Book Covers: How? Why? When?

Recently I’ve been thinking about book covers and what other authors do to create theirs. As usual, I asked my followers on Twitter for their thoughts:

Don’t judge a book by its cover, the old saying goes. But let’s face it, we all do. A cover is usually the first thing that you see of a book and can cause you to predetermine if you’re going to enjoy the book or not. For those that self-publish, like me, covers can be a source of great frustration and could be a stalling point for your creative process. After all, if you can’t get a decent cover for your novel, how are you going to release it?

For me, covers are a double-edged sword; I both love and hate creating them. Like many members of the self-publishing writing community, I create my own covers. Mostly because I can’t afford to pay anyone to create them, but also because, like publishing my own books, I enjoy the creative process and control that it gives me. Of course, the issue that comes up every time is my lack of skills. Now, I’m not completely clueless; I have enough skills to put together a basic coverꟷas evidenced by my booksꟷbut when it comes to more elaborate designs, I fall short of doing what I want to do. I have these extravagant designs in my head, but when it comes to putting it together, it just doesn’t work. Ideally, I would love to have someone else put them together. I could just throw ideas their way and see what they come up with, but alas, that’s probably not going to happen for a while. But having said that, there are plenty of resources that the ‘broke’ writer can avail themselves of. Websites such as Canva and apps such as Desyner are my go-to’s. They are relatively simple to use and provide a whole host of images and fonts that are free to use.

But, as I said, I also love the process of designing a cover. The cover design is something that, when I’ve hit a wall with writing, or I’ve got some time and don’t want to write, I can pick up, have a play, and see what happens. Like when writing, if I have an idea, I have to do something with it, or it will be lost forever like the fabled lost city of Atlanta (I know what I said). For example, with my current WIP, I’m about three-quarters of the way through the main story, and last week I decided to have a break from writingꟷbecause, let’s face it, sometimes we need itꟷand to do some work on the book’s paperback cover. I spent the next few hours knee-deep in PaintShop Pro and came out the other side with something not half bad. I would like to show it off, but if I’m honest, it’s just not ready for viewing yet. I’m not 100% happy with it, but that’s okay; I still have time to work on it. But what I will say is that I have that urge that I had with The Next Stage and re-design my existing covers…I need to stop it.

My covers are simple, but simplicity isn’t always bad. In fact, I find more and more books that are going the simplistic route; look at books like The Fault in Our Stars, which have a simple but effective cover. However, as I progress with my writing, I’m also getting more adventurous with the design of my covers. My last book, Blindsighted, finally had an image, which was a big thing after my previous two books, and I have a feeling my next one will be more, let’s say, complicated and (hopefully) better.

With all this in mind, though, we all know that a cover can sell (or not sell) a book. Whether you’re traditionally published or self-published, it is an important part of the package that, if done wrong, can be a disaster that your book might now come back from, so if you’re not confident that you can make something decent, it might be a good idea to get help with it. But whatever you choose to do, enjoy the process, it’s your book, and you should love every bit of it.

Chapters: To Name or Not to Name

Chapters, some books have them, some don’t, and everyone has an opinion on them, so I asked my fellow writers over on Twitter for their thoughts. Below are some of the responses.

As you can see, the responses varied. Some people like short ones, others long, others don’t care as long as they work with the story being told. Another contentious issue is the naming of chapters. So what are my thoughts?

When it comes to reading, I enjoy a short chapter. It appears to make the book easier to read. I say this because I’m one of those people who likes to put a book down when it reaches the end of a chapter. When I stop in the middle of a chapter, I don’t particularly appreciate going back into a book. It simply makes it more challenging to read. So, because the chapters are short, I can say, “I’ll just read one more,” and it won’t take me long. I’ll probably save it for another time if it’s a long chapter. I’ve seen really long chapters and ones that are only a paragraph or two long in my reading life, but the responses I received from my fellow authors/readers are correct; if it works for the storey, it doesn’t matter how long the chapter is. Of course, some books, such as Terry Pratchett’s novels, do not even have chapters. When I’m reading these, it’s all about finding that logical stopping point in the narrative, like switching to the voice of another character. Some people may find this off-putting, and I understand how they feel; it took me a while to adjust, but it works well in his novels.

When I’m writing, my chapters are pretty short. This isn’t a conscious decision, mind you; it just seems to be the way things turn out. I have, however, written a few long chapters when a scene calls for more detail or fleshing out. However, there are some advantages to this writing style, particularly when it comes to editing. It means I can keep using my “just one more” method and not stop in the middle.

The naming of chapters is also a topic of debate among authors and readers. Some people may interpret chapter titles as a spoiler for what will happen within the chapter, which could ruin their reading experience. I understand this, but I’m not sure how I feel about it. I’ve read many books, and there’s a lot of naming, not naming, and even adding timestamps and other things. It’s never ruined my enjoyment of a book for me, and sometimes I don’t even notice what a chapter is called. I don’t read “Chapter 4” and pay attention to it, so chapter names/titles don’t bother me.

I’ve used a variety of styles in my writing. My first book, Creatures, had numbered chapters, but it was divided into three distinct parts, each of which had a name, but would anyone have read these title pages? I’m not sure. I used numbered chapters again in The Next Stage, but this time I added time and date stamps to show when the action in the scene occurred. This, I believe, not only aids the reader in determining what is happening and when, but also aids me in editing by allowing me to get the timing correct within the storey. Incredibly useful! The only thing that Blindsighted had were chapter numbers. I started naming them, but I gave up halfway through because I saw the names as minor spoilers that, in a way, ruined the mood I was trying to set in the book. However, in my most recent WIP, the second book in the Creatures series, I’m still using “Part 1, Part 2, etc.,” but I’m also naming my chapters. I’m finding it helpful to name them in this case because it helps me remember what happened in each; whether I’ll keep them in the finished manuscript is another question; I haven’t decided yet.

I believe that the debate over chapters will continue as long as books are written, and that the way they are organised may change over time. So whatever method you prefer, stick with it and enjoy writing/reading the way you want.

Back at the Writing Thing

With a new year and a new semester of University comes a new desire to write. As much as I wanted to write over the holidays, I just couldn’t get my head into it. I guess a part of me was kinda burned out from the uni assignments, and I just didn’t have it in me to write in my spare time. It was a time for playing a lot of games. The other reason I had a momentary falling out with writing was that I hit a wall with the WIP that I was working on. I didn’t want to just write for the sake of it, and it be trash that I hated and would end up deleting. As much as I wasn’t writing, my mind was still racing with ideas, and surprisingly, most of the ideas that whirled around my brain for the sequel to my first novel, Creatures.

Creatures wasn’t great. It had a lot of flaws. But for a first novel and something that I never thought I’d be able to do, I think it was pretty damn good. The sequel—that I already have around 30,000 words written for—will be much better. My writing has grown so much throughout my novel-writing career, and I have more idea of what I’m doing and why. This past week has been amazingly productive as far as Creatures 2 (tentatively titled Back to School) goes, and I’m now up to around the 48,000 word mark, and I’m loving the story and characters that are being created. The characters and locations in this sequel will be more rounded and complete than in the original; the characters especially will have more depth—and that include characters returning from the first book. I know there were some fans of the original book, despite its issues, and I hope those that read it will come back for the second book in the series—will there be a third? Who knows. We’ll see.

Also, if you’re on the fence about Dying Light 2, check back on Wednesday as my review will be up and it may tip you one way or the other.

Have a good week!

Researching Your Writing

Research is a big part of writing, but we all do it a different way. I asked my fellow members of the writing community on Twitter how they research and below are some of the responses.

It’s often joked that if someone were to look at an author’s Internet browser history that they come off as a serial killer, and I’m here to say that that isn’t far from the truth. Some of the things that we have to research for our work can, to the outside observer, seem a little, let’s say, dodgy—for example, working out splatter patterns for gunshots or which vein to cut without the person losing too much blood too quickly. But there are also some things that we research that might seem a little odd to others, things that people might not necessarily think about, but when writing, it is something that you want to get correct for accuracy sake.

Our research can take many forms and take us to places that we might not have ordinarily gone, and, like our writing, our research skills will grow and evolve over time. For example, in my first book, Creatures, there is a section where I talk about a certain area and what wildlife would have been present there. Now, I could have looked in certain books for flora and fauna that may exist in the UK, but instead, as is our society at present, my first port of call was to do a web search for it. I’ve been thinking about how we do our research these days, and it got me thinking about how things used to be done. Today, we have a wealth of information at our fingertips. All we have to do is type in what we want to know into Google, and we can pretty much find out anything that we want toꟷwhether that information is correct is an entirely different storyꟷbut we trust it. In years past, we might have had to visit libraries or read through volumes of information to find what we need. It might have taken ten times as long to research a particular subject to a level where you could insert it into your story. If we wanted to know about a location, we might have had to visit it ourselves to know how it’s laid out or how it looks. For example, The Next Stage is set in Washington DC in the US, now, I’ve never been to Washington, so I had no idea where things were in relation to streets or historical landmarks, but I was able to create a path for my characters by touring the city virtually using Google Maps. Again, this made things so much easier as I could walk around the city without leaving my house, and I’ve been told that it’s a pretty accurate representation of the city. Using this method, I was able to revisit the city at the click of a button, so if I wanted to double-check something, it was something that was beyond me. As for skills growing over time, well, that’s a no brainer. Through research, we learn not only about things that we’re looking for but also where to find that information. We learn which websites, books, etc., will give us the information we require, and alongside this, we learn how to use the information that we gather. We learn to translate it and put it into our created worlds. I am better at research after writing three and starting countless other books. I’ve learned what information is of use to me and how to find said information.

It would be easy to write a book and not do any research for it. But in my opinion, it just wouldn’t be as good. Somehow readers know when something isn’t accurate, whether that’s because they have personal experience of the thing you’re writing about or they’ve done the research themselves, and in a way, you owe it to your readers to be as accurate as possible, because these days, it’s easy for anyone to fact check what you write. Of course, there are some genres where research might not be needed. For example, if you’re writing fantasy with worlds that are wholly created by you and don’t follow the logic from the real world, you can pretty much say what you want, and people will go with it. But in some cases, you may still want to do some research. If your story includes battles that involve swords, even if it’s set in a purely fantasy world, you may still want to research different swords and how they are handled. It just lends that little bit more realism to the worlds that you create. I’m sure even in the days when there was no internet, that authors still did a lot of research. There will always be someone that is knowledgeable in the subject that was written about and so will have called the author out if something didn’t add up.

For me, research is a key aspect of being an author. If you’re not great at research and you don’t want to improve your skills in the area, then you will soon fall by the wayside, and people may not enjoy your work as much as they might do if you take that time to properly work out if that calibre of weapon would have made that wound, or if this street joins onto that one. Realism, in some novels, is key to the enjoyment of said novel. And I feel that if you bullshit your readers, they won’t be readers for long. But not only is research good for your writing, but it is also good for you. Through researching subjects for your novels or other works, you learn more about the world that you might not necessarily known before, and this alone will allow you to write about things that you might not have ordinarily done.

In summary, research is good; research is your friend. Research will improve your work and will pull your reader further into the world you have created.

Today’s The Day…

Today I start my creative writing course at University.

Over the past few years, I’ve written 3 books – Creatures, The Next Stage and Blindsighted –  and in that time, I have learned a lot about being a writer, but now I’m doing something that will help me improve even further; I’m heading to university to do a course on creative writing.

A year ago, I never would have thought that would be happening. I thought I’d lost my love of IT, and I wouldn’t find anything else that I could genuinely get into, but I was wrong. Despite no longer liking working in IT, I thought that I would inevitably drift back into it as it was the only thing I’ve ever known and that I was good at.

Writing came out of nowhere as a hobby and something I would do after my day job or at weekends. But it soon became bigger than that, and I wanted to take it further by making it my career.

I’m by no means the best of writers, and I’m not so up my own arse that I don’t think I could learn more about the craft, so when the opportunity came up to go to university to study it, despite being sceptical at first, thinking I wouldn’t get in, I jumped at the chance.

Today is what this past year has been all about. It’s all been leading to this point. The beginning of a new journey in my life. One that I want to make the very best of and one I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

Today is a big day for me. I’m excited and anxious as all hell, but I’m going to go and put everything I have into it.

This week is going to be a big adjustment for me. It’s the first week in a long time that I’ve had to be somewhere and not be able to do my own thing. It’s been over a year since I quit my 9-5, and I still don’t think that I’ve adjusted to a new routine. Now I’m throwing myself into a new one, and I’m hoping that my brain doesn’t implode. I’m just lucky to have someone who is always behind me and supports what I want to do. Alex is always there for me and encouraging me, and I couldn’t have got here without her. Sorry to be soppy, but my wife is the best 😊

So now, I’m away to start on the new road my life has taken; wish me luck!

Coming Next Week: University!

Next week I have the start of all things university. I’ll be beginning my induction week on Monday, where I will learn more about my course and meet some of the people involved in it.

I’m simultaneously both looking forward to this and dreading it.

My anxiety is hitting the roof right now and only seems to be getting worse the closer I get to starting. This is usually the case when I have to do something, especially something new, but I’m generally okay once I start, so I’m hoping this will follow previous patterns.

I can’t wait to start, it’s a whole new adventure for me, and I look forward to everything it brings.

I’ve had my schedule through for when the course actually starts, and I’m not in all that much – in fact, I’m only in 2 days. As I’ve not been in full-time education for years, I’m doing what’s called a ‘foundation year’. This will ease me into uni life slowly and teach me how to study again (something that I’ve never been great at historically). I would imagine that my schedule will be a little busier when I start my true first year of the course.

For now, though, two days where I’m required to be there isn’t too bad and depending on what I have to do for uni, I will be able to continue with my current schedule of writing and blogging, at least for a bit. However, I’m sure I’ll eventually have to work out something new to take into account my course requirements.

As I said, I’ve got a mixture of hope and fear going into this course, but I’m mainly trying to stay positive. It will help me with my writing and maybe even help me get a job in the future.

While I’m studying, make my day even better by picking up a copy of one of my books. Each book bought puts a smile on my face, so head over to Amazon and check them out.

What To Write?

Being a writer sometimes means that you have to juggle your different ideas. I recently asked my fellow writers on Twitter how they decide which idea to work on;

I currently have around 9 ideas that are in various stages of development. Some are just a very basic idea, some have a number of notes written for them, and others have several chapters done.

I tend to flit between ideas often. If I have a new idea that I want to develop, I will spend some time working on that before continuing with previous ideas. Some stories come easier than others. For example, I got a bit stuck with my story It’s All in the Eyes, and then I had the idea for Blindsighted. I found the latter flowed smoother and quicker, and I could fully develop that into a release.

At the moment, I’m working on, And Then I Killed Her, which for now is coming freely. However, if I get stuck, I may move on to one of my other ideas.

Having said that, if I come up with a new idea – for example, I came up with an idea for a new story the other day that involves a homeless wizard – I may spend a few minutes writing a few sentences or jotting down the basic premise, but I won’t spend a great deal of time working on it.

Some books, like The Next Stage 2 and Creatures 2, are coming off the back of a previous entry, so I have a few ideas bouncing around of where I can take the story, but because – in my mind – they have to live up to the book that came before I spend a bit more time figuring things out. Creatures 2 is around halfway written, but I got a little stuck and decided that I would move on to something else rather than struggling with it.

It can be a blessing and a curse to have a lot of ideas bouncing around. On the one hand, it’s great because you’ve always got something to work on if you have issues with a current WIP. But on the other, it can be a pain because I want to work on several at a time. For example, I’m really excited about my wizard story, but my current serial killer WIP is going so well that I don’t want to stop writing it if I lose my flow.

As I’ve found from asking folks on Twitter, everyone has a different way of figuring out which story they will work on at any given time. As with many things, what works for one, might not work for you, so find your own method.

Publishing: It’s Your Decision

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen an increase in people talking down to or just downright insulting those of us that self-publish our books. I don’t understand this mentality. There are many reasons why someone might choose to self-publish their work and several different ways that they can do it. None of these reasons means that they are any less of a writer or that they deserve to be talked down to or treated like crap.

For me, self-publishing was always the way I was going to go. So when I wrote Creatures, publishing using KDP seemed like the logical choice. It was my first book and something that I just wanted to get out into the world. I didn’t fancy spending hours trying to bag an agent or a traditional publisher, and it meant that I could have more creative control over the story, look and feel of the novel. Yes, there is a lot of work required for marketing your self-published book, but even that is nothing compared to querying multiple places.

Creatures did alright going the self-publish route, so when it came to my next novel, The Next Stage, it was a no brainer, really. Even though I knew that this was a better novel than my previous one, I still wanted to have complete creative control over my work.

Being a traditionally published author doesn’t mean that your work is any better than those that choose the self-publish route. I’ve read some brilliant self-published stories just like I’ve read some shite traditionally published ones.

Editing of self-published books is another thing that has been dragged through the dirt. Many self-published authors do so without any financial backing. They have to do everything from writing, editing, cover creating and marketing themselves. Sometimes things slip through the cracks editing -wise. I get less annoyed by errors in a self-published book than I do when finding them in traditionally published books that have professional editors behind them. Plus, the good thing about self-publishing your book is that if you or someone else spots an error, it’s a simple case of editing your manuscript and re-uploading it, whereas God knows what it would take to change a traditionally published book.

I’m not mentioning any names, but one person in particular on Twitter has been kicking up a stink recently and trying to rip self-published authors to shreds. However, when I looked into their publishing, they’re using a hybrid publisher. A hybrid publisher is a publishing house that wants you to pay and do all the work, but they take credit for the work. In other words, you pay for the privilege of being a self-published author. In simpler terms, you get ripped off! Maybe this method works for some people, but it seems too dodgy to me. It certainly doesn’t give you the right to piss all over other people’s hard work. I got an offer from a hybrid publisher for The Next Stage, but I didn’t have £3000 – and wasn’t willing – to throw at them to basically do nothing

I guess what I’m trying to say in this blog post is simply this; stop being a dick. People have reasons why they take the route they take with their work, and it’s not for anyone else to comment on.

I’ve had it said to me that self-published authors aren’t real authors and couldn’t get traditionally published if they tried. The thing is…I don’t want to try. I’m happy – as are many other people – with the way that I publish, so I say again; stop being a dick.

This post turned into a little more of a rant than I originally planned, but I get fed up of idiots gatekeeping being an author. If you write, you’re an author. Whether you publish your work or just have it in a notebook that only you look at. Don’t let anybody tell you what route to go with your work. At the end of the day, it’s your time and effort that’s gone into it, so do with it as you see fit.

Whichever way you decide to publish your works, remember one thing – don’t be a dick.

Rewrite!

Nothing like starting the day off with a Monty Python reference.

I’m starting today what I’ve been dreading and putting off for a week now; rewriting what I have of my current WIP, And Then I Killed Her.
I’m only around five chapters in, but I feel like the pace is off. Things are moving way too quickly, and the tension I’m trying to build just isn’t happening. I’ve got ideas of how to fix it, but it’s just felt way too daunting to start on. But I know I have to do it sooner or later, so I figure I just have to make a start on it and see how it goes.
What I’ve written is good, and I like it a lot; it just doesn’t flow as well as I’d like. And as I’ve moved the story along a little bit quicker than I expected, I’m unsure where to go next. I’m hoping that spending some time on it over the next week or so will get me back on track.

I still want And Then I Killed Her to be my next release, so whatever I have to do to it, I will; it might just take me a little longer than I had initially thought to get it finished. But these things happen and can’t be helped. I suppose it’s all part of my chaotic writing style. Maybe if I planned things out a little more, I wouldn’t run into these issues. Maybe…

With going to university in September, I want to try and get as much done on this novel as I can before my time is taken up by uni work. Perhaps all of this will help me prepare for uni and the course to come.

Back to it now, I guess.

Before I go, though, I just want to let you know that the Kindle versions of my novels The Next Stage and Blindsighted will be available for free over on Amazon this weekend. There’s no particular reason for this; I just want to get my books out there to as many people as possible.

Have a good weekend!

A Bit of a Dip: Taking a Break

This blog is a little late today as it took me a while to write it for reasons I’ll explain below.

It’s been a stressful few weeks. We’ve moved into our new house, and since then, it’s been pretty much non-stop with people coming in and out doing jobs.

I wish I could say that I’ve been okay through this, but the stress has hit a limit over the past few days and has sent me down into a depressive episode.

So far, I’m doing okay (compared to other episodes). I haven’t forgotten where I am or thought that everything was a dream – so that’s good. But I’m still not feeling right. I only went back to writing last week, and I just couldn’t get into it. I’ve managed to write a couple of blog posts for the bank, but I’ve not been particularly productive other than that. I managed to do a read-through of what I have written so far for The Next Stage 2, but when it came to writing something new to continue the story, I just hit a wall. I don’t want just to type anything because I don’t want to ruin what I have, so for now, I’m just going to leave it.

I can’t pinpoint precisely when this depressive episode has come on, it’s just been bubbling under the surface for a few weeks, and I’m now realising it for what it is rather than just trying to push through. Tears have been shed, and now I’m just exhausted.

I think a break from things is required, so I don’t think I’ll be around all that much on social media until I feel a bit better. I’ll still try to do some blogs because writing does help me when I’m able to do it. I’ll try to work on my stories where I can, but I’m not going to force myself to do it if I can’t.

Alex and I agreed that I need to talk to my doctor about it, but as usual, she’s not in this week, so for now, we just have to try to manage this as best we can.

I’ve had some good news about something in the past week, but even that’s not been enough to pull me out of this episode. I know that I have some great things in my life, and I’m surrounded by people that genuinely care about me. But when I feel like this, it’s hard to see that. I feel myself just wanting to be alone or hide from the world.

I hope this episode won’t devolve into the one I had a couple of years ago when my mind pretty much melted, and I couldn’t function at all. I just need to manage it the best I can and do what I can to help me through.

That’s it for now. See you soon and have a good week.