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: Easy Plot Twists To Avoid (Or Cynically Exploit)

21 09 2018

From Cracked.com: 14 Plots That Are So Predictable You Can Diagram What Comes Next





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.





Writing a First Draft — Heroic Technical Writing: Advice and Insights on the Business of Technical Communication

8 09 2018

One of my favorite things to write in any job is a first draft. The blank piece of paper or the blank screen with the flashing cursor seems to taunt some people. If you’re someone who dreads writing the first draft of anything, let your happy literary explorer take this opportunity to share his insights.

via Writing a First Draft — Heroic Technical Writing: Advice and Insights on the Business of Technical Communication





The Best Piece of Writing Advice I Ever Received — A Writer’s Path

4 09 2018

by Meg Dowell You don’t know which projects are going to succeed, and which ones are going to fail. Many people assume that because I’ve been writing for a long time, I now do so professionally, and I give advice on my blog, I’m the expert who knows it all. And with that […]

via The Best Piece of Writing Advice I Ever Received — A Writer’s Path





Serial Killer In Your Town? A Resource For Writers

3 09 2018

The Murder Accountability Project has gathered more unsolved murder cases than the FBI. They have a comprehensive, interactive website detailing murder clusters around the US.

 





Writing Tips: Kill Your Darlings — Writing Forward

30 08 2018

Kill your darlings: letting go of good writing. Kill your darlings. It’s a common piece of writing advice, but what does it mean? I once thought that “kill your darlings” was strictly for storytellers. I even wrote about killing your darlings in storytelling. But this piece of wisdom has broader applications. It can be used…

via Writing Tips: Kill Your Darlings — Writing Forward





Stuck with Your Story? Why You Keep Hitting Walls and Dead Ends in Your Writing — A Writer’s Path

27 08 2018

by Lauren Sapala For the longest time I had major problems doing revisions on my writing. It seemed so easy for everyone else. Why was it so hard for me? Of course, I also had trouble writing. I hardly ever experienced that state of “effortless flow” everyone talked about, in which the words […]

via Stuck with Your Story? Why You Keep Hitting Walls and Dead Ends in Your Writing — A Writer’s Path








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