Passes, Paperbacks and Parks….. A typical week for Julia Blake

It’s been a busy and stressful couple of weeks since we last chatted, and there were moments when I was literally ripping my hair out in chunks. I’m in the final stages of publishing book nine, and as any author knows, it can be a frustrating, arse ache of a process, in which the Law of the Sod definitely applies – in that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong!

Also, in my news, exam results were released, and Miss F went back to her school to collect them last week. Full of trepidation, convinced she’d managed to stuff the lot, her heart was in her mouth as she opened the envelope which contained her future. I never really had any doubts that she would pass and pass well. Anyone who has worked as hard as she has over the past two years and put as much effort into revision as she did, can’t possibly have failed. And of course, she didn’t. I’m happy to report that she passed all eleven subjects, with a mix of mostly As and Bs, and a couple of Cs in Physics and Chemistry – “we hates them!”

Now, a lot of parents expect the absolute best from their children, and at least one set of parents we know are paying for papers to be re-graded because their little darling got a B+ instead of the A they felt they deserved. I’ve never put that kind of pressure on Miss F. Now, don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I didn’t expect her to work and work bloody hard to get good grades. But I asked her to do HER best, not be THE best. At the end of the day, I think that’s all you can reasonably expect from anyone, that they do the best they can.

We’re all different and we all have different strengths and weaknesses. Miss F’s nemesis is physics, and over the years I’ve seen her struggle to understand what to me seemed absolute gibberish, but she persevered. Come revision time, our house was covered with little post it notes with physics formula and equations on. Much to the complete bafflement of our little Romanian lodger, who came home from work late one night to find one stuck on his door and thought it was a note from me – “I am not understanding what this is.”

When exams finally hit, she was an absolute shaking bundle of nerves and was convinced she’d failed physics. Even though I was confident she’d done well, her own low self-confidence told her otherwise. That’s why there was much celebrating in the Blake household when she opened that envelope and found a C+ for physics. Vindication of all her hard work, and we were as pleased about that result as we were about the As in history and English, and the clutch of Bs for her other subjects. The important thing is she’s passed, with grades high enough to take up the college place she’s been offered and do the highest level of the diploma in her subject that she can.

And for those of you would like to know, Miss F wishes to be a zookeeper so is starting a Level 3 Animal Management and Care Diploma next week. She wishes then to specialise in entomology and specifically myrmecology – which isn’t the study of mermaids although oh how I wish it was, wouldn’t that be the coolest thing – but is in fact the study of ants.

As I said, I’ve been trying to publish a new book. Chaining Daisy is the sequel to Becoming Lili and is book two of the Perennials Trilogy. It’s been two years in the making, two very long years of writing, revising, amending, editing, rewriting and proofing. Non authors probably think when the words The End are written on a manuscript it’s all done and dusted. Not a bit of it. I once saw a meme of an iceberg floating in water, the tip of the iceberg was the finished book that the reader buys, but under the water the rest of the iceberg was made up of all the long, tedious process the author has to endure to get that book to that point.

So, I’m in the final stages now, that frustrating time when you’re so close to having the book ready to launch, but so many annoying, niggly, painful little snags keep leaping up to slap you round the face, that at times you’re tempted to just give up. Every book is different, some books come together so easily you dare to think you’ve cracked this getting published lark and are a professional. Other books are more feral, refusing to be caught and heartlessly laughing as they throw up problem after problem. Chaining Daisy has been the latter, so much so that I began to think it was cursed. Instead of a publisher I needed a priest equipped with bell, book and candle.

It’s a big book, just like its predecessor, it has illustrations and pretty little daisy icons on the chapter headings. Any of these can cause issues when trying to publish, all of them together – well, that’s a plan doomed to failure. For those unfamiliar with the process, you have to upload your beautifully prepared document to Amazon, who then place it into the relevant paperback setting using a template that you originally downloaded from them to prepare your document in. Now, one would think that would mean that what you see in your document is exactly what will appear in the Amazon preview. One would think…

Nope, for some reason Amazon narrow the margins ever so slightly when they get their grubby mitts on your perfect manuscript. This squeezes your paragraphs so sometimes instead of being, for example, six lines long, a rogue word or two sneaks onto a seventh line. Now, this probably doesn’t sound too big a deal, but imagine it happening several times in a chapter. It will push the pages over so instead of your chapter being ten pages long, it’s now eleven. That means instead of chapter two beginning on page eleven as it states on your contents page, it now starts on page twelve. Multiply this by the fifty or so chapters there are in the book and you begin to see the problem.

Over and over and again I had to upload the file, check it, nope still not right. Go back to my original document, go through it with a fine toothcomb tweaking the paragraphs to pull those rogue words back. Upload it again, check it, nope, still not right. Over and over until you lose the will to live.

I also had problems with the daisy icons. Most were fine. Most were well-behaved, good little daisies who did what they were told and stayed put. But there’s always one, isn’t there. One who decides to plough their own furrow and refuse to conform.

Days of my life were sacrificed to polishing this book, to making it the best I could. A lot of indie authors don’t bother. They write hard and fast, churning out books of only 50,000 words or so, barely editing them and certainly not giving them time to mature before bam, they’re on Amazon and the writer has started the next. Of course, indie authors do need to be prolific. Never has the phrase “you’re only as good as your last show” been as relevant as it is to us. A new book creates a buzz, it lifts your profile, increases your visibility, improves sales and generates fresh interest in existing titles. This is all good, but, at what price does such productivity come? Unless you are some kind of superhuman writing and editing machine who never makes a mistake, then the quality of your books will be doubtful.

Books are like fine wines or a good cheese, they need to mature. No manuscript ever suffered for being set to one side for a few weeks, or even months. When an author has first finished writing a new book they’re caught up in a frenzied whirl of relief. Reading it through straight away the rose-coloured glasses are firmly in place and it’s impossible to see through its magnificence to the flaws lurking beneath. And there will be flaws. Typos, punctuation and bits that just don’t flow. Continuity errors, plot holes and timeline problems. They will be there. It’s almost impossible to proof your own work. You know what it’s supposed to say, so that is what your brain will see. Letting the manuscript sit for a while will give you some much needed distance and allow you to view it with less prejudiced eyes.

It is my humble opinion that if you are expecting people to pay good money for your book, then it needs to be as perfect as it is possible for you to get it. I’m afraid indie authors have something of a bad reputation for producing books of poor quality, and it’s true that there are a few authors guilty of this. The sad thing is though, those few pull down and tarnish the good name of the majority of indie authors, myself included, who work tirelessly to publish books as professionally finished as traditionally published ones.

I like to make bookmarks to go with all my books and last week I sat down to produce the ones to accompany Chaining Daisy. My usual website had changed the way they operated though, as usual turning a reasonably simple process into a complicated and fiddly rigmarole that had me grinding my teeth and squinting at tiny preview images on my laptop. Finally, it was done, 250 bookmarks ordered and paid for, one more thing successfully ticked off my list.

I should have known though, should have suspected that life would stick another turd in my tea kettle. Three days later they arrived. All 250 of them. I eagerly opened the package, and for a split second I thought they were fine, before I put my glasses on and realised the black of the background behind the daisy icon was a slightly different black to the black background of the bookmark. Bugger, I thought, but it’s liveable with and one of those things that no one else will probably notice.

Then Miss F wandered in with her young, sharp eyes, picked one up and said, “why does it say – body text here – under the daisy?” I snatched it back, examined it and cursed. Yep, she was right, in black letters on the black background were the words “body text here”! Just as I was wondering how noticeable that was, I spotted the third, deal breaker error. I’d left the letter R off the word author. So, that settled that, although the irony of an author who can’t spell author, is one I can appreciate, the whole lot had to go in the bin, and I had to start again.

Finished product – front and back of new bookmarks now perfect!

As you can imagine, after all that I was a quivering pile of stress, so went to a local park with Miss F for some much-needed exercise. Nowton Park is a wonderful, sprawling park on the outskirts of Bury St Edmunds. With several tennis courts, a football pitch, a kid’s playground, a maze and a café, it’s a popular destination, but as there are over 200 acres of it you can spend hours there and never see another soul. There was just one problem though, the UK had another mini heatwave last week so after twenty minutes of walking in 35C we were both drenched in sweat and feeling the strain.

Still – stiff upper lip, never give in because we’re British and the “Dunkirk spirit” – and all that, meant neither of us were prepared to admit defeat so we did the whole circuit, before crawling home in a hot, sweaty puddle of regret, about ready to peel our own skins off and fighting over who’d be first in the shower.

And now it’s Saturday and once again it’s time to sit down and write my blog. Is it getting any easier? Maybe, certainly the whole technical side of uploading any photos and scheduling the blog I’m now more familiar with, but it’s the knowing what to talk to you about that still gives me concern. Despite the lovely messages I’ve had from so many people saying how much you all enjoy it when I simply “chat” I’m still worried that it’s not interesting enough. Although over 2000 hits so far is encouraging, as are the wonderful comments you leave.

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed my round up of what for me is a fairly typical week. Oh, and I also managed to squeeze work into that lot as well, and there’s a little funny anecdote to share with you all before I sign off. Monday was a bank holiday in the UK, so most people had the day off work, not us poor retail workers though and the day was incredibly busy, with people piling into the shop to buy. However, as most places are shut by 4pm on a bank holiday, by 3:30pm it was dead. No one was coming in and we were tidying up. All day I’d been convinced it was Sunday. It felt like a Sunday, and the customers had had that Sunday shopper vibe about them. So, at 3:55pm I washed up all the cups we’d used throughout the day, picked up my bag, clocked myself out and went home. Letting myself in the front door, Miss F raised her eyebrows at me.

“You’re home early.”

“No, it’s 4:15, I’m always home at 4:15 on a Sunday.”

“Mum, it’s Monday.”

“Shit! Give me the phone!”

I phoned work; my boss answered. Apparently, nobody had even realised I’d gone.

“Hi, it’s me.”

“Where are you calling from?! The toilet?”

“No, I’m home.”

There was a beat, then…

“Why are you home?”

“I thought it was Sunday, so I left.”

“Oh, what are you like?!”

Luckily, he saw the funny side of me blithely leaving work an hour early and as no customers had come in after I’d gone, in the grand scheme of things it didn’t really matter. However, I did have to work an extra hour on Wednesday to make up for it.

So, that’s me signing out. Hopefully next week will be less eventful, but hey, this is me, so I seriously doubt it. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday.

All the best

Julia Blake

2 thoughts on “Passes, Paperbacks and Parks….. A typical week for Julia Blake

  1. Well you have had quite a week, and I laughed at the end when you went home early on Monday, although I thought that Bank holidays were Sunday trading times?

    I ordered my copy of Becoming Lili and I’m looking forward to reading this one once I’ve finished The Forest 🌳 xxx


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