Never stop learning

When I was about 10, I received my first writers’ rejection letter. Every week my father would buy a teen magazine for me and ‘Woman’ magazine for my mother. As soon as she finished reading it, I would devour every page and unknown to my parents, submitted a short story for their regular feature.

I can’t remember what it was about, but it was probably cringe-worthy and childish. Those were pre-computer days, and the editor at the time must have long since moved on to a better place. I wonder how she would feel to know her hand-written, supportive letter is still remembered half a century later. It’s amazing to think a simple act of kindness in those far-off times contributed to my becoming a published author today. I was reminded of this following recent discussions on the need for remote classroom teaching due to the lockdown, and how I had assumed my learning days were over once I left school.

English language and English literature had always been favourites, but I had struggled with math, not helped by suffering migraines which was found to be due to having one eye long-sighted and the other short-sighted. Six months of the horror-worthy pink NHS glasses solved one problem, and a new teacher solved the other. In my young eyes she was ‘ever so old,’ and an object of fun when she occasionally wore odd shoes from different pairs, but boy, did she know her subject! She showed how the ability to calculate affected everyday life in a fun way, and math became one of my favourite subjects.

Without thinking I can still recite my tables, learnt at junior school and repeated parrot fashion- 9 x 9 =81, with not a calculator in sight. This teaching has have been invaluable over the years, and even now, I mentally check the special offers to see if the ‘Buy one, get one half price’ is actually cheaper than buying the standard priced larger packet.

What has all this to do with books? you may ask.

When my first book was traditionally published, I sent off a manuscript which was returned in a sea of red pen. After reaching for the tissues, and feeling ‘I’m a failure,’ I realised it was predominately the same problem repeated all through the manuscript – too many commas. Dutifully I removed the majority and it was published in 2013. Learning from my mistakes, my second book was accepted by a different publisher whose sea of red included insert commas.

With so much experience behind me, I decided self-publishing was the way to go; after all, I now had all the knowledge gained from professionals. The first learning curve was formatting – paperbacks and eBooks have different rules. I’m still an avid reader, especially of Indie books, and seeing odd blank lines and a sentence being split onto several pages, I want to shout to the author, ‘no, no, check Page layout, indents, page set-up and paragraph alignment.’

Book covers are the next challenge. There are rules and regulations built up over a period of time as to where the eye naturally focuses. A knowledge of photography helps, and learning how to use Photoshop properly is a law unto itself. It’s that indefinable something which either causes readers to click on the ‘buy’ button or assume the amateurish cover will reflect the standard of writing. Not always the case, but in this two-second world you need to make an impact or the opportunity for a sale is lost. The natural instinct is to have something different to make your book stand out, but in these uncertain times, familiarity is comforting. If it immediately shows the genre, despite being the same-old cover with a few minor tweaks, it’s more likely to be purchased- sad but true.

Blurbs- Aaagh. Why is it easier to write a 70,000-word novel than to come up with an enticing blurb? The natural instinct is to describe your story, what the protagonist has to face and how it is eventually resolved into a happy ever after, whatever the genre. Wrong! This is what you would use to submit to a publisher but is not your hook for ‘Buy my book.’

Here’s where films and the written word overlap. If I said “I want to go home,” “In space no one can hear you scream,” “Who you gonna call?” or even “Finger licking good” it’s a fair bet you’ll know what I’m talking about. This is what you should be aiming for; a hook to describe what the book is all about without giving away the whole story.

Many years ago, I tried to write under a different genre from my usual romance or fantasy and the first draft of ‘Murder of Changes’ was born. Several beta readers gave me helpful comments, as did Angela, my editor. All these were dutifully taken on board, adjustments made to the original manuscript and then, and then…. It sat on the back burner of my computer while I released other books.

In the Spring of last year, winning a competition to have a cover designed for Murder of Changes caused me to dig it out again, and start on the next round of edits, revisions and actually doing something with it in the expectation of releasing the book in time for the Christmas market. Unfortunately, with the virus causing havoc, communication between the agent and the designers meant it got lost in the ether, (this phrase was the inspiration for ‘Spirit of Technology’) and nothing had been done.

Should it be returned to the black hole of my computer? No, Paula, my usual motivator, nagger-in-chief and cover advisor came up with some ideas and bought me an early Christmas present after reading my mind about how the cover should look.

Perhaps the deadline for Murder of Changes was feasible after all.

Not quite. A final read-through showed there was still more work to do. If you enjoy a mystery/drama with a hint of heritage and a powerful ‘Woof’ amongst the characters, more news will follow shortly.

Meanwhile, a new learning opportunity arose, and the Val’s Tales YouTube channel took over every spare minute. Another lockdown and competition entry identification caused delays in the announcement of the prize winner, but this will be confirmed next week. Meanwhile four storycasts have already been produced, with more on the way. Prescribe to the YouTube site for early notice of future releases.

What’s next to learn? Marketing.

On second thoughts I think I’ll just go and write another book.

See you next week and thanks for stopping by.

© Val Portelli January 2021.


2 thoughts on “Never stop learning

    1. Thanks, Grace. With an adult’s hindsight, it’s unbelievable to realise she took the time and effort to show that kindness. Perhaps knowing it’s still remembered ahem 😀 years later will go some way to spreading the Karma. x


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