Here’s how the latest bestseller happened to find its way onto Kindle in the first place…
In spring 2011, a conventional English rose of a lady popped down to her local photocopy and printer outlet, to have one of her screenplays bound. The intrepid Sophie Neville, actress, writer, charity-founder, explorer of darkest Africa, had written among other things waiting in her bottom drawer, a true-life, historical wartime romance based in Tanzania. She started to chat about it to the helpful young man at the counter.
The young man said, “My sister writes as well. Screenplays and books. She’s just published some on Amazon.”
Intrigued, Sophie scribbled out her telephone number and directions to her house.
These subsequently found their way to me, early one morning, when my Mum came over to feed her cat, who has adopted my front garden as his permanent pied-a-terre. My Mum told me I have to ring this woman, who is a local film producer and wants to see my screenplay.
Having finally found Sophie’s house, which wasn’t easy (Sophie usually draws far better maps, but in this case I ended up at the ferry port first), we met for the first time. Her house at the time was more of a work-in-progress than her writing. She had just gutted out the bijou manor-style house for a renovation, and plastic was still covering the structure where the conservatory would be. She and her husband were camped out in the annexe for the duration.
We had a cup of tea and a rather nice chat. It turned out that Sophie was the Sophie Neville who played ‘Titty’ from Swallows and Amazons, which I had probably seen at some point, between The Great Escape and The Railway Children in distant holiday-TV memory. And she was interested in reading my screenplay about bouncers, because she had a friend in the business who was developing some concept for TV about female personal security. Having been in security work as my main job for some time previously, including before and after SIA licensing, she wanted to know what my insights were.
So we did a read swap. She went off to read Heavy Duty and some first proof copies of Death & The City, and I went off to read Makorongo’s War. I quite enjoyed it. Not my usual subject matter, but it was good writing, and I could see it working well as a film.
In turn, Sophie liked Heavy Duty, and wanted to see more material. She also loved Death & The City, and was a useful spare pair of eyes to have when proof-reading. She started talking about me making supporting trailers for my script, and asking if I would write a screenplay of the novel. But having done producing myself previously, I did say I’d only work on further adaptation of my work if a company optioned it, and I was paid to do so as part of a contractual agreement. I’ve had a go in my own time at playing around with this sort of thing, but not at the request of anyone else. If someone else wants it for their own future purposes, they can pay for it 😉
Anyway, back to Sophie. Sophie had only one old out-of-date website, for her artwork, and an IMdB page. What concerned her was that if Will Smith was handed a copy of Makorongo, and he Googled her, he’d find a hundred other Sophie Nevilles, mostly young ladies in schoolgirl fancy dress on Facebook.
I remember the first time I sat at her computer, and she Googled herself on Images. She pointed at all these grinning photographs of young women on birthdays and hen nights, and asked me: “How do I get rid of all these girls, who are appearing here instead of me?”
Ahem… okay, well, I just write fiction about hit-men, I don’t think she could afford that sort of intervention… it’s all a bit Terminator when you think about it. But that’s not what she meant, of course. She wanted to have her photographs appearing in the top matches. The problem was, she only had about three photographs of herself online. So, we started talking about WordPress, and Twitter, and Youtube, and blog pages, where she could add images that would start appearing in a Google search – they can’t appear if they don’t exist in cyber-space.
And she also wanted to publish her diaries and letters, which she’d had typed up for some time, and edited, and even at one point had an agent some years ago, until he passed away – hopefully not the subject of Googling with extreme prejudice. So I introduced her to the wonders of KDP, Createspace, Lulu, OpenOffice, and Authonomy.
It took a while, as I found Sophie likes the socialising, networking and marketing part more than the technical – so it was me ranting at the computer and scanner and various uploaders. Having taken her through the process of setting up pages on WordPress, she entered her bio, some photographs, and some links to her Facebook and Twitter and IMdB, and then asked me how you got people to look at it.
“Well, you have to start writing posts on it.”
“I did one. And those girls are still appearing in Google Images. How do I remove them?”
*Cough* Okay. So I explained about continuing to add posts and images to a WordPress blog, essentially what a blog entails, with interesting anecdotes, stuff you’ve done, or where you’ve been. Basically, more posts = more matches to your name in Google. You can’t just ‘have other matches removed’ – as if they’re something you can delete from a folder in your own hard drive – but you can add more of your own.
And then she’d take me to look at the main house (still in progress) and ask me where the best place to put a stove island and an extractor hood was. Usually in the kitchen, I find.
So she started writing about being in Swallows and Amazons. And not just a little – she had a lot to write about. She’d kept her diaries from 1973, and also had her father’s own behind-the-scenes footage which could be edited into Youtube clips. Her memory is so good, within a short time followers were flocking to read about the filming that took place on Coniston Water, in real boats, and where the cast and crew hung out, what they got up to, and what else they went on to work in. Half of the technical crew seem to have won Oscars since, working on films like The King’s Speech.
But I have to say, the best stuff doesn’t make it onto the blog. The best stuff comes out while she’s sitting next to me, maybe while I’m cutting footage of the crew eating lunch, and suddenly I’ll hear about who wasn’t really there as part of ‘Wardrobe’ at all. A bit of extra-curricular seamstressing, maybe… I recall her laughing and pointing at a clip saying “How did he get hold of a boat? He was in charge of the chemical toilet. He told all the girls on the set that he was the producer!”
Shortly, due to the matches she was creating by her regular posts and media, more matches for Sophie began appearing in Google searches, and she stopped worrying about what Will Smith would think. The occasional Facebook girl would pop up, but not enough to ask me any more awkwardly-worded questions about displacing them 🙂
In the meantime, we were formatting Funnily Enough, her diary from 1991, when she arrived home from South Africa to work for the BBC, and abruptly collapsed with CFS. But instead of a mis-lit about illness, it’s a British romp of true-life, about an English upper-class family all working in television and film (including their famous pets), while their adult daughter returns home to bed for ten months, unable to do much more than watch the pratfalls of everyone passing through, praying for God to see her through to health and sanity again.
I loved it, and I’m neither a true-life or religious reader. My first novel was about teenage blackmailers and Satanists, but Sophie and I share the same sense of the satirical, so I could see immediately why she enjoyed Death & The City on reading the first draft.
There were a few typographical issues and edits, but it was pretty much ready to publish, once the file was set up with her illustrations included (colour for the Kindle, if your app is on a colour screen). I would occasionally query things, like for example, a dog’s rather questionable name…
“Was ‘Dogger’ really that dog’s name?”
“Do you know what ‘dogging’ means…?”
And then I would tell her. And she would laugh. “Oooh – we have to leave it in!”
Anywho… Things were going pretty well – she’d done some promotions over Christmas, and had a book launch at Ashton House. Sales of print versions through Lulu.com direct were going well, and the ebook trickled along too.
Then, as the reviews started to come in, other feedback followed it, usually from her sisters, and old friends. “We were wondering… would you mind changing the name of…” It seems that although they’d all read it ten years ago, and said yes to it all, now they were getting older, some sort of decorum had entered their lives. And although yes, they’d love to be associated with a successful book, perhaps certain things could be moved to a respectful arm’s length, when facing the church and pony club circuit.
These requests seemed to be turning up daily for about two months. I’d arrive at Sophie’s having just uploaded and approved a new version, and she’d greet me with “More changes, I’m afraid… we need to change ‘Seargent’ to ‘Field-Marshall’, and So-and-So wants their neighbour’s house name taken out because they’re trying to sell it…” Nothing to do with the fact that Fred West was doing a lot of driveways and patios around there at the time it was written, honest…
So I’d argue for some things to stay in, especially when one reading group of her sister’s, who didn’t know Sophie, were apparently only interested in gossip about her family and not in the fact it was Sophie’s diary, and wanted her parts of it edited out entirely. I argued that I’m about as far away from a spiritual Christian memoir fan as it’s possible to be (sitting here at home right now listening to Korn’s slash metal Greatest Hits Vol.1, wearing a Hell Bunny t-shirt, and wondering why I’m lacking Pringles nearby while the lawn wants mowing and the cats want biscuits) and I loved it. And it’s Sophie’s memoir. She’s entitled to be in it…
The problems arose from these multiple edits when the PDF converter got tired of all the shuffling around of various words, and started to drop images out in the print copy conversion, or add blank pages, where the carefully-laid-out pages were no longer justified. We had some revised proofs back with missing pictures, or text obliterated by images that had shunted. Lulu’s customer services gave us a great tip about downloading doPDF, which I used in conjunction with OpenOffice to export PDFs more reliably. I made a point of doing a page-by-page check of every single new version of the PDFs on the screen in front of me before uploading them. When having to do this with new edits every few days until the furore calmed down, it was frustrating. Sophie was of the opinion that she should be aiming to please everyone she knew, or even didn’t know, and although it’s sweet and admirable, none of those people know the work that she’s already put in. Or that if you take out a paragraph, every image after it has jumped, and nothing is where you last had it. Blank spaces appearing and page numbers obliterated and everything. It all has to be re-justified and/or re-sized manually.
It also meant editing the ebook file separately in parallel, as it’s a completely different format to a print PDF. And although there was no problem with the pagination in that, as a Kindle book is a continuous file, the images liked to give themselves a random aspect ratio occasionally, or jump off-centre, so those would have to be adjusted manually too.
…I got my own back though. You’ll have to read the sequel to see it, but all these name-changes and place-name changes led me to be, shall we say, creative – in the naming of a certain village 😉 Sophie did give me the go-ahead, but still…!
Most of these edits arrived as we were in the middle of formatting the sequel, Ride the Wings of Morning – Sophie’s letters to and from Africa, when she escaped back there to work on horseback safaris, and immediately recovered from her illness. So some of these little changes had to be made in that document as well. Again, the minor edits screwed up a lot of the pagination. We’d done a perfectly good upload and got some proofs back, and then the teeny tiny changes were necessary again. The PDF was perfect, but the uploader didn’t want to know – it would crawl to the end of the ‘uploaded’ bar, and then freeze – you couldn’t move onto the next step, and the document never transferred into her online files.
Due to the much larger number of illustrations, the file by this time for the paperback of RtWoM was ten times bigger than Funnily Enough, at 111MB. After seven attempts at uploading the new revision onto Sophie’s print-on-demand page, yesterday I downloaded an FTP client access program and copied the file directly onto their server. It took three times as long, but arrived in one piece in her file list, and could then be imported into the new revision of her book, which is now public. Any more changes will have to get past me 😉
The last thing I found in the ebooks, completely by chance and just before the London Book Fair 2012 promotion, was that the endnotes didn’t convert into links on KDP. I was checking it after loading it onto Sophie’s Android tablet, and realised that the automatic superscripted endnote links were dud. They’d appear at the end of the book, but the mutual hyperlinks set automatically by the document in Word were lost. No idea why. It meant you couldn’t navigate them. So I went through and bookmarked them all manually, inserting hyperlinks that did work. Just in time for the promo on Kindle to start last weekend.
Well, Sophie was at home on Facebook and Twitter, happily sharing some links to her London Book Fair freebie. I was probably asleep until lunchtime, crawled out of bed as usual, looked at my own Book Fair freebie promo for Death & The City: Cut to the Chase Edition and decided it could get on by itself as it had already had 30 downloads in my sleep, and I’d Tweet when my laptop could be bothered to load Twitter. I looked at Sophie’s Funnily Enough, and it was ZOOMING up the UK charts.
Over the next four days, Funnily Enough reached #2 in all categories on Amazon UK Kindle Free, #1 in Humour, #1 in Parenting & Families, and #1 in Self-Help. And after the London Book Fair promo ended, it’s still selling, and already closing in on the top 100 paid, having cut a swathe back into the top ten of its categories.
If you want a taste of the classic, upper-crust British sense of humour at its best, the type from Ealing comedy to Fawlty Towers, check it out. You won’t be disappointed.
Funnily Enough and Ride the Wings of Morning, both by Sophie Neville, are available on Kindle worldwide.
L xxx 🙂