The perfect gift for the horror fan in your life

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for the horror fan in your life? Or just looking for something to read over the holiday season?

Well look no further. The Serpent’s Eye by Thomas H. Brand is available now from CreateSpace, Amazon, and iTunes in paperback and e-book editions.

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When George Sandings, a young up-and-coming solicitor, is sent to Buenos Aires to deal with the estate of the late Earl Edgar Leer, the infamous explorer and hedonist, he sees it as an opportunity to prove himself to his employers and advance his career. He has just a month to uncover what he can so that the Leer family might be able to put their disgraced son’s memory behind them.

However, as he delves deeper and deeper into the Earl’s dark and immoral life he discovers that not everything is as natural as it should be. Soon he begins to realise that something from the Earl’s life, some power that should have been lost and forgotten, is haunting him. Something that seems to be entwining itself in George’s mind. 

Is this spectre real? Or is this simply some earthly plot to undermine him? As George tries to make sense of what is happening to him, he must decide whether the only rational answer is the irrational.

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.

Britain’s First Space Rocket: The Story of the Skylark

With rockets landing on comets, the UK announcing its leading roll in European missions to Mars, and Kickstarters funding new trips to the moon, space is back on people’s minds. But how many people remember Skylark, the first UK rocket programme that ran for almost 50 years until 2005?

My Dad did, and he’s written a book about it.

These days, few have heard of the Skylark sounding rocket. Yet, in November 1957, it was the first British rocket to reach space and became the basis of Britain’s earliest space programme. Over the next 48 years hundreds more were fired, launching into space thousands of instruments that made pioneering observations of the Earth, Sun, stars and galaxies.

Here for the first time is the full story of the Skylark rocket, a fascinating story of the birth of British rocket technology and space science, a tale that started at the end of WWII and lasted until 2005.

I know a lot of you out there who are interested in aeronautics, space travel, rocketry or just science in general. I would really recommend this book. 6 years in the making and featuring over 740 images, many of which have been been previously released, this is a labour of love from a man who grew up during the space race; someone who read comics full of space adventure, saw the first satellites in the news and lived in a time when moon landings, space stations, or landing a probe on a comet were pure science fiction.

Read a bit more about it here and here.

You can get your copy at YPD Books