Writers: Packaging Your Work For Sale Through Amazon, Or “It Costs HOW MUCH?”

28 09 2018

Back when I produced a couple of movies, producers spent half their total budget on box art (yes, box art. It was VHS, then DVD). Design caught the eye and made promises about content. The slicker the design, the higher the expectation about the movie’s overall content. Back then, I learned three things:

  • Do not hire friends to do your art. It’s awkward when they screw up and you have to yell at them or threaten to sue.
  • Do not do it yourself. That will add months to your goal as you learn the software and research design basics.
  • It is worth saving up money to hire an experienced professional.

Through the writing of the Lampreyhead series, I listened to podcasts about self-publishing. Lindsey Buroker suggested hacking the cover designs of bestsellers. I did so and found the popular colors, fonts, elements, and compositions. I opened an account on 99Designs and put up my information.

I thought of Lampreyhead as being a Terry Gilliam satire of Paranormal Romance. Then I spoke with my writers’ group and found that no, Lampreyhead was much darker even than Terry Gilliam. I had first wanted a spoof cover much like Ash from “Evil Dead” with weapon held high, but I was told the series is a bit too grim for that.

Okay, from art design I already knew that all characters needed distinctive silhouettes. Harry Potter is slight with a wand, Harry Dresden had his gun and hat, Anita Blake had great hair, etc. Ned lived in his hoodie and cargo shorts, so he already had a distinctive figure. Based on my research into covers, I concluded I needed rich purples, reds, and golds. I needed a silver metallic font with serifs. Bare abs attracted attention while still being true to Ned’s vocation.

Artists submitted spec designs and I took them to my friends on Facebook. One design stood out, a design I wouldn’t have considered. Instead of a strong pose, Ned looked dead at the viewer. This struck my friends as arresting and moody, so I approved it.

Beware 99Designs. It takes a 30% cut of what you pay the artists. So when I had a regrettably long “oh could you add this” list, I became more trouble than I was worth, and the artist didn’t return my emails for Covers 2 and 3. I do not blame her. She did a great job.

She did send me Photoshop documents of the cover, so I got an artist from my on-line writers group to modify Cover One to make Covers Two and Three. There was a communication glitch and I did not get all the changes I had wanted, but the price was great.

By this time, I was hearing from podcasts that most authors did basics on Photoshop and made their own covers. I bought Photoshop Elements and cropped to make the three Kindle covers.

Total cost so far: $1200.

Advertising is going to add to this outlay.

I will probably have to pay a web designer to make a new home page. I need an aggressive email sign-up drop and WordPress sites don’t seem to do that.

So…I’ll have some info about that next week. We’ll learn together.





Writers: Editing The “Lampreyhead” Series

27 09 2018

I always saw Thomas Hayden Church as Ned “Lampreyhead” Winter.thom-church-int

 

As I’ve stated before, writing beginnings and endings is fun, but connecting them is The Long Night Of The Soul. Book One went reasonably well because I’d had months to mush an outline around in my head. I wrote Book Two in the middle of a Mid-Atlantic winter and between the cold dark and a lack of outline, I had a slight melt-down over the frustration. An old friend from high school, Randy, basically said “get over yourself”, which gave me the kick in the butt to complete that draft. I outlined more thoroughly for Book Three, so with the  confidence gained from Book Two and sensing the finish line I typed “END” on the three books at 90K words in about ten months. Not the output I would have liked, but 8K words a month is a personal best.

I submitted Book One to my face-to-face writers’ group. They pointed out my usual issues with weak verbs and skipping details. I discovered that I write with an audiobook in mind, so I kept attributing thoughts to distinguish them from narration. The “he thought” attributions became tedious. Chuck Pahluhnik challenges his students to write without any attributions at all, least of all internal ones like thought, considered, pondered, etc. I deleted those and wow, what a difference.

I have not established an editing method, so I piecemeal at this point. What I do:

·         Replace spoken attributions (said, shouted, etc) with physicality.

·         Include smells and textures because most writers skip those, and for me those senses bring me into the story faster. I think Elmore Leonard liked three sensory details per page. If your style is lusher, then add details as needed.

·         Proof the character voices. I cast friends and actors to play roles when I write. This helps keep voices and behaviors believable. The protagonist Ned is a challenge. How would a centuries-old, multi-lingual, blue-collar wuss speak? What analogies or cultural references would he use?

·         Modify descriptions to highlight moods.

My writers’ group prioritizes artfulness and emotional depth. One member described Lampreyhead as “a romp”. Which works for me. I have no expectations beyond basically entertaining the reader. By Book Three, I presented the draft to only one member, because he was faster and I think he “got” what I’m trying to do.

He is also a veteran of Odyssey, Clarion, and James Gunn’s Workshops. He is very good at not only finding problems, but proposing solutions.

I keep a file with continuity information. The names and formula for the vampire prototypes are in there, as are magic words. I may need an excel spreadsheet in time or to actually use the Scrivener I bought.

That’s right. I did all this in Word. Three or four characters per book at 30K words, so I didn’t really need anything complicated.

So what did I learn?

  • Outline.
  • Keep encouraging people near by.
  • Tailor your expectations to your capabilities.
  • Trust that next time *it will be easier*.

That was editing. While editing, I went to 99Designs and found a cover artist. I’ll describe the packaging process next time.

 





Writers: How I Wrote My Novella Series

26 09 2018
blueberries cake chocolate chocolate cake

Photo by Abhinav Goswami on Pexels.com

selective focus photography of people having a toast

Photo by ELEVATE on Pexels.com

CAKE OR BEER? IN TIME, I SHALL HAVE BOTH.

The three books of “Lampreyhead” are now uploaded on Amazon. A year ago, I started writing Book One. Through last Winter and Spring, I wrote Books Two and Three. I hired a cover artist, then had to hire another, and learned formatting for CreateSpace (RIP, now merged with KDP) and Kindle.

Part One! The Writing!

Peering from this site banner is Ned Winter, the protagonist of my new series “Lampreyhead.” Ned is a failed vampire prototype. The approved vampire prototype, Dracula, brought three separate bites with three separate nights of sexual ecstasy. Ned fastens on for three days straight, bringing a three-day long orgasm.

I had this “vampire prototype” joke floating in my head for almost twenty years. I wrote two  “MAD Magazine” style short stories where Lampreyhead was like Jerry Lewis’ Nutty Professor character, then set him aside. I wanted to write a novel about him, but the character wouldn’t work for a longer piece.

The problem with an over-the-top character is that once started, there is no room the nuance needed to sustain a longer work. The style and tone wear the reader down and eventually the humor becomes boring. To make a series, Ned needed a character arc.

I tore down the old Lampreyhead and built a new one.

I started him in modern Philadelphia USA because I know and love this area. How did her survive the centuries? How else? He’d been a gigolo since the 1400s, keeping a low profile from the church and the law. I needed him to be an underdog, so I held to the most oppressive myths regarding vampires: no silver, no sunlight, all holy objects causing spiritual agony or physical injury.

Then I took away most of the vampire perks. No transformations beyond turning into a seven foot parasitic fish. No control of lesser animals. Ordinary hearing and sight. I started feeling sorry for him, so I kept him notably stronger than humans.

For me, the big question regarding vampires is this: why would they be any more accomplished than humans? If I could live forever, would I become a violin virtuoso? Would I even pick up a violin? I lived for six years in a house that held the entire Great Books Series and I had no interest in broadening myself. I think I represent most average humans. So I made Ned not so much a slacker, as someone who settled into a decades long routine. He had no ambitions, but he also had to survive, and the birth-death cycle of mortals broke his heart.

Heart? This vampire has a heart? Yes, unlike the other prototypes, Ned has emotions.

Which gave his story a great new dimension. Most people worry about whether God exists because they see no conclusive proof. All Ned has to do is go past a church and he can feel God’s existence, but God Doesn’t Like Ned. Centuries of this knowledge would wear on a guy.

So I had a sympathetic character struggling to distract himself from his emptiness and wondering at the universe through The Fortean Times and astronomy.

I started the first book with a date. Ned has a date with an affluent, debauched woman. Ned would be well-practiced at concealing his transformation through an absolutely dark hotel room. Because he’s compassionate, he would prepare room service to have food and water ready at the door for “after care”. I threw in some lingerie, but the scene didn’t have much purpose beyond titillation.

Ned then goes to his usual diner to sit all night reading magazines. His routine is interrupted by an old friend and fellow prototype, a character of particularly gruesome nature, Gustav.

Gustav serves three purposes. He gives the reader an idea of what a horror Ned could have been and could still become. Gustav provides information that transforms Ned’s life. Gustav is a toddler with a fanged, prehensile umbilical cord. I love Gustav.

This brings Ned to a journey that is part horror and part slapstick.

Here was the problem: this left callow Ned to process these events on his own. Ned had no moral compass beyond “do as little harm as possible and survive.” He lacked the ability to distinguish Evil.

Remember his date? He still had her phone number. So I had him call her.

That’s how a throwaway character became the protagonist’s confidant for 90K words and still going strong. To grease the skids, I rewrote so that she saw Ned transform during their date. Why wouldn’t she freak out at seeing Ned attached to her? I made her a thrill-seeker also looking for answers through the supernatural.

My favorite TV show has always been “Kolchak”. One of my second favorites is “X-Files” but ONLY the “Monster of the Week” episodes. I wanted to do MotW books where Ned encountered and fought the rest of the vampire prototypes (now called the Formulae).

My research showed that a series needs a plot arc for it to be satisfying for the reader. I’ve tried to split the difference. Ned fights pretty cool vampires while picking up clues about Satan, Hell, the Apocalypse, and Magick, with an eye towards his future development.

Next time, the Editing Process.





Writers: Supercharge Your Protagonist

13 09 2018

I haven’t been posting my own comments for a while due to my finishing the first three Lampreyhead novellas (now 90K words total). I’m getting the cover art back from my back-up artist (more about that in a later post). I’ve gone through alpha and beta critiques. I’ve got a launch and sales plan together (another post on that, I promise).

Now, I am trying to write a sequel to “The Flesh Sutra”. Last year, I tried but after almost two drafts at 80K words, I realized I was trying to cram in too much. Did I want a clever revenge horror like Dr. Phibes? Did I want a claustrophobic haunted house like The Haunting of Hill House or something more over the top like Hell House?

Heck! I decided to go for all three and man it went nowhere.

Now, just as I start this next draft, two articles caught my eye and I find them really useful.

This one talks about types of “Leading Characters” with a concentration on Noir tropes. Olivia and Alex fall within the Negative Leads very well, and James Scott Bell at Kill Zone is helping me narrow down which plot type I want to use.

This other post is by Adam-Troy Castro, award winning author of everything from intense and stylish horror to the Gustav Gloop YA series. After 30 years of writing and submitting, I have just begun the character structures Adam so easily describes in his first paragraph. Who would suffer the most? What would a unique character do in an unsuspecting world?

The articles will seem basic to some, and I probably ran into the advice many times before. But the timing is fortunate now and I can use it to best effect in this sequel.





Which Would Be The Better Vampire?

1 06 2018

There’s a vampire who has existed for centuries. He is fluent in a dozen languages. He has traveled the world. He has been present at all major historic events. He is expert in the humanities and sciences. He plays several musical instruments so well he can move you to tears. He is suave, unflappable, and incredibly smug.

Would it better if he fed by ramming his head up his victim’s butt, or for his butt to expand cartoonishly to engulf his victim?

Update: I got one vote for each so far.





Hey Now! I’m In This!

22 03 2018

Pseudopod.org was one of my first turning points. They liked a story of mine so much, they publshed two of the stories sequels, which became the beginning of my novel “The Flesh Sutra”. This is their 10th Anniversary Special. Look at he names here! Thomas Ligotti! A.C. Wise! Joe Lansdale! If you haven’t tried Pseudopod, please give it a listen. If you know it, maybe donate a couple of dollars. They are great people and at the forefront of making great genre fiction.

Table of Contents I Have a Story for You • essay by Alex Hofelich Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story • (1985) • novelette by Thomas Ligotti Murmurs of a Voice Foreknown • (2016) • short story by Jon Padgett Stillborn • (1990) • short story by Nina Kiriki Hoffman In the Deepest […]

via For Mortal Things Unsung—A Horror Anthology from Pseudopod, TOC — The Sanguine Woods





Lampreyhead the Mixtape

28 02 2018

I saw that the YA writer Maggie Stievater create music lists for her writing and I thought I’d give that a try.

This is what I listened to while writing. It became background noise that helped me trak when an hour of writing had passed, and frankly I got more done when the earbuds were silent, but listening to it helped me catch the mood of the book.

It has Pirates of Penzance, Bert Williams, Chick Webb, and Brecht to try to convey the burdens from Ned’s age. But I also needed music to remind me he is shallow and wistful, so I went pop. Heino, a kitchy German balladeer, helped remind me of Ned’s German roots. Robert Hazard, Motley Crue, Dinner, Hot Chocolate, Beach Boys, and Funkadelic reinforces Heino’s pop energy. Last, there’s the goth/punk with Nick Cave, Chelsea Wolfe, Xiu Xiu, Suicidal Tendencies, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and a cover by Brak for his pensiveness.

LAMPREYHEAD THE PLAYLIST





What I Learned On This Draft

22 02 2018

Hi guys,

I’ve finished the Beta draft of Lampreyhead: Blood Summoning.

I laughed, I cried, I learned oh so much.

First and foremost, I had always heard about writers having total existential meltdowns during redrafts. Not me. I’ve struggled with writing since 1989, sure, and I thought I’d run in the worst the writing experience had to offer.

Au Contraire! I had run into little baby struggles. In my first novel, I had spread the pain out over six years of writing. “The Flesh Sutra” started as published short stories. In my other short stories, the obstacles could be easily surmounted or shelved.

Lampreyhead’s Beta had a deadline, and man-oh-mannikin did I suffer! A day-long panic attack. Cold regret over every life decision since 8th grade. The veil of satisfaction torn away, revealing Death Himself exhaling putrid breath in my face, corpse hands raised to snatch me to a lonely pauper’s grave.

I put up a post on Facebook in this state, and got a couple of responses. One was from a guy from high school who has done remarkable things with his life, who essentially nudged me and said “I’m here, but knock off the whining.”

I took down the post within an hour of putting it up. The next day, a scene was moved to a different chapter and slowly my momentum returned.

So yeah, I learned I will provoke a panic attack to avoid working. I am not proud of this, but The More I Know.

Also, I was reminded that Tone Will Choose Itself. I can attempt to make the story like Clive Barker or King or some dark whimsical guy, but it won’t work. Stay true to the story and the feeling of the story will develop consistency and moral.

“Moral” developed through finding the recurring notes and realizing how I felt about them. What responsibility does a creator have toward a creation? What responsibility to have to your past? As it turns out, these will be recurring issues in the upcoming series.

I had thought I wanted something dark and funny that touched on these issues, and I thought of Monty Python. I re-read my Monty Python books (Big Red Book, Papperbak Book) and discovered they have not aged well. The movies now seem closer to the old “Carry On” films of the ’50s, but with better transitions. So I was flying blind. I’ll course correct as I go on.

The last item I learned was just that: “as I go on.” This is a series, and just as Terry Pratchett’s Discworld has weak titles, as does every series, nothing is going to appeal to everyone.

What did I fix? All characters have arcs with distinct points noted throughout the work, including the villain and the villain’s revealed flunky. All the characters have cause and effect which flow through the entire plot.

Descriptions are more lush. The setting is obvious at the first paragraph. Three sensory points per page. All words presenting action.

I am particularly proud of the character voices.

So. Now I begin outlining the two others in the series. Book Two will take place at a major electronic chain store, Book Three will take place at a comic book store on South Street in Philly.

You’ve read this far. Would you like to Beta read this 30K work? I’ll put you in the acknowledgements. I guarantee you that you’ll laugh. I guarantee you that you’ll be creeped out.

Send me word at Tim_W_Burke at H   O   T   M   A   I   L.

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Is Your First Draft Any Good?

17 01 2018

www.pinterest.co.uk

My writer’s group Noble Fusion met and critiqued the first draft of “Lampreyhead”. I have met professional authors. Noble Fusion itself has professional authors and editors. It does not matter how many words you’ve ever published. First drafts always suck. How do you know when you’re on to writing a decent book?

While writing the draft, an author can tell where that draft is weak. Usually the draft is a sequence of set pieces where the characters lack agency. The author will know where the plot’s been fudged, or that the magic system isn’t quite right, or that emotional beats aren’t given enough room to breathe.

The book is on the right track when: 1) your group is enthused, and 2) the critiques hold no surprises.

I knew this draft was rushed and lacked detail. I suspected the characters needed more depth. But I did not panic.

Again, as fellow Noble Fusion member Dr. Lawrence Schoen told me:

“I’ve done novel breaks at Taos Toolbox with Walter Jon Williams. Professional authors have presented drafts that were utterly unworkable. This draft is workable.”

On to the critique! Sally Wiener Grotta said of this draft: “The sentence structure is repetitive. It needs to vary structure to build tension. There is a lot of passive voice. Use active verbs.”

Barbara E. Hill was pretty thorough with comments like “We just don’t understand this universe” and “How do the characters feel about each other”, which…yeah. Lots more detail needed.

So I’d have preferred to have written something brilliant right off, but that’s not how reality works.

Today and tomorrow I am working with the cover artist to tweak the fonts. I am waiting for the marketing copy from CreateSpace. I am revising the draft with the goal of sending a draft to beta readers by the end of January.

Would you like to be a beta reader?

What problems do you run into on your first draft? Who does your proofreading?

 





The Winning Cover of “Lampreyhead Book One”

16 01 2018

The font layout will change, but this is the winning image chosen by both the voters and my writing group.

(sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner with this. Day job is tiring.)

My farcical abs! abs! abs! formula didn’t go over so well and I understand why: the eyes here arrest your attention. Women voters especially went for this design.

My writing group Noble Fusion East Coast (represent!) read my draft and declared the novel to be innovative, not in the spirit of Monty Python, and sliding close to grimdark.

Next step is to integrate the ad copy I purchased from CreateSpace. For $200, they research five keywords, write taglines and a punchy summary, and polish up the other little text bits I’ll need to advertise. The fee comes out to about 20 hours at my job and taps into the CS expertise, and so is worth the money at least as a starting draft.

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