Monday, 24 February 2014

The Road to Authorship

This post is about what's involved in becoming a self-published author.

Living in France wasn't my only dream and it wasn't the only one that had to bide its time. Before my decision to pursue France I had the idea of becoming an author. Lots of people do and some of them do it. I was going to write an autobiography on growing up as a baby-boomer in NZ. And then I met Nicolas and my emphasis changed somewhat. My relationship with him was built on blind trust and hope. I told him back in 2008 I was going to write a book and include him in it. He wasn't fazed, instead suggesting he could put me in touch with his own publishers in France, when the time came. That sorry story came to an end at the beginning of 2010 and out of the muck came my determination to go it alone to France and thus the beginning of this blog. Now there will be a book, only it will be different to the original subject.

Becoming an author is a bit like moving to France; scary, expensive, confusing, liberating and usually lonely. Having finished my manuscript about my experiences in changing hemispheres and surviving the French I sent off query letters to literary agents and, where necessary, included sample chapters, synopsis and proposal. Most have predictably never replied. Those that did said it wasn't their thing. One said good luck and that she thought I wrote with poise and polish but...... well, I'm grateful to have got that much feedback.

Oh the hours I've spent trawling forums about becoming published. It seems I've got more chance of winning Lotto than getting a book deal and it's not necessarily due to the quality of the writing. You've got to be an established author or a celebrity to get a look-in. Even getting a book deal would mean a wait of at least 18 months before it would be available for readers and then my royalties would be miniscule after everyone's taken their percentage. Screw that, I've got better things to do than waste time doing stuff guaranteed to be a waste of time. So I've been researching self-publishing.

Nice little mine-field for the unwary. You can choose vanity publishing and get ripped off with huge fees for supplying almost nothing but you do end up with a book in your hand that maybe no one knows about or wants. It probably hasn't been professionally edited, more likely run through a spellcheck. I need to give myself the best chance of succeeding and that's not it.

More research and consideration of doing absolutely everything myself and then just finding a boutique printer to run off some copies. Nah, this is the digital age and I'm not a graphic designer. I need a little bit of hand-holding and confidence in presentation and distribution.
  • Create an account with CreateSpace,'s print on demand publishing arm
  • Find a professional editor who understands commercial requirements.
  • Research book interior templates styles and costs for later reformatting for print and ebooks. A license is required.
The manuscript will need to be rewritten depending on the editor's markups and suggestions. I must be prepared for hearing feedback I don't like. My editor is not doing proof-reading. I'm more interested in whether the structure and flow are working so hopefully around mid March he'll have found time to send me back my marked-up manuscript from the US. He was Stephen King's first editor and markets himself like that though I do wonder why, after 2000 book edits, he's not had other major successes. He's more affordable than anyone else I could find. Tick.

I'll need to format the manuscript according to a purchased interior template and then create a stable pdf that meets CreateSpace's requirements. There's uploading to be done. Do I want to complicate things with photos in my book? You can publish without a template but it'll look amateurish.

I agonised over whether to just go with a free ISBN (International Standard Book Number) from CreateSpace or be truly independent and buy one myself but I found I'd have to get one from the French afnil agency for that and their site is awful to understand and it talked about also having to have a legal deposit. It all got too hard and expensive so too bad, CreateSpace will be my publisher, not me.

Ooops, don't forget taxes/royalties. This has to be organised with the US tax department. Holy shit. Which country do I use as an account for this? More searching and worrying about implications with either NZ or France. I don't have a postal address in NZ but I do have an accountant there. Nope, have to go with France as that's where I'm currently living. So I had to research tax treaties between the US and France... article 12 royalties... 5% withholding tax. I spent over an hour on the phone with the IRS. Turns out the advice I'd found on the internet was already out of date and I needed to make a new international call elsewhere and wait... to get an EIN number as a non-resident taxpayer. Then I would need to download 3 copies of W-8BEN, fill them out and send one to CreateSpace, one to Kindle Direct Publishing and one to Smashwords once I have each of my account numbers with them.

So far, after placing that second international call to the international EIN section and spelling everything out over the phone I have now received my precious EIN number to avoid withholding tax on my royalties. I'll still have to pay tax on them in France.

Find a professional book cover designer who knows how to make thumbnails look good and takes endless revisions. Tick but oh oh, I can't get started on this because the internet is showing me there are now many other products out there with the same name as my book. I must change my book title.

Oh oh, there's a BBC reporter who has written books and she's on several pages of Google search before I ever find myself. I must change my name. This was all doing my head in. Requests for help on various chat forums didn't help much. Most close alternatives were taken according to Google and Amazon. Choosing a new title and author name was surprisingly difficult. After much deliberation I am publishing Follow My Heart under the name of Frances Lawson. So, maybe I can now let my cover designer know the book title and author. I'd better finish writing the blurb and bio.

Hang on. I've changed my book title so now I'll have to change my website name. Cue domain search for the title of my book - and it's available but at an staggering price for .com, so it'll have to be .co. Now I need to ring my US hosting company and ask them to transfer all my website content over to the new domain name. Simple, thank you Go Daddy. Next, change some content on the website and amend my email signature to show the new site. Phew!!! Does this ever end?

I suppose once you've done this self-publishing once and set everything up it gets a lot easier. To do it properly with a decent professional look is not cheap but it'll be slightly cheaper than a vanity publisher and I will have a high quality product(s) to sell indefinitely (paperback and eBook). Be warned, this is a huge amount of work and then marketing the finished product will be a job and a half too. I'd love to do better than earn back the (mortgage) money I've invested in this dream project. Tick bucket list.

My thanks to all those who've trod this path before me and left footprints for me to read.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Count me in!

I'd like to count for something. Generally I'm totally invisible in France, except to the tax and the work and immigration departments. I have no friends other than Jean-Claude, no 'colleagues' at work. I'm not part of a team or group. I have no parents who contact me; Dad is dead and Mum has dementia. Contact from my daughter is infrequent. In short, I have to be emotionally self-sufficient. This is a skill that's necessary when you emigrate alone but this situation of isolation does get a bit trying.

Despite regular attempts to form friendships, even inviting people to my home, it has resulted in zilch. Feeling like I don't count anywhere I ignored a little message left in my letterbox that announced France was holding a census. I shrugged it off as I hardly saw the point in filling out the papers since I never know how long I can stay here (given my work situation). So what did it matter if I was officially not there?

A couple of weeks later a letter without an envelope appeared in my letterbox. It was from the Mairie (town hall, local government) reminding me I needed to get hold of some census papers and fill them in. Come and do this at the Mairie before 14 February, it urged. Okay, okay.

L’Insee organise le recensement de la population du jeudi 16 janvier au samedi 22 février 2014. Objectif : mesurer la population vivant en France, pour mieux s'adapter à ses besoins. Il n'y a pas besoin de se déplacer, mais il est obligatoire de répondre aux questions. 
At the Mairie I explained why I was there and was given the papers to fill in on the spot. They are much less detailed than in New Zealand. They never ask any questions about ethnicity or religion - it's illegal in France. There were a couple of questions I needed explaining because the French love acronyms and I had no idea what they meant. No one checked if I'd filled everything out correctly but I assume I have.

 Most basic living in France is impossible without at least an intermediate level of French. I get by these days but it's not easy. So although I'm not identified I have at least been 'counted'.

My desire to be a little more visible drove me back, recently, to the Mairie, to meet the mayor again. I'd had a meeting with her mid-way through last year to volunteer my services to my town. Madame le maire was very interested but when I sent her a letter reaffirming my areas of expertise and asking how to move forward on that there was no reply.

Disappointed,I let it go but lately my isolation has been really bugging me anew so I thought I'd try again. I was told to come back any Tuesday between 10-12noon and wait for an opening. After reintroducing myself to her I explained I was still keen to be a volunteer. How could I help? How could I make social contacts in my community?

She explained the local elections were coming up and so she couldn't launch anything at present. I'd need to wait a couple of months but perhaps I might be useful to the heritage association. I like the mayor. Her name is Francoise and she's an affable sort of person, very approachable. I hoped something might eventuate but I didn't get too excited.

Two weeks later I received an email inviting me to attend the Annual General Meeting of the Historical Association, to be held near my home. Hmm, that's good, I thought but I still didn't get too excited as 99% of all my efforts to advance myself go nowhere, but I always try to decrease this percentage.

I arrived in plenty of time. An opportunity to exercise my French in a group of strangers who all know each other is always a challenge. AGMs tend to be boring affairs and this one seemed typical but I tried to pick up some new vocabulary in between the bits I couldn't understand.
The mayor attended and said hello to me. Well, that's good, my name is engraved on her memory now, I thought. During the meeting she introduced me informally as someone who could assist with English requirements.

The response was muted - well - the museum of millstones etc is very technical, really. I piped up saying I had a youthful brain and could learn. Everyone is retired and probably conservative. The mayor pushed a little more and tried to get them to come back to the issue of me helping. I hadn't expected them to be welcoming me with open arms but some slight enthusiasm for some younger blood and expertise would have been good. Never mind, they don't know you, I told myself. I decided the only way I could start getting any credibility and interest was to pay the membership fees and become official.

This association focuses on preserving and promoting the historical heritage of my town and its area roundabout. That includes the tourism aspects. I'm always interested in French history and culture so it could be a good fit for me if they'll let me fit in. I have lots of ideas and experience to offer - I know I could advance things, certainly the websites. My background in marketing, tourism, education, communications and public relations should be ideal.

I met a lovely lady there, also named Francoise, who took an interest in me and invited me to sit with her. She and her husband are retired bakers. As we exchanged contact cards I hoped that something might come of this. Next month, first Thursday of March I'll be back, hoping I can be included in some of their activities - count me in!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Puppies - real and manufactured

It's winter here in France and always seems interminable. I know in two to three months temperatures will improve. We haven't had a snowfall this winter, for the first time since I arrived in this country, and it seems a little milder. May that continue. While I'm waiting for the climate to warm up a bit so I can start working on my balcony garden for this summer, I decided to visit the garden centre and do a spot of window shopping. Yes, it was too soon. Yes the selection was limited, except in two particular areas. I arrived during the weekend puppy sales. I'm not a doggy person and the only dog I tolerate is Baika, JC's hunting dog who loves it when I arrive there. These puppies didn't seem to be your average mutt even if some of them weren't particularly pretty.

Such a wide range of breeds, lots of cuties, some stroppy ones and all VERY expensive. I couldn't believe the prices; 600-900 euros each, that's about NZ$927-1400. Breeds such as bulldogs, beagles, silkies, spaniels and others I couldn't recognise. The whole shop smelt of doggy urine despite their living conditions being clean. I cruised past the gerbils, rats and hamsters busily excavating mountains of shredded paper, on past the guinea pigs who weren't a patch on the ones I used to breed, rabbits and mice hiding in plastic houses. I carried on outside only to be met by yet more animals, much more hardy and exotic.
 There were many tortoises, zebras, reptiles, a gorilla, a penguin and even a polar bear. I seemed to have discovered the outdoor ornament section. Not a gnome to be found but all seven dwarves. No concrete sheep. Metal birds with stilt-like legs and even higher price tags eyed me as I stood rather nonplussed.

Do adults really pop these creations in their gardens? Isn't it rather incongruous in France to have a zebra instead of a fox resident on the parterre? Oh well, I whiled away a few minutes with this menagerie while JC was investigating large cheap plastic pots.

Clearly the garden centre staff were also desperate for some sort of change in the seasons because most nursery spaces were empty and they were resorting to forced bulbs, bows and glitter-sprayed orchids coloured blue. Yikes.

The bulbs looked lovely but they don't last long and then I'd have nowhere to put them in a couple of weeks. I kept my hand on my wallet as I moved through the store with nary a backward glance at the yipping puppies. I hope the flesh and blood and fibreglass critters all find loving and responsible homes.

God help me though if next weekend it's kitten sale week. I'd choke up, I know I would, because I can't have a pet with my current precarious lifestyle, but I want one. I hope one day I can have a cat once again, before my life expectancy is less than the cat's. For nowt i looks like I'll have to be content with a fibreglass toucan.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

A pebble in the pond

I've been very focused this week. One might say determined. I dropped a pebble in the literary pond and am hoping the ripples will reach the right person who will partner me in my writing ventures. I've just sent off the first 11 submissions to literary agents in the US and UK, looking for representation for my first book Follow My Heart.  It seems like a good thing to do for the first day of February and a good thing to do to advance what I'd like to do more of in the future, that's write.

I have lots of ideas for future books inside me. It's always been in my mind to write a companion book concentrating on practical ideas and recommendations for those Non-EU citizens who'd like to live and work in France without the benefit of a legal attachment to an EU national. How to do it alone, if you have to. Checklists of strange things to expect.

Growing up in NZ as a baby boomer also interests me. I've just read a book focusing on doing that in the UK. While it recounts many things similar, it talks about people and places irrelevant to New Zealand and we had our own stuff going on then; political, economic and social. It would naturally draw on my own experiences over the years 1955-2008. One might even consider it a prequel to my current book.

There are also some children's books I'd like to write. Quite often when I was working in my garden I'd come up with ideas for stories but then they flitted right out of my head. When I was studying to be a teacher back in the 70s I had to write a children's book as a major assignment. My lecturer told me it might be good enough to publish but my head was busy elsewhere and I'd have had no idea how to go about it, too hard, soon forgotten. I kept it for decades (written before computers) but I may have lost it in my last shifts. No matter, I think it would be too old-fashioned now. The world has moved on. Technology invades all.

I have other books I'd like to write on creating communications campaigns, women's issues. Nothing major but drawing on learning and experience, sharing that for others who might benefit. Everyone knows that 90% of books never get accepted by a traditional publisher so why have I chosen to go down this path?

I think it gives an added credibility to the author, that if you have run the gauntlet of rejection from agents and then rejection from publishing houses yet still have your manuscript accepted in the end it's because others see something in it, usually money. Even then most books sell pitifully and don't earn the money back for the publishers. One hundred-1000 copies is usual but I want better than that. I'm going to try for it. Some of the books I've read in my genre are pretty bad, many are just average in terms of writing, some sell 6m copies over 20 years and get turned into films. Book critics tend to take traditionally published books more seriously though that's loosening up a little.

If no-one picks up my book I may have to self-publish but that's fraught with rip-off merchants, still it gets it out there. Otherwise it's a matter of turning it into a kindle-only version, inexpensively. Whatever I end up doing I'm going to be spending a lot of time and emotional energy trying to market it or I'll get nowhere. Still, it intrigues me and I think back to when I was barely out of my teens and wish I'd known of all the possible paths I might have taken in my life instead of being forced to do what my Mother told me I should do (be a librarian or a teacher). There's also the typical niggling worry authors face that the book I've written is crap. So that's why I'm spending many, many hours researching the right agencies and agents, sending only the material they ask for, honing and honing everything. Will I be successful? Will this make a positive difference in my life? Or will I join that endless list of earnest people who tried but...?

I should know about  the first batch of agents within 2-3 weeks. If the response is positive I'll be asked to send more material, maybe the complete manuscript and then there would be even longer waiting. Perhaps in six months I'll have an idea as to whether I need to choose self-publishing or if I'll become an author, 'for real'.

One book wouldn't be enough, you need several. I'm still trying to find my niche, the place where my efforts will actually bear some more comfortable fruit. I reach out to unlikely people who have succeeded in areas of activity that interest me. No pollination yet though, I haven't found the right visiting bee.

Photo taken of a grand old rambling property just along the street from my apartment. It was a morning of intense fog and frost. An hour later the whiteness had disappeared.