SQL for Sequels

Mixing my topics today and probably confusing everyone in the process including me.

SQL stands for Structured Query Language a method of querying databases to find results but often used to describe the database itself. It is normally pronounced sequel hence the connection.There are several databases that call themselves SQL including Microsoft’s larger server based system, right down to SQLite Personal Edition running on various operating systems. Why is a SQL database on my mind? Because my sequels are causing me problems.

Part Three of the Demise Conspiracy, An Agent’s Prize, Part Two of The Observer Series, Intervention and an as yet unnamed sequel to To The Survivors currently named TTS2 by file name. What has this to do with databases. Characters that is what. Characters and timelines and scenes. Of course it’s all my own fault for trying to write several books (not just these) at the same time, but now I have added to my problem. Which character appeared, when, in which book, and do I need to explain their role or half the story of the earlier parts.

As I have previously blogged, I use Scrivener to write and it is an excellent system to list characters and scenes within a manuscript. I have tried importing all the characters over from the earlier parts but that just makes the lists longer. What I need is a clever database that tells me when, where and in what context I wrote about the character or the scene. In other words i need to add all the meta-data and link all the appearances of the character in Scrivener. I also need to know how much I should cover of the earlier story in order to have the current actions make sense. Not sure any tool can help with that. Many might say it did not make sense in the first parts!

Currently, I end up re-reading long sections of the earlier books, using Scriveners’ tool set to find the relevant section, but then comes the real problem. I end up wanting to change the original for grammar, construction or even plot to fit in with the next part’s scene. Oh if only I had written it differently, called the character something else, not killed off xx. God knows how longer series writers manage. Did  J K Rowling have a database of Harry Potter characters? Now if I had a database of all my ideas, characters etc there would be one place to go. This would avoid one section I just had to change where I used the same character name in two different manuscripts.

So clever database designers get on it. Get me a SQL database with the right easy to use queries so that I can look it all up. My writing would increase in speed, I could effortlessly cross reference and the world would be a better place.

Of course I could just get better organised get the sequel written without SQL at all.

The Sequel Approaches

I’m nearly there. Over eighteen months since my first book launched onto and unsuspecting and oblivious world, its sequel is nearly ready. My other two books are completely different stories.This prompts a range of thoughts about sequels also prompted by the discussion on Closing Time by Joseph Heller a sort of sequel to Catch-22.

Closing Time feels very different, more surreal and fantastical than Catch-22 and I have to admit that I did not find it as cynical or amusing. Comparisons can be harsh. What of other sequels some are like planned series of books. In a series there is a massive story to plot and unwind whether it’s Harry Potter (seven books) or Songs of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones (also at 7).

I have been reading the Reacher series which is now I believe up to 16 of which I have read fourteen. They seem less planned than a typical series but were they unplanned sequels. In my own case I did not intend that there should be a sequel, it wasn’t my intention. Writing it proved challenging for many months as I could not get a plot going that I liked. It will be for the eventual readers to judge whether I have succeeded. Of course I do not have a professional publisher wanting a return on their investment waiting for the next instalment. My investment is one of time and interest, rather than financial gain. If I sell half as many copies I would be happy but that won’t pay for the editing. So, should I save my money and perhaps not save my readers (if I get any) from some of my worst grammatical errors?

Then there are web-site pages, adverts, messages, to plan and complete. KDP forms to fill in, pricing to set. To Kindle Select or nor. Should there be a Smashwords edition and what about the hard copy paperback or hardback where Lulu helped with the first three books. Shall I take the time and effort to publish physically?

Then there are the readers who have asked for a sequel almost since day one. Now it’s nearly here I am full of nervousness about releasing it. Far more than my previous efforts. I have delayed and prevaricated. I have adjusted and amended, moved sentences, paragraphs and even whole chapters. I have added and deleted whole chunks and changed plot direction several times. I have gone back and checked with the first book. Are there contradictions inconsistencies? Does the timeline work? Some Beta reader comments – sorry about missing your train-station Trevor. That’s good in one part. For Trevor it was engrossing will it be for others. One recent review of my second book described it as boring. That was not a reaction I had received before. I hope this is not boring. Should I add more sex and violence be more/less graphic? Too much sex, not enough violence, bad language, what should the balance be? Have I checked my other facts, the historical backdrop?

After all this I want my readers to enjoy the story, to lose themselves for a few hours in a make believe fictional world but with a clear base of recent history. I want them to care about the characters, care enough to keep reading. Perhaps encourage others to read the story; demand another sequel?

We’ll see. Now is it time to press the publish button? Not quite, one more check on the book but I can click the blog publish.

Manage Your Kindle

An Open Letter to Kindle Readers

Dear Reader,

Thank you for taking the time to read and even better review my book. I hope you really enjoyed it; however, I noticed that you had some complaints about, formatting/grammar/hyperlinks/cover/facts. (Delete as applicable). I am sorry if this spoiled your enjoyment of the plot. I did notice that you seem to have unearthed a several issues which I know have been corrected. I do try and correct errors when they are pointed out to me in helpful reviews, messages or other contacts, including over beers in a local pub.

To correct these errors and a good reason for using Kindle I update the version. Amazon allow Kindle users on whatever platform to have this updated version automatically download by setting the switches shown below to on. This is on your manage my kindle account page.

Manage your Kindle

If you had done this you dear reader would not have experienced the issues that clearly reduced your reading pleasure. I know it is my fault entirely for publishing so ineptly that these faults occurred. Unfortunately, I am not Harper and Collins and I do not have access to their resources to reduce the likelihood of such mistakes creeping through. I know that you must have bought the book with those faults when it was offered for 99c, which is considerably less then you would have paid for a traditional published work. It may be a cheek for me to charge for anything so badly turned out. So bad that you felt leaving a critical review about the formatting/grammar/hyperlinks/cover/facts,  (Delete as applicable), was entirely necessary. I agree and as I have already said I apologise for putting you through the trauma. If there is one thing you could do for myself, and other authors who do take the time to update their humble offerings, please change you Kindle settings. that would mean that when you do get round to reading the book almost a year after it was grabbed on special offer you might benefit from the revisions and thereby enjoy your purchase as a story rather than an editing mission.

Yours etc…

Phil

P.S. I am now investing thousands of dollars in professional editing of my work. Will that lead to more sales? The jury is out and not whilst I have readers reading old versions, my fault I know not theirs.

The Editing Experience and An Apology

So my first excursion into the world of professional editing is complete. Charlie Bray at The IndieTribe has completed re-edits of my first two books An Agent’s Demise and To The Survivors. Now they are both updated on Kindle, Smashwords and on Lulu for the hard copies.

Firstly an apology:

Sorry fellow authors and Readers.

I wish I could have afforded to do the edits before I launched the books to avoid the review criticism. How many sales lost? Then there is my criticism adding to the overall criticism of self pub books. I cannot reverse the past, just fix the future.

What have I learned from the experience?  Lots of things:

  1. Fresh eyes spot all sorts of issues that readers and I had not seen.  Luckily, not plot inconsistencies although I had one character re-appearing when a sentence before they had left the scene. I had not noticed and I hope no readers had. Now fixed.
  2. It is so easy to get caught up in the story and miss the odd tense issue
  3. My biggest problem though was punctuation in my grammar. Run on sentences, no commas. Some is clearly style and how I was listening to the words in my head, but now redone; hopefully to the satisfaction of my future readers.
  4. There is still a lot of conflicting advice especially on dialogue style and contradictions with old advice and education I received.
  5. Also I still have a frustration with using conjunctions to start sentences especially and and but. Less of an issue with some but I know it may be technically correct I just think it looks wrong.
  6. The software (Scrivener and Word in my case) is just not accurate enough and almost entirely useless in dialogue. This is where punctuation has to be used to cause pauses and hesitations for how the character is speaking regardless of correct grammar rules. People do not speak in correct grammar. Making written speech comply just looks clunky. Few people converse in a grammatically correct manner.
  7. Don’t get me into a discussion on English dialects, reginal variations of US, Aus,Can etc. spelling. In the end I don’t care what the Chicago Manual of Style says, which is frequently quoted on discussion forums. It’s English! Now I have my nationalistic rant out of the way let’s move on.

So to the other side of the coin Finance

The outstanding issue, is their a return on the editing investment.  I won’t know that for ages. The costs are not easy to cover when only selling a few books per week. Covering £1,000 of editing investment needs nearly £1500 of sales on Kindle at 70% and at an average £3.00 per kindle book needs 500 sales just to break even.

Now I’ll have to advertise again to try and generate interest, more cost to be covered.

Will I do the editing route again – yes because I want my books to be free of that criticism, but it’s still a lot of money to find, to blow on an egotistical journey.

The Blog I Should Be Writing

I should be writing a blog.  A blog that allows me to link to my books in some way or adds to the greater good (IMHO) with a commentary on passing affairs.

Yesterday I had an idea about writing one describing the reasons why I have given up playing golf, perhaps another day.

I could add more on a whole variety of subjects that I would like to write about, Scottish Independence, the NSA, more on the hacking trial, even the disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines flight.  Lots of things to talk about.  Instead what have I done?  Editing of my sequel to An Agent’s Demise (managed to get a link in somewhere).  I have lost track of how many times I have read and re-read sections, trying to hone the plot, justify character’s actions and get rid of the allowed for aloud stupid mistakes. I of course have written about this before, here, but, now I have an editor.  I hope I have also learned some rules even though some go against what I was taught years ago.

For example starting sentences with conjunctions like and and but is apparently allowed (not aloud). I was always taught to use two spaces after a full stop (not a period – sorry USA it’s called English for a reason) but apparently that means I am a dinosaur left over from the typewriter age. Professional publishing with its typefaces never used two spaces anyway, allegedly.  Now we have serif and sans serif fonts to worry about. With an ebook the publisher has no control over what font the reader uses on whatever screen resolution, in whatever colour (It has a u in it WordPress, Goodreads, et al) or not is used.  The quick brown fox Microsoft Word test is always fun in different fonts.

I’m rambling again, I still have another five chapters to edit in An Agent’s Rise before a Beta Reader test then an edit or three.  I’m also waiting the return of To The Survivors from a professional edit of the MS.  Then I have The Persuasive Man to send off and The World of Fives  .  I think it’s ready, having incorporated some Beta reader feedback. Maybe one more read through, then I’ll have to start Part Two of the series.  I was again asked if I would write a sequel to To The Survivors.  I am still not sure, I have to have an idea for the sequel, where does it go? The story I mean, I’m in need of inspiration.

Then maybe in a month or so I may be ready to publish my fourth and fifth books, different genres once more. Cover design, formatting, uploading (Smashwords I’m looking at you) then marketing.  I was not going to do any links but here I am.  A page of non-blog rambles with links to all my current and next two books neatly embedded.  Anyone would think I had done that deliberately.  Now where’s those badly used discarded golf clubs, I hear there are good prices for scrap metal!

Wandering about a Wonder in Wonderful Grammar!

I’m wondering about which wonder to wander about.  If I carry on wondering I might speculate or ponder as well, or I could amble, stroll or peruse around, into, or near a room rather than wandering in.  If I wonder too much I’ll be too concerned to be more than two minutes late for the Wonder’s opening time.  It may take two wonders before I too wander into the correct vicinity to see the wandering tourists gaze in wonder at the Wonders.

To get the right wandering use whilst wondering if I have used the correct to, too or two and not edited properly, or just not noticed as the grammar checker fails to pick up which wonder or wander is the right one to use tooTheir, the grammar programmers, collective failure in spotting that they’re making the usual mistakes over there, has nothing to do with American English or English English, just the sheer inability of this author to wonder whether he meant wander or wonder, especially when the sentence could mean either.

“Maybe, he wonders/wanders, he should wonder/wander more.”

Delete as applicable

If I bought some lessons they could be brought into my limited skill set along with all the other common errors of misused words, split infinitives, punctuation and formatting errors, or hopefully I could, right away, just write something compelling enough that no one knows which night or knight I might mean.  And, I should not start sentences, let alone paragraphs, except in dialogue, with a conjunction like and.  But, you often see them used and the grammar checkers don’t correct that.  I’ve just done it twice and, “Don’t abbreviate,” it’s said, “except in dialogue.”  Should that full stop really be a period and should it be inside the speech marks or outside.  Should it be single quotes or double for speech?

Maybe I should just write and get a publisher and editor to make it right for me, then I can win the Booker prize with almost no punctuation (Wolf Hall) or be short listed (Umbrella) or maybe I should let my readers just read but not necessarily about reeds.

I’m going to wander off now and wonder where you are wandering about, wondering what I am on about?

The Joys of Editing

I have been involved with the thread on editing and the potential use of professional editors. I have not used such a service, yet, simply due to the economic case and from a return on investment. Selling a $1 Kindle book on Amazon attracts a 35c royalty payment before tax on the income. My current book currently in informal edit has 150,000 words. For a professional edit, a typical 150,000 word book for $0.015 to $0.06 per word, for a standard edit, deeper edits double this cost so at the cheapest I am looking at a $2,250 investment. To cover this cost I would need to sell 6,429 books before I broke even on a basic edit. A full edit would cost $9,000 and I would need to sell 25,714 copies to break even. My current book has sold 3,500 copies although over 3,000 of these were as free downloads. Yes I could put my price up, but that would likely result in fewer sales. To get on Amazon’s higher royalty rate of 75% I would need to charge $2.99 minimum. I may try this after an initial launch but….

Given my lack of success with software I may go down this route, but timescales for edits can be quite long. I have now made contact with some cheaper editors but they have a long waiting list as you might expect. At least their prices are more reasonable in the region of $500 to $750 but that is still a substantial amount needing 1,429 sales to cover the cost at the lower end.

I have now tried two software editors, Grammarly and Whitesmoke. Both are frequently endorsed in Goodreads as well as on line in other forums and websites; however, I have huge problems with both.

Grammarly (http://www.grammarly.com) Problems from the start. It only works on Windows. I am on a Mac, so I had to resort to using it on a virtual machine. That would have been OK if the following issues had not occurred:

1. It continually contradicted itself in its advice. After making changes it would then scan again and offer advice to change back.
2. It also took an awful long time to check and scan text. I could at least check a whole document, but the results were marked as errors even when it was an alternative.
3.The system did not seem to learn from my decisions even when I selected to apply for all instances. The next time I opened the document there were all the problems again.

Result uninstalled during test period and order cancelled.

Whitesmoke (http://www.whitesmoke.com) offers itself as a premium software, given its pricing I can only agree. I had the following problems though:

1. The lack of UK English setting. I write in UK English (English being the operative word) I do not want colour changed to color, or worse marked as an error. I have lived and worked in the USA, I have no complaints about spelling in that version of English in a changed version I just want to use English UK as my dictionary choice. No settings button to change this. Dictionary just has English no variations.
2. When sending back text to apply changes the programme changed formatting including adding line and paragraph breaks into the “Normal” style setting.
3. At 5,000 characters per effort it can only handle approximately two thirds of an A4 page. A lot of time wasted getting this small amount checked.
4. Having to be on-line is annoying, and would restrict use to my office desktop rather than a laptop in the garden – if it ever stops raining.
5. The F2 function key can be changed but not in settings although there is a section called Keys in settings
6. Mac version has no on-line help file associated

Result I have applied for a full refund because Whitesmoke do not offer a trial version for Mac.

I am going to give Scrivener a try. It’s installed now so we’ll see. I have tried Writers Cafe as well, but struggled with it.

The final method, and the one I am using, is to get friends and family to read and provide edit comments. I have tried this and of course I hope I have become better at it myself. One thing I have noticed and become frustrated by is Amazon not notifying existing owners that a version has changed on a downloaded book. You have to ask them to do it via support. New downloads get the new version, but existing ones don’t get told there is an updated version. The help of friends and family is duly acknowledged but the results are variable. The good news is that they get caught up in the plot so miss stuff. The bad news is that errors get missed. Oh well back to editing …….

The Confusion of Editing

Reviews of many books, often include comments on grammar and punctuation especially on Kindle and other ebook readers. Yes much of this is due to the author, mea culpa; however, the publishing industry, word processing software, and scholarly guides need to take their share of the blame. Reading existing books does not help. There are differences in various English version, but even then, two books, from the same author, from the same publishing house, can have different grammar treatments and punctuation. This is particularly complex in recorded speech, where so called correct grammar can make the written view ridiculous for example:

“He’s bad…,”, the character hesitated, then said, “really bad, or is he?”.

or

“He’s bad,” the character hesitated, then said, “really bad, or is he?”

I have seen both. The second example uses US English placing of the comma inside the speech marks, UK English should be outside, allegedly. I know which I prefer and I have seen grammar guides that say both are correct and neither are correct.

For me I am trying to communicate my plot and descriptive material. I want my readers, what few I have, to be lost in my story, but also to follow how I am hearing my characters speak; therefore, I am guilty of using punctuation to force pauses or continuations, where they may not be grammatically correct.

The final problem is the conversion software for e-books and even printed books losing punctuation. Even PDF submissions seem to lose data. Without reading and editing and submitting and proof reading again on each version of each device it’s impossible for a one man band to do it. No one is paying me and the cost of professional editing is unlikely to be recovered from book sales.

I have resorted to reissuing versions especially on Kindle but getting Amazon to notify readers that downloaded that the version has been updated is a slower process. Paper versions are even harder with Lulu for example insisting on a review and proof copy.