Here are a few things I've learned since my book Plus One: A Year in the Life of a Hollywood Nobody was published: To be a writer, you need a trust fund, a rich spouse or another source of income if you want to keep a roof over your head; a good title is vital; F. Scott Fitzgerald was right and exclamation marks are the literary equivalent of laughing at your own joke; it's not as easy as you might think to upload your book to Amazon Kindle.
The book did OK in paperback -- a few thousand copies. Please bear in mind that more than a million books are published in the United States every year and the average number of copies sold of non-fiction books is 250. That's encouraging isn't it?
Plus One... is about me moving to Los Angeles from London, once my two kids had grown up, to live with my younger and more successful sister: singer-songwriter Julia Fordham. I chronicled my adventures in Tinseltown, going everywhere as her plus one -- a sort of Bridget Jones in America. My nemesis is Julia's dog, Muttley.
I wonder if the book would have been more successful if it had been called Muttley & Me. Love in Black and White didn't do anything until it was re-published as The Bridges of Madison County and went on to sell 50 million copies.
When Plus One... was first published in 2005, eBooks didn't exist. As someone who likes to see things through to the bitter end, I decided to take a friend's advice and make my book available for download. "It's easy," he said, "just upload the PDF."
But first I wanted to remove the exclamation marks, which meant converting the PDF into a Word document for editing. The Word document lost the original fabulous fancy font and stripped out most of the formatting, which meant going through the entire book to indent every paragraph. I'd lost the will to live after three pages and decided to pay someone to do it for me.
My Web mistress, Diane Aldred, came to the rescue. It wasn't easy for her either and she actually enjoys this sort of technical challenge.
Diane was thrilled when she tracked down the fabulous fancy fonts and incorporated them into the new Word document, only to discover that Kindle ignores fabulous fancy fonts used on the chapter headings and front page.
This was when Diane realized Kindle has its own formatting requirements. For a start, Kindle books don't have page numbers, so the table of contents has to be converted to links. In the book, each page has CLAIRE FORDHAM and PLUS ONE on the opposite page which had to be removed. Footnotes were appearing in the middle of pages, so had to be moved to the end of a chapter. Diane had to go through the entire book again to fix all that formatting and bitterly regrets not reading the instructions first.
I said, "While you're in there, I have a few minor edits I'd like to make."
She finally got to the last stage: converting the Word doc to a web page, compressing the files into a zip file and uploading it to Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) so the book could be previewed in the various devices. This revealed places where the conversion process had thrown up yet more formatting errors, forcing Diane to go through the book again to correct those.
Despite doing all this and getting the formatting as good as humanly possible, the eBook still didn't behave consistently on all devices due to differences across the Kindle range. Diane would spend hours trying to sort out a problem. After bookmarking the page where she wanted the book to open when it is first downloaded (Chapter 1), she noticed that on a Kindle Fire, it opens halfway through the table of contents. Convinced she was doing something wrong, Diane checked, double- and triple-checked to find (after wading through the support forums) that this is a bug in the Kindle Fire.
Diane assures me it will be much easier for her to upload my next book as she has the hang of it now. I'm working on it. It's about lesbians on a haunted yacht with aliens and robots called Fifty Shades of Gay.
Plus One: A Year in the Life of a Hollywood Nobody is now available for download from the Amazon Kindle Store, price $3.99.