Lockdown does strange things. I’d been thinking for a long time about getting my back list of 10 novels into e-books but, somehow, it’s remained at the thinking stage. Should I edit and re-write my early novels – I could see where they needed work – or I should operate on the ‘sod it’ principle and, after altering any spelling mistakes or obvious errors, publish them as they originally were. I’d begin with my first Elizabeth Hawksley: Lysander’s Lady, and put them into e-books sequentially, ending with my most recent novel, Highland Summer.

I have what I call a ‘portfolio career’. In other words, I do a variety of things which, with a bit of juggling, adds up to a living. I review books and art exhibitions, and write articles; I have taught Creative Writing at a College of Further Education, I give talks at conferences and lead Writing Courses. I have worked for the Hilary Johnson Authors’ Advisory Service, and, of course, I blog.

However, lockdown is here and life suddenly looks very different. A lot of what I do has necessarily stopped – at least for the moment. But, ‘When one door closes, another opens.’ A couple of weeks ago my good friends, Janet Gover (computer expert and author of terrific stories set in the Australian outback) and her husband, John Hocking (another computer wizard who set up my website and showed me how to blog) pushed me into a corner – from a safe distance, naturally – and told me to stop dragging my feet and do something about my back list.

Elizabeth giving a talk at the Caerleon Writers’ Holiday

They wanted me to get my back list into e-books and they would help. I’d got my rights back from the publisher several years ago, so there were no excuses.

I said, ‘Yes.’ However, I decided to start with my last book Highland Summer, rather than my first. I reckoned that it would need far less work doing to it – in fact, it would just be a few tweaks here and there and correcting the occasional misprint. Easy-peasy.

Janet told me the format she needed and explained how to insert a ‘page-break’ at the end of each chapter which automatically moved the following chapter onto a new page.

Doing Highland Summer was a nightmare – and it was entirely my fault. What I had were 10 documents called Chapters 1-10. I created another document called Highland Summer complete. Then I stupidly transferred Chapter 1 there – and forgot that what I should have done was copy it – not transfer it. It took me ages to copy it from Highland Summer complete back into Chapter 1.

Staffordshire Highlander with deer

Somehow I kept getting muddled as to which Chapter I’d corrected, the one in the original folder, or the one I’d copied to the complete document.

It didn’t help that the printed version – the actual book – had been appallingly copy edited. For example, the ellipses (the dots . . . ) appeared to be random; sometimes there were three dots and no spaces between, sometimes there were four or even five. Sometimes there were spaces before the dots, between the dots, and after the dots – as there should be, and sometimes there weren’t.

When I finally finished I did one last check. Highland Summer complete was great for the first five chapters. The page breaks worked, and each new chapter opened on a new page, as they should. But then it stopped.

Where was the rest of the book? Eventually I discovered that the Chapter 6 document contained two extra Chapters 5, two Chapters 6, and then one each of Chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10 plus the correct page breaks. Very, very carefully, I got rid of the two superfluous Chapters 5, and one of the Chapter 6s. I was terrified that, somehow, I’d get rid of something that I shouldn’t.

A corner of Elizabeth’s study

Having done that, I copied and pasted the Chapter 6 document which now contained chapters 6-10 to the end of Chapter 5 in the Highland Summer complete document and did the page break bit. Then, just in case, I went through the whole thing and checked it chapter by chapter, and, with my heart in my mouth, I sent it to Janet.

If I’d been a drinking woman, I would then have had a stiff drink. But alcohol tends to make me ill, so I took some Rescue Remedy instead – and had some chocolate.

It was the sort of stupid muddle only someone who finds dealing with computers really difficult could understand.

Fortunately, when I came to do the next book The Belvedere Tower, I discovered that, although the chapters were in individual documents as with Highland Summer, I had had the good sense to create a document called Belvedere Tower complete which contained the entire bookHurray! It would be so much easier to deal with the whole book already in one document. I would need to correct any copy-editing errors and do various small tweaks, and, of course, make sure that I did the page breaks correctly, but that should be that.

And, this time, it was fine! Fortunately, The Belvedere Tower book had had an excellent copy editor, and the ellipses were properly done.

It’s still going to be a steep learning curve. I have to deal with the ISBN numbers, make sure I get the copyright information at the beginning of each novel correctly noted, and a whole host of other things. Fortunately, Janet Gover and John Hocking are brilliant at explaining things so that even I can understand them.

So, dear readers, I don’t know how long this will take, but I am on my way.

Thank you for your patience. Next week, I shall be back with a proper blog.

Elizabeth Hawksley

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10 Responses to Elizabeth Hawksley: e-books to go

  • Well done you! It is indeed a nightmare when you start. Lucky you had documents. When I started putting up my backlist I had no docs because they were on very old style large disks and had gone the way of all things past… I had to get my actual books scanned and they came back with printer data that I had to eliminate. Tedious labour.
    Fantastic you are on your way. Count me in when you get them up online.

    • Thank you, Elizabeth, for your encouraging words which, I can assure you, are much appreciated. I’m not at all sure what I’ll find when I get back to my first 2 Elizabeth Hawksleys. I actually wrote them on a typewriter! The typescript I sent to my publisher had corrected bits stuck on with glue – it was literally cut and paste. The next few were on an Amstrad and ended up on those old square disks – 3 or 4 per book. Fortunately, I found a brilliant chap in Cornwall who turned them into something which could be downloaded onto my computer.

      It’s all going to be a steep learning curve.

  • Well done! When I republished my 30-yr-old QL computer handbook, I took one look at the original book and decided it would be Far Easier to simply retype the whole book, correcting as I went. It took me two months and I still think it was time very well spent.

    Incidentally, I was amazed going through it to realise how far we’d come, technology wise, since the early 80s. It also transported me back to the person I was then, which was brilliant for thinking about characters later.

    • Thank you, Jan. I, too, had to re-type chunks of ‘Country Cousin’ – and it took ages. And I think you’re right about how far we’ve come – certainly how far I, personally, have come with regard to computers. I also have a couple of unpublished novels which I’m not sure what to do with. I’m hoping that by the time I get to Elizabeth Hawksley book number 10, I’ll feel able to tackle them, too!

  • I am glad to hear that you are getting stuck into your back catalogue.
    Which platforms are your books on?

    • At the moment, Huon, I haven’t the faintest idea. I’m not even sure what ‘platforms’ mean – apart from those at railway stations. But I intend to learn – and as soon as I understand it myself, I’ll tell you.

  • Well done! I think I used a clever guy in Cornwall to rescue one of my novels from an ancient Amstrad disc! The rest of my backlist I had to have scanned from paperbacks – by a helpful firm in Kent. It took a lot of careful proof-reading, new covers etc. but putting them all on Amazon KDP (the best platform by far for ebooks) was well worth the effort. Very best of luck!

    • Thank you for your helpful comment and good wishes, Janet. I shall take note of your recommendation when we get to the platform stage.(We may well have used the same Cornish guy – Malcolm Surl of Luxsoft – blessings be upon him!)

  • Oh, Elizabeth, you do have my sympathies! Technology doesn’t always do what we want it to, does it? I came to self-publishing first rather than traditional publishing and was able to publish my three Roberts’ family sagas (set in the 1950s in a Lancashire mill town) with Amazon KDP. That’s not to say there weren’t problems but that’s the challenge isn’t it? My friend, Sally Jenkins, has written a short book about venturing into KDP called Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners available on any Amazon website.

    I then ventured into getting them published in paperback – now that’s a completely different story! – but I did it, and very proud I am too.

    • Thank you so much, Anne, for your comment. I feel very lucky to have such sympathetic and helpful readers. It sounds as if the Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners is just what I’m going to need! A foray into paperbacks is on the back burner for the moment. I’ll see how the e-books sales go.