Etymology Excavation: Toe the line

Etymology Excavation: Toe the line

‘Toe the line’ means to follow orders, to do as you’re told, conform to a set standard, or to not rock the boat. An alternative phrase that means exactly the same thing is ‘toe the mark’.

It’s often misspelt as ‘tow the line’, since the nautical term to tow something (drag something behind a boat via a line) sounds very similar, and also involves lines (usually, a rope).

Common theories on the origins of the expression include sporting events, where athletes line up with their toes literally on a line; the armed forces; and English public schools, where students would line up for roll-call. Wikipedia offers some entertaining alternatives, including lines separating armed politicians by a minimum distance to restore decorum during heated debates.

Examples of ‘toe the line’:

If you want to keep your job, you’d better toe the line.

She toed the party line when it came to immigration.

This phrase is very common in UK and US English, as is, unfortunately, the misspelling I noted earlier. Sources are notably unclear on when exactly it came into use, but the practice of scratching a line in the dirt to serve as a starting point for races, duels, or even ‘cross this and I’ll turn you into jam’ has been around for at least a couple of centuries – most likely, much longer.

It’s a nice colour phrase that usually adds a slightly ominous shading to the context, and could be used in most contemporary fiction. In sci-fi or fantasy genres, it could be adapted to match a culture from your world, and shouldn’t be used verbatim. In historical fiction, you run the risk of anachronism without doing a lot more careful checking on exactly when the phrase started to be used.

What is etymology, and why are you excavating it?

Etymology is like the archeology of a language (definition: the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history).

E-book publishing 101: Amazon KDP

E-book publishing 101: Amazon KDP

In the beginning, there were the words

So you’ve got a book, a novella, an anthology or some other wonderful and unique permutation of the written word, and you’ve decided to publish independently. Good for you. This means you skidded exuberantly through a first draft, survived the long dark tea time of the soul known as editing, discovered just how bad MS Word spellcheck can be, found beta readers, revised their feedback into your Meisterwerk, edited some more, and you’re getting to the point of wondering WTF comes next.

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, or Amazon KDP for those of us in the biz, is the one that comes immediately to mind. After all, Amazon is well-known, they’re everywhere, and best of all, they make it really easy for novice authors.

However, don’t forget that there are other options (yes, free to use). I’m also going to talk about Smashwords, Kobo, and Google Play in subsequent posts. These also all let you get your stuff out there, and take a very small percentage of your book price for it – no upfront costs.

Disclaimer – I publish with Amazon KDP, among others.

Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)

Bare essentials:

  • Working Internet browser
  • Word processing software, ditto functional.
  • Your Amazon user name and password, if you have them (no worries if not, you can set this up as you go).
  • Manuscript, ideally in Word .doc / .docx.
  • Your teaser / blurb / back cover text.
  • Book cover
    • For the love of all and any deities, if there’s one thing you’re going to splurge on, splurge on a professional cover. Seriously. Really. Don’t photograph your four-year-old niece’s really cute finger painting and then use MS Paint to stick a title on it. Go and find a good cover artist and get a cover that you can be proud of.
    • Read the KDP cover guidelines.
  • Your bank account details, including the international codes.
    • Probably your bank’s online help will give you this, but if not, give them a call and hold out for a human with a clue.
  • Your tax details
    • Amazon won’t pay you unless they know that you’re either paying tax in the States, or where you are paying it. (Go figure.) If you aren’t American, or lucky enough to live in a country with a tax relationship with the USA, this bit will get tedious. Fair warning.
  • A LOT of patience. Don’t rush this. Don’t hit ‘go’ before your book is set to be the best it can be.

Start here

Go and find the Amazon KDP site. Your first step will be to create your KDP account. They tell you how to do that in their Help section, so I won’t go into it again here. You’ll need that user name and password, your bank account details, and the tax details for this bit. (Oh, yeah – good luck. This is the most tedious, frustrating bit of the process.)

Once you’ve got your account set up with KDP, you need to click through to your Bookshelf. You’ll be faced with that ‘Create new title’ option. (Also, seriously, go and look at their ‘Getting started’ tips.)

Now we’re cooking…

Enter your book details. Hopefully by this point, you know your title, your own name (please don’t tell me if not), and you have some back blurb.

Don’t automatically go with ‘Enroll in Kindle Select’. The pros are that you get some promotional options, and people with Kindle Unlimited can read your stuff for free (yes, you still get paid), and this may make them more likely to take a flyer on you. The big con is…you can’t publish on any other platform while you’re in Kindle Select. Choose wisely.

Work your way through the options – they’ll be different for each book and author.

Categories and Keywords

Pick your two categories. I’d recommend one fairly generic catchall, and one category that’s a little smaller, so you aren’t #3,895,923 in both categories.

Spend a bit of thought on your keywords. These are your opportunity to grab the attention of a wider audience, beyond your categories. Is your work ‘character driven’? Is is a genre crossover with anything? What would you type into the search bar to find your book? Also, clearly, use all seven. It’s free publicity.

A good hack is to go and spy on other authors in your genre. What are their categories? Would they work for your book? Do they have any good keywords in their blurbs, or in their subtitles?

Between the covers

Now – upload your cover. Because you weren’t an idiot (right?), you read the cover guidelines and/or used a professional cover designer, and it meets the file type and formatting standards. Now you get to look at it, looking all official in your set up page.

I would stop right here and spend a moment gloating. Think of it as a reward for slogging through the mire of bank account and tax set up.

Next is the big bit. Now you upload your beautiful, formatted manuscript, complete with table of contents, copyright wording, the flowery dedication to the corner pub for the inspiration, your local café for letting you write all afternoon for one cup of coffee, your Great Aunt Mae for being your beta reader, etc., etc. If you did your homework, and read the formatting instructions, and did a reasonable job  on the editing (don’t skip editing. First, it makes you look like a cretin, and second, Amazon is bringing in the option for people to flag your book if it reads as if you just graduated elementary school), then it should upload nicely.

Look at it, admire it, CHECK IT

Now – preview your book. Yeah, we know, you spent all that time formatting it, and getting the table of contents just right was murder. Suck it up, princess. This is actually another gloatable moment, because…there’s your book, right there, looking like a real ebook. Flick through and make sure everything looks the way you thought it was going to look.

Now you get to click ‘Save and continue’.

Pricing and channels

Next page sets up your royalties and pricing.

Basically, Amazon lets you set up shop on their site for free. They make their money (as do you) when you sell a book. They charge you an amount from your book price based on some alchemy around storing and transferring your book file to the reader. All the rest is yours. Not a bad deal, compared to the pittance a traditional publisher will give you when they sell a copy of your book.

Pick your book price. Oddly enough, cheaper isn’t always better. (Yes, I am going to stand this up with some sources – patience, grasshopper.) For an average novel length (75K – 150k words, let’s say), the recommended price point for sales versus being taken seriously tends to be about $2.99 – $3.99 USD for most genres.

Who died and made me God? Here’s some articles on book pricing you can check out.

Then set up your royalties. I go for 70%, because eh, why not, but where you live, whether or not you enrolled in Kindle Select, etc., will all impact your options here. You can also decide if you’ll give people who buy your print book a free ebook version (assuming you do decide to go with a print copy).

Now…hit ‘Save and Publish’.

Congratulations, you’re a published author!

You can add it to your resumé. Actually, I recommend adding it to your resumé. And your LinkedIn. And tell your friends. Not to mention, Tweet all about it, and make a snazzy Instagram image or Pin it on Pinterest (I like Pablo by Buffer for creating nice images for Tweeting, Pinning, etc.), or whatever your social media vices of choice are. After all, no one will know about your book unless you tell them about it.

Help, I’m a pantser

Help, I’m a pantser

Writing by the seat of your pants

…in the beginning, there was a thought.

And the thought would not go away.

And the thought took root and multiplied.

And people in meetings spake, and asked: what were you drawing in your notes?

And lo, you woke up in the night, and the thoughts bore fruit.

And the next day, you started writing and didn’t stop for air.

Writing as a pantser is actually pretty much exactly like that. Especially when your characters happen to be elite mercenaries, with years of training in breaking down defences. Mine progress remarkably quickly from polite reminders that it’s been a while since I wrote to sleep deprivation techniques.

But 75,000 words’ worth?

Actually, yes, surprisingly easily. Most of my manuscripts, after all the various levels of edit have been applied, work out to 85 – 100K words. I have no idea how someone can sit down, figure out exactly what is going to happen in a book…and then write a full manuscript despite that. I write books because I want to find out what happens, and the only way I can do that is to start writing. Well, that, and it’s the only reliable  way to make the voices in my head shut up.

A lot of people figure that pantsers don’t plan and outline because they’re either lazy, and will never finish a book, or because they’re inherently disorganised and their books will be chaotic.

Would it perhaps surprise you to know that J. R. R. Tolkien was a pantser?

I think it’s highly appropriate, therefore, that a quote from J. R. R. Tolkien pretty much describes how I feel about writing: Bilbo’s walking song.

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”

But, as a pantser, how do you keep track?

Oh, I have some notes. But when I say ‘some notes’ I mean about a page and half of Times New 12pt, for things that keep showing up but I can’t be bothered to devote brain-space to – Khyria’s ID code is one of those things. Much easier to pull up a notes file, and copy and paste the darn thing. Then I don’t drop consistency errors all over my readers, and I don’t have to re-read my entire series again to track down one elusive reference.

Fine. I don’t have to re-read my entire series often to track down one elusive reference. Happy?

Being a pantser does have one massive drawback. I hate SEO. I loathe it. If you want to write truly effective posts for SEO, or even something like a bio, you have to plan it. you have to have a list of keywords, and you have to have a system for getting them all in there without keyword stuffing.

I’ve compromised. That compromise is that I will never be great at SEO, but I will continue to enjoy writing.

I’ll take Death over the Tower

I’ll take Death over the Tower

I’ll take Death over the Tower any day

My living room windows blew in, less than a second after I hit the deck under my table. Sadly, this kind of thing happens often enough that my reaction is reflexive. The howling and the light show, those were new.

I should stop reading the Tarot. I tell myself this often – almost as often as I read the damn things. The problem is, I have to wonder, if I didn’t read the cards…who’s to say the same crap wouldn’t still happen, but without any warning?

I’m Maurice Ferland. I read the Tarot. I also listen to the dead (try and get a word in edgeways and you’ll see why I put it that way), know enough about herbs to sound convincing, and can draw really cool shit with coloured chalk. Because I’m…who I am, these things are a little more effective for me than the other gris-gris totin’, rum-drinkin’, chicken-frightenin’ types you can find taking easy money off tourists.

They say my grandmother sold her soul to the Devil, but frankly, I doubt it. A devil, maybe. The Devil has nearly as many layers of flunkies between him and the public as the President, and I doubt grand-mère would have had the patience. Still. I wish the old bastard a good morning every time I turn over his card…just in case.

S E Sasaki, Galaxy of Authors

S E Sasaki, Galaxy of Authors

S E Sasaki

‘So many books, so little time!’

Buy the books!

In the beginning, tell me what made you decide to start writing.

I was always writing from a small child. I always had a pad of paper and a pencil or pen and I was always writing stories. I lived in my head. Then I went to school, did a B.Sc. and a Master of Science degree in Neurophysiology, went into medicine and practiced Family Practice for over twenty years, raising two kids and running a solo rural GP office. Twice I burned out. I did not realize it at the time, but I had suppressed the stories for so long that I think I was dying inside. I retired from family practice and started assisting in surgery, which freed up my mind enough to allow the stories to come back. Now I write my stories and still work but I am a lot happier. If you are a writer, you have to let the stories out.

Are there any authors or artists who influenced you?

Many! Frank Herbert, Roger Zelazny, J.R.R. Tolkien, William Gibson, Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, Anne McCaffrey, Terry Pratchett, Lois McMaster Bujold, Neal Stephenson, Ian McDonlad, Steven Erikson to name a few.

Tell me about your series.

In Space, Medicine Can Be Murder

I started the series about a medical space station to give people a taste of what it is like to work in an emergency medical facility where you never knew what was coming in next. I placed it in the future so I could address issues in today’s world but push it far enough away so I could extrapolate on problems. Prejudice. Immortality. Artificial Intelligence. Superbugs. Abuse of Technology. Man’s abuse of Nature. War. Intolerance. Racism. Religious Intolerance. These are just some of the issues I try and tackle in my books but the themes are often hidden. You have to look for them. I like to ask, ‘What if?’ ‘If we do nothing, what then?’

  • Welcome to the Madhouse (Book One of The Grace Lord Series)

  • Bud by the Grace of God (Book Two of The Grace Lord Series)

  • Amazing Grace (Book Three of The Grace Lord Series)

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

I have a YA science fiction novel, titled Hiro’s Hardship, on which I am going through the final edit. Book Four of the Grace Lord Series, Saving Grace, has been completed in rough draft and needs to be polished up for the editor. I have a fantasy trilogy for which books one and two are done and book three partway written in rough draft. So much to do, so little time!

Tell me about a principal character in your book. What makes them memorable?

Most people tell me they LOVE Bud. Bud is the android who falls in love with my protagonist Doctor Grace Lord at first sight. Bud is a ‘budding’ AI and has trouble dealing with his new-found emotions. He is constantly making modifications on himself to better protect Grace and he follows her everywhere, unbeknownst to her. Bud is learning what it is to be human, but will never be accepted by the society as such. Saving the medical station from destruction on several occasions, he is a rather tragic, lovelorn hero.

Indie or traditionally published – and why?

I am old! A publisher offered to publish Welcome to the Madhouse and Bud by the Grace of God but it was not going to be published until 2021 or later because of their schedule. I was afraid I would be dead by then! I could not afford to do the agent hunt thing as it would take too long. I could be dead before I ever saw anything in print, so I decided to publish as an Indie author. The traditional publishers are taking fewer chances with new authors and you have to publish before an agent will show any interest in you.

It’s said to write well, you need to read a lot. What do you think?

I agree completely with that statement, especially in science fiction. You need to know your genre. You need to write in a fashion that readers will enjoy and want to come back to you. You need to understand about plot and theme, conflict and character development, spelling and grammar, and you need to develop a writing style that resonates with your audience. You must read to know what people like, what has been done before, what is original. Especially in science fiction, where the readers are quite intelligent and particular about their science, if you don’t get the science right, they will immediately put the book down.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? What do you think of the opposite approach?

I have to say that I am somewhat of a pantser. I know where I would like the book to go but often times it does not get there! I have tried to completely plot out the entire book in advance, but once I had done that, I was so bored with the project, I could not even start on the writing of the book. I guess I write to find out what is going to happen and, believe it or not, I am always surprised!

Tell me about one favourite hobby or pastime that isn’t writing or reading.

I also paint collages using acrylic paint and Japanese papers. I have won best artwork in show twice at Ad Astra in Toronto for my dragon collages and I have shown at the World Fantasy Convention in Washington. You can see some of my pieces on my website at

What is your opinion on the belief that Indie books are badly edited and lower quality than traditionally published?

I believe there is some truth to that. I have read some Indie books that should not be published. They are badly written and should not be out there. On the other hand, I have read some Indie works that are very well written and excellent reads. The problem is determining which is which and there are a lot of books out there with false 5-star recommendations. I use a very experienced editor that edits for a publishing firm (which publishes science fiction and fantasy) and he has been editing for 30 years. He is expensive, but he is worth every penny. If he tells me to rewrite the first half of the book, I rewrite the first half of the book. As a writer, one has to be open to criticism and learn everything you can from everyone more experienced than you. I don’t know if most Indie writers hire top level editors or even take their advice. Because the traditional publishers are feeling the pinch of competition, I believe the books that get traditionally published these days either have to be by a successful author like Patterson, who just has ghost writers churning them out every month or it has to be an exceptional story, if it is a first time author.

Sharon, thank you for participating in Galaxy of Authors!

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