Now that’s what I call a cover…

This one broke my world speed record for deciding whether or not to buy the book when I saw it in the bookstore. I think my exact decision-making process was “FWORRR!”

It’s staying where I can see it while writing. I might even read more than those pages in the middle when I get time…

Send him round. I’ve never had a real live muse before 🙂

Hot on the Trail…

Living Hell trailer - final slide

Having spent a week chilling after my eye op, accumulating housework to do over the weekend, and working – yes, working – doing that thing that I left my last job to do! …I’ve introduced DS10 to Youtube as part of her birthday treats, and she’s torn into it like a bat out of Hell on a mission, churning out some jaw-droppingly awesome stuff in less than a week.

And I’ve realised, holy crap – that’s my audience, in some part at least. Anyone writing for young adult, teens, or even children’s fiction now has to realise that this market are using computers, creating their own content, deciding on their identity and choosing their entertainment, much faster than JK Rowling can say “Let’s have a meeting to discuss the strategy.”

Some friends on Goodreads invited me into their YA Lit group, and one of them has set up a (stunning) YA trailer website purely for the posting of trailers for teen fiction, and it is really inspiring. I’d done one trailer previously, a slideshow, for Living Hell, my current major YA work – an alternative-history stab in the dark at a fantasy dystopian contemporary society – written originally when I was 18 years old – which actually functions rather well, considering (it’s called social evolution, baby – no vampires or werewolves here, not that any are admitting to). But when I saw the work already on the site, and the material that DS10 is creating, I decided things needed cranking up a notch (or ten) and using a bit more imagination, even with only a scanner, WinXP and MS Paint at my disposal at home. I guess ‘disposal’ is a good choice of word – but it’s got me through publishing everything so far, and will darned well continue to earn its keep until I can afford myself one of those fancy offices and staff, with a water-cooler for equally cool people to brainstorm and flirt with each other around. 🙂

Okay, so I plug in the scanner and grab my notebook, and basically make this up as I go along. I had some idea of what I was doing, but not until I was actually holding a pen did I know what was going to come off the end of it:

Living Hell trailer - slideI remember writing lists, essays, and occasionally angry letters to imaginary Points of View presenters in my schoolbooks, and also doodling and drawing, which was where I wanted to head with this ‘animation’.

I decided to use a transition rather than painstakingly draw each letter (the ‘invisible hand’ writing across a screen style, which has been used to good Living Hell trailer - slideeffect many times).

What was fun was how organic this process was – I let my gut dictate each stage that I scanned, without really knowing what I was going to draw or write on the page next, just sticking to themes in the book and keeping the schoolbook graffiti style. Just like drawing at school, or in my room when I was a kid. Frequently I’d Living Hell trailer - slide 6start a picture or painting back then not knowing what it would end up becoming – those often turned out more pleasing than the ones I’d planned and could see clearly in my head.

I haven’t got to the stage of constructing a ‘formal’ book trailer, where titles take the place of Hollywood movie voice-over (“A man.  A woman. A ship. An iceberg. A date with destiny”). My style leans more towards the ‘teaser’ type of advert, at the minute. Maybe because those voice-over styles don’t work on me so well… I have seen some great ones on the trailer site, however, so I may give traditional trailer composition a shot at some point.

But for me, hearing a teenager say “Cool!” is as good as it gets, feedback-wise. 🙂

Here’s the finished trailer. Tell me it doesn’t make you glad you’re not still in school, LOL! 🙂

The Great Cover-Up.

Had a discussion about book covers yesterday after getting some constructive criticism on mine. As an indie author – covers were the last thing on my mind. Until seven or eight months ago, I seriously never intended to self-publish.

But as an artist, over the years I used to think a lot about covers. Covers on published books attracted me all the time, although it was blurbs and first paragraph reads which dictated whether or not I bought a book. I realised that as well as covers, I’d never really thought about blurbs either. For me, the important thing was getting my interiors up to scratch, spellchecked and edited. Rarely when I do a drawing or painting does it come up to my own expectations, and sometimes themes in the books require more than a flower, a puddle of blood, or a cleavage…

My favourite book covers of all time always contained real art, especially fantasy art – science fiction book covers in particular featuring spaceships, alien landscapes and adventurers. Some of the best artwork on covers appeared in the 1980’s, mostly on historical romance covers, oozing classical portrait talent and dripping with Fabio.

Fabio LanzoniI could look at just the covers for hours, purely for the artist’s skill – I would study Boris Vallejo and attempt to imitate every line in pencil form. Nowadays, sadly, those style of covers are considered ‘cheesy’ and it’s all about graphic design and branding, creating a cover more simplistic and iconic, like a Coca-Cola label. I can recognise many of those ‘designer’ covers, but could tell you nothing about the story between the covers, or the genre, or the author – but with realist fantasy art, it was easy to understand what the genre and story was – especially if it was science fiction, romance, a pulp detective novel, or an early Ian Fleming.

In a way, these ‘brand’ covers tap into a form of label marketing which goes along with clothing, soft drinks, and fragrances. You don’t have to know what it stands for, what the story is. It’s an accessory, a lifestyle choice. The reader who buys Alexander McCall Smith might also wear Alexander McQueen (ahem, if they’re lucky). The same goes for movie posters – but luckily, movie posters haven’t moved on as far as book covers. The most iconic artist posters include Star Wars and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, and the films represented didn’t disappoint. You saw the poster, and the film lived up to it.

In Death & The City, the protagonist Lara has issues with personality and the way people market themselves, and their motives, and likens it to book covers. You see a big title and it represents a catchy blockbuster title, or a big author name and it represents a celebrity author. Pathway at dusk equals mystery. Pastel colours equals chick lit. Fangs and cleavage equals vampire horror. She compares the way one of her subjects of investigation was drawn unawares into prostitution by saying: Like she’d unwittingly bought a book about the sex trade, based on a misleading cover claiming to be a supernatural spy detective novel.

So I was aware of this ability for covers to be ‘misleading’ when designing my own, and also didn’t want to misrepresent myself as a publishing-house-style author while I’m currently an indie – no quotes from reviews on the covers or in the introduction, although I’ve had hundreds of comments from friends and peers, none that would qualify with the job description ‘Guardian Books’ or ‘TV Book Club’ – so I left them out.

Although I only have MS Paint to cobble them together, luckily Lulu.com on the hardcovers had an online formatter in which you simply upload images of the right quality – had a fun time searching for some I could use – until I can get the right images and artwork out of my head and onto paper, I’m happy with what I’ve done and feel that although amateur, it’s not misrepresenting anything.

But going by my taste in art, I have a feeling my own ideas brought to life won’t have any place in the contemporary market. 🙂

No pain, no gain.

Went in for another eye operation yesterday. I was short of sleep, so even though I was meant to be awake I probably dozed off while it was done, as I don’t recall much, except where they asked me to blink or look up. I’d asked for a sedation anyway because the eye surgery I’ve had under local anaesthetic previously, I had a tendency to chat throughout and ask what was going on. 🙂

Anyway, was discharged with a lot of eye drops and a big white patch over one eye, and went to meet my friend Sophie Neville, who was coming in to town for a charity lunch and service. So I read more of Sue Moorcroft’s Love Writing in the square outside the Royal Exchange at Bank Station, which I had plenty of time for. A fatality on the line had meant her train was diverted. It started to rain, so I went to shelter on the steps, and as I updated her where I was, she suggested by text that I go inside and grab a coffee. Which I did, feeling rather self-conscious amongst all the City types with my eye patch and jeans, and when I took my hoody off, my hospital tag still in place, it turned out. But the staff were lovely and no-one batted an eyelid, so I enjoyed my coffee and Sophie arrived presently – only nearly two hours later than she’d wanted to arrive.

She gave me an interesting tour of the company building where the buffet lunch was held for the Drapers – it was one of the locations for The King’s Speech, filmed as rooms in Buckingham Palace. I was introduced to one of the Welsh Guard, whom Sophie had joined on a survival camping trip in the jungle, and an eminent allergy specialist – still practising at the age of 99 – who mentioned the next Latex Allergy Conference, which is a growing problem.

I have the skin contact allergy to latex, which was why my operation was first thing that morning. Two hundred children were also going in for surgery that day, and I was scheduled before them to ensure no latex particles if possible would be in the theatre. It’s something they take very seriously.

On the way back, we talked about Sophie’s work with the Waterberg Welfare Society, supporting HIV+ communities in South Africa, helping families locally with receiving the right medication, entitlements, and nursery care for working parents or sibling guardians, enabling them to work or complete school. And how charity work was a minefield of red tape, with audits and accounts to be filed and scrutinised – but also how rewarding. Comic Relief is among their supporters, and it was input like that which meant Sophie and her friends learned how to organise a proper schedule of work and implement it according to a drafted plan.

We also moved on to the subject of blind dates, and dating sites. Her quote, which she’d been told when looking, was that “If you want to find a husband, you have to join a Society!” – so she did, and hey presto, did indeed meet her husband. And had a number of stories of ‘Silly girls’ who got themselves into scrapes with notorious men that she’d turned down herself in the past – the kind of men who hung out with Hugh Hefner, or were related to courtesans of the Royal Family…

But enough about dating. I won’t be doing any for a few weeks, while my eye heals up.

Sophie Neville does however have some lovely memoirs which are in the process of polishing before she publishes them. You can find links to her book blogs on her website http://sophieneville.net and also read the first three chapters of Funnily Enough on Authonomy.

Enjoy! 🙂

Writers Swap Reads ~ July 2011

Hidden

(Also on Amazon Kindle UK/DE. Paperback available from Amazon US, or Shalini Boland)

Went out for a birthday lunch today to meet the effortlessly fabulous Shalini Boland, rising Young Adult fiction star and author of Hidden, and the forthcoming futuristic/dystopian novel Outside. We did a book exchange – I got a paperback copy of Hidden (paranormal/vampire romance), and I gave her a hardcover of Living Hell, and threw in a paperback proof of Death & The City: Book Two to follow up the first one she already has at home. I told her about my own ‘challenge’ I’d set myself, to write a romantic novel à la Harlequin/Mills&Boon, and she shared some of the promoting tips she’s learned around indie publishing.

One of the things she’d heard about is running temporary freebie promos on eBooks. I thought this sounded like a fun idea. She also submits queries to book blogs for reviews/interviews and promotion, and is doing well out of it. In comparison to me, who hasn’t put together a press kit at all, and sells on average one Terrible Zombie Of Oz per week, she’s proof that marketing yourself a bit in the right places can definitely work.

Living Hell, on SmashwordsI’d already dropped my Amazon Kindle prices, having bought an Android-based eTouch Toys’R’Us tablet (it’s fantastic, and has the added bonus of a rounded shiny silver rear cover that looks as though you’re perusing the inside of a tiny Smeg refrigerator – and almost as heavy). I realised that for my ÂŁ49.99 investment in this electronic toy, and downloading the free Kindle app, what I mostly wanted was to benefit from amazingly cheap books.

So I’d swallowed my pride and put my own prices down, from a few bucks to amazingly cheap as well.

Death & The City, on SmashwordsWhen I got home I checked out Smashwords, and had no new activity in the last month – but noticed they were running a July sale list, with vouchers which you could apply to your books to make them either discounted or free. So I signed both of my Smashwords epub/html/LRF/RTF format books up to it (Apple/Sony/Nook etc versions), and almost instantly sold two, and then two more. It was definitely worth doing – as it’ll be a while before I see any royalties anyway, gaining a readership in the meantime is definitely up there in my list of preferences.

I’d already decided to give myself a year, from publishing the first two in the Tales of the Deathrunners series (Death & The City: Books One and Two – combined in the hardcover edition, and in the Heavy Duty Edition eBook, which also includes an original feature screenplay), as well as Living Hell and The Terrible Zombie Of Oz. One year will be enough to gauge reader interest in whichever sequence of books is likely to be strongest – at the moment it looks like the title containing the most Z’s is winning – and I have sequels already in progress. In the meantime I’ll work on giving this Romance Fiction challenge a shot, and try and keep the zombies at bay – until appropriate for them to be unleashed 🙂

My Smashwords Author Page

Enjoy! 🙂

The Taxman

Take a minute to watch the amateur video above to the Taxman song by The Beatles, it’s awesome. Reminds me of sketches by The Goodies, Benny Hill and Dick Emery. 🙂

Just spent half an hour checking and filling out my Self-Assessment Tax Return and Tax Credits renewal for last April. It’s easy when you have the right paperwork – I got an annual tax statement in my payslips from my last employer, on which all the figures I needed were printed. For self-employment, which accounted for the first three months of last year, I had my invoices and outgoings calculated from my statements. The forms aren’t nearly as intimidating as they originally seem, although I always make mistakes in which boxes they appear and have to correct as I go along – why do they print everything in that faint green-on-white? My eyesight can’t handle it! 🙂

I don’t know why, when I’m feeling really stressed, that’s the kind of thing which calms me down. Stuff that’s broken down into numbers and equations.

Anyway. Still getting asked for dates, but that’s all on hold for now due to busy week ahead – got eye surgery to look forward to again. Only my tenth, or thereabouts – I should have a surgery anniversary or something to celebrate.

Did another piece of artwork, this time on spec for a motorcycle venture – will post more about that when I know about the outcome.

That dating thing… not just all talk.

October Rose - "Prima Ballerina"I went on my third blind date yesterday. Coffee again. It was another one with lots of silences, which I had to think of things to fill with (I didn’t have a harmonica with me, or the headphones for my phone’s mp3 player – that would have been a solution).

Unlike the first blind date, who was so recently separated that he still works from their joint home and simply didn’t ask me anything about myself, leaving gaps in which I had to think of things to ask him (not easy when you’ve never had a relationship before, don’t know what’s taboo, or what might accidentally be interpreted as flirting when you haven’t even decided whether you want to flirt with them yet) – the third date just seemed bored. He didn’t say hello first, or make any jokes, or start any topics. It was like having a passenger along on a date which I was on by myself.

So I was really surprised when he asked for a hug when I was leaving, and said how quickly the time had gone. He then messaged me later saying he thought I was really special and how nice it was that I managed to keep the conversation going every time he thought there was going to be an awkward silence, because he usually can’t think of anything to say on a date.

But isn’t it time he did think of things to say? Or other guys like him, for that matter. Why should it be up to me to keep the conversation going? If they don’t show me anything of their personality, how am I able to judge in turn whether I think they’re also special? And aren’t they getting an unrealistic view of me, by leaving me to do all the work and ask all the questions?

It’s not as if I have a massive amount of talk bottled up myself, waiting for an outlet on a date. I worked with guys in nightclub security for years with whom I mostly only exchanged a hello with, or chat about cars. Plenty of them could talk fine amongst themselves, or talk fine when complaining about their dates to me (now you see where I’m getting this from!). I don’t interview folks I meet about their lives, either because they tell me what they’re comfortable disclosing anyway, or because I don’t identify with people in a fully three-dimensional sense – I don’t have bragging or bemoaning rights to share, therefore what I don’t know or haven’t experienced doesn’t give me that curiosity about people in the day-to-day world either.

One friend I used to have through work, a female door supervisor like me, used to get angry that she felt I was ‘holding back’ my own emotional issues, when she wanted to talk about things that were deep and meaningful to her – regarding men and relationships and her past – even though she knew the fact was that I didn’t have anything to share. It didn’t make it an easy friendship, because I sensed her resentment that I couldn’t open up about anything, and she sensed my lack of empathy, even though I could objectively understand. In a strange way, that was the reason she admitted she liked sharing all of her past and problems with me – because I wasn’t in competition with her to have anything equivalent. If I’d been paid, I would have been the perfect counsellor, in that sense.

But it got me wondering. Is it possible that guys who don’t talk on a date are just stunned into silence by how special they think their date is? Both dates 1 and 3 messaged me afterwards – date 2, who talked non-stop and said he enjoys talking, didn’t contact me after the date at all. So maybe he wasn’t intimidated by any attraction to me, LOL. 🙂

It’s tiring though, to be on a date and feel that you aren’t being entertained, just watched. That your date isn’t concerned for your own comfort and insecurity in the situation, only their own. If guys aren’t going to bother with the social effort, why are they the ones asking for dates? Maybe they think the asking part was their effort. I don’t get it.

I don’t have management skills, or organisational ones where people are concerned. Which is probably why I waited 20 years to get asked out, before realising that you have to physically be somewhere that asking-on-dates actually occurs (that place of interest now being the internet). And having a crush on someone does not automatically mean that if you wait long enough they’ll ask you out. Doesn’t happen. Well, hasn’t to me so far. 🙂

With the whole silence thing in mind though – I was reminded by a profile picture on one of my email-chats recently of a former workmate back in nightclub security, that I did have a bit of a crush on, and the funny thing was, it’s the one time I recall flirting – but it was all flirting without conversation. I first worked with him on a Superbowl screening event, and at the time thought he was more of the strong silent type, and the main thing I noted about him was that he was tall (almost half the doormen I worked with were my height or shorter, which as I’m only 5’6″ isn’t that impressive). And the shift was a one-off, he was covering from another venue where he was head doorman – we had a fight to deal with, and I had blood to clean up, but he was reassuring to work with, in a quiet way. Anything he did say showed his sense of humour, which was similar to mine.

About a year later I worked in another venue and he used to stop by to see his friends also on the doors there, and later worked in the same venue as me. There was a lot of silences standing around near to each other while watching the customers, which I was used to, but he’d also make the odd comment, or poke me if he walked past and pretend he hadn’t. I seem to remember doing the same… and on social occasions sometimes I’d joke with him, about random observations, and he always seemed to think along the same lines as I did, or have the same sense of humour.

I had other crushes on-and-off, the really hot-and-cold type that I’d think was something big and then go off them in an equally big way. But I didn’t go off him, I felt safe when he was working in the same venue as me, and for a while then, I even wondered whether it was something I ought to analyse.

I didn’t tell him, or anyone else that I might have fancied him, even when I wrote in my diary that I thought I did, because of the usual obstacle – he had girlfriends all the time I knew him. I think in the end he moved away, after I’d finished working in that area.

But it’s an interesting thought, that even without a relationship, I can sort of understand where chemistry and empathy works to make silences feel safe, not awkward.

But when you don’t know the person, and it’s a blind date, silences are really awkward. Like I said, they just seem disinterested, self-centred, or bored. I don’t think it’s something anyone can utilise to engineer feelings of intimacy as a short cut.

Yeah – I’ve heard about all of those tricks too. 🙂

Solo a mano

I have no idea what that technically translates as, but it might be construed as rude. 🙂

Anyway, today, I’m officially self-employed, having left my previous job with no savings, almost ÂŁ4 over my small overdraft limit, no work-related social life to miss, and no workplace relationships. I’ve never gained a holiday through working, or earned enough to buy a house, never started any big credit purchases… so it makes me wonder, what the fuss was all about?

Here’s my circumstances. I’m a single parent of a 12-year old who schools at home. I do that, so I’m her unpaid tutor. I pay for all the books, all the trips, all the projects, and all the internet she hoovers up with her global blogging phenomenon.

She was bullied at school, has no friends, and might be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s on the wait-and-see list. We both have counselling, which is free on the NHS.

In the meantime, I write novels or do illustrations, or design covers, whenever I’m sitting down trying to watch TV. My laptop gets in the way of the TV, and sometimes she talks me through the finer points of CSI or NCIS. I’ll get paid my tiny royalties for any that sell on Amazon some day, or when pigs fly – whichever happens first.

I’ve also taught individuals blogging and tweeting, and shared info on self-publishing for cups of tea and laughs.

If I call the Jobcentre and ask for money to live on though, I have to be available for and actively seeking work. Which I’m not – I can’t go out and leave DS10 alone to form her own anonymous internet review empire instead of doing schoolwork. So I have to work from home around what constitutes schoolwork.

So I’m not eligible for those benefits as an individual, which in fact makes it easier to get on with working. No worries about what status to declare, or justifying all the books I’ve written. The only worry is what we’re going to live on until I start making any profit from writing and tutoring people, both big and small.

Being self-employed is straightforward. If you earn less than ÂŁ5000 p/a, you can apply to be exempt from National Insurance contributions. You can still get help with Housing Benefit and Council Tax by giving your income details, and also get Working Tax Credits. You can do your own accounts, unless you become very successful and require the help of an accountant, particularly if you become so successful that you need to delegate and employ other people.

You deduct your outgoings the same as running any other business. It’s amazing what it costs to work for yourself. Last time I was self-employed, as nightclub security. I kept having to deduct figures from my income to replace my watches. Comes from buying cheap ones to start with, but every time one gets smashed, full of blood, or disappears, they need to be replaced – and away from that job, I never wore one. So it was a uniform expense.

So anyway, I really am starting from scratch financially. But there’s a lot of freedom in that which I’ve gained. Freedom to work, freedom to study, freedom to teach, and freedom to parent with responsibility.