Monthly Archives: June 2013

What do you get from a writing course?

The pool and rear view of Chez Castillon

The pool and rear view of Chez Castillon

As I’ve kept it no secret that I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to run two courses abroad, this year, I thought that I’d report in on the first – Chez Castillon in the gorgeous Dordogne, SW France, which took place last week.

The way the course is (loosely) structured is that we worked in the mornings, had a break after

Castillon-la-Bataille lies on the banks of the Dordogne

Castillon-la-Bataille lies on the banks of the Dordogne

lunch and convened again in the late afternoon. The first day or two, I also managed to write 1200 words here, 700 words there. But my energy flagged slightly on the writing front, probably because I was just enjoying myself so much.

The house, Chez Castillon, is gorgeous. Three hundred years old, the town house is part of a sweet little shopping street in Castillon-la-Battaille. Stepping through its doors is stepping into a quiet, cool world of high ceilings and ornate plasterwork, with a huge friendly welcome from hosts Janie and Mickey Wilson. From the front door you can see right through to the wrought iron doors leading to the secluded oasis at the back of the house. The pool,  sun loungers,  tables, umbrellas, warm stone and rampant greenery. Further into the garden is the gite, which includes the course room. Whether we actually used the course room or settled ourselves

The pool

The pool

outdoors, in the sun or shade according to preference, we found it a wonderful place to work.

For those interested in the course content, we created characters, analysed structure, sorted out whether everyone in our books deserved to be there and what their function was, worked on settings, dialogue, viewpoint and all sorts of technical stuff. Participants were offered one-to-ones and I was able to pretty much structure the course around the requirements of the individual.

The structure of the days allowed plenty of time to write or to wander through the quaint streets of Castillon, lounge around the pool or settle down for a coffee or a glass or something stronger at Monique’s bar.

As I was in verdant wine-growing country, it would have been rude not to try a drop ...

As I was in verdant wine-growing country, it would have been rude not to try a drop …

A little drop of champagne in the cloisters of St Emillion, a few kilometres from Castillon

A little drop of champagne in the cloisters of St Emillion, a few kilometres from Castillon

And for those interested in food and drink … let me just say, ‘Wow!’ Gorgeous. Long, relaxing meal breaks filled with chatter and hilarity. I could understand why Janie said that running courses is just like hanging out with mates.

A residential writing course is a fantastic opportunity to not only try fresh techniques and swap feedback, but to really move a project forward. Groups are small so the tutor can tailor courses to suit participants.

Thank you, Janie and Mickey, for inviting me to run a Chez Castillon course – and inviting me to do so again next year.

So now I have just over a week and I’ll be setting off for Italy and fabulous Arte Umbria, in Umbria, Italy – the next course. I have every expectation of it being another fabulous experience.

Can’t wait … I’ll be posting again to let you know how it went.

Wandering through Castillon

Wandering through Castillon

Facing camera, one of our fantastic hosts, Janie

Facing camera, one of our fantastic hosts, Janie

The cloisters at St Emillion

The cloisters at St Emillion

An interesting way of raising money for St Emillion church - you pay a couple of euro and hammer a pretty pin into the wood

An interesting way of raising money for St Emillion church – you pay a couple of euro and hammer a pretty pin into the wood

Looking out over St Emillion

Looking out over St Emillion

Market day at Castillon-la-Bataille

Market day at Castillon-la-Bataille

A gorgeous detail of a gorgeous house

A gorgeous detail of a gorgeous house

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What do I think about self-publishing?

I’ve recently been asked what I think about self-publishing, so I decided it blog about it. Everything I’m going to say now is ONLY my opinion, drawn from my experiences, and not the only opinion, or the only way of going about things.

I would always go for a traditional publisher ahead of self-publishing, when you don’t have a track record as an author. Publishers are still gatekeepers in terms of quality control and you learn a lot whilst you’re with them. There are, and have been, some fabulous successes in self-publishing, but it wouldn’t be my first choice. However, there are more good books out there than publishers able to publish them, so self-publishing would definitely be my second choice!

WebUphill All The Way2In fact, I have self-published a novel that’s now out of print, Uphill All the Way, plus a few novellas that began liFour togetherWhereTheHeartIs_Cover_KINDLEfe as magazine serials then became large print books for libraries and so I put them out there as a service to readers – some had seen those books on Amazon, but out of print, and asked me about them. These titles bring me in a useful sum each month.

Some authors, who used to have big audiences but went out of favour with publishers, now self-publish and make more money than they ever did when with a publisher. That’s a fact. If you have the audience already, self-publishing can work wonders.

But when you have no track record as a writer, or, at least, not a writer in the field in which you’re considering self-publishing, you do have to look at the whole situation.
i) You can choose Amazon KDP select, which means you can’t sell your book through other channels. It’s supposed to be beneficial because it means you can put a book up for free once in a while, which can cause a spike in sales in your other books, particularly if you put book 1 up free and everyone loves it so much they instantly download book 2. I only have Where the Heart Is on Select and it has never been borrowed but I have put it up for free once in a while and sometimes it has made my other sales go up a bit.

ii) However, the rest of my stuff is available on Smashwords, too, which means it goes onto all platforms,  and I get a useful sum from Smashwords once a quarter. I don’t feel the need to take the rest of my stuff away from Smashwords and put it on Select. For me, to have one sacrificial lamb is enough.

iii) I recommend that if you self-publish, you pay for a professional editor. Unedited work is painful to read and attracts a lot of negative reviews online. Avoid negative reviews if possible, although to have one or two is meant to show that your reviews are real and not just created by best friends.

iv) Ditto the cover. Get it done professionally.

v) Do the tutorial on Smashwords and Amazon (or just Amazon, if you go the KDP select way) and make sure your formatting is correct. Bad formatting also attracts a lot of negative reviews. This is a vexed area because even when you’ve got it right, the occasional reader will still say it turned out wrong on her particular tablet or ereader. Go figure.

vi) Or, like me, get someone else to do it, someone with experience. I was v lucky to have a friend who did it for me. I just supplied the text and got the covers done.

vii) Marketing – go for it, because nobody does it for you. Social media is especially useful and every reader expects every writer to have Twitter and Facebook accounts, and maybe LinkedIn, Pinterest and whatever looks as if it’s going to do you good. Look at Goodreads and their giveaways, also.

viii) Blog and website are indespensible. Get on other people’s blogs when you can, too, ditto book review sites. This is where social media comes in because you can see where other writers get interviews/posts/reviews and you can go on the same blog and check it out and ask if they’d do something with you. Some writers have put out so much stuff on their blog (E L James) that it has led to massive success (Fifty Shades). A small proportion, though.

ix) Give people your Twitter and Facebook names wherever possible (@suemoorcroft on Twitter, sue.moorcroft.3 on Facebook). Link everything together, ie have Twitter and Facebook ‘follow’ buttons on your website and blog. I’m just looking into having Pinterest buttons, too, although I’m weary of the whole necessity to do so.

x) Educate yourself. Go to writers’ conventions, network, do workshops, get information out of others.

xi) Hit on local newspapers, local radio. Send press releases. If you can get national, then do so, obviously! But remember that ‘author writes book’ isn’t a story. You need more than that. ‘Author writes book while being held hostage by pirates’ will gain more interest.

Lots of the above applies whether you traditionally publish or self publish. It’s promo promo promo and then, after that, promo!

Good luck.

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