One Year of My Blog: 20 Useful Tips!

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(4750 words approx.)

Well, my blog has been going publicly for exactly one year today, August 22nd! It’s been an interesting and thrilling journey, with huge thanks to all those who have read and/or liked and/or commented on my posts, and/or followed To Cut a Short Story Short!

When I started I never imagined having any followers, let alone over 250! Also, it didn’t seem like I’d ever get any comments, but I’ve since written over 200 replies on my blog, plus probably half as many again to comments on my posts on Community Pool! As for publishing two books (see Shop) with material from my blog, well that was something I didn’t imagine in my wildest dreams!

Anyway, the point of this article is to give some tips, mainly fairly simple, based on my experience along the way. They’re kind of random, just things that I thought perhaps not everyone might know, and I’m on the free WordPress.com plan so they may not all be relevant, depending on your hosting/plan.

Contents 

(to return to this menu simply use your browser’s ‘back’ button.)

1

2

Comments

Community Pool!

3

Dashboard versus Desktop App

4

Drop Down Menus

5

Followers

6

Getting help

7

Indents, Fonts and ‘White Space’

8

Index/Contents pages

9

Internal Hyperlinks in WordPress Documents

10

11

Menus/Categories

Publishing Your Work in Paperback/eBook/Audiobook form

12

13

14

Removing Blank Lines etc.

Scheduling Links from Blogs You are Following

Scheduling Your Writing

15

16

Spam

Stopping ‘Self-Pings’

17

18

Tags

Uploading Multiple Images to Media Library

19

20

Widgets

Writing Matters!

1. Comments

I make it a rule to always reply to comments, or at the very least, to ‘like’ them if they are brief. I usually find the easiest way is to copy the comment from my original post or community pool etc. into a separate word processing document (‘blog comments’) including the poster’s name and the date. Then I find it easy to answer them all in that document in one go, and then to paste back into the post/Community Pool or whatever.

What I’ve found really useful, is by clicking the date hyperlink on their comment, it takes you directly to the post, whether on the blog, Community Pool or an external site! So it’s very quick to paste my responses in context. Alternatively they can be answered in the notifications area (click the bell symbol in the top right hand corner and choose ‘Comments’) but the text box there is small so you can’t see the whole post in one go. Also, I usually prefer to remind myself of the previous comments on a particular post when I’m answering the latest, in case I want to refer to one.

2. Community Pool

Well, if you are reading this on Community Pool, you don’t need me to tell you that it is a fantastic forum! I saw it recommended for quite a few weeks before having a look, then taking the plunge and posting. My follower, views and ‘like’ numbers leapt up almost immediately!

It’s a great place to post links to your work and get feedback on it. Also, there are hundreds of interesting posts to check out from other bloggers.

For maximum response I’ve found it pays to get on page one, which becomes live at 12.00 local Eastern time in the USA as far as I can tell. Recently they’ve taken to posting the new page at this time, but not opening comments until up to an hour or so later. I contacted the help-desk about both matters but couldn’t get a straight answer to either, unfortunately.

3. Dashboard vs. Desktop App

I’ve found that for some things I prefer to use the Dashboard and for others the downloadable WordPress App.

https://apps.wordpress.com/desktop/

It’s worth trying the same operation in each to see how you find them. As you likely know, the dashboard is reached by typing in your website name followed by /wp-admin. I’ve saved it as an icon on my browser page. Click on that and it takes me straight there.

I’ve found it handy when editing a post to have it open in both the browser AND the desktop app and to edit it in the latter. After making some changes that I wish to preview, I just ‘update’ the page, then switch to the browser and refresh the page displaying the post.

4. Drop Down Menus

After a while the page of posts gets cumbersome, even when selected under one category (see 11. menus/categories), so you might wish to incorporate a drop-down menu. These appear when you hover the cursor over the category in the menu (you can try this now on my menu at the top of the page).

To add posts manually (which you have to if you are on WordPress.com) you go to dashboard/appearance/menus then click on ‘add post to menu,’ check the relevant box and click ‘add.’ It then appears at the bottom of the menu structure.

You then have to drag it into position below the category in question. Then you drag it a little to the right. When the menu is updated it will then appear when the mouse is hovered over the category. This process can be a bit fiddly but you get used to it. To facilitate dragging into position when there are a lot of menu items I select full screen and then zoom out until the menu items are quite small.  

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In my case the drop-down menus went off the screen, so I added some ‘dummy categories,’ A-D, E-H, for example and created sub-menus under each by dragging the posts further to the right. Then only the alphabetical categories pop up when you hover the cursor over the main category. You can see that in e.g. Longer Stories in my menu above. When you now move the cursor over the alphabetical categories the full menus of stories pop up.

Unfortunately, if you are on the free theme you can only have white backgrounds for drop down menus.

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By this system you can easily locate any of the 160 posts on my blog from the menu along the top of every page.

Here’s a helpful video that explains the process in detail:

5. Followers

I like to keep track of my followers, as they have been good enough to take an interest in my blog! On WordPress.com there’s no easy way to do this and no way to print them out either.

When I get a new follower I get an e-mail notification so periodically I copy and paste the followers’ names into a spreadsheet, together with the date, and the most interesting-sounding of the three posts listed. That takes about a minute per follower.

Then the spreadsheet can be sorted by name or date and it’s simple to click on the post link to check out their blog at a later date.

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If the follower number goes down (it does happen!) I go to ‘enhanced stats’ via dashboard/site stats (click on the Show Me button just below the date) and click on ‘followers’ in the top right hand corner. This list can be ‘zoomed’ in or out, unlike the app version. Then I go down the list versus my spreadsheet (set in descending date order) until I find the one(s) who’ve unfollowed. People sometimes change their account names, but you can match them from the date and there’s normally still a clue in the new name and/or their avatar. They are then moved to a separate spreadsheet. Sometimes they refollow at a later date. I don’t stress about the reasons for unfollowing!

6. Getting Help

In brief, I’ve found the quickest and easiest way to get help (on the free WordPress.com plan) is to e-mail ‘help@wordpress.com.’ A ‘Happiness Engineer’ will normally respond within 24 hours. If the answer isn’t particularly helpful (not unusual!) then another, hopefully more appropriate, answer is less than another 24 hours away! [But see section on displaying HTML in posts at end of this article.]

7. Indents, fonts and ‘white space.’

Normally I paste text into the editor from my word processor (Mac Pages ’09) after removing blank lines and new line codes via textmechanic. (Another way is just to paste it straight into HTML view.)

To get an indent of approx. 0.5 cm, I go into HTML view in the editor and add the following code at the beginning of the first paragraph of text:

< div style=”text-indent: 20px;” >

(there should be no space after the first and before the second angled brackets)

Then I go back to the Visual screen and go through the text, hitting ‘enter’ wherever I want a new paragraph i.e. indent. It will now automatically indent the text at that point. I haven’t found an easier way as yet, despite some spurious ‘advice’ from the help-desk! (Seems like you have to be on a paid plan to do it via CSS).

https://www.hscripts.com/tutorials/css/text-indent.php

Fonts: In the customizer select a nice clear font for your display text and be sure to include some ‘white space,’ i.e. blank lines. I’ve seen blogs with huge paragraphs of unbroken text that are just too hard to read, unfortunately. I use Cinzel for headings and Lora for display, both ‘regular.’

Creating blank lines can be a problem. If there’s a blank line in the editor but not in the preview (not uncommon!) then you can go to HTML and delete any superfluous < div > symbols, or just put a period or dash in the text and colour it white with the text colour tool in the menu. This latter method has the disadvantage that the dashes/periods will appear in black under certain circumstances, e.g. when printing and in the WordPress Reader.

Incidentally, if you don’t want a blank line inserted in the WordPress editor when you press Enter, then use Shift-Enter. (That also works in Facebook, Whatsapp etc. to force a new line instead of sending.)

8. Index and Contents pages

If you want to go a step further than just a menu you could create separate pages for index and/or contents lists. I do this by having spreadsheets of the entries and periodically copying these into the blog pages, having added the latest stories/articles.

Once the page is uploaded I might edit it before the next update, e.g. remove ‘scheduled’ from scheduled posts, add a link etc., so to make sure I have the latest version in my spreadsheet before updating the next time, I copy it from the web page (in edit mode) back into the spreadsheet.

What I found was that to copy from the blog page into my spreadsheet (Numbers ’09) – in order to incorporate any online changes I made – I have to do this from the browser (I use Firefox), one column at a time. To paste back into the page I have to use the desktop app. Then I simply erase the old table from the index or contents page and paste in the new spreadsheet table to replace it.

I have found issues with copying and pasting WordPress that didn’t used to exist – for me, anyway – so to enable some copying and pasting within WordPress using Firefox I have to do the following:

In a Firefox tab, type ‘about:config,’ accept the warning, then in the search box type ‘dom.event’ From the few that come up select ‘dom.event.clipboardevents.enabled’ and toggle the value to false by double clicking. I don’t find it necessary to restart the browser, it works straight away. Then I can copy and paste from one post to another with e.g. coloured text, links enabled etc. When I’ve finished I toggle the value back to ‘true’ and close the tab. Otherwise I can’t copy and paste to e.g. Facebook. Problems, problems ….

9. Internal hyperlinks

In this article I listed all the ‘tip’ subjects at the top (under Contents) and set links to jump straight to them. So internal hyperlinks can be pretty useful!

Creating an internal hyperlink in a WordPress document is not completely straightforward, but is quite easy once you’ve done it a few times. The process involves going to the point you want to jump TO and typing an ‘id’ into an HTML tag. Then, in the normal Visual view, you set a hyperlink from the point where you want to jump FROM.

The link below explains the process well, but I’ll give an example. In my contents list I have an item – Widgets. So in HTML view I locate the header for that item. It is a level 3 header so it will be in the form of:

< h3>Widgets</h3 >

Then it is modified to:

< h3 id=”widgets”>Widgets</h3 >

(there should be no space after the first and before the last angled brackets)

Note that I could have named the id, “Fred” or anything I wanted, but here “widgets” seemed sensible!

Then I go to Widgets in the contents list at the top and in the usual Visual view I double click the word Widgets and then click the link symbol. Then in the URL box I type a hash symbol, followed by the ‘id’ I wish to jump to, in this case #widgets. Now once the page is updated and previewed, clicking Widgets in the contents list jumps straight to the relevant paragraph. Neat!

https://www.wendycholbi.com/anchor-links-jump-links/

10. Menus/categories

When I look at other blogs I usually have two questions. What is the blog about and what is actually on it? Often it is by no means obvious! Sometimes it’s just a long page of posts of indeterminate length and you even have to scroll through them to find the titles, they’re not listed elsewhere.

So, ‘What is the blog about?’ is easy, just have an informative ‘about’ page and an obvious link to that page. You can set it to be the Front Page (via the customizer), so that people land on it when they go to your blog. And clicking the header in any page takes you there too.

‘What is actually on the blog?’ is more complex but I’d recommend at the very least you install the ‘recent posts’ widget.

The main menu in my theme (Sela) appears across the top and I was able to add pages and categories to it via dashboard/appearance/menus. You could add posts to the menu but it would quickly fill up the menu bar.

So every post is assigned one or more categories, and will then be listed in chronological order when someone clicks on that category in the menu. In my case, for the most part I chose length of story e.g. ‘longer stories’ but you might choose travel, food, humour or whatever.

For a more sophisticated approach see 5. Drop down Menus

11. Publishing your work in paperback/eBook/audiobook form.

I wrote quite a comprehensive article about this recently. Basically, if you have 5000 words or more (50,000 plus is good) of decent content, then you can compile it into a document and upload it to Kindle Direct Publishing, where you can also design a cover. The process is pretty straightforward, very flexible, and ‘free.’ The cost of printing a paperback comes out of your 60% royalty when sold. Your book/eBook appears on Amazon worldwide within a day or so! The article also covers audiobook production.

https://simonjwood.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/publishing-the-best-of-your-blog-is-as-easy-as-1-2-3/

12. Removing Blank Lines etc.

When posting from my word processor (Mac Pages ’09) to the WordPress editor, new paragraphs are represented by blank lines instead of indents. Occasionally it doesn’t matter but it usually does.

There’s a useful site, textmechanic.com, where you paste your text, click on ‘remove empty lines,’ then paste it into WordPress. It strips all the code responsible for generating blank lines in WordPress, as well as empty lines.

It also strips italics so they have to be put back in manually (as well as any blank lines actually required) and I indent the paragraphs as described in ‘indenting text‘ above.

There are many other useful text tools on the site.

http://textmechanic.com/text-tools/basic-text-tools/remove-empty-lines/

13. Scheduling posts from blogs you are following

If you don’t want to receive notifications about new posts ‘as and when,’ you can arrange a delivery window to receive them. Firstly, go to the Reader, then click Manage under Followed Sites. Then click Settings on your followed sites and decide how you want to receive e-mail notifications from each of them – instantly, daily or weekly, or turn them off.

Then click on the little avatar symbol to the left of the notifications symbol at the top right of the screen. Then click Notification Settings/Reader Subscriptions. You can now set a day/time slot to receive scheduled notifications.

14. Scheduling your writing

Some people like to publish posts whenever they feel like it, whereas others prefer to schedule. I’ve come to definitely prefer the latter, with maybe an extra post on special days such as Christmas Day or Valentine’s Day. I think a weekly schedule is best but to push myself a bit I schedule every five days. Nearly always between 12.00 and 13.00 local time.

It’s useful to have a time chart of different time zones handy so you know what time it is around the world. In my naivety I thought I would just get views from Britain and maybe the USA, I had no idea how truly international WordPress is and I’ve had views from places as far-flung as Azerbaijan, Gambia and Papua New Guinea!

The dashboard has a nice view of scheduled posts on the home page and it’s very easy to edit the scheduled time and category via dashboard/posts and the ‘Quick Edit’ buttons that appear under the post names.

To facilitate scheduling and writing generally, I keep a ‘writing assignments list’ on the wall by my desk, sorted into descending date order, which I update and print every couple of days or so. That way I can be sure to start on a story/article in good time. I nowadays always try to finish something with a few days to spare, then work on something else in the meantime, before coming back to finalize the former. Then I can see it with much fresher eyes and improvements/corrections usually leap out at me!

 –

15. Spam

Askimet seems good and I only once had a problem with Spam. The answer was to check the boxes for ‘Comment author must fill out name …’ and ‘Users must be registered …’ as shown in the screenshot below under ‘Other comment settings.’ I’ve only had once since. At least I think it was Spam …!

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16. Stopping ‘self-pings’

If you publish a post that contains links to another of your posts, you are likely to get e-mails alerting you to ‘ping-backs.’ I used to publish my index as a post and I would get over 100 e-mails, and on my phone too! The solution is to uncheck ‘Attempt to notify any blogs linked to from the article,’ as shown above under ‘Default article settings.’

17. Tagging

Any post can have up to 15 tags and categories in total (more than that and it won’t be displayed in the Reader). If you go to the Reader, click on Search and type in some tags (in the desktop app you can type them directly) you can get a feel for how quickly a tag’s ‘timeline’ moves from the times/dates on the posts. So ‘creative writing,’ for example, is a fast-moving stream with a lot of viewers, whereas ‘curious fiction’ has hardly any posts other than my own! I aim for a mix of fast and slow-moving streams. If you tag a post ‘creative writing,’ for example, you are likely to get a quick burst of views, than that’ll be it!

Now, when you publish a post, any follower who has subscribed to e-mail alerts will see either an extract from your post or the full post (depending on your settings in dashboard/settings/reading/‘for each article in a feed …’). This is followed by a list of your tags. If you’re showing just an excerpt, then a lot of space can be taken up by the tags and there’s less room for the excerpt. Also, who wants people to see all your tags? I don’t.

I couldn’t find any way NOT to display them, but found a simple ‘workaround.’ You simply wait until the post is published THEN, after receiving e-mail confirmation of this, add the tags. I go into dashboard/posts and simply copy tags from a similar previous post, perhaps amending a couple. Or you can paste them into a blank document or e-mail, edit them and paste them back in. To see the tags make sure they are enabled in Screen Options via the button at the top right.

Personally I prefer to have excerpts displayed in the e-mail. Otherwise people have no need to visit the blog and so won’t see the nice formatting and picture 🙂

18. Uploading Multiple Images to Media Library

It can be a chore doing this singly. I’ve found I can get a bunch of images (usually from Google Images or Pixabay) and upload them in one go. First I save them in a folder called ‘images.’ Then I go to dashboard/media/library and click ‘add new’ at the top. Then in the window that opens up (with the dotted line around it) I click on Select Files, highlight all the ones I wish to upload (shift and click, or command click if non-contiguous) and then click Open.

Other routes to upload images I’ve tried don’t seem to allow more than one at a time.

It takes a little while for all the images to upload but if you’ve got something else to do in the meantime I find this the better method.

19. Widgets

On WordPress.com we don’t have access to the wonderful world of plug-ins available to self-hosted sites, but some of the widgets available are pretty useful. As mentioned above, the ‘recent posts’ one is great. Anyone looking at the blog can instantly see and click on the list, although of course it doesn’t indicate what the post is about (if it’s not obvious from the title) nor its length. Widgets are selectable via the customizer.

My theme is Sela, which is free. I’ve looked at all the widgets available to me and the ones I use are as follows:

Translate. I’ve no proof as to whether anyone has ever used this but it translates everything, even the comments! Of course, it’s not perfect, but I’m sure it could be helpful and it’s quite fun to see your blog in some weird and wonderful language! Also very useful if you are actually learning a language!

Custom Menu. I set links to my About and Contact pages. The About page can always be reached by clicking the header, but just in case people don’t know that …

Search. self-explanatory.

Recent Posts. I set this to 14 posts and entitled it ‘Posts Published in the Last Ten Weeks’ (as I post every five days).

Archives. A drop down box that enables readers to select posts by month. Entitled ‘Older Posts.’

Top Posts and Pages. I ordered this by ‘likes’ and displayed it as an image grid. I think this looks very nice on the page and invites visitors to click on the images.

Follow Button. There are a few ways for people to sign up to follow a blog. This one seems very simple. It’s a blue button which also indicates the current number of followers (if selected). Click on it and you are asked to confirm, then you are signed up. You receive an e-mail about any new posts, unless you unsubscribe from e-mail notifications. (You can always view the posts in the Reader anyway. Just click on ‘Followed Sites.’)

One thing I found is that if you are a follower (I follow my own blog too) and you click on the button again (‘to see what will happen’!) you are unsubscribed, without any request for confirmation in my own case!

My Community. This is great! I have three of these on my blog. It displays a grid of avatars of those who have liked, followed or commented on the blog. I have one under the follower button, set to display followers only, then two in the footer, set to display ‘likers’ and ‘commenters.’ The first two show 50 avatars and the latter shows a smaller number, chosen from recent commentators. My favourite widget!

Recent Comments. This displays the avatar of the commenter together with their name and the post commented on. It doesn’t give any of the comment itself but clicking on the post name takes you directly to the comment in question.

Tag Cloud. This displays all the tags you have used on your posts. The more often they’ve been used, the larger the font. Click on any tag in the ‘cloud’ and it takes you to a page with all thus-tagged posts on it. You can set the maximum number of tags and also exclude any you don’t want displayed.

20. Writing Matters!

Well, I sincerely hope you found some of the above information to be useful. To round off the article, here are a few miscellaneous remarks about writing content, whether fiction or non-fiction.

Writing: I published an article, Flash Fiction Matters, which details how I wrote the stories on my blog and includes links to a number of useful books and websites.

Dictation/screen readers: I haven’t explored dictation myself as yet, but I have found it useful to use a screen reader to read my posts aloud. Then if there are any ‘typos’ I’ve missed it’s easy to spot them. Also, despite its limitations, it does also help to find unnatural sounding dialogue. My MacBook has quite a number of voices/accents available, or there are online resources too.

Touch typing: If you are using the ‘hunt and peck’ system of typing then I can’t recommend learning to touch type highly enough. That way any thoughts/ideas can be transmitted directly to the screen without the ‘barrier’ of having to find the letters first. It only takes a few weeks and will save countless hours in the future!

Timer: I have personally found a timer very useful for writing. I set it to 20 minutes and get up and walk around for a few seconds when it goes off. After three 20 minute sessions I’ll take a 15 minute break if I’m going to do any more writing. Of course, you stop the timer if going to the loo, hunting for ink cartridges etc.!

Displaying HTML code in posts: Well, this was a hard one! I’ve tried everything I could find online and also e-mailed the ‘help-desk.’ They sent one reply that didn’t work and haven’t yet replied to my response, and it’s  OVER THREE WEEKS since I originally wrote to them. VERY disappointing service in this instance.

The problem is that if you display HTML code in your post and switch to the HTML view for whatever reason, then the code is implemented when you switch back to Visual, changing its appearance. You can write it normally as long as you DON’T switch to HTML view before publishing. The usual advice is to use ‘code’ tags but that doesn’t work here. So where I’ve used code in the sections above, I’ve put a space after the angled bracket and an instruction to ignore the space when actually using the code. I’d be most grateful if anyone reading this could let me know how to display HTML in WordPress posts that doesn’t change when switching between Visual and HTML views!

 

 

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 160! 

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.

Clarissa’s Missives – Part Three

piano-girl-h-b.jpg

(1500 words)

The third and final part of what became a trilogy! Links to parts one and two: Clarissa’s Missives – Part One, Clarissa’s Missives – Part Two

It was almost 2 p.m. by the time they got back. I’d taken the dogs to the park for a run and a ‘poo,’ poop-bag at the ready, but the grey-haired lady wasn’t on self-appointed duty today. Still, I did my bit, now knowing the ropes.
Henry was the more affectionate of the two, trying to stand on his hind legs, with his front legs on my shoulders, to lick my face, but his head was so far above mine he could only lick my hair, not that I was sorry. He weighed a ton too.
I’d discovered that Helena had quite a large garden – a long rectangular lawn, and a further sizeable grassy area with mature shrubs down both sides. Beyond that lay some steps down to a small stream and an area planted with ferns and bamboo. The whole was overhung by low trees, and there were two iron benches. Numerous Arum lilies graced the area, displaying their large scented white flowers. A pleasant place to sit in summer, I imagined.
There was new wire mesh across the stream at both ends of Helena’s property, so I imagined the dogs were allowed down there, although I wasn’t sure the mesh would hold those two hulking brutes if they felt determined to ‘explore.’ They seemed happy enough to sleep in the TV room for now though, where there were two enormous baskets, so why tempt fate?
I practised the music I’d looked at with Clarissa. In the cold light of day and no pressure of a talented pianist breathing down my neck, it wasn’t so hard. I found a pencil and marked some fingering in for future reference.
Then I had a little ‘wander.’ I looked in Clarissa’s bedroom. A large double bed stood by a huge bay window that went up to a high ceiling. The house was old and solid, likely Victorian I surmised. Clothes were strewn around the room and I saw some panties on the floor by the bed. I felt a sudden urge to pick them up and sniff them, but instead turned to a dresser, covered with spectacle cases and contact lens solution bottles, along with a pack of her violet stationery.
I had a peek in a medicine cabinet, grinning at myself in the mirror. Esomeprazole, Montelukast, Prednisolone, Seratide, Salamol, Beconase and the ubiquitous Ibuprofen, among other boxes and packets, haphazardly stacked. Looked like she had a few health issues! A small pink packet contained Zyprexa – hmm, where had I come across that before? Suddenly feeling guilty, I closed the cabinet, carefully wiping a thumbprint off the mirror. I wouldn’t want her to think I was nosy.
I made a sandwich for lunch, and some extra for the girls, and afterwards began to feel like a spare part. I was just thinking about going home when I heard the door bell ring.
I answered it, relieved to see Clarissa and, presumably, Helena, her sister, laden down with rucksacks and other gear. Clarissa looked old and tired, her blonde hair rumpled and out of place. She managed a weak smile. “Hello, John, I was hoping you’d still be here. I thought it’d save looking for the key if I rang. This is Helena, my sister.”
By contrast, Helena looked ten years younger, was about a foot taller and had short, bright-red dyed hair. She smiled brightly at me with even, porcelain-white teeth. “Hello, John, Clarissa’s told me all about you!”
I wondered what precisely, seeing as I barely knew Clarissa. “I made some sandwiches,” I ventured. “Ham, cheese and tomato.”
“Lovely!” exclaimed Helena, “We’re starving!’
After they’d eaten and tidied themselves up we all sat in a comfortable conservatory that gave onto some variegated shrubs in the lower part of the garden.
Helena looked at me. “You’ve got a good man here, Clarissa dear. His aura is very blue!”
“Pardon?” I said.
She turned her chair to face me directly and her eyes took on a faraway expression. I noticed they were large and pale blue, with wide pupils. “Yes, John, I see a room, a room in your house. There are some guitars, four or five, on stands.”
“She’s training to be a clairvoyant,” explained Clarissa, looking slightly embarrassed.
“Yes, there are some guitars on stands,” I affirmed. Clarissa had no doubt told her I was a guitar teacher!
Helena continued. “And is there a … a cello?”
“No, sorry,” I said.
“It’s just that I see those funny little holes that cellos have.”
Then the penny dropped. “Actually I do have a jazz guitar, it has the same type of holes, ‘f-holes’ they’re called.”
Helena smiled. “Now, your father, he’s in spirit, is that right?”
“What?”
“She means, has he passed over, died?” explained Clarissa, whose interest had perked up.
“Yes, that’s right, seven years ago.”
“He’s here with you now. I’m hearing the name Jim, or is it Joe? Yes, Joe I think.”
I looked around. No sign of the old man! “That was his name,” I affirmed.
Helena stood up and started lurching around the room in an odd manner. “I’m feeling no movement down my right side. Did he suffer a stroke?”
“Yes, he did,” I said, feeling a chill run down my spine.
She turned to me. “He wants you to know that he’s OK now, he’s well again.”
“Oh, that’s good.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“He says you’ve been offered a job, at a private school, but you’re not sure. It seems like there won’t be enough hours teaching for the travelling involved. Is that right?”
I was gobsmacked. That was absolutely spot on and I hadn’t told a soul either!
“He says to take it, it will lead to greater opportunities.”
“All right, I will!” I said and smiled. Well that was a turn up for the books, I’d been wondering what to do about it!
Just then, the ‘reading’ was shattered by a loud howl as Henry burst into the room. He began to bark loudly.
“Henry, stop it!” shouted Clarissa, but, looking from me to Helena and back, he continued his ear-shattering noise.
“Henry, shut up!” Helena shouted repeatedly, to no avail.
Then Clarissa clapped her hands. “Henry, play dead!” Henry dropped to the ground and rolled onto his side, occupying most of the conservatory floor, and becoming completely still and quiet.
Clarissa laughed, suddenly looking years younger. “I taught him that when he was a tiny puppy!”
Henry got up and sat with his head on Clarissa’s lap, making an odd whimpering sound. “Don’t worry Henry, the spirits have gone now,” said Clarissa, soothingly.
“I’m going to show John round” said Helena.
“OK.” Clarissa lay back in the chair and closed her eyes, one hand stroking Henry’s head.
Helena took me round the house. It was much bigger than I’d realized on my little ‘inspection.’ The kitchen was large and modern with oak units and extensive black slate surfaces. It looked expensive. A small staircase led upstairs. “That goes to an annexe,” she said. “There’s a guest bedroom, a bathroom and an office space, but we don’t use them right now. The main staircase is on the other side of the lounge.”
“Uh-huh,” I said, nonchalantly.
We passed through a chilly pantry, shelves covered with jars and packets, and down to the stream-side area. Helena gestured for me to take a seat. “Look, I like you, John, and I know Clarissa does too. But go easy with her. She took a nasty knock when Stan, er, her last husband left her.”
“Stan?” I said, surprised.
“Yes, he ran off with an ex-pupil, thirty years younger than him, can you believe?!”
“Wow!”
“Anyway, poor Clarissa almost had a nervous breakdown, what with the press interest ….”
“What happened with them?”
“Oh, they’re still together. Got three little kids now too!”
We heard a door close up at the house. “Shh,” said Helena.
“Hello!” Clarissa appeared with a piece of paper in her hand, Boris and Henry at her heels, almost up to her shoulders. The dogs lay down by the side of the stream and Clarissa handed it over.
‘The Lucknow Centre presents Circus Skills with The Joules Mangier Troupe – unicycle, juggling, tumbling, clown workshop, acrobatics and more!’
“It’s on Wednesday evenings, six to nine, starting next week” said Clarissa excitedly. “I’ve always wanted to juggle!”
“Me too,” said Helena, “and I’d just die to go on a unicycle!” She stood up and motioned her hips backwards and forwards, as if balancing on one, laughing.
“John, say you’ll come!” exclaimed Clarissa, an earnest expression on her face.
I looked from Clarissa’s wide emerald eyes to Helena’s pale blue ones and back. I wasn’t sure what I was letting myself in for, but I felt at home here. I’d have to rearrange four students, but, what the hell, ‘in for a penny ….’ I laughed. “I always wanted to run away and join the circus!”
THE END


Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 160! 

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If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.

Gravity Hill

magnetic hill

(800 words)

“Not wishing to doubt you Sue, but cars can’t coast uphill, get real!” So said Spencer Schneider, generally regarded as the class ‘nerd.’
“Come on Spence, she says it happened. You calling her a liar?” Johnny Serpa’s tone was hostile.
“No.” There was a hesitation in Spencer’s voice. “I’m just saying there has to be a scientific explanation.”
“Scientific explanation my arse!” retorted Johnny.
“Come on boys, cool it. There’s a simple way to find out. We’ll just drive out there tonight,” said my sister, Sue. Six years older than me, she was infinitely more sensible than Johnny, good friend that he was. I was inclined to believe her, whatever the explanation.
“On whose wheels?” I asked pragmatically.
“Jojo’ll drive us,” said Sue, speaking of her boyfriend.
“Have you asked him then?” asked Johnny.
She smiled enigmatically. “No, but I’ll … make it worth his while.”
We didn’t enquire further.
So that evening Jojo pulled up at the house to pick me and Sue up.
“Don’t you ever wash your car,” Sue exclaimed. “It’s filthy!”
“Look, d’you want a lift or don’t you?!” he snapped.
He collected Spencer and Johnny, then, as we set off, Spencer asked, “What exactly happened Sue?”
“Well, I was with my friend Olivia. She was driving us back from friends in Manchester and our normal route was closed for roadworks. We had to take a detour. Well we were going up this hill and the engine just cut out, it was really weird. She put the car into neutral and it just started moving of its own accord!”
“I’ve heard of this,” Spencer replied, “it’s an urban legend, supposedly the ghosts of a bunch of school kids are supposed to push the car up the hill.”
“What in Hell’s name are you on about?!” exclaimed Jojo.
“Well, at the top of the hill there’s a junction.” Sue took over. “A bus full of kids crashed into a petrol tanker. It went up in flames and most of them got burnt alive. They were the lucky ones.”
We all fell silent, horrified.
Then Johnny laughed, “It’s rubbish, a bullshit story made up to scare kids!”
Spencer continued. “Some people say there’s a magnetic deposit that attracts the vehicles up the hill, but it’s not. It’s just an optical illusion. It looks like you’re going uphill but you’re actually going downhill!”
“That don’t make sense!” retorted Johnny.
“Look, let’s just wait and see, shall we?” said Sue. “It’s just off the road to Redcliffe. I have the co-ordinates from Olivia’s satnav.”
Jojo pulled into the side of the road and programmed in the co-ordinates. “Clever stuff nowadays!” he remarked.
Presently the satnav directed us onto a smaller forest road. The sun was sinking and it was growing darker.
“You have reached your destination,” said the satnav, as we arrived at the foot of a gradual hill.
“Is this it?” asked Jojo.
“Yeah, I think so,” said Sue excitedly, I remember that funny little bridge we just came over.”
Jojo turned the satnav off and stopped the car. “Are you sure?”
Sue continued, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure. At the top we join a bigger road. There’s a ‘Stop’ sign.”
“Shame the kids’ bus driver didn’t see it then!” laughed Johnny.
No one else felt like laughing. We all got out. It sure seemed like any normal hill.
“Come on, let’s go,” said Jojo.
We all got back into the car and Jojo started up the hill. Suddenly the engine conked out.
“Jesus Christ!” Jojo exclaimed.
“Just a coincidence … probably,” said Spencer.
Jojo put the car into neutral and it began to roll uphill.
“There, I told you!” Sue laughed.
“Hang on, I think I know what’s happening,” said Spencer. ”It’s an illusion. The trees aren’t straight. We’re actually going downhill.”
“What the Hell are you on about, man,” snapped Jojo.
“There was a meteorite strike hereabouts. It bent all the trees.”
We reached the Stop sign. The main road was empty. Jojo stopped the car again and we all got out. Looking back the way we came it was hard to tell if it was uphill or downhill if you screened the trees out of your view.
“Look, we’ll come back tomorrow and test it out properly,” said Jojo.
He put a CD on and we relaxed, listening to Steely Dan’s Aja. After a few miles there was a petrol station. Jojo pulled in. “We’re running low on gas.”

I got out to go and buy some M&Ms. I craved chocolate for some reason. The others got out to stretch their legs. Suddenly there was a scream. “Oh my God, look at this!” Sue stood pointing, her hand shaking. In the bright station lights we could see little handprints all over the dirt on the boot.



Incidentally, I’ve been nominated for a Star Blogger Award by How To Addict, someone who writes very helpful motivational posts, definitely worth checking out! There are 10 blogs nominated for July and the voting closes on Thursday 17th August. If you’d like to support To Cut a Short Story Short, then here is the link to vote. Thanks! 🙂

http://howtoaddict.com/star-blogger-award-nominations-july-2017/ (latest blogs reviewed and voting box at the bottom)

http://howtoaddict.com/spreading-message-positivity-blogs/ (includes a review of To Cut a Short Story Short)


Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 160! 

 –

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.

Phoning a Friend

horse drawn funeral

(700 words)

Not wanting to dial, but wanting to dial, Jessica Sumner hesitated, her finger poised over her phone’s key pad. She felt nervous. This was silly, she could simply say she’d dialled a wrong number, no one would mind. Her brain commanded her finger to press but her muscles refused to cooperate.
She’d upgraded her e-mail program and a window had popped up, asking permission to migrate her address book. She’d had the option to manually approve the entries. Having some time to kill, she’d checked through the list, one at a time, deleting contacts from her detested last job, waitressing at Burger Legend, and others she wanted to put out of her mind forever. How she’d hated that job, all those cowboys leering at her chest. It wasn’t her fault she was so ‘full figured’! She felt a pang of regret at the name Roland Korzybski though. She’d delete that one later she told herself.
Suddenly, seeing an old familiar name, she felt a lump in her throat and a burning sensation in her eyes. Eleanor Naddeo. Dear Ellie. Jessica felt a tear trickle down a cheek, almost relishing the chance to give in to overwhelming sadness at the memory of her good friend.

Jessica had visited Eleanor almost every day towards the end, looking into the sunken yellow eyes in Ellie’s gaunt face, feeling desperation whilst trying to exude optimism. “You’ll be OK Ellie, the doctors say the prognosis is good.” The next thing had been Ellie’s funeral, the coffin pulled on a carriage by two white horses, Jessica watching with tears streaming down her face. She choked back a sob at the memory. Come on Jess, that was over two years ago. We have to move on! But still, she and Ellie had enjoyed so many good times growing up together.

So now she had the inexplicable urge to dial Eleanor’s old number one last time, just to see who was there. Crazy, she knew. Do it!
“Hello, Eleanor Naddeo.”
It couldn’t be, that was impossible!
“… Hello, is anybody there?”
“Y-yes, it’s Jessica, Jessica Sumner.” Just hang up!
“Hi Jess, I haven’t heard from you. It’s been so long. Just so long. Are you still hanging with Rolly?”
It must be a prank! “Who?”
“Roland Korzybski, your boyfriend, the biker.”
The voice sounded so familiar. “No. No, I’m not. Ellie, is that really you?”
“Yes, of course it is, who did you think it was?” Eleanor laughed her unmistakable laugh, a kind of giggle that rose in pitch.
“Ellie, don’t get me wrong, but you … you died. Two years ago. Liver cancer.”
Eleanor laughed. “Yes, I remember being ill. I don’t remember after that. But I’m OK now. I’m back at college, finishing my teacher training.”
I’ll wake up in a minute, Jessica thought. She pinched the skin above her right wrist. “Ow!”
“Jess, are you OK?”
“Yes, yes, I’m fine. I just …. What college are you at?”
Eleanor hesitated. “I … I forget the name right now. Sorry, I … I seem to forget stuff.” She sounded upset.
“It’s OK Ellie, don’t worry. It’s just great to talk to you! How’s your family?”
“Oh, mom’s fine, dad’s doing a lot of overtime, they’re aiming to go on a world cruise next year!”
“Wow!”
“Chuck’s got himself a new girlfriend, Sandy, a pom pom girl! He’s finished college. He’s working at MacDonald’s whilst he finds himself a proper job.”
“That’s enterprising of him.”
“Yeah, and I get free Big Macs!” She laughed her unmistakable laugh again.
Jessica felt a stab of love and longing. “Ellie, can we meet? I want to see you.”
Again, Eleanor’s tinkling laugh. “Of course, why not? It’s been so long!”
Just the thought of seeing Ellie again, illogical as it was, to throw her arms around her friend and hug her again, made her heart pound. “Wow, that’d be cool. Look, I’m free tomorrow afternoon …” Jessica realised the line had gone dead. Frantically she pressed the redial symbol. Ellie’s number popped up and she pressed the dial button. The number rang … and rang. Come on Ellie!

Finally someone picked up the phone. A man’s voice answered. “Hello Pizza Hut, how may I help?”





Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 160! 
 –

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.

Postcard from Hispaniola

Port-au-Prince

(150 words)

Hello Darling, Well they were right when they said the recipe for a great marriage is to live in different countries! Missing you and ‘the babe’ though. Looking forward to our ‘meeting’ in the Autumn! As the pic shows, I’m in Port-au-Prince. Splashed out on a Caribbean Cruise, don’t be cross! Someone said, ‘You can live to be a hundred, if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred!’ At this rate I’ll be dead at sixty! Still, my heart is true to you, never fear! Trust it’s still the same with you? Haiti’s crazy, a place where a black cat at a crossroads stops everyone, but a red light doesn’t! How are the shows going, you don’t phone or message me. All that practice that used to drive me nuts finally paid off. You show ‘em girl! Tarquin xxxx





Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 150! 

 –

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.

November 9

hydrogen bomb_beach

(800 words)

“Be quite sure to follow all instructions,” ‘Missileer’ Thomas Papineau reminded us, “to the letter.” Our white Dodge Durango turned off Interstate 80 just short of Sidney, Nebraska, heading north across the featureless Great Plains.
There was just myself, journalist Katy Rutter, and my cameraman, Johnny ‘Jonno’ Moses. I longed to open the window and feel the dry, dusty, warm air on my face but I knew the guys preferred the air conditioning. After a few miles Papineau turned off and headed along a track to some buildings, somewhat reminiscent of chicken barns. A brown sign stated ‘U.S. Air Force, Global Strike Command, 92nd Missile Wing.’ They weren’t producing eggs here, they were prepared to blow up the world.
“Good afternoon!” A young, fresh faced man appeared. His name badge said Lieutenant Brad Rosner. Dressed in camouflage gear, he carried a clipboard. Papineau, Jonno and myself stood expectantly. Strangely, Rosner had oriental features, maybe Korean? He read us the usual riot act and we proceeded through a gate. “Follow me please.”
We went into one of the buildings where a man and a woman, likewise dressed in camos, played table tennis. “Down time,” explained Rosner.
Another officer came over with some camera gear for Jonno. We weren’t allowed to use our own in case it interfered with their electrical systems. All four of us got into a cage lift, Rosner stabbed a red button and we started to descend.
“Good God!” I exclaimed as I realised we were passing down the side of a huge missile, perhaps seventy feet high. The men laughed.
“We control ten of these Minuteman III missiles from here,” said Rosner.
“Wow!” Jonno exclaimed.
It’s OK, you can film,” he said to Jonno, who held his camera uncertainly.
“How many of these are there?” I asked.
“Two on the base, but nearly five hundred spread around the country.”
I didn’t bother to ask if they were more powerful than the bomb that obliterated Hiroshima. I could guess the answer.
The lift stopped and we walked along a tunnel into a network of small control rooms, protected by an enormous steel door several feet thick. The equipment looked strangely old-fashioned.
“Hey, what’s with the retro look?” asked Jonno.
Papineau smiled. “This facility was constructed in the sixties. They’ve kept the old panels. We kinda like it.”
Papineau introduced us to the ‘missileers’ on duty, both in their early 20s, judging by their young faces, Lindsey Ferriell and Robert Halterman.
“Have a good time!” said Rosner, as he and Papineau turned to leave.
“Would you like some tea?” Ferriell asked.
We might have been in a kindergarten, rather than a nuclear command bunker.
After some small talk, Jonno set up the camera and I started the interview. “How do you feel working here?” I asked Ferriell. I noticed that even sans make up, she was quite pretty.
She smiled brightly, showing even, porcelain-white teeth. “Well, we’ve got a job to do, keeping our country safe, you just get used to it.”
Halterman indicated a red LED display, probably state-of-the-art in the 1960s. “If the president decides on a launch we’ll get the code here. We can launch up to ten missiles in minutes.”
‘Great,’ I thought. Jonno smiled at me and pulled a mock worried face.
“How do you launch a missile?” I asked finally, and predictably, after recording several minutes of boring technical information.
“We turn these switches.” Ferriell turned a knob that looked like an on-off switch from a wartime radio.
I gasped and my heart pounded. Halterman, a few feet away laughed and pointed to a similar one in front of him. “They have to be turned at the same time.”
Just then a buzzer sounded.
I jumped. “What’s that?”
Ferriell smiled. “Oh, we have to run a test routine. We do them throughout the day. You’ll have to leave soon I’m afraid.”
Suddenly a different buzzer sounded, higher pitched and louder, and the red LEDs lit up. Ferriell’s smile evaporated and Halterman leapt up. “That’s the president’s code!” The LEDs displayed ‘November 9.’
He feverishly grabbed a file from a shelf, opened it and ran his finger down a list. “Jesus Christ, that’s the launch code. It’s kosher!”
Ferriell’s face was covered in sweat. She gestured towards us. “What about them?”

“There isn’t time. Come on. On my mark.” Halterman’s voice was hoarse. “Three … two … one ….” There was a crushing silence. The missileers exchanged shell-shocked glances. Time seemed to stop. Then, “Launch!” They both turned their knobs simultaneously.

Ferriell sat back. She covered her face with her hands. “Oh God, oh God.”
“What happens now?” I managed a whisper.

Halterman looked like a waxwork dummy starting to melt. He spoke in a dull monotone. “Orders are to wait.”





Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 150! 
 –

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.

Out There

6805012-outer-space-wallpaper

(700 words)

“America killed us Sam.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!”
“They’ve written us off. It’s like we don’t exist any more.”
I gazed out through the command room windows over the bow, at the uncountable millions of stars that surrounded us. “We’ll be back. Our kids’ll be all grown up!”
Randy laughed. “Little Anita was just five, bright as a sixpence. She’ll be twenty seven, maybe with her own kids!”
“Hard to imagine!”
“I want to go home Sam.” Randy’s voice trembled.
“Come on Randy, you signed up. No-one forced you to. You’ll be home before you know it!”
Exactly to what I was unsure. We were five years into a mission to Nephthys, a small rocky planet circling nearby Barnard’s star. It would take us ten years, nearly all of that in hyper-sleep, Randy and me waking up once a year to check the systems. When we eventually arrived, the rest of the sleeping crew would awake and we’d descend to the planet to find a mining station prepared for us by androids, scheduled to land a year ahead of us. That was the plan anyway.
“See all these stars Sam. There must be people, aliens, on the planets round ‘em.” Randy said the same, every time we ‘awoke.’
“I guess so.” Detectors on Earth had found Nephthys to be rich in rare earths, the metallic elements needed to make advanced handheld devices – videophones, holographic projectors and the like. The plan was to spend two years mining and refining the ores, then, with the holds full, back into hyper-sleep for the trip home. In our twenty two year absence, our families would be amply compensated.
These annual ‘awakenings’ felt weird, it took hours to reorientate oneself to the surroundings and to remember how to work the interfaces. But I enjoyed them. Just me and Randy wandering alone in the colossal ship, constructed in Earth’s orbit over a decade. Gazing out in wonder at the infinite universe.
Jesus! Did you see that?” Randy shouted.
“What?”
“Something just went past! Out there!”
“What?”
“I dunno, some kind of light. It went across the windows, upwards.” He made a gesture.
A couple of minutes went by, then, “There! D’you see it?”
Sure enough, something like a ball of light came from below us and shot in front and upwards. I felt excitement and fear in equal amounts.
Suddenly there was a beeping from a control panel on the far side of the room, about ten metres away. Red and yellow lights flashed rapidly. I raced over. “There’s an incoming signal!” My training took over. Calm down! I addressed the computer. “OK, Max, switch the decoders on.”
The computer responded. “Incoming signal is video. Recording. Should I display it Sam?”
Randy had joined me and we both faced a large screen. “Go ahead Max.”
We both gasped as an ariel shot of New York appeared, the viewpoint zooming around the Freedom Tower, sunlight reflecting brightly off its endless windows, before flying along the Brooklyn Bridge and up over one of its towers.
Wow!” we both exclaimed in unison.
Now over St. Louis, it skimmed beneath the Gateway Arch before heading over sweeping plains with huge herds of cattle, then we were flying over snowcapped mountains, finally zooming into and along the Grand Canyon. Suddenly it stopped near a group of hikers. A girl pointed towards us, her face a picture of curiosity, and their smiles vanished. She took a few paces towards us before the viewpoint took off again, soaring into the sky. Then it headed rapidly outwards and the canyon receded into the distance below, finally becoming a tiny speck. The blackness of space began to encroach on the brilliant blue northern hemisphere and the screen went blank.
We stood speechless, in awe of what we had just witnessed.
Finally I said, “Max, play it again.”
There was a silence, then the computer spoke. “I’m sorry Sam, the video could not be saved.”
We looked out of the window again for a while. Nothing moved. Finally, with the heaviest of hearts, I realised the show was over.
“Looks like someone’s looking out for us,” said Randy, eventually.

“Someone … or some thing,” I replied.





Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 150! 
 –

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.

Promise Her the Moon

1 taj mahal

(800 words)

“Be polite and listen carefully,” said the old man to his four daughters, “and don’t speak unless you’re spoken to!”
Their names were Anshula, Bakula, Chandhini and Darshini. By the grace of God they had been born exactly three years apart so that all four shared the same birthday – today, November 1st – unique in all the land.
Anshula was 16, Bakula 13, Chandhini 10, and little Darshini just seven. Now they waited, dressed in beautiful saris, Anshula in maroon, Bakula in ruby red, Chandhini in royal blue and finally, little Darshini in emerald green. Their mother was considerably younger than her husband and now stood, nervously adjusting their saris and combing their long black hair. “He’ll be here soon. Be sure to stand straight and smile!”
There was a knock on the door which made them all jump. The old man answered it to a messenger, who proclaimed, “The Great Prince will be here within the quarter hour, he approaches the edge of town.”
“Thank you,” said the old man, handing the messenger a coin. He turned to his daughters. “You may sit until his Royal Highness arrives.”
The daughters sat down on two long sofas in the large, high-ceilinged chamber. The family were not rich but by virtue of the daughters’ shared birthday, they had acquired a certain fame. People would visit them, regarding them as holy due to the coincidence, and were accustomed to leaving gifts of money, sides of meat, fine wines and the like.
After the longest fifteen minutes the family could remember, there came another knock at the door. A servant opened it to the Great Prince himself! His Royal Highness strode in, followed by an entourage of exotic characters. “Greetings to you all!” he pronounced in a deep, booming, royal voice.
The girls smiled nervously and curtseyed simultaneously, as they had practised. The entourage spaced themselves around the large room whilst servants brought refreshments.
The Great Prince was tall, over six feet high, and magnificently dressed in a golden achkan with a crimson turban and dupatta. He was very handsome, with a tawny face, startling green eyes and thin lips that naturally gave the appearance of a smile. Finally, after some small talk with the parents, he clapped his hands for silence. The girls stood, trying to look calm, except little Darshini who wasn’t nervous at all.
“Well my dears,” he pronounced, “God has seen fit to give you all the same birthday and today Anshula, the eldest, is 16 years old. A Very Happy Birthday to you all!”
He kissed Anshula on both cheeks. Her brown face turned red and she felt faint. She determined not to wash for a week. He kissed the other girls likewise, having to bend low for little Darshini.
“Now, I have very special gifts for you all!” he announced. This was followed by loud applause. When it had quieted down, he said, “To Anshula, I give the clouds!”
Anshula, looking perplexed, smiled and curtseyed. “You are most generous my Lord!”
“To Bakula, I give the moon!”
Bakula blinked her huge brown eyes and sweat lined her upper lip. “Thank you Sir!”
His Highness moved along to Chandhini. “To you, Chandhini, I give the Sun!”
Chandhini curtseyed and smiled sheepishly. “Thank you Your Honour!”
Finally, he looked down on little Darshini, who looked up in anticipation, her blue eyes twinkling.
“Yes, and to little Darshini, an extra special present – all the stars in the sky!”
There was huge applause. The old man approached. “Thank you your Highness for your wonderful gifts!”
Suddenly a shrill voice piped up. “I don’t understand. What use are the stars to me!”
The room fell silent, the old man gasped and a look of annoyance crossed the Great Prince’s face.
He recovered his composure. “Well my dear little Darshini, Anshula may tax all who wish to fly their aeroplanes through her clouds, and she will be rich! And Bakula may tax all who gaze with wonder at her moon, she will be richer still!”
Little Darshini remained silent, scratching her head.
The Great Prince continued. “Chandhini may tax all those who wish to receive warmth and light from her sun, except me of course!” The entourage roared with laughter, followed by polite applause. “She will be the richest of all! And you, my dear little Darshini may tax all those lovers who hold hands and look longingly up at your stars!”
The little girl looked confused. “But what happens if they won’t pay the tax?”
“Well then, it’ll be ‘off with their heads!’ ”
“What, you mean … “
“Yes, the criminals will be executed,” his Royal Highness exclaimed gleefully.

Darshini bit her lip and leant back to gaze up into the Great Prince’s handsome face. “Please sir, I’d just like a little puppy.“





Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 150! 
 –

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.

 

Statue at Liberty

anumbis with sythe

(700 words)

“America comes first though, right?” said the president.
Aides Don Daley and Victor ‘Day-Glo’ Rigby exchanged nervous glances.
The president stood, facing a statue. A voice came into their minds, deep, educated. ‘No, we come first, then America.’
The president stuttered. “Oh, yes … of course … I meant, er.”
Slits in the green eyes widened imperceptibly. ‘You will first do our bidding, then the bidding of your people. You will cut spending on your Environmental Protection Agency climate change program. Drastically!’
The president had sat in the oval office, finally, and incredibly alone. The inauguration procedure, with its endless speeches and razzamatazz, was over. Photographs of every permutation of his family had been taken. Finally, Day-Glo had ushered everyone out. “Come on folks, I think Mr. President needs some time to himself!” Before leaving, he’d turned. “Mr. President, there’s an urgent letter for you from Obama in your desk.”
In the unaccustomed silence, the president wiped his face with a handkerchief and looked in a cabinet. Thank God! Several bottles and glasses stood inside. He poured himself a generous measure of whisky and added several cubes of ice from a refrigerated compartment. He took a gulp and felt his brain reel from the alcohol. Better have a look at this goddamn letter!
‘Greetings Mr. President, firstly there’s something you must know. Take the lift at 9 p.m. tonight. Press six and nine simultaneously for five seconds ….’ The president’s jaw dropped. The letter continued with the usual congratulatory material. It signed off, ‘Good luck, you will need it! Barack.’
He’d taken the lift as instructed to find himself descending below the lowest level for what seemed an age. Finally the door opened onto a corridor where Daley and Day-Glo were waiting.
“What’s going on? What’s this about?”
“You’ll see sir. Don’t worry.”
They proceeded into a large chamber, illuminated by numerous candles around the walls. In the middle of the room was a statue of a seated Egyptian figure. It had the head of a jackal. Daley and Day-Glo stood on either side of him. The president felt annoyed. What the hell was going on? Suddenly a voice came into his mind, making him jump.
‘Greetings. You have been elected president, and like every president before you we extend our congratulations.’
The statue’s eyelids slid upwards, revealing green, snake-like eyes. The president started, then felt Daley’s reassuring hand on his shoulder.
“Who are you? What’s this about?”
‘We came to this planet many millennia ago to aid your development. It was we who constructed the pyramids. Because of our … appearance … we are currently hidden, but we continue to direct your affairs. In return you co-operate with us.’
“Aid our development?! What about all the millions of people killed in wars!”
‘The fate of individuals is not our concern. War leads to innovation, innovation requires power, power produces heat, and heat … warms the planet.’
“What?! What’s that to you?”
‘Our … people … abhor the cold. When the mean planetary temperature has increased another five degrees, then they will come en masse, and we can reveal ourselves.’
The president’s mind boggled. So the rumours were true. Lizards, or something similar, really had been pulling the strings! Goddammit. As if he hadn’t got enough on his plate already! “Look, we appreciate your help, sorry I don’t know your name, but there’s a lot of people not happy with global warming!” What the hell could these creatures do about it anyway, if they were hidden away in statues and the like?
“My name is Anubis!”
Daley and Day-Glo looked alarmed. Day-Glo spoke hurriedly, “Mr. President, er, it’s best you agree sir!”
The president felt emboldened. No, he was in charge goddamn it! “So it’s, er, nice to meet you, Mr, er, Anubis, but I can’t agree to this.”
The aides gasped.
Slowly, ponderously, the figure rose, rocking it’s canine head from side to side. Now standing eight feet tall, it stretched its arms out and opened its hands to reveal a slender thumb, two fingers and three long, sharp claws.

The president gulped. “Of course, on second thoughts, er, you know best. Sure, I’ll cut the program. No problem!”





Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 150! 
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If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.

Publishing the ‘Best of Your Blog’ is as Easy as 1-2-3!

 

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(3500 words)

  1. Introduction
  2. Self-publishing a paperback on KDP
  3. Self-publishing a Kindle eBook on KDP
  4. Creating an audiobook via ACX
  5. Links

INTRODUCTION

How would you like to hold in your hands a beautiful paperback with a selection of your best articles in it? Just a dream? No, it’s a reality, it won’t take you long and it won’t cost you a penny either!!

The steps are, One, go to KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and register your name, book title and description. Two, upload your content and upload/design the cover. Three, set the price of your book and click the publish button! Your book will shortly appear for sale on Amazon’s websites, world-wide!

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I published the ‘best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, through KDP and if you can run a blog, then you shouldn’t have many problems self-publishing. Realistically speaking, allow a week or two for learning the process of designing and creating a paperback and/or Kindle eBook.

My book has a beautiful cover, the paper is cream and smooth, with little show-through, and the appearance is much better than most professionally published paperbacks! It is VERY different from any ‘print on demand’ type book you may have previously bought from Amazon.

This article covers the  publishing of a simple book i.e. table of contents and text, with KDP, in both paperback and Kindle eBook form, although you CAN also publish a range of other formats – comics, illustrated books etc. It is intended to be a brief overview to get you started, along with some tips from personal experience. Fuller details can be found via the links provided at the end.

Apart from a bar code and ‘printed by Amazon,’ you are solely responsible for creating the book content and cover. You also have control over many aspects of pricing and marketing. You can update the cover and/or the contents at any time, even after publishing, and it takes just a few hours for the new version to become active. You can also unpublish your book at any time.

Another self-publishing website is CreateSpace. I don’t have experience of that, but you may be interested to check it out. Some say they prefer it. All I can say is the quality of my KDP book is GREAT and it was relatively easy to do!

Remember, that self-publishing a book is NOT the same as selling a book! You are not going to get the publicity of a professionally published book with a publishing company behind you. However, whether you are aiming to sell a lot of copies or just to produce a book primarily for friends and family, the procedure is the same.

PAPERBACK PRODUCTION

Firstly though, do you have enough quality articles for a collection? The book doesn’t have to be large, it can be just thirty pages or so, or it can be as thick as you like. You have to be realistic here. Although it won’t cost you anything, you should aim to put a quality product out there. The feedback you get about your blog should be helpful here, as well as constructive criticism from knowledgeable friends.

Secondly, as you will be designing the book yourself, you need to know how to format and punctuate your work correctly. If not, you can research it or get someone who DOES know to help out.

So, the first step is to prepare the MS (manuscript). Depending on how you created your blog you will either assemble the content by combining documents already saved in your word processor, or by copying and pasting from your blog into a new document.

KDP provide downloadable templates, which you may wish to investigate. I didn’t personally use one, so I will describe how I did it myself.

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PAPER BACK ‘TRIM SIZE’

When you create a paperback, you will need to decide on the ‘trim size,’ or the actual size of the book. The default size on KDP is 6” x 9”. That is actually quite large. A more usual size is 5” x 7.75”. Once the book is published you CANNOT change the trim size so be sure you select a size you’ll be happy with. Having said that, the 6” x 9” size makes for a substantial book that looks very impressive!

To find the size options, you will follow steps one and two in the second paragraph of this article, entering your name and a provisional title. You don’t have to upload anything at this stage and can just ‘save and exit.’

Having left my trim size set to the default, I then set the page size in my word processor to these same dimensions i.e. 6” x 9”. I set a margin of 2 cm. top and bottom, 2.25 inner margin and 1.75 outer margin, and 1 cm. footer margin (for page numbers). I used Times New Roman 13 point with single line spacing to give a pleasantly sized, easy-to-read text. It also suited the length of my stories perfectly, fitting 200 word stories onto one page. You may well choose a slightly smaller font though. I also opted to keep the right hand margin unjustified, although it is more usual for this to be justified.

You can print out a couple of pages of 6 x 9, or whatever, onto A4 to assess the overall appearance, but later on you will be able to preview it on-screen in a realistic format.

WORD PROCESSORS

Now, if you have a PC, chances are that you will be working with Word, in which case you shouldn’t have many problems, it works well with KDP and their help-desk is geared up to it.

If you are using a Mac (as I was) then if you are using the current version of Pages then, unfortunately, you are out of luck! You will need to view the pages side by side to control the layout, the so-called ‘two up’ view, and the ‘new’ version of Pages doesn’t have it. It also doesn’t have the ability to set internal hyperlinks, which you will need for the Kindle contents page. (This is the so-called ‘upgrade’ BTW!)

I used the Pages ’09 version with very few problems.

THE MANUSCRIPT AND CONTENTS TABLE

So you will now assemble the MS (manuscript), keeping the layout user-friendly. In my book I started all two page stories on the left hand page, and also made sure that any pages with just one or two sentences fell on a right hand page. You want to avoid awkward page turns and you may wish to start all articles on the right hand page for example. You can look through a few books on your shelves to get an idea.

You will need to construct a TOC (table of contents), which is also helpful for keeping an eye on the order you put your articles/stories in. The actual page numbers can be filled in afterwards.

I made a TOC in a separate spreadsheet program (Numbers ’09), which copied well to the paperback MS. However, it didn’t work well with the Kindle version, so for that I used the ‘table’ feature in Pages. As there are 111 stories (!) in my book, that was a lot more work than most people are going to have to do. So you can use a similar ‘table’ or ‘column’ feature of whatever word processor you are using.

PRELIMS

The prelims or preliminary pages are the ones that precede the actual text. These include the title page, copyright notice, dedication, forward, etc. and TOC. These pages are numbered with lower case roman numerals. Normal numbering, starting from page 1, begins on the first page of actual text. To do this in my word processor (Mac Pages ’09) I had to learn how to split the MS into two sections. Then I numbered each separately using the appropriate number system. Not difficult though, once you know how of course!

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UPLOADING CONTENT

You don’t need to have finished your MS to upload content. You can have a trial with a preliminary version to see how the process works. Basically you export your MS as a PDF file (the preferred format, although there are others) and then, in the second page of the KDP creation screen, click on ‘Upload paperback manuscript,’ browse to your PDF file and click on ‘open’ (or whatever) to upload it. Depending on the size of the book this will take a few minutes.

Whenever you upload content it automatically replaces the previous content.

If there are any spelling errors you are taken to a screen where you have the option to ‘ignore’ them. Alternatively, you can exit, fix them in your MS and re-upload. You can click on a button at this stage to have a list of the spelling queries e-mailed to you.

COVER CREATION

Your book cover is obviously of paramount importance as this is what will be displayed on Amazon. You can either use a cover you have designed in an external program, or KDP have a cover creation screen, on the same page as the ‘Upload paperback manuscript’ button. Click on it and you will be given the opportunity to upload an image and to select a design from various templates.

There is a KDP image gallery but it is very poor. I used an image from Google Images for Bound in Morocco and an image from Pixabay for To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories. Pixabay is good as the images are high quality and free.

The only problem I found here was that the design I chose for To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories (multiple clocks and part of a lady’s face) is very ‘busy’ and I couldn’t find any text colour for the book description that worked over the image. Surprisingly, the program doesn’t have the facility to put a block of colour on the cover for the text to be placed on, so I had to put my book description on the first page of the prelims.

There is also a space for information about the author and for you to upload a photograph. The cover creation program is quite flexible in terms of the fonts, font sizes and colour combinations you can select. I found it fairly straightforward and was very pleased with both of my covers in the end.

BOOK PREVIEW

Once you have created a suitable cover and uploaded a MS you are ready to preview the book. You simply click on ‘Launch Previewer,’ at the bottom of the screen. The preview takes a few minutes to prepare, then you will see quite a realistic view of the book, where you can look through the pages to check the format, and even read the text, although it’s quite small. If you are not happy with any aspect of the book (quite likely!) you would exit the program here and either upload a corrected MS and/or go into the cover creation program to fix any issues there. 

When you are happy, you click on ‘save and approve’ and then ‘approve.’ However, you can re-upload a corrected MS and/or change the cover at any time, even after publication. In the latter case it usually takes less than a day for the changes to take effect in the published product. That’s a fantastic facility and one I hadn’t expected.

PRICING

Once you’ve approved the book as above you proceed to the pricing screen. The first time you publish on KDP you have to do a ‘tax interview,’ which takes a few minutes. As a non-US citizen I just had to mainly answer ‘no.’

Then you have to supply some international banking info. which can be obtained from your bank statement.

The way I priced my books was as follows. Firstly, I selected a paperback price that seemed realistic. Your royalty is 60% but the cost of the paperback comes out of this. To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, which is 256 pages, is charged at £3.30 to print a copy. The screen tells you how much you will earn per sale after deductions, VAT etc., so if you wanted to make, say, £2 per sale, you would adjust the price of the paperback accordingly to give this profit. You don’t want to set the book price too high but you don’t want to make too little profit either.

You choose a primary sales country (the default is U.S.A.), then all other prices are set from this, although they can be individually adjusted. Paperbacks have six sales zones and Kindle eBooks have 12. I left the primary sales country set to USA and then set a slightly different price for the UK, to give a more ‘rounded’ figure.

Finally, when all the above has been done, you are ready to hit the ‘publish’ button! Remember that your book will shortly be available for sale, so be sure it is a professional product. Although you can make changes, you don’t want anyone to buy it in the meantime and be unhappy, thus leaving a bad review! Also, that opens the ‘returns’ can of worms. There is no provision for proof copies so you will need to order a copy ASAP to check through it for errors. Then you will correct the MS and re-upload, as described above.

COPYRIGHT WARNING

You are likely to get an e-mail, warning you that your content has been found on-line (if you select some text from one of your articles and paste it into Google then it will likely come up in many places where it’s been cached). You are asked to confirm that you are the copyright owner (if it’s all your own work then you are). So, in this instance, you proceed to your ‘Bookshelf’ on the KDP site, go into the title in question, go through to page 3 (Pricing) and click on Publish again.

There are some restrictions about what you are supposed to display on your blog versus what is in your book, which you can read if interested!

KINDLE eBOOK PRODUCTION

An eBook is quite a bit easier to produce than a paperback as there is much less to design. You don’t have to publish a paperback at all of course, although I think most of us would love to see an actual physical copy of our work!

Firstly you copy your paperback MS to a new file or start a new one (as described above) if you didn’t make a paperback. Kindle doesn’t use page numbers so disable this feature. Because of the different look of eBooks on different viewers and with different fonts it’s hard to control the format, but you don’t want headers to come at the bottom of a page for example. So I went through the whole MS, putting in page breaks before every heading and sub-heading. I found it necessary to do a ‘carriage return,’ then to add a page break, to get the right on-screen appearance. Indent settings are preserved though.

That’s really all you have to do with regard to the MS, but you will likely need an active TOC (table of contents) or readers cannot easily locate chapters.

In my program (Mac Pages ’09) I had to go through the whole book, clicking all 111 story headings and creating bookmarks from each. Then in the TOC I created hyperlinks to jump to these bookmarks. Tricky at first but easy once understood.

With Word there is an easier way to do this I understand, for which info is freely available.

The cover is created in a similar way to the paperback, but even if you designed a paperback cover in their program, you have to do it all over again for the eBook. Also, there’s nowhere to display the book description (there is no rear cover), so you need to put that in the prelims.

Having prepared the eBook as above you are ready to upload the file and preview it. The preferred format is .doc or .docx but there are a number of others.  In my case I didn’t have the option to export to .docx and none of the other formats offered by my program preserved both italics AND the hyperlinks (aargh!). So I (eventually) used Zamzar, the brilliant free online resource, to convert my .pages file to .docx, which worked perfectly.

You can preview onscreen, or the way I prefer is to use the downloadable Kindle previewer app, which you can download from the Upload Manuscript screen. Then you will need to download an HTML version of your file, from the same screen. Then you locate this on your computer, unzip it and navigate to it from the previewer.

The previewer lets you simulate phone, tablet or Kindle and you can choose a wider variety of fonts than the on-screen viewer.

Once you are happy with the look of your eBook (and chances are you are going to have to modify your MS, re-upload and re-download another HTML version two, three or even more times!) you proceed to the Pricing screen, set your price and primary zone as discussed below, and click the Publish button. Again, you can easily make changes after publishing.

PRICING E-BOOKS

I found that Kindle prices vary wildly on published books. After a few false starts I decided to price my eBook such that I make about the same profit as for the paperback. This selling price will be considerably lower as you don’t have to pay for paperback production and the royalty can be higher too.

You have the option to join Kindle Select and to choose either 35% or 70% royalty. I couldn’t see any advantage to the lower rate, so chose 70%, leaving the primary sales zone set to USA and, again, adjusting the UK price to give a more ‘normal’ figure. Personally I couldn’t see any reason not to join Kindle Select either, which gives you additional revenue streams.

CHECKING SALES/GETTING PAID

KDP has a comprehensive online sales report page where you can easily track your sales and royalties. The first royalty payment is not made until 60 days after the end of the month in which your book first appeared for sale.

AUDIOBOOKS

Well, the idea of turning your book into an audiobook may seem like another pipe dream, but again, it is a realistic aim! The company you deal with is ACX, Audiobook Creation Exchange. There is a sizeable audiobook creation ‘home industry’ with tens of thousands of ‘voice actors’ registered. They are known as ‘producers’ as they usually produce the finished product too.

If you think a collection of your blog articles/stories would make a good audiobook (and there are guidelines to this on the ACX site) then you register your details and upload a few pages of your book. This is then searchable by prospective producers. If they like the sound of it they may choose to ‘audition’ it, i.e. produce an audio clip of them reading it. You can then listen to any auditions and, if you like them, contact the producer.

Alternatively, you can easily search the producers by genre/accent etc. and listen to samples of their readings.  It will say if they take on split-royalty work (see below) or not, and their hourly rate for up-front payments. Then you can click on a button to ‘make an offer’ for them to record your work. You indicate the date you require the audiobook to be completed and a time from one to three days for them to respond.

There are currently nearly 50,000 producers registered (about 5,000 of whom are ‘Audible approved) and only 1,750 books registered. So on the face of it the chances are good that you can find someone suitable to produce an audiobook for you.

The cost of producing the audiobook is charged by finished hour. So, for example, my book To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, is 256 pages long and would take about six hours to read aloud, according to ACX. The minimum charge is $225 per hour, so that would be about $1350 or £1050.

If you give exclusive rights to Audible, Amazon and iTunes, then you receive a 40% royalty on sales. If not, it’s 25%. Assuming you choose to do so (and why not?!) then you receive the full 40% royalty if you pay the producer upfront. Or you and the producer may agree to split the royalty, in which case you don’t pay anything up front. Then you and the producer both receive 20% forever. Bear in mind that most Audible audiobooks are sold for £8 or less, and, of course, the producer would have to be willing to gamble on producing an audiobook for an unknown author.

In a similar way to the book creation program, there are three screens to go through. When you get to the final screen you will be required (at some stage) to complete a ‘tax interview’ and provide international banking details. You have to do this even if you already provided the information in the KDP book creation program.

CONCLUSION

So I hope this article has been helpful in providing a useful outline of the self-publishing route. With the technology now available to print ‘on demand’ books of a very high quality at a realistic price, if you have the content, then there’s really nothing to stop you!

LINKS

Kindle Direct Publishing:

https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/

https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help?ref_=TN_help

(You can contact the help desk via the button in the bottom left hand corner, then subsequent contact (if required) can be conducted by replying to their e-mails. They normally respond within 24-48 hours to the initial query.)

Creating a copyright page for your book:

https://kindlepreneur.com/book-copyright-page-examples-ebook/

Free file conversion:

http://www.zamzar.com/

Audiobook Creation Exchange:

http://www.acx.com/

http://www.acx.com/help/how-it-works/200484210

My KDP published books:

https://simonjwood.wordpress.com/books-by-simon-j-wood/

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