Saturday, November 22, 2014

The story behind ... 'The Gynaecologist's Wife'

'What on earth made you write The Gynaecologist's Wife?' is a question that readers keep asking me so this is the story behind the dark, sexy poem from my new book  One Sixth of a Gill, a collection of shorts. 

Like all the women I know, I hate going to the gynaecologist, even for a routine smear test; correction, especially for a routine smear. Even on those occasions I don't feel physical pain, I feel humiliated and assaulted. Add to that the embarrassment of being greeted by a doctor astounded, and then relieved, that I am a woman. As I now live in France and am called Jean, French people all assume that I am a man and then, when they meet me, they wonder whether I'm transexual. I'm not. 

Be all this as it may, I am old enough to now have my strategies for dealing with what I consider to be a necessary evil. So, during an appointment at the gynaecologist, I'm in the usual embarrassing situation and pretending I'm a corpse in one of the CSI programmes we watch on TV. How do the actors keep their eyes wide and starey for so long? Stay so floppy-limbed? Hold their breath? I just don't have the skills and of course the gynaecologist himself wrecks the illusion by speaking to me and expecting me to look at weirdness on a computer screen and reply. 

I would prefer a female gynaecologist but that's not an option. How does he keep any sexual curiosity about a woman's body? I wonder when he spends all day doing this? I think the routine procedure where the patient removes her undergarments behind a screen, out of the doctor's sight, is supposed to keep the procedure clinical. But does it? Human sexuality is complex. And then I imagine what it must be like for his wife. What she must wonder. 

The poem wrote itself in my head during that appointment and, for once, I felt completely in control, not in the least bit affected by the medical goings-on, because I was fascinated by the intimate story of the gynaecologist and his wife. I sometimes see the two of them shopping together and smile because I know about their secret life. I will never again try to become invisible to avoid saying hello socially to the specialist in 'women's problems'. (Don't men have unmentionable problems? Don't they need a specialist? Or are men's problems so unmentionable they don't even have a euphemism?)  

My gynaecologist is actually a very nice, professional man who has no idea what goes on in my head. And of course that's where the best part of sex takes place...

The Gynaecologist’s Wife

The problem’s not as you would think
his lust for clients but

his clinical detachment
naked in my bed.

And then I bought the screen,
I called him ‘Doctor’,

dropped my knickers out of sight
and offered him my full blown rose.

I asked my love - as women always have -
Am I all right? Am I as good as them? Am I?

And he said, yes, oh yes
and did without the gloves.

Why put a photo of a gangster to accompany the poem?

For me, one theme of the poem is the way a couple plays roles in their intimate relations so I liked this photo for the way the subject challenges the viewer/reader to enter into a film noir scenario. Who do you imagine you are when you are looking at the photo?

My Editor and I had many disagreements over the pairing of images with text; I found her too literal and she found me too bizarre in interpretation. We worked it out and the images which found their way into the book were all ones we both thought would provoke an emotional reaction, and pose questions about their relationships to the text. For us, there was always a connection, but we both hoped that readers would be interested enough to find a variety of interpretations - and that seems to be the case.

If you would like to hear 'the story behind' any of my work, just post a request in the comments or mail me and I'll include it in my programme.

amazon link

The Gynaecologist's Wife was first published in the anthology Night Balancing (Blinking Eye)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Amazon's Pre-order Option - making the most of it

Is it really 3 months since amazon opened the pre-order option to Indie writers? 3 months since I was excited enough to blog about it? 'One Sixth of a Gill' was duly published on November 1st and in the afterglow of post-publication, did pre-ordering add to the fireworks? Is it a good idea? 

To pre-order or not to pre-order

My tips:-

-2. Get editorial reviews (positive quotes and permission to use them) from readers who like the book and, preferably, have some status either to do with the subject or the book world.

-1. Approach professional bloggers/reviewers who often require months' notice pre-publication. (e.g. Foreword - 2 months in advance to even be considered for a free review) Use your editorial quotes in your formal request for review. You can still get professional reviews at a later stage; the going rate is $80-$400. Yes, this world is so crazy you can pay $400 for a 450 word review - more than most authors ever make for writing a novel. Yes, I think that is outrageous.

1. You need a near-finished version of the final ebook and your polished, perfect jacket. You can change both before D-Day but your cover is your book's image, literally, so changing it is not a good idea. Amazon requires proof of life in the form of an ebook file that is a book-to-be, if not the final edit, or it won't be accepted for pre-order. I don't know whether anyone has had a book rejected but I wouldn't risk it. 

If you do upload a new book jacket you must re-click on pre-order (2nd page) not save as draft or the new jacket won't appear. Whenever you re-click on pre-order the project is locked for 24 hours and 5 days before D-Day the whole project is locked, full stop, in launch position and no change possible.

2. Set your publication date. I liked having a date to focus my marketing and it made the online party planning easier. My goodreads giveaway finished on 1st November; my facebook launch was on 1st November; reviewers of advance copies were asked to post on or after 1st November. Your book needs to be uploaded in its final version a week before publication date or amazon gets cross and withdraws pre-order rights for a year. Apparently, the same applies if you try to play games with the publication date to up your rank by combining pre-orders with launch-day sales; I don't play games so I don't know.

My big problem with the publication date was with the print book. I could not control this exactly in the same way so I published it ahead of e-book D-Day. This highlighted all kinds of interesting consequences (see below)

To decide on a date make sure a) you'll have the book in its final state and b) you'll have completed all the buzz build-up you planned - make a list backwards from D-Day.

3. Your pre-order book gets its amazon page. Great! You can - and should - put editorial reviews and link to your amazon author page. Make it look good because this is a reader's first impression of your book. You can use the page to approach bloggers and reviewers but they are more likely to read (and review) your book if they read reviews on your page. Yes, the dreaded catch 22 - hence the -1. stage in planning - get some review comments first, even before pre-publicity.


Look at your page as if you don't know it. Let's assume you have a great jacket and blurb, and that genre is obvious. Many readers like to 'Look inside' - stop there. No 'Look Inside' until publication date. Great blurb - no, wait. It looks awful. It has lost all formatting so there's no spacing, no italics/bold and the main bit of your blurb drops below 'Read more' so if readers can't be bothered to click on it they've missed your irresistible hook.

Go to amazon author central on .com and re-format so your description looks good, so your editorial quotes look good, so your author comment looks and so your dog looks good! You get the idea. Then, with a large pillow to hand, go to It all looks completely different. Either cry into or bash your head against the pillow (depending on temperament) then adjust via author central - again. The changes there feed into but not vice versa. I once spent happy hours creating a new author page on (as I live in France) to discover that I'd created my twin - another me, with the same name. It took me many anguished emails in franglais to murder the evil twin. Be warned!

One really good feature on the book page was the row of books along the bottom with amazon's 'readers who viewed this item also viewed...' Not only did it pretty up the page but it gave me an early indiaction as to where my book fitted into amazon's categories. Speaking of which, I had time to contact amazon and get the book into the right categories before D-Day.

4. What about the print book? I used Create Space this time and wanted to bring out the print book on 1st November. Neat! Er, no. Impossible, more like! Amazon does not allow mere Indies to have a pre-order facility for print books, even via create Space. Bad show, amazon! There is a workaround using Amazon Advantage but my brain had more than enough to worry about so I passed on that. As soon as I read that there had been a hic on timing and delivery, I thought, 'Nope.'

So I brought the book out a bit early but didn't publicise the fact, except to a couple of early reviewers. I asked amazon to link paperback with ebook and hey presto! the pre-order ebook now had reviews showing (otherwise not possible until publication date). Also, the ebook now had a 'Look Inside' facility - showing the print interior until the ebook was live. Useful!

If amazon doesn't review its policy re pre-order for print books from Indies and/or posting of reviews on Indie pre-order books (both option are available to the big publishers, who are happily using amazon's ring-fenced Vine review system to get advance reviews on pre-order pages) then I would seriously look at publishing the print book first to get all the material I want on the ebook page.

5. Party all-day! The facebook launch party on my author page was a great success and there are still stragglers lying around, drunk and happy :) Gatecrash and take a look if you want to see what a real party looks like. I loved the way amazon released the ebook at midnight in each different amazon time zone - it was like New Year's Eve (but then I had overdone the champagne). To see so many people drop by was fun. 

I feel a bit foolish as there are so many clever, bestselling Indie writers out there crunching numbers and giving advice on how to work the system but perhaps my bumbling methods can offer a different viewpoint. The pre-order option organised my lead-up to publication and I think that's important. and I have definitely had a boost to sales of all my books in the last couple of weeks. 

It usually takes me two or three years to write a book. 'One Sixth of a Gill' simmered over many years.That is the kind of writer I am and the kind of book I write, so any marketing techniques will have to fit my workflow, not the other way around. I'm never going to take advice like 'write a book every 90 days' but if you do, there are further tips in two excellent blogs, which will suit you.

If you want an analysis of pre-order's impact on ratings and ranks, Angela Quarles is much better at all of that than I am; here's her clear report on using amazon pre-order for a debut author. Another helpful blog on the subject, especially if you write books a lot more quickly than I do, is Susan Kaye Quinn's. Susan also has a neat way of gaming the system re print books - and in this case, I'm not against gaming!

As for me, I'm off back to the 12th century...

am writing