from seven people on one or more of those drafts. Some were on early drafts that frankly I’m blushing to think about now. Some were on what was, up until yesterday, the very latest draft. Some of those comments have been detailed, line by line, word by word. Some have been more general. Some have been delivered in person, some via email, some over the phone. Some were on very specific aspects of the book. Some were on the thing as a whole.

(Nobody picked up on the fact that I had two Chapter 10s. Or Chapters 10. Whatever. I caught that just now.)

Some of them have me muttering, ‘Oops!’ Some of them have me muttering, shamefacedly, ‘Oh, good point.’ Some of them have me muttering, defensively, ‘Well, it works on the eschatological level!’ Some of them I just don’t agree with. Some of them flat out contradict each other.

Two novels’ worth of experiment have left me with a workable approach:

If two people whose judgement I trust make the same comment, I act on it.

One person might miss a reference or misunderstand something, or simply fail to see what I’m trying to do. But if two people say the same thing, I don’t argue.

I might not make the change that either one of them suggests. I might change something to make what I originally meant to say clearer. I might delete an entire scene to get away from it.

And I can be one of those two people. If one person’s comment has me muttering, ‘Oh, good point,’ then the chances are I’ll be changing something, even if nobody else mentions it.

And here’s the other important thing:

If someone who knows more than I do about the subject I’m writing about tells me that I’ve got something wrong, I act on it.

In this book, I’ve changed things after being advised on How Wheelchairs Work, How To Go Running, Things One Might Purchase To Improve One’s Bike, and How Prescriptions Work, among other things. No doubt there will be something that all of us have missed, and if I’m lucky it will be something as innocuous as that chapter heading, because, for a self-publisher more than anybody, the buck stops here.

That being so, I am most sincerely grateful to all my editors, beta readers, nitpickers, whatever you want to call them. Their work, their patience, their enthusiasm, their encouragement, make the writing process much less lonely and the work so much better. Without them I don’t think I’d ever finish this book. Indeed, the next thing on my list is to write the acknowledgements page.