Penny in the swear jar, ticket to hell or just a colourful character?

It’s a dilemma, isn’t it, that all writers face today? Honestly it may seem that Americans and British both speak English but often times the words, not to mention the sensibilities are, literally, oceans apart.  That being said, how do you satisfy two audiences divided by a common language?

Let’s start with spelling.  Yes, most of us know that in England the word is ‘colour’ and the female parent who makes your sandwiches before you head for school is ‘Mum’.  Whereas in America it’s spelled ‘color’ and your father’s wife is ‘Mom’ (or possibly ‘Stepmom’ but we don’t have to go there). Still, with hawk-eyed readers always quick to pounce on misspellings and typos, we’ve found it beneficial to point out in the first page that they’re getting a dose of English spelling, like it or not.  We actually tried producing a separate edition for our US ebooks but then we were accused of ‘Americanising’ our characters when they were clearly British and we gave up on the attempt.

And then there’s slang.  How many people actually speak the Queen’s English as enunciated by a BBC newsreader?  So yes, we do tend to put quite a bit of slang into our novels, well, just because we dig it, mate.  Some American readers love the quirkiness, some are completely baffled, some are forgiving but struggle with the meaning.  Like it or not, there are differences in the way Americans and English speak and with Lorraine living in Colorado, she’s particularly sensitive to not creating American characters who all talk like surfers (‘way cool, dude’) while aware that many of the people she meets still think that ‘Brits’ are either extremely proper ( ‘I say, my good man, tally-ho)’ or (Gor blimey, luv) talk like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins.

Touchiest of all, we’ve noticed Americans are much less tolerant of swearing.  Whereas we English (or maybe just our friends) occasionally pepper our sentences with epithets such as ‘bloody hell’, ‘crap’, ‘bugger’, ‘Christ Almighty’, ‘Oh God’ or the occasional F-bomb (as used to such comic great effect in Bridget Jones Diary), there are sensitive readers, particularly on the other side of the pond, who believe such disgusting language has no place in print.  We had what we thought a mild to moderate amount of cussing in our first novel – not without some debate as to whether it was absolutely necessary for character development – but it was enough for one indignant review to ask ‘if the two sisters competed for who could come up with the foulest curses?’   Since several of our books today are marketed as cosy crime we actually conducted a US readers’ poll on the topic, curious to get some first-hand opinions.  The result? Some would stop reading if a character constantly swore although most would accept a soft occasional ‘damn’.  But almost everyone was offended by ‘taking names in vain’.  Not that I think it will totally change the way we write but, jeez, who knew?

And apologies for the lateness of this post.  Pam was on holiday (vacation) in the New Forest and Lorraine was spaced out taking care of a laid-up husband (damaged ankle.)  So if there are any typos or mistakes without Pam looking over it first, (she bailed and went to bed), blame it on Lorraine’s blasted American spellcheck.

Editor? Proofreader? What’s in Your Indie Budget?

So you’re hot on language, your grammar is impeccable, your style puts Strunk and White to shame and like Akeelah you could win any old spelling bee. Why would you, as an indie author, need to pay for outside help? Well, you only have to read a few Amazon reviews to know that readers can be an unforgiving bunch, quick to spot a typo or a missing space between paragraphs. As an indie author you have to make some difficult choices about how much assistance you can afford to enlist. We wrote a whole post on the importance of a good book cover and we still feel that unless you’re amazingly hot stuff at art, you’re probably wiser to leave that to a professional. But here’s Ellie Campbell’s take on things.

 

Having a good editor is brilliant. Our first editor, Emma at Arrow Books, was instrumental in whipping How To Survive Your Sisters and When Good Friends Go Bad into shape. She pointed out that the endings were too short, the middle was too long, told us which characters needed motivation or fleshing out, where we’d over-described, repeated ourselves, or missed some vital information. After our rewrite, she did a massive line edit, cutting, stretching and pulling those babies until they cried uncle and turned into halfway decent novels. And did we learn a lot from her! These days we rely on our two sets of eyes, multiple drafts and hard-won experience to get the story tight and hopefully catch any glaring errors. We might then send the book to one or two amazing friends who can be trusted to say things like ‘your hero’s a bit of a creep’ instead of just ‘it’s great, honest’. BTW, if you have discerning friends like that, never let them go. They’re pearls beyond price.

 

Then copy editors, what an amazing job they do. Who knew that you’d been misquoting Shakespeare or the words of that pop song for your entire existence? Or what year Madonna adopted her black biker jacket, cropped bleach hair, ‘bad girl’ look? How could the fact that your own heroine changed from blonde to a redhead halfway through the manuscript escape you? A copy editor will check facts, correct misspellings, grammar and punctuation, notice when you switch from British to American English, or say ‘10’ instead of ‘ten’, warn you of potential lawsuits and altogether bring clarity and consistency to every element of your manuscript.

 

In fact Ellie Campbell has been saved from all kinds of awkward bloopers by copy editors, and anything they might have missed (or we’ve introduced in the flurry of a last-minute re-write), our proofreader, Wendy Janes, will spot. Traditionally proofreaders come along at the end of the process, when the edited manuscript has been printed as a proof, looking out for printing errors, spotting those awkward word and page breaks – and of course the dreaded typos.

 

Meanwhile, about those typos – isn’t it amazing how you can read and re-read the book numerous times, scan each word line by line, yet still those little devils slip past you? Apparently the reason it’s so hard to spot your own typos is because your clever busy brain skips over details like transposed or missing letters because it knows the meaning you’re trying to convey and focusses on that. In other words it sees what it expects to see. And that, more than anything, is why we need outside help. But perhaps you have a different experience. Or another professional you – and your writing career – couldn’t live without?

 

The Fine Art Of Book Promotion

Hooray, finally, it’s out!  Our short story collection – LOVE, LIES AND OTHER DECEPTIONS – is for sale on Amazon, birthed perhaps with more of a raspy mumble than a shout.  Oh, we’ve mentioned it in our newsletters, blog posts, blasted a multitude of tweets on Twitter, posted the news on our personal and professional Facebook pages and offered it at a special launch price of 99 cents.  Our review team has received advance copies and so far we’ve garnished five reviews, happily all 5 star.  And so off goes another book baby into the big wide world.

Which begs the question – how do you get your book noticed? When our first novel, How To Survive Your Sisters, was launched by Arrow, the publicity department handled everything, arranged radio interviews and a Daily Express two-page spread.  We had a brief glorious taste of the celebrity author life, flowers from editor and agent, champagne launch parties. We sat outside Waterstones signing copies as Lorraine’s American (and born salesman) husband, Gary, dragged unsuspecting passers-by over to our little table.  Alas, the whole thing coincided with the stock market crash and despite good reviews, our sales, although respectable, could hardly compete with the massive despondency that hit the publishing world that year.

Our third novel Looking For La La was also our first self-publishing venture.  Boy, were we innocents!  It was only when our agent asked us where were the reviews, where were the blog posts, that we realized we had to take control of our destiny.  Luckily that book had an interesting back-story, based on a lipstick-imprinted anonymous love postcard Pam’s husband received through the mail and which Pam, like any dedicated author, had promptly used as inspiration for a murder mystery. We contacted all the chicklit sites and started a whirl of interviews and blog posts.  We also put ‘La La’ out on free, joined a zillion Facebook ‘free novel’ sites, redid our web page, started developing a Twitter following. Our previously undiscovered novel shot up the Amazon charts and we became much more media savvy, not to mention befriending some wonderful bloggers who still support us today.

Recently though we’ve been questioning which efforts produce results and which aren’t worth the time. Does anyone pay attention to those ‘free book’ Facebook groups except for other authors hoping to promote? We don’t think so. Is it really worth paying for any promotions, except, of course, for the highly-competitive Bookbub? Some things you do because they’re fun, like Lorraine’s party for a hundred plus friends to launch To Catch A Creeper, where everyone dressed up as cat burglars and had a whoopee good time, although with all the alcohol consumed, not too many remembered to buy the book. Professional book tours provided a hell of a lot of action but also a lot of work, writing endless original and witty copy. And when sandwiched between a YA vampire story and a slice of steamy erotica, you have to question if the audience you’re reaching is the one you want!

Still we can all agree that promotion is important and glowing reviews most important of all. But how to get them? We just finished a free stint of our novel Million Dollar Question with over 20,000 downloads.  Will that lead to a jump in sales now that it’s back at full price?  Or a slew of new readers?  When we find out, we’ll let you know.

Stepping Into The Time Machine plus Cover Reveal

What do you have hidden in your closet?

Pam and I have been writing together as ‘Ellie Campbell’ for so long that sometimes even we forget we ever did things differently.  Recently we rediscovered some of the 140 short stories we each had published in those early years and decided – huge shock – we actually found them really entertaining.  So much so that we decided to gather some of them up into a collection.  Between world travels, multiple changes of first stone age-style word processors, then computers, plus my inability to hold on to copies or the actual magazines, many are probably lost for good, but we managed to come up with twenty funny, romantic, twisty or reflective short tales, soon to be released as Love, Lies And Other Deceptions.   It wasn’t easy to pick a cover to reflect so many diverse themes, but our talented designer Andrew Brown came up with the following. And here it is – ta-da, drum roll, please.

For us, part of the fascination was remembering the two people and the mindset that created those stories.  As mentioned in an earlier blog I started writing in my twenties, working in London publishing and living the muddled chaotic single life so hilariously described in Bridget Jones Diary.  Pam was the mother of three small children when she took the creative writing class that launched her.  We both had very different themes and topics, many reflecting our interests and lifestyles at the time.  Looking over them was was like stepping into a time machine. Now that we are… cough, cough, cough… quite a few years older, would we – could we even? – write anything similar?  Personally, I hardly know that earlier me.  I can see she was cynical, moody, sometimes romantically hopeful, sometimes despairing – and inevitably attracted to every possible variety of emotionally-unavailable womanizer, but I don’t think I could totally recreate her world viewpoint from my happily married self.  (I also suspect she might have been a wee bit more intelligent than I am now but that’s another story.)

Then again don’t we all have similar experiences when revisiting our early work?  Sometimes you look back on things and find it hard to believe you ever wrote that story, painted that picture, or took that photograph. Sometimes it shows how far you’ve moved on.  But then not only do you, the artist, change but also the way you feel about it can change with each viewing.  We’re all familiar with the awful creative roller coaster – one minute loving the work in progress, the next seeing only the flaws and deciding it might be time to give up writing for good because you’re obviously hopeless.  And then coming back again after some blessed time has passed and being amazed to find some merit in there after all.  The successful are those who can see through the illusions and persevere anyway but I bet many of us have an unfinished manuscript in our closet somewhere that we discarded in disgust.  Perhaps rightfully so, perhaps… well, who knows?

Anyway, Love, Lies and Deceptions will be available on Amazon any day now and we’re super excited. And yes, we intentionally omitted to specify which of the two sisters wrote which story.  We thought it would be more fun to leave the readers guessing and maybe to answer that question we’re always asked – does writing together mean you lose your original ‘voice’?  We don’t think so but perhaps in the end the stories tell the tale.

What’s in a book cover?

How important is your book cover? Well, crucial enough that publishers will change their entire design if a chain store buyer doesn’t find a jacket visually appealing. And yes, even as a tiny rectangle on an Amazon page, it has to stand out, conveying the tone and genre to attract the right readers. Now that’s a big ask!

Of course publishers have teams of experts leading the design process. Great if you love the result. Not so good as a writer if you’re unhappy with the way your book is presented, whereas indie authors have the sometimes daunting pleasure of total control. Obviously the first step is to hire a professional designer but it’s still you, the writer, assuming final responsibility.

Ellie Campbell has gone through both experiences, traditional and indie, and we’re still learning. So just for fun we thought we’d show you some of our book covers, old and new.

       

Left is the original Arrow cover. Originally we liked it. Later we decided it seemed too juvenile and we really hated that it was so easy to miss in a WH Smith promotional stand of Summer Reads – even with two of us desperately searching.

By the time we commissioned the second version (right) we’d already decided to continue some elements of Looking For La La, our first indie book cover. Hence the photo cover with the bride looking over the fence. We feel she’s possibly a bit too angry – a real bridezilla – but again it gets across the humour aspect.

The next cover is the Arrow one for When Good Friends Go Bad. I don’t think Arrow knew what to do with us at this stage but they were trying for a more grown up look. A few years on we reverted the rights and our designer came up with the one on the right, again following the theme we started with Looking For La La (cover shown below). Comments, anyone?

   dfw-ec-tcac-cover-large  

Above, we have the three covers for our ‘Crouch End Confidential’ mystery series, Looking For La La, To Catch A Creeper and Meddling With Murder. Looking For La La was the first ever cover we commissioned and we were thrilled with the response. I honestly think we wouldn’t have got nearly as many blog posts or reviews without it. We had no idea the novel would inspire sequels but then, of course, we had to come up with follow-up designs using the same or similar girl. We particularly like Meddling With Murder, so colourful and cute!

        

The next pair are interesting because we recently decided we didn’t care for the old cover of Million Dollar Question and just commissioned a new one. Although the paparazzi do feature in the story, we felt the guy in black gave the wrong impression – he looks too sinister for what’s quite a funny romantic book. Or maybe as if he’s about to deliver a box of Cadbury’s Milk Tray. We like the new cover much better.

And then we have the cover for our just released box set of what is now the Crouch End Confidential series. We wanted it to have a ‘box’ look but also show the three spines. We came up with the idea of a file folder with polaroids pinned on it and the big red “confidential” stamp. Although in translation, the designer changed the file folder to an envelope, still we think we get the point across.

Anyway, as always, we’re curious to find out others’ experiences. What do you feel makes a book stand out? Ever have a cover you particularly hated or that you felt actually hurt sales? Or one that you loved above all others? And how do you feel about photo covers versus graphic?