Now available on Amazon!
You may have wondered where I’ve been since my last post which was over a year ago. Well, work has been busy and in my spare time I’ve been writing a book about my cancer/covid nightmare.
I’ve also been doing lots of swimming, hiking and running – more on that later…
How on earth do you go about writing a book?!
I love all things Apple but the problem is that Word for Mac doesn’t do all the things that the PC version does, so I fell in to writing each chapter of my book in the Notes app on my iPhone/iPad/Macbook. To my surprise it worked extremely well as it meant that I could see and update anything I’d written in real time on any of my gadgets. Did you know that you can also dictate into the Notes app and it turns it into text? The voice recognition is not too inaccurate either. Very useful if literary inspiration suddenly comes to you when you’re half way up a mountain! The Notes app also rather handily displays the chapter title in the list of notes so I could arrange them, and work on each, as I liked. My family were the willing recipients (I think they were willing!) of each chapter as it poured out of me. I’m not sure I can say I enjoyed writing it, but it certainly was cathartic. As it developed, it took the form of a journal. People ask me how I remember the conversations in such detail – they are etched on my mind forever, such was the impact of the whole experience. Text message conversations and email exchanges were also a major feature of the manuscript. Formatting those was a pain in the neck!
A historical record
I had more or less finished writing my story by January 2021, but I waited a little to include some stats on the impact of COVID-19 on cancer services in the UK. The stats are shocking. I won’t repeat them here as you can read all about them in my book, but the impact will be felt for years to come. It also amazed me how long it took for the data to be published. The B-maP-C study findings were not published until after I concluded my manuscript, but they claim that ‘The majority of ‘COVID-altered’ management decisions were largely in line with pre-COVID evidence-based guidelines, implying that breast cancer survival outcomes are unlikely to be negatively impacted by the pandemic. However, in this study, the potential impact of delays to BC presentation or diagnosis remains unknown.’ The authors also remark that the study may have been subject to reporting bias. Certainly, anecdotally from my discussions on various cancer forums, the psychological if not the physical fallout was horrendous. I count myself lucky to have been able to have an immediate reconstruction. Many were not so fortunate.
Merryn you are a marvel!
My mum reminded me that Merryn, part of our extended ‘family’ (my parents acquire extra ‘children’ every time they go on holiday, haha!) just happened to have survived the worst kind of breast cancer you can have when she was in her early thirties. She also happens to be an editor. I cannot state strongly enough how much Merryn’s guided meditations helped me survive until my surgery. Not only to survive, but to thrive in a way I never thought possible. She also challenged me to process my grief over my childlessness (see earlier blog posts) which was a major milestone for me. Who better to edit my book?
Merryn’s hard work and encouragement finally had my book into good shape as a Word document in December 2021. I got so excited that I sent it off to a few literary agents in the hope that I would soon be a bestseller…
The perils of self publishing
None of the agents to whom I sent my book were interested (sob!) so I set off down the road of publishing it myself. Oh my, how green I was! Someone recommended Amazon marketplace to me and I almost fell into the trap of paying a third party to do the setup on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) for me. There are other self publishing platforms out there, but I couldn’t get my head around the websites of the various other ones, and a lot of them will relieve you of loads of dosh before your book even sees the light of day. I’m pretty skint so needed a way of publishing without any upfront costs. Okay, so KDP will relieve you of 40% of income from the book once they have deducted the printing cost (70p per unit + 1p per page), but it cost me nothing except blood, sweat and tears to get my book out there!
Before you embark on a book with KDP, make sure you get the formatting right. Their website has a very helpful formatting guide and there are a myriad of YouTube videos giving instructions. Then there’s the book cover. I tried with Cover Create, KDP’s own online tool, but their offerings are pretty limited, so in the end I sourced a vector picture from creative commons and sent it to our lovely friend who happens to be a designer (thank you Steve at 42 Creative!). He did a much swifter and more professional job at redesigning, sizing the cover and positioning the title and bio than I ever could have done. What talent! I should have approached him sooner rather than confusing myself trying to design the cover on Adobe Illustrator (not an intuitive programme – or maybe I’m just creatively challenged?!)
Why is formatting such a nightmare?
KDP does give good instructions but I must have formatted and reformatted my manuscript about a trillion times before it was finally ready to order a proof copy. And I’m glad I did because once I received it I spotted about a million errors. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but you want it to be as perfect as possible don’t you? If I ever write a novel, I think it will be much easier to format. The main things which caught me out were the fact that there is a lot of spacing in the book due to it being in journal form. Every new paragraph after an empty line space needs to begin without an indent, but each paragraph until the next line space needs to be indented. If you look at a book off your shelf, you’ll see what I mean. Imagine having to go through every paragraph of a book which has a line space in-between each timed journal entry. It took me FOREVER to get it right! Then you’ve got to figure in the tops and bottoms of the pages. When you’ve got so many line spaces between paragraphs you have to make sure that the top of the page does not contain a line space. Every time you correct something or add a word it throws the whole blooming thing off and you have to go back through it and check it all over again.
My husband is a print expert!
I’m not sure why I didn’t think to consult my husband, Steve, about the margins on a paperback book until the first proof came back looking a bit of a mess. He’s only the best printer in the country and he would have told me to make the inside margins extra wide so that the book would be readable without having to break the spine. The instructions on KDP were a little confusing. They tell you what the minimum should be, but don’t give much guidance on tweaking your look to get it just right. I set ‘mirror margins’ as instructed but I must have done something weird or wrong as the first proof contained many pages in which the print was too close to the spine. It makes it much harder to read! Steve helped me re-set the margins to a much better size, which I could instantly tell from the preview page on KDP. So much of the whole process is trial and error – lots of error and plenty of trials! A millimetre here and a millimetre there and finally the text was more or less centred within the printable area with a decent inner margin. The trouble was that then I had to go back and re-number all the pages (MS Word is a pain in the neck when it comes to custom page numbering – google it) as the pagination changed and the book was 6 pages longer! Still, 6p extra cost per book is worth it for a much improved look. Then I realised that I had to go through the entire thing again and fix all the gaps which had shifted to the top of the page! Aargh!
Kindle was (a bit) easier than paperback…
The beauty of the Kindle version is that you don’t have to go through all the pagination malarkey nor do you have to check for line spaces as it’s a much simpler format. Trouble is that you need to unformat the whole document and start again as Kindle does not recognise most of the formatting that MS Word does automatically, such as numbered lists. Oh joy! Luckily I found a marvellous YouTube video which helped me no end and saved me lots of time:
Also, did you know that you can send yourself a Word document to read on your Kindle? How handy! You can tweak it and resend the Word file to yourself as often as you like (in my case at least 10 times!) until you are satisfied at how it will look when people download your finished book. I was quite surprised at how well some of my diagrams showed up on the Kindle.
50% of royalties go to charity
No, I’m not all that altruistic. I just want to give something back to the cancer charities which helped me during my long wait for surgery. I’m not the sort to do sponsored walks/runs/swims (I’ve had a horror of asking people to sponsor me ever since I was as child) but I can donate money from my book. It’s a pity that KDP take such a cut, but half of anything I make from sales will go to Cancer Care in Kendal and Breast Cancer Now. So every copy you buy will help the fight against cancer!
So now please oblige me by visiting Amazon and buying a copy
Thank you for reading!