Archive for the ‘publishing’ Tag

A Few Words On Self-Publishing

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

The rise of the e-book has led to an increase in self-publishing.  Never has it been easier to self-publish your book.  In fact all you actually need to do is format your manuscript correctly, add a cover image, upload it to Kindle and there it is, available to download to whoever wants it.

This is a pretty controversial subject.  A lot of people in the publishing industry are of the opinion that every self-published book is badly written and badly edited, and anyone with any modicum of talent will eventually be picked up by a “proper” publisher.

The self published authors tell a different story.  Most of them have been discouraged by years of rejections, convinced that their book is not necessarily bad, but not marketable enough to be picked up.  Sometimes there is truth to this belief.  Of course there are a lot of delusional people out there as well, but that’s digressing a bit.

When I first started submitting novels to publishers, over 25 years ago, the process was very different.  To get a publisher you had to get an agent.  That meant sending in the first three chapters, by mail, including a stamped self-addressed return envelope.  To get the latter meant standing in line at the post office with your open envelope, having it weighed to find out how much postage would cost, buying that amount twice, then having to remove the SAE to put stamps on it, seal your envelope, and then put stamps on the outer envelope.  And then a couple of weeks later you’d get home from work to discover a brown envelope with your handwriting on the doorstep, and your heart would sink because you knew that it was another rejection.

And after all that, the pages would come back having been all creased and curled in the mail, and not in a fit state to send out to anyone else and so as well as having to buy so many stamps you were spending a fortune on paper and ink (I had an Amstrad PCW in those days – it used a dot matrix printer).

Vanity presses we knew to avoid at all costs, and self publishing wasn’t a terribly attractive option, because you had to lay out costs for printing and typesetting, and find somewhere to store the finished product, and anything self-published was perceived to be of insufficent quality to find a publisher

The publishing industry has changed since then.  There are a lot more small independent presses around willing to take a chance on new writers, and you don’t need an agent to submit to them, but it seems to be getting harder for new writers to break into the big established publishers – unless they are showing signs of being the next JK Rowlings or Dan Brown.  And online e-publishers like Amazon and Smashwords are making it far easier to self-publish e-books.

I have to admit my tune has changed on the self-publishing front.  If you get bored of being told what you’re writing isn’t going to sell, then self publishing becomes an attractive option.  But it is true that there are a lot of self-published books out there that are badly written and badly edited, and really aren’t helping to dispel this notion that all self-published books are rubbish.

In my opinion, there are three crucial things that a writer should do before they even consider self-publishing.  In order of importance, they are:

1.  When the manuscript is finished, send it to some beta readers to read and comment.  Heed their comments and re-write the manuscript.  Criticism can be hard to take, but most writers are too close to their work to be able to judge it obectively.  A writing group is really helpful for this.  If you can’t find one locally, go to an online writers’ forum like Absolute Write.  You’ll pick up valuable advice on the writing process anyway, and you will undoubtedly find a few helpful souls who are willing to give you an email crit.

2.  Pay a professional editor to edit your manuscript.  This can be expensive, but you need to invest in it, and it will set you apart from the rank amateurs.  No matter how good you think you are at spelling and grammar, there’ll always be something you overlook.  Just about every self-published book I have ever read contains at least one instance of “it’s” when should be “its” – for the record, the former is a contraction of “it is”; the latter means “belonging to it”.  If I come across this in any published book, I’ll be grinding my teeth and probably won’t finish reading it.

3.  Ensure your book has a professional looking cover.  And this does not mean you playing around with clip art and a graphics programme for half an hour.  Pay an artist, or someone with professional experience in creating cover images.  If you don’t know anyone, ask around your social network for a recommendation.

There’s nothing wrong with self publishing your own book as long as you’ve done these three things.  Yes it means forking out cash, but you are investing in your reputation as a writer, and if readers buy your book and enjoy it, they are likely to recommend it to others – and nothing beats word of mouth when it comes to book sales.

If every self-published author did these things, we would go a long way towards changing the perception of self-published books as all being rubbish.  There are some brilliant self-published e-books to be found in the Kindle Store.  But sometimes you have to sift through a lot of mud to find the golden nuggets.

Let’s work towards a world where there’s more gold than mud out there to find.

 

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End of an Era

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Most books aren’t published forever. Print publishers make room for new titles by having limited print runs, and backlisted titles that don’t sell are often not reprinted. Since e-books are technically forever, e-book publishers often deal with this by offering time-limited contracts.

Sadly, this means that my three-year contract with Lyrical Press for SUFFER THE CHILDREN has now come to an end. The e-book in its current format has disappeared from all online retailers. This has been a hard thing to deal with. It’s particularly depressing to discover that it’s gone from the Amazon Kindle list, along with the handful of generally positive reviews it had notched up. Somehow seeing it on Amazon made me feel validated as an author.

However, the good news is that with the end of the contract, the rights have reverted back to me, to do with them as I see fit. And SUFFER THE CHILDREN will return as an e-book, although with a different cover. In fact, I’ve commissioned an artist I know to work on the new cover image. Watch this space for more information.

In the meantime, SUFFER THE CHILDREN is still on Goodreads – at least it is at present. With the recent news about Amazon taking over Goodreads, who knows what’s going to happen. For now, at least, it’s there, along with a few reviews that people have posted there. So if you enjoyed SUFFER THE CHILDREN, why not go post a review there? It might help me boost sales when the rebooted version is released.

If you didn’t get around to buying it, all is not lost, as it will be back in the near future. In the meantime, you could try DEATH SCENE or SOUL SCREAMS while you wait. Both of them are still available from Amazon…

Another Rung of the Ladder

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

The illustrious Mike Carey, in a talk to the T Party writers’ group, once told us that success in his writing career did not come from one big break – instead it was a series of fortuitous small breaks. Success comes gradually, with each new milestone worth marking off. There are a lot of significant milestones over the years that I decided were worth celebrating as I forge the road of my writing career. The first professionally published story (1989). The first novel contract (2009, for SUFFER THE CHILDREN). Seeing the first novel cover. Seeing the finished book for the first time was exciting, even though it arrived as an email file and not a print copy. Holding the first print book (2012, SOUL SCREAMS) for the first time was equally exciting. My first ‘proper’ signing session, at the BFS open night, for the paperback version of SOUL SCREAMS was a thrill.

All of these things have been significant milestones, to me, in the journey from Writer to Author. They mark the way to writing as a career, instead of just a hobby.

Another First Milestone has recently come my way. This year’s EasterCon (officially titled EightSquaredCon) has published their list of ‘Attending Authors‘. And I am on it. That’s very exciting – I’m normally in the regular delegates list.

I’ve also been asked to participate in a panel at EasterCon. This is my first panel, and a big moment. Since the schedule’s not published yet I’m not going to say too much about this, but needless to say it marks another ‘First’.

From being very young, the only thing I ever wanted to be was a writer. As each milestone is achieved and I check it off my List of Dreams, I move the goalposts a bit and set it ever higher. The Ultimate Dream is being able to make enough money from the writing to quit the day job. That might never happen, but setting the smaller goals in the meantime means that with every little goal I check off, every step of the ladder I take, I’m just that little bit closer.

The Future of Publishing

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Bricks-and-mortar book shops have been having a bad time of late.  Borders was the latest big chain to file for bankruptcy.  In the UK, the only book store chain still in existence in Waterstones, and there are very few independent book shops left.

Meanwhile the popularity of e-books continues to rise. Some Internet murmurings suggest that the rise of e-books is directly responsible for the downfall of bricks-and-mortar book shops.

It could be argued, however, that the demise of the book shop is not down to e-books but online retailers like Amazon, as people switch to doing their shopping online, in the comfort of their own homes.

E-books are not going away any time soon, and the publishing industry, like it or not, has to adapt accordingly.  Readers do not expect to pay the same price for an e-book as they do for a hardback.  Some readers may prefer to buy the e-book instead of the paper book, but some readers might buy both – they might go to the signing session and buy a pristine hardback copy to keep on their shelf, and buy the e-book as well to read on their daily commute.  A few savvy publishers have started to issue the e-book version free to anyone that buys the hardback – this seems like  an excellent idea, and will encourage more readers to fork out for the hardback. I myself am reluctant to buy hardbacks, as I do most of my reading on my commute to work. If the e-book was thrown in for free, I might be more inclined to buy the two-for-one, so that I could keep the hardback pristine and shiny on my book shelf whilst reading the e-book on my way to work.

There appears to be some fear that e-books will kill off paper books. There is also a fear of piracy. My view all along has been that there is room in the industry for both, and that the best way to combat piracy is to make books freely available, in all formats and in all regions. Get rid of the DRM system, and make e-books available in a universal format that can be read on all e-readers.

A lot of people claim they are suspicious of e-books because they like the smell and feel of old paper books. Yet I’ve spoken to many such people, who, upon finding themselves in possession of an e-reader, soon come to adore it. I myself am in this category. Liking e-books doesn’t mean one has to stop buying paper books. I just find myself buying even more books these days. I still buy paper books, but I buy far more e-books because I don’t have to worry about storage space for e-books.

Another interesting factor, though, is that people who were never readers of paper books but are into gadgets, gain possession of an e-reader and soon find themselves vociferous readers. If e-readers are encouraging more people to read, that’s another big point in their favour.

E-books might be the future of publishing, but paper books have their place too. Ultimately the aim of the publishing industry is to get more people to read. Format and retail habits should be secondary – as long as people are buying books to read, does it really matter what format they are in?

Bad Books – Good For Authors?

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

This post is about a certain type of book. I’m not naming any names, but I’ve come across a few in this category, and I’m sure you have too.

It’s a type of book published by a major publishing house. It starts to sell. Suddenly it’s selling very well. Then it’s selling extremely well. Word spreads, and sales go supernova. The reviews are mixed. There are as many people who hate this book as love it. Eventually you decide you better see what all the fuss is about, and you read the book. You consider it a book with flaws. You start to wonder why so many people are raving about this book. “I know plenty of unpublished writers who can do much better than this,” you think. You probably think even you can do better than this. The only difference is, this author is in print and is making loads of money, and you are not.

There are two sides to this argument. First up is the view that publishing rubbish books is bad for new authors. Publishers only have a finite number of slots in which to publish new books every year. Every time they publish a book on the name – perhaps written by a well known celebrity who’s decided to try their hand at writing novels – they’re wasting a slot that could be used for an unknown but talented new author. But that book will make money, and a publishing company is a business aiming to make a profit. The criteria for book sales does not necessarily take into account how well written it is. You, the unknown author, may have a masterpiece on your PC. But if the publisher doesn’t think this masterpiece has mass market appeal, they are not going to take it.

Then we come to the alternative argument. If a publisher takes on a less-than-great book that proves to be a runaway best seller, they are suddenly raking in loads of money. With this sure-fire money maker flying off the shelves, said publisher might be more inclined to take a risk with some unknown author. After all, gambling on said unknown author might pay off, and their book might sell well. Even if it doesn’t, they’ve still got the runaway best seller raking it in, so they can afford to take the chance.

There is also the point that liking a book that is very subjective. Although you and all the authors you know collectively grumble about this famous best-selling book and meticulously list its flaws, the fact that it’s selling so well proves that there’s more than a few people out there who would probably disagree with you.

So is the publication of these less-than-great but best selling books good or bad for the emerging author? What’s your take?

SOUL SCREAMS Comes To Life!

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

When my first novel SUFFER THE CHILDREN was published, the whole process was one thrill after another. The first time I saw the cover. The first (and second, and third) occasion I had a reason to say “I have to email my editor”. Every round of edits was exciting.

And then the complete published novel arrived, in the form of a zip folder containing all the available e-book formats it was available in. That was an incredibly exciting moment – knowing that my novel was Published. I got so excited I tried to open all the files at once and crashed the machine. There was no hard copy, it was e-book only, but it was thrilling nonetheless.

SOUL SCREAMS is the first of my books that is being made available as a print version, and this means there’s been a new round of ‘first time thrills’. The first time I saw a JPG of the whole cover, front and back, was an exciting moment. It was also the first time I’ve had ‘celebrity endorsements’ on a cover, too – very exciting.

And then I was told the proofs had been ordered. Just the thought that there was a paper book out there, with my name on the cover – for some inexplicable reason that got me rather excited.

Then my editor at Stumar Press informed me that my uncorrected proof was on its way to me. He took pictures of the book before he put it in the post and emailed them to me. Monday afternoon, he told me, it had gone in the post. So I awaited its arrival with baited breath. I got home from work yesterday – Tuesday – a little hopeful but not really expecting anything. The Post Office is not usually that reliable. I figured it was going to take a couple of days to arrive.

But then, as I stood on my doorstep fumbling for my keys, through the frosted glass of my front door I could see, sitting on the door mat inside, a white jiffy bag. Exactly book-sized. I knew then that it had arrived. I was so excited I had trouble putting my keys in my own front door.

I dragged out that moment for a while. Savouring the envelope, before ripping it open and holding in my hands, for the first time, a paperback book with my name on the cover. And then I felt the urge to take a photo, and post said photo all over the Internet broadcasting the fact that my book has been brought to life (attached herewith).

It’s these thrills that make all the heartache involved in being a writer worthwhile. But I’m wondering if I’m marking myself a rank amateur by getting excited at every step. Does one become accustomed to success? When you’ve got a dozen published novels under your belt, does laying eyes on the first one off the printing press no longer give you a thrill? I’d like to think that it’s always exciting, no matter how many books you get published, but maybe I’m being idealistic.

I still hold onto the dream that one day I’ll be in a position to know the answer to this. When I am, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Writing Processes – Part 16: How to Be A Publicity Tart

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Listening to old-school writers – those whose first book was published forty years ago – I get the impression that the publishing industry is very different these days to what it was. In the old days, once you sold your book, all you had to do was write the next one. The publishing company took care of all the marketing, all the promotion, all the sales. The book jackets didn’t always have author pics, there was no Internet, and you could live a lifetime never knowing what your favourite author looked like.

Nowadays, things are different. Writers are expected to play a much more proactive part in promotion. A lot of the small independent publishers don’t have PR departments. Even if your publisher does have marketing people in-house, they are going to expect you to put yourself about. Signing sessions, panel appearances, public interviews. Whatever it takes.

I often think that this state of affairs is pretty ironic, given that the act of writing means shutting yourself away, alone, for months at a time, and subsequently writers are, by nature, generally introverts. But the world has changed. At the very least, a writer is expected to have a web presence. I have met one or two that don’t, but they tend to be the veteran brand of writer I mentioned earlier – those that had already established a name and and a readership well before the Internet revolution took hold.

For the rest of us, we need a website. And a blog. And a Twitter account. And a Facebook page. Whatever it takes to get our name Out There.

After all, the book being published is only the beginning. It has to sell. And how is it going to sell, unless people know about it? if the e-book revolution is making it easier to get your book published, it’s also contributing to a very crowded market place. There are literally millions of books out there. How can you make the casual Amazon browser land on yours and want to buy it?

And this is where it’s necessary to become a publicity tart. The Internet makes it easy to reach out to the world, and the more hits you have on the web, the more people will hear about your book.

So where should the aspiring publicity tart start? Get a website, if you haven’t got one already. If you’re completely ignorant of HTML code, like me, go with something like Weebly, which offers a user-friendly template with drag and drop features. Sign up, choose your template, decide which elements you want on your site, and off you go.

Start a blog. “But why would anyone want to read about my boring life?” I hear you say. It’s human nature to be interested in other people’s lives. That’s why reality shows do so well. Just because something is boring and mundane to you, doesn’t mean it’s boring to everyone. I find my daily commute into London crashingly dull. But those who don’t live in London are often interested in the little glimpses of London life that I experience on the train every day, and sometimes blog about.

Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Librarything are all sites that offer you a way of reaching out to lots of people, all of whom could be potential readers, if they like the sound of your book. If you haven’t got an Amazon author profile, set one of those up too. It costs nothing, and you can link all of your books to your account. So if your intrepid reader reads your latest book and enjoys it, she can visit your Amazon page to see what else you’ve written. And that gives her easy access to buying the rest.

Guest blogging is a very good way of promoting your own work whilst supporting other writers, too. If someone does a guest post on your blog, their fans will follow them to your blog. If you guest on someone else’s blog, their existing followers will read your post, and they might decide to check our your blog, too. Everyone wins.

I would recommend getting some decent photos done. Remember what I was saying earlier about going years without ever knowing what your favourite author looks like? Those days are over. You could spend a fortune going to a professional studio, and in some ways this could be money well spent, as these studios include hair and make up artists in the price and you know you’re going to look great in your pictures. But you don’t have to spend loads of money. I went to a friend who’s a semi-pro photographer. He charged me a reasonable fee, I did my own hair and make-up and went to his house with a couple of changes of clothing, and I came away with a good set of usable portrait shots. In fact, all of the images that I use online came from the same photo shoot. Once you have them done, you can use them over again, so every time you do an online interview and the interviewer asks for an author picture, you don’t have to fret about not having a decent pic to use.

All of this might sound very exhausting. It’s worth remembering that most social networking sites allow you to link to other social networking sites. So your post on Twitter will appear on Facebook, and on Amazon too. Your new blog post will appear on your Goodreads page and on your Facebook profile, and anywhere else you care to link it, too, so it reaches everyone at once without having to multiple post.

Does all this work actually make a difference? It’s hard to say. Getting yourself ‘Out There’ is a very long, very slow process. It’s now coming up to two years since the first novel was published, and I’m not exactly hitting the best-seller lists. Sales are decidedly modest, to say the least. But the average monthly sales for SUFFER THE CHILDREN in 2011 were roughly double what they were in 2010, so I think the hard work has made just a little bit of difference.

To check on my ‘publicity tart’ status, I periodically Google my name, just to see what comes up. There’s quite a lot out there, actually. Not just the blog and the website, but every guest post and online interview I’ve ever done is still out there in Cyberspace, and comes back as a hit whenever someone does a search on my name.

Like it or not, publicity is part of the game for authors these days. Don’t be afraid of it. Embrace your inner tart and put her to work. If only one reader decided to buy your book because she happened upon whilst surfing the internet, all the effort is worth it.

Monday’s Friend: Leigh Russell (2)

I am pleased to welcome best selling crime writer Leigh Russell to my blog, for the second time this year. This latest appearance coincides with the release of Leigh’s latest novel, DEATH BED, on the Kindle.

The Rise of Ebooks
By Leigh Russell

My debut CUT SHORT was published in June 2009, the first in my series of crime thrillers featuring Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel. After a delay of several months it became available on the Kindle, almost as an after thought. ROAD CLOSED came out in print in June 2010, followed by the ebook again after a delay of several months. But by now the quiet Kindle revolution was gathering speed so when DEAD END hit the shelves in 2011, my publisher put it out on the Kindle at the same time as the physical book came out.

While sales figures of my books escalated in print, sales on the Kindle really took off in the summer of 2011. The fourth book in my series, DEATH BED, is due to be published in 2012. This time, the ebook became available as soon as the MS was ready, before the end of December 2011, nearly six months before the print publication in May 2012.

An article in Crime Time reports that my publisher “is keen to ’embrace’ the new ‘rules’ of publishing and make the titles available as quickly as possible, avoiding the lengthy process that goes into the publishing and marketing of conventional print editions.”

It seems to me that the publishing history of the Geraldine Steel series reflects in microcosm what has been happening in the publishing industry as a whole, with ebooks first lagging behind physical books, then catching up, and finally taking over. And it has happened within the space of a few years.

A lot of readers are debating the future for physical books, with the growing popularity of ebooks. Meeting so many readers in the course of my work as an author, I can’t help wondering how much longer physical books will survive. What do you think?

Leigh Russell writes the bestselling UK crime series featuring Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel. Leigh’s new book DEATH BED is available on the Kindle now, as one of Amazon’s 12 Days of Christmas 99p offers, so buy it now to make the most of this special price (buy from Amazon UK here). It’s also available on Amazon.com, and out in print 2012.

Details of all Leigh’s books can be found on her website: http://leighrussell.co.uk

To Pay Or Not To Pay

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

“Money flows towards the author.” This was a mantra I learned fairly early on in my writing career. If a publisher charges you money to publish your book, it’s a scam, I was told by several reliable sources.

Sound advice, but there is an additional factor these days that complicates matters: when is it OK to pay for marketing?

I was always led to believe that an author should not have to shell out for marketing their own book. A reputable publishing company will have a marketing department, and if they are investing in you as a writer, they should be promoting your book. Sadly, the world is changing. Only the big publishing companies these days seem to be prepared to spend money on marketing. Many of the small independents do not employ a marketing person or PR department. And even if you are with a publishing company who do, gone are the days when the author could hide in her garrett and expect all the work to be done on her behalf. She has to be Out There, pimping herself and her books at every opportunity.

E-books become even more problematic, as with a print book you have something to physically hold and try to sell. If you have a print book, you can contact book stores and set up signing sessions. With an e-book, all you can do is pimp your link around the Internet. And although there are a lot of online resources that will let you do this free of charge – Goodreads, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, a personal website, a blog, etc – is this really enough?

My sales to date suggest it’s not. I have signed up for all the above. I blog at least twice a week. I Tweet daily. I post links about my e-books on Goodreads, Facebook, and a host of other Internet sites. I am forever scouring the Internet for online review sites, anyone looking for guest bloggers – anything that I can use to promote my books. And yet my sales can be described as modest, at best. My total income to date from royalties for both published novels, since SUFFER THE CHILDREN was published over 18 months ago, is half of what I earn in a week at the day job.

The question is, then, what else can I do? There are plenty of other promotional opportunities out there, if you are willing to pay for them. Ads in magazines, or on websites. Internet sites that will give you reviews and set you up on blog tours, as long as you are willing to pay for the service. But this goes against that all-important mantra, and hence the dilemma: should I be paying to promote my e-books?

I did, after all, fork out for marketing when I paid for the postcards, business cards and promotional material that I used to promote each of my two books when they first came out. I still have a pile of postcards left – I take them along to all the conventions I go to, leaving piles of them on the ‘free stuff’ tables and handing out the cards at every opportunity. But to date, I haven’t paid for any other advertising.

Now I’m starting to wonder if I should be. It’s a gamble, of course. There’s no guarantee that paying for advertising will help sales in any way. And there’s no way of telling if the advertising opportunities on the Internet come from people who really know what they are doing, or whether they are just scams run by people playing on the desire of authors to get their books Out There.

I’m still pondering over this dilemma. If you are a published author who has paid for advertising, I would be interested in hearing your views – whether the advertising was worth the money, or not. Because I’m not much of a gambler. I’d rather make an informed decision after researching the facts.

Does Crossing Genres Kill Your Career?

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

Whenever I see the latest book by any best-selling author, I am always struck by how similar the cover is to the last book, or the last half a dozen books by this person.  It would appear that publishers like series. If a first book about a particular character does well, another book featuring the same character is much more likely to be published (and, more significantly, promoted).

For this reason, large publishing houses seem rather nervous when their best-selling authors decide they want to branch out and try something a little different. They seem convinced the fans won’t go for this new idea. After all, readers want more of the same.

Or do they? What I’m not clear on is whether this is actually true, or if it’s a myth perpetuated by the publishing industry. Do readers go for a writer’s books because they are hoping for the same thing again, or because they like this person’s writing style? Michael Marshall Smith had several excellent science fiction novels published. Then he wrote a series of crime thrillers which appear under the name Michael Marshall, presumably to avoid ONLY FORWARD being picked up by people expecting another gritty crime thriller. Though if they did, they might well enjoy it anyway – it’s a fabulous book.

My second novel DEATH SCENE is a mystery novel, with no supernatural elements at all. But because my first novel SUFFER THE CHILDREN was horror, I have noticed that a lot of the e-book websites that are selling DEATH SCENE have categorised it as horror. I do worry about this sometimes. Am I killing my career by writing in two separate genres? Are people going to pick up DEATH SCENE expecting supernatural beasties and be disappointed? Or are they going to pick up the second book because they enjoyed the first one, and want to see what else I’ve written?

Sonya Clark had a marvellous post on her blog recently about this topic. And after reading it I feel a lot better.

There are some people out there who only read crime, and some who will only read horror. The majority of people who read, however, read because they enjoy the stories. And they can be trusted to make their own judgement on what they read. If they find an author they like, they will likely explore all the genres that author writes in.

I may never be a best-selling writer. But if I find a handful of people who look forward to my next book, no matter what genre it is, then I feel I will have achieved something.