Tag Archives: self-publishing

Learning to write fiction…

I wrote this piece for myself, back in November of 2010, almost exactly three years before I finally published Vokhtah. I was struggling and trying to work out why [Vokhtah began as a story for Nanowrimo 2004].

Although we all write in different ways, the struggle can often feel the same. I hope this helps someone get over the hump and keep writing.

Insights into writing

The first flash of inspiration is like seeing scenes from a movie that someone has cut and scattered like a moving jigsaw puzzle. Some of these pieces of the movie are quite lengthy and give hints as to character, motivation, culture etc. Others are small and cryptic and give little indication as to where, or even when, they fit into the overall flow of the movie. The only things these disjointed scenes have in common is that they are very vivid and give you the feeling that the story will be worth teasing out.

So you start writing. First you try and reproduce in words the visual and emotional events of each scene. Then, as you become more and more immersed in the unfolding story you attempt to connect up the dots. Sometimes these connections pop into your head very easily, in much the same way as bold, distinctive elements of a jigsaw puzzle make it obvious that they should be connected, but most of the time you fill in the gaps with more or less logical possibilities that will allow you to get from one vivid scene to the next.

Unfortunately these logical possibilities are almost always a ‘fudge’. Again, using the jigsaw puzzle analogy it’s like trying to work a puzzle without having a reference picture to tell you what should be there. So you end up connecting up all the blue or bluish bits in the hope that they are all part of the sky. As anyone who has ever struggled with a jigsaw puzzle will know ‘blue bits’ can also belong to pools and ponds and clothing and children’s toys. So these connecting bits are rarely right however they do serve a necessary purpose – they bring the picture into clearer focus and eventually highlight the missing parts of the story in negative.

So you keep on writing in flashes and eventually you end up with a plot, of sorts, and some characters and even, if you are lucky, some motivation and background but it is still very sketchy. Yes, the story hangs together, just barely, but when you re-read it the clunky bits become painfully obvious and the fudges shriek ‘contrived’ and the characters lack depth. As for the background and all those things that add texture and context to a story, they’re just not there. Your first draft is finished but you don’t like it very much. Those first, vivid scenes may be good but overall, the story sucks.

Enter the first edit. For me this usually begins after re-reading page one. I always have trouble with openings, perhaps because the vivid bit that got me started in the first place actually belongs in the middle somewhere instead of at the beginning. Dissatisfied with the opening I try and massage the prose but I am a storyteller rather than an artist who paints with words so this massaging really only accomplishes one thing: it forces me to acknowledge where the problems lie and what vital things are missing.

Now some people read wholly and solely for the story, skipping all the descriptive bits so they can get to the next ‘event’. I have to admit that I’m a bit like that myself however the best books I’ve ever read have been the ones so rich in texture and detail and personality that they force me to slow down. These books make me want to read every word so that I don’t miss any part of the amazing world that is unfolding. These books also make me want to know the characters, find out what makes each one ‘tick’. In these books each character, even the minor ones, has a distinctive, individual voice and feel. The physical appearance of characters in a book are important but nowhere near as important as they would be in a movie because in a book you get to identify them from the inside so how they talk and think, how they express emotions, quirks of body language and far more vital than any mere physical description. When I read I need to identify the characters and identify /with/ them.

Some writers can achieve this depth of characterisation without even appearing to try. Storytellers like me have to work at it and the only way I know how to do it is to see them within the context of their world.

Enter Edit no. 2. This is usually where I start to ask what it is about the character that makes them who and what they are. I start to type notes. Sometimes these notes relate directly to a particular character but often they are little insights into what sort of world organization my story has to have in order for my character to have developed the way they have.

More broad brush strokes – backstory, history, culture, tech, and let’s not forget politics. Out of all these small insights I start to get a much clearer picture of who my characters are and /why/ one developed this way and the other developed in a totally different way.

Again I start fitting the pieces together only to discover that much of this backstory should /not/ be written because the characters themselves take it all for granted and I don’t like stories with a disembodied narrator.

Enter Edit-the-next. I know I want to bring out this textural detail but I want it to come out naturally, to unfold as part of the greater picture rather than as a series of dry lectures. So again I start to edit, this time adding scenes that will allow me to develop both the characters and the background in an intuitive way. Usually this means a massive restructuring of what I’ve written; bringing in new characters, fleshing them out a bit, allowing them to fill in some of the missing bits.

Around about now I realise with a sinking feeling that my simple little story is either going to be one impossibly massive book or…a series. I seem to be fated to write three books more or less at the same time.

Once I realise that I’m dealing with a series I’m hit with the realisation that many scenes I’ve jammed in willy nilly because they had to be told would be far better  placed in book 2 or even book 3.

This is when the storytelling task becomes so daunting, so huge, so much damn work that my mind goes blank. The creative juices stop flowing and I find myself unable to continue.

I take a break. I don’t write anything for a day or two. Then life intrudes and the days become a week. Suddenly a whole month has gone past without me writing a single word, or even /thinking/ about writing. With a sinking feeling I recognize that a fallow period is upon me.

Fast forward six months to a year. I’ve been getting a restless feeling that my life is empty. I know what I’d like to do to fill it but…will the words come? Will I have any better luck this time than the last? Will I find the creativity to finally finish this damn story?

I put it off for weeks and then something will happen that jerks me out of my nice, comfortable, non-creative routine. I get up one morning and find that my subconscious has been doing things without me because, lo and behold, it’s been thinking about some plot problem and found a solution to it. Trembling with reluctant hope I open up the word processor and quickly type up a ‘note’. It could lead to other things but I firmly save and exit. Enough for one day.

This claytons type of writing continues for days until finally, at some point I realise that I now /want/ to commit to writing again and the cycle begins again.

I am no longer confident that this cycle will produce the result I so desperately want but I’m learning to approach writing as a workman rather than as an artist. I commit to putting in ‘x’ amount of effort a day. So long as I write, or research, or edit for an hour or two every day I allow myself to feel satisfied with myself.

This may be a strange way to write but it helps me ward off the desperation and hopelessness I feel when the creative juices are not flowing like Niagara after a flood. I still haven’t finished this damn story but I am chipping away at it. Maybe one day…..

I haven’t edited this so it’s a bit raw. Apologies in advance.

cheers

Meeks

 

 


Blog vs newsletter

One of the Ten Commandments of marketing is ‘thou shalt have a newsletter’.

The idea behind it is that people who subscribe to a newsletter automatically care about you, your product or the service you provide, so the newsletter helps you communicate with these dedicated people.

But I’ve always wondered why you would bother if you already had a blog?

The people who come to my blog do so of their own free will, and there is no obligation on their part to Like, Comment or Follow. Yet many of them do, so I’m already communicating with them. How is this any different to a newsletter?

In the interests of fair play, I have to admit that:

  1. I rarely read the newsletters to which I am subscribed [but I do visit blogs that I follow].
  2. I abhor the lack of privacy and the assumption of entitlement to data that is practised by the companies that provide free newsletter functionality [the owner of the newsletter may not abuse subscriber data but the companies do].
  3. And I’m lazy, meaning that I can’t imagine where I’d get the time and energy to create yet more worthwhile content for a newsletter.

For all of those reasons, I don’t have a newsletter, but I do still feel guilty about not having one, especially when I read articles by successful writers who swear by them… 😦 Then again, those same successful writers also have the money to spend on advertising of one sort or another, so I’m not sure the efficacy of newsletters is that black and white.

Anyway, my questions to you are:

Do you have a blog alone, and is it a successful form of marketing for you?

Do you have a newsletter alone, and is it a successful form of marketing for you?

Do you have both a blog and a newsletter, and have they been more successful together than either one alone?

I won’t ask about advertising because I don’t want to sound as if I’m asking people how much money they have to spend. I’m old fashioned like that. But if you have any other insights, on anything at all, I’d love for you to share.

cheers

Meeks

 

 

 


Self-publishing a paperback – trim size and bleed

The following extract is taken from my how-to books and explains about two key printing terms: ‘trim size’ and ‘bleed’.

Trim Size

The term ‘trim size’ refers to the finished size of your book – i.e. after the pages have been glued inside the cover and trimmed off neatly.

There are many trim sizes available, but the most popular sizes for non-fiction are shown in Table 1 below:

As even the largest of those trim sizes is slightly smaller than a normal A4 page, the trim size you choose will inevitably change the total page count of your book.

Note: the size of a default Word document is A4, and A4 is 8.27” x 11.69” in size.

This change in page size will have consequences in terms of layout. For example, you may find large gaps on pages where the graphics no longer fit. As a result, some re-formatting will be required. Furthermore, as the spine of the cover depends upon the number of pages in the book, trim size will indirectly affect the width of the spine as well.

You can see a complete table of trim sizes available in KDP – in both inches and cm – at the web address below:

https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G201834180#trim

Bleed

Although selecting the right trim size is the first critical step in printing your book, ‘bleed’ can be the second.

To illustrate the concept of ‘bleed’, consider the two pages below:

Note: the dotted green line represents the trim line.

The image on the left extends past the trim line into the ‘bleed’. When the page is trimmed, the image will have a crisp, clean edge with no white showing. By contrast, the image on the right does not extend into the ‘bleed’ and will have a thin white edge after it is trimmed:

Although most novels do not contain photographs, some do include maps and illustrations, and for them, bleed may be an issue.

If those images sit within the normal margins of the page, the book will not need bleed, but if they extend to the very edge of the page, the book will need bleed. This point is highlighted in the two pages below:

So keep ‘bleed’ in mind when you select the trim size of your book.

Another factor to consider is the length of your book.

A short book printed in a large trim size may end up looking too thin. A long book printed in a small trim size may end up looking too ‘fat’. More importantly, the spine may not be wide enough to allow for the printing of the title.

Note: KDP requires a minimum of 100 pages to print the title on the spine.

And finally, there’s the question of genre. Books are tactile objects and readers get used to a certain size in their favourite reading material.

Note: books that are either too big or too small for their genre may not be as ‘visible’ to a reader intent on buying a book.

Table of trim sizes – with and without bleed

The following is a table of trim sizes available with KDP:

I hope this proves to be useful. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 


A naughty weekend in Warrandyte

No! Not that kind of weekend…;) This kind of weekend:

The lighting effects are truly glorious in Elder Scrolls Online, and they inspired me to create classically inspired interiors for my in-game house. That involved finding recipes, gathering ingredients and finally crafting beautiful items like:

…the goblets and knick knacks you can see displayed on that shelving.

I also splurged and bought a very expensive recipe for a glass goblet and some ‘food’. In this last screenshot, you can see my wedge of cheese, the bread platter, and some kebabs. Dinner chez moi. 🙂

I loved the player housing in Final Fantasy XIV, but the housing and control in ESO are an order of magnitude better. Harder to master, but I think the effects speak for themselves. And yes, I did spend a lot of time playing this weekend. But I also spent a lot of time, and most of my energy mowing. I literally did not have enough oomph left over to write. Today, though, I will make up for lost time.

cheers

Meeks

 

 


I finally went and did it!

This one’s for Frank Prem who’s been hounding strenuously encouraging me to try and interest a bookshop in my books. Well, today I walked into the independent bookshop in Eltham and asked if I could leave a free sample of my work. 🙂

The sample is my tiny book of sci-fi short stories:

The paperback of The Egg is so thin, there’s no room on the spine for the title! But when I realised how cheaply I could print it on IngramSpark, I decided to use it as my ‘calling card’.

Getting back to that bookshop, I’ve been carrying a copy of The Egg around with me for weeks, but the moment was never right. It was too hot, too cold, I wasn’t dressed ‘appropriately’, I was too busy with other things…in short, I was a coward. I’m still a coward, but something clicked in my brain today, and I did the deed. I was dressed to do supermarket shopping so probably looked like a deranged bag lady, but I did it!

The owner of the shop was very nice and said she’d have to look at the book before offering it to her customers, even as a free sample. I reassured her that I expected nothing less. In reality, however, I don’t expect her to read it at all, and I don’t expect her to get in contact with me for another sample. Why? Because looking around the shop, I realised that sci-fi, even from big, traditional authors, is only a very small part of the books offered for sale. So the Egg is not exactly a good ‘fit’.

I also realised that dealing with a self-published author would inevitably cause a disruption to the normal processes of the shop. Why go to so much bother for a genre that probably doesn’t sell very well? Realistically, that is the truth, and I suspect I’d probably feel the same if the roles were reversed.

Nevertheless, I’m not disappointed. I overcame my nerves and gave it a shot, and that was the real purpose of the exercise. To prove to myself that I could. Next stop will be a second hand bookshop in Warrandyte and a cafe that leaves books lying around on the tables for customers to read.

If you guys have any suggestions for real world ‘marketing’, I’m all ears!

cheers

Meeks

 

 

 

 


Sainte Anne, psychiatric hospital in Paris

I’ve been researching psychiatric conditions because the story of P7698 starts with two Innerscape Residents needing treatment. One of them is Keith Marsden, a minor but charming character who appeared in both ‘Miira’ and ‘Nabatea’.

Anyway, the Residents respond better to therapy when it occurs in a hospital setting so suddenly, I needed a mental hospital. As Keith Marsden lives in Paris, it seemed reasonable to start my search there. And boy did I hit pay dirt!

The link below leads to an article with lots of pictures of this amazing hospital, right in the heart of Paris. Not only is it an utterly beautiful place, it’s a good hospital too. If you read the history, you’ll realise that much of modern psychiatry originated at Sainte Anne:

https://www.cherrychapman.com/2014/05/05/sainte-anne-psychiatric-hospital-in-paris-a-hidden-sanctuary-of-nature-and-art/

For those who don’t want to read it all, here are some pictures. First up a map showing Paris:

By ThePromenader at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1753317

The thick brown line denotes the original arrondissements of Paris. Within that shape, the area shaded in dark orange is the 14th arrondissement where Sainte Anne is located.

The next picture is of one of the old buildings. The campus is huge.

This pic gives you some idea of the gardens too. Back when there were no treatments for psychiatric conditions, patients were encouraged to work in the gardens – fresh air, sunshine, purpose, exercise. These days we’d call it occupational therapy.

Anyway, the setting is superb and gives me a great location to work with.

Happy Weekend!

Meeks

 


2 free days for the KDP how-to books

I should probably stretch these promotions out but…meh, let’s have some fun. 🙂

Okay, from October 23 to 24 [2 days], the ebook version of How to Print Your Novel with Kindle Direct Publishing and How to Print Non-Fiction with Kindle Direct Publishing will be free on Amazon:

The difference between the two books is that the How to…Novel is pitched at absolute beginners while the How to Non-Fiction is for self-publishers who have to deal with lots of graphics. Oh and the How to Non-Fiction has a new Index of Links at the very back. You can find it by looking at the bottom of the Table of Contents.

If you’re just interested in the KDP side of the equation, both books cover the same information. This includes three appendices that contain information specifically for Aussie authors.

Both how-to books are in colour and fixed layout:

Although you can pinch-and-zoom with fixed format ebooks, you can’t change the font size to suit your comfort zone. That’s why I made the font size 24. On my Kindle Fire, that size is like a normal size 12 font in a paperback. I also made the pictures as ‘visible’ as possible so you wouldn’t have to keep zooming in and out all the time. I haven’t tried either book on a phone so if anyone gives it a try I’d love to know how well [or badly] it works.

Fixed format ebooks can only be read on one of the Kindle Fires or via the free Kindle app.  You can get the app. for a variety of devices at this web address:

https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/fd/kcp

The free promotion should start at midnight tomorrow for the Northern hemisphere. For us Aussies, it will begin at about 6 pm tomorrow.  I genuinely hope lots of people download the books, and I would really, really appreciate the odd review. 🙂

cheers

Meeks


Amazon free ebook, one day only

Just a quick post to let you know that ‘How to Print your Novel with Kindle Direct Publishing‘ [ebook version] will be free in the US from 12:00am, September 26, 2018 till 11:59pm September 26, 2018.

For the Eastern seaboard of Australia, 12:00am Seattle time [Amazon] translates to 5:00pm Melbourne time. So for us, it’ll be sometime after 5:00 pm tomorrow, Thursday September 26, 2018.

Gah…I hate timezones.

Now, the ebook uses a fixed format so all the pictures fit properly. BUT. That means the ebook will only work on:

…Fire tablets and free reading apps for iPads, Android tablets, smartphones, PCs, and Macs.

 

 

Sorry, but it simply won’t work on ordinary Kindles. I will play around with a different format, to see if it works, but I’m not holding my breath; Kindles are great for text heavy books, but I suspect their ability to ‘flow’ will cause merry hell with pictures…

Anyway, even if creating a paperback of your book is still nothing but a rosy fantasy, grab a copy of the KDP how-to for future reference. 🙂

cheers

Meeks


KDP pricing vs IngramSpark pricing

I’ve just been speaking to IngramSpark [Australia] and discovered that Ingram only charge for the actual print cost of a paperback!!!!

-dance-

No idea why that’s such a big deal?

Allow me to explain. 🙂

When you print [and sell] your paperback through KDP, your royalty is calculated as the difference between the sale price of the book and two things:

  1. the print cost
  2. the cost of distributing [i.e. selling] through Amazon

Amazon’s distribution cost will always be 40% of the List Price [the sale price], but the print cost will vary depending on what, and how, you print. For example, black & white costs much less than colour.

To explain how distribution and print cost affect royalty, I’m cheating a bit and taking the next bit straight out of my KDP how-to book:

Royalty = (List Price – 40% [to Amazon]) – Printing

Or to put it another way, when your paperback sells on Amazon:

  1. Amazon takes its share – 40% – from the total sale price,
  2. This leaves 60% of the total sale price.
  3. From this 60%, Amazon takes the actual print costs.
  4. Whatever is left over is your royalty.

To illustrate this point, let’s say the List Price of a book is $10 and the print cost is $5.

  1. From that $10, Amazon takes $4 – i.e. 40%.
  2. That leaves $6.
  3. From that $6, Amazon takes $5 – i.e. the cost of the printing.
  4. That then leaves $1 as the royalty owed to the author.

 [10 – 4] – 5 = 1

Note: back when you had the option of selling your paperback directly through CreateSpace, the cost of selling through CS was 20% rather than the 40% owed to Amazon, but there was still a charge.

Knowing how Amazon and CreateSpace calculate royalties, I assumed that IngramSpark must have a distribution cost factored in there somewhere as well. But they don’t, and I couldn’t be happier! IngramSpark will distributre your paperback worldwide without charging for the distribution. All they charge is the print cost. Suddenly, the setup fee and the revision fee don’t feel so bad any more.

Until I see exactly how Amazon and IngramSpark function together, I won’t be completely sure of my figures, but I am now itching to try it and see. And of course, you’ll be the first to know what I’ve learned. 😀

cheers

Meeks

 


Hunting the Phoenix, by Audrey Driscoll

I don’t think I can define the difference between a craftsman and an artist, but I know it when I see it, and Audrey Driscoll is an artist. I know, because I am a craftsman, a good one, but not an artist.

So, enough navel gazing. What is it about ‘Hunting the Phoenix’ that’s so special?

Simple answer: everything.

‘Hunting the Phoenix’ is the fourth and last book of the Herbert West series, but it is also the climax of the preceding three books. Imagine the steps of a pyramid with the Phoenix as its apex. Or if music is more your thing, imagine a classical symphony in which each movement builds upon the last to achieve the soaring notes that grab your heart and lift you out of yourself. That is the Phoenix.

At its core, every work of fiction strives for just one thing – to persuade the reader to suspend disbelief, to become part of the story, and the Herbert West series is no different. Written in a style that is reminiscent of classical literature, the story lulls the reader into a pleasant sense of security. ‘Oh, this is what the story is about…’ And then the surprises begin. Small ones at first, as you realise the author is more daring than you thought, then more profound as the truly shocking events begin to unfold.

Each book in the series is like this, but in the Phoenix the shocks go deep. I admit, there were a couple of spots where I had to stop and shake my head in disbelief. Such careful, restrained, beautiful writing and she takes it there?

Yet ‘there’ is exactly where the story needs to go in order for the ending, the climax, to feel both unexpected and absolutely right.

I’m sure no one will be surprised when I say that the quality of the writing is superb. What may surprise some people is that it is written in the First Person POV [point-of-view], and I don’t usually like First Person POV. This time, however, I barely noticed because Driscoll effortlessly avoids every single pitfall that goes with First Person POV. As with C.J.Cherryh’s Foreigner series, the POV is perfect and exactly what the story requires.

I wish I could give ‘Hunting the Phoenix’ a 10 out of 5 but even my limited math knows that’s impossible. Suffice to say that this book, in fact the whole series, is as close to perfect as a story can get. It joins a relatively short list of books, including Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, that I consider to be exceptional, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants more.

I’m just about to use parts of this post as a review on Amazon. If you want to read the series, the order of the books is:

  1. The Friendship of Mortals
  2. The Journey: Islands of the Gulf, Volume 1
  3. The Treasure: Islands of the Gulf, Volume 2
  4. Hunting the Phoenix

And please, leave a review on Amazon because these books truly do deserve to become modern classics.

cheers

Meeks

 


%d bloggers like this: