Guest Post: 25 Things I Learned While Writing My Debut Novel by Jeff Monaghan

Today we have Jeff Monaghan on the blog sharing the experience he gained writing his first novel. There are some gems here for writers, so pay close attention! Take it away, Jeff…


I wrote a novel; a thriller to be exact. Six years ago I heard a segment on the radio during my drive to work that I thought would make for a great thriller. My first thought was that I needed to find someone who could write it. But by the time I got to work, I had decided that the best person to write it was me. It’s one of those things that, at the time, I thought was probably impossible but wanted to see if I could actually do it if I set my mind to it. It’s six years later, my novel is finished, and here is what I have learned.

1. Writing a novel is NOT something other people do

When I started to consider writing a novel, I thought it was something other people did. I’m not an author. Other people are authors. Men who wear tweed jackets, smoke pipes, and wear glasses at the end of their noses are authors. And single women who sit in their New York apartments and drink wine are authors. But not me. I’m not an author.

But it was finding an amazing local author/teacher named Ellen Sussman that helped me realize I could write a novel. It was fellow authors like Heather Haven and Baird Nuckolls, whom I met in Ellen’s workshops, that pointed out the weaknesses in my novel and gave me a path forward to make it better. We all have great ideas for stories. People who write novels have simply taken the time to learn how to put their ideas down on paper in a way that entertains others. Well, that is the hope anyways.

2. Not knowing something is not an excuse

Not knowing about a particular subject may have limited writers in the past, but the Internet has changed that. You can find almost anything online.

There are two characters in my novel who are very different and I needed a way for them to connect on a level that others might not understand. I decided to make them both players of Minecraft, a massively popular online “virtual world” game. The problem was that I knew very little about the game. Luckily, after five minutes of Googling, I found an online Minecraft community that knew everything there was to know about Minecraft. I posted the two excerpts from my novel that discussed the game and many of the members gave me feedback on how to make the writing more accurate. Thank you Minecraft.net

3. Writing a first novel is hard and it takes a long time to get it right

Persistence is a must. That’s not to say there aren’t individuals out there who can easily crank out a great novel in three months. But for a first novel, you’re more likely looking at years to get it right. It’s more than just the act of writing, it’s learning how to write, and that takes time. Ira Glass says it best in this video about creating a story. I refer to this video a lot:

Ira Glass on Storytelling

4. Keep moving forward

The only way to write a novel is to write. And keep writing. I had to learn that my writing wasn’t always going to be good but that it was important to get the ideas down on paper first so that I had a foundation on which to build even better ideas. Once I realized that writing crap was part of the process, it helped me to move forward. I can write crap all day long. The lesson? Keep writing, even if it’s crap. You’ll edit, make it better, and keep moving forward. You will get there eventually. Maybe. Hopefully.

5. My novel followed me, everywhere

One thing I did not expect was that my novel followed me everywhere I went. It was like some sort of subliminal manic movie projector that showed random scenes at any given time. These scenes were often triggered by everyday life, but sometimes not. They popped up at random times and often seemed like pure genius. Other times, after some thought, they were just plain dumb. But they were ideas that needed to be documented so they could lead to something better. So even when I wasn’t consciously thinking about my novel, I know it was there, lurking, stewing and continuing to form.

6. Writing is not always writing

Writing is not always putting words on paper. It’s sometimes simply letting your story play itself out in your head and taking note of what is happening. Sometimes when I did this, nothing really happened. My characters didn’t do much. Other times, I found myself on the side of the road dictating into the recording device on my phone. Writing is not always writing.

7. Enjoy alone time

The act of writing is an alone time activity. If you don’t like spending time by yourself, you will have trouble writing anything.

8. You need people who are honest

Honest feedback is another key to writing a successful novel. If, or should I say when, your writing isn’t good, someone needs to tell you. And then it’s your job to fix it and make it something people will want to read. Which brings me to my next lesson.

9. Give people what they want

If you want people to read your book, you need to give them what they want. That includes likeable characters (when’s the last time you read a book that had a main character that you hated?), a story that has an arch to it (it must go somewhere, the character(s) must evolve), and you’ve got to hook them in the beginning and don’t let go.

The first draft of my novel went down a rather depressing road with a weak leading character. I’ll never forget the response I got from my good friend Heather Haven. “Please! Give me something to like about this guy.” Stuff like that is painful to hear but it’s a necessary part of writing.

10. A “dead-end” will work itself out, eventually

When writing my novel, especially since it was my first, I quickly learned that writing myself into a corner was common. There is a scene in my novel where Jack (the good guy) is being chased by the bad guy and ends up hiding in a women’s dressing room at a clothing store in the mall. My initial thought was that I could simply have him escape out a back door. The problem, which I realized after I wrote the scene, was that dressing rooms don’t have back doors for obvious reasons, theft. So after having written the scene, I was stuck with my main character trapped in a dressing room with no way out. Basically, he was screwed. I was stuck on this scene for a week before I finally came up with a way to resolve the issue. Sometimes it takes time, but if you keep at it, “dead-ends” will work themselves out.

11. Ask for criticism

I wanted people to love what I wrote. But I soon learned that wasn’t always going to be the case, which is exactly what every writer needs. The last thing I wanted to be is that contestant on American Idol who was told they were a great singer their entire life and then, when it really counts, in front of the people who matter, completely bomb. The criticism I received early on proved invaluable for my writing. I soon began asking for criticism when I realized the positive effect it had on what I was producing.

12. Find time

One of the biggest challenges any first time author will encounter is finding time to write. My wife, kids, job, house, family, and hobbies all require time and attention leaving little time for writing. But like anything else in life, if you make it a priority, time can be found.

13. Your characters need motivation

There needs to be a driving force behind why your characters do what they do. Walter White was a run-of-the-mill, straight-laced, chemistry teacher. He wasn’t going to decide to cook meth just because it sounded interesting. Something drastic had to push him into it to make the story believable and compelling. The more radical the action a character takes, the more important a believable motivation becomes.

14. For the people who are interested, share as much as you can with them

There were a select few people who got really excited when they learned I was writing a thriller and wanted to hear all about it and the process I used. These people were rare and I leaned on them for as much information as possible. They wanted to be part of the process and they had connections, life experiences, and ideas that I didn’t.

For example, the first thing I ever wrote and published was a short memoir about my father. I also made a trailer for the book using old home movies. You can see it here. After I completed it I provided a link to the video on my LinkedIn profile which led to a completely unexpected conversation.

I was at work speaking with a representative from LinkedIn about something related to my day job and at the end she mentioned the trailer. She had seen what I posted on my profile and was curious about the memoir I had written, wondering how I had done it. After a few minutes I mentioned the thriller I was currently writing and she was able to provide some insight that I would never have known had I not spoken with her. Insight that contributed significantly to the accuracy of my novel.

15. The first draft of my novel wasn’t good, and that’s normal

The first draft of my novel needed work and I was lucky enough to know people who told me so. But I also knew there was something good there to uncover.

16. The second draft for my novel wasn’t good either, and that’s normal too

My second attempt was a little better, but it still wasn’t very good.

17. My third attempt got me pointed in the right direction

Thanks to some constructive criticism, I finally found the kernel of goodness that was hiding in that first draft and my novel and my story was starting to look like something that might be really good. But the third draft still needed a lot of work.

18. The longer you work on your novel, the harder it is to know what works

The deeper I got into my novel, the more difficult it was for me to realize what was working and what wasn’t. This is where I had to rely on others that I trusted to provide me with some clarity. I often found myself writing “where the novel took me” only to later realize that what I was writing wasn’t very exciting. It was a thriller. It needed to be exciting and I needed to do some planning and thinking about the direction of the story before I wrote.

19. When you think it’s finished, you’re probably six months to a year away

The novel I ended up with is light years away from the one I originally conceived. Not that I had to abandon my original idea, but it didn’t take long to learn that the original idea I had simply wasn’t enough for a full blown, engaging thriller. I needed to add more layers to my story. Make it more complex. This is what that additional year of writing did for my novel.

20. Ultimately, it was my novel

People gave me a lot of advice along the way, and they still do. The challenge, as I have learned, is to know when to heed that advice and when the advice didn’t apply to what I was writing. It’s much easier said than done. Ultimately, though, I came to realize that it was my novel with my name on it. I had to make the decisions that I felt would lead to the best story I could possibly write.

21. It’s shocking how many grammatical errors I made

I hate reading something that has grammatical errors. I pride myself as someone who has a decent grasp of the English language and rarely makes spelling or grammar mistakes. But let me tell you, when you write 80,000 words you make a lot of errors. In fact, an embarrassing number of errors. Spell check and proofread yourself – again and again, but also get several other people to do so as well. As many as you can. You may even want to pay a professional. You’ll never find all of your own mistakes.

22. Use real life whenever possible

My novel has a scene in a hospital. I wrote it the best I could based on the memories I had accumulated over the years of being in, and visiting people in, a hospital. My intent was to go back and visit a hospital at some point to experience the smells, sounds, and sights myself and then rewrite the scene to make it more accurate. Lucky for my novel, and bad for me, I ended up breaking three ribs at one point and ended up in the hospital for an overnight stay. My ribs are now better and so is the hospital scene.

23. Google image search can be a great tool

One of the most dramatic scenes in my thriller takes place in an alley in Boston. I don’t live in Boston. In fact, I don’t even live remotely close to Boston. And to make matters worse, I don’t think I’ve walked down an alley before. At least not that I care to remember. But a simple Google image search brought up numerous pictures of alleys. I found the perfect one and used it for inspiration.

24. So can Google street view

Again, the fact that much of my novel was based in Boston proved challenging at times. But Google was always there to help. In one particular situation I needed to know the location of a 7-11 in Boston. I was able to use Google Maps to find a street with a 7-11 on it and then used street view to search the surrounding street names, buildings, landmarks, etc. Successful authors can travel to the locations they are writing about but us first-time authors need to be a little more resourceful.

25. YouTube

Ever wondered what it’s like to administer CPR to a man suffering a heart attack? YouTube can show you. The Internet can be an endless resource for budding and experienced authors.


Jeffrey Monaghan is a Silicon Valley executive with an unhealthy obsession for technology. He grew up in Southern California but currently resides in Portland, OR with his wife and two kids. His debut thriller, Cardiac, is available on Amazon.

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Cardiac: A Jack Getty Thriller

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Guest Post: Editing – The Most Important Thing You Can Do by Richard Ayre

Another day, another guest post, this time by Richard Ayre, who is here to tell us about his writing experiences, and how important editing is. Thanks, Richard!


Editing. The most important thing you can do.

Long, long ago, in a pit village far, far away, I wrote a story. It was called ‘Point of Contact’ and I thought it was quite good. It was a sci-fi thriller about the mysterious deaths of a number of people who were being burned alive. When it was finished I confidently sent it off to the first publisher I came across (Hodder and Stoughton) and waited for the accolades and money to roll in. When it was rejected I sent it off to the next one, sure that they would eagerly wrestle it from my sweaty palms. Of course, they didn’t. And neither did the next one. Or the next. (Insert as many ‘nexts’ here as you want. I’ve forgotten now.)

Undefeated, I started working on another manuscript, a horror novel entitled ‘Minstrel’s Bargain.’ This was much better. It had gore aplenty, some good character development, and it was set in the world of rock music. I had listened to the advice of writing about what you know, and I knew a lot about rock music back then (the early 90s.) So it was about a music magazine reporter who finds out that the lead singer with a major new band is actually a demon who steals people’s souls. Once more I sent it off, not quite as confident this time but still sure that my future was to be a slightly more successful version of James Herbert.

However, the early 90s were not the time to be writing gory horror stories. That bus had left, and of course Minstrel’s Bargain got nowhere, just like its older brother Point of Contact.

By this time, I was the father of a young daughter, with another soon to appear, and sadly, like a lot of people, I came to the realisation that I was not going to be a millionaire writer. The manuscripts went to live in the loft. And there they stayed for more than twenty years. It was only much later, with the advent of eBooks and POD that I looked at them again.

And this is the rub. It’s no wonder they were rejected. They were awful. Point of Contact in particular showed me, in no uncertain terms, the true meaning of the word ‘cringe.’ In fact, reading it again felt like I had tattooed that word on a rollerball glove and was sitting punching myself repeatedly in the face with it. Minstrel’s Bargain wasn’t as bad but it was far, far away from being perfect. It still is, even though it has been published now. I have recently re-edited it again because I’m not happy with it and I plan to re-release it. I’m even working on a sequel to it which I’m really enjoying.

Anyway, all this meandering is a roundabout way of saying how important editing is. In the words of the Tramp from Minstrel’s Bargain; it is the most important thing. Yes, we all know the rags to riches story of Fifty Shades, and I suppose we have all shook our heads and scoffed at some of the dialogue, wondering how that happened. Some writers get lucky. But for the rest of us, getting that story as tight as possible means we have a chance if someone (an agent, a publisher, Stephen Spielberg) reads it. It may only be a slim chance. It may be a chance as slim as Slimmy Slimson, the slimmest man in the world getting through to the finals of ‘Fattest bloke on the telly,’ but it’s a chance. Point of Contact has been revised and revised again. To the point that it is now unrecognisable as the steaming pile of dog poo I first confidently threw into the face of those poor publishers all those years ago. Extended story, new characters and even a love element are in there now. Result!

It needs to be tight. Because the edit is your story. It is the edit that creates the mystery in a whodunit. It is the edit that makes a reader flip pages faster than their brains can keep up with in a thriller. It is the edit that makes someone terrified to read what happens next in a horror novel, and it is the edit that makes someone laugh out loud with delight in a romantic comedy. It does not matter what the genre is. The edit is the one thing you should make sure is right. You can always change a cover. You can always change your blurb. But it makes life very difficult when you find you have to re-edit once you’ve got your book out there. I know this from experience.

So please, make sure you edit your work. Then edit it again. Then, when you’re sure it’s edited completely, edit it again. Make sure it is as tight as you can make it. Put it away for a couple of weeks, then get it out and edit it again!

My books have been anything but best sellers. And to be honest, I’m not writing now because I believe it will make me rich. I know it won’t. I write because I enjoy it. I write because if I didn’t write I would have let myself down. I see other books doing really well and I try not to get jealous, because I am (really and honestly) extremely happy for anyone who gets results. I try, but sometimes I look at these books and think; really? Is this what a successful book looks like? Then I look at my own work and wonder. Are these the best I can make them? Should I change them to fit the current trends? But of course I don’t. Because I write for me, not some ephemeral, untouchable ‘target audience.’ I am by nature a cynical person, but where my books are concerned I have a terrible, fatalistic optimism. I still think they will eventually be ‘successful’ whatever that means.

But I would hate it if success called and people started to say; ‘How the hell did this book make it? Have you read it? The writing is awful. My main concern, regardless of how many of my books actually sell, is that the reader enjoys them. That they are immersed so deeply in the story that they become part of it. And how does this happen? Do I need to repeat it? That’s right. It’s the edit. If it’s done well, people actually forget they’re reading a story, and they become involved in it. The one thing I, personally, would like to be remembered for, the one thing I would like readers to say about my work is this; I know his books never sold well, but by God, they were really well edited.

Make it as good as it can possibly be. Because if the call comes, if that glorious day arrives, you want to be able to hand over a work of art. You want to be able to hand over a masterpiece.


Richard Ayre hails from Northumberland and now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne. Point of Contact is his second novel. His first, Minstrel’s Bargain is a tale that mixes ancient evil and heavy metal music. Set in 1980’s Tyneside it is the first of a planned trilogy featuring the demon Minstrel. He has also written several short stories for books and magazines. Richard teaches History as a day job and in his spare time he enjoys riding around the Northumbrian countryside on his motorbike, Tanya.

You can find out more and contact Richard at http://richardayre1.wix.com/richard-ayre-author

Amazon author page

Guest Post: Promoting Your Ebook by Ronelle Antoinette

Today on the blog we have a guest post from author Ronelle Antoinette, who is sharing her experience of promotion since publishing her first book. Thanks for stopping by, Ronelle

Promoting: Where I’ve applied, who’s accepted, and my take on their services

Let me start this by saying that my experience is with listing a FREE novel. Since Errant Spark is the first in a series, I chose to list it for free in hopes of getting more exposure. So, with that being said…

Nobody ever told me that writing my novel wasn’t going to be the hardest part of being an author. Errant Spark has been out for around eight weeks and I’ve spent every, single day of those eight weeks trying to get it in front of those willing to review and promote it. I’ve developed an understanding for why many traditionally published authors get lower royalties; SOMEBODY has to pay for that shit! Marketing, ‘professional’ reviews, book blasts/blitzes, tours…it can aaaaadd up, and fast.

But a little digging—inspired by my shoestring budget—proves that it doesn’t have to.

There are a lot of people, both groups and individuals, willing to help you get the word out about your work without breaking the bank or requiring you to enter indentured servitude to PayPal. Google led me to a great listicle at https://kindlepreneur.com/list-sites-promote-free-amazon-books/ that gave me a place to start. (Some of the best sites were suggested in the comment section.) What follows is a list of the promotions I’ve pursued for Errant Spark, along with my perceptions of and experiences with them.

  1. eBookasaurus FREE

https://www.facebook.com/FrugalFreebies

I’ve listed with them and the process was easy. I can’t say how much of an effect it’s had on my sales and they have A LOT of books listed, so after the first day it was hard to find my listing without searching it. Perhaps their paid service offers something that stands out a little more. But for a free promo, I won’t knock it!

  1. Indie Book of the Day

http://indiebookoftheday.com/

I submitted my nomination and have not heard back.

  1. Indie Book Butler $5-$205

http://indiebookbutler.com

IBB offers a range of promotion options, including tweets and author page listings. They were quick to respond to e-mail and got my page up-and-running in short order. I chose the Follower Package @ $69 and have been happy with the results so far. I’ve only been with them a short time, so I’ll let you know how this program looks in a year.

  1. BookPromo $9.90-$49.89

http://bookpromo.net/

I chose the BP Excerpt Listing and ! Month Twitter Blast. Unlike some of the other Twitter-centric promos I’ve seen and participated in, they seem to put out different tweets every day rather than just blasting the same one over and over.

  1. It’sWriteNow FREE-$10

http://itswritenow.com

I chose the $10 *guaranteed* option, and it was well worth the money. I was listed on their front page, listed in their book blog, featured in their newsletter, shared on social media, and had an author interview. To me, that’s A LOT of exposure for $10.

  1. Awesomegang $10

http://awesomegang.com/

I opted for an interview, and while it was a cookie-cutter form, it was thorough. I didn’t opt to pay for a book listing at the time, but I may do so in the future.

  1. Armadillo eBooks FREE

http://www.armadilloebooks.com

I filled out their form, got the confirmation email…and then nothing. Multiple attempts to contact them have gone without response. Their free, so submitting can’t hurt, but do so at your own risk. You may or may not see any results.

  1. eBook Korner Kafe FREE

https://www.facebook.com/EBookKornerKafe

Here’s another one that I submitted to, got a confirmation email, and then nothing happened. I followed all their directions, and it seems others have had success with them so I may try again.

  1. Bookpromofree FREE

This one was easy. Just use “Via @bookpromofree ” in your tweets and they’ll share them.

  1. OHFB FREE-$100

https://ohfb.com/

I submitted my book for free and was not selected. I have not decided if I will try the paid options.

  1. The Kindle Book Review FREE-$75

https://www.thekindlebookreview.net/

This is another one where I submitted via their free option and was not selected.

  1. CartofBooks, SHOUTmyBook, and ArtofWriting are on Twitter and all seem to be run by the same person or company. They blast the same two or maybe three versions of your tweet for as long as you’ve chosen.
  1. Best Fantasy Books $100-$800

No, this was not affordable for me, they were very prompt in reaching out and very thorough in describing their advertising options. There is also a paid review service that runs $400. This might be a good option if price is no object.

  1. FreeBooks FREE (I think)

http://www.freebooks.com

Still waiting to hear from them.

  1. Naughty Reads FREE, if you’re selected

http://www.naughtyreadsonthecheap.com

Still waiting to hear from them.

  1. eBookLister FREE-$25

http://www.ebooklister.net

Another quick promo with a lot of books listed every day. I think it was worth the five seconds it took to fill out the form.

  1. Free eBooks FREE

https://www.free-ebooks.net

This one has been great! They emailed me when I reached my first 100 downloads (it took about 3 days!) and in the 17 days since I posted Errant Spark, it’s been downloaded 246 times. It’s a clean, simple, and apparently effective promotion. I would highly recommend them for authors who’ve chosen to share their work at no cost.

  1. OnlineBookClub VARIES

http://onlinebookclub.org/

I saved this one for last because I have the most to say about it…and my feelings are mixed. It was the first site I used (before I found some of the freebies) and the experience started with such promise! I paid $179 for a “Level 4” review (yeah, yeah, I know…), which is said to feature:

  • 2 months featured status (after the review, I’m guessing. I can’t even find my novel on their website!)
  • 2 months homepage link to review
  • Guaranteed to get one of a few top-level reviewers
  • Access to premium technical support (no idea what this actually covers)

The turnaround time is supposed to be 1-2 months (they advertise 1 month, with the caveat that it *may* take twice that long). I ordered my review on July 7, 2016. My book wasn’t assigned to a reviewer until August 27, 2016. That review immediately ‘reshelved’ my book, with some rather snide comments. I’m still waiting for someone else to pick it up. On top of that, I received an email through my own website (http://www.ronelleantoinette.com) warning me that OBC is a “nasty, cliquish, and shame-based” organization. It came from an anonymous address, so take the warning with a grain of salt. I’ve contacted OBC’s founder, Scott, through Facebook and on the bright side, he was quick to respond. He apologized and reassured me that I’d get what I paid for

We shall see. I have a Book of the Day promo coming up with them on September 9th, so hopefully that will redeem the experience. . It’s clearly worked for other authors, as many of them see their books skyrocket in the Amazon ranks. I’ve got my fingers crossed that it will be the same for Errant Spark.

These are only a few of the available options. To list them all would take pages and pages and more time than I have! But since I ascribe to the Help Not Hurt school of thought, I wanted to spread the word. As authors, bloggers, and freelancers, we can either treat each other as competition to be vanquished or we can lift each other towards success. There’s a reader out there for everything and a writer on every topic, so why not help connect them? I hope you find the above links and details helpful and please feel free to share or add your own in the comments!

***

RonelleRonelle Antoinette was born in Phoenix, AZ and raised in beautiful Colorado. She currently lives in Grand Junction with her husband, two sneaky cats, and one dog-who-believes-he’s-a-person. While she’s a mother to none, she’s an auntie to a small army…the newest recruit joined them in April 2016. Ronelle dabbled in creative writing for many years and even considered it as her major in college. (She ended up getting a Bachelor’s degree in Counseling Psychology.) She published her first novel, Errant Spark, in July of 2016.

Ronelle can be found on Twitter @RonelleAntoinet, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ronelleantoinette, and at http://www.ronelleantoinet.com

Prospect and Raven Launch

A departure from the regular schedule today to announce the launch of this:

Prospect and Raven Header

I’ve been talking on and off for FOREVER about actually publishing some of my work. Some of you have even beta read for me. But now I am actually going to do it. No concrete date for a first release – I have to fathom how to format the file and upload it to Amazon yet – but I’m anticipating it being some time in the first week or two of May.

I’ll be sharing a bit more information about the book and the series I’m launching with in the next few days, but in the mean time, I’d really appreciate if anyone who might be interested in fast genre reads would take a look, like the Facebook page and join the mailing list – and share with anyone else you know who might be interested!

Thanks 🙂

IWSG #7 – Waiting Game

The Insecure Writer's Support Group - A Big Step

It was some time back in late January when I submitted a request to my employers for a business interest i.e. to publish my writing.

Then February was pretty much a month of Hell, and I didn’t have time to think about it. Then in March, I took a couple of weeks to recover, and then I started chasing it up. I went on leave for a week, and I’d been hoping to have permission by then, but I didn’t. So I chased it up some more when I got back, hoping that I’d have permission by the long weekend. I didn’t. When I got back on Tuesday after the Easter bank holiday weekend, the email was waiting in my inbox. You’ve been approved, good luck!

It has been an exercise in dealing with frustration, all this waiting. On the one hand, it gave me time to plan and prepare, but on the other hand, I didn’t want to invest any time or money until I had that permission, just in case it wasn’t given. So I’ve been stalling and twiddling my thumbs for the better part of a month.

Which is what makes me glad I’ve decided to have a go at Self Publishing rather than traditional. Because really, three months to get permission – when I didn’t even have the energy to start chasing it for a whole month of that – is not very long at all. An agent might consider your work for six months before deciding to take it on. Then they have to submit to editors who might take the same amount of time. And once you have your deal it isn’t book on the shelves instantly. It can take two years to go from manuscript to published book. There are benefits, of course – the risk is taken on by the publisher, and you have the best professional help you can get.

But that waiting – it would be agonising.

I still have waiting to do. Currently, I’m waiting for a friend to set a website up for me. I’m fortunate to have kind friends with expertise in areas that are useful to my business venture, and I’m so glad that this particular friend has helped me decode the mystifying world of web hosting, and offered to get me started. But it’s another reminder that each of these things takes time, and there will always be waiting along the way.

At least now, with permission to go ahead, there’s always going to be something constructive I can do while I wait!

The Road to Self Publishing: Backgrounds

The Road to Self Publishing: Backgrounds

So, I was pretty much decided that I wanted my foreground image to be of my two main characters. Two reasons for this – it seems to be the trend for most covers in the genre of Urban Fantasy/Paranormal to have at least one of the main characters on the cover, and I had a photographer friend take a load of photos for the purpose about a year ago, and I still wanted to use them.

When I played around with covers before, I used a cityscape picture in the background. I thought of doing this again, but it was difficult to find something that wasn’t too busy, or not the right angle. I tried scouring a few stock photo sites, but didn’t find anything that suited.

There was also the idea I had about colour, and subtly changing the colour focus for each cover. Doing that with a city scape wouldn’t necessarily work. But most of all, it was the busyness detracting from the main image of the characters that caused the problem.

So, I started looking at simpler backgrounds. I looked at graffitied walls, as I thought this would give a ‘city’ feel, without having to show skyline, or photoshop out cars and people.

In the end, I decided on this:

background

I liked it because it was simple, without lots of different colours like the graffitied walls, so it will be easy to adjust the cover for the next instalment. I also liked how grungy it is – it really looks like something you might find on the side of an abandoned building in a run down part of a city. Which is exactly the sort of look I was going for.

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The Road to Self Publishing: Book Cover Inspiration

The Road to Self Publishing: Book Cover Inspiration

My step father, whose job is in marketing, always talks to me about competitors and comparators when planning any sort of business endeavour.

So, when looking at book covers, rather than just blankly looking at any old book cover, I decided to try and pin it down to books that were in some way similar to mine. That meant looking at Urban Fantasy stories, particularly stories that were in a series, as I was interested in seeing what book designers do to tie the different novels together as one coherent series. I really hate it when series randomly have different cover designs for different books.

So, this is what I came up with:

Book collage

So many Jim Butcher books a) because I think my books aren’t dissimilar to his – crime with an urban fantasy, magical twist – and b) because that graphic of all his books came handily ready made. The rest I looked through All Things Urban Fantasy’s wonderful Cover Art Coverage to find.

What I’ve taken from this is that font and colour seem to be key in tying together a series of books effectively. The identical layout and font on the Dresden Files series is mixed up by changing the colours. The Melissa F. Olsen books have the same font, with changes in overall hue from purple, green to orange across the image and the font that give the books very different feels, but connected by the common fonts.

Which means next on my list is researching and finding some good fonts to use, and how to position them effectively.

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Book Cover Design: Part One – Font Style and Type Placement

Book covers are a real make or break thing for book buyers. I’m guilty myself of looking at something and thinking that, because the cover is awful, the book must be awful. I know the old saying goes, ‘Don’t judge a book by it’s cover,’ but we do. And increasingly, a good book cover is becoming the difference between successful self-published ebooks and those that drown in the depths of Amazon and other sellers.

Front covers are hugely important. They are an advert to the reader – both in terms of indicating general levels of professionalism and quality, and the sort of story that the pages will contain. It should give them a tantalising glimpse of the wonderful things inside. If I had money to throw at it (I really, really don’t) I would invest in a professional cover design. But if I’m going to throw money at anything, it will be a professional copy editor and proof reader. Because the cover thing, I think I can have a fair stab at myself.

I’ve dabbled in cover design before, producing what I think is a reasonable effort, considering I did no research before. My photoshop skills are self-honed, after years of mucking about in various photo editors, mostly to make banners for my Fanfiction stories back in the day, changing hair and eye colours when celebrities weren’t obliging with the correct appearance. I’ve had no official training. I can’t create, but I can manipulate.

However, while I like the overall idea of the cover, and with a second go at the image manipulation could produce closer to the image in my mind, I look at it and think ‘amateur.’ This series of posts will chronicle my research into design and my attempts to make my book cover look semi-professional. Starting with the books I happened to have right in front of me.

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Even in my TBR pile, a wide range of different type choices are on show.

1. Type Dominance vs. Picture Dominance

This Book will save your life perception

There can only be one real focus for the cover – type or picture. Personally, I’m more of a fan of picture dominating, and this is what I naturally went for when doing my first designs. However, I do like the cover of This Book Will Save Your Life, and think it makes for a quirky, interesting image with the huge text overlaying those donuts. Burn Mark is about 50/50, which is how my cover ended up due to large amounts of words I wanted to include, and an aversion to tiny font sizes. I think it’s part of what I don’t like about my cover, however with the stark simplicity of Burn Mark’s image, the even balance works well.

burn mark

2. Fancy Font vs Simple

Interestingly, my UK version of Burn Mark has a simple white font, not the decorative one on the cover above. I’m not sure which I prefer, to be honest, they both have their merits.

Black sheep reckoning

Lili St. Crow’s cover designers are not afraid of tiny font sizes, and it works. Because they are very simple. Even with the several different font styles, it doesn’t look overly busy, because they are very clean. I think this is what I’ll go for – I was looking for some more decorative fonts, but didn’t feel they conveyed the tone of the story. Unlike Black Sheep which is about street and gang culture, and therefore the graffiti-esque font is entirely appropriate.

3. Front On vs Angled

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Looking back through my Goodreads shelves, it’s clear that front on text dominates, at least in what I’ve been reading. I love the slight angle of the text on Fade to Black, and it perfectly conveys the sense of height and vertigo of the city in the book, which is built upwards rather than outwards. For my purposes, I’ll be using front on – frankly because I can’t think of a good reason not to. I’ll just go with the majority on this one.

4. Upper Case vs Lower Case

This Book will save your life perception

Interesting, this one. Some books use all lower case, some use regular capitalisation (though none that I have to hand) some use upper case for titles, but not author names, and some use capitals for all but tag lines and quotes. I’m leaning towards the ‘all upper case’, mostly because I think it looks very clean, but I guess it’s a case of looking at how your fonts look on the images and playing around with the style.

12743472

5. Font Size

dante valentineiron wyrm

For the sake of mixing things up a bit (and showcasing some more gorgeous covers) these are three I picked out when flicking through the internet for covers within my genre. More Lilith Saintcrow. Woman’s got amazing cover artists.

There are a few things to consider here: one, the different sizes of fonts on different lines. All three have several different sizes of font, increased size for increased importance it would seem. ‘Dante Valentine’ takes up a lot of space on that cover, probably because she’s a fairly well known character in the genre and a big selling point. Interestingly, the ‘New York Times Bestseller’ bit is quite small, also true of the ‘Wall Street Journal Bestseller’ bit on Branded that’s so small you can’t even read it. I guess that’s a nice bit of info to include, but the text and images are bigger draws for the buyers they are trying to attract.

Secondly, there are different size words. The ‘The’ on The Iron Wyrm Affair is considerably smaller. Also true of the ‘to’ in Fade to Black, and the ‘Fade’ is considerably smaller than the ‘Black’, though again, I think this is to create that sense of perspective. I quite like how the ‘smaller font size for unimportant words’ thing looks, but as all my titles in my Hart and Soul series are two words, this wouldn’t really apply. Though perhaps I could make the ‘and’ smaller in the series name. Not sure it will be necessary, as series names seem to be small, if they feature at all.

Lastly, Branded makes beautiful use of slightly larger letters to both show capitals at the start of words, and to create a sense of symmetry in the type. I think it looks gorgeous, though I don’t know how much of that is because it’s in keeping with the whole reflection/mirror image thing that cover has going on. Again, my UK cover of Perception is slightly different, in that my version doesn’t have the slightly bigger P. I think I prefer the other version.

branded

There’s also where to put the text, and if these covers show anything on that front, it’s that anything goes. The text is all over the place, though middle and bottom seem to be most common.

It’s a lot to think about. Largely, I think my choices will be dictated by how much text I want to have on the cover (undecided on that one yet) and by my decision to let the image dominate. However, the capitalisation thing, individual letter sizing, as well as what font to actually use are all things I’ll need to think about.

Free commercial use fonts can be found readily on the internet, though be careful to check they are free for commercial use – some are only free for personal use, and need a licence fee paying to use on commercial projects. Most websites I’ve seen are in the region of $20 (about £13), though I’m not sure if that’s for one font or access to the entire catalogue. I think it depends on the site.

I’ve been perusing Font Squirrel. All of their fonts are free for commercial use, and they have a wide range of categories and styles to suit all tastes.

To finish, here are some books with beautiful, individually styled fonts. One day, maybe I’ll have the know-how to make something like these:

shiverUK julie_kagawa-theironking feed_miragrantcloud atlasthe night sky in my headunearthly

A New Plan

So I was whinging the other day about having no motivation and generally being a bit stressed, anxious and depressive. I’m usually a bit stressed and depressive, but my mother once said I was ‘the most cheerful miserable b*stard’ she’d ever met. I like to think that’s a sort of backwards compliment, and if there’s one thing I know about myself it’s this: I know I have depressive tendencies, but I really hate it, and I like to snap out of it as quickly as possible.

Sometimes all it takes is a good book.

I read the sort of book that I wished I’d written the other day. It wasn’t particularly groundbreaking, technically impressive, or beautifully written. It was fairly standard YA Fantasy, but I really enjoyed it, loving the concept and the characters. It was fun to read and I imagine it was a whole lot of fun to write.

And it got me thinking. Not about any story idea related to the book except in the remotest ways, but it was inspiration, and it was enough to get the ideas flowing, and to turn my brain off ‘I can’t do it’ mode, onto ‘let’s write some words!’ mode.

I feel a lot better already.

I’m also stepping up my self-publishing agenda, so it is being prepared alongside my attempts at traditional publishing. That way if I’m unsuccessful, or just decide I don’t like what small press publishers have to offer, then I can launch into self-publishing with minimal delay. I’m starting by rethinking my cover – doing some research this time. Posts will be appearing on the subject soon, if that sort of thing interests you.

I want to hold onto this rejuvenated feeling and really start getting on with things. Inactivity and letting my multiple To-Do lists pile up is probably one of the most major factors in my staying in a depressive funk, even if it usually has little to nothing to do with getting into the funk in the first pace.

So the new story idea is incentive. It’s nothing like what I normally write, but I’m really excited about it, and I’m going to say no more. I was supposed to be writing something about aliens (sorry, UWC!) but I’m going to jump on this new project while I’m fired up about it. So, I’m not allowed to write it until I do my jobs for the day, that way I’ll have to be organised and motivated if I ever want to get round to giving voice to these characters. My progress bar is on my Scrib profile, so you can see how successful I manage to be at that.

I’m realistic. Between the running and work and everything else, I don’t have much time, and I’ll need to keep up with reading and other stuff as well, but if I could do between 1500-3000 words a week, I will be really really pleased.

And it will be hard to feel depressive if I’m feeling so pleased with myself. At least, that’s the new plan.

The Insane Summer Holiday Project

With several weeks holiday stretching out in front of me like a glorious stretch of open road, I’m casting my mind back to this time last year and trying to remember what I got up to.

Apparently, not a lot. I can’t really remember anything. I played a few gigs. I slept a lot.

I’ve already mentioned how I don’t want this to be the case again this year, and a few weeks ago I came up with a plan. A mad, crazy, entirely too ambitious plan. But it’s like the saying goes – shoot for the moon, if you miss you’ll land among the stars. In theory.

Over the holidays, when the Boyfriend is at work, whatever his shift might be, I am going to be living as a full time writer – writing for eight hours a day. No internet distractions, no procrastinating. Just solid writing, with rest breaks for lunch and refreshment. I am going to go running every morning to figure out what I’m going to write, then I’m going to get on with it.

I’m writing a series of novellas that I hope to make into e-books, to be available to download on Amazon. I’ve planned a series of nine. Nine 30,000 word novellas. In word count terms, that’s a regular trilogy’s worth. I have been trying to get the first finished, and, at time of writing this, I have 8000 words left. I’m hoping over the weekend I will be able to finish it. I know what’s happening, it’s the final, climactic moments. It should be achievable.

Whether the rest of the project is achievable, I don’t know. But I’m going to give it my best shot.

Here is the list of things I need to do. I will keep tabs on my progress here. Cheer me on?

The Insane Summer Holiday Project

1. Write book one
2. Write book two
3. Write book three (sensing pattern here?)
4. Write book four
5. Write book five
6. Write book six
7. Write book seven
8. Write book eight
9. Write book nine
10. Proof read and edit all books
11. Write script for promotional video one
12. Write script for promotional video two
13. Compose, transcribe and record theme music for videos
14. Turn spare room into green screen (this is entirely dependent on the Boyfriend’s permission. He changes his mind about the idea every week)
15. Shoot promotional videos
16. Coordinate with photographer friend (of Taylor’s) to take front cover photos
17. Design outfits and props for the front cover photos
18. Photoshop front cover photos to final designs
19. Write and create written promotional materials (extras etc.)
20. Research self-publication
21. Put all ingredients together to create self-published books and promotional materials
22. Blog all about it!

As you can see, this is a somewhat mammoth undertaking, and needs to happen at the same time as all the other stuff I’ve got going on, like house things, visiting friends and family, and just generally living and sleeping. I have no illusions that it will all miraculously get done, but I figure if I work hard, I might manage to achieve about two thirds of the list. Some are time sensitive, like the photos and others impact on each other, like designing the props, so it may be that I get a lot of the background stuff done, and need to hold off on the writing. But whatever way I do it, I’m going to give it my best shot.

And maybe by September, I’ll be almost ready to start thinking about putting some of my writing out into the world.

A big maybe.