A Zoom Writing Retreat

Although lockdown is gradually easing, there are still lots of things we can’t do. Groups meeting together indoors is one of them. This has led to the rise and rise of Zoom, video conferencing software that most of us had never heard of at the beginning of March but now use regularly. I take part in Speakers’ Club and Shared Reading on Zoom. We have family catch-ups and quizzes and there’s been guided alcohol tasting too!

On Saturday I tried something new – an all-day Writers’ Retreat on Zoom.

It was organised by Sophy Dale of Fully Booked and ran from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm. There were around twenty of us online and Sophy stopped any chaotic, cross conversation by keeping us all on mute. Instead of speaking we typed in the chat box a few sentences about what we intended working on. This included novels, short stories, blog posts, a translation and a guided meditation, among other things. For those who didn’t have a project in mind, Sophy provided writing prompts and also offered guidance to anyone who was struggling or had questions.

Introductions and explanations over, Sophy set a timer for 45 minutes, we all minimised the Zoom window and started writing.

Zoom Writing Retreat

Timed 45 Minute Writing Sprints

It’s amazing how a defined time limit and the knowledge that others are beavering away too helps creativity! I focused on the chapter I was writing and the words came quickly.
After 45 minutes we were all called back together to add more comments to the chat window and then take a five minute comfort break before the next writing sprint. At lunchtime Sophy gave us an hour away from the screen and encouraged us to get some fresh air (I mowed the lawn, which went some way to cancelling out the ‘guilt’ I felt for spending a whole day on writing).

Through the course of the day we had five writing sprints. I switched from churning out words to reviewing the structure of the story and ironing out parts of the plot that didn’t work.

At the end of the afternoon there was time for comments on the day and everyone deemed it thoroughly beneficial. Sophy is planning on doing it all again sometime later in the year.

It struck me that a retreat like this would be easily organised by a group of writing friends – but it would require someone to have the paid-for version of Zoom. I fear the continuity of the retreat would be lost if participants had to keep logging into a new meeting every 40 minutes!

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Valuable First Editions

Have you got a rare and valuable first edition sitting on your bookshelf? Would you like one?

I recently came across an article on LoveMoney.com detailing the phenomenal sums achieved by the first editions of some books. Remember, when these books were first bought, the purchaser was often taking a gamble on an unknown author, simply hoping to find a good read and having no thought to what the book might be worth in the future.

Here are some examples to check for on your shelves:

A first edition of Bridget Jones’ Diary can fetch up to £303 or £500 if signed.

A signed US first edition of The Talented Mr Ripley can be worth up to £7,678.

First editions of either Animal Farm or 1984 by George Orwell can sell for £10,000.

A first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was saved from a skip by a teacher helping to clear out a school library. It sold for £33,000.

The Abe Books website has a useful article about identifying first editions. It’s not straightforward because different publishers use different identification methods. As a starting point, the publisher may state the words ‘first edition’ or ‘first printing’ on the copyright page. Alternatively, look at the number line – that’s a line of numbers on the copyright page. If a one is present then it’s usually a first edition. Sometimes booksellers are able to identify a first edition by a printing error that was later rectified.

It’s not too late to start your collection of first editions or gift one to somebody else. I have some copies of psychological thriller, The Promise available for only £6.99, including second class postage within the UK. These books can be signed, personalised with a special message or left pristine. An excellent present for yourself or someone you can’t get to see at the moment. For more details or to order, please email sallysjenkins@btinternet.com.

Disclaimer: There is no guarantee that your copy of The Promise will rise in value, just as there is no guarantee that your lottery ticket will win the jackpot.

What Amazon reviewers say about The Promise:

“… there is something about the way that Sally Jenkins writes that draws me in and keeps me wanting to read more.” – Whiskas’ Mum.

“I was particularly surprised to find out much sympathy I felt for Tina, she is a very well written character.” – Theda.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures! How far would you go to protect yourself!!” – dash fan

The Promise by Sally Jenkins

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A Grand Tour of Scotland in a Freedom Caravan by Susie Kearley

Susie Kearley is a freelance journalist who writes regularly for Practical Poultry, Weekly News, and Caravan magazine. Susie KearleyShe’s taken advantage of the extra time gifted by lockdown to publish A Grand Tour of Scotland in a Freedom Caravan on Kindle. The e-book is full of detail and illustrated with colour pictures of the sights, people and animals she met along the way.

I was pleased when Susie agreed to answer my questions about how she put the book together and about the tour itself. Here’s what she told me:

The level of detail in the book must have necessitated keeping a holiday journal. What form did this take?
I took an A4 lined pad and wrote about my day every evening in the caravan. I’d hoped to sell it as a series of articles to Caravan magazine, but hadn’t got a commission at that time. I persuaded the editor to take the series when I got back, but it took him six years to publish them all, which is why I wasn’t in a position to publish the collection as an e-book until 2020. And then some updating had to be done!
When I returned from our Grand Tour of Scotland in 2014, with a bulging notepad, it took two days to get it typed up on my desktop computer. I had a bit of help from Dragon Naturally Speaking (dictation software), and resolved to getting a laptop, so going forward, I could type drafts straight onto a computer while travelling.

I was pleased to see you’ve included photos in the book. I’ve never formatted an e-book containing pictures. What are the main points to be aware of when doing this?
If the images are too big, KDP will throw up error messages about the file size. You’ll need to use low-resolution images to avoid this. If you post the original image files onto Facebook, a small image is created, which you can then download and use in a Kindle e-book without getting error messages.

A Grand Tour of Scotland in a Freedom CaravanThe photos are a mix of those taken by you and some sourced from organisations such as English Heritage. How do you go about securing photos from such bodies?
I emailed the press office at English Heritage to ask if they had photos of Carlisle Castle, and got the rest from the Scottish Tourist Board and from www.visitbritainimages.com. Visit Britain has a great range of photos available for editorial use, for promoting Britain, free of charge.

Were you able to get multiple benefit from the holiday by writing magazine articles as well as producing this book?
Yes, writing about the experience means you have to pay attention, so you take in more information and remember more details! The holiday and my detailed drafts written as we travelled, obviously led to a series of articles in Caravan magazine, and some of the experiences were used in other travel pieces too. Publishing as an e-book seemed like a natural progression, especially as I have more time on my hands during lockdown.

The caravan looks very small! Was there any friction with two of you living so closely together?
Not much. We get on very well and we have an understanding that if one of us is standing up, the other must sit down, because there isn’t room for two people to stand up and move around at the same time! The only problem is that my husband has lively nightmares, which usually involve him being chased by monsters. Sometimes he lashes out. This isn’t great when you’re sharing a small double bed in a tiny caravan!

Do you have a top tip for caravan holidays?
I’m not sure I do. Everyone has their own likes and dislikes. We prefer quiet sites with nice views and a natural feel, perhaps a lake, but some people like big sites with lots of entertainment. We tend to avoid those!

Do you have a top travel writing tip?
You don’t need to travel to far flung places write travel articles. I’ve written articles about my home town, local heroes, and local National Trust properties, without having to leave my home county.

A Grand Tour of Scotland in a Freedom Caravan is available on Kindle for the bargain price of £1.99. Essential reading for caravanners, would-be travel writers, lovers of Scotland and the generally curious!

Keep up with Susie, her travels and her writing on Twitter: www.twitter.com/susiekearley and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/susie.kearley.writer

Castle in Scotland

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Kobo Writing Life Publishing for Absolute Beginners

Many of you are familiar with my e-book Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners. Now there is a sister publication: Kobo Writing Life Publishing for Absolute Beginners. Both books are structured in a similar way, taking the novice e-publisher from the definition of an e-book and deciding what to write to uploading a manuscript to either Amazon or Kobo and using the marketing tools provided by these respective platforms.Kobo Publishing

The idea for the Kobo Writing Life book was born after a consultation with Tara Cremin, a Kobo Author Experience Manager, about making the most of the Kobo platform.
Kobo is based in Canada and has a large audience share there and in Australia. The company’s market share is also growing very fast in the Netherlands and Kobo’s partnerships with bookshops around the world, including Bookworld in New Zealand and FNAC in France and Portugal, are a factor in its increasing popularity. Importantly for self-published authors, in 2019 one in four of the titles sold by Kobo in Canada was by an independent author published through Kobo Writing Life. This love of new independent voices is a growing trend across Kobo’s major markets. More than 30 per cent of the titles sold in Australia are from independent self-published authors, 27 per cent in the United States, and 20 per cent in the United Kingdom. These statistics are a compelling reason for making your book available on the Kobo platform. Another good reason is that Kobo Writing Life is one of the easiest and friendliest e-publishing platforms to deal with. Kobo has a personal touch with authors that Amazon often lacks. If you have any questions, Kobo Writing Life is very approachable which means that some writers choose to cut their e-publishing teeth with Kobo instead of publishing on Amazon first.
Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute BeginnersAmongst other things Kobo Writing Life Publishing for Absolute Beginners explains how Kobo can make your e-book available for purchase by public libraries via Overdrive and how to get access to promotions run by Kobo where your book may be mixed in with titles on sale from major publishers. In common with the original KDP book, it also covers more general e-publishing topics such as how to obtain a book cover and writing a series of books. This is in order to fully inform the newbie e-publisher.
Kobo Writing Life Publishing for Absolute Beginners is available on Kindle and Kobo.

And I’m delighted to say that Kobo Writing Life Publishing for Absolute Beginners is currently featured on Kobo’s Best Books for Writers page.

In tandem with producing the Kobo e-book I have also revised Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners for 2020. The tweaks are mostly small, the only major change is the removal of VAT from e-books sold in the UK. This means that the 35% KDP royalty rate now applies to books priced from 77p to £1.76 and the 70% royalty rate is from £1.77 to £9.99.
The revised version of Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners is available now from Amazon.

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Poetry on Loan Competition 2020 for the West Midlands

Following on from last week’s post about the Sunday Times Crime Writing Competition, here’s another free writing competition to get your teeth into during lockdown.

Poetry on Loan are asking for poems of up to 20 lines on the theme of either ‘The Unexpected’ or ‘Vision’.

Poetry on Loan promotes contemporary poetry through public libraries in the West Midlands and the competition is open to anyone who lives, studies or works regularly in the area.

The closing date is 1st September 2020.

The prize is a paid performance as part of a Poetry on Loan event. However, it’s not known how long it will be before libraries can run events again, therefore if a performance can’t be arranged  before May 2021, the winner will receive a cash prize of £75 instead. The winner of the junior section of the competition will receive WHSmith tokens.

Full details of the competition can be found on the Poetry on Loan website.

If you don’t have a connection with the West Midlands, why not write a poem anyway so that you’ve got ‘something in the bank’ to send out next time a suitable competition comes up?

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SUNDAY TIMES CRIME CLUB / ELIZABETH GEORGE CRIME-WRITING COMPETITION

Here’s a fabulous competition for unpublished crime writers (self-published authors are eligible to enter).

It will be judged by Elizabeth George, creator of the Inspector Lynley series.

First prize is a personal masterclass with Elizabeth plus an editorial consultation with the commissioning editor for crime at Hodder & Stoughton, Elizabeth’s UK publisher. Runners up will also be offered the editorial consultation.

Entry is by an online submission form and it requires the first chapter (up to 2,500 words) of your crime novel plus a 200-word synopsis.

Closing date is 2nd June 2020 and don’t forget to read the full terms and conditions.

Good Luck!

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Universal Buy Link for All E-Book Retailers

I’ve written previously about BookLinker. This is a free service which enables authors to create an ‘intelligent’ link to a book’s Amazon page. The link automatically directs the reader to his home country/currency Amazon site. However, this is of limited use to those authors who have ‘gone wide’.

‘Going wide’ with an e-book means making it available for sale from a number of online retailers, rather than sticking just with Amazon. These other online retailers might include Kobo, Apple, Google Play and others. Going wide increases the number of possible sales but also creates another problem: how to efficiently direct a reader to the site from which he would prefer to buy.

Internet and social media book promotion works best when potential readers can easily click through to the correct page to make a purchase. If a reader has to start searching around in order to make a purchase, he’s likely to lose interest or go off at a tangent somewhere else. It’s important to keep book buyers happy by directing them to their preferred e-book retailer (Amazon, Kobo, Apple etc.) and the correct currency/country for their location.
This can be done by listing all the different retailers’ links but it’s messy and confusing on a blog post and is impossible within the confines of the Twitter character count.

An efficient way to do this is to use the universal links provided by Books2Read. Simply go to the site, paste in the Amazon, Kobo or any other e-book retailer’s link for your book and click ‘Make My Universal Link’. Books2Read will search all online retailers for the book before creating a single ‘universal’ link. This link will take the reader to a choice of all the retailers where your book is available. If the reader has previously expressed a retailer preference via an earlier use of another Books2Read link, he will be taken straight to his preferred retailer.

To see how neatly this works, try this universal link for my psychological thriller, Bedsit Three. (Tip: Select the Amazon option to get the book for only 99p).

Bedsit Three

 

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A Dickens of a Competition

If the weird times we live in are making it difficult to concentrate on a longer piece of writing, here’s a short, fun competition to take your mind off things.

June 9th 2020 is the 150th anniversary of the death of Charles Dickens. To mark the occasion the Journalists’ Charity (which was started by Dickens) is holding a competition to pen a portrait of the 21st century character you think would have deserved the author’s attention. This character description should be no longer than 300 words. To guide you, there are examples on the competition page of pen portraits that Dickens wrote about some of his characters such as Scrooge from A Christmas Carol, Miss Tox from Dombey and Son and Mr Bounderby from Hard Times.

The competition winner will be awarded a certificate and a unique depiction of the winning character, drawn by Veteran Fleet Street Cartoonist Stanley McMurtry (MBE) (better known as MAC).

The closing date is June 9th 2020 and entry is free. However, donations to the Journalists’ Charity are welcomed.
Also, entrants must agree to waive any copyright in regard to publication of their work to promote the aims and work of the Journalists’ Charity.

There are no Dickensian pen portraits in A Coffee Break Story Collection but there are 36 short stories and plenty of characters who have caught the eye of competition judges and magazine editors. If you (or a loved one) would like some easy reading to dip in and out of, A Coffee Break Story Collection is available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.

A Coffee Break Story Collection

Stay safe!

 

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Lockdown Week One – The Positive Side

It’s just over a week since Boris Johnson put Britain in lockdown.

We all have our own worries and concerns at the moment: health, finances, job security, separation from loved ones, coping with isolation – the list goes on and on. To get through this period we need to focus on the positive things that are emerging from the current situation:

  • An increase in neighbourliness. Many people are looking out for vulnerable neighbours and offering to shop for them. Our street has a What’s App group and the chat last night was how we might organise an outdoor tea party with each of us standing the required social distance apart on our driveways.
  • An upturn in people exercising. Many people seem to have taken the single daily exercise outing as mandatory. I’ve never seen so many people walking the streets before (and most make an effort to keep as socially distant as possible). Hopefully, this will become a habit and improve the health of the nation generally.
  • The opportunity to learn new skills. In the last week I’ve taken part in three Zoom conferences but I’d never heard of this video conferencing facility until the lockdown started. I’ve also filmed myself, via the laptop, for the first time. This was for the speaker bookings’ website Mirthy who are trying to find a way of continuing to to take speakers to older people during the lockdown. Other people are learning online courses, there are a selection of short, free courses from the Open University.
  • Family able to spend more time together. This may be a blessing or a curse depending on the age of the children! With the daily commute gone and school cancelled, there is now the time to spend on bike rides, reading stories, arts and crafts etc. Many youngsters may remember this as a golden time of having their parents’ full attention.
  • Time to play. We’ve resurrected a very old Swingball and my mum tells me she’s got out an old boules set.

    Swingball in the Garden

    Swingball in the Garden

  • Time to stand and stare.

However, we have to remember that none of the above apply to our wonderful key workers across the caring professions, manning supermarkets, delivering goods and keeping our streets safe and clear of rubbish. They are working as normal or even longer hours. Thank you.

Finally, I signed up online to become one of the thousands of NHS volunteers that the government was asking for. Unfortunately I got an email back telling me it had not been possible to verify my identification. So, I may not be who I appear …

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Reading: Solitary or Social?

Reading is a solitary pastime. We sit alone, in silence, our mind in another world and ‘do not disturb’ exuding from our concentrated expression. Reading is a hobby not easily shared with others.

Wrong!

Reading is becoming an increasingly sociable activity. Books connect people, both online, in the virtual world and in real, face-to-face society. Don’t miss out by reading in a bubble, try some of the following:

  • Join a traditional book group. Most groups read one book a month and meet to discuss their opinions (depending on the group there may be coffee, wine or cake …) I’ve mentioned before that I run a book group at my local library and the library or bookshop is a good place to start if you’re looking for a group. Alternatively, start your own. A friend of mine formed a group with her neighbours and they take it in turns to host the meeting.
  • Join a Shared Reading group. I’ve written before about these groups connected to The Reader charity. There is no ‘homework’ reading. It is all aloud during the (usually weekly) meeting.

    Book Fest Sutton Coldfield Library

    Bookfest Sutton Coldfield Library

  • A couple of weeks ago I was a volunteer at Bookfest in my local library. It was a festival of children’s books with lots of author events and activities. I was one of three people on the front desk answering questions and directing people to events. It was fun to be with like-minded book lovers making an event happen that would be too expensive to stage without volunteers.
  • Search out a Facebook group that discusses books. A few to get you going:
    Imogen Clark’s Book Café – Imogen is a best-selling author
    The Book Club – a large and busy group with occasional ‘real-life’ meet ups
    Romantic Fiction Book Club – run by the Romantic Novelists’ Association
    If you can recommend any others, please add them in the comments at the bottom of this post.
  • Review your favourite books online. This could be on Amazon, Good Reads or NetGalley (where you can request advance e-book copies of new novels to review). Or start your own book blog and get social in the virtual world, interacting with readers and writers.
  • Start a book exchange at work, church or wherever groups of people meet. See if you can encourage non-readers to try a novel. What greater gift can you give someone than the love of books?

Reading and the love of books can be as solitary or as social as you choose. Whichever way you do it – happy reading!

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