Category: Writing

My cover story

I’ve been playing around with ideas for a cover for the second Inspector James Given novel – this is, of course, a delightful avoidance of doing any actual writing. It’s taken me into new bits of software – or should I say ‘apps’ now – like Scribus, and a free images website called Pixabay.

The four on my shortlist are above and I’d welcome thoughts on which one you might go for if you were looking on the crime shelves of your local bookshop, or Amazon. Drop me a note with preferences for A, B, C or D – I’d be most grateful. The main variations are the image (greyscale or muted colour) and the position of the text.

If you’d like to read a sample, to get you in the mood, have a look here.

Lost the plot?

One of the speakers at Ennis Book Club Festival last weekend said that he starts a new novel as soon as he completes one, within a day. This started me thinking about how he gets his ideas and I tried to come up with what I might write when I’ve finished my current project. No luck.

Then someone sent me a character profile we’d discussed, something I’d become stuck on and she’d suggested a new pair of eyes might help. This gave me the idea for an exercise.

Firstly write a profile/backstory for a character e.g. Georgina is now in a wheelchair. She’s 27 years of age, black and has just lost her job. She was secretary to the boss of a meat canning factory until she told him she suspected someone was tampering with the health and safety reports. Her boyfriend of the last five years has also dumped her … etc, etc.

Make this as brief or as extensive as you like.

Then do the same for two, or possibly three, more characters. Perhaps think about varying their ages, social position, location, etc.

Then ask the question: What connects these people?

If you’ve also set up questions within the profiles, for example, why is Georgina now in a wheelchair, try answering them.

Hopefully this might lead to the outline for a story. If not, you can always use the characters somewhere else and the exercise won’t be wasted.

Let me know if it works for you.

Learning from others

This weekend I attended the excellent Ennis Book Club Festival in County Clare and was treated to the thoughts of a number of writers. I attended sessions with Carol Drinkwater, Donal Ryan, John Boyne and Anne Enright, amongst others and it was fascinating to hear their insights on the writing process.

What was clear from all of them was that you have to work at it and you have to love it. John Boyne, for example, when asked about the opening sentence of his latest novel, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, said he’d redrafted it about 200 times. Even assuming he was exaggerating slightly it pointed to a degree of dedication to honing the work until it was as good as it could be. Several writers talked of redrafting their novel many times before sending it to an editor.

Two of the speakers talked about how they will sometimes write an event or character in a particular way without being sure why, then it makes sense later when the story is reaching a conclusion. It is almost as if there’s a precognition of where the tale will go, even if they don’t do detailed plotting. As a writer, I understood what they were saying although hadn’t heard it articulated that way before.

There was also an encouraging analysis of how to complete that novel, a task which at times can seem awe inspiring. It was explained, simply, that writing a page a day, that is around 250-300 words (the length of this post to here), gives a full-length draft in a year or less. So – go for it.

Today’s tips

I don’t consider myself skilled enough yet to give the impression I actually know what I’m talking about with this writing lark. Ten years ago I had the enjoyable experience of having a new house built and working with an architect to design our dream home. Even before we moved in we saw things we’d have wanted to do differently. When I was talking to a neighbour about this I was told ‘aah, you have build three houses before you get it right.’ And so I think it might be this way with writing.

I’m halfway through my third novel and am beginning to get the feeling that I have a better idea that I’m in some kind of control, but that’s only because (a) I’ve written a lot of words over the past five years and (b) I’ve read quite a lot on the craft of writing. One of the best guides I’ve read is James Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good NovelIn fact, I read his How to Write a Damn Good Mystery first because that’s what I was trying to do at the time, but he covers more of the fundamentals in the former and he’s such a good writer it was no heavy labour to read the two.

A few days ago I signed up to Jane Friedman’s newsletter which led me to her excellent video on audience development for writers. Check it out – I wish I had the staying power to follow it through.

Can writer’s block be selective?

I should be writing my novel. I added lots of words in November but hardly a paragraph since NaNoWriMo finished. At first I thought it was because the ‘flu and Christmas preparations were taking my mind to other places but I still can’t get started even though both of those have passed.

Yet I can scribble away on my blog with no difficulty. Hmm. Is it simply because this is an entertaining avoidance, stopping me from getting down to some real work? I think it probably is. I’ve reached a third of the way through my first draft of the novel, that notorious barrier watched over by the guardians telling me I can’t do it. “It’s no good”, “Stop, you fool”, “Who told you that you were a writer?” they shout. Unfortunately I’ve started listening.

I have techniques to battle this. I will deploy them. Soon. Honest.

CreateSpace vs IngramSpark

As an author I still believe that most satisfaction comes from having a novel accepted by a publisher who then takes it to a finished work on the bookshelves. For me, there’s a vindication in it that someone else is prepared to commit time and energy into something I’ve written. Also, the experience of working with a publisher to hone the writing is incredibly beneficial. When A Shadowed Livery was published by Grey Cells Press in 2015 it was nothing like the draft I’d sent to them a year earlier, I thought it was improved immeasurably.

However, finding a publisher or agent is very difficult, the competition is enormous, so, in this digital age, self-publishing has become an option. It isn’t easy, nor is it a guaranteed route to fame and fortune, but neither is the traditional route. Having co-ordinated the self-publication of two pieces of work – a memoir and a collection of short-stories – using both Amazon’s CreateSpace and IngramSpark, I have a some insights which might be helpful to anyone considering this path. There are more extensive comparisons available but these are just some basic thoughts from my own experience.

When considering self-publishing, one of the first questions is whether you want a printed version or are you happy with putting it out as an e-book. This decision will affect the budget you require and also the marketing plan you’ll devise. I don’t think either is best, though there’s nothing quite like the feeling of holding a book, your book, in your hands for the first time.

My recent (Nov 2016) project on Ingram’s cost a little over €900 euros for printing and shipping (from UK to Ireland) of 200 copies of an 8″ x 5″ paperback plus setup costs of €49 and cover design costs of €135. On CreateSpace there are no setup costs, the cost per copy is a little less but they ship from the US so this can be considerably more if you’re in another country. The shipping costs of the books when I used CreateSpace was around 44% of the cost of printing. This compares with around 5% using IngramSpark. This can, of course, make a huge difference in the financial viability of the book.

There can, however, be a saving on cover design. CreateSpace has free cover templates to modify and the process is fairly simple. IngramSpark does not, and you need to design and produce your own cover. They do provide a size template in a couple of formats but the actual design needs to be provided by you.

There’s also a difference in the complexity of the process. CreateSpace allows uploading of Microsoft Word files, which is handy. IngramSpark only allows uploading of PDF files, which requires conversion software or add-ins, and can be a bit tedious when errors in the draft are spotted (as they inevitably will be). With both providers, the process for e-books seems to be a lot simpler. The most complex part with IngramSpark, I found, was the cover. This needs to be produced using the size template provided, with no variation, probably using something like Adobe InDesign, then converted to PDF format for uploading.

IngramSpark provides distribution to a wide range of on-line and physical outlets, CreateSpace, I believe, only goes through Amazon and affiliates, which is still substantial.

On the memoir I helped publish, I found CreateSpace easier to use, but the shipping costs were so high outside the US it meant we changed to IngramSpark for the second print run. I’ve also found IngramSpark’s support desk really knowledgeable, understanding and helpful each time I’ve used it – a massive advantage if you’re not an expert.

This is just a quick run-through of some differences. If you’ve any questions please feel free to get in touch.