‘Save the Cat! Writes a Novel’ by Jessica Brody

The best way to procrastinate when you’re supposed to be writing a novel is to read books about how to write novels, so after seeing an online recommendation for Save the Cat!, I decided to buy it. It turns out that Save the Cat! provides a clear, structured approach to novel plotting and pacing, which is one of my writing weak spots, so this was not the waste of time and money that it could have been.
Save The Cat! by Jessica Brody

Jessica Brody, who worked in the US film industry and is now a novelist (although not one I’d ever heard of), has adapted Blake Snyder’s screenwriting plotting method for novel writers. The Save the Cat! method claims that all good stories have three distinct acts and fifteen story ‘beats’. The fifteen story beats are:

1. Opening Image (0-1% of the story pages) – a ‘before’ snapshot of the hero

2. Theme Stated (5%) – a hint at the life lesson the hero will learn

3. Setup (1% – 10%) – more information about the hero’s flaws, reluctance to change, and consequences if they don’t change

4. Catalyst (10%) – a life-changing event that catapults the hero into a new world or a new way of thinking

5. Debate (10% to 20%) – the hero dithers about what to do next

6. Break Into 2 (20%) – the hero decides to act and ventures into a new world

7. B Story (22%) – introduction of a new character who will help the hero learn the life lesson

8. Fun and Games (20% to 50%) – multiple scenes in which the hero either succeeds or flounders in the new world while pursuing their goal

9. Midpoint (50%) – a false victory (if the hero’s been succeeding) or a false defeat (if the hero’s been floundering) that raises the stakes

10. Bad Guys Close In (50% to 75%) – either a downward path (after a false victory) or an upward path (after a false defeat), but the villains and the hero’s internal flaws are closing in

11. All Is Lost (75%) – the lowest point for the hero, typically involving literal or figurative death

12. Dark Night of the Soul (75% to 80%) – the hero contemplates what to do

13. Break Into 3 (80%) – the hero realises what to do to attain their goal and fix their internal flaws

14. The Finale (80% to 99%) – the hero proves they’ve learned the theme, attains their goal, destroys the bad guys, and the world is a better place

15. Final Image (99% to 100%) – an ‘after’ snapshot of the hero, a mirror of the opening image, showing how the hero has changed.

The book goes into helpful detail for each of these story beats, with lots of examples from well-known novels. It also introduces ten story ‘genres’ (for example, ‘Monster in the House’, ‘Rites of Passage’ and ‘Superhero’), all of which have distinct components (for example, ‘Monster in the House’ involves some kind of supernatural monster, brought into an enclosed world by someone who’s done something wrong).

The book also explains how to write an effective ‘logline’ (one or two sentences that outline the story) and provides general plotting hints. I should warn you that there is a lot of jargon, which is mostly explained, although I never worked out what a ‘road apple’ is. The Save the Cat! title comes from a hint for unlikeable protagonists (get them to do something nice like saving a cat, so the reader is more inclined to care about what happens to them).

I was initially a bit sceptical about this approach, thinking it might lead to formulaic writing. It certainly has the potential to produce unoriginal, predictable stories, if used unthinkingly by an unimaginative author. However, I found this method useful for ordering my work-in-progress story events into a more exciting, dramatic sequence. It also forced me to think more about how to link the external story events to the protagonist’s inner journey and how to increase tension by raising the stakes. While the method is clearly aimed at producing bestselling commercial fiction (for example, action thrillers, romantic comedies and crime fiction), I think it would be useful for any writer, even a ‘literary’ one, who writes any form of narrative. (I mean, I don’t think Ali Smith would find it helpful, but I’m sure an analysis of novels by Margaret Atwood or Anne Tyler would show effective use of the fifteen story beats).

I wondered how this story structure would work with a series of novels and this is briefly addressed in the book. A trilogy is meant to cover one story act per book and I was interested to find that my three Montmaray books fitted this perfectly (although the individual books themselves didn’t always follow the Save the Cat! method, which would come as no surprise to readers who complained about the pacing of those books). This blog post by Jessica Brody goes into more detail about how the method applies to multiple-book series.

There is an entire Save the Cat! industry, including books, online courses, computer software, printed story cards and a website with a discussion forum. I’m not sure how necessary any of that is if you’ve read this book, but you might want to check out the website or Jessica Brody’s blog if you want more information.

You may also be interested in:

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

On Writing by Stephen King

My New Author Website

My author website has had a makeover!

It had been a few years since I made any significant changes to my author site, but I’ve now fixed all the broken links, updated the information and reduced some of the clutter. Most importantly, it’s now much easier to look at it on mobile phones and tablets. (Thanks to HTML5 UP for providing the snazzy free template.)

I hope you find the site useful and easy to access. Let me know if you have any suggestions for further changes.

Screenshot of updated michellecooper-writer.com author home page

Memoranda Turns Ten

Ten years ago today, I started this blog with a post about how I learned to hate poetry. Three hundred and twenty-one posts and about two hundred thousand words later, here I am, still blogging, although far less frequently than at the start.

Here’s a selection of Memoranda posts from the past decade.

'Friday's Tunnel' by John Verney

First, ten discussions about children’s books, in no particular order:

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Friday’s Tunnel by John Verney

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay

Autumn Term by Antonia Forest

The Years of Grace and Growing Up Gracefully by Noel Streatfeild

Peter’s Room by Antonia Forest

Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner

End of Term by Antonia Forest

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

And ten discussions about favourite novels and novelists:

The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Anne Tyler And Her Novels

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

The Mapp and Lucia Novels by E. F. Benson

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

What I’ve Been Reading: Muriel Spark

Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead by Paula Byrne

Careful, He Might Hear You by Sumner Locke Elliott

Dear Dodie: The Life of Dodie Smith by Valerie Grove

Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford and Meet the Mitfords

The lost art of letter writing

Here are ten posts about writing:

How To Write a Novel, about writing advice

Same Book, But Different, on editing books for different countries

Book Banned, Author Bemused – my book got banned in the US!

Five Ways in Which Writing a Novel is Like Making a Quilt

Writing About Place

The Creative Vision Versus the Marketing Department

Goatbusters, or How The Writerly Mind Works

The ‘Aha!’ Moment and Three Things That Didn’t Happen In The Montmaray Journals

Adventures in Self-Publishing

Mrs Hawkins Provides Some Advice For Writers

William-Adolphe Bouguereau's La leçon difficule (The Difficult Lesson)

And ten rants about book-related topics:

Just a Girls’ Book, followed by Just A Girls’ Book, Redux and Girls and Boys and Books, Yet Again

That Gay YA Thing

Some Thoughts On Reading

Looking for a Good, Clean Book

I Hate Your Characters, So Your Book Stinks

Regarding Internet Piracy


A Public Service Announcement: Smoking Is Bad For You

Here’s to another ten years of Memoranda. Hopefully I’ll be blogging a bit more from now on, because I’ve just deleted my Twitter account.

Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy

'Funny Business' by Leonard S Marcus“A joke isn’t a joke if you need to explain it,” says Leonard S. Marcus, who compiled and edited this series of interviews with authors of funny books for children. “Even so, the hidden clockwork of comedy has long been considered one of the great riddles of life.”

When the world is literally on fire, being able to have a laugh now and then may be the only thing stopping us from succumbing to utter despair. I like reading funny books. In fact, all of my favourite books include some form of humour, however dry or subtle it might be. And while I don’t write comedies, my books do have amusing bits in them (or at least, I find them amusing). So I picked up this book at the library, eager to learn more about why and how humour works in books.

Funny Business: Conversations with Writers of Comedy includes authors whose work I love and find hilarious (Beverly Cleary, Carl Hiaasen, Hilary McKay, Judy Blume), authors I don’t find funny at all (Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket1, Anne Fine), authors I’ve never heard of (Christopher Paul Curtis, Daniel Pinkwater) and authors I’ve heard of but haven’t gotten around to reading yet (Sharon Creech, Norton Juster). They discuss their childhood experiences with books and writing and comedy, how they write, and what they think about humour in their work and lives.

I was surprised at how many of these authors don’t plan their books before they start writing (or who claim they don’t plan), although nearly all of them discuss how much revision they do and how important reading is for writers. While there isn’t much about the “clockwork” of constructing a joke, there are lots of interesting insights into comedy. Sharon Creech, who has lived in America and Europe, thinks that the need for humour and the impulse to use it is “universal”, but feels that different nationalities have different senses of what is funny (“some being more wry or more subtle or pun-based, for instance”). I think this is true. Australian and British humour is often more self-deprecating than American humour, in my experience. I had an American editor ask me to change a bit in the first Montmaray book, in which my heroine was making fun of herself, because the editor felt this was a sign of low self-esteem and was sad rather than funny. (I also recall another American copy-editor who failed to see any humour in my joke about ‘were-chickens’ during a full moon and who thought that ‘Goat Husbandry for Pleasure and Profit’ was a real book — although that could be an individual-sense-of-humour thing and not an American thing.)

Sharon Creech agrees with Mark Twain about a link between humour and sadness, that humour is stronger when “juxtaposed with sorrow”. Along similar lines, Carl Hiaasen thinks that “even though my books are supposed to make people laugh, they’re serious books”. Meanwhile, Jon Scieszka is convinced that there is “boy humour” and “girl humour”, with broad, slapstick comedy appealing only to boys. Really? (Mind you, Scieszka has five brothers and no sisters and spent all his high school years at a boys-only military academy, so it’s not surprising that he doesn’t know what makes girls laugh.) Hilary McKay, like many of the authors interviewed, isn’t exactly sure why her work is funny, but says, “I think if you listen to what people say, exactly as they say it, and write it down, it’s pretty nearly always funny”, especially when it’s children, who are “fairly blunt and fairly direct”.

There’s also lots of general writing advice, ranging from the useless (you must get up at dawn to write for five hours straight, every day of the year, et cetera) to the sensible (read a lot). Carl Hiaasen is full of praise for some of his English teachers but says:

“Teachers can’t give you a voice, and they can’t give you a reason to write. That’s got to come from inside. And you’ve got to become your own toughest critic: brutal, persistent, never satisfied. That’s the only way to get better. You have to have some sort of fire burning inside … There are not a lot of blissfully happy serious novelists.”

Hilary McKay thinks that studying science and working in a chemistry lab helped her writing because she had experience at meeting deadlines and “noticing details”, while Louis Sachar, who loved maths, especially algebra, at school, says his books are “more math- or logic-based than most writing.”

This book includes photos of the authors as adults and children, examples of revised manuscript pages and correspondence with their editors, suggested reading lists of each author’s work and a handy index. There are no Australian writers, either because Leonard Marcus hasn’t read any or because he doesn’t find them funny. (Obviously, Australian writers are hilarious.) I found this book an enjoyable and fascinating read.

  1. I know the Lemony Snicket books are really popular, but I find the humour mean-spirited. Then again, I never really enjoyed Roald Dahl’s books, either.

Check Out These #AuthorsForFireys Auction Items!


This week, Australian authors are running an online #AuthorsForFireys auction to raise funds for bushfire emergency services. There are so many amazing items and services and events to bid on. The auction has grown so large that it’s all become a bit overwhelming, so here is a small selection of auction items for you to browse.

Signed Books

Pretty much every Australian author you’ve heard of is offering personally signed books, so if you have a favourite author, search for them on Twitter to see if they’re part of #AuthorsForFireys. Here are some examples:

Simmone Howell
Kate Forsyth
Jaclyn Moriarty and her sisters Liane and Nicola

There are authors outside Australia, too – for example, Bloomsbury Australia is offering a deluxe, illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Writing, Publishing and Research Help

Want some feedback on a manuscript you’ve written? Need assistance applying for a writing grant? Would you love some personal mentoring sessions or would you like a specialist to do some historical research for you? These people all know their stuff:

Penni Russon
Kate Gordon
Pamela Hart
Leanne Hall
Margot McGovern
Kelly Gardiner
Lili Wilkinson
Dervla McTiernan
Sandy Fussell
Eleanor Limprecht
Judith Ridge

Want to name a character in your favourite author’s next book?

Lili Wilkinson
John Birmingham
R. W. R. McDonald
Gabrielle Tozer

Want a poem written especially for you?

Penni Russon
Maxine Beneba Clarke


Have a look at some of the beautiful artwork being offered by Australian book illustrators:

Gabrielle Wang
Kylie Howarth
Jo Renfro
Kelly Canby
Nicki Greenberg


Clementine Ford is offering to cook dinner for you.
So are David Marr and Benjamin Law.
CakeandMadness will teach you how to make and decorate cakes in Melbourne.
Fiona Wood will take you out to lunch in Melbourne and answer all your questions about writing.

Other awesome stuff

Wouldn’t you love a private viewing of the treasures of the State Library of Victoria?

Or these enamelled pins based on medieval illuminated manuscript illustrations?

Or netball bib bags made to order, with your own personalised 2020 netballstrology chart? Wing Defence rules!

To bid on any of these items, click on the link and reply on the tweet with the amount you’d like to donate to bushfire services. You can find out how the auction works at the #AuthorsForFireys website. There are lots more auction items available – just search Twitter using the #AuthorsForFireys or #authorsforfiries tags.


Australia is currently in the middle of a bushfire catastrophe, with horrific destruction of human lives, property and wildlife. Like many Australians, I’ve been watching the news, seeing familiar places being burned to the ground, and feeling very sad, worried and helpless. For those of us not directly involved in rescue and emergency services, the most useful thing we can do right now is to donate money to appropriate organisations.

Emily Gale, Nova Weetman and other Australian authors are running a Twitter-based online auction this week, starting Monday 6th Jan 2020 and ending at 11pm Australian Eastern Daylight Time on Saturday 11th Jan 2020. All proceeds will go directly to CFA (Country Fire Authority), a volunteer, community-based fire and emergency organisation that’s been fighting bushfires and helping fire-affected residents in Victoria. (International bidders can choose to donate via the Victorian Bushfire Disaster Appeal.)

As part of #AuthorsForFireys, I’m auctioning a signed set of all the books I’ve written – The Rage of Sheep, Dr Huxley’s Bequest and the three Montmaray novels, A Brief History of Montmaray, The FitzOsbornes in Exile and The FitzOsbornes at War. (The photo below shows the Vintage paperback edition of the first Montmaray book and the US hardcovers of the other Montmaray books, but the winning bidder can choose any edition of the Montmaray books they’d like.) I’ll sign each book with a personalised message and include a handwritten thank you letter.

Books for #AuthorsForFireys auction

How does the #AuthorsForFireys auction work? If you’re on Twitter (or you can borrow someone else’s Twitter account), simply reply to my tweet with the amount you’re willing to donate. On Saturday 11th January, I’ll directly message the person who posted the highest bid. The winning bidder will donate that amount directly to CFA and send me proof of the donation. Then I’ll post my package of books to them. I am happy to post to anywhere in the world and the auction allows international bidders.

Here’s a list of Australian Children’s and YA authors taking part in the auction, with links to each author’s Twitter: https://www.facebook.com/groups/the.knack/permalink/499228104059061/. (You don’t need a Facebook account to read it – just click on ‘Comments’ to see the list.)

If you don’t want to be part of the auction, but are looking for some way to help those affected by the Australian bushfires, here are some links to organisations accepting donations:

Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Appeal

NSW Rural Fire Service

WIRES Wildlife Rescue

RSPCA Bushfire Appeal

Thank you!

‘Dr Huxley’s Bequest’ Miscellanea

'Dr Huxley's Bequest' by Michelle Cooper

For those who don’t follow me on Twitter (that is, the entire population of the universe, minus about 48 people), here are some bits and pieces about my latest book, Dr Huxley’s Bequest:

The Great Raven recently published a guest post from me, in which I explain why I turned to self-publishing for my fifth book.

– The Children’s Book Council of Australia published a nice review at Reading Time, saying, “This thoroughly researched chronology of medicinal inventions, discoveries and disasters is presented in an interesting and engaging manner. Dr Huxley’s Bequest is a fascinating look at the role science, pseudo-science, and convenient accidents have had on the well-being of humanity … perfect for readers aged 12 and up.”

Magpies Magazine also reviewed it, saying, “Cooper approaches the history of medicine with the same eclectic verve, pace and off-beat imagination as she demonstrates in her historically-based novels … the reader is positively bombarded with fascinating information.”

– Telani Croft at The Book Nut enjoyed the book and her thoughtful review concluded “… strong characters and a believable purpose combine with a deft writerly touch to produce an interesting and engaging narrative that educates and, as I mentioned, provides a positive perspective on research and the quest for knowledge, and this cannot be undervalued. I can see this being picked up by young readers for pleasure, but I would also commend it to teachers to consider as a class text, due to its quality and relevance to learning.”

Read Plus said, “The mystery technique is a fantastic way to tell the story of medicine from ancient Egyptian times to current genetic testing.”

– And Kate Constable wrote on her blog that she “learned something new on every page, but … it never feels too educational! It’s just like a very clever, funny person telling you loads of really interesting stories about medicine.” Thank you, Kate!

New Paperback Edition of ‘Dr Huxley’s Bequest’

There’s a new paperback edition of Dr Huxley’s Bequest out tomorrow, Monday 15 January. This new edition has exactly the same content as the first edition, but the print size has been increased slightly (so it has 342 pages, rather than 270). I think the larger print will make it more enjoyable to read, especially for younger readers. This is how the new paperback looks:

'Dr Huxley's Bequest', 2nd edition

And there are illustrations inside:

'Dr Huxley's Bequest', 2nd edition, open page

Dr Huxley’s Bequest is also available in various ebook formats.

Wait, I have only just heard of this book. What’s it about?

Dr Huxley’s Bequest is a history of medicine for thoughtful readers aged about 12+, in the form of a mystery story, full of jokes and fascinating facts. It’s also a thoughtful look at the beauty, creativity and power of scientific reasoning and it’s especially for girls (particularly girls who’ve been told science is difficult, dull and only for boys).

You can read an excerpt of the book here and read more about the book’s real-life setting here. If you’d like to know more about why I wrote the book, see this blog post.

Which edition of Dr Huxley’s Bequest should I buy?

This second edition paperback has illustrations, author notes, a bibliography, a comprehensive index and a pretty cover. The first edition paperback is now out of print. (If you’d like to know why there’s a second edition coming out just two months after the first edition was published, see this very long blog post.)

The ebook versions are available in two formats. There’s a Kindle (mobi) version for Kindle readers and other devices that have the Kindle app installed. There’s also an ePub version, for iPads, iPhones, Nook readers, Kobo readers, and pretty much every other sort of ebook reading device. The ebooks don’t have the illustrations or the index, but do include the author notes and bibliography and they have a search function if you want to find keywords.

Where can I buy the book?

Here are some of the places where you can buy Dr Huxley’s Bequest online. I’ve listed stockists according to geographical region, because delivery costs are cheaper and you won’t have to pay currency conversion fees if you buy locally.

Australia and NZ
Amazon.com.au (paperback, Kindle ebook)
Angus & Robertson Bookworld (paperback, ePub ebook)
Apple iBooks (iBook ebook)
Booktopia (paperback)
Fishpond (paperback)
Kobo (Kobo ebook)

North America
Amazon.com (paperback, Kindle ebook)
Apple iBooks (iBook ebook)
Barnes & Noble (paperback, Nook ebook)
Chapters/Indigo Canada (Kobo ebook)
Kobo (Kobo ebook)

UK and Europe
Adlibris (paperback)
Amazon.co.uk (paperback, Kindle ebook)
Apple iBooks (iBook ebook)
Book Depository (paperback)
Foyles (paperback)
Kobo (Kobo ebook)
Libris (ePub ebook)
Waterstones (paperback)

Will it be in my local bookshop?

Maybe, if you ask them to order it for you! Bookshops are often reluctant to stock books that are self-published or published by small publishers. However, all book retailers will receive the same trade discount for this book as when they buy books from large publishers and any unsold books are returnable. Booksellers can order the book from Ingram Spark. (For more information, including ISBNs, see FitzOsborne Press.)

Can I borrow it from my library?

Maybe, if you live in Australia. If it’s not in your library’s catalogue, you can ask your librarian to order it. The book is in the catalogue of ALS Library Services and it has a National Library of Australia cataloging number.

Anything else I should know?

Dr Huxley’s Bequest is also on Goodreads, if you’d like to leave a review. (Thank you, Tina!)

Adventures in Self-Publishing: All The Mistakes I’ve Made (So Far)

In which I tell you all about the mistakes I’ve made, so you don’t make them yourself if you decide to self-publish your own book. It’s a very long blog post. (If you’re not interested in the technical details of self-publishing, I recommend you skip to the end of the post. Or read another blog post instead. For example, here’s a post about scones.)

Self-publishing a book for the first time involves a very steep learning curve. If you choose to do it, you have to accept that you’ll bungle some things. The good news is that you’ll probably be able to fix your mistakes, although that could involve a fair bit of effort and/or money. But keep in mind that traditional publishing houses, with their vast teams of highly-experienced staff, also make mistakes, ranging from putting out books riddled with typos (looking at you, Gollancz), to having to change an offensive book cover due to public outcry, to being fined tens of thousands of dollars for publishing a ‘non-fiction’ book full of obviously fictitious claims.

I found the editing and cover design stages of publishing Dr Huxley’s Bequest pretty straightforward, probably because I’d had experience in these areas through my traditionally-published books. I’d then planned to ‘typeset’ the book myself, using a template. ‘Typesetting’, in the digital age, means turning the edited manuscript into a pdf, with the print arranged as it is in printed books, with a title page, chapter headings, page numbers, appropriately-sized margins and so on. This wasn’t something I’d done before so I’d need to learn a lot first. However, I really wanted the book out by the end of the year and I was getting closer to my planned publication date. Also, the book had illustrations and an index, which I thought would complicate matters. I figured it would be easier and quicker to pay a professional book designer to do it and that’s where I made my first mistake.

There are two options if you want to contract out this sort of work: large companies that specialise in all aspects of self-publishing, from editing to marketing, and freelance graphic designers. I began by looking for a local freelance book designer, but lots of them preferred not to work with self-publishers or else they claimed on their website that they welcomed self-publishers, then didn’t answer my emails asking them for a quote. One book designer with lots of relevant experience sent a quote and agreed to do the work, then didn’t respond to my subsequent emails (she did eventually email a month later to say she was ready to start work, after I’d already found someone else). Grrr. (I should point out here that all the editors I approached for quotes responded within 24 hours. What is it with designers?)

Anyway, with my publication date looming, I turned to the big companies that specialise in assisting self-publishers. I’m generalising here, but most of them exist to make money from first-time authors with no publishing experience. And there’s nothing wrong with that! These companies are providing a service that’s very useful to many new authors, but they do charge a lot of money for things that these authors could easily do for themselves. For example, it takes about fifteen minutes to apply online for a pre-publication National Library of Australia cataloging number (which you’ll need if you want your book to be stocked in libraries and appear on the National Library database). This is completely free of charge, but self-publishing companies will charge upwards from $100 to do this for you. Again, that’s fine, especially if the first-time author doesn’t know anything about the National Library and needs a lot of support at every stage of the self-publishing process, but all I wanted was someone to turn my Word document into a print-ready pdf and format it for ebook publication.

One thing I will say about these big self-publication-service companies is that they have informative websites and they respond immediately to queries. I decided to go with the only Australian company recommended by Ingram Spark (the printer/distributor I planned to use). The staff at this particular self-publishing company were always polite and responded quickly by email and phone to sort out the problems (oh, so many problems) that arose. Also, I got a discount on Ingram Spark fees through them. However, there were major issues from the start. I’d explained what I needed over the phone – someone to format my manuscript for print-on-demand and ebooks – and they assured me they could do that and the finished product would look just like my traditionally-published books. But when their quote arrived, it was twenty-one pages long(!), full of expensive options I didn’t want (such as a thousand-dollar ‘book coaching’ package) as well as ‘free gifts’ that were worthless to me – and the quote didn’t include ebook formatting, which I’d specifically requested.

We sorted that out and I got started with a designer who had ‘ten years experience with [major Australian publisher]’. He sent me three chapter samples so I could choose the font I wanted. Two of the samples were inappropriate for this type of book; the third was okay, but the font seemed a bit on the small side. I figured the designer knew what he was doing with font size, though, so I didn’t interrogate him about it (BIG MISTAKE). In any case, I was distracted by all the other problems, the major one being the end-of-line hyphenation. There were hyphens all over the place, in the most ridiculous places, which made it difficult to read the text smoothly. For instance, single-syllable words like there’ll (which shouldn’t be hyphenated at all) were hyphenated as the – re’ll. Compound words weren’t hyphenated between the component words, so a word like courtyard was broken up as cour-tyard. They told me that this was how books were printed these days (no, they’re really not) and that if I wanted words at the end of lines hyphenated in my required (that is, normal, conventional) way, it would have to be done manually (I later found out this was untrue) and I would be charged per hyphen.

Then when the first-pages proofs arrived, they were a mess. There were sentences and paragraphs missing, illustrations placed upside-down, chapter headers in the wrong places, and of course, there were all those hyphens I had to check and correct. Once that was fixed, I manually located all the page numbers for the index, the index was added to the back of the file, and we went through the whole proofreading process again. Then it was time to turn the book into ebook files, which involves stripping out all the print formatting (including hyphens at the end of lines) so the text is ‘reflowable’ and can be read on any reading device, with the reader choosing the font and size. Of course, they’d only removed about half the hyphens … This whole formatting process only took about four weeks, but was immensely frustrating. I’ve proofread all my traditionally-published books and believe me, it doesn’t have to be this stressful.

'Jove Decadent' (1899) by Ramon Casas
Portrait of the author, halfway through fifth proofread

I sent the final files off to Ingram Spark to print a sample copy, and when the first paperback copy arrived I realised, with a terrible sinking feeling, that I should have spoken up about the font size at the start because the print was just too small. The book was readable (I own books with print that size or even smaller), but I thought a larger print size would provide a more enjoyable reading experience, especially for younger readers. (An experienced book designer should have known that. But as I wasn’t an experienced designer, I hadn’t picked up on it and made them change the size.) Rather than halting the whole publishing process, which would push the publication date into the next year, I decided to release the paperback as it was, then do another edition with larger print as soon as I could.

I then did what I should have done initially and discussed it with Nada, who designed the book’s cover. (I hadn’t even considered getting her to design the book’s interior, because I thought she only worked on really complicated books with diagrams and text boxes and other fancy design features. But if I’d asked her to do the interior design, it would have cost less and would certainly have saved me a lot of stress.) She was astounded at how messy the file was but was happy to increase the font size for me, except she happened to be overseas, which would make things difficult. She gave me the contact details of a local designer she knew, who, of course, didn’t respond to my email. Neither did another designer I emailed, but I finally found Diana Murray, who did an excellent job of sorting out what she politely called “unconventional typesetting” in the print file (apparently some of it was in Spanish). She increased the font size and her hyphenation was perfect – and the new hyphens didn’t need to be done manually! As this new edition had more pages, it needed a new ISBN (that’s the thirteen-digit number on the barcode) and I had to redo the index page numbers (ugh), but finally, it was ready to be uploaded to Ingram Spark.

So, Dr Huxley’s Bequest now has a new, larger-print edition of 350 pages (compared to 270 pages for the first edition, which is now out-of-print). It will be available to buy from next week (Monday, 15 January, to be precise), in all the same places the first edition was sold, for the same price. For those nice people who bought the first edition – rejoice! You own an extremely rare first edition of Dr Huxley’s Bequest, one of less than two dozen in existence! However, if you think the print is a bit small and you (quite reasonably) don’t want to buy the second edition, then email me some proof that you purchased the first edition (for example, a scan of a receipt showing the book’s ISBN) and I’ll send you a free ebook edition in epub format, which you can read on your iPhone, Nook reader, Kobo reader or other ebook reading device (unfortunately I can’t send you a free ebook in Kindle format, for Amazonian reasons).

Oh, and the other big mistake I made was setting a publication date in mid-November, just before the whole of Australia goes on summer holidays. This was a ridiculous time to start doing marketing and publicity (so I haven’t done any of that yet) and it made the process of issuing a new edition extra-difficult because Ingram Spark pretty much closes down in December. So, hooray for me, again. I’ll do a post about marketing and publicity once I’ve figured out how to do it.

In conclusion, here’s my advice for other self-publishers:

– allow loads of time for each stage of the process. The more stressed you are about looming deadlines, the more likely it is you’ll make unwise decisions.
– if you’re contracting out work, use someone who’s been personally recommended to you. At the very least, they should belong to an appropriate professional association.
– if you’re worried that something’s not quite right, speak up straight away! Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions and make (polite) demands. You’re paying and you’re entitled to professional service.
– sometimes it’s better just to do things yourself. It’s certainly cheaper and you’ll learn a lot of useful skills along the way.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments if you want my ‘expert’ advice on self-publishing. (Well, I do have a lot of expertise in making mistakes…)

More in Adventures in Self-Publishing:

Why Self-Publish?
What’s This Book About, Anyway?
To Tweet Or Not To Tweet
Designing a Book Cover
Turning Your Manuscript Into A Book

Adventures in Self-Publishing: Turning Your Manuscript Into A Book

The arrival of ebooks has made it much easier for self-publishers to get their work into the hands of readers, but I always knew I wanted to see Dr Huxley’s Bequest as an actual paper book that I could pick up (and be able to read, because I don’t own any kind of ereader). But how does a self-publisher on a limited budget, expecting to sell only a few books, go about turning their work into printed books?

At first I assumed I’d have to do it the way that traditional publishers print books, just on a much smaller scale – that is, pay a printer to produce a limited number of copies using a traditional press. But this means working out how many books you want and paying for all of them up front. I did consider using a crowdsourcing platform (such as Kickstarter) to fund a small print run, but the more I researched, the less attractive this option appeared. These companies take a significant percentage of the money raised and have all sorts of unappealing conditions attached. Anyway, I doubted I’d attract enough contributors to make it worthwhile. And even if I myself paid for a print run, where would I store all the books? How would I sell and distribute them to readers?

Then I did some research and discovered the amazing world of digital Print on Demand (POD) publishing. This means that you print only the copies that have been ordered, when they’re ordered. You can order just one book for yourself or hundreds of books. The POD publisher will print them in a couple of days and send them to you – or, even better, send them to the bookstore or library service that ordered them, charge them the price you’ve chosen for your book, deduct the printing and distribution costs, and pay you the remainder.

This is how it works. You, the author/self-publisher, send the POD publisher two pdf files – one pdf of the inside of the book, laid out the same way any printed book is, and one pdf of the cover art, with front, back and spine art fitted into a template that the POD publisher supplies. They store these files in their computer and whenever a book is ordered (either by you or by booksellers), this happens:

Isn’t that cool? You can choose from a wide range of book sizes. You can print paperback or hardcover copies with a range of binding types and jackets and types of paper. I can confirm that the printed paperbacks look just like the trade paperbacks you can buy in a bookstore. The only issue I noticed with the particular POD publisher I used (Lightning Source/IngramSpark) was that some of the colours on the cover were lighter than I expected, which I’ve heard isn’t uncommon with digital printing-on-demand. And you can’t do really fancy things with cover design, such as cut-outs and embossed lettering. It’s also more expensive to print per book than if you printed a thousand copies at the same time using traditional off-set printing. However, for a self-publisher, print-on-demand is an affordable and practical way to produce print books. You don’t have to pay warehouse costs and you don’t waste any paper if your books don’t sell.

The other good thing about IngramSpark, for Australian self-publishers, is that they have printing facilities around the world, including in Australia, and they can deposit your book sale earnings directly into your Australian bank account. That’s one of the reasons I ended up going with IngramSpark rather than Amazon Createspace, the other big name in the self-publishing world. I also thought IngramSpark would work well for me because they’re connected to dozens of online bookstores and library suppliers around the world. If you choose to distribute through IngramSpark, you give them information about your book (cover image, book summary, author information and so on) and they send it to all their affiliated booksellers, who then sell the book through their websites and catalogues. If you choose Amazon Createspace, the book is only sold through Amazon sites – which do reach a lot of bookbuyers, but not everyone wants to buy their books from Amazon.

For ebooks, a similar process occurs. The file is uploaded to IngramSpark in a different format (epub rather than pdf) and it doesn’t have to get printed, but it’s still listed and sold through a range of international booksellers, including Kobo, Apple iBooks and Barnes & Noble. However, if you want your ebook to be available for Kindle readers, you need to format it as a mobi file, set up an account with Amazon, and sell it through them. I had no idea which ebook format was likely to be more popular with Dr Huxley’s Bequest readers, so I’ve made it available in both formats. I’ll be interested to see the sales numbers and how much I earn from each.

I have skimmed over a very important step, though. You can’t upload a Word document, no matter how pretty it looks, to a POD publisher. So how do you turn your edited manuscript into formats that will look good when they’re read in either print or ebook form? You either do it yourself, which requires a fair amount of technological and design skill, or you pay a professional to do it for you. Now, remember back when I started this series and I said it could end up being a What Not To Do? Yep, this is the bit where I made All The Mistakes. That’s coming up in the next post.

More in Adventures in Self-Publishing:

Why Self-Publish?
What’s This Book About, Anyway?
To Tweet Or Not To Tweet
Designing a Book Cover
All the Mistakes I’ve Made (so Far)