The Æther Collection Cover Reveal!

We’re almost there!

The story is locked down and I’m now just waiting on my last two copy editors to finish running through the manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. Once that’s done and I’ve gone through it myself one final time, The Æther Collection will finally be ready for publication!

And, in honour of this, I thought it was time to officially reveal the cover art, provided by my wonderful designer (and sometime organ-donor) Emily.

cover 1

Eagle-eyed followers may well have spotted this image before, as it’s been going up on my various forms of social media recently, and has actually been the banner for this website for a couple of weeks. But this is the “official” launch, so take a moment to enjoy it.

Now begins the painstaking task of completing the manuscript and getting it published. This weekend has been spent sending things out to agents, but while I am waiting on responses the process of preparing everything to self-publish will begin. So, barring an agency picking this up and taking the tasks of publication out of my hands, or any unforeseen events that might cause further details, The Æther Collection should be out in August.

So, if anyone out there is interesting in maybe getting their hands on an early review copy, now’s the time to let me know.

 

The Æther Collection – latest draft

So yes, it’s been a while. As I laid out in my last post, I’ve been a little busy recently. Would you like to see what’s been keeping me away?

This.

The Æther Collection - 4th Draft

The Æther Collection – 4th Draft

I present to you the latest draft of The Æther Collection in all its glory. A collection of 13 short stories coming in at just under 80,000 words. I can’t really say what number draft this is, as the redrafting process has been a little haphazard. At the start, when I was posting each story on here as it was completed, I worked on one story until it was done and then moved onto the next. Later I began working on several at a time and the process became more linear. And so this means that different stories at at different levels on completion depending on when they were written. Some of the entries are basically done, while others will still need work. But for the sake of clarity I’m calling this the 4th draft, as it’s the forth version I’ve exported and saved in its entirety.

Now I’ve handed copies of the manuscript over to my usual Alpha Readers to make a start. Hopefully in the New Year they’ll start getting back to me with their notes and I’ll begin the next stage of revisions. Hopefully I won’t get any points back along the lines of “this one is awful, get rid of it”, but we’ll see what they think. Then comes the traditional fooling myself that I only need one more draft…

So what do I do while I wait?

  1. I have several more ideas for short stories than just those that fit into this collection. The problem is when you are focusing on one project you work on any old idea as you’ll never get anything done. But now I finally have the chance to work on these for a change. I have at least one that’s half done and has been sitting on my desk for months waiting redrafting. Hopefully I’ll that one done and still have time to at least get one more into decent shape before I need to get back into the Collection again.

  2. I need to start working on designs. I’ve already got Emily – my sister and designer – to put together the first version of the cover image for The Æther Collection, and it looks awesome. When I’m at home over Christmas we’ll go over this and start working on the final versions. This time I have a far better idea of what I’ll need. One of the problems I had with The Serpent’s Eye – it being my first self published bookwas that I didn’t know what I needed until I needed it. This meant that every time I wanted to put the cover image on a new website I had to go back to Emily and get her to work on it fresh and send me a new version in a different layout or resolution or some other strange variation. This time around I can make a full list of everything I used last time and get her to create everything (hopefully) in one go.

  3. In preparation for book completion I need to start working on my Scrivener-foo. I absolutely love the programme for writing, and I know that in theory it’s great for laying out a manuscript and exporting it however you need. However, at the moment my abilities are pretty much limited to trial and error, which leads to hours of frustration as I desperately try to work out how to make it do what I want. I’ll definitely be spending some lunch hours watching online How-To guides.

  4. I’ve spoken on here before about how advertising and promotion are not my strong suits. However project management is. Therefor I’m intending to make my promotional efforts far more of a structured project this time around. This one is the hardest, as (a) it’s not directly linked to the creation of the book, and (b) I don’t enjoy it. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean I shouldn’t put the effort in if I want to get my work out there. So, time to start thinking in advance about these things.

I think that’s probably enough to be getting on with. I’m also hoping to give my social media a bit of a kick and get connecting with people again. Focusing on redrafting does tend to put you in a very inwardly focused world. But then I suppose writing as a whole does that. I just have to get my head around the culture shock of wrapping up the writing side of things and focusing on the other aspects of life.

Fun.

Judging a book by its cover

“Never judge a book by its cover”.

What a great philosophy to to live your life by. It’s practically the first lesson in How To Live A Fair and Interesting Life 101. As a metaphor for looking beyond stereotypes and not taking people at face value and taking the time to look deeper it can’t really be faulted.

But what if we’re talking about literally judging an actual book?

Quality of writing is not, unfortunately, the only thing an author has to think about when publishing their work. For all that we want our work to speak for itself people aren’t going to read something if they don’t know it exists, and that’s not going to happen without publicity and marketing.

I will be the first to admit that these areas are not my forte. I have never been a natural promotor of my own work. But, just like anyone looking at self publishing, it’s something I’ve had to teach myself. The most obvious way has been to get involved with all the common methods of promotion, all the websites and online writer groups, to see what everyone else is doing. And one of the main reasons that this is a good way to teach yourself self-promotion is because after a while you really start to see all the things that other people are doing wrong.

I’m far from an expert, when you spend enough time looking into something you start to see the same mistakes over and over again until you recognise them without trying. And if I can notice them – a random guy just looking around the market – I can only imagine how often agents and publishers have to wade through them.

I’ve come to recognise three or four basic mistakes that a lot of authors out there are making over and over again. And possibly the worst of these mistakes – because it is the most obvious and impossible to ignore – is using a terrible cover.

Your book’s cover is the final line that the reader must cross before making the decision whether or not to put in the time/effort/money on your book. They might not care whether it’s the latest Hugo Award winner best seller or an impulse buy from an unknown author, but they need to believe that the author cared enough about it to care what it looked like.

We’ve all heard the old adage “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”. It’s the same with book covers. Traditional publishing houses have promotion and marketing teams to do this side of things. If you want to be taken seriously you need to match that quality despite not having the resources.

Not everyone is going to be able to get a professional designer to create a cover, of course, but there are ways around that. What you can’t do is just accept any old thing and slap it on your manuscript. I’ve seen covers that look like they were put together in MS Paint. Covers that look like someone cut images out of a magazine, stuck them onto a piece of A4 and scanned them into a computer. Covers that look like the writer’s parents forced them use something their 12 year old cousin made in art class. Covers that, to sum this up, just plain look bad.

Self publishing is not an easy path to success. We all know this by now. The hard fact is there is still an entrenched prejudice that self-publishing is a path for writers who aren’t good enough to get a traditional contract. It is also a fact that there’s a lot of evidence to back up this attitude. There is so much terrible, terrible work put online by lazy writers who don’t seem to think that eighth, seventh, or sometimes even second drafts are a necessity. If you want to rise up from the dross that is out there, you need to make your book as indistinguishable from a professional publication as possible.

So what are my recommendations?

 

Look at what resources you have (and be honest with them)

Do you know someone who can create a high quality cover for you? Someone who at least has some design experience? It’s quite possible that they might be willing help you, if you ask nicely.

But make sure it’s someone you’re prepared to be honest with. The problem with a favour is you can feel uncomfortable about turning it down. This is your work, and you cannot allow yourself to feel obligated to please someone else with the final product. That’s your name on the cover. If the final product is poor quality it’s your reputation and your interests that are going to suffer.

If you don’t think you could tell someone that you don’t like their work then don’t ask them for help.

Invest in your own work

If you don’t have someone able and willing to help for free, spend some money.

It doesn’t have to be too expensive. There are a lot of aspiring artists and designers looking for the opportunity get their work out there, just like you. Some might even be willing to work for free (although see my previous point about that). There are even people who have seen this niche and sell pre-made covers to those authors who want something quick and easy.

Remember, if you are not prepared to invest a little of your own money in your work, why should a reader or a publisher?

Keep it simple (Not the face)

If in doubt, keep your cover as simple as possible.

Don’t try to depict scenes from the book or intricate landscapes. If you’re on a budget or forced to do things yourself, the simpler you can keep it the better it will be. Text on a plain background, with maybe a clean, simple logo or image. It’s classic, and the easiest cover to pull off. 

And this might be a personal choice, but avoid character portraits like the plague. Especially if you’re not a professional. Stock photos always look fake, and poorly photoshopped figures even more so. And unless you can draw really well, any attempt at a portrait of a human is going to slam your cover straight down into the Uncanny Valley.

 

So what choices did I make? As it turns out I’m lucky enough that I have a sister who is a graphic designer. At the point where I was finishing The Serpent’s Eye and needed a cover, she was actually in the middle of completing her Masters Degree in Graphic Design. This meant I had a family member who (a) had the skill and talent to create a professional quality image, and (b) who I was more than willing to argue with if I didn’t like the result.

If I hadn’t had this option? I would have researched some graphic designers and looked to commission one.

The last thing I would ever have attempted would be to create my own cover.

And so if any of you are looking for a decent cover artist head over to www.emilybranddesigns.com. Her contact details are on the site, and she’ll be more than happy to discuss what you’re looking for. I’m told she has very reasonable prices for non-family. I can vouch that you’ll get quality work.

2014: Looking back, then forward

So 2015 is almost upon us. It’s been an interesting year, with lots of things moving forward in my career. And in the spirit of the New Year I thought I would have a look back at where I was a year ago and what I have planned in the future.

So you know, a New Years update. Groundbreaking, I know.

2014 and things that have been

So at the beginning of the year I was unemployed, and so therefore in the wonderful position of being able to write full time. At this point I was focusing on two things; working on building up The Æther Collection and the final polish of The Serpent’s Eye. I also had a couple of short stories out into the submissions cloud, but so far I had nothing published.

The Serpent’s Eye became available to download as an ebook in July. This is my first published work, and I’m very please with how it has turned out. I’ve had some great feed back, some from friends I trust to be honest with me, and some from total strangers which in a way is better that they’re not going to care one bit about my feelings.

I have discovered that putting together and self publishing an e-book is not a simple process. At least, not if you want it to be any good. You can write the best story in the world, but if you give it crappy production values people are never going to give it a chance. I’ve been very lucky that I have a sister who is an artist and designer, meaning I was able to get an excellent cover done for free. But even with that I had to teach myself how to actually format and produce all the necessary files and upload them correctly to the necessary websites. Honestly, it took me several evenings to get everything right on this before it could go up.

The Æther Collection slowed down a lot this year. Mainly this was due to my getting a full time job and my writing time being slashed. I have to really prioritise my projects at the moment, and unfortunately this has had to take a back seat. Still I’ve managed to get a couple of stories up, and I have at least two more almost finished.

Part of what has taken up my time are other short stories. I’ve been trying to get my work out into the world, and one of the main routes is getting my short stories into anthologies. This year I have finally managed to reach this goal, with my story ‘Nice, or Naughty’ being included in Dark Holidays. I have also had another story, ‘Hielora Road’, accepted in a new horror anthology from Thomas Hill Press which will be coming out in the New Year.

2015, and things that are to come

I have always planned to release The Serpent’s Eye as a physical book, but it has taken me some time to get around to finalising this. I had originally intended to get it out for Christmas, but as it was taking me more time that I planned I decided not to rush it. Deciding on a printing service and making sure all the layout is perfect is very time consuming for someone who has never done this before. I’ve been working my way along the learning curve, and am now doing one last proof read while I wait for my sister to complete the full cover art.

I was always aware that with an ebook I could always fix any errors that came up, but with a printed book I can never make changes if something slips through. I want this to look as professional as possible, and as much as I put effort in for the presentation of the ebook, but I’m being doubly careful. I am fully aware I am not the greatest proofreader of my own work. I know I’m going to miss some stupid mistake, but I’m doing my best to make sure it’s not so glaring and obvious that it ruins the whole thing.

At the moment I’m looking at a February release date, but I don’t want to commit to a time frame for fear of hubris. Having never done this before I have no idea how long it will take or what delays there might be.

Once that is done, my main project for 2015 will be completing the Æther Collection. This has been unavoidably on the back-burner for a while, but I want to get it completed and out to buy by the end of the year at the latest.

The main question I am trying to answer right now is how long do I want to make it. I currently have 9 stories written, and 1 more ready in my head for a first draft. That gives me 10 stories coming in around around 55,000 words. Ideally I would like a bit of a longer word count and a couple more stories. The problem is that so far stories have simply been added to the collection as they have come to me. I’ve had no real plan on how many there will be once it is completed.

So once of my tasks will be sitting down and having a long think about this. I need to decide if there are any more stories to be told in this collection, then I need to decide on what order to put them in. There is obviously the choice of chronological order, but I’m not yet convinced that this will be the best way. I have a feeling there is a thematic way to arrange them. I just need to find it.

One other thing is that I don’t think I will be publishing them online once completed anymore. As much as I want you all to read them, the original object of having them available up on my site was to have something up there for visitors to look at and comment back to me on. But now that is less of a priority as people can find my work elsewhere. I may actually take some of them down. They still need polishing, and I would like for at least some of the collection to be new to the reader. So expect some of them to disappear over the next couple of months so I can work on them in peace.

I also still fully intend to produce more one off short stories for publication. I have several in my mind that I really want to get done and a couple actually half written. The problem at the moment is time. With a real life job and real life family issues taking up a lot of my time, writing it limited. Short stories are a great palette cleanser between big projects, and also great fun in their own right, but often I have to leave them simmering in the background for longer than I would like. I then even when they are finished it can take time for them to get accepted into collections, and then however long for that collection to come out.

So that is the coming year. Hopefully 2015 will show an increase in my workload and publicity. I know that the next stage in my writing career involves an increase in marketing, but this is something way out of my comfort zone. I have never been any good at promoting myself, so it’s going to be an interesting journey trying to make it happen.

But it’s definitely going to be fun.

See you all in 2015.

Cover Reveal

So I’ve finally finished the last draft of The Serpents Eye. This one comes in at 42200 words. That’s a 2700 increase. Which I do think it needed. Once it was pointed out to me, I could definitely see the second act was a little sparse. It had been written as I had planned it, but sometimes you can be so focused of seeing something out as you planned it that you don’t see there is a slightly better way of doing it until someone else highlights it. I hadn’t done these bits badly, they just could have been better.

They also pointed out a plot point that made no sense and needed removing. But let’s not talk about that. Let’s just say I need to buy an atlas…

I’m confident that the rewrite has improved the book as a whole. As much as the rewrite involved much changing of past to present tense, and then much double checking I’m done this correctly, its done its job.

So while it’s going through its final proofread, I thought I’d do a reveal of the cover art, as done by my talented sister Emily.

tom book a3 jpeg

I always hoped she’d come in useful one day. I’m loving the image she created. I think it gives a great vibe of the old 18th Century books that have inspired this story, but with something more modern mixed in with it.

And so now with the cover finished and the last copyedit on the way I can refine my timelines a bit. Depending on the speed of my copyeditors, I’m now looking to get The Serpent’s Eye out by the end of May. I will keep this blog updated to any changes, but hopefully I’ll finally get to see this story out there in the real world.

And then we’ll see what people think. That’s actually the scary part.