Tag Archives: selfpublishing

A Short Story For Halloween

I’m very pleased to announce that my horror short story You Are Just A Guest is now available to purchase from most major eretailers just in time for Halloween!

This short story has its beginnings in my English Literature degree. I wasn’t not one of those students who started their work weeks beforehand. I was one of those students who started it the night before the deadline. So I pulled a lot of all-nighters, hammering away at a keyboard and trying to ignore all the weird noises that houses make in the middle of the night.

I wrote the first draft of this story for my course and so spent a couple of nights writing about houses making weird noises while my house made weird noises. I think I was in a state of self-fulfilling terror by the time I handed it in.

Since then I’ve tweaked it and cut it down and turned it into a leaner, hopefully spookier story. (In fact, the best comment I’ve received so far is from my brother, who said he was too scared to look at his mirror any more!) So please download a copy now and let me know what you think!

I hope you enjoy it.

Book Trailers: Are They Any Good?

Personally I don’t like the idea of a book trailer. I think trying to use a visual medium to advertise a book is akin to putting wasabi on your chocolate digestives; they just don’t go together. Yet indie authors, with cost-free hosting in the form of YouTube, are making book trailers in their thousands.

Fair play to them. Indie authors don’t have access to book shops and the Internet is a noisy place. It’s a struggle to be seen at all. But I wonder if a book trailer is the best way to be seen. Most of them seem to be fuzzy cover stills overlaid with hyperbolic tag lines and clichés. The lack of budget is obvious. After all the hosting is free but the production is not.

And even if Peter Jackson directed your book trailer with an epic budget, wouldn’t a cast and a set and a soundtrack kill the reader’s imagination stone dead? Half the fun of a book is turning black and white text into a rich and vibrant world in your head. If a book trailer does that for you, isn’t the experienced tarnished?

(Having said all that, M. Latimer-Ridley have created the only book trailer I have, to date, ever liked. They made it themselves and the result shows real care and creativity. It also keeps the door to my imagination open whilst still generating an atmosphere. Excellent stuff!)

Indie authors seem to love book trailers right now, but I’m interested in readers’ opinion. Have you ever bought a book on the strength of the trailer? Have you ever been put off by a trailer? Has a trailer ever encouraged you to track down a book or author? Post a comment and let me know.

Kobo Offer Self-Publishers Another Portal

The end of the month will see the debut of Kobo WritingLife. Kobo are promising high royalties, advanced sales data for authors and a platform based on the open EPUB format. It sounds great, but I wonder if yet another self-publishing portal will really make a difference?

I initially thought not. Kobo doesn’t have a big presence in the UK. They’ve made a deal with to sell their ereaders exclusively through WH Smith, which aligned Kobo with irrelevance in my mind. Turns out Kobo is bigger than I thought. A presence in 190 countries, triple digit growth and 8 million registered users are nothing to sniff at.

But that’s a drop in the ocean compared to Amazon’s 275 million customers.

Kobo’s only been around for two and a half years so it’s not fair to compare (mon frère) them with Amazon. It would be easy to dismiss them for being so much smaller. But the truth is that indie authors will go where the readers are. Kobo is another avenue to readers and that automatically makes it matter; to ignore it would be to lose sales. But Kobo just has too small a share compared alongside the giants of Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble. Kobo WritingLife will be a welcome addition to the stable, but it’s not big enough to have much of an impact.

Not yet.

Interview with Crime Fantasy Author Dave Sivers

One of the things I love about genre fiction is its lack of fear for new ideas. I recently came across an author who embodied this fearlessness. Dave Sivers has blended two seemingly unrelated genres to create crime fantasy novels. I haven’t come across this particular blend before and so I had to talk to him about it!

First things first: thanks for subjecting yourself to my third degree!

Thanks for inviting me! I’m always grateful for opportunities to talk about my work and about writing in general.

You’re two books into the Lowmar Dashiel series. Could you tell us a little about them?

Sure. Dashiel calls himself a personal inquisitor, a profession he invented when he was down to his last few coins. He never looked back. He’s what crime fans would recognise as a private eye, but his world is one of demons, dwarfs, sorcerers and swords. He has an irascible dwarf sidekick named Grishen.

In the first book, A Sorcerer Slain, the head of the Sorcerer’s Guild has been murdered and his named successor, Zarna, is the prime suspect. The Guild regulates magic use in the kingdom of Balimar, and the death of its head, and lack of a natural replacement if Zarna is convicted and executed, will spark a terrifying new sorcerers’ war. Because everyone in the ‘establishment’ has an agenda, the King himself asks Dashiel to investigate. What the King does not know is that Zarna is the love of Dashiel’s life, and he will do anything to save her.

Inquisitor Royal is the second in Dave Siver's Lowmar Dashiel series.The sequel, Inquisitor Royal, is a much darker book in many ways. In Sorcerer, Dashiel travels to other parts of the kingdom looking for answers, whereas this book is firmly fixed in Balimar’s capital, Andruan. As a consequence, there’s a much more claustrophobic feel, to which the city’s seedier areas and labrynthine alleyways contribute. Once again the King seeks Dashiel’s assistance, this time with two cases: a sadistic maniac is preying on the city’s dwarf population; and a mysterious assassin is stalking the royal family. If that wasn’t enough, there is an attempt on Dashiel’s own life, which might be linked to one of the cases, or could be one of his many enemies seeking revenge.

How did you come to combine crime and fantasy genres? They don’t seem like natural bedfellows.

It started somewhat by accident. I started writing a fantasy short story about a manipulative sorceress who dupes a man into doing wrong for her and realised the themes were somewhat noirish. So I made the main male character the fantasy world equivalent of a private detective and played up the sorceress’s femme fatale traits. I liked the characters and the world they live in and decided to put them into a full-lenght novel. The original story became the first meeting between Dashiel and Zarna, which is told in flashback in A Sorcerer Slain.

Crime fantasy isn’t something I’ve come across before. Why do you think that is?

Some of Juliet E McKenna’s novels are in similar territory to my Dashiel books but are not called crime fantasy. On the whole, I think there is a tendency to make books fit one of the genre categories in the bookshops. It’s a shame, because books that do straddle genres may not be picked up by everyone who might enjoy them.

Some might say that we don’t see much genre blending because, rather than appealing to two sets of fans, you appeal to neither. Is that something that worries you?

I think there is more genre blending than we realise. In the US, there is a genre known as ‘romantic suspense’, which combines romance and crime, we have John Connolly, whose Charlie Parker crime novels have strong elements of horror and fantasy, and then there are the historical crimes, such as Ellis Peters’ Cadfael books and Lindsey Davis’s Falco novels, which are set in worlds very different to our own in the 21st Century. Having said that, I do think there are probably crime fans who like their books ‘realistic’ and might be turned off by magic and dwarfs threading through their whodunnit. I’ve had plenty of positive feedback from people who like escaping to other worlds but also enjoy a good mystery. No book is going to appeal to absolutely everyone.

You’ve said before that you think the self-publishing revolution allows for work that publishing houses wouldn’t take risks on. Where do you see this revolution heading?

I think, like all revolutions, it’s too soon to tell. Battle-lines are being drawn between those who are suspicious of, or downright hostile to, self-published e-books and those who see them as a real opportunity to get the stories they have sweated blood over actually read. It’s also evident that some writers who are still developing their craft are publishing too early. One thing I do know is that the e-book genie is out of the bottle and a new publishing landscape will establish itself over the next few years. It can’t possibly look like the status quo. There is a niche for e-book reviewers to build reputations for themselves and act as filters that help readers find good books that they will enjoy, and there needs to be some way of getting over to writers that the old route of finding an agent and becoming commercially published may not be the only way any more, but they still need to ensure that their book is the best it can be, and of a marketable standard. I’m not sure what the latter will look like, but I hope it will be constructive and won’t involve crushing sensitive egos.

Leaving the future alone for now, I was interested to read that your first published piece was under the name Melanie Blake in “Take A Break”. That’s a long way from crime fantasy novels! How did that come about?

I’m quite an eclectic writer and like to try different things. The Melanie Blake story came about when I was doing a Writers Bureau course in the 90s. I had to do a piece for a selected publication and I chose Take a Break because they did some punchy stories with a bit of a twist. I chose the Melanie Blake handle because I thought it would improve my chances of publication in a women’s magazine. Whether that was true, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll take Melanie out for another run some time!

Your novels are only available as ebooks. Can we expect to see paper books in the future?

Not as self-published books – the commercial route is still the way to get physical books out there. I still dream of seeing my titles on the shelves at Watestones one day, but for the moment I’m enjoying the challenges of being self-published and having to market myself and my product.

You’re not tempted to use Lulu or another Print-On-Demand service?

It’s not in my plans at the moment, but I would certainly never say never!

Finally, what can we expect to see from Dave Sivers?

I publish short contemporary crime fiction on my website and have a full-length crime novel as a work in progress. Meanwhile, I’m also working on the third Lowmar Dashiel mystery, which should be available in autumn 2012.

If any of this has whetted your appetite, you can find out more at Dave Siver’s website. His novels are also available on Amazon UK or on Amazon US.

What Makes A Good Book Cover? Part Two

I’ve previously posed the question as to what makes a good book cover. Never one to leave a question unanswered, I’ve garnered feedback and done the research and this is what I’ve come up with so far:

1. Remember the size

In these days of online shopping, covers are displayed in small thumbnails. That means images and text need to be readable at small sizes. For this reason, make the title large, don’t use overly decorative fonts and make sure the cover still has a strong focus.

2. Keep it simple, make it bold

Few articles about cover design fail to make mention of the Twilight Saga covers. But they get mentioned for a reason: they’re striking and they grab the attention through high contrast and simple design. You don’t have to copy the style but you can borrow the lessons. The cover’s job is to grab the attention instantly. Big, bold images can do that.

3. Don’t be afraid of your demographic

If you’ve written a fantasy novel, does the cover design appeal to fantasy readers? If the cover doesn’t encourage them to buy it, is it really going to encourage anyone else?

4. Avoid stock photos

I know a lot of indie publishers swear by stock photography, but let’s be honest: it sticks out like a sore thumb and screams amateur. Commission some original art. It’s worth the investment.

5. Avoid too much symbolism

Yes, the violin is symbolic of your hero’s quest to be heard by his peers, but a stonking great violin on the cover will tell people that this is a book about violins. If they don’t like violins, they won’t pick it up. Symbolism is great in the text, but the cover is pure marketing; its only purpose is to encourage a customer to buy it.

6. Read Joel Friedlander’s Book Designer Blog

A bonus tip! Joel Friedlander’s Book Designer site is a fantastic resource for anyone who is looking to self-publish a book; it’s brimming over with information. Cover design is just one aspect of the things he examines, but you should definitely start reading it now.

These seem to be the main ingredients to good book covers. What do you think? Are there any missing, or are any just plain wrong?

Who Needs Amazon? Rowling Goes It Alone

In case you were hiding under a rock today (or if you’re just not a fan), the Harry Potter ebooks were released today and with a twist: they can’t be purchased anywhere other than J K Rowling’s Pottermore website. That’s right, Rowling is self-publishing and without Amazon’s help. Is she blazing a trail?

Self-publishing is notable for one thing: it cuts out middlemen. Self-publishers cut out the publishers and go straight to the distributors. Now Rowling is cutting even them out of the picture. So is this the next step?

After all, it doesn’t take much to set up your own personal online shop. Services like PayPal can handle the fiddly money bits. You just need a website to host the thing and services like WordPress take the hassle out of even that. So why isn’t everyone doing the same dance as Rowling?

Rowling, of course, is the exception to nearly every rule. The runaway first-book-success story, film deals and eye-watering advances. And in this, too, she’s an exception: she already has a massive platform.

You’ve probably heard of an author platform. It’s a term for the author’s reach and for how many people care when the author talks. A lot of people care when Rowling talks. She and Harry Potter are powerful brands. But why does this matter?

Because the buzzword of self-publishing right now is discoverability. The biggest challenge to self-publishers is being found in the first place. Amazon’s recommendations can help readers find new books as well as provide (hopefully) glowing reviews to persuade them to purchase. Readers are also more likely to buy from a trusted source than your little website.

But will that change?

Computer literacy grows daily and people are beginning to understand what to look for when they shop online. Using a trusted service like PayPal removes any concerns in that area. And the stigma of selling your book on your own website will be pretty much eradicated by the self-publishing revolution. So it really comes down to discoverability. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t find books on Amazon. I find them through friends and social media.

So is Rowling showing us the way into the future? Will self-publishers one day think to themselves: who needs Amazon?

Interview with Fantasy Author Vanna Smythe

Last week saw the publication of fantasy novel Protector by Vanna Smythe. Vanna graciously agreed to an interview, allowing me to ask her about her process, why she chose to self-publish her work, and generally pick the brains of someone further along the tracks than I am!

First of all, congratulations on the publication of Protector. You must be very pleased!

Thank you! I am very pleased. It’s taken me awhile to get to this point, and it feels great to finally say I’m a published writer.

Where did Protector come from? What went into the making of this story?

I’ve always enjoyed reading fantasy fiction and have long dreamed of one day writing a fantasy book of my own. The idea behind Protector comes from my research into the new age Twin Souls, or Twin Flames theory, though it also encompasses my long time fascination with how religious teachings can be used to control the masses. The magic system in the novel is based on the theories of telepathy, and other psychic powers.

However, those things are only the backdrop for the story, as the plot itself is primarily driven by the main characters who suddenly realize that their world is not quite how they thought it was. In the course of the story, they each try to make sense of it all the best they can. In short, Protector, and the entire Anniversary of the Veil series is more their story than mine.

Is this your first novel or do you have other manuscripts in the drawer?

This is my first fantasy novel, though I do have a completed first draft of a mainstream, literary fiction manuscript in my drawer, as you put it. That one is on hold, though, while I concentrate on finishing this series.

How long has it taken to get from first draft to publication?

It took me more than two years all told, and just over one year of actual writing and revision. Though I’m sure the whole process has taught me enough to shorten that time considerably in producing the next book.

I believe you started Protector during NaNoWriMo? What effect, if any, did that have on the finished novel?

Yes, that’s right, Protector is a NaNo book. While the challenge of writing a book in one month helped me to actually complete a novel, I did spend over a year on the revision. The storyline is the same as the original, but I had to spend a lot of revision hours on deeper characterization, worldbuilding, and fixing the language and structure. In that regard, the final version of Protector is something completely different than the original first draft.

You’ve self-published Protector. What made you choose this over traditional publishing?

I considered traditional publishing in the beginning, but after I realized what a long and uncertain wait was associated with it, I decided to just go indie straight off. There are amazing opportunities opening up in the world of indie publishing, and, if you do it right, the rewards are actually greater.

What was the greatest challenge to self-publishing Protector?

I’d have to say that the greatest challenge was getting the actual manuscript into a publishable state. I’m not a natural talent for editing, being more of a seat-of-the-pants type of writer, but I took a class and read tons of books on editing and I think I’ve succeeded.

You must have learnt a lot on the way. If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give yourself?

The most important thing I learned during this entire process is to always look for ways to improve. I had a few wonderful beta readers for Protector and it was only after I looked at their feedback honestly that I was able to produce the finished, published version of Protector. The one piece of advice I would offer my “younger” self right now is to completely immerse myself in the story and never let complacency lull me into accepting even a single second-rate passage. Easier said than done, perhaps, but I’ll do my best.

What can we expect to see from Vanna Smythe in the future?

In the next month or so I will finish the second book of the Anniversary of the Veil series, titled Decision Maker, which will conclude the story I started in Protector. After that, well, I do have an inkling of an idea for book three in the series. Though I might also start on a new project, a story that I thought of while revising Protector. Overall, I do have a few more stories to tell.

Thanks for agreeing to this interview. I look forward to reading Protector!

Thank you for having me. I do hope you enjoy Protector!

Protector is now on sale at Amazon UK and Amazon US. You can learn more at Vanna Smythe’s blog as well as read sample chapters. Go on, click one of those lovely links!

What Makes A Good Book Cover? Part One

Dating an artist has its ups and downs. Sometimes she’ll drag you to a Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit, which is great. Other times she’ll make you watch the Next Great Artist reality programme. But I actually got sucked into that big time because they asked the artists to design a book cover.

And I was left very confused.

I’ll say it plain: I don’t like John Parot’s cover for The Time Machine. I can’t see that it’s got anything to do with the book. It’s a colour pattern. Yet it won where others, more relevant and less colourful efforts were left by the wayside. The reasoning seemed to be that you could see the cover across the book shop.

Is that the only criteria for a good book cover these days?

Consider this sampling of covers.

The cover for Children of Dune shows beautiful desert with a green tint, a free young woman and a darker, brooding man.The cover for Assassin's Quest is rich, green, fantastical, ornate and intimate.The cover for Dying Inside is dark, morbid but with a hint of light and hope.

These are some of my favourite covers. None of them leap screaming off the shelf in a multi-coloured assault on the eyeball. Are they bad covers? I don’t think so. I think they’re arresting images, beautiful even, that tie into the book and give you an idea of what you’ll find on the pages.

My initial reaction to Parot’s cover is that it’s a Shiny Thing tactic: it’s only meant to draw the attention. But should a book cover be more than that? Is it part and parcel of the whole reading experience? Or is just pretty packaging?

Personally I think it’s the former. But perhaps I’m just a rank amateur. What do you think? What makes a book cover a good book cover?