Saturday, 27 April 2013

Attention to Detail

I met my fiance on the 23rd of November. Our first kiss was on the 11th of March. We officially became a couple on, well, I cannot actually remember that date. The one that always sticks in my mind is the 23rd of November, because 23 is also Katie's birthday and our "couples" lucky number. For me then, 23rd of November is the most significant date in our shared history. Katie though, she goes for the last one, the one that I can never quite remember.

This year, I decided to make the effort to celebrate on this day that means so much to her. We are currently saving for a holiday, so my budget is slight, but nonetheless it is the thought that counts. On my way home from work I picked up a box of chocolates and a bottle of wine. It is not much, but it is rare for us to treat ourselves on a week night and I thought that this would be enough to make the evening that little bit special.

"Mmm chocolate,' remarked Katie, as she came home to see what I had brought her. 'And wine too - what's the occasion?"

"St Georges day of course!" I joked.

"Really?" she replied. "You are not normally this patriotic."

"It's for our anniversary, silly. I bet you thought that I would forget."

She stared back at me, blankly.

"You know, the 23rd of April. That's the day that you followed me to Perth."

She shook her head.

"That was the 25th of April. It is the same day as ANZAC day. I thought that you knew. We discussed it only last weekend."

My heart sank as recollection of that very conversation dawned on me. How could I have been so stupid. I knew that the date was ANZAC day and that it was on the 25th (which is also the day of Kate's aunt's birthday). Somehow, by seeing the "lucky" 23 and knowing that the day was a significant day (St Georges had replaced ANZAC in my head) I had completely screwed the dates up. Still, the chocolates were nice, although I did have to get another box for the 25th too.

Simple mistakes like the one above are all too easy to make and they do not cause any harm since we usually end up laughing about them. When we are writing though, just the simplest error can make or break a story. Forgetting a name, place or date within in a novel can have disastrous consequences as it immediately loses the reader's confidence in the story. That is why, when we are writing we have to keep precise notes and make sure to record every significant event within our work. In life, we always have another anniversary next year, but in our writing, there are no second chances.

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my two self published novels The Outback and Stealing Asia. Both are available as ebooks and paperbacks.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Div or Div'nt, tha's nee try, man!

Do not worry; I have not suffered an involuntary spasm whilst typing. Nor have I accidently dropped anything onto my keyboard. The title of this post is in fact a popular quote from The Empire Strikes Back, told how it would have been if Yoda was a Geordie (native of Newcastle in the north of England). The point I want to make is that using accents, dialect and colloquialisms can create confusion, which is not what any writer wants their readers to experience.

The obvious question to ask oneself is whether or not using dialect is absolutely necessary to the story. It is the same principle with subtitles in movies. It can be tiring for the viewer to have to continually read from the bottom of the screen and unless I am watching a foreign film, it is something that I have no desire to see. Of course, taking the Star Wars example once more (sorry - I'm a geek!), sometimes it can look ridiculous for the alien species to be speaking a language that their physiognomy would not allow - Jabba the Hutt springs to mind. In this case, subtitles are entirely necessary and can be forgiven.

And so it is in writing. If a character is disadvantaged or placed outside of a group due to a language barrier then by all means use dialect. If speaking in a certain way is able to define a character, then again - use it. If it is just a case of authenticity then I think it is best to consider the audience and what your expectations are for the book. If I wrote a book entirely in my native dialect, nobody outside of a very narrow geographical area would be interested or indeed capable of deciphering it! If the plot implies that all of the characters can fully understand one another and share a native tongue, then you want the reader to share in that too. A small amount of easily understandable dialect will be sufficient to convey where a character comes from.

The Outback is the only of my novels to employ dialect/accent and that is purely to highlight the fact that certain characters are not fluent in English. The story is about a disparate group of backpackers and the inability of one of them being able to speak English has particular bearing on the plot. For the most part though, I use it for comic effect and to lighten the tone. I must confess that I did also become partial to the odd piece of Aussie slang that I picked up during my time there. But like I said; it is okay in moderation. If not, then I really am a flaming gallah aren't I?

*For the record. The quote from the title should have read "Do or do not, there is no try".

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my two self published novels The Outback and Stealing Asia. Both are available as ebooks and paperbacks.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Gimme Yer Money!

I know what you are probably thinking, but you are wrong. This is not yet another plea to buy my novel. It is actually something that a complete stranger screamed at me just after they had punched me in the back of the head. It is fair to say that this was not one of my better days. In fact, when I look back, it was probably my worst.

The day had not begun auspiciously. After a turbulent six hour flight from Sydney to Perth I discovered that my backpack had not been travelling on the plane with me. This left me having to check in to a hostel in a strange city with nothing but quite literally, the clothes on my back (and legs - I always travel in pants). To make matters worse, I was placed in a dorm with a loved up Scottish couple, a Korean guy who spoke no English whatsoever and a very creepy looking man in his fifties (many of his possessions were stored in carrier bags). And to cap it off, the entire place was infested with bed bugs.

As I walked into town (it was a long walk too - the hostel was about 3km from the centre) in 35 degree heat (celsius that is, for any Americans who may think that it was a cold day) I could not help but dwell on my decision to leave Sydney. I had been there for the previous six months and had lived in a nice flat, had loads of friends, knew the city well (and loved it) and had very recently hooked up with my hot flatmate after a long time trying. And now I had given it all up.

I was at my lowest ebb since I had started backpacking and searched for a sign, any sign to show me if I was doing the right thing. That is when it hit me. Not the sign (although I do tend to walk into them sometimes. Usually the ones that say To Let), but the fist. Straight into the back of my head. My first thought was "ouch", quickly followed by "what the f**k?" and finally just "???" For some reason, I was expecting to know the person whom had hit me. I didn't know them. And to make matters worse it was a girl. She was about sixteen.

     'Gimme yer money!' she screamed at me.

I stared back at her blankly. It did not feel so much like I was being mugged, but more that I was starring in a really dreadful amateur dramatic production.

     'Gimme yer money,' she repeated, this time grabbing hold of my t-shirt and raising her fist like she was going to hit me again.

     'F**k off,' I told her and pulled her hand away from me. She grabbed back hold of my t-shirt and repeated her threat. She tried to hit me this time, but swung her balled fist like it was a tennis racket and I easily blocked her attempted blows.

     'You aren't getting any money, so just f**k off,' I told her, but to no avail. She just kept digging her talons into my t-shirt (okay, so she did not have actual talons, but I have to try something to make the sixteen year old girl that was attempting to mug me sound threatening). Realising that she was not going to give in, I decided that I needed to walk away. This was not easy and I ended up dragging her along with me for a few paces, so I decided that there was no option but to shove her off a little more sharply and jog away (what? - it was a teenage girl. I could hardly stay and fight could I). Once I was free of her, I turned and stepped onto the road and straight into the path of an oncoming car. It did not hit me, but only just.

The child mugger had gotten me annoyed and I had not been having the best of days to begin with as I earlier stated, so this newest near catastrophe tipped me over the edge. I was filled with a rage that I had rarely felt before or since. Beating up the car would have been more ridiculous than the girl, if only a little more tasteful. Instead, I channeled all of my pent up energy into my feet and ran. I did not know where I was running to or when I would stop, I just wanted to keep on going. All the way back to Sydney if I could have.

Looking back, it is difficult to see how any positives could be taken from that dreadful experience in Perth (remember, it happened in broad daylight on a quiet residential area and there was even a police station on the same street). As writers though, we are perfectly placed to take the ghosts from our past and turn them into something new.

When working on my first novel, I soon realised that most of the action was to take place in the latter half of the story. The beginning, though well written, needed something adding to it. A bit of action to stir things up. When I had been working the harvest trail, I had heard many stories about the local children sneaking into camp and stealing clothes from the washing line and had contemplated working a little chase scene into the story based around this. Not a very exciting idea, backpacker chases kids to get his socks back! That is when the idea of a mugging hit me. It was perfect. An unexpected attack by seemingly harmless perpetrators on a sunny residential street. I would never have thought of it if it had not happened to me, as most people tend to think of muggings occurring at night in dark, creepy back alleyways.

What I did was to take an awful experience from my past and create something positive from it. Now when I think back to that attempted mugging, I look back on it fondly. If it had not happened then my story would not have been as rich for it. It was a sign after all, just not in the way that I expected.

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my two self published novels The Outback and Stealing Asia. Both are available as ebooks and paperbacks.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

What's In A Name?

How often do you hear people saying that they are going to see the new Brad Pitt movie or the new film with Tom Cruise? Quite often, I imagine. You see, a lot of the time, people will view a movie solely on the identity of its star regardless of whether they even know what the film is about. When we go to the movies, we place more emphasis on the actors behind the characters than on the actual characters themselves.

Look at any poster for a Hollywood movie and you will see how much it differs from a book cover. It is quite common for books to not feature any characters on their covers at all and when they do they are usually veiled in shadow or only partly seen (although some badly designed efforts using stock photographs ignore this trend - see previous entry "Cover Story"). For the most part the appearance of literary characters is left entirely to the reader’s imagination (with a little help from the author).

Whereas, if a movie has a major star in it, the studio will make sure that their face is front and centre of any promotional material and the star's name will often appear more prominent than the title of the movie itself. Vanilla Sky is an excellent example of this. All that the potential viewer has to go on before watching the movie is a close up portrait of Tom Cruise and the movie's title, which is not exactly indicative of plot, yet the film was a massive hit. Why? Because Tom Cruise was in it of course, And whenever people talk of that film they will always refer to the lead character as, you've guessed it; Tom Cruise. Does anyone who saw that film even remember the character's name? (David something, I think).

This brings us back to the content of a book. A novel can sometimes get away with giving its lead character an everyman name for the familiarity and trust that the reader will accord to such a name. The principal protagonist in my debut is simply, Matt and it serves the story well. If you want to convey that the people that you are writing about are ordinary people thrust into an extraordinary situation, feel free to use common names. However, if you want a particular character to really stand out and be known for their name, you cannot rely on just hiring a big movie star to do all your back story for you. This is where writers need to get creative.

Sherlock Holmes, Humber Humbert, Hannibal Lecter, Ebeneezer Scrooge and countless others are all interesting and unique names that occur in the world of literature, but not in the real world, yet we accept them just as naturally as we would John Smith or Jane Smith. And bizarrely, the opposite can also be true in literature, where any character named John Smith or Jane Smith would appear too generic to be believable to a reader. Of course, if every character had a unique name then none would stand out, so generic or "typical" names are a necessity. Yet, choosing a “generic” name for a minor character can often be more difficult than naming the lead. They cannot simply be made up as this will show in the quality of the writing. Every character has to be believable and therefore every character has to have a back story, even if it is one that is never told.

Some authors hide subtle clues to a characters nature, which is particularly useful if they are too minor to justify a lengthy back story. If you want a character to be weak, give them a weak name. If you want a character to be trustworthy, give them an honest name and so on. But even then, we have to use such devices sparingly as if all of the characters are walking cliches then the story will not be believable, which brings us back to the problem of naming minor characters. They have to sound generic, but not like you have simply made them up on the spot.

 Different writers have different ways of going about this. My own process for naming characters has evolved over time. For my first novel The Outback, I played it safe. Mostly, I did use fairly generic names that fitted with the personalities and origins of the characters in question. Whilst not basing my characters directly on people that I knew or had been acquainted with (big legal minefield there), I did use people that I knew as inspiration.

The book contains characters of many nationalities and so I used the names of my Irish friends for the Irish characters (mixing first and last names so as to avoid an exact match), I actually knew several Jonas's from Germany and a Hiro from Japan. I must stress that these characters where not based upon the people that they were named for, but it does give an authenticity to the book in that the names are all real and natural. It also helped me to picture in my head how the characters look. This is extremely important for a writer (and ironically, here you can cast a movie star in your novel. Just do not mention the name of the star that you are picturing for the character. Not even Dan Brown can get away with this and he has tried*). You have to have a clear and precise image of every character otherwise they will not come across as believable at all. After all, you cannot describe something that you have never even seen yourself.

There is one character from my novel that does have a standout name and that is of course, Rhett Butler. Many may jump to the obvious conclusion that I had taken the name from the heroic character from Gone With the Wind and flipped it by applying it to the story's villain. Although, I do reference that classic movie in the book, the inspiration actually came by the same process as above. I really did have a farm boss named Rhett when I worked in Western Australia. He was also somewhat of a local football star, but unlike Rhett the villain, the Rhett that I knew was a thoroughly decent bloke. The surname was taken from that of an old flatmate from when I lived in Sydney (sorry Natalie!). When I noticed that this name was the same as the Clark Gable character, I thought of changing it, but then decided to keep it. I am a big fan of irony.

For my second novel; Stealing Asia, I used a similar technique, but with much more exotic sounding names; Barrett and Clay being my favourites. For my third novel and beyond I have developed a tendency for using anagrams and hiding subtle references to my inspirations. The books are not yet available, so I will not give anything away, but I will just say that I have started to have a bit of fun.

     What's that - you want more?

Okay, I will give a little teaser for the forthcoming Diamond Sky. The plot and style of this story is a big departure from my first two books. A pivotal character is named Jackson Fox. This is the combination of the surnames of both the director and the star of a film that helped inspire aspects of the book. If you can figure out the film, you may figure out what to expect from my novel...

*In his debut novel, Deception Point, Dan Brown actually introduces a character as “[looking] like Halle Berry”.

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my two self published novels The Outback and Stealing Asia. Both are available as ebooks and paperbacks.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Is Now A Good Time (To Write)?

With the release of my first e-book and having to provide regular updates to this blog, I am finding it increasingly difficult to find time for the most important aspect of being a writer - sitting down and writing new fiction.

The fact is that I have never really been organised in this respect. When I am working on a book, I can swing widely between coming in from work at 5pm and writing straight through until 10pm or simply making excuses to put it off "until later". Sometimes, my most fervent periods of creating prose are fueled by the guilt resulting from this "putting off". I am the writer equivalent of a yo-yo dieter.

So then, when is the best time to write? Some people will set aside at least one hour minimum per day and stick to it religiously. They will often use the same time slot and always make sure that they have a special place designated just for writing. A laptop in front of the television will never do for these types of writers (although that particular set-up is serving me well at this moment). This is a particularly good approach  to take if you are the kind of writer who works to specific goals or deadlines. Want to put down 1,000 words a day? If this is the case, you have to be disciplined and stick to the plan. Missing just once doubles your workload for the next day and it will snowball quickly from then on. Personally, I do not like so rigid a plan.

Like I stated earlier, my own writing pattern fluctuates wildly. I like to wait until I am in "the zone" (insert Britney Spears joke if you will). Writing, like exercise and any other passion, need not always be fun, but it should never be a trial either. If I am not in the mood, then I simply will not write. I have never suffered from the dreaded writer's block, but I still have my off days. Taking a break and doing something else (editing, research or even something non literary related like exercise) can do wonders and not only will you have a fresher perspective when you return to writing, but it also stops exacerbating the problem and risking true writer's block.

Do not worry that you are wasting time by not writing. If it is your true calling, then nothing is ever a waste of time. Every experience and event in life, no matter how trivial can be used by a writer. We are learning all of the time. A writer is never "off the clock". I could be sitting at work, walking to the shops or lying in bed trying to sleep and I still think about characters and plot. That's essentially what writer's are: daydreamers.

So it is important to always have a pen and paper at the ready as you never know when inspiration will hit. Even if you are not prepared, you can still improvise to make sure that no good idea is ever lost. I have written ideas/quotes on shopping receipts, post-its, letters, tissues and when all else fails - the back of my hand. Of course, most writers are much more technologically savvy than I, and this in particular is where the smartphone comes in handy.

So to recap, the message is that there are basically two types of writers. Those that are organised and those that are disorganised and both are equally valid. It is just a matter of discovering which style suits you best. If you are not the type of person that responds well to deadlines then do not set any deadlines. And if you are the type of person who simply likes to write whenever the fancy takes them - do it. Tap the creativity whilst it is there and if it goes, do not worry as it will soon be back.

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my two self published novels The Outback and Stealing Asia. Both are available as ebooks and paperbacks.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

My First Review

My first review - 5 stars! (let's hope this is a sign of things to come).

5.0 out of 5 stars Part travel book, part thriller...14 April 2013
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This review is from: The Outback (Kindle Edition)
This book makes me miss my 20's and my own days as a backpacker. I think it would appeal to fans of Stephen King, as the narrative style is certainly from that school and it is very much written with the same 'write what you know' ethos. I would recommend this to anyone who has travelled in Australia, and for fans of thrillers. The attention to detail is pretty good.

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If you have not already done so - please click on the link below to purchase your copy via Amazon Kindle Direct.

A World of Opportunity

Well, I finally did it and my first book is now published. The early response has been encouraging and not just from friends and family, but people whom I would never otherwise have had contact with have also offered their support and advice. It just makes me realise how much I have been missing by procrastinating for so long over the self publishing issue. I now wholeheartedly recommend it to anybody who is thinking of giving it a go. I am yet to receive my first sales report, so I do not know how much I have sold, but the process has been fun and challenging nonetheless.

One of the most common questions that I have been asked by people is "do I have to own a Kindle to buy your book?". When I first decided to self publish I thought that the answer to this question was yes. Then I discovered Smashwords who offer downloads on multiple formats and I recently found out from my sister in law (hi Leaona!) that a Kindle App is available for smartphones. This news increases my potential readership greatly.

Of course, there is still the question of print books. A few years ago the only Print On Demand (POD) services were connected to vanity publishing and this was certainly not a route that I would want to go down.  When it comes to book selling it should always be the customer that pays and not the author. Now though, there are several free to enroll POD services. The two biggest names that I have come across so far are Create Space ad LULU. Given it's connection to KDP (both are owned by Amazon), I have decided that Create Space is the one that I will be going with.

If the uploading process is as simple as it was with KDP, then I should have a print version of The Outback available to order very soon. This will be an invaluable marketing tool as it creates a real product to send to reviewers as well. As usual, I will keep a log of my experience with this particular type of publishing on this blog and in time be able to assess how effective it is. Obviously, sales will require a tougher sell as I cannot use the tempting ninety nine cents offer (the minimum to turn a profit will likely be $9-$10 or £6-£7), but with it being free to enrol, I have nothing to lose. And from now on that will always be my motto when it comes to self publishing.

Do it - you have nothing to lose.

If you have not already done so - please click on the link below to buy The Outback on Kindle

Saturday, 13 April 2013

The Outback Now Available On Amazon and Smashwords

Finally, my debut novel is available to download on Amazon Kindle:

or on Smashwords:

The novel is priced at $2.99 (US), £2.99 (UK), e2.99 (EUR). Sample chapters are available for free download via the respective stores and more information will be appearing on this blog soon.

When Matt arrives in the small outback town of Birribandi to take up harvest work, he finds that drink, drugs and sex are just as easy to come by as they were on the coast. What he does not count on is his farm boss; a cruel, sadistic old Aussie named Rhett Butler. The backpackers try to keep a low profile around their boss, but Rhett has an agenda of his own and as Matt and his new friends are about to discover; it could cost them their very lives...

The novel is a thriller, based, you've guessed it - in outback Australia. All of the characters and events are fictitious, but the story is based on my own experiences of working and travelling through Australia. Although, the actual inspiration came from a different place altogether.

Upon returning to the UK, I found myself smack, bang in the middle of the worst recession since the 1920's (it's a global thing - you may have noticed yourselves!). The first thing that I had to do on my arrival was to sign on at the local job centre, who soon found me a job at my local job centre! I then had to spend 8 hours a day explaining to angry job seekers why they had to wait so long for their dole money to arrive. It is fair to say that I took a lot of abuse.

One evening, after a particularly rough day of abuse, I came in and simply could not take it anymore. Thinking of a scene from my favourite Adam Sandler movie, Happy Gilmore (for any young people who are more familiar with his more recent movies, I can tell you that he did used to be good, way back in the 90's - really, check it out for yourselves). I decided to find my happy place. I closed my eyes and imagined where I would like to be if I could be anywhere and I instantly thought of the outback. Not for its psychopaths (that aspect of the novel is fiction), but for its remoteness, its vast scale and most importantly of all - for the stars. There is nothing quite like looking up to the heavens on a clear outback night. It really makes you appreciate how vast and beautiful and magical our universe really is.

I suddenly felt inspired to stop the travel journals that I was working on and to start writing a novel. For the following months all of my spare time was taken up with what would eventually become; The Outback. (The trouble that I had settling on a title is documented in a previous post). Then after redraft, upon redraft, upon redraft, upon many more redrafts, it was finally finished. My biggest hope is that it can provide the same element of escapism for the people reading it as it did for me writing it.

Uploading to Kindle could not have been more easy. The only thing is to make sure that you follow the formatting guide. It can take several hours to painstakingly review every [return] and [page break], but it is worth it.

Smashwords followed a different formatting process to Kindle and again this took time. Details of both ways to format the book are explained flawlessly in the FAQ sections of both sites. Kindle took 12 hours to appear in store after uploading and Smashwords was pretty much instant. I only hope that the sales follow just as quickly!

So what now?

Well, obviously I am going to have to put a lot of work into marketing the book and I can also now begin the final redrafting of my second novel Stealing Asia. I hope to have this for release before the end of June 2013. Until then, I better get back to it.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Counting Down to Release

I have it on reliable information that my proof checker is now 75% through the final draft of The Outback. This means that it should hopefully be ready for publication this weekend. Although, given my history with technology things may not run quite so smoothly. I recall a few years back when it was time to file my first tax return in Australia. Many private companies offered to make the process easier for either $300 or 10% of the refund due. Being the tight arse that I am, I decided to do it myself. Somehow, I managed to turn a $2,500 refund into a $81 bill! Not just for myself, but I messed up my girlfriend, Katie's return to the tune of $3,000 as well. Sorting out the problem caused a 2 month delay to the rebates and put a massive strain on our travel budget during that time. I only pray that I am more fortuitous (or less hasty) this time.

On the subject of being a tight arse, I have also had to think long and hard about my pricing structure. Personally, I think that £2.99 is a reasonable and fair price for an e-book, but that is NOT what I will be charging. I do after all want more people than just my sister to buy it! Spending on an unknown author is always a gamble and one that I fully appreciate. Therefore, the price will initially be set at 99p. When I release the second novel, Stealing Asia (aiming for mid May), I should be well versed in how the whole e-marketing machine works and plan to put together some offers. Smashwords do a coupon system and I may be feeling generous.

I am also working on getting some permanently free content uploaded in the near future too. I have a couple of travel journals that need polishing and bringing up to standard, but I think that they will make for interesting reads and they also contain some of the TRUE tales that inspired my writing. Stealing Asia, in particular mirrors a nightmare border crossing that I endured entering Thailand. Men with guns are scary. Men with guns stopping and searching your car even scarier. Men with guns pointing them at you and steering you towards the WRONG border crossing in a foreign country are about as scary as it gets!

So keep watching this space. The next time that I post, I should have at least tried to upload the novel...

Thursday, 11 April 2013

What's Your Book Called?

Obviously, the first question that I am regularly asked when I tell people that I am a writer is to enquire about the book's title. The second question is usually along the lines of; "so, have you had anything published..." Neither are questions that I particularly want to hear.

Surely, telling people the title of the book should not be too hard, should it? Well, from experience I can say that this is possibly the most awkward question of all. You see, the title has a tendency to change whilst the novel is in process and sometimes it can even change mid-sentence whilst I am telling it to people!

The problem is that sometimes we do not realise how crap a title can sound until we say it out loud. Unfortunately, as writers we do not say enough things out loud. An excellent tip for perfecting dialogue is to read it back to oneself out loud. This definitely works and if the dialogue is not natural and believable, it will show. Back to the title, like I said, sometimes you do not realise how bad it is until you tell somebody.

The original title of my novel The Outback, was The Outback! However, after receiving my first few rejection letters, I began to worry that the title was not going down well with potential agents. I changed it to Into the Outback. More rejections followed, so I thought that I needed something that had a more symbolic link to the text. I started to then call it Shadows in the Outback and I even rewrote a brief piece of dialogue in one of the chapters to reference that "there are no shadows in the outback, but those that we cast ourselves."

Up until last week the working title remained Shadows in the Outback. It sounded, mysterious, clever, cool and I did not mind telling it to people. Then it came time to design my first cover. No matter how much I tried experimenting with different fonts and colour schemes, I could not get this title to work. It fit the story, it sounded good, but once I put it on the cover it just looked naff!

Where did that leave me? Well, I decided to go back and try using my previous titles on the cover to see which one worked best. As it turns out, I had been right the first time. The Outback is now my debut novel.

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my two self published novels The Outback and Stealing Asia. Both are available as ebooks and paperbacks.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

It's Not Who You Know - It's WHAT you know

I recently watched a British sci-fi movie about aliens attacking a rough, inner city housing estate in London. The reviews had all been positive and my expectations were high. Suffice to say, the movie did not live up to these expectations. A year or two ago, I may still have enjoyed watching it, but since I started to view all art through writer's eyes, I was horrified by just how blatantly misjudged the movie was. If it had been about aliens invading middle class suburbia or perhaps even a university campus, I may have thought differently. You see, the problem was that the writer (you can figure out who, but I do not like to disrespect others) was clearly not from a rough inner city background. As a result, I found a lot of the characters (all in fact) to be unrealistic, patronising and worst of all; completely unsympathetic. This movie had broken the cardinal rule: WRITE ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW!

Surely, all rules are made to be broken I hear you say. After all, J K Rowling is not really a wizard (as far as I know) and neither has George Lucas ever visited a galaxy far, far away. The point is that they still stuck to territory that they were familiar with. JK Rowling set the Potter books in a school and Star Wars is actually an old fashioned fairy tale about a knight rescuing a princess. Besides which, Star Wars was not Lucas's first film. His debut, American Graffiti, had a small scope to it and drew on a lot of aspects of Lucas's own youth.

Writing, like anything, takes practice to get good. A debut novel is when a writer learns the tools of his trade and it is important that the story being told is as familiar as possible, as the process of writing is not. For that first novel, you have to keep it familiar and to some extent; small. Take Alex Garland with his outstanding first novel, The Beach. He drew on his own experiences of backpacking in Asia and used an isolated, enclosed area for the setting. Another favourite author of mine; Stephen Fry did the same with his debut; The Liar. This novel was set within the again, enclosed walls of the public school/university system. There will always be exceptions to the rule, but even the most imaginative writers know that for that first book, you have to keep it simple.

When I tell people that my first novel is set in Australia, they instantly become sceptical and rightly so. I am English and they wonder if I know enough about my subject matter. The thing is, I actually have stuck to what I know. I spent 2 years working and living in Australia and for 6 months of that time I was labouring on outback farms. I picked potatoes in the Riverland. I pruned grapevines in Western Australia and like the characters in the book; I picked sticks in Queensland. The people and places in the novel may not be real, but I know them all very well nonetheless. I could have chosen to set the novel in America and relied on wikipedia for fact checking, but I think that readers are more intelligent than that. They know the difference between what is fiction and what is ultimately, just lies.

left - picking grapes in south oz

right - driving the tractor  in Mildura, VIC

If you found this post interesting, why not sign up to join my blog using one of the tools on the sidebar to the right. You can also check out my two self published novels The Outback and Stealing Asia. Both are available as ebooks and paperbacks.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Cover Story

On my first look at the books available to buy on Kindle Direct, I was surprised by how similar the covers of the e-books were to that of their print brethren. Initially, this had me a little worried. Did it mean that I would have to commission a professional designer to create my book covers in order to compete in the online market? Judging by a lot of discussions I have read in many of the different writer forums, it would seem that the answer is yes.

Following brief research, I was able to find several links to professional graphic designers that specialised in e-book covers charging in the region of $30 - $300 (or currency equivalent). To me this seemed a little excessive given that the projected average earnings for a self published author are only about $500 and many make a lot less and sometimes nothing. I also found a lot of the "commissioned" covers to be too generic and quite frankly; soulless. Is it really worth paying for a manipulated stock image that will most likely be used by dozens of other authors as well? Personally, I do not think so, which is why I have decided to design all of my own covers.

Now my technological skills are as basic as they get. I also know nothing about "professional" design. Yet, it took just a few minutes of searching on Google to find several more than adequate photo manipulation packages to do the necessary job. In the end, for ease of use and accessibility I settled on FotoFlexer This website was quick, simple and most importantly, 100% free.

Since most of my novels were inspired by my days backpacking in Australia and beyond, I decided that my own personal photo collection should be adequate a place to look for the base image and again, cheaper than paying for a stock photograph. Once uploaded, I haphazardly tried applying the various effects offered by FotoFlexer until I found something that I liked. These effects are all basic, but effective. They range from heat, painting, retro, colour rotate, infra-red, night vision etc...

To the left of the screen is a selection of effects that I tried, all using the same low quality base image. As you can see I began by applying the "heat" effect. The result is dramatic, but a little too bright for what I was looking for. The next step was to play around until I found a more subtle colour scheme. I also added a more dramatic font for the book title. Then eventually, after much trial and error, I settled on the final image. Here you can see that I have matched the colour scheme to fit the subject matter (blue and copper of the outback) and applied a much bolder sized font to the title. I have also resized the image to meet with the guidelines that are outlined by the KDP service.

Whether my cover is preferable to a professionally designed one is purely down to personal opinion. I however, like it and would not change it for the world. As authors, we are obviously creative people and if we can overcome the fear of technology then there is nothing that we cannot achieve for ourselves. I also think that it adds a personal touch to the work too. When I buy a book I want to know that the author has put his all into producing it. For me, this includes the cover design.

We also need to remember that what separates the indie author from the corporate world of traditional publishing is the fact that we are not so much simply selling a product, but sharing our work. In the end, the more that a writer puts into their work, the more that the reader can take out of it. And I for one will be contributing my all in every aspect. And if the writing does not work out, then at $300 for the time that it took me to design the cover on the left, I can always try becoming a graphic designer instead.

I would be interested to know how others have found the cover creating experience and welcome any authors to post examples of designs that they have made themselves or offer links to their own content.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Time To Reject the Rejections

For the past four years I have been playing the lottery. With two draws per week I have spent £416 within that time. The occasional small win of £10 amounts to much less than my expenditure on tickets, so this year I decided to give it up. £2 per week saving is not much, but it is still better than nothing. Similarly, it is roughly four years to the day that I began writing and three years since I completed my first novel: The Outback.
Completing the book turned out to be the easy part as it was the next challenge that I set, which proved to be the most difficult. I decided that I wanted an agent. After all, if I was ever to progress my writing to next level, I would surely need professional representation to guide me through the complex process of negotiating and landing a publishing deal. In order to get my work out to an audience, first acquiring an agent is essential. Or is it?

Currently, my pile of rejection letters stands at 30. A further 7 did not even return my work in the pre-paid envelope provided. And then there are the online submissions. Out of about twenty e-mails sent, I only got a 50% response rate – all rejections. Polite, but rejections nonetheless.
The question that I must ask myself is; why?
The obvious answer would be to think that my book was simply not good enough. That I do not have what it takes to make it as a published author. Many writers would have come to that conclusion and given up. But is that really the case?

The one common thread running through each and every rejection was that not one of the agents in question had actually read my book. In fact, I strongly believe that most of them did not read the sample chapters or even the synopsis. At best, they may have very briefly glanced over the cover letter. Put simply, I believe that the vast majority of submissions were returned unseen by an actual agent.
Why do I think this you may ask?
Is it bitterness? Is it to shield myself from facing up to the reality that maybe the quality of the writing was not good enough?

Again, the answer is a resounding no. The truth is much simpler. It is purely a case of mathematics. From the information in their websites, the agents who I approached were stated to be receiving between 50 and 300 queries per week. If three sample chapters comes in at an average of about 5,000 words (a low estimate), that would amount to between 250,000 and 1,500,000 words or the equivalent of between 4 and 24 full length novels!

Obviously, the agent must give priority to their current clients and then there is a case of reading the full manuscripts that they have been sent/referred. When then, do they have time to read all of the unsolicited submissions? The simple answer is that they don’t. Most employ a reader to sift through the submissions and even then the volume means that they will only glance over each cover letter before deciding if it is worth reading further. Add to that the fact that many agencies will only take on a handful of new clients each year and the outlook is far from promising.

One example from my own experience is Darley Anderson, which is possibly the biggest of all the agencies representing authors in the UK. I have submitted 3 times to this agency and each time I received a polite rejection letter stating they receive 300 queries per week and only take on 5 or 6 new clients per year. 300 submissions per week amounts to 15,600 per year. What this means is that the chances of signing with this agency are roughly 6/15,600 or 1 in 2,600. Not impossible, but very, very unlikely. No matter how good the writing is, the most important factor in acquiring an agent is pure old fashioned luck and even then, the prospective author would need a lot of it.

Therefore, I have decided that it is about time that I tried creating my own luck. Over the coming weeks and months I will be self publishing my novels (4 so far) online via Kindle Direct and Smashwords and chronicling my progress on this blog. The returns are likely to be small, but like I already said regarding the lottery: even £2 saved is better than nothing. Most importantly, the only person who now needs to read my work before deciding if it is fit for publishing is me. For the first time, I feel like the odds are finally in my favour.