The Expanding Universe is out now featuring my story 'Cog'.
Craig Martelle of 20Booksto50K fame has brought together a fantastic collection of sci-fi short stories from some great authors. Whatever your taste, you're bound to find something in here to enjoy.
Craig is a machine when it comes to self-publishing. It was great to have front row seat to watch the book come together and learn a few tricks from an expert.
You can grab a copy in ebook or paperback HERE.
On 29th April, the Pentagon officially released footage of three unidentified arial phenomena, or what are colloquially known as UFOs. The three short video clips had been previously leaked and already widely reported and show various fuzzy blobs as seen from cameras mounted on military aircraft and taken between 2004 and 2015.
This post came about after a conversation on Reddit. A user had asked how on Earth were they supposed to boil their whole novel down to a short synopsis? It is difficult, that's true. Sometimes as an author you don't want to discard characters and lovingly-crafted sub-plots in order to describe your story to some arbitrary 300 word limit. It's also true that brevity tends to make every story sound fairly generic: A hero struggles against impossible odds to achieve some goal... So what? Stripped of all the little details that make your story unique, what makes your story stand out from a thousand others.
As usual, I'm not saying I have all the answers, but I have gone through this process before and maybe my example will help you out...
OK, so its not much of a surprise as I've already written quite a bit about the cover design (plus the book is already up for pre-order), but here it is: the official cover from an original painting by Matt Dobrich.
I think Matt's outdone himself with this one. It will be interesting to see what happens when the advertising campaign goes live with this cover.
You can pick up your copy of Asura here.
So now that I've decided to publish via Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), what does that mean for the actual process of writing?
I tend to write in Courier New, 12 point, double spaced. This used to be the standard manuscript format for submitting short stories to magazines and is still widely used. There are many advantages to this format: it's easy to read, it allows experienced editors to quickly estimate word counts and provides plenty of room in the margins for hand-written notes. But as you can see from the except below, it doesn't look much like a real book.
The manuscript that is uploaded to KDP needs to be in a specific format so that it can be easily incorporated into your e-book. Fortunately Kindle offers a free program that does just this. Kindle Create is kind of like a word processor, except that it offers some additional features like automatic inclusion of a standard copyright page and ultimately it saves (publishes) the file as a .kpf file which can then be uploaded to your Kindle Bookshelf and forms the text of your ebook.
I wouldn't recommend writing the book or even doing any serious editing in Kindle Create, though. As a word processor, it's a bit clunky. I would advise doing everything in your word processor of choice (be that Word, Scrivener, Pages or whatever...) and only when you are happy with the file, then copy it into Kindle Create for publishing.
(If you plan on employing your own copy editor or just relying on your Beta readers, I'd do that here before uploading to KDP.)
At that point Kindle Select with automatically find chapter breaks and make a table of contents for you. I then simply added dropped capitals on the first lines of each chapter and wrote my dedication and that was that.
When you upload the file to your bookshelf, it will be analyzed and you may get notifications of spelling errors etc. Hopefully, if you've edited and polished your manuscript in your chose word processor as I suggested above, any changes at this stage will be minor. Writing sci-fi I tend to make up a lot of words and strange names which sometimes get flagged as spelling errors. Fortunately there is an option inside KDP to go through each error and ignore it if that's appropriate. Or you can get a list of errors e-mailed to you. Depending on how many you have you may decide to do this in Kindle Create, but I'd still recommend updating your original file so that the bedrock on which you're building your story is always sound.
OK so you’ve written a book and you’ve gone over it again and again through multiple edits and honed it to the best of your ability, but how do you get people to actually read the damn thing? We’ll talk about marketing in more detail in another post, but one way to get readers’ attention is to have a great cover.
The old adage is wrong, people judge books by their covers all the time, which means this is your first chance to pique the reader’s interest. The cover wants to look professional--that implies that what’s inside will be of a similar standard--and it needs to show the reader what kind of book it is. It’s no good writing a fantastic romance novel if your cover makes the book look more like a horror story. You wont find the readers you want, and those that do click may be disappointed.
If you’re happy with a stock image and simple text, its easy enough to do yourself. Packages like Canva or Kindle's online cover creator allow you to create serviceable covers with minimal artistic skill, but they may not have the wow factor needed to entice readers to buy your book. In my case, as a science fiction author, I felt that the stock images available were quite limited and didn't really reflect what I wanted.
My novel Asura is a techno thriller with some heavy sci-fi elements. I was reading a lot of Matthew Reilly and James Rollins at the time and I suppose I was trying to emulate that kind of book. It is an Airport novel: 120,000 words of action set on the slopes of the Karakoram mountains on the disputed Line of Control between India and Pakistan, so for the cover I boiled this down to three key concepts:
Are you ready for a laugh? Here’s my first attempt
You can see I needed help. Whatever artistic instincts I possess are limited to the written word and apparently my tactic of pasting two stock images together and hiding the join with a big rectangular title block looked less than optimal. (By the way the sepia filter was not an artistic choice: just a ham-fisted attempt to make two very differently coloured stock images look the same.)
Fortunately I had a Plan B.
I’d previously self-published a couple of short stories through Smashwords. Those covers had been drawn by a friend and former college Matt Dobrich. (www.MatthewDobrich.com)
Matt’s a professional draftsman and a great digital artist as you can see from his covers on the sidebar of this blog (he did covers for This Other Earth and And the Lion said Shibboleth). Recently he’s moved away from digital art into the world of traditional oil painting. At first I was on the fence about this. I wasn’t sure that an oil painting style would suit a sci-fi thriller. But eventually I decided to hit Matt up for another cover. He’s a great artist and no matter the medium, I know I like his style.
In the past, I had given Matt excerpts from the stories that I felt captured some image or tone that I would like to see on the cover. But for a novel I feel the best way to work is to explain what you want as best you can and then ask the artist to give you some quick sketches or mock-ups. This saves the artist's time and makes sure you end up with something that you are happy with.
Remember that when you are self-publishing, you are the boss. You are writer, editor publisher and financier. The success of your project depends on you alone, so don't be afraid to be particular about what you want.
With Matt’s permission, here are a few of the early sketches. Remember: mountains, Sci-fi “thingy”, ominous…
But what do you do if you’re not lucky enough to know any artists? Well just typing "ebook cover designer" into Google will give you a multitude of options, but finding one who is good, easy to work with and affordable is not easy. I had had mixed experiences with various online companies, often spending a couple of hundred dollars and never really getting what I wanted. Typically these companies don't offer bespoke art (unless you pay through the nose), but you will get a few artfully placed stock images with enough filters and text to tie it all together.
Another way is to look on sites like DeviantArt. This is particularly good for the sci-fi and fantasy genres. There's a ton of talent out there, just find an image that grabs you and then contact the artist directly through the site. I admit that I haven't tried this method myself, but I have browsed through lots of amazing images that I would have been happy to have used on a book.
Fortunately, I've been able to rely on Matt for Asura. Once we'd agreed on a general theme, Matt did a digital painting to work things out and get colors he was happy with.
I love his use of color in this picture. One problem I had run into with the story was that the mountain setting challenged my descriptive abilities (how many different ways can you describe rock and snow without repeating yourself?) Matt neatly side-stepped this problem by adding a dramatic swirl of color in the sky above the mountain.
I would have been quite happy with that image, but Matt is a perfectionist and is currently exploring the world of oil painting. So after the digital mock-up, he started painting for real. You can see his progress below. The great thing about this is that as well as an ebook cover, I get an original piece of artwork to hang on my wall!
I'll do an official 'cover-reveal' in a later post. But if you can't wait, you can pick up a copy of Asura here.
So you've written a novel... now what?
A lot of people dream of writing a novel, but for most people it remains a dream forever.
The sad truth is that even for those that manage to finish their book, most remain unread: bought by family and friends perhaps, but a long way off the bestseller lists. But why? One reason is that the skills needed to publish and market a novel are very different from those needed to write the thing in the first place.
In a traditional publishing model that wouldn't matter so much. The author's job is to focus on writing a book that is good enough to attract the attention of an agent. Then the agent pitches that book to a publisher and it's the publisher's job to work with booksellers to get the book out to the public.
But what if you are self-publishing? Then the author runs into two problems. First, the relative ease of getting your book out there means that competition is fierce. And second, the author finds themselves suddenly having to make decisions about marketing, cover art and half a dozen other subjects that they may know little about.
Now, I am by no means an expert on self publishing. And this series of posts is not intended to be a roadmap. I encourage any authors out there to read widely and consult YouTube videos and the advice of writers' groups. The best thing you can do is gather as much information as you can and work out what works best for your particular style. I hope that this blog helps in some small way.
Over the next few blog posts I will try and document my experience publishing on Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). I can't say this is a comprehensive guide to self publishing, but my experience may help you on your journey, even if only as an example of what not to do.
Very happy to announce that my short story Canute, from SNAFU: Last Stand, has been shortlisted for an Aurealis Award in the category of Best Science Fiction Short Story.
See the full list of finalists here.
I'm a bit of a pessimist so when I see a movie about alien invasion, find it very hard to believe in a happy ending:
Independence Day - Human race smooshed from orbit
Battle for Los Angeles - Ditto
War of the Worlds - No way an advanced alien race would fall to the common cold.
So when I got the chance to write my own take on humanity's last stand I grabbed it.
Canute follows the last human settlement in the UK as it ekes out its desperate final days in the face of an advancing, semi-sentient nanotechnological plague that has consumed the rest of the country. It's full of action (as all SNAFU stories are) but it's also about why we continue to fight against impossible odds and what's worth fighting for.
Huge thanks to Geoff and AJ from Cohesion Press for picking up this story and making out what it is.
You can pick up a copy of SNAFU: Last Stand here.
No, it's not SNAFU cashing in on the medical problems plaguing the planet at the moment. It's actually a mix of reprints and original stories re-released for a good cause.
Well its not as bad as I thought it would be.