Sneak peek at a snippet of For Cats Eyes Only

Felix Whiter is a suave, sophisticated, cat detective who works for the Animal Intelligence Service (A.I.S.) and every top detective needs a crack team of dedicated professional experts around him. IT, forensics, gadgets, disguises, and … receptionists.

Olli the Owl’s heart may well be in the right place, but his mind is … well, seemingly elsewhere.

Artwork by Amii James. Olli Tooley would like to make it clear that Olli the Owl is NOT based on him.

Little Bird Publishing friends on the same business journey

Friends in the same business

If you are in business and you see your business competitors as a threat, then I feel sorry for you. There is hardly a business model anywhere in the multiverse where direct competition is not positively beneficial. Indeed, in many businesses it is essential.

I would say that publishing is a good example. It is the almost infinite variety of books that makes them so interesting. If there were not so many books in so many genres, from so many authors, the market would actually stagnate and move backwards.

We, at Blue Poppy publishing have authors at varying stages of interest and development, and too many more would simply swamp us anyway. So it is always nice to find like minded publishers on a similar journey to ourselves, and that is where Little Bird Publishing comes in.

Established by Katie John in 2010 in very similar circumstances to Oliver Tooley founding BPP in 2016 they now have eight or more authors on the books, and everyone involved helps each other with mutual cross-promotion and collaboration. Like us they publish a wide range of genres, but steer clear of erotica and horror and so it is quite probable that our readers will enjoy their books and vice-versa.

I particularly agree with the philosophy of Little Bird, which is fairly well encapsulated in their own words

[Katie] also quickly became aware of the sharks out there, exploiting the new indie author market; expensive vanity publishing schemes, unqualified editors, and people offering to turn authors into millionaires, and USA Today bestsellers overnight. She established Little Bird Publishing as an antidote to this kind of author exploitation and dream peddling.

It’s the same here. We won’t take money up front from authors for anything they wouldn’t spend money on anyway. We’re happy for authors to hire their own editor, cover designer or whatever; or to introduce authors to those people. All we insist on, is that the end product is professional quality such as you would expect from Random House or Bloomsbury.

A few formatting golden rules for self publishing a novel in the UK

This is a quite specific list for UK novels

This is only about formatting a fiction novel for the UK market.

Some different rules apply for the USA, and for non-fiction, but this is what I have learned so far and I am going to break it down into a simple checklist.

Obviously others will have their opinions, which may be just as valid, but I reckon this list is a good starting point, and I have made enough mistakes, by now, to be a bit of an expert.

  • Book size 7.8″ x 5″* which is 198mm x 129mm – Portrait (obviously)
  • Paperback cover weight – 250gsm-300gsm is normal
  • Interior paper (typically) 80gsm-90 gsm cream, or other off white colour (not white)
  • Font – Garamond 10pt or 11pt (11 is just a little easier on tired eyes like mine)
    Font for younger readers – Century Schoolbook 12 or 14 point
  • Single line spacing. 6pt space between paragraphs
  • Justified both sides. Nice neat straight lines down left and right
  • Mirror margins and a gutter to stop the text disappearing down the spine
  • Start each chapter partway down the first page. (maybe add an image above)
  • Get the header and footer formatting right. (e.g. page 1 is the first page of the story, not the book.)

I think that’s all, but I will add others as and when I think of them or people point them out.

  • On Createspace it is 5.06″ x 7.81″ but to be honest, six hundredths of an inch really don’t make that much difference to a book on a bookshelf.

Learning from mistakes in self-publishing.

Worst self-published print book ever?

The first book I began to write was “Children of the Wise Oak” but that stalled because I decided the original idea was terrible and I didn’t know how to proceed with it. The very first book I finished was a short story called “Time Tunnel to Londinium.”

I had no intention of trying to find a traditional publisher. Not because I didn’t want one, but because I felt that the entire industry is geared up to a “rejection” process rather than a “selection” process. I knew my shallow ego could not face rejection. I also felt that publishers were only interested in books by celebrities. While this may not be strictly true, it was enough to put me off.

But at that time, I came across a company called “Blurb” who are still going. They offer a self-publishing service for any number of books from a single copy to hundreds. They have a variety of options including their own software for creating the book interiors and covers, and a huge range of book sizes and formats. They even offer hardcover options.

What they don’t do, at least not for free, is tell you how to make sure your books looks professional. Nobody does, and boy is it easy to make mistakes. See here for help to avoid some of those mistakes.

  • Book size
  • Paper choice
  • Font
  • Font size
  • Gutters
  • Justifying
  • Line spacing
  • Cover design
  • Blurb
  • Editing
  • ?????

There are so many little things to consider, and if you get any one of them wrong it sends a signal to prospective readers “this is an amateur book”. They might not even know why!

So how bad was my first effort? – Pretty terrible, but don’t take my word for it; I still have plenty of copies left.

Let’s start with the front cover. Well ok, it could have been worse, but I mocked it up using images from the internet without bothering to check if they were available for reuse. (This is a serious mistake and nobody should ever do this, although I fear huge numbers of people do) If you cannot find an image you like which is officially available for commercial reuse and modification then you should not touch it with a barge pole. Take a photograph yourself, get a photographer, or artist, or a professional cover designer to help you. Rather use a WYSIWYG cover designer like on Amazon Kindle than leave yourself open to a copyright suit in the future.

Then there is the size issue. These books were a standard size offered by Blurb, but paperbacks in the USA are a different set of sizes from those in the UK. Almost all my market is the UK so I should have used a standard UK paperback size. That size is 198mm x 129mm (I just typed that from memory and then double checked) (It is actually 7.8 inches by 5 inches but who uses inches these days?)

Let’s just reiterate that
UK standard paperback size for a novel is 198mm x 129mm
If that is the only size you know you will be fine for some time to come.

So what about the interior? How badly did I mess up that can of worms? Well…

Have you spotted it yet?

Comic Sans!

That’s not all, but it is enough. I wanted to make it easy to read for young readers. I personally dislike double story “a” even now. Nobody writes an “a” like it is printed. But that is no excuse for using Comic Sans in any book aimed at children over the age of about five.

Now it turns out I was worrying over nothing much. Most junior school children can comprehend the difference between a double-decker serif “a” and the letter “a” they write with their pen or pencil. It might be an issue for Aspies like me who spent ages fretting about this little detail but not for “normal” children. (there’s a whole world of things you can do to help those with dyslexia, but that’s an article in itself)

I now tend to use Century Schoolbook 12 or 14 point (the larger for younger readers 6-18 smaller for 8-10) and Garamond 11 point for YA.

I also got it printed on white paper because I naively thought that looked more expensive. Alas it also makes it less readable, especially to dyslexics apparently.

Blurb saved me from making some of the other classic mistakes, for example page numbering and titles in headers being incorrectly formatted, not having gutters (the words disappear into the book spine without them) and mirrored margins; but it did allow me to use “left justified” instead of “both justified”. In books you do not want a ragged margin on either side of the page.

So I had one hundred copies of this book printed (the more you print the cheaper it is per book) I sent out copies to people who bought them, but now I refuse to sell any more because I know how awful they are. I keep them as a warning to myself and others of the perils of not doing proper research.

 

Artist Selected to Illustrate New Children’s Book For Cats’ Eyes Only

The story so far

  • I got a call from Cathy Newton of Ilfracombe Library asking me to attend a meeting at the home of local philanthropist and benefactor David Tubby. (see his excellent blog on our small but beautiful town).
  • Cathy asked me if I would be willing to write a book especially for the Big Summer Reading Challenge using this year’s theme “Animal Agents”
  • I said yes and we bandied about a number of ideas for the book within minutes. David was persuaded to assist the library with financing the launch of the event and I went off to get writing.
  • Before I got very far, I decided to do some market research among the target audience. My daughter’s form teacher at Ilfracombe Junior School was happy to oblige and I got back nearly thirty filled out questionnaires which helped me to write a well targeted book. (It’s mostly terrible puns, fart jokes, and silliness). The title is “For Cats’ Eyes Only”
  • It took less than a week to write the first draft. A little longer to get beta readers to feed-back and make a few adjustments, and another week for editing. But without illustrations it would miss the needs of the target audience. 6-8 year olds.
  • So the search for an artist began, with many expressing an interest but none fulfilling all the requirements. The money available for this is not huge, because it is an unknown author (me) and a very small publisher (Blue Poppy) and we just can’t pay, up front, the sort of money professional artists demand and deserve.
  • Then a friend suggested I should try the art department of Ilfracombe Academy. I smacked my hand against my head and dashed off an email a.s.a.p. The reply from Mr Lawton was positive and we arranged an opportunity to visit the school and present the brief to a group of young art students.
  • Then last Thursday I saw the submissions. It goes without saying that all of them were excellent, but (much to my relief) one was outstanding and the decision was relatively easy to make.

Watch this space, or keep an eye on the North Devon Gazette for the announcement of the successful artist who is a young student who dared to dream of illustrating children’s books once she had finished her studies. 

Cover art for Women of the Wise Oak – Preliminary Sketch

For me, one of the most exciting things about preparing a new book for publication is the cover art.

With the “Wise Oak” series, that process is deliciously drawn out as Iver Klingenberg sends me the preliminary sketch first, and then usually a work-in-progress close to completion, before I see the final finished painting. Then there is the next step which involves taking the painting to Andy Jones who turns it into a finished cover.

Well, we have reached that very first step and I absolutely LOVE it.

Preliminary Sketch for “Women of the Wise Oak” cover design.

New author reveal

Welcome to Blue Poppy Publishing, Joni Dee
Author of “And The Wolf Shall Dwell”

It really is pretty mind-blowing the speed with which Blue Poppy has grown in less than a year. OK, look, it’s not going to threaten Penguin any time soon, but we have now got three confirmed authors all publishing books this year.

The latest author to the fold is Joni Dee, whose thriller “And The Wolf Shall Dwell” already looks set to outsell Oliver J Tooley on launch based on pre-orders alone.

That said, we want to give more people the chance to get a pre-order in before the launch date which has not be set yet. To that end, please check out his website jondbooks.com/ and sign up for updates.

Early Lessons in Self Publishing 1

The bottom of the learning curve.

I thought perhaps, it might be time to begin sharing my self publishing story from the very beginning. I have made so VERY many mistakes on my journey. I probably still haven’t made them all, but the lessons I have learned could be worth a lot to anyone starting out. Besides, I have a terrible memory, so it wouldn’t hurt to have a handy reference guide for myself.

So, right back to the very beginning. Before I thought of publishing anything. Right back to when mobile phones were the size of small bricks and the earliest days of the internet.

Oh, I will warn you now. This is likely to turn into as much an autobiography as an instruction manual. Later, I may distill it down to a ten point action plan, but for now, it is probably gonna ramble. Sorry.

Writing.

Why write? Some people write purely for themselves and a few close friends; some write for pleasure; a few have future publishing in their sights. I started, largely for the first two reasons, by writing a website.

I was researching my family tree with my new home computer. A Tiny PC with a Pentium II™ processor and dial-up connection. I searched for information about my grandfather, Frank Kingdon-Ward, who was a ‘famous’ plant collector. There wasn’t a single hit on the search engine. There were ten thousand hits for Pamela Anderson. I thought that was a bad thing.

I found a biography (whatever you do, don’t pay more than a few quid for it. It’s not that great) about my grandfather written by Charles Lyte. I remember him coming to our flat in London and interviewing my ‘dizzy’ mother. He didn’t get much from her, but he did borrow a lot of papers which he subsequently gave to Kew Botanic Gardens (with my mother’s consent, although now she denies it) Using a WYSIWYG web-builder I made my very first Geocities website.  It was a bit rubbish, but little did I know my publishing career had begun.

Once you start, you can’t stop.

Like a lot of things, writing can be a bit like a drug. You get hits on your website from people who care about your subject matter. People who know more than you about your subject matter actually send you corrections. If you are sincere in your objectives, then you don’t mind. You don’t mind people correcting your spelling, grammar, facts, or style. It all helps.

Another aspect of my website, unrelated to the Frank Kingdon-Ward biography, suddenly started getting huge numbers of hits and when I started to monetize it with advertising, it began to pay my hosting fees. I was a “professional writer”! Well, sort of.

It was around this time that I started to wonder if I might one day be able to make a living as a writer. Even as I write this, I am still wondering that, so please; if you are seeking a get rich quick scheme, then writing professionally may not be for you.

Cover of
“The Great Explorers” Robin Hanbury-Tenison (Thames and Hudson)

But before I was able to finish writing my first novel, I was commissioned to write an article for a book called “The Great Explorers” by Robin Hanbury-Tenison; published by Thames and Hudson.

I was asked to write one thousand two hundred words and was paid my first ever fee for writing. It was a rather exciting moment.

Interestingly, I recently read some statistics and facts that strongly suggest that writing non-fiction is a better way to make money as a writer. Indeed, the evidence of my own experiences supports that so far, albeit from a very small statistical sample.  I made eight pence per word for that article. I wish I could say the same for my self published stories. 

 

Review of Sealskin by Su Bristow

Cover art for Sealskin by Su Bristow, featuring a fishing net merging and transforming into long flowing hair.
Sealskin by Su Bristow

‘Sealskin’ is a wonderful elaboration of one of the ancient legends of the selkies, seals which come onto land and shed their skins to become like humans. In the story, a fisherman hides one of the skins preventing the selkie from returning to the sea. It also starts with a terrible act, of which more later. (may contain spoilers)*

The story is set in a historical period which is not fully defined but is certainly before the steam age. The fishing village in the Hebrides, is close knit with everyone knowing everyone else’s business. Although they look after each other, and make sure those who suffer misfortune are not left by the wayside, there is still a certain rivalry and gossip is rife. The main occupation is fishing, and the sea claims the lives of men as readily as any other cause.

(While reading it, I visualised the characters in the Ealing Comedy “Whiskey Galore”)

I particularly enjoyed the way Su paints a picture of the village’s social interactions, and the dynamic of riding out a scandal by parading in full view; calmly deflecting accusations. Tight knit communities can be wonderful places to live when you feel included, but can be terrifying if you become ostracised.

The ending was particularly satisfying for me. As it approached, just like I always do, I attempted to second guess what would happen. I could only see two possible scenarios and neither of them was really going to please me. It was therefore a blessed relief when Su found a third way that made much more sense than either of my ideas.

The book has received many five star reviews already and I am not going to buck that trend, however, one reviewer was highly critical. I didn’t want to comment on her review and end up with a long running argument, but I am going to address it below. But warning, it may contain a few mild spoilers.

Potential spoilers.

I have tried to keep this from being a spoiler, but if you are the sort of person for whom any clue at all to the story is a spoiler, then by all means stop reading here.

* I said the story begins with a terrible act. An appalling act of violation of a female, which in the modern world is rightly considered unforgivable. The reviewer felt that the act was subsequently glossed over in the story, and that the perpetrator is subsequently portrayed as a hero. As a man, I hesitate to make any excuse, but I feel here that three points are worthy of keeping in mind.

  1. The author herself is a woman. OK, I know that proves nothing, but I feel the next points establish she does not make light of the subject.
  2. The selkies had been performing a mating dance, and there was a certain magic in the air which made the perpetrator not fully aware of, or in control of his actions. We are not talking about being drunk, or lustful, but being possessed by selkie magic.
  3. He feels enormous guilt for his actions throughout the book, despite the fact that it is strongly implied that he is not in control of his actions. The selkie has magical powers, and can affect a human’s behaviour, as shown later in the book.
  4. The setting is historical, and as such, it is not acceptable to make judgements about morality based on modern norms. Juliet was thirteen when Romeo made his advances to her, King David has many wives and concubines. This story is an elaboration of a folk myth and as such stays faithful to the basis of the original.

Ultimately, every reader must take what they wish from the story, but in my opinion, it would be a shame to dismiss it because of a lack of understanding of the magical elements.

New author announcement coming soon

Blue Poppy is already reeling from the news that Ben Blake, a well established self-publishing author with six titles already in print, wanted to publish his next two novels, “Black Lord of Eagles”, and “Fanged Fish” through us; but now we have been approached by an author from London who had got 750 pre-orders of his first novel before the company supposedly publishing him pulled the rug.

We don’t want to give too much away but it goes without saying we could not pass up the chance to publish someone who has already created so much interest in their first book.

It may mean we have to transform from an imprint, to an actual company with some sort of legal status. That’s going to mean proper accounts and such like. Much to do.