Reclaiming my rights

Despite the headlines south of the Canadian border this last week, this post is not about what you’re thinking it’s about. I have big news for my writing persona. Quite a few months ago, I wrote to my NY publisher and requested a reversion of rights for all of my books they’d published.

When you sign a contract with a publisher, there are paragraphs listing when you can attempt to reclaim your rights to your stories. Length of time (7 years usually), a set number of sales or $ amount within a quarter, or a year you have to fall below for a set number of quarters or years, etc. And sometimes there are other weird clauses. But even when all the contractual provisions are met for such a request, the publisher can always find ways to hold onto your rights. For instance, they can sell your novel to a different publisher in a different country, or sell it for translation (with this publisher they often sell it at a flat rate, say $50. So you get 17% of that and never see another cent no matter how many books that other publisher sells.) And you still have to wait another seven years for that part of the contract to expire.) Or they can republish the novel (which they had already done with several of my books already) which means the original 7 year contract from original publication date resets to the newest publication date and now you have to wait yet another 7 years. And one of my novellas was part of an anthology which would affect two other authors.

Given all of the above, I wasn’t confident I’d get the rights back for three of the titles, especially the anthology novella, and was only semi-hopeful about the other two. But I thought it was worth a shot. They replied and said it would take about two months. Two months came and went. Three months, came and went. Last week, I posted on my FB timeline that I figured so much time had passed that I doubted I’d get my rights back to any of my books.

So I was thrilled this morning when I opened up my email and discovered the publisher had indeed reverted my rights for all five of my titles.

Getting my rights back means I have all the control back in my hands. I get to publish them myself–either digitally, or, more importantly, as paperbacks, which my digital-only publisher never did for these books. I’d heard from a few of my readers that they only read in print so I’ll finally be able to offer that option. I’ll be able to set my own price, adjusting it for sales as I choose. I can choose my own cover art (of course I have to pay for that cover art). I can choose my own titles. (Yes, even the titles are often dictated by the publisher.) And best of all instead of getting 15-17% royalties, I’ll get about 70%. That difference will help pay for editors and cover artists for future novels, website fees, promotion and advertising, etc. It’s scary having that much control, because I can make totally wrong decisions, but at this stage I really wanted those novels back under my control.

But I’ve been out of the publishing realm for six years, and now I have to delve back into the convoluted publishing world. Re-learn skills I’d lost. Relearn what the market can bear, what the readers are looking for. Where my readers might be. Like everything in life, the publishing world has changed a lot in the last six years so I feel like a total newbie again. And to be honest, as exciting as it is to have that control, I’m already finding myself slightly overwhelmed by everything I have to do:

  • The mailing list I’d garnered over the years had timed out (because people had signed up more than 6 years ago) and was back to 0, so that has to be restarted.
  • I need to determine a timeline for their release (which I’ve pretty much settled on already.)
  • I need to rewrite all the blurbs (back cover copy) for all 5 books since the current versions belong to the publisher. Hopefully I can come up with something snappy on my own, but sometimes I need to hire someone because it’s a an art to write such a marketing tool. ($$X5)
  • I need to have new covers designed for both digital copies and paperbacks, and there’s an extra cost for the paperback covers since there are both front and back, as well as the spine to be created where the digital version is a flat front. ($$$X5 Or maybe X7 if I bundle two series into box sets).
  • They’ve already been professionally edited but sometimes things get missed (every single book has a typo or missed word somewhere no matter how many editors and proofreaders there are) so I have to re-read them all for those typos or missing or words, as well as update any outdated technology. (Hey, for the first books I got published, the smart phone hadn’t even been invented yet!) (at least this has no cost)
  • I need to apply for new ISBNs. Luckily for me, Canadians can get them for free so yay! One less cost to worry about.
  • I also need to get them all formatted for digital and paperback formats. There is software so I can do it myself which is easy to do, but there is a one time cost to purchase it. ($$$) Well worth it since that single purchase can be used for an unlimited number of titles.
  • And I need to figure out how to promote them to a new audience. I do words, not numbers or marketing so this is the part I find most intimidating.

At least there’s no real deadline on me like there are with publisher contracts. I can set my own deadlines at this stage.

To add more stress to the mix, I also received an email reminding me that my author website’s hosting is up next month. It’s basically tripled in price so I’ll probably end up moving it to a new host to keep the costs down while I’m dealing with all the above pre-publishing work. Annnnd, I just went over there to update a few things and learned they’ve changed the coding and now I’m facing yet another steep learning curve. Oh joy oh bliss.

But first I need to clear out my office–again! We spent last month decluttering the basement–for some reason a lot of detritus ended up stashed in my office and I’m back to where I can barely walk from the door to my desk. (This will be the second declutter I’ve done of my office so far this year.) All that clutter interferes with my creativity so decluttering and cleaning is this week’s goal.

photo of five stitched but unfinished bookmarks, one saying Hold My Spot surrounded by various coloured blackwork stitched panels, one rather rude bookmark telling people I'm reading, one that says "and they lived happily ever after" with hearts at the top and bottom, one that has two piles of books and a clock, with the words "I don't have insomnia, I have a good book and no respect for tomorrow" and a blackwork bookmark with no words on it.
Bookmarks that still need to be finished

As for this site? It took me some years but I learned that I definitely need to have a hobby to turn to every day instead of spending 20 hours a day (not hyperbole) obsessing about the next book, the next marketing strategy, etc. I finally learned I need to give my brain down-time, time to focus on something other than marketing and writing. So I’ll be keeping this site up.

I’m rarely knitting these days — my hand is still screwed up, but I have picked up cross-stitch and blackwork again. I’m mainly working on little projects like the bookmarks in the photo (hey, I’m an author so bookmarks are always useful!) They still have to be finished–I want to put a grosgrain ribbon on the back and of course they need a good iron. But the sewing part is done. And now we’ve been living with our revamped kitchen for almost a year, I have a few thoughts about what I’ve learned, and what I like about it and things I’m not keen on now I have them, that I want to share.

Kitchen Reno: Flooring, part 2

Because we were having such problems getting the short ends of the vinyl planking to properly lock, no matter how much we used the block or pull bar, we ended up pulling up all the flooring we’d laid and started again from scratch.

Despite the manufacturer saying on their video that their flooring was tolerant of imperfect floors, this particular tile was definitely not tolerant. It needed no more than a 1/8th inch difference anywhere. Now our floors are from 1974, with 24″ between the floor joists. Which means there’s a lot of movement in the floor. Because several runs have HVAC ducting between the joists there was no way we could strengthen/brace the joists from underneath. Which meant lots of movement on the floor. But we did what we could.

After pulling up the tiles (thank heavens they are floating tiles, not ones that had to be glued down so pulling them up was simple), and doing a ton of research/video watching, we ended up pouring more self-leveling compound (which by the way isn’t actually truly self-leveling) and sanding it to perfection. We ordered a much heavier-weight pull-bar from Amazon since there were literally none available at ay of the local Home Depots or Lowes. We found quite a few professionals recommending you lock the short ends of several tiles together before laying the long ends together and snapping them in and we discovered that worked much better. We also laid down a sheet of 1/4″ plywood beneath the fridge, recommended so the weight of the fridge won’t interfere with the floatiness of the tiles. It’s not perfect, but it will do for us.

photo of a kitchen with white Ikea cabinets, brushed nickel door handles, black quartz countertop, and various appliances, highlighting the vinyl plank flooring.
despite the way that photo looks, that one line is not a gap, it’s just the way it catches the light. It’s supposed to look like it’s tile with a grout line. The other faux-grout lines just don’t show up on the photo.

Frankly, by the time the floor needs to be replaced again in ten years or so, we’ll probably have sold the house and it will be someone else’s problem. I’m not doing it ourselves again because all our backs and knees hurt by the time we finished the second round of laying this floor. And in ten years we’ll both be in our mid 70s and this type of DIY is for younger folk.

But for now, the floor is finished, the toe-kicks are down (which were really easy to do as they are straight cuts and snap onto the Ikea feet) and now we can move on to the last task of adding the trim around the window. Oh and figuring out how to make the tops prettier by adding some crown moulding. But that’s has nothing to do with making the kitchen workable, so whenever that gets done, doesn’t matter much to me. Yet.

Kitchen Reno: Flooring

We haven’t worked on the kitchen since last fall, with just the flooring, undercabinet lighting and trim around the window to finish. We left the flooring because the order for luxury vinyl plank flooring we made in July didn’t arrive until November. By then it was too cold and my son and hubby objected (rightly) to running in and out of the house to saw the tiles to the correct size on the table saw in the garage when it was snowing. So we waited until the snow melted and we finally have good weather.

We visited a lot of flooring stores last summer, not just the big box stores but actual flooring stores in the area. We knew we wanted vinyl, not wood. Since the kitchen leads onto both the dining room (which leads to the living room) and the main hallway, we didn’t want a wood-looking vinyl. That’s because when we ultimately can afford to remove the carpeting from the dining room, living room and hallway (and three sets of stairs leading off that hallway), we don’t want to have to match all that flooring to what exists in the kitchen. Otherwise we’d end up with too many colours of wood clashing when you stand in the hallway and can see all the rooms.

So after a LOT of discussion, we decided upon a grey slate or marble-like luxury vinyl plank tile that is 18″ x 24″ that is a click and lock method and has a cork backing. Because it has a very thick vinyl top layer that means scratches won’t show the lower layer, it was far more expensive than anything Home Depot or Lowes carried.

Now normally the floors are prepared once the cabinets have all been removed. But we did our kitchen in stages, so we decided to tackle the flooring after the cabinets were in place. During the construction stage, we discovered that beneath the 1990s peel and stick tile, there was a 1970s roll vinyl that probably contained asbestos that had been glued using a black mastic that definitely contained asbestos. So pulling up that flooring was a non-starter unless we wanted to hire an abatement team. Also, the support joists beneath the kitchen are 24″ apart, so there was a lot of sinkage between the joists.

So after a lot of research (hey, we had all winter, right?) earlier this week, we removed any loose or curling peel-and-stick tiles, primed the floor tiles, and poured self-leveling compound. We waited 2 days for that to completely dry (luckily it was steppable after 4 hours), used a heavy-duty four-foot level and ensured the floors were all straight/level. I should also mention before we started, we scanned the QR code on the box and watched the company’s own video on YouTube on how to install these tiles. In that video they assure the installer that their planks can be installed on an imperfect floor, that it is forgiving of minor imperfections. The store also told us not to use an underlayment as underlayments can often mean the tiles will shift more, possibly breaking the tongue-and-groove segments. Also the tiles have cork on the bottom so they shouldn’t require an underlayment anyway.

So, to sum up so far, the floor has been prepped and is level and should accept this type of flooring.

I should also mention that we’ve previously installed two rooms of angle click flooring that has held up for six years, so we expected this to be similar. You install the long edge first, holding it at a 45 degree angle, then lowering it until you hear a click, then tap the short end until the two short edges meet. We have a tapping block for the tiles in the middle of the room, and a pull bar for pulling in the tiles at the wall edges. We also knew not to take the laminate all the way to the wall so it would have room to expand, which was easy since we could simply lay the flooring under the cabinets to any point behind the toe-kick (which will be the next thing to be installed as they simply snap onto the cabinet feet.)

We used a laser level to establish a straight line slightly away from the sink cabinet wall, the area that will probably receive the most traffic/weight/movement. Yesterday morning, we finally started laying the tiles/planks

Except where we thought 18 x 24″ blocks would be easier to install than the thinner, longer wood-like planks, they’re not. These tiles are stiff so there is no play in them at all. Which should be a good thing, I thought. While the long edge installed…okay (yes, you are right to read “tone” into that word), the short edges sucked, no matter how much we tapped or pulled. Only a couple actually joined properly (see the first photo below), but many others left us with 2mm gaps that will be nothing but dirt collectors in quite a few places.

This is what the short edge joins are supposed to look like–similar to the store sample photo above:

photo of 2 grey slate-like tiles with the proper distance between them
proper short edge join of one of our tiles
photo of grey slate-like tiles with a 3-5 mm gap between them
short edges we’ve ended up with for many of the tiles

We ended up tapping that pull bar so freaking hard that we bent it. That section I’ve circled in the photo below started at a 90 degree angle. Now it’s almost a 45 degree angle. And still so many short edges won’t meet.

we bent metal!

After laying several rows, pulling them up and re-laying them several times, we got about 80% done, then threw up our hands in despair and decided to tackle the rest today.

Except, when we came down this morning, almost all the tiles had separated on the short sides. The long edges were still connected, but the short sides had widened to even bigger gaps–one as wide as 5 mm, though most are 3-4 mm apart. It’s not just along a particular line or row. It’s almost every tile of every row.

photo of the partially finished floor using Coretec LVP in a grey-slate-like vinyl, with too-large gaps that are opening between tiles.
what we came down to this morning (the bottom right corner tile hasn’t been properly placed yet as that’s where we stopped, so you can ignore those gaps)

This is supposed to be a floating floor. It’s not supposed to be secured at the wall edges to allow for expansion and contraction based upon temperature and humidity. But the tiles/planks/whatever shouldn’t separate like this, especially over night when hardly anyone has walked on it. And we haven’t even moved the stove back into place yet–I hate to think what that weight and movement will do to the gaps. (We didn’t tile beneath the fridge–we used a piece of 1/4″ plywood underneath that.)

I cannot live with a floor that separates overnight. Or if someone tries to tell me that this is an acceptable gap? I cannot live with having 18″ channels that will end up as massive dirt collection ditches every 24″. It’s just not acceptable.

So we find ourselves with a dilemma. This is about a thousand dollars worth of flooring that isn’t working as it is. Since it was special ordered, we can’t return it, not only because we’ve had it since last November. I like the colour and the pattern, but something is just not right here. I’m not sure if it’s a fault with the way those side channels were manufactured or … what, especially since the floor is level. But we don’t know where to go from here…

Kitchen Reno: Tiling the backsplash

Tiling was a new-to-me skill. I know so many family members and friends who have done it and told me I could do it, but I still found it intimidating. Especially having to cut tiles to fit around window sills or outlets. But I squared my shoulders and pulled on my You-Can-Do-It panties and set to work.

Full confession, the tiling was done last August or so, and it’s taken me this long to put this post together, but here goes.

We had searched through a lot of stores for tiles, both the big box stores as well as some local tiles stores. There are a lot of choices both in medium (ceramic, porcelain, marble, glass) and colours. And neither of us are great about making up our minds, especially when you have a blank canvas with off-white cupboards. I had read that if you use coloured tiles as your backsplash you are stuck with that colour so if you want to change things up later then you have to remove the tile and go through it all again. Which meant it was better to go with a neutral and add colour via your accessories–appliance colours, towels, etc., because they are easier to change if you get tired of the colour. Like we had with the countertops, we brought a few samples home so we could see what they would look like in situ. The store lighting can make them look a lot different from home lighting and it did make a difference. We also did a lot of reading and video watching about cutting tiles–glass tiles are apparently really difficult and you can expect a lot of breakage. Not something for us newbies to tackle as a beginners’ project, we decided. Porcelain is nice too, as is marble, but they both cost more, plus marble needs to be sealed regularly the same as granite countertops.

So we settled upon a plain white 3″x6″ ceramic subway tile that has a white base with the colour and glaze wrapping around the sides from Lowes. Home Depot carried a similar tile but it’s slightly thinner and the glazing is only on the front, while the tile itself is terracotta which is very visible if you miss a spot when grouting, or if a tile gets chipped in the future.

I eyed the 3″ x 12″ tiles longingly, especially the ones that looked like they had a marble veining in them so they would match my counter, only in the inverse. But I also know our walls are not straight enough to handle a 12″ tile without having to do some major mudding. The sections of drywall I’d mudded were fine–I’d paid special attention to keep them even but the original builders’ drywall we’d left from 1974? Every single section bows in or out. Which is something the 3″ x 6″ tiles were made to handle.

We briefly toyed with the idea of using a thin black tile as an accent row two or three tiles beneath the cabinets. However, when we laid them out on the countertop as a trial, it made the kitchen look too stark so we ditched that idea and went with all-white tiles. (So I really am glad we bought a sample home to test out. By the way, if you have left-over tiles you can return them to Lowes or Home Depot and be credited individually for them.)

We also had to decide between using a 1/16th inch spacer or a 1/8th inch spacer. I bought a package of each and laid them out, but decided to go with the 1/8th inch as it meant less cuts, at the top or bottom tiles. Also 1/8th inch tends to give you a bit more wiggle room if you mess something up and doesn’t make those errors quite as obvious in the long run.

We had also budgeted to buy a wet saw, but a friend of mine offered to lend us hers. She had found a nearly new wet saw at a yard sale for $5–it was just like the type we were going to buy for $140. It worked like a dream and made the cuts so much easier. (Renting them can end up costing more than buying one, especially as slow as we are.)

photo of white subway tiles on the wall behind a fridge (not shown) with warm grey grout (newly applied, still wet grout that still needs to be properly cleaned)
no one else will ever see this spot behind the fridge but this rehearsal patch gave me the confidence to tackle the backsplash

I’d originally intended to practice tiling in the spot behind the dishwasher (a nice 24″ x 30″ spot with no outlets), but then the counters arrived a week early and the time I’d set aside for practice evaporated and the idea of trying to fit myself beneath the counter to work in that small space was absurdly difficult. So we decided to test our hand by tiling the spot behind the refrigerator. Which was more than twice the size of the dishwasher which meant we had to buy an extra box and a half of tiles (there are 100 tiles per box.) It was definitely worth the cost and the effort as it proved I could manage installing wall tiles and wouldn’t have to hire someone. Confidence (and the thrill of learning a new skill) is a lovely thing.

On installation day, I was the one actually placing the tiles, with my son manning the wet saw. My hubby was in charge of running the laser level and being the go-between carrying the tiles that needed cutting between the kitchen and the patio where my son had set up the wet saw (it made a mess so we didn’t have to worry about floors or anything.) It took us an entire day–starting at 8 am til well past dinner time–to finish it, with a few breaks for lunch and and short breaks to ease my aching back. (Leaning across those counters, especially into those corners, quickly caused my back to complain.)

photo of my kitchen, with heavy-duty garbage bags covering the countertops, assorted tools and pail of tile glue and white subway tiles, and partially tiled walls with the spacers still in place
the work-in-progress mess, luckily it only lasted a day

Then we had to wait a day for the tile glue to dry before moving to the next stage: grout.

We had spent quite a bit of time researching the various types of grouts and grout colours. There is a grout that has sand that requires sealing, and a sand-less grout that doesn’t need sealing. Ultimately we decided upon the sanded grout. Sealing it is pretty darned cheap and easy, so that was a non-issue for me, plus I thought the sandless grout looked plasticky and cheap. (There was another reason for not going with the sandless grout but I don’t remember what it was now. Sorry.)

As for colour, I wanted something warmer than white which I thought might make the kitchen too cold. We had briefly looked at black grout but learned that black brought any flaws to immediate attention. A clerk at our local Lowes brought out a sample of all the various grout colours and put them between our chosen tiles–wow was that helpful! After comparing the various available colours, we decided upon a “warm grey” grout. Even better it was actually in stock, something that has proven much more complicated with the supply-chain issues we’ve had thanks to Covid.

Thankfully, grouting itself was fairly easy. Grouting of the entire kitchen only took a morning to complete. After waiting another couple of days to let the grout dry, I applied a grout sealer to help prevent future staining. Once the grout sealer had dried for yet a few more days, I got my son to caulk around the tiles/countertop and edges to seal it all in. (I had him do it since I’d torn two tendons in my dominant hand caulking around the window.)

TL:DR: tiling is definitely something you can do yourself, especially if your walls are straight/even. Bends will add more challenge the bigger the tile is. But it’s a hurry-up-and-wait job. Apply tiling glue/mastic then set tiles before it dries (hurry!), wait for the glue to dry behind the tiles before applying the grout, apply the grout and wipe the excess grout off the tiles before it sets (hurry!), wait for the grout to dry before applying the grout sealer (if needed), wait for the grout sealer to dry before caulking between the tile and countertop and between the tile and cupboards. But it definitely is an achievable goal for a DIYer.

I’m really pleased with the tiles and am ready to tackle tiling the bathrooms. Next year. 😉

photo of my almost-finished kitchen with the white cabinets, brushed nickel door handles, an over-the-range microwave, black quartz countertops, range, and smaller countertop appliances with the newly installed white subway tile with warm grey grouting
Ignore the floors, they’re next up on the to-do list