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: 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.





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.

 





New Fave: “Spooked” by NPR

25 08 2018

spooked

How does a story seem “real”?

How can you tell if a story is “true”?

Part of it is the structure. If someone tells a story that they swear is true, yet that story has three-beat escalation and a clean conclusion straight out of “Save The Cat”, then I’d say that someone is embellishing. Fiction has to have a pattern for it to engage our emotions. Real Life is messy, confusing, and often has conclusions or realizations decades after key events.

This is a podcast called “Spooked”. People have contacted the producers with their experiences of the supernatural. There is some great stuff here. Some stories are obvious BS (“Time Warp Saloon” in the ep “Lost In Time”). Others have been embellished (Tale One of “Creepy Crawly”). But others have that off-key clang of truth that gets your imagination moving. Try “The Iron Gate”, the second story of “Creepy Crawly”, or any of “Borderlands”. Really, try any of these episodes and get your creep on.





“How Does A Funny Guy Like You Write Horror?”

15 08 2018

I get this a lot when I tell people what I do. The path doesn’t seem obvious unless you’ve been on it.

Were your parents Monty Python fans? Mine were, and fans of Steve Martin, and Spike Jones, and that old Bloopers record, and Alan Sherman, and Mork and Mindy.

At the same time, I had a still-inexplicable attraction to the morbid. The teen next door collected “Creepy” and “Eerie” magazines, which I read. Sundays would be days of chest-tightening anxiety with the strange, dark color pallet of the ABC morning cartoons, the mind-bending appropriation of The Groovie Ghoulies, the creepy-ass music of the NBC Sunday Night Mysteries followed by Night Gallery.

I used my library card for Alfred Hitchcock anthologies, tales of the Strange But True, and through them discovered Fritz Leiber and sword-and sorcery.

The possibilities of the the supernatural being true mixed with my desire make life as funny as TV. I chased laughs and avoided free-floating dread all the way up into my 20s.

When you think about it, ’70s Humor is pretty unsettling. Drugs were a laugh riot. Pointing fingers or thumbs caused magic if you were alien enough or cool enough. Men skeeved on women on the regular. Everyone had compulsive catch phrases. Giant feet stamped on everything. All social institutions were corrupt. Giant hedgehogs persecute British criminals who nail people’s heads to the floor.

I had wanted to be a stand-up comedian.  A sketch comedy group later, I decided prose was less nerve wracking.

But in the ’80s, there were only “Spy” and “Mad” magazines. I wasn’t sophisticated enough for “Spy” or sharp enough for “Mad”. I tried dark-humored horror at “Weird Tales”.

So it went for nine years. Eventually I realized I was trying to write horror through a humor lens, which is different than writing dark humor. I was writing The Groovie Ghoulies when I wanted to write Terry Southern or Roald Dahl.

Then I sold a story about energy drinks and dance crazes merging people into carnivorous new lifeforms. I’ve been chasing that high ever since.

Nowadays, there’s McSweeny’s and all sorts of boutique pubs for humor, but I dunno. McSweeny’s has a repetitive formula and the other markets are so niche, I’d have to derail to learn their culture.

How did you get here? How did you get where you are?

Here’s a guy dealing with these questions.

How to Alienate People By Telling Them You Write Horror — Drew Chial

I get around, wheeling and dealing in my hip bohemian community. I’m a man about town, getting recognized in my seasonally inappropriate dark t-shirt and jeans. 1,091 more words

via How to Alienate People By Telling Them You Write Horror — Drew Chial





Stephen King’s Top Ten Rules For Success

23 06 2018





Writers: Get This Book!

18 06 2018

“The best selling character eats, nods, opens, closes, says, sleeps, types, watches, turns, runs, shoots, kisses, and dies….The most important thing to note is that in the best selling novel someone is doing something as dramatic as surviving or dying, and they are not, as their less-selling friends prefer, yawning.”

This is a quantitative analysis of best sellers. What best-selling characters are most prone to do. How the plots are structured. How men and women write differently. How the novels are titled. Down to percentages of “the” in best-selling text.

The book reinforces everything you may have seen in other writing books: active characters, dynamic plots, use of  arcs, etc. But for me, this book gives a concrete foundation for all of the advice.

I’m already adapting my plots accordingly. What I have taken away so far: my characters need to express “need” in detail. I tend to underwrite. I tend to think things do not need explanations. I thought I was being economical, but I’m realizing that I’m just not committing to my characters.

Writing an action pulp series is helping me to realize I need to be bolder in my choices. This book is helping me to see that this boldness will produce results.

51iC9uAMaHL._SY346_





Hey! I’m In This!

15 06 2018

1242040046

Every reaction, no matter how violent, always reaches some equilibrium state. This final anthology in the Enter the… apocalyptic trilogy shares stories of what the new normal looks like after the end of days.

Contributing authors include:

Richard Jones, Kevin Wetmore, Lou Antonelli, Alice Weyers, Tim Starnes, Donyae Coles, Nicholas Gregory, Emily Devenport, Timothy Turnipseed, Chad Schimke, Davyne DeSye, Zac Roe, Tom Barlow, Tim Burke, David M. Hoenig, Tori Stubbs, Bruce Golden, Holly Saiki, Lisa Timpf, Mark Wolf, Peter Talley, Allyson Russel, Anthony Addis, Richard A. Shury, Russel Hemmell, Madison Keller, Calvin Spears, Adam Breckenridge, Keith Hoskins, Amelia Kibbie, Cullen Thomas, Stephen Miller, Geneve Flynn, James Austin, Elizabeth Eve King.





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.








%d bloggers like this: