If Anyone Knows How Bad My First Book Is It’s Me…

The other day I was updating my author page on Amazon and fleetingly noticed a handful of one star reviews for my first book. I have actively avoided reading reviews of said book for many years.

Now, this isn’t because I’m ungrateful for the reviews, believe me, I’m grateful to anyone who takes the time to write what they thought about it, good or bad, but because I’ve wanted to move forward and develop as an author instead of getting tangled up with negative reviews of a book that I wrote when I was still practically a child.

However, after encountering these reviews, some of which are so scathing it makes me wonder if the reader has a personal vendetta, I thought I needed to write about it…

A Letter To My Disappointed Readers

Dear readers, thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts on what was my fledgling book. If anyone knows the weaknesses of my writing all those years ago, it’s me. But oh, if only you knew how I’ve grown since then.

I’ve actively avoided hunting down negative reviews since said books publication because I’ve had more important things to do – I’ve had other books to write.

The fact I wasn’t a gifted writer when I had that book published was something I was very much aware of, but by hell, I was going to work to make something of myself and I knew, I always, always knew it was going to take time.

I have forged my way forward, working on honing my craft almost every single day for the past eighteen years. Nobody has ever managed to stop me in my tracks because, dear readers, I’m extremely fucking determined.

The book you read was an outpouring from the mind of a very ill teenage girl who was just beginning to spread her wings as a writer. When she was in hospital on bedrest and having her every move monitored, that girl had a goal – to write a book that would be published and help other people in the same situation – and she achieved that. That girl wrote that book you read because she needed something to hold onto when her illness wanted to take her down.

Readers, I recognise the faults in the book. I recognise that it can be monotonous and repetitive. At that time my life was monotonous and repetitive. Anorexia and depression and OCD makes your life monotonous and repetitive. At that moment, I didn’t have the skill as a writer to translate dull days into something that made for compulsive reading. I’d like to think that I may have that skill now.

The book you read was at the very beginning of my journey, and despite it being ‘badly written’ it did fulfill its purpose and for that I will always be proud.

A Final Word For Other Writers

If you’re getting yourself getting all tangled up with bad reviews that eat into your confidence and your precious writing time, I urge you to step away. Honestly, you really don’t need to read them. It can be difficult at first, especially when you can be on Amazon or Goodreads in mere seconds, but after a while of not looking, it feels so damn liberating! Trust me.

By all means stick the good ones that you’ve read already on your pin board or in your notebook, but aim to leave the reviews for the readers – that’s who the reviews are for at the end of the day – and get back to what it is you’re working on.

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I’ve Published A New Book And I’m Feeling A Bit Misplaced

I always feel misplaced after I’ve finished a book. There’s reams of things I need to move on with, like publicizing the thing I’ve completed, for example. But, for a few days, I feel almost like I’m floating, with no idea how to put my feet back on the ground and start moving in the direction I need to go.

It should be effortless to sit back and breathe for a moment, to take it easy for a day or two before starting up again after being extremely busy. There was a lot of work involved that went above and beyond writing UTBURD (or re-writing and shaping in this case, as the story has been written for a few years), including setting up Slice Of The Moon Books to publish it through, and formatting the book from scratch and learning new skills along the way in order to do that. Taking a moment was well deserved. It just didn’t happen.

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Now, while I’m very conscious that taking some time to breathe would be the answer to what I’m going through, it feels like I wasn’t built to do that, and it never comes naturally. Instead of feeling a gorgeous sense of calm, I find myself experiencing this confusion and disconnection.

Whenever I’m misplaced after finishing something, I’ll find myself panicking, thinking ‘Is this it now? Will I always feel like this? Oh hell, how will I cope? Oh, and the book is shit, I’m sure I could have written it a thousand times better.’ But after a few days, I find my feet. I squash those feelings of being an inadequate writer and start to take small steps towards where I need to go next.

On this occasion though, it’s had a huge impact on my mood and yesterday and I was feeling massively depressed, to the point I didn’t want to move. I wanted to write this post, but I knew I didn’t just want to talk about the book and didn’t know where to begin and it was so fucking frustrating. But then one word planted itself in my head and took root – HONESTY. So here I am giving you that.

The next time I complete something big, I’m not going to relax in the sense of not do anything because that just makes me uncomfortable. Instead I’m going to let myself out of the house and into the forest to walk. I’m going to read things I’ve been putting to one side for too long. I’m going to give myself that space to re-charge, or at least I’m going to make a real effort too.

Now some words about the book. (This is something else I struggle with – making it known that I’ve created something and that it’s in the world if you want it.) If you’re partial to some Scandinavian folk horror, you may enjoy UTBURD, a short story illustrated by Alessia Brusco, an Italian artist based in Sweden. It’s a tale about a mother in olden times Scandinavia who abandons her newborn in the forest. However, the child finds it’s way home. It’s available on Amazon as a paperback for £8 and for those of you who like to go paperless, it’s on Etsy as a PDF version for £2.

If you decide to invest in it and find out what happens in the story, I would be so grateful for any thoughts or feedback. And if you too experience this sense of misplacement that I’ve talked about, I’d love to hear from you, so we can encourage each other to give ourselves the head space, calm and feeling of accomplishment that we deserve.

Self-Publishing: Why I Went It Alone And How

*This article was originally posted on an old blog of mine, but I thought it was still relevant and people have asked about it, so here it is.*

Why I Went It Alone

Asking for help isn’t something I’m particularly good at, especially when it comes to preparing my books for publication. The moment I’ve asked someone for help with a project, I feel vulnerable, small and very much aware of my shortcomings. (Or rather, what I’ve thought in the past were my shortcomings…)

It’s quite a pressurizing thing to do – ask for help. Especially when you’re asking for help with something that is practically your baby, and especially when you’re an anxious introvert.

I know that in the past when I’ve had help putting together a book, I was forever asking myself questions like ‘shit, would they be angry if I emailed to see how things are going?’ or ‘am I going to be happy with how everything looks when they send it over?’ or ‘is something more important going to come up for them, and they’re going to have to ditch working with me?’

I’ve had three books published traditionally by Accent Press, Mudfog Press and Nordland Publishing, and I’ve self-published five. My Father The Wendigo is the fifth, and for all expect this one, I’ve reached out for help with moving it from manuscript form in Microsoft Word to an actual, tangible book.

While I’m hugely, and I mean HUGELY grateful for every second anyone has devoted to my creative cause, I find that the older I get, the more involved and responsible I want to be for every stage of the publishing process. When I’m responsible, I’m on my clock, and I don’t have to put anyone other than myself under pressure to get a project completed.

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There are times though, as someone trying to make their living from their creativity, when I really do need to ask for help. In the instance of my Patreon page, for example. I still struggle to talk about my Patreon page, and always hesitate before writing about it. But I’m teaching myself to relax. I’m teaching myself to be okay with asking for support with making a living as a writer.

With My Father The Wendigo, I decided I needed to stop umming and ahhing over whether I was going to ask for help, and instead teach myself everything I needed to know to turn the document that had been hanging around on my desktop for months into a published book.

From Microsoft Word Document To Tangible Book

After my sister had proofread my completed manuscript (frugal writer tip: get a member of the family who excels with spelling and grammar to do your proofreading!) I taught myself how to insert a contents page on Microsoft Word (took me a while because of pregnancy brain. I also couldn’t have done it without the help of YouTube) followed by a triple check of the document just to be sure.

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I’ve used Create Space (now Kindle Direct Publishing) before – though not with a book from scratch – so I already had an account set up. It was quick to log in and before long I was comfortable with my surroundings.

The first two steps were simple enough – logging my title and ISBN information.

Note: KDP offer you a free ISBN so don’t go buying one!

Then came the interior step.

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I chose the colour of the paper I wanted (white) and the interior type (black and white) and the trim size. I’m terrible when it comes to measurements, so I spent about half an hour checking out my previous books to ensure that I was going for the right size.

Then I uploaded my manuscript, and Create Space (KDP) gave me back a formatted document to make any necessary changes to. One of the first things I noticed about the document was that the font style I’d used for the cover page, contents page and poem titles wasn’t the Casablanca Antique style I’d initially used, but a standard font instead. Create Space helpfully left a message saying that to be able to use Casablanca, I’d need to download it to my Microsoft Word program. Did it and thus fixed the issue.

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I re-uploaded my manuscript and it went through the Create Space (KDP) print check, coming back to me with no issues. (You won’t know how amazing it feels to have ‘no issues’ with your project until you’ve worked with Create Space!) The next step was to upload the cover.

To make my cover, I used Canva, a thoroughly excellent graphic design website and initially, my cover looked like this:

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But I had a change of heart, and started over with a new image and layout at the last minute. (Another reason I think it’s better I work for myself.)

With a Canva For Work account, you can upload your own font and get access to dozens more features than aren’t available when you have a regular account. Though the regular free account does the job too, really, really well in fact.

I uploaded the same font as I’d used on the interior – Casablanca Antique and found an image that worked much better with the premise of the collection (The previous image had been my own, and while I liked it…I had a hunch that it wasn’t quite right.)

Once the front cover was completed, I moved onto working with the back cover and the spine. Now, I’ve only ever given the thumbs up or thumbs down when it’s come to the design of back cover and the spine, so it was new territory.

I decided to go minimal, and started off with a black spine and back cover, but something about it wasn’t working for me. So instead I opted for a clean, white colour and on the back cover there’s my website katiemetcalfewriting.com.

I went back to Create Space (KDP) and accessed their own cover designer. They have about twenty of so themes to choose from for your book cover, but I opted for one of the two themes that enables you to upload your cover, front and back, as JPEG images.

Now, the cover designer on Create Space does feels a bit dated. Okay, a lot dated. Like it’s exactly the same as it was back when it was first launched in the early 2000’s. But it does the job, so I can’t really complain.

I chose a matte finish over glossy. Something about matte just really works. Self-published books with a glossy finish, I think, look self-published, and while your book is self-published, you don’t want people to think it is.

Note: If you’re going to self-publish, do try and create your own cover, try and avoid going with a Create Space already made template as they look badly put together and old…like those self-published books of eons ago.

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The next step was to choose the channels through which I wanted my book to be distributed, how much I wanted to sell it for and the description. The description is probably one of the most challenging parts of the process because you want it to be spot on. I can’t remember how many edits I did of the description…but it borders on fucking ridiculous.

Note: I highly recommend that you spend some time working on a description for your book before you begin the publishing process on Create Space. Make sure you have a short author bio ready too. It’s a great thing if you have a few reviews from folk from which you could extract some choice lines and put them in after the description.

As you’ll be able to see above, Create Space does have an excellent Project Homepage with an organised list showing you where you’re at with the process, so it’s easy to keep track of what needs to be done.

It’s a pain in the arse having to wait for your book to go through it’s final review before it’s ready to be printed – usually about 24 hours – but it’s oh so worth it.

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While preparing my book for publication was easier than I’d expected, there were struggles and there were mistakes made and there were delays, but I reached the end of the road a more learned and content woman, glad that she’d decided to bypass asking for help and instead learn to do it her bloody self.

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I know now that, when it comes to sharing my books with you, the only person I need to rely on is myself, and that’s a deeply satisfying thought.

Through this post, I want to encourage self-publishing authors who haven’t before tried to put their books together from scratch, to give it a go. Equip yourself with the knowledge you need, so that if you decide you want to rely on yourself to put your book together, then you’re more than capable.

My book My Father The Wendigo is available to buy now. If you find yourself with a copy, I’d love for you to get in touch and let me know your thoughts on it.

 

Dear Saga – I Thought It Would Be A Good Idea To Watch Planet Earth

An email I sent to Saga today.

We had some time the other night, just me and you. It was the time in between your last bottle feed and bedtime and I thought it would be a good idea to watch a bit of Planet Earth. “It’s never too early,” I thought to myself. In case I haven’t made you watch it before you read this, I’ll quickly explain what it is… Planet Earth is a staggeringly beautiful and deeply informative documentary about our planet’s last wildernesses. It was released in 2006 and took five years to make. I have it on DVD somewhere. But we watched it on Netflix.

“A hundred years ago, there were one and a half billion people on Earth. Now, over six billion crowd our fragile planet. But even so, there are still places barely touched by humanity. This series will take you to the last wildernesses and show you the planet and its wildlife as you have never seen them before.”

— David Attenborough’s opening narration

Now, despite writing about it a LOT and experiencing it first hand more times than enough, I’ve always been what most people call ‘sensitive to death,’ but since giving birth to you, I’m affected by the end of life in a much more intense, sometimes heartbreaking way that often leaves me in a bit of a state. Okay, in a lot of a state.

I will think about accidental deaths I caused for days, like when I couldn’t avoid trampling a crowd of ants, or when I vacuumed up a spider, or when I didn’t see the baby frog on the path because it was almost as small as my little finger nail and it couldn’t hop out of the way in time before my foot came…

I hope you’ll be sensitive too, that you’ll pick up a worm from the footpath and place it on the earth to avoid it being stomped on. I hope you put seed balls up for birds in winter. But I don’t want you beating yourself up about things out of your control, like spiders accidentally vacuumed up.

Anyway, Planet Earth came on (you were more interested in the noise the cushion made when you scraped your fingernails across it) but I was gathered up in all nature’s glory and travelled to Antarctica to gawp at the emperor penguin daddies protecting their unhatched babies. And that’s when my emotions started to get the better of me, and I wanted to weep, not cry, actually weep for those birds so devoted to keeping their eggs warm in temperatures as low as -70. I said to you…”We need more people with the sort of devotion and steadfastness that emperor penguins have. The world would be a better place.”

We were then swept away from Antarctica and to the wilds of Canada where a migration of 3 million caribou was underway. It had been years since I’d watched Planet Earth and I’d forgotten about the wolf chase. I’d forgotten about the baby caribou that got separated from its mother. I’d forgotten about the devastating shrieks as it tried to outrun its hunter. And oh how she ran. She was sure footed and fast and nearly wore her hunter out.

I’d forgotten about how her small, strong legs folded underneath her and, for a moment, how she looked like she was merely resting, before the wolves teeth came down on her spine. I’d forgotten how the scene cut away before we saw the moment of death. I was particularly upset because I think it was her first day outside of her mother’s womb. (Caribou young need to learn how to run the day they come into the world.) But wolves need to eat, as do caribou, as do you, as do I.

I yelled at your dad when he came into the room moments later. I yelled at him and said I wasn’t at peace with death, that death is just fucking shit. I’ve been carrying the vision of that baby caribou with its legs folded under itself with me for days now. Your dad said I should write a poem about it. I said I know. I said I will. That’s what I do with my struggles Saga, I write them out. 

We didn’t watch the end of Planet Earth, but we will.

Love forever and ever, Mum. xxxx

P.S. You ate pancakes today for the first time and loved them.


 

Have you ever written an email to your baby? How did it feel? What did you say?

Dear Saga – Emailing My Baby

Today I set Saga up with an email address. She’s 7 months old.

I did it because I want to write to her. I want to write to her all the time. And I want to know that, whatever happens, my letters and attachments of our memories will always be in the ether, always available, always there at the slightest touch of a finger.

I wish the idea of emailing her had come before she was born. It would have been a brilliant distraction when I was howling with my contractions for three days and nights.

But better now than never at all.

Below is the text I emailed her.

I’ve been hesitating over sending this first email, baby. I wanted it to read gorgeously. I wanted every word to feel like a small, but beautifully formed gift. I’ve been too worried about not writing ‘well enough’ of the experience with you. And I feel terrible about it.

But you are 16 days away from turning 8 months old and there isn’t time for everything to be perfectly scripted. So you’re going to get anything that I think needs to land in your inbox.

So let’s go…

You just pooed in the bath. Like, half an hour ago. It’s was gross and hilarious and sweet because you kept splashing and having fun and smiling.

Right now you’re asleep on me. I’m typing this email with one hand. We’re listening to ‘Lullabies For Babies’ on YouTube. It’s had nearly 74 million views so it’s clearly helping a lot of babies all over the world fall asleep. Though you’ve loved this video since you were a few days old, so a good percentage of those views have been us.

You did some amazing stuff today, baby. You tried apple sauce for the first time and I think you liked it because you didn’t screw up your face. You grabbed one of your feet, chomped on your Alfons book and made some noises that you’ve never made before. We also watched Hocus Pocus together. You were transfixed. Now might be a good time to mention that your first word, which you two weeks ago, was boo! I have video evidence, I’ll send it to you. You also rolled over half a dozen times – you have no trouble doing that nowadays. You’re also attempting with crawling, but you’re getting a bit frustrated because you’re not quite there yet.

I think that will do for now, baby. I feel I’ve broken that perfectionist curse that was holding me back from writing to you, and I won’t hesitate when it comes to sending your next email.

Love forever and ever, Mum. xxxx

When Halloween Was Apple Bobbing, Pumpkin Pie And A Black Velvet Coat My Dad Found In A Carpark

It was Halloween the other day and I was too down to really care.

It was tragic.

Boyfriend asked me to take out the ceramic pumpkin from the cupboard as we’d left it too late to get a real one. I forgot his straightforward request minutes after he’d messaged me (happens a lot), and when he came home, the pumpkin was still in the cupboard, it’s jagged smile waiting for a tea light.

It never got the tea light.

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Halloween has always been the day I circle most heavily on my calendar. A reflective time and a celebration. But this year around, it was like hauling myself through tar.

Social media was on fire with creatives getting their wyrd on, (I had some energy this morning and found some Halloween 2018 favourites) but my desire to get in on it and nudge into the circle was cold. I’m an enthusiast for sharing (I think that’s pretty obvious) and I think it’s bloody brilliant that we can create something, and within moments share it with friends whole time zones away.

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But…something started bugging me this Halloween. Maybe I was just irritated because I was unable to find the strength to create something and share it myself. Or maybe it was because of a longing for the old days. Or maybe it was just because I was having a depressive episode. Or maybe it was all three.

When time was approaching ‘The Haunting of Hill House time,’ (I encourage you to make watching it a priority if you haven’t already) and I’d had a whole day of just feeling shit, I found myself getting lost in Halloweens past. Halloweens before the internet. Halloweens before camera phones. Halloweens before our obsession with catching everything to share with everyone else.

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Getting lost in the past first made me pissed off because I miss those times something crazy.

Then it lifted me up because my childhood was a whole lot of happy.

When I was a kid, me and my brothers and my sister would, most years, go to my friend’s farm for a Halloween party. We never took a camera. Not once.

Year by year I would alternate being a vampire or a witch, and I’d wear the same costume regardless of what I was – one of my mum’s old black dresses from the late 70’s which billowed al la Maleficent-striding-down-the-castle-stairs when I moved and was sufficiently creepy, a velvet and fake fur coat my dad found in his work’s carpark and brought home for me (and which I wore throughout my Goth teens and early twenties) and knee high black lace up boots which my mum got for a quid because one had been discoloured by the sun.

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We would sit on hay bales. Eat pumpkin pie even though we could never quite like the taste. Bob for apples in buckets of frigid water which I’m sure had been drawn from the troughs outside, and dance to Cyndi Lauper Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (my guess is as good as yours) which warbled from an old boom box. After the festivities were over, we’d pile in the car and drive through the dark countryside to home, satisfied and already ready for next Halloween.

Now, while I might not be able to get some hay bales, I can make pumpkin pie (maybe next year I’ll enjoy it) and I can fill a bucket with cold water and apples, and I can say only living in the moment allowed.

 

Note: In case you’re wondering, I took these photos two Halloweens ago at Liseberg in Gothenburg.