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A different blog—see, now this is what I call a blog. Written in the terrible old-style bleed-and-blurt where somebody cuts their wrist and lets it bleed words onto the paper. It’s an old-fashioned journal entry that turned into the pity-me memoir after that Peltzer guy ate his puke for supper. Apparently, I’m rather good at it. Go on, girls, how many rules have I broken already? We have fragments, weak sentence openers, and adverbs. Have an exclamation mark to show rebellion! But please, bear with me—or not if you choose. Personally, I wouldn’t, but there you go. I thought for interested parties it was only fair to introduce you to my newest member of staff—Sparky—it’s a man—he who cannot be sacked. Though apparently, in time, I might try to kill him.
BBE have secured a brilliant artist and was about to launch our new webpage service this week, but we’ve had a bit of a setback—roadblock—fuck-up. Yeah, I don’t swear in the group. Professional to the end. To be fair, I don’t swear much at all, but maybe it’s been more the last couple of weeks—Hubby won’t be able to take me to church soon. ‘Isn’t it a bastard of a beautiful day, Vicar? Shit sermon, by the way.’ It’s a bloody good job that’s not top of our agenda for fun things to do. Sparky wrote those bad words. See, he can be fun. I need to find more uses for him apart from swearing. I was going to explain about him as part of this week’s blog—but it isn’t fair to James with his showcase this week. So I’m moving him onto star billing all of his own.
BBE is closing its doors to further commissions for a couple of weeks. The owner, Katherine Black—that’s me has been taking too much on, fighting too many deadlines and working too many 20-hour days to meet them. Last year (and the two years before it), I worked 365 days—even Christmas day. A few months ago, I went to a friend’s party in London and worked all the way back up the motorway. I couldn’t even have that day off.
Last month I finally took a week’s break. It was my best friend’s wedding in Ireland, and we combined it with a few days for Hubby and I. The computer and my phone were banned, and to be fair, it was so good to get away from it that I barely thought about the business. The girls kept the group running smoothly for me, and I’m very grateful to them. I didn’t let myself think about all the emails, messages and texts that were building up with all the hundreds of demands and expectations. ‘Can we change this, add this, move this alter that—for free.’
I came back and was hit with a wall of them to get through—no problem, this was the payback for going away. The spike was full of commissions to get through. I had a load of new quotes to get out and worried they’d already been snapped up because I took a time-out. The default state of worry slipped into my mind, and it stayed there. I realised I’d spent three years in a constant state of anxiety, trying to please other people. Worry about getting work in for the team when I didn’t have much, and worry about meeting deadlines and making the clients happy when I did.
I started at the bottom of the list of emails and worked my way up, actioning every mail, text and message and filing it. This is what I’ve done every morning for the last three years—It’s what keeps my blood pumping. This is my life, and it’s what I love doing. I love the buzz of watching the emails disappear as they get actioned.
One morning last week, I woke up in a gorgeous, though very chintzy B&B. Royal Doulton cups, for Christ’s sake, how do you get your fingers in those tiny holes? Don’t break the cups—don’t break the cups. We had a sea view of the harbour, and it was magnificent watching the boats doing their thing. The next morning after a ferry and long drive home, I was at the start of a 40-hour weekend. Two days, forty hours, bang. Get-in.
This was after promising Hubby that things were going to change and the all-nighters would stop. All the old excuses tripped off my tongue the way they always did. ‘I’m rushing to a deadline. I have to get it done. Keep the bed warm for me. I won’t be long.’ And he’d bring a coffee and a look of disappointment into the office when he got up.
And then God the Almighty intervened. Still with me? No, I’m not a believer either, but it felt like divine intervention. One minute I’m typing away, happy as a pig in poo. The next, I’m on the deck, cupping my head in my hands and wondering where the lightning had come from. Lightning? I didn’t see the dinner, never mind the forks.
For the rest of the day, I had what felt like electric shocks in my head from behind my eye to the back of my brain. I’m not a fit woman. I have a sedentary lifestyle and have smoked all my life. I sit at this sodding computer all day every day and most nights, too, working for a pittance.
Ironically I gave up smoking two months ago and haven’t had a cig since.
I don’t do doctors, I haven’t been near one for years, and Hubby insisted that I go to the hospital. I was so ill that I didn’t argue with him—the pain was excruciating, and it made me jerk like a puppet. We waited for seven hours to be seen, and the doctor was leaning toward a brain tumour or stroke. However, I had all kinds of tests and poking, and he came back with a new diagnosis.
It has since been confirmed that I have Trigeminal Neuralgia. I was delighted. No brain tumour, stroke or even, I’d added cancer to the list, now that I knew it wasn’t. What a happy little bunny I was, tripping out of the hospital with my little condition making me dance about like a puppet on a string. The tics from the electric shock pain were pronounced and embarrassing—but in a couple of days, it’d be gone, and I’d be right as rain. Hard as a toolbox full of spanners me, I can cope with this.
And I did cope.
And I carried on working—I ignored the bugger. And still am. It’s taken me three days to write this. I’ve only got one eye in use—it doesn’t half slow me down. Two thousand words usually equate to 45 minutes of work. It’s taken me three days to write this in ten-minute increments.
And it got worse until the pain was constant and took over the right side of my face. I was jerking about all over the place. I have spasmodic tics from the nerve pain where my whole body convulses. I can’t wait to take a bus ride in rush hour. The condition is rare anyway, 1 in 190,000, but mine was more infrequent still. 90% of people with this condition get it in their jaw. I have mine from the back of my eye into the middle of my brain. Nutter.
The other leveller is that it isn’t going away. I have it for life. With the tics, I’ll be the most active patient in the dementia unit. I’ve got to be on strong medication for life that turns me into a zombie, so I can barely function. My youngest son calls me DJ Sooz, coz I down wid da moves, baby.
I’m on the Carbamazepine described in the website link above. I tried coming off them last week because I didn’t like the side effects. Whoo, that was a big mistake. Less than two weeks in, and the drugs have got me held to ransom. And already, the dosage has been upped. If I try to drop them, the side effects are horrendous. I’m a slave to my 8,3,11 regime. By eight o’clock, I’m watching the clock until I can take another pill. ‘Boy, you be proud ‘o your Momma now. She’s a full-blown drug addict.’ A little voice keeps swirling around in my head, asking what happens when the strongest dose stops working. Hubby says live in the moment and worry about that when it happens. Easy for him to say—he doesn’t keep forgetting his words halfway through a sentence.
But I don’t like the pain—it’s bad, and I don’t like the loopy drug that controls the pain. How do I get out of this one—I always find an angle.
The other day, my right-hand guy at work said something like. ‘Take the scroll bar over to the right, and then in the top right corner, right-click the box that says enter.’ I had no fricking idea what that man was saying to me. He might as well have been talking in Swahili.
And now I have to wear an eye patch to rest my eye. Bette Davis, I aint darling. I look like a complete fool—cheers, Sparky. Yeah, the vodka’s on you, mate. But Wait, what do I wear that will complement my eye patch?
So I have this thing swelling in my brain and touching the trigeminal nerve connecting my brain to my eye. Their best guess is that I’ve got it through stress and eye strain from staring at the computer for between 15 and 20 hours a day (Never less than 15). I have to put up with this—but Hubby doesn’t. What the hell is this nightmare going to do to us?
Yesterday I came to work after taking the weekend off. I was greeted with a string of emails, texts and messages. Everybody wanted a piece of me. ‘How do I do this? What do you recommend for that? Can you change this? Can I just get? Do this, do that.’
I couldn’t face them. I physically could not work through them, actioning them as I did every other morning. The pain and jerking were phenomenal, and the words were jumping about all over the screen, pretending to be in a foreign language.
I had my eleven o’clock meeting with my right-hand man, and he had to talk me through every one of them. He painstakingly sat with me on Skype as we actioned every email. We changed the wording on three book cover blurbs. And had to download the files and send them to the customer. Then we had to change some words in a final text file that had been typeset. We had to go into the typesetting programme and make the changes the customer asked for. Then it meant downloading all the files again and saving them to the relevant folders, then finding them to send to the customer. God knows where I’d have saved them if he wasn’t there.
The thing is, these were all little things. They were the things I do with my eyes closed on a normal morning, I do them every day, but I was overwhelmed by their sheer weight. We put out quotes. And he even dictated the client emails to me, so all I had to do was type—I made a lot of errors that had to be fixed. He was patient and didn’t yell at me. This man has worked with me for thirty years. We have some humdinger rows. But he was patient and calm. He managed not to shout at me—mostly. But his eye was twitching by the end.
It highlighted that I can’t continue with work until I get this condition under control and learn to live with the pain—or the drugs—or both.
I’ve never been suicidal, but the statistics are scary. Apparently, the instances of people committing suicide from this condition because they can’t cope with the pain are through the roof. At the hospital, I was handed a number to ring for “If you have sudden suicidal thoughts.” Wow.
Then I find that the drugs cause depression. I’m taking them to reduce the pain that causes suicidal thoughts. The pain can cause suicide—and medications to control the pain cause depression—which causes suicidal thoughts. As you can see from this blog, I’m a moaner—hell, I can whinge for England—but I’ve never been depressed or suicidal. Depression. Jesus. Life just got funky. So far, I’ve been down, but I don’t think it could be classed as a clinical down. I’m just sick of the pain and the tics. No need to hide the sharp implements just yet.
And I got this awful condition from trying to do my best with BBE. I’ve been OCD and put the business before everything. My children, grandchildren and partner have all taken a backseat. BBE has been my everything, leaving no room to live.
‘Are you coming out shopping with me?’
‘Sorry love, no time. Got to meet this deadline. Can you do it, please?’
I’ve had to work hard to build the company and keep my costs affordable to the indie author. This is because of my low wage—and customers may not agree, but from my ridiculously low prices. BBE is my only source of income. I need dozens of monthly commissions to pay my personal bills and the staff I’ve taken on.
Take the book trailers. I’ve had so many complaints about the price. ‘£90.00 for a book trailer? That’s too expensive.’ The average production time was 18 hours when I started making the trailers. I’ve got it down to under ten. That gives me an hourly wage of 90p an hour.
Marketing packages, we charge £100,00 for them for life. That means that the client can ask us for a promotion at any time in the future. We run three initial stages to launch the package. They average 13 hours of work for the three stages. That’s a wage of £76p an hour—and ongoing promotion after that comes in at zero income.
Writing a book review and loading it to Amazon, Goodreads, and the BBE website takes roughly an hour. If that person doesn’t go on to take out a marketing package—the income from that is zero. Three hours a day answering emails and messages has a zero income wage attached, but it’s all part of the job.
And editing is the worst income of all. Every book goes through three edits. The first is given to a sub-editor, and then I do the final two edits myself. 80K book …100 hours per edit. That’s 300 hours of work in every book that goes out.
Marketing may bring in work, but initially, it has a zero-income value and no guarantee. Artists, illustrators, book cover designers, trailer designers, editors and typesetters all have to be paid first. And they all want work, so I have to spend hours on marketing to get it in for them.
People want our services—but they know they’re unlikely to recoup the losses in book sales –so they object to the price. Here’s a leveller. My book designer charges between £800.00 and £1,200.00 for a book cover when he works for himself. He invoices thousands of pounds for his design services to other companies. That’s the real price—that real authors are paying.
Do you think he designs book covers for 50p an hour in his real job? He does it as a massive favour for BBE. We charge £150.00, and he takes £100.00. And, don’t think we sit back and do nothing for the other £50.00. I could show you email strings fifty threads long just to get somebody’s dream book cover for them.
Last year, there wasn’t a day I worked less than 15 hours—not one. When the staff and overheads were paid, I came out with £9,000–it didn’t even cover my damned bills. Nine thousand quid (I was even below the tax bracket). For that, I paid over 2,000 commissions through the books, from our £30.00 author interviews to large multi-service packages.
My Hubby is on a little over minimum wage and drives an hour to work and back. Because of his salary, I can’t get any top-up in benefits—not a penny. Nada. So we’ve been living on his 20 grand and my 9. My TN will mean long periods (like now) when I can’t work. The future is financially murky. Can I come back with the same enthusiasm and love for my work after what it’s done to me?
I currently have a lady from before we charged upfront. She still owes a bill of £388.50. She is somebody I worked hard for. And on this last commission, I personally put in 200 hours and stayed up three nights out of five to complete her editing. The other two nights, I finished at two one night and three the next. I was exhausted—but determined to please her. She was on a month deadline but started asking when her work would be back after a week. I had three books in before hers. I made her deadline with four days to spare. 1st April to 1st May… work returned Thursday 28th April. She says she can’t afford to pay me! Well, I can’t afford for her not to.
I love what I do and truly see every commission as a personal challenge to work well and please the client.
And working so hard to please people who very often couldn’t give a damn has given me a brain condition I will have to live with for the rest of my life. We have closed the doors to new commissions for two weeks. I’m taking that time to clear the spike of all incoming work—and then it’s going to be a time to re-evaluate.
I’ve interspersed this blog with my book covers, just to brighten it up. Three years ago, I used to sell books.
And in true book writing style—let’s end on a dramatic cliffhanger. Is this the end for BBE? And let’s face it, does anybody really care?
Born in South Shields, Tyne & Weir, Katherine Black lives on the tip of the beautiful British Lake District. She lives with her partner, father-in-law and 4 dysfunctional but co-mingling pets. She is mother, grandmother and secret keeper of all. She is Best Book Editors’ principal editor.