Category Archives: Books

Tiramisu-tastic: The Talented Martina Munzittu on Non-Fiction Excellence

Today I’m really excited to welcome to the blog my talented friend and author, Martina Munzittu. I asked Martina if she’d be happy to answer some questions about her latest release, a cookery book with a difference: Tiramisu Recipes From Italian Friends and Family. What’s really interesting about this interview is how Martina managed to produce a non-fiction book with the same beautiful standards as any traditionally published cook book. Read on to find out more …

STOP PRESS: The Kindle edition of Martina’s book is on special offer this weekend only at $0.99/£0.77! The usual price is $4.99/£2.99 so grab yourself a bargain then come back to find out more :)

Tiramisu Cover Square

  • Martina, I think the idea for an authentic Italian cookbook like this – with recipes inspired by your friends and family – is brilliant, but it’s also perhaps an unusual project for an indie author to undertake alone. Can you tell us a little about where the idea came from, and why you decided to self-publish rather than pitching it to a traditional publisher?

I had been thinking for a long time about writing a cookery book, but somehow the time never seemed quite right.  I love cooking and I particularly like baking and preparing desserts. Several months ago I was making tiramisu for some friends who were coming to dinner. Over the years I had changed the traditional recipe and added a layer of chocolate mousse to it. I love espresso coffee, but I’m not fond of coffee in my desserts, so I had replaced the coffee with Martini. While I was melting the chocolate in the saucepan, I started to think of the many times I tried tiramisu as a guest in the homes of my friends and relatives in Italy. How a simple, wonderful dessert could taste quite different depending on the person who made it. But not only that, I remembered the varieties of tiramisu I had had. The fruity tiramisus during the summer, children’s ones at birthday parties, alcoholic treats at weddings. And that’s where the idea for the book came from. I was going to ask my family and friends not only to give me their tiramisu recipes, but also to send in the photos of their desserts once they made it.

As far as pitching the book to a traditional publisher, to be honest, the thought never even entered my head. I just went ahead and self-published it.

  • When I got the pdf proofs to do the index for this book I was amazed at how professionally it had been laid out. Did you use a professional typesetter, and what other professional services did you employ on this title?

Tiramisu_6-7_LR

My biggest challenge with this book was to ‘marry’ the images with the text in a uniform and elegant way. I tried doing it with Word, but it wasn’t working. I realized that I needed the help of a professional and I found a lovely lady, Janet Tallon, who is a talented designer. I had an idea of what I wanted the book to look like, so I gave her the brief, provided the text and photos, and she produced something that exceeded my expectations.

The other challenge was to create the ebook. Ebooks with images are not that easy to do, especially when you have 70 photos. They need to work in every device, not just the kindle readers. Not to mention the fact that Amazon charges the author $0.15/£0.10 for each MB of data if you go for the 70% royalty option, and images tend to be heavy. I didn’t want my ebook to be too heavy/costly. So I had to hire another expert, as I was not capable of formatting the ebook so that it would work in any ereader and be ‘light’ at the same time. Serena Zonca was the lady who helped me format the ebook, and she did a fantastic job.

  • If the pdfs were good, the physical book itself was another huge surprise! As I said above, I’m really impressed with the quality of the final product, but I know you had some issues initially with the printing. Can you talk us through that and how you resolved it?

I published the book with Lightning Source and they had two options for printing in colour. Standard and Premium.  At first I went for Standard, because I wanted my book to be reasonably priced, but when I received the proof copy, I wasn’t happy with the quality of the paper: it was too thin and flimsy, I could just imagine any cook holding the book in their hand getting cross as the pages might tear. So I decided to upgrade to Premium Colour. Unfortunately, this pushed the price up of the paperback from £7.99 to £12.99. This is something that concerns me a lot as a self-published author, as I see many traditionally published authors (often celebrity chefs) who have fantastic cookery books out there, which sell for less. And I can’t compete with those prices (let alone with those names!)

  • The photos in the book are lovely, and everyone knows food photography is very difficult. How did you get such great pics?

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The pictures were a huge challenge, both for me and my friends who were sending them to me via email. Some photos I was receiving were out of focus, at times the lightning wasn’t right. Some just didn’t do justice to the desserts so I had to ask those people to make the tiramisu again and re-send the photos and I felt really bad about that. I had to do my own tiramisus a few times, in order to get the pictures right. There was a lot of trial and error, and you can see that the style of photography varies considerably, depending on who made that particular dessert. In the end we got there, thanks also to the help of Janet, who managed to get the best out of each photo.

  • Which part of the process did you enjoy the most? (Okay, I’m guessing it was cooking and eating loads of tiramisu!)

You got that right, Jo! However, after you make tiramisu twice a week for several months, you kind of have enough of it… My husband though, always seemed to appreciate it, he liked the variety of the desserts. For me it was different, maybe because I was actually making them, measuring the ingredients, testing the recipes, writing about it; after a while I decided I didn’t want to eat another tiramisu for at least a month. It only lasted one month… I’m back on it now.

  • What’s next for you as an indie author-publisher?

I’m working on two other cookery books. One will be about pasta sauces and one about risottos. They will follow the same format as the tiramisu book, a collection of recipes from Italian friends and family.

  • Finally, what advice would you give any readers who are thinking of self-publishing a non-fiction title, particularly one that needs to look as beautiful as this?

This is my first non-fiction book, so I still consider myself as newbie. In my limited experience so far, I would probably say that many rules of writing fiction still apply: your research shows, so whether you’re writing about cooking or any subject, it’s important to get your facts straight. The style needs to be engaging and warm, which is easier to do when you’re dealing with chocolate desserts, rather than a DIY manual, but as writers we’re expected to be creative. Now, if you’re book has many pictures and you don’t have the skills to put it together yourself, I definitely recommend finding a professional who can help you, both for the design of the paperback and the ebook. You can spend hours and hours trying to do it yourself and still end up with something that doesn’t look good enough, while it’s best to use your time doing what you do best: writing a good book.

Martina

Martina Munzittu was born and raised in Italy (Sardinia); she now lives in Cambridgeshire, UK, with her husband and young daughter. She writes contemporary romance and chick-lit books. Her debut novel A Deal with a Stranger is a romantic/mystery set in Sardinia; Incompatible Twins and The Broken Heart Refuge are set in London.

Like many Italians, Martina has a passion for food and this comes across in her books, where the protagonists of her stories are often obsessed with cooking and eating. Martina’s latest books are dedicated to this passion.

Click here to buy the book 

Click here to visit Martina’s website

 

 

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Bookcrossing Adventures

I heard about Bookcrossing a while back from ace author Linda Gillard and it has been on my To Do list for ages. Finally I joined up and listed two of my own books for release into the wild …

What? My husband was totally confused about what releasing a book into the wild consisted of (dropping it in a field? throwing it out the window of your car?), so I thought I’d try and clear that up right now. Bookcrossing.com is a brilliant community where people pass on and share books they’ve read. You can wish for a book and hope someone will post you a copy, or you can search for one which has been released by a reader – i.e. left somewhere warm and dry and safe ready for you or some other lucky person to find. If you happen upon a Bookcrossing-labelled book (see picture below), you can enter the book’s unique code on the website and find out where that copy has been and who’s read it before you. It sounds so exciting, and just the sort of thing someone passionate about reading and books should be involved in.

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Joining Bookcrossing.com as an author

I checked on the Newbies forum for the rules relating to authors releasing their own books and it’s absolutely fine – in fact, the members who answered thought it was pretty cool. As well as releasing them into the wild there are a couple of other ways to find readers who may be interested in reading your book and then passing it on, like Book Circles. It’s all new to me and I’m still finding my feet, but this week I released both Murder at the Maples and Cupid’s Way in the Countess of Chester Hospital, which I thought would be a good place to find bored people hoping to be distracted!

Bookcrossing

 Isn’t it just giving books away for free?

Well, yes. But it’s a really cool way of giving books away for free, and it appeals to the slightly anarchic part of my psyche :) Look at it this way: Bookcrossing is a community, and I don’t plan on merely releasing a couple of my own titles. I’m going to look for other books in the local area, and share books I’ve read and enjoyed. I’m going to get involved in the forums – because these are people who love BOOKS (and it’s a hell of a lot friendlier than Goodreads). Right now my paperback copies are in a box under the bed in my office, waiting for me to find the time/inclination/energy to do some kind of event to hand-sell them. Wouldn’t it be nicer and more fun to release a few into the wild and wait and see what happens next?

So, over to you – I’m really interested to hear about your experiences of Bookcrossing.com. Has anyone ever found a Bookcrossing-labelled book completely by chance? And any tips on how best to use the site greatly received.

 

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Epistolary Novels – Why I Love Them

I’ve just finished reading Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. I was drawn to this because it’s an epistolary novel – I know you know what that means, but just in case you don’t it’s a novel made up of fictional documents, such as letters, diary excerpts, emails, news clippings, that kind of thing. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea (my supervisor on the Masters hates them, which is why I’m not writing one myself for my dissertation). But I LOVE them. It got me thinking about my favourite epistolary novels, and what it is that I think works so well.

Bernadette

Dracula is probably one of the most famous epistolary novels, written in diary entries and letters and fictional newspaper articles. I read it years ago, and I loved the whole concept even before I understood that it was a technique used by lots of different writers. The other notable novel that springs to mind for me is Carol Shields’ A Celibate Season. An absolutely brilliant book, it was written in collaboration with author Blanche Howard, and is made up entirely of letters between a man and wife separated because of work commitments for ten months. This book is fantastic, and I would recommend it to anyone. Like most works of genius, it seems so simple, but there is such a craft involved in structuring these letters so that the reader feels the building pressure this couple are subjected to during their self-imposed separation. What’s very clever is that at no point do you feel the loss of direct narrative – for example, a weekend visit home which has been longed for on both sides is viewed by the reader only via the letters sent after the event. You’d think this would be frustrating, but it isn’t at all. It’s brilliant, and as a writer I want to understand how these two award-winning authors managed to achieve this feat.

Season

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is also very good – Semple uses the range of documents in a clever way, and the story is engaging and full of twists and turns – but there are flaws, in my humble opinion. The voices of the various characters that come out of the different documents – emails, faxes, letters, instant messages, blog posts etc – aren’t nearly as differentiated as they perhaps should be. It’s not a problem that the author’s voice comes through loud and clear – Semple is a brilliantly funny writer – but as you’re reading you do notice the lack of difference in what should be really varied textual sources. The other problem occurs when the story changes to first person direct narrative – most of the last quarter of the book is written this way, in the voice of the daughter. It jars a little after such variety. Semple could have got around this by structuring the narrative as diary entries, which would have made it more in line with what came before. That aside, it’s a great read so do give it a try.

So, why do I love epistolary novels so much? I think it’s because of the extra layer of authenticity it gives. It’s the same reason I love any novel with a framing device – Anita Shreve’s Strange Fits of Passion is written as the account of a reporter visiting the daughter of a woman who was convicted of murdering her husband. She has compiled a feature on the young woman’s mother, and we are effectively reading that feature, including interviews and her research, along with the daughter. It works so well, really drawing you in to the story. Going back to the gothic novels, Frankenstein is also written this way, with the entire book being told as the account of a man writing to his sister and recounting to her Victor Frankenstein’s story.

A List!

I’m starting to compile a list of contemporary novels with epistolary elements – that is, at least a large proportion of the narrative written this way – and I’d like your help. If you’ve read a novel of letters, or diary entries, or using other textual devices, please pop a comment in the box below. I’m particularly interested in anything written after 1940, but earlier novels are fine too. Here is what I have on my list so far:

  • 84, Charing Cross Road: Helene Hanff
  • Attachments: Rainbow Rowell
  • Bridget Jones’s Diary: Helen Fielding
  • Carrie: Stephen King
  • A Celibate Season: Carol Shields and Blanche Howard
  • The Color Purple: Alice Walker
  • The Divorce Papers: Susan Rieger
  • The Documents in the Case: Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Ella Minnow Pea: Mark Dunn
  • The Guestbook: Holly Martin
  • Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe: Fannie Flagg
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: Mary Ann Shaffer
  • Love, Rosie (Where Rainbows End): Celia Ahern
  • My Most Excellent Year: Steve Kluger
  • The People in the Photo: Hélène Gestern
  • Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: Paul Torday
  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4: Sue Townsend
  • We Need To Talk About Kevin: Lionel Shriver
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette: Maria Semple

Really looking forward to reading your comments on epistolary novels :)

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How I Did It: Free Promotions by Anne Allen

Today I’m welcoming author Anne Allen to the blog to talk about her recent free promotion for her novel, Dangerous Waters. Anne’s got a brilliant new book out, and as I type this she is over in sunny Guernsey signing books and meeting readers, the lucky lady! Over to you, Anne …

Anne Allen

Anne Allen

“Hi, Jo, thanks for inviting me along to offer my thoughts on free kindle promotions. Over the past two years since launching my first novel, Dangerous Waters I have run two free promotions and a couple of reduced price offers on Dangerous Waters and my second book, Finding Mother. I would say that both the free promotions produced better results than the lower price offers.

Dangerous Waters

Dangerous Waters was originally published for me by Matador and they offered the ebook across all the retailers and so it was not eligible for KDP Select. However, last October, when I published Finding Mother under my own imprint, Sarnia Press, I took back Dangerous Waters from Matador although it was still available from other retailers under their imprint. This changed last month when I was about to publish the third in The Guernsey Novels series, Guernsey Retreat. I had heard that three novels is the magic number for newbie authors: the magic backlist. Yay! So, my thinking was I needed to offer No 1 free to encourage sales of all 3 books. After enrolling Dangerous Waters in KDP Select I planned my first – and possibly last – free promotion. Of course, I might change my mind when No 4, The Family Divided, comes out next year☺

I had used BookBub for a reduced price promo on Dangerous Waters and it did well, but since then I had seen some good reports for a service only dealing in free promos, Freebookservice. I know there’s been some controversy about this service, but I understand that the initial issue with Amazon is now resolved. Just before Christmas 2013 I set up my free promo for Finding Mother with this service and some smaller ones and secured nearly 30k free downloads, reaching No2 on amazon.com for ALL kindle free books. The consequent sales were more than enough to cover the cost, making a tidy profit and producing new reviews.

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Last weekend (1-3 August) I used freebookservice and a few other, smaller low-cost or free sites, to promote Dangerous Waters a week before launching Guernsey Retreat. I could not be more pleased with the results. Not only did I reach No 1 on amazon.com in the overall free chart but I did well in the UK too. The total free downloads were again around the 30k mark, with nearly 2k in the UK. A week later my paid sales of Dangerous Waters alone have more than covered the cost of the promo, including around 150 sales in the UK. I’ve also seen good sales of Finding Mother and Guernsey Retreat even though I’m not doing a great deal of marketing now. I chose the Platinum service and paid $212 (about £126) to freebookservice. Boy, am I looking forward to the royalty payment from Amazon in 2 months’! It will be my best yet, although not life-changing it is encouraging.

The conclusion? I can categorically say that the free promos I’ve done have paid off. I know my sales will slow in the days or weeks to come, but with the advent of my third book in a series – very important, apparently – I’m hopeful that I’ve found new readers who will keep looking out for my books. I may well publish all three across other retail platforms at some point, but am not in a rush at the moment. As well as the paid sales, there have been about 100 ‘borrows’ this week. Not to be sniffed at!”

GR

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Thanks Anne, and we wish you the very best of luck for Guernsey Retreat :)

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