Customer Experience

In proofing Frontiers, I am re-discovering that qualitative reading “difference” between print and e-books. Both versions have their pluses and minuses, and I still maintain I would not chuck out print books in exchange for e-books. E-books have their role, but they are not everything.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a stack of books and reading glasses.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a stack of books and reading glasses.

I do final corrections by reading the paperback proof, scribbling in the margins, and simultaneously have the PC (currently, a Surface Pro 3) open on the desk (currently, post-move, that’s the dining room table) to the manuscript. If I see a word, or phrase, or typo, or punctuation I want to change, I insert the revision as a “comment” in Word at that spot in the PC manuscript. Then it’s back to re-reading the print book.

I hope to get through the proof that way within a few days. I’m fanatical about the text. Every word. Every letter.

Because I absolutely haaaaaaaate typos and sloppiness. I get a sense from what I read on the net that some indy authors – eager to make their, uh, fortunes – rush to print having missed obvious errors or, worse, don’t seem to care about them. I don’t think either is acceptable from the perspective of you expecting people to separate themselves from their hard-earned money to buy your book. By making your book the absolutely cleaniest you can (I’ve seen major publishing house books with typos too and don’t think that’s acceptable either), I believe you show readers the respect that is their due in their choosing to buy your work ahead of others. It is standard good “customer experience” stuff that applies to any business.

Free Stock Photo: Close-up of the word business in the dictionary.

Free Stock Photo: Close-up of the word business in the dictionary.

In terms of craft, the tale is written as it is for reasons of my own. It’s personal. It’s mine. It’s like a painting or poetry (for me). I’ve often agonized for hours over the style and flow of a few paragraphs.

Indeed how it “sounds” not just in one’s head is important to me too. I tend to proof read, at times, out loud. (Naturally, that is helped immeasurably when I am alone in the house. And, no, you don’t want to hear my English-French or English-Russian accents! ;-) ) Doing an impersonation of an “audio book” I find greatly assists in tightening the story flow and reading experience.

Overall, what might appear to be a “typo” in a conversation is almost certainly not. I write conversation in the manner of “real chatter,” so it is often ungrammatical in the manner in which we all sometimes speak. I also write non-native English speakers’ accents in English….carefully. I am fully aware it can be dangerous to venture into that realm in case one accidentally drifts into caricature, but I believe it is vital for my story and characters. (I’m told I succeeded in that with Passports, so now feel more confident in continuing that style.) It’s always a case of knowing where to draw the line. (I’ve reached the point now that my characters are so familiar to me that I know whose English is better than whose!) So an awkward delivery by a non-native English speaker is presented that way deliberately.

Yesterday, I was able to finalize about 150 pages out of the nearly 390 of the full story. Not bad that. The day whizzed by.

Although it may not be possible, I would love to get Frontiers published on November 9. On that exact day. It would have been our friend Kam’s 46th birthday.

The Local Library

Technological evolution is a constant in our lives, of course. For example, we all well-know how writing and publishing has been changed dramatically by the appearance of e-books. That newest technology, we are also told, seems sure to end print books as we know them.

But I remain skeptical. Yesterday, we happened to stroll by the local library here in Turleigh. It is in space vacated by the disappearance of another piece of one-time cutting edge technology:

The Village Library, Turleigh, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The Village Library, Turleigh, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The English sense of humo[u]r is often really second to none. :-)

And Jenny Paints

We had headed to Bristol on Saturday for a barbecue, to watch the Balloon Fiesta fly by, and to stay with friends overnight. Unfortunately, the fly by was scrubbed due to heavy rain. “Ah, the English weather,” the host dryly (no pun intended) announced.

However, the barbecue did take place thanks to a small garden gazebo. So we still had a wonderful evening with them and friends of theirs whom we didn’t know previously. Twelve of us in total.

Our friends are an Anglo-Danish couple: he’s English; she’s Danish. And they have two absolutely gorgeous, friendly and hilarious cats:

A Devon Rex belonging to our friends. [Photo by me, 2014.]

A Devon Rex belonging to our friends. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Mingling, my wife mentioned my novel to one man. Trust her always to know how to work a room. (She’s much better at it than I am.) Moments later, he sought me out.

And he was keenly interested in the smallest of details. How do you write? What time do you start? Do you do it every day?

Others jumped in as we stood around the kitchen island, drinking and eating. Later, general conversation in the dining room drifted briefly to my novel, including the plot and my inspiration. “Why do you think I come to get togethers like this?” I joked. “I need new material!”

Grinning, our Danish girlfriend observed, “I was reading it on the Kindle, wondering, ‘Hmm, am I in here? Am I one of those French girls?'”

“Don’t worry. You’re not in this one,” I smiled. “Would you like to be in the next one?”

By the end of the evening, two of my Kindle books had been sold. “I just bought it,” one woman announced. “Click!”

We also discovered another woman at the gathering was a wonderful painter. I mean superb. She produced an incredible canvas work that our friends have mounted over their fireplace.

The man with whom I’d first been chatting about my book noted to the table, “Rob writes novels. Jenny paints. What’s my talent? I don’t do anything!”

Sunday night, we visited with other Bristol friends I’ve mentioned before: the Maidments. Stu is author of a WWII, Nazi scientists, IRA killers, action/adventure/thriller that’s rather, err, different than my expats/travel/romance tale. At one point, as I related the party to him, we discussed how you don’t just go up to someone and announce, “Hey, I wrote a book!”

I recall reading that Humphrey Bogart (my favorite actor) had once said he hated telling people he was an actor; that it was such a silly thing to be. I don’t feel exactly the same about being a new novelist, yet there is still a sense of awkwardness in saying you write novels. So when others show such enthusiasm about what you do, it is a huge confidence booster. :-)

I May Soon Be “Discovered”

….although not in the way I had, uh, really wished. ;-)

First, please pardon a quick plug, which also provides necessary background. I’ve written before about an English friend who was working on what I had tongue-in-cheek termed a seriousguy book.” Along the way, when asked I offered him bits of independent publishing advice based on my own (pretty steep) learning curve.

Out of the blue, his wife messaged yesterday that it is now published. Far from being only for “guys”, it’s a thriller that’s stuffed with the likes of his uncanny ability to write well about living in the U.S. without ever having set foot in the U.S. Entitled The Bastard Reich, it’s on Amazon in U.K. paperback and Kindle, and U.S. paperback and Kindle, and, I suppose, on all the other Amazons around the world.


Here are the opening lines in the book description:

In the final months of the Second World War a hospital deep in the heart of Bavaria performs vile experiments behind its sinister stone walls, but a cataclysmic event exposes the true nature of its evil work.

Meanwhile, downed American Pilot, Captain Jack Harrison, finds himself miles behind enemy lines and begins a deadly escape from capture by the Waffen SS, who are hunting him down….

Given that story, I’m sure new author S. Maidment will shortly be bombarded with those movie deal inquiries. Naturally, it’ll need a male lead. How about Tom Cruise? ;-)

I noticed also that he thanked me in his Acknowledgements. I’m genuinely flattered. I had not expected that.

However, I also saw that in “thanking” me he may have totally inadvertently opened the door to unmasking my “secret identity.” For without knowing I had gotten a mention in the Acknowledgements, my wife had already recommended it on Facebook. My uncle immediately jumped in saying he’s buying it.

See where this could be heading?

All my uncle needs to do is skim the Acknowledgements. He’ll see my wife’s name is there, but my real name is not. If he notices that same sentence opens with those “thanks” to an author named “R. J. Nello” whom he’s never heard of…. and if he “googles” that name?…. Voilà! I’m discovered!

My wife doesn’t think he’ll spot it. But I’m far less sure. He usually reads thoroughly, and I have to believe he would doubly so this time – including the Acknowledgements – given she recommended the book because it had been written by an English friend.

I was not planning on telling him, or anyone else in my American family. But if my uncle does at last find out by this back door what I’ve been up to, I’m prepared. I had always believed there was a reasonable chance he would stumble on my literary alter ego eventually. ;-)

So, as the cliché goes, watch this space. The days and weeks to come may be fun! I’ll keep you updated!

For July 14

I kept to my plan. Yes, while on vacation I actually got more of the sequel written. As I had explained to our friends’ young daughter, “When you’re writing, you’re never on a holiday really.”

The other day I also had an idea for the already published opening volume. A “Bastille Day” sale for Passports on Kindle was so obvious I was annoyed at myself for nearly having overlooked it:

France's President Jacques Chirac. Bastille Day, 1995. [Photo by me, 1995.]

France’s President Jacques Chirac. Bastille Day, 1995. [Photo by me, 1995.]

After all, in one chapter in that first volume, we find ourselves once again on July 14, 1995:

…On the Champs-Elysées, they managed a spot right along the curbside barrier. The growing crowd pressed all along it as far as they could see. As the parade began, James admitted to Isabelle he was amazed by the French military he saw passing. Even the U.S., which revered its military, did not do martial parades quite like this, he said…

So the Kindle book is 99 cents on until July 15. (Unfortunately, its regular price is apparently too low for a similar sale to be possible on I haven’t done a “promo” like this before. It’s new territory for me. :-)

“Do I look cool and intellectual?”

The FT has an excellent, detailed piece on “ebooks v paper”:

Which do our brains prefer?

Now, I’m not saying I got here first. But I did devote a short post back in March to this issue:

Paper Or Kindle?

The answer – according to my “personal finding” – seems to be, well, uh, it kinda depends.

Print vs. E-book. [Photo by me, 2014.] Note: I have no idea how the 3rd book from the top got into that pile. ;-)

Print vs. E-book. [Photo by me, 2014.] Note: I have, uh, no idea how the 3rd book from the top got into that pile. ;-)

I had focused on only the reading experience. The FT does make an additional point that I had not touched upon. It is about the vital question, “How do I look?”:

The book in your hand or on your coffee table is a public statement about who you are. Ereaders are, therefore, useful in getting over concerns with image and providing a kind of licence for us to follow our curiosity and interests more….

….When we sit on a train with a book open in front of us, how much has our choice of reading being influenced by our ideas of what a proper book should be like, and how a proper adult should appear in public?

I write for adults. Generally speaking, of course an ereader cover is an irrelevance in public. However, I do recall that in choosing my paperback cover, I had wanted one that indicated a novel adults would not be self-conscious to be seen reading on a beach, a train, or have on a coffee table. ;-)

“Wow! Congratulations on your film deal!”

We spent much of the Bank Holiday weekend in Bristol with the friend (and his wife) I mentioned in the previous post.

He has been writing a book. The basics in Word are no problem for him; but he is also a self-proclaimed technophobe. So he and his wife (she handles the internet “stuff” in their house) asked me if I could orient him as to where to begin with independent publishing online.

Good friend that I am, I walked him through setting up a Createspace account, pointed and clicked as to how the process generally unfolds from there, and also explained how to get his book up on Kindle. He became so enthusiastic, we ended up getting his cover largely settled in half an hour. I told him if he had any further questions, he need only to drop me an email.


Then, this morning, it hit me. His novel is “action adventure” – WWII American pilots, Nazi scientists, postwar contract killers, etc. I laughed to myself: yeh, he’ll probably end up selling, uh, like, err, a gazillion copies, and even get optioned for a major Hollywood film….

….and I won’t.

Hmm. You know, I bet she could handle a sword. Suddenly I’m thinking that, in the sequel, I may have to transform Isabelle into, umm, that glamorous vampire from another galaxy after all. ;-)

What We Encounter In “Book World”

I try to avoid negativity here. But now and then you just want to vent politely. And this has been bothering me.

For over a year, I had been up to my eyeballs in my own writing effort. It was really only as I was putting the finishing touches to it last autumn that I had begun poking around on the web to see what some other independent authors were doing. I had been largely ignorant.

Much out there is excellent. Yet, as I searched, I progressed from ignorance to, sometimes, shock at some offerings. If you have worked hard to produce an original and full-length novel, it can be a bit deflating when you discover what others try to flog to potential readers. “Rip offs” may be too strong an expression. Still, many titles seem, uh, to be charitable, rather hurriedly thrown together.

There are also lapsed copyright works merely repackaged with new, brief introductions. Some are also simply republished out of copyright books that don’t even bother with new introductions. However, at least such books themselves are “classics.”


Separately, “fan fiction.” As a reader myself, personally those sort of works have never much interested me, so I don’t know exactly where I stand on the phenomenon. I do notice author attitudes toward it appear decidedly mixed: some well-known ones are untroubled when their works inspire it; others find it flattering; and others detest it.

If I were ever lucky that mine were to inspire any, I think I would view it mostly as flattering. I note “mostly” because, by the same token, I don’t know if I’d like to see my characters turned into, for example, sword-wielding vampires. They have become my close companions, and I care deeply about “what happens” to them. If I had wanted, say, Isabelle to be a vampire…. she would have been one. ;-)

Whatever a “fan fiction’s” individual literary merit, the overall enterprise itself strikes me as borderline copyright infringing. True, a huge selling recent book started out as “fan fiction.” Yet as I understand it, that novel apparently also did not take off in its own right until its author had re-crafted it into an original story. Somewhat ironically also, other writers now “borrowing” from that story is not something its now mainstream publishers appear too pleased to see.

To me, honesty and originality are vital. I’m not asserting I’m authoring for the ages. (I wish!) But when I decided to write novels, it never entered my mind to compose anything other than full books, populated by my own created characters, and placed in my own invented realm. I had always thought all of that is fundamentally what novels are supposed to be?

Eh, what one learns, huh? Just thinking out loud here. I hope you’re having a good day…. wherever you happen to be reading this. Cheers. :-)

Paper Or Kindle?

We hear the future belongs to e-books. Paper will vanish. The next generation will look at us oldsters and ask sheepishly, “You really remember what it was like read from paper?”

Although I love e-books, I increasingly doubt that will happen, though. I think about how I read mechanically. I’m sure I’m not unique.

Print vs. E-book. [Photo by me, 2014.] Note: I have no idea how the 3rd book from the top got into that pile. ;-)

Print vs. E-book. [Photo by me, 2014.] Note: I have, uh, no idea how the 3rd book from the top got into that pile. ;-)

Paper allows the ability to flip around easier. That’s more appealing to me for non-fiction, in which I find I am likely to jump between pages and even chapters. “Page flipping” is clumsier on an e-reader.

That said, the Kindle “search” facility is far better for non-fiction than paper. Just type in anything and where it appears pops up on screen. In a paper book, naturally we need to fumble through an index, and indexes are often confusing.

We are less likely to flip pages, or jump around, in a fiction book. But fiction also may have its drawbacks on an e-reader. I discovered that as I focused “microscopically” on my book.

As writers, we compose text on a PC or some other electronic screen (unless we write long-hand, or use a typewriter, or – if a real traditionalist – a quill and parchment). Yes, we may print out pages at times as we proceed. (I do.) But I didn’t read Passports in its entirety on printed pages until I received the printed “proof” copy.

After all, who wants to print out 400 pages if you don’t have to do so? Printers, which appear in two decades barely to have moved on technically in reliability terms, still unexpectedly crunch paper and jam at the drop of a hat like it is indeed still “1994.” And the ink is probably more expensive than blood.

When I compared my book on the two platforms, I found that subconsciously I “scoped” the entire page down, so in that sense print and e-book read pretty much the same. However, when reading the print book’s left hand page, my gaze drifted subtly to the right hand one while I simultaneously read the line I was actually reading. The “eye” cannot manage that with a “one page at a time” e-reader.

I found that impacts how the story seemed “to flow.” The best analogy that jumps to my mind here is with driving. We look at the road directly in front of us, but our mind also “sees” and “prepares us for” what’s in the distance beyond our immediate road focus.

We all know the Kindle stores hoards of books and makes packing for travel ridiculously simple. It is a great device. But, overall, books just seem to read “differently” on a Kindle compared to a print version.

Eh, maybe it’s just me? We all have our own peculiarities and tastes, of course.

Happy Friday! Have a good weekend….

Amazon’s “Sneak Peek”

Amazon informs authors:

KDP takes the first 10% of your content and creates a sample that customers can view before purchasing the Kindle Edition of your title….

When I spotted that pre-publication, I shrugged, “Well, okay, I guess.” The novel is nearly 400 pages, and divided into sixty chapters. Not unreasonable, then, that about the first seven and a quarter chapters are available for free on its Kindle page.

Later, I noticed something else. One may “look inside” at the paperback‘s first six story pages (and back cover). Huh. Given 10 percent of the book is visible as the sample on the Kindle page, I am unclear why there’s such a marked difference between the sizes of the two sneak peeks?

Moreover, considering Amazon simply uses the opening for the sample, luckily (in my case here) there is also, umm, nothing too risqué in that first 10 percent of the book. Sorry to disappoint you with that “spoiler,” but I might as well be honest. After all, no author can throw everything at you at the start! And if you read the lengthy Kindle sample, you will discover that anyway.

Yet there could well have been. Which got me thinking I may have to bear that Kindle reality in mind plot-wise. That because I have been working on opening the sequel rather, shall we say, “romantically”….


….but, no, I’m not even hinting here regarding who is doing what with whom. You’ll find that out eventually!

Amazon notes on that same KDP info page that you may contact KDP’s support team if you have further questions. I see I may have to. For since Amazon tells us the free Kindle sample is default the first tenth of a book, I’m now not so sure just how much, uh, “romance” near the beginning is a good idea….

….Or, then again, maybe, uh, it is? ;-)