Finding a Cover to be Judged

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They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but as a writer you know that a cover is definitely important when trying to sell a book as it is usually the first thing a prospective reader sees.

One of the advantages of being an independent author is that you can have a big say in the cover of your book and so for The Price of Magic I once more used an illustrator I selected. For reasons I shan’t go into here the illustrator who did the cover for A Ghost Called Dog was unavailable, but I was able to keep it in the family with Matt Hutching’s following in his mother’s footprints and working on the latest book. I have no idea if there is a ‘right’ way to go about getting an illustration for a cover but this is what we did this time.

I started off by sending Matt a synopsis of the book along with some extracts about characters and locations as well as the cover from the first book because The Price of Magic is a sequel and I wanted them to share a feel.

I offered up the couple of ideas that I had, but although there were things rattling around my head I like to trust the illustrator’s skill when it comes to design. Once we had finished up our initial discussions Matt set to work and sent through seven drafts for me to take a look at, some of which you can see below:

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Typically, my favourites were not what I though the best suggestions were when I was making suggestions, which is why I try to give a decent brief and let the Illustrator work from there. You may notice that the draft on the right is the most similar to the final cover but there was still work to do.

Having consulted with a couple of people and made up my mind I went back and confirmed my favourite and what tweaks I thought were needed. Matt then went back to the drawing board (figuratively I suspect rather than literally but I couldn’t resist the turn of phrase) and the following hit my inbox.

I checked in with my usual people and Heidi the production controller from Troubador who had to keep everything to do with the production of TPOM rolling and cope with the slight mania I develop during the typeset – the response was universal in selecting option three which should look familiar to you.

The following bit is going to my favourite part of this post as I didn’t get to sit over Matt’s shoulder as he worked on the final cover and I am absolutely the kind of person who can get lost in those videos of someone creating something from scratch so despite being a writer, I’m going to let the graphics do the talking for a moment as the cover takes shape:

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And there you have it, from samples of writing to imagination to drafts to a cover. I am really happy out how things turned out and I have had several people say very nice things about the cover, which makes all the effort worth it.

Until next time, when I’ll let you in on some of the things I’ve been beavering away at behind the scenes but for now…

To all the things!

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The Book is Here, Now What?

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You see all the time news stories about the pace of modern life and I am as bad as anyone for being focused on the next thing and so I sailed through the official release date for The Price of Magic with my head full of blogs that need writing, updates to the website for the new book, the newsletter I’m planning, marketing, and whatever else is going on.

This post was meant to be written and go up at the weekend but life got in the way. Well, part of that is the best laid plan of mice and men oft go astray, but equally I’m working on a post for my American Football blog and as a writer what I really want to do is create and I have a new book to write, which I have started.

We all have these competing pressures in our life. Not just the I’d really like to do X if I could find the time, but I need to get the washing up done and wash the clothes over the weekend and this could get to be a really long list but I’m sure you get the point.

I am not very good at stopping to take a moment. There’s always the next project, something else that needs doing either for work or for home. Even with cutting back I still get caught out and before you know it, my book has officially been released for over a week.

The thing is, I am proud of having another book out but my mind is on to what’s next.

That’s just the way I am wired.

And then you get a message from your friend overseas that their book has arrived.

That’s when it hits. When you’re an independent author the moment of validation isn’t on publication because you have invested in that moment yourself. Yes you wrote a book, had it edited, gone through the typeset and cover design etc. but you are the initiator, no one said we’re going to publish your novel and then takes it away to get it done. I had to make this happen with the help of a lot of people.

That is how it works for me anyway. I have spent enough time on a meditation stool to be pretty aware of how my monkey brain leaps around and that is where most of my writing ideas come from, because at any moment something around me whether I’m researching for a book, listening to a podcast, or just going about my day – my brain will suddenly announce here’s a solution to that story problem, hey this might make a story, you idiot you were working on the wrong blog.

However, if these moments are to go from a quick note on my phone, or a line or two in the ideas folder on my memory stick, to a blog post, short story, or a book, it takes focussed work. However, for people to see that work then other things have to take place.

As a self-publishing author I don’t have one of the large publishing houses doing things for me.

I have companies that I work with, that offer services and I have to work out which options to go for and agree plans and let them do their tasks whilst I do things to support the project.

If I lose track of this and don’t do what I am supposed to then I can spend all the time in the world researching and writing the next book, but maybe no one gets to see it as if I can’t make this book a bigger success than the last one then at what point do I stop investing into these projects?

It is not a sexy writing moment. It is the hard excel spreadsheets and tax returns that running a creative business entails. At the moment I’m not trying to sustain my life with writing, but I am serious about turning this into a venture that at least supports itself and eventually makes a profit.

But in a way this does aid the creative process as it gives me bench marks, it’s a different type of validation but at the end of the day anyone who writes does so to get read. There are many different models on how to do that and it has been an endless discussion for as long as there has been art – why should I pay for this?

There are also many different answers and right now I’m not going into difficult area of justifying art, but I will go into why I want to keep doing this. It’s a simple answer really.

I want to be a better writer.

This makes me a better writer.

I think we have made a better book this time. I think I wrote a better book and went through the process with more knowledge which let me make new and interesting mistakes.

Mistakes are how you learn things. That’s pretty much what science is. Finding out what you got wrong, correcting and then testing the new thing. Then someone comes along and tries to repeat your experiment and finds the mistake you hadn’t even thought of.

I have improved my process but I also know how I want to change things next time. That goes for the practical aspects for writing and editing a novel. I want to put a better book in front of my beta readers and my editor. I want to be able to do this for myself and whilst you can’t skip the editing and proof reading process – I would like to make them easier.

I am already writing book three. There is some more research to do, but I have put together notes and ideas, already spoken to people and realised that I need to do some more blacksmith/armourer research.

That’s all the fun stuff. I also have a tax return that I’d like to do before January this time, marking to do, the mythical newsletter to finish setting up and get going. There’s always something more but also, there’s things going on that I need to pay attention to.

And then, like a ringing meditation bell someone lets you know they’ve ordered your book, and you pause for a second basking for a moment that yes I did do that, and then it is on to the next thing.

To all the things.

As Publication Nears

The most important piece of news I have for you is that not only has everything been signed off ready for press, but that the order is in and I’m now simply waiting for the books to show up. This whole project will suddenly feel much more real when I can finally hold a copy of the finished book in my hand. I’ll also try to stop worrying about missing anything in the text.

I am continuing to work on a marketing plan, which doesn’t sound very glamorous but when you are self-publishing it is very important as you need to get your book into as many hands as possible because at the end of the day, if people don’t buy enough copies of The Price of Magic then that limits or possibly even stops the next book from happening. I am finally moving from making notes to making plans for the next book. There are scenes slowing beginning to form in my mind, including one of the final scene of the whole arc (I think that will be a fourth book in this series but it’s early so don’t quote me), and I’m having some really helpful conversations about how to make what will happen to two important children as authentic as I can within the context of a magical adventure. I hope to do them justice but none of it will matter if I can’t find a way to get the next book published.

I imagine there is always tension for a writer between doing justice to what is coming out, versus the exciting new adventure that is the next book. Particularly when you are in the fun early stages of a new project when the problems haven’t set in yet. I’m certainly looking forward to some creative writing in my future.

However, as ever I have to balance this against not only the marketing and hopefully events for the launch and publication of my book, but work and blogs and this would be a juggling act even if I didn’t have a nasty habit of throwing myself into various projects or creative outlets like the band I’m in.

Still, it certainly stops things from getting boring and there is a definite motivating factor in getting admin work done when the prize is some precious creative writing space. I’m actually going to start the next book in the coming days although there is still more research to do. However, on top of that, I am also in the middle of setting up a newsletter. This will be a slightly less formal way of me keeping you up to date than the blog/FB page so look out for a sign up coming soon and hopefully we can shape a fun back and forth that entertains if nothing else.

As ever, to all the things!

A Month is a Short Time in Publishing

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There is something reassuring that as much as technology and society seems to be speeding up the world around us, that writing and publishing still work on a slower time scale because until someone can come up with an algorithm smart enough to edit and understand natural languages, the editing and layout of stories is still something people have to do, at least for now.

Sure computers have sped the process up massively and I can use an application to compare files to make sure only the changes I have marked up have been carried out, but at various points I’ve still had to check the pages by eye and print off copies to read. I don’t always do this for editing, but if you want to take a really close look at the text then there is really no substitute for holding it in your hand as there is a difference between reading a text on a computer screen rather than paper.

I feel like I am getting better at this process, but it inevitably takes more time when you have to find an hour here or there round a full time job to do it. Heidi, who is the person coordinating my book’s journey through production at Troubador has been wonderfully patient and although I did find a handful of edits from the last typeset I wrote about here, the text is now set and we’re just working through the last few layout tweaks before I can pass it for press.

What has been finished is the cover, and I will blog about that properly once I have all the images I need to show you the various stages of the journey from vague ideas connected to the book, to sketches, selections, the final image taking place and the full cover.

I’m very close to letting go of the book, as every writer does, because at some point there is nothing left to do but let it go into the world and hope people take care of it.

I have been researching book three when I can for months now, but hopefully that should pick up pace soon, which is good as it feels like a long time since I did some actual creative writing.

However, my focus obviously has to be on the current book and I’ll soon be sitting down with my marketing person (it still feels a little weird to say that) to shape up what we can do to get The Price of Magic in front of as many people as possible. That might not have been the most showy way of revealing the title of my new book, but hey, I’m not really that kind of writer.

Onwards to the next thing.

To all the things!

The Difficult Second Album

Somehow seven months have slipped by since I last updated this blog. That’s time for an entire season of NFL blogging, multiple edits of the new book and typeset checks so I guess I had better get things back on track with this blog and quickly, because whilst I may have been quiet on here, things have been anything but quiet for me.

So, where am I now?

I have come out of the post NFL relax week or two that usually follows the end of the Super Bowl and what I think of as my NFL blogging season. The NFL blog has been a great platform to learn when I can write, gives me structured thing to practise developing content and getting writing reps in, and gives me an excuse to watch a lot of American Football. I also thoroughly enjoy my weekly chats with Dan for the podcast, which also helps me form ideas for the blog and help give it structure, and this season get NFL trivia questions wrong. For those of you who were listening you will have got a sneak preview of the title of the new book.

I have already started to outline how I might tweak things for next season, but there’s plenty of time to think about that.

Whilst the season was going on, we’ve put in place the plan for the sequel to A Ghost Called Dog got everything sorted out with the relevant publishing companies and I’ve been hard at it. Mostly I have been focussed on turning the new book into the best piece of work I can. We have used the same editor, Karen Holmes, who edited Ghost but the new book is setting up something bigger and more complex so the draft I started from needed a fair bit of work and it took a couple of passes to turn that draft into a manuscript that works the way I intended

You always learn from your mistakes and there are several things I can take away from this process that will hopefully serve to improve the next book’s development. I say improve as I believe it is a common folly for all writers to start their next book full of confidence that they have learnt so much and there will be no problems with this one. Yeah right…

Still, I am determined to improve things both in terms of planning, plotting, and my initial editing process. I think I’ll always need to write my way through problems and questions, but hopefully I can weed out the excess that readers don’t need to see before putting the next manuscript in front of an editor. I might need a better laser printer for that.

I did at least avoid the whole difficult second album problem because my life did not change radically after the release of Ghost, and although it was my first published book, Ghost was in fact the third book I had written.

Currently, I am trying to get the typeset finished. My latest batch of amends has gone back to the publisher, and I’m confident once those changes have been made that the text will be set. We will still need to check the layout to find out what if anything has drifted and if we need to move any text around pages, but we are getting close. I am excited about how the illustration for the cover has turned out and as we have the dimensions of the spine sorted I don’t think it will be too long before the full cover starts to takes shape.

I’ll keep you updated on how things are going, and I have a couple of other tweaks and changes that I’ve been thinking about for the website and staying in contact with everyone.

For now I will say, I am incredibly grateful to all the people who have had kind words to say, been supportive, or just wondered where I found the time. I’m not giving up any time soon; I have a bunch of ideas for future books outside of the sequels for the little series I’m developing now. I just have to keep going with the writing and finding ways to get that writing into people’s hands, digital devices, or even uploaded directly into your brains once the technology exists. That last one might be a little over the mark…

One Year On

Today marks a year since A Ghost Called Dog was published.

Since then I’ve been on the radio, had some lovely feedback, especially from children/parents.

I’ve recently had a letter from the British library to confirm receipt of their copy, which proves what I told my gran last year, that there is a book dedicated to her at the copy right libraries.

I can also say, that not only is there a manuscript for a sequel, but that it should be out fairly early next year. I’m only being vague as we’re still firming up a few things, and it is more than a little early for precise dates, but yes a sequel is happening and hopefully it will be bigger and better than the first book.

And if you want to see the rest of the series, then we need to get more people reading and buying, but more to come on that front in the months ahead.

I also have some fun writing challenges coming soon to the blog if I get myself organised.

There are very definitely wheels in motion.

Watch this space!

Selling a Book – Phase Two

“It’s a marathon not a sprint.”

It’s one of those clichés that crop up in sport, and I’m pretty sure that I have used it both to describe an NFL season and writing a book.

In fact it turns out that it’s a pretty good description of not just writing a book, but getting one from draft through editing and design, and out into the market place. However, for an independent author, the process doesn’t stop once you have the agreement with the print on demand companies and digital outlets. No, because after all that comes selling the book.

It’s not a glamourous thing to do, and certainly no one has written films about writers contacting shops about stocking their book. However, that is where I found myself right now, settling down into the hard graft of prep and contacting. A process that is eerily similar to submitting books to agents, only this time it is a little less speculative and involves discussions of percentages and getting copies into the hands of people who make decisions.

The good is news is that where we have been successful in doing this, the book has sold. However, if I am to keep doing this then I need to expand the number of shops that are stocking the book, and magic up a lot more sales through the digital outlets.

I am working on developing a network of contacts to hopefully get the book out into more shops, but the disadvantage of being an independent is that I don’t have people doing this for me. So as we move into the second phase of selling the book I am looking for people’s help, namely you who are reading this.

I strongly believe that the best way to sell a book is through the people loving books and talking to each other.

So if you have read the book and enjoyed it, then recommend it to a friend. Lend your copy, get the word out. Also, if you are lucky enough to have a great local bookshop, talk to them about it or let me know so I can contact them about getting stocked.

On the digital side of things, and if you are so inclined, a good review would be very much appreciated. I’m not going to pretend that I understand the various rankings and algorithms that dominate online stores and review sites, but the bit that is important is that the more people who saying nice things, the better the chances that someone new finds the book.

I am in the home stretch of the opening draft of a sequel, and my experience with A Ghost Called Dog haw certainly wetted my appetite. I have multiple books in the ideas drawer ready to be written, but it is not enough for the book just to exist. I have to establish a solid enough business model to make this an ongoing concern. It is an old business adage that you have to speculate to accumulate, and I certainly don’t mind investing in this up to a point.

There has always been a tension in the creative arts between the art and the business. As an independent writer you have to confront this directly, trying to find a way to make the system work for you within your circumstances. For me, this means writing something that is artistically valid in of itself. The first stage of selling a book is to make the book as good as it can be.

However, once it exists then you have to start having conversations regarding price points and distribution, remembering that at the end of the day, there is a number of books that you have to sell to cover what you put in and beyond. There may be a day when I can get to a point where my books account for a part of my income, but for now I would be happy to make them self-sufficient. A literary ecosystem that is independent on my everyday life.

It’s quite a small dream in the grand scheme of things, but there is still a long way to go before I can make that a reality. So if you are so inclined, spread the word, get in touch about book stores, write a review, or lend it to a friend.

I would be profoundly grateful.