It’s actually our fault but we’re going to blame you!

I didn’t blog last week for which I’m sorry, I have no excuses, it just didn’t happen. To be fair, last week was a busy and stressful one. I was supposed to be on the second week of my holiday, and I was supposed to be publishing the first three books of the Blackwood Family Sage all in one big triple hit. Mad? Possibly.

Anyway, for those of you familiar with the whole hell that is trying to upload to Amazon’s publishing house KDP, bear with me while I try to explain it to those in blissful ignorance. If an author publishes through Amazon, then it can be great and there are many benefits. It’s free, you don’t have to pay for an ISBN number, and they will help you make your cover if you need them to. But, being an indie author means you have to do everything yourself including formatting your precious book not only into a version suitable for publishing as an eBook, but even harder, you have to produce a version suitable to go into a paperback as well.

The eBook version is pretty straight forward. Don’t page number it, KDP will do that for you. Make sure your page breaks are in place otherwise your chapters will bleed into each other. Make sure your chapter headings aren’t so big they will break in odd places and add hyperlinks to your contents page so people can jump to wherever they want to in the book when they’re reading it.

The paperback is trickier. You are charging more for a physical book, so it must be perfect, well, in my humble opinion it does. The chapter endings need to be sensible – one of my pet hates is a chapter ending with just one or two lines at the top of a page then a ton of white space underneath, so I will always tweak the paragraphs to either pull them back so the chapter ends neatly at the bottom of a page, or push them out so there’s a sensible amount of text on the last page of the chapter. I also like to start all my new chapters on the right-hand side, the top side of a page, but that is a whole other OCD issue which could take up an entire blog.

The pagination must be accurate, and that can be problematic especially in a book like Erinsmore or The Forest. Those books contain section breaks and chapter title pages which you don’t want page numbers on but you do want the pagination to count them, so the numbering picks up again on page one of the next chapter. Unbelievably complicated! I have no idea why the designers of Word made it so arse-achingly hard to do. It was like there was a committee meeting and a proposal was put forward to make pagination simple and straight forward, but they all looked at it, chuckled evilly, and decided no, they’d make it so twisty, complex, and downright impossible that any author attempting it would end up clawing their own eyes out and sobbing quietly in a corner.

Anyway, after ten books I can handle pagination. It may take me a while, there may be much cursing and some tears, but I do eventually get it right. I can even insert all my own illustrations, illuminated capitals, and chapter graphics – or rather my IT department (aka Miss F) – can do it. Then my paperback draft goes off to the wonderful Becky Wright at Platform House Publishing, and she performs some kind of arcane wizard magic spell over it which ensures that all those extra twiddly bits stay exactly where they are and she then sends it back to me in a version called a PDF. This ensures that when I upload it to KDP it will be exactly as it should be and will stay that way.

Anyway, this had been done to all three of the Blackwood Family Saga books – paperbacks were perfect, the eBook versions were perfect and those had all been converted into MOBI files so they would also upload to KDP exactly as they were – all I was waiting for were the final tweaks to be made to the covers for the paperbacks and I was good to go.

I had planned for a three-day launch programme running from Wednesday to Friday. The books would all be on at special sale prices for those three days and I had a ton of promo material ready plus a video teaser for each one. I got my final paperback covers back from Platform House on Monday afternoon, so I was cutting it fine, but being a more established author and because I upload a PDF for the paperbacks and a MOBI for the eBooks, my books never take as long in the review stage as they would if I was a newbie author trying to upload a sloppily formatted Word document.

Confident this will be the work of half an hour, max, I log into KDP Monday afternoon and begin uploading my books. For some reason it seems to take a lot longer than usual, but eventually I get them up and try to check them in the preview facility. This is a way you can look at your books on the screen and check them page by page just to ensure all is well. According to KDP no such feature existed, even though it’s a feature I’ve used dozens of times before and was there on the screen. But every time I clicked on it, I received a very strange error message.

Hmm, I thought, that’s odd, so I bypassed that stage and tried to upload my book covers. Nope. KDP did not want to know. Insisting that I hadn’t uploaded a compatible file, when I knew damn well, I had. These shenanigans went on for almost two hours before I gave up and went to bed. I did send KDP an email informing them of these problems but knew it would take at least 24 hours before any answer was forthcoming.

Tuesday morning there was a message in my inbox from KDP informing me they had no glitch their end and it must be my device. Perhaps it was too old to cope with uploading such complex documents to KDP? Well, it was only three months older than the last time I published a book through them, so, hmm. Anyway, I decided to try again and despite my device being a whole thirteen hours older than the last time I had tried, all three books uploaded perfectly this time, as well as the covers.

Brilliant, I thought. There was a chance they would all still be up by Wednesday morning, but even if they weren’t, I could run the launch Thursday to Saturday instead. So, I waited. And waited. And waited! Wednesday afternoon I receive an email that the eBook versions of Lost & Found and Fixtures & Fittings are up. Good. Then that evening, Sugar & Spice eBook version is up. Thursday morning the paperback versions of Lost & Found and Sugar & Spice are up, but no sign of Fixtures & Fittings. I email KDP again asking if they have any idea where it’s gone or how long it’s going to take.

Then I notice something else, they’ve listed the eBook version of Fixtures & Fittings with the listing of a second-hand seller who is flogging old paperback copies of the book for stupid money, but it looks like it’s the official paperback, so I’m scared if I launch that people will buy it by mistake.

Thursday afternoon, the actual paperback version of Fixtures & Fittings goes up. But it still shows the old cover. I’m pretty sure if anyone orders a copy, they will get the new one. But I don’t want to take any chances so reluctantly decide I must delay launch until the following week. I email KDP again, and in the meantime order myself one copy of each of the books to see for myself what actually turns up.

Friday morning. Fixtures & Fittings is still showing the old cover, and Lost & Found – which had been perfect – is now also showing the old cover. I am now at a state of wanting to take a machete to my laptop. The frustration caused by waiting around for three days was unbearable, so Wednesday afternoon I sat down and started furiously hammering out words for my next book!

Friday lunchtime I received an email from KDP very politely informing me that they had looked into my various issues and that because I hadn’t uploaded my books until that morning, then that was why they weren’t up entirely and some of the covers hadn’t uploaded yet. Excuse you, KDP! They were all uploaded Tuesday morning and there is a timestamp on my account to prove it. I sent back a politely blistering email pointing this fact out to them. Nothing came back.

Saturday morning, way too late to even think about launching because I was back to work Monday morning, I received notification that all my books were up on KDP. I went and checked and yes, there were all three books up on all the sites with the correct covers, and the new paperback editions linked to the proper eBook versions. Thank you KDP, finally.

What got me was the customer service. If they had come back with a prompt email saying, yes, we can see there are issues. We have a glitch our end which we are working to correct, and we will keep you posted, then fine. Glitches happen. In a massive organisation like Amazon I would imagine they happen all the time. I would have accepted that. It would have been annoying but at least I would have known precisely where I stood and what was happening. But to blame me and my laptop, to blatantly lie just to avoid taking responsibility? Well, that’s not a good example of outstanding customer service, KDP.

As a footnote, Sunday morning I received yet another email from customer support gleefully informing me that they’ve resolved my issues and are delighted to inform me that my book “Liam” was now listed on Amazon. Thinking what the hell, I clicked on the link and discovered that some Italian author had successfully managed to publish his book called Liam on the European Amazon site as it’s all in Italian! Go home KDP, you’re drunk.

There were some silver linings to this cloud of frustration. Because I had three days of waiting around that had been earmarked for launching, I did actually manage to write 25,000 words of book number eleven, so there was that! And my three copies of the books turned up Tuesday – all perfect, of course – so I was able to use them in promo pictures during the launch. Pick out the positives, right?

Beautiful Paperbacks!

And how did the launch proper go? Very well thank you. I think a few people took advantage of the introductory low prices to snag all three books, but sales figures are never as high as you think they’re going to be and quite a few people plainly lied about having bought the books, when the figures didn’t back these claims up. But it is what it is.

In other news, a few of you asked about my car and I’m happy to say I now have it back and its rusty bottom has been fixed. The garage pushed it to the wire though. I dropped my car off to them at 8am on the Monday of my first week off. I heard nothing all week, but didn’t expect to, and living in the centre of town with no plans to go anywhere, I didn’t need the car anyway.

The second week of my holiday rolled around, and I began to anticipate their phone call any day saying that the car was finished and please could I go and collect it. I had managed to get a click and collect slot at Tesco for 10-12 on the Thursday, but it was fine, because it was bound to be done by then, wasn’t it? After all, they knew I needed the car by the following Monday morning because I was back to work, and as they are closed at the weekends the car was bound to be finished by Thursday morning at the latest.

Wednesday morning dawned and I still hadn’t heard anything, so I called them. No, the car still wasn’t finished, and it wouldn’t be ready for Thursday morning. But it will be ready for me to collect Friday, right? As you know, I must have it for Monday morning because I’m back to work. There was a hesitation the other end, the sound of a muffled conversation, then I’m told yes, it will be ready Friday, but could I please leave it until the end of the day to collect it, say 5pm?

That left me in a bit of a pickle about collecting a month’s worth of shopping from Tesco Thursday morning with no car, but luckily Mum was able to run me round, so that was okay.

So, I trotted across to the garage Friday at 5pm, then had to sit for a good twenty minutes until the garage was almost closing before a mechanic roared up outside in my little car. Careful how you get in, he warned me, the sills are still wet. They hadn’t even done the bill for me and promised to put it in the post – which, a whole week later, I’m still waiting for – and I really got the impression that my car had been forgotten about until my phone call Wednesday morning, then mass panic ensued to get it done on time. Oh well, I have it, it’s been fixed, and I’ve been assured not only will it pass this coming MOT but the next two years as well, at least. And that was all I wanted.

I returned to work Monday to find in my two weeks absence that a lot of changes had been implicated. For a start, it’s now compulsory for all customers to now wear face coverings and even though shop assistants don’t have to, my company has decided that all of us also have to wear face coverings of some description.

I hate wearing the masks, and before those mask Nazis start jumping up and down shrieking hysterically that I have to and if I don’t then it’s akin to me going on a shooting spree and I should be charged with murder, YES, I KNOW I have to wear them and I will, all I’m saying is I hate wearing them.

They make me sweat buckets, they give me spots, they’re too big for me and end up over my eyes, they make my glasses steam up, I can’t breathe in them, and they make me cough. All things considered, I decided to try the visors we’d been issued with instead. And they have their own set of problems. They make my hair stand on end, the plastic fogs up, it’s difficult getting my glasses on underneath, and they leave me with a nasty red welt across my forehead.

It’s all very well for someone popping into a shop to do a spot of shopping having to wear them but try being in either a mask or a visor for eight solid hours. And again, before those mask Nazis start leaping again, I KNOW that nurses and surgeons and the like wear them for much longer, but I am not a nurse or a surgeon, I’m a sales assistant and I didn’t sign up for this. Also, I’m not dealing with sick people or performing surgery, I am trying to sell to people. You try selling to someone when they can’t see your smile or even your face properly, when they can’t see your mouth and read your facial expressions.

So, Monday I tried the visor and found all the drawbacks listed above. I also found out that because my company had obviously bought the cheapest ones they could, the Perspex is not great quality and is all blurry, so it’s really hard to see through them.

Tuesday, I wore a mask all day, and have never been so pleased to leave work in all my life! As soon as I got home, I ordered myself a pack of cotton masks off the internet. They feel much cooler and more comfortable and have adjustable straps. The two sorts we have at work either constantly slip down or threaten to pull my ears from my head. I will take my own mask into work today and see how I do, but I wish this were all over. I wish masks had been made compulsory from day one of lockdown because this whole making them mandatory five months into a pandemic is seriously like taking condoms to a baby shower – too little, too late.

Anyone else think the black face masks look like men’s underpants?

Anyway, we’re now into August and I am wondering what happened to July? Seriously, anyone else feel that something has been done to time because there just doesn’t seem to be as much of it as there used to be? Another busy month looms. The Blackwood books may have been launched, but now I have to concentrate on getting The Book of Eve out there. It’s been extensively edited and is now with my beta readers. It’s basically formatted, just needs all the chapter graphics and fancy fonts inserting, and Becky and I have already started brainstorming about the cover, promo images, and the video trailer for it. I can’t say too much at this stage about the cover but think Great Gatsby and you’ll be in the right area.

Really need an August launch date for this, but I know how long this final stage can take, so am prepared for it to slip into September. I’ve also got to get my backside down in my chair and write until my little fingers are reduced to bloody stubs. I want this new book to be launched around Halloween time and although that may sound like a long way off, it’s not, it’s really not. So alongside writing it and preparing Eve for publication, I will also be sourcing images and working on the cover for this one as well. And I really can’t say anything about this latest book yet, but I promise I will keep you posted.

Old cover. I didn’t choose it and it doesn’t reflect the story inside

August is also Miss F’s birthday and I’m really not sure what she will be doing to celebrate her 17th birthday – I have a seventeen-year old daughter? How? How?! – so no doubt we will be busy doing something to mark the occasion.

She hasn’t been at college since the beginning of March and obviously now won’t be going back until at least September, and no one seems too sure what form their return will take. I really hope she can get some practical, hands on experience, because this is a crucial year for them. They are preparing for their finals and need to be applying to universities, all of which they ideally need proper, face to face, classroom time with their tutors to do.

Miss F is also still on furlough from the pub where she works part-time. They have re-opened but at a greatly reduced level and all the full-time staff were called back first, although she is still receiving furlough pay, but again no one seems to know when she’ll be returning to work. On Wednesday, I took her for an interview for a new work placement position to commence in September and replace the position she had last year at the stables and kennels in Keddington which is a good 45 minute drive away. This position is in a doggy day care centre right here in Bury and is so perfect for her that we’re both crossing everything she gets it.

She must have made a reasonably good impression because they’ve invited her back for a day’s try out next Wednesday, so please send lots of good luck wishes and I’ll keep you posted. I think one definite thing in her favour is that because we live in town there will never be any issue with her getting there. There are numerous buses that whizz around town that she can catch, if she gets either a Thursday or a Friday (which I believe are the only two days they’re offering) then they are both my days off so I don’t mind running her up there – compared to the 1.5 hours run I had to do twice a day, every Friday, all last year, a 20 minute round journey to the other side of town and back is nothing! If all else fails, she can always walk it. It’s a good 50-minute walk but it’s doable in an emergency.

So that’s you caught up with all of my news, and I apologise again for not blogging last week. To be honest I was so caught up in my new book that I couldn’t bear to tear myself away from it. I hope you all have a great week and wherever you are, stay safe, stay well, stay happy.

Regards

Julia Blake

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