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The sale of my e-books on Smashwords is over.  This was my first book sale and I thought you might be interested in a few post-mortem comments.  The number of downloads of my e-books was a healthy double-digits and The Mechanics of Creative Writing (2018) was by far the most popular, accounting for one-third.  The two Tales From The Trails and three Fingers To The Keyboard books were close second and third respectively.  Nobody downloaded the “heavies” – my book on religion, The Religion Business; the erotic or lite versions of Conversations; or the children’s book, The Dream Guardian.  Maybe because they were half price, not free?

But, back to The Mechanics of Creative Writing.  This post-mortem is targeted at those anonymous people who downloaded this book, and anyone else who is itching to get their inner book out in the opening.  I thought you might like a bit of history.

The book was written and published last year, 2018, but has been shaping up ever since I started writing technical papers and books during my professional career and then further polished by my more-recent writing of blogs and books as a retirement hobby.  Chapter 2, Grammar and Punctuation, dates back to 1974 when an editor of an American technical journal wrote to me about a paper I’d submitted, saying, “Thank you for your contribution.  Technically it’s fine but grammatically you do have a tendency to use the indefinite pronoun with an unclear antecedent.”  That last observation pulled me up short and sent me back to the books on English grammar, resulting in a massive revision and update of everything I’d learnt at school in the ‘50s, and more.  I am still refining my knowledge of English grammar and I accept that it will never end.

My bookshelf containing many books on English grammar

As the number of e-books began to rise following the 2012 entry book on religion, so did my knowledge of the inner secrets of Microsoft’s Word program.  I discovered how to use Styles.  I used the power of Find and Replace to identify and change oft-used words or locate inconsistent spellings.  I unearthed hidden formatting errors using the Paragraph Marker (¶).  And, of course, I made heavy use of Spellchecker to correct the mistakes caused by my ‘hunt and peck’ typing style.  These features of Word became the basic tools that enabled me to find and resolve formatting errors caught by Smashwords’ DOC to MOBI/EBUP converter, AutoVetter.  They also helped me improve my writing style and forced me back into the dictionaries and thesauruses, both of which are nowadays invaluable reference books and websites.  Chapter 3, The Basic Tools of Writing, discusses the use of these Word features.

Similarly, along the way, I began to type up my own notes about grammatical items that caught me out or conventions I preferred where there were alternatives – when to use fewer versus less, for example, or that versus which, single or double speech marks for direct speech, and so on.  These notes became the basis for what I now refer to as my Personal Style Guide, and the current 23-page A4-sized document has become an essential assistant to copy editing – checks for grammar, style, punctuation and spelling errors. This is the topic of Chapter 4 on Copy Editing and I encourage anyone who is serious about writing to do as I did – start and maintain a Personal Style Guide.  Chapter 4 will get you started.

Composing the book on religion brought me up against copyright law.  When I started the religion book, I downloaded and inserted images from all over the Web with no thought as to whether it was legal to do so, or not.  Retrospectively, and before I took the book to the Print-On-Demand printer, I thought it prudent to check the legality of using these images without permission.  What I found stopped me in my tracks.  Copyright law is alive and well and full of traps for the unwary.  I approached many webmasters seeking permission to use images from their websites.  Sometimes, I received a yes-no-problem reply, sometimes a yes-if-you-pay-me reply, and many times no reply at all.  The more I searched, the more I realised that many websites use images without permission and, as such, were infringing copyright law.  I backed off.  I removed all the images where either permission had been denied, or I didn’t pay the requested fee, or where the ownership of the copyright was unknown.  The final book contained only images that were either in the royalty-free public domain or where I had been granted permission but there is also a private edition of the book with all the original images intact.  The private version is not available for sale – I produced a very limited number for close members of the family – and each copy is numbered.  Copyright laws do not apply to private editions of books.

Chapter 5 is an up to date assessment of copyright law as it relates to public-domain books.  Even if all you do is set up a blogging website, be aware that copyright law applies to any public domain use of images or blocks of quoted text even if you do not plan to make money from your website.

Publishing an independent e-book these days is easy.  You write the book, create a front cover, make sure you follow the formatting rules of an e-book publishing website such as Smashwords or Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, register your account and submit the Word file, correct any formatting errors, and you’re done.  Your e-book is published and immediately available, and all this at no cost to you other than your time.  But what if you decide to turn your e-book into a hard-copy paperback?  Kindle Direct Publishing offers both forms of publication and, let’s face it, there is immense joy in holding a hard-copy version of your masterpiece.  Well, it’s not that difficult to convert an e-book into a paperback version but there are a number of formatting gotchas and this is the subject of Chapter 6: Publishing Your Book.  The chapter deals with the proofreading stage of creating a book.  Proofreading relates to the final content and layout of the book and is not a trivial process.  Chapter 6 is based on a wealth of experience!

Speaking of which, over the last few years, I have volunteered to help several friends and colleagues turn their Word files and, in most cases, photographs, into books.  I have been involved in the creation of each of the following books.  Some are private publications; others you will find on book-selling websites.  Each has added to my knowledge and experience of copy editing, proofreading, and indie book creation techniques.

One final point.  Twice, I have searched for a literary agent to take one of my books to a bona fide publisher to see if I could reach a wider audience through their marketing channels.  And twice, I have been rejected.  It is virtually impossible to publish through a reputable publisher.  As I say in The Mechanics of Creative Writing, … traditional book publishers are inundated with new manuscripts and it’s virtually impossible to entice an established publisher to even look at your manuscript.  You need to have already established yourself as an author (a classic chicken and egg situation), or be well known in some other field of endeavour, or ‘know someone who knows someone’, or just happen to write the most brilliant one-page covering letter and not-more-than-500-words synopsis that catches and holds the eye of an editor.

The second rejection was The Mechanics of Creative Writing – ten submissions to agents resulting in two rejects and eight no replies.  I’ve no idea why the book was rejected by those agents who bothered to reply (they don’t say) but it was somewhat ironic that a third of the downloads during the Smashwords’ sale was for this book.

Perhaps I’ll write a book about my experiences with literary agents!