Category Archives: Get Published

Finish a First Draft – the Elephant Method

For me — like most folks with a day job — finding the cumulative time to finish a new first draft is a tricky business.

It’s not just the time though.

Most folks can patch together a spare hour a day.

For me it’s the mental fortitude required to weather a day at work, then the commute home, then dinnertime prep and youngster bedtime routine.

I’m pooped.

But it doesn’t matter. There is a window of time to be claimed. A sweet spot I must make my own.

This is what I call the elephant method. It is the only option open to non-fulltime writers.

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

Not that I’m into that sort of thing, mind you!

A few hours every night will add up to a finished draft.

One word at a time. One page at a time. One chapter at a time. Before you know it, you’ve got a draft done and you’re ready to edit and prepare it for the world.

Indian Elephant by ATArts “Actual eating not recommended”

If you’ve ever wanted to write a novel, why don’t you write one alongside me?

Doesn’t matter what genre it is. Turn off your inner procrastinator and your inner critic. Just let your creativity flow and you’ll be amazed at what you’ve got to give. This method is about short bursts of speed and momentum. Imagine a charging elephant. It takes a bit to get to full speed, but once you find your flow… look out! I’ve written a few books now and this whole writing thing hasn’t got any easier than when I began my first book. I’m still an elephant, but I don’t mind at all.

Every book is a new challenge. A joyful, painful, maddening creation. It will test you and reward you in equal measure. I love the writing process and live in fear of it too.

I’ll be posting my word count regularly to keep me accountable. I’ll not let the fear of failure overcome me.

I’ll aim for about 1500 words everyday for 6 weeks or so.

That should build up to be about what I need to finish the first draft of my next novel, Darkness Bright.

Feel free to post in the comments about your first draft progress or any questions you might have.

Heck I’d just love to see folks cheering us on. (I’m desperate for external validation!)

 

Progress Log

Monday, 16th October – 1633 words

Woohoo! I started with a win and beat my daily 1500 goal. Don’t worry, I’m sure that there will be days where I dip under. Such is life. Anyhoo, this little parcel is made up of the scribblings I wrote on the train commute to work and then a sprint at home after making (and most importantly eating) dinner.

Anyone else hit their targets today? If you didn’t, not to worry. Tomorrow is just around the corner. Onwards charge!

P.S. Thanks so much for all your supportive comments below! I’m feeling the love. 🙂

Tuesday, 17th October – 885 words

First bump in the road. Didn’t hit my 1500 goal. I stupidly started reading critical reviews of my books after a reader said my latest work was “poorly written”. Take that confidence! Thwack. I hope I can iron out any issues presented.

I must be a sucker for pain to then go and see if anyone else thinks my books bite the big one. Why do bad reviews always stick at the top of Amazon’s review list? They must be upvoted by folks deciding not to read them. Ha! Tonight I will dream of an army of fae folk upvoting the positive reviews to get them to the top of the barrel. Speaking of which, my son requires a coin for the tooth fairy. Despicable wretches who trade in teeth… reminds me of the Jandans. What odd customs we humans cling too.

Enough of the moping, Benny Boy! Fear not. Tomorrow is a brighter day. A day to accomplish great things!

…”A day for harvesting teeth!” squeaks a voice from the shadowy innards of the wardrobe behind me.

Who said that? … Bloody toothfae!

I Love Maps

Maps are a special kind of art. Their beauty is often passed over for their function, but every map possesses a rare kind of potential, something magical.

Whoa there! Magical?

You must think I’m just a typical fantasy writer, banging on about magic again. Well that might be part of it, but let me explain the rest.

Jingle Bells

Ever since I was a kid, looking at a map would send jingling bells up my spine. From mud maps on a scrap of paper to detailed foldouts in National Geographic, I couldn’t resist them. My desk drawer was stuffed with piles of hand-sketched maps, documenting secret hideouts, traps and treasure. I even had a map of my hometown sticky-taped to my wall with annotations showing the locations of my friends’ houses.

My favourite fantasy books all began with a map and followed with a story that delivered the promise hidden in the landscape. Dungeons and Dragons lured me in to play the magic upon the map, and with the digital age came an evolving boon of sci-fi and fantasy computer games. Even today, at the bleeding edge of gaming, the most immersive and well-loved games revolve around a map. The map is our foundation; it is the lynchpin that connects us to the magic of possibility.

Mental Stretch

No matter how large or detailed the map, I examine the edges and wonder what exists outside its jurisdiction. Maps trigger a mental stretching that teases out the possible from the known. There is always more to a map than what you see; change the scale, change the perspective, and change your world.

Sticks and Sand

I contend that maps are a link to our deepest psychological urges of curiosity and territory. They are an embodiment of demarcation, inherently political in how they are depicted and interpreted. Once our primal drive involved patrolling the clan patch and scent marking trees as we went (I know some people who still do), wondering what lay on the other side of a river or ravine. We evolved from sticks drawing lines in the sand, to quill and ink, charting ever further across oceans to exotic lands, always pushing the boundaries of existing maps (often to the detriment of those in discovered territories). Today the great unknowns of nautical and geographic exploration expand further still with astronomical pioneers.

Maps are Magic

The humble map is the device that mentally transports us and inserts us in a physical terrain tinted with cultural heritage, lined with political borders and soaked in context. Maps weave a world and compress it into an image.

That, for me, is something magical.

Political Correctness & Cartography

For my debut novel, Dragon Choir, I wanted to create a map that spoke with the politics of the fictional mapmaker. My map establishes the bigoted perspective of a colonising power. Maps throughout history have been tools of propaganda, yet I have noticed that the majority of maps for fantasy fiction are devoid of political or cultural imprints. Fantasy maps can add extra punch to a narrative if they have a contextual point of view. Why be politically neutral if the plot of your book is politically contentious? Political borders are as fluid as the opinion of the powers that commission the maps.

Below is the map I created using ProFantasy software, Campaign Cartographer 3 (CC3). Why did I use this software? The simple answer is that it is the best mapmaking software on the market. The ProFantasy website and community is jam full of support and ideas. The CAD software is powerful and upgradable, allowing an amateur cartographer like me to produce a professional looking map like this.

Dragon Choir Map_PB
Map for my novel, Dragon Choir.

 

Invisible backstory adds flavour

There are swaths of information a writer of sci-fi and fantasy builds up via world building that is in addition to data a writer of general fiction might accumulate. All fiction writers build up a large bulk of character, setting and prop outlines and many other documents that are interesting in themselves.
A novel provides such a small glimpse of an imaginary world. The characters portrayed in Dragon Choir are only a few of the interesting individuals roaming the world of Oranica. I have enough fodder for a few lifetimes of stories from this diverse magical world.
I have gone far back in the worlds history to explain its creation and how the different humanoid and fantasy species came to exist alongside humans. I found that when you go far enough into a a fantasy world’s past you are writing science fiction. Everything that happens in Dragon Choir has been calculated and accounted for according to the rules of the unique magical system and the context of those who wield it. The fantasy creatures have an evolutionary and biological context for their behaviour. The humanoid species have a bit more depth with the addition of cultural and historical frames of reference. The two great cities of Jando and Calimska were founded by people from very different geographic, cultural and political origins and evolved magical cultures that have opposing taboos. How can opposing magical cultures be reconciled when they clash? Dragon Choir has many layers that are subtly applied and will flavour all of the books in the series.

Alpha Readers

Alpha readers are integral to the success of any manuscript. They are much loved by writers, yet amongst all the fanfare of best sellers, are rarely given the credit they are due.
Every book ever published had a draft that was awful, a second draft that was bad and any number of revisions that gradually improved the quality from painful to pleasant. The alpha reader is a stoic individual with a lifetime of reading under their belt, an eye for narrative flow and a stomach strong enough to endure the errors the writer still may have missed. Not everyone is cut out for this.
A writer gets tunnel vision and is, in the end, a cripple to their own creation. Perhaps not all writers suffer in this way, but this one certainly does. I know all my story’s secrets and every character in detail. I find it difficult to know what a reader with fresh eyes will experience when reading it.
An alpha reader is the steady hand that guides me through the remaining issues with the story. An alpha reader will not shy away from giving the writer a well deserved flurry of red ink if the story goes off track. Alpha readers are not the people who will gush at your work to bolster your self esteem even if it is terrible. Sorry Mum! You’ll have to wait until later to read it.
Alpha readers recreate their reading experience; positive and negative. This insight is invaluable for a writer to polish the manuscript where needed and strengthen the delivery of the narrative.
If you are very lucky you will have one or two pedantic proofers amongst your team of alpha readers. They will find all those little errors that others may have glossed over as they read with the pulse of the story. They will challenge you on many issues and make your story all the better for it. If a writer can’t fix the issues in the manuscript they need to suck it up and kill the elements that don’t work. Hopefully, all major flaws have been eliminated through the drafts and revisions before the alpha reader gets your manuscript.
Never, ever, ever send a first draft (or in my case a second, third or fourth draft) to an alpha reader. Do not punish your alpha reader with an unfinished product. There will always be a few mistakes, but you should have fixed every issue you can find with your manuscript before you let anyone read it. Drafts are never close to this level of readiness. Don’t waste your alpha readers time, it is hard work even when the manuscript is well worked. They only have fresh eyes once, so make it count; make it worth their effort.

I dedicate this post to my first line of defence.
The amazing!
The spectacular!
Alpha Readers!!!! (Insert applause and fanfare here.)

Kristin, Amy, Paul & Jane and Bob.

You are the bee’s knees.
Thank you for all your wonderful effort.

Writing with an Addiction

I have a problem. I admit it. Well, I probably have more than one problem, but for now let’s just focus on one at a time. Admission is probably an important step on overcoming it. So here we go . . . let me name it, get it out in the open and I can dissect it.
I’m a closet gamer.
I know, I know. It isn’t very glamorous. Real writers are addicted to alcohol, drugs, or something gritty worth writing about. Not me, my addiction is not in anyway productive for me as a writer. I’ve heard say alcohol is used as a lubricant for creative flow, drugs too. I little bit here and there and it might work a treat. Too much too often and you are a train wreck with productivity down the toilet. On the upside, if you manage to get the train back on the tracks, you’ll have something to write about. I don’t do drugs and rarely drink a drop without falling asleep, lame perhaps, but uppers and downers just don’t excite me.
For me, gaming is the shizzle. I have a big rig and an appetite for RPGs and Strategy. Been hooked on PC games since my Dad gave me a go of his TRS80. Back then I was illuminated by simple green pixels. What hope do I have against the graphics I am spoilt with these days. There are brilliant games that I have played in my time with better stories and higher writing quality than that of some of the books I have read. I could justify why gaming is good for me with a long list of defences. But, I wont because deep down I know that whilst I get a lot out of gaming, most of it is an illusion of achievement.
When I game I get an instant reward for the time I put in. I can gain wealth, beat back armies, save the innocent and vanquish evil. If I fail, I just reload a saved game and try again. No blood, No sweat, No tears. Well, to be honest, maybe a little of the latter two.
Writing is a joy and a curse. It takes me to wonderful highs when I think it is going well, then drops me in a ditch and kicks me when the right words don’t come. Diligence and persistence are needed for the long haul. There is no instant reward and in all likelihood very little long term reward even if your works are published.
You pay for gaming with your time. There is never enough time, you always want more of that instant reward, that gaming success. You get good feeling now compared to the vague chance of good feeling in the distant future with writing. How could my primal pin brain with short attention span focus on writing? Truth is, not very well at all.
Gaming trashes your post gaming concentration for tasks like writing. I tried gaming after I had done my days writing targets, but I would cheat, write less so I could game sooner or put gaming first priority. I’d game today for longer and write tomorrow for longer. Ha! Lying bastard! My addiction reneged on solid deals so many times I had to work out a new strategy. For two years I had no rig of my own to play. That worked well, but I was building a house and not writing much at the time. I thought, surely I can get over this addiction without going cold turkey.
I did it! I conquered my addiction. Actually, not really, that is a lie. I think I have circumvented it. I know it is still lurking in the wilds of my mind calling to me still. Most of the time I tell it to bugger off, but sometimes it compels me. I assure you, only after a decent weeks writing.
So how did I tame the gaming addiction?
I made my writing a game, with instant rewards and punishments.
Now this might not work for everyone. I analysed my reasons for gaming and found that I was motivated to game by the instant accrual of whatever the game required to win. Gold, resources, power, quests, that sort of thing. I transferred that to writing my first novel, Dragon Choir. Instead of the illusory rewards of the pc games I logged my writing activity.
Yes, I used a spreadsheet. Yes, there are pretty graphs. Yes, I am a nerd.
I was sceptical of my experiment at first. I thought it wouldn’t work. But, dangnabit, the writing log has fooled the addictive gamer in me. Being a primal beast that it is, it sees a challenge to write more and increase those hours on the board. There is instant gratification when my daily hour count goes up, pumping the averages higher. I also get a slap on the backside when logged hours are low or heaven forbid I log a ZERO DAY. That is the equivalent of having to reload to an old save game and sort out a new strategy. I use a timer and challenge myself to increase my output for every hour. I have made the writing game my game of choice.
It works on another level by making my writing a professional activity whereby I can analyse my output and improve. As I have already drafted Dragon Choir and am currently working through revisions, to polish it all up, I am using hours as the measure of output. When I start drafting my second book I will set up the log for word count.

Cover Art with a Marketing Budget of Zero.

In an ideal world a writer’s manuscript is chosen for publication and a team of gifted specialists develop your manuscript into a marketable book. Publishing houses generally have departments for editorial, marketing, distribution, production, sales, legal, and creative just as a bare minimum. If you want to be an indie author you have to manage the publication process yourself.

The book cover is an integral feature of publication. It is thrust in the reader’s face immediately and is responsible for the big first impression.

The ebook cover is a thumbnail chance that someone will click on your book over a million others. An new indie with no other titles under their belt is merely a blip in the digital realm.  If that blip is your first chance that someone looked at your ebook, it had better be presentable. By presentable I mean that the title should be readable, applicable and interesting to the genre it is written for. It should stand out to the eye because of the clarity of the image not because it looks badly done. It has to be good enough to lure a click. Only then will your potential reader have the opportunity to get a look at your synopsis.

I cannot compete with the amazing artwork and cover designs seen on professionally worked covers. I’m not gifted in graphic design, fine art or anything in between. I also have a pre-launch budget of zero for my first novel Dragon Choir. What to do?

Well after scouring the web for clues I have found a solution. An ebook cover can be produced with open source software without any impact on your budget. I used Microsoft PowerPoint (which I already owned) as a simple and familiar program to create the core of my cover design. If you don’t own the Microsoft product, use an open source product, I would recommend Apache OpenOffice Impress. It has similar functionality and is user friendly too. I also used a brilliant graphics program called Gimp. It is also free and very powerful in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing. I am not one of the someones.

I got around that though. Tutorials.

The web has thousands of tutorials that will take you through both simple and complicated tasks to manipulate images to your liking. I found YouTube tutorials very helpful. For amateurs like me, actual creation of new art was not on the menu. I only managed tutorials which manipulated existing images and turned them into something new. After following several tutorials for Gimp I discovered a method to create a fire swirl. You can see this on my cover design.

DRAGONCHOIR COVER

The basic process I followed to create my ebook cover is below.

  1. Source or Create the image you want to feature on you cover. Save it as a .jpg
  2. Open a new page in PowerPoint or Impress.
  3. Adjust the size of the page to 42.3cm wide x 63.5cm high. (1600 pixels wide x 2400 pixels high)
  4. Change the background colour to suit.
  5. Add a text box for your title.
  6. Add a text box for your name.
  7. Insert your image.
  8. Shuffle them around and fiddle with the font until you have it looking presentable.
  9. Save the file as an image (.jpg) rather than a slide presentation.
  10. Get feedback on the design.

Here are some important things to consider for an ebook cover.

  • It needs to match the genre you are writing for and appeal to your potential readers.
  • It needs to stand out as one thumbnail amongst many many others. Make sure it catches the eye and can be read, even when it is small. Compare yours to other ebooks.
  • The pixel count described above is important. Ebook distributors will expect high resolution covers. There is nothing worse than pixelation on your book cover.

There are alternatives for indies with cash to spend.

  • Outsource the cover design to a professional. Google “ebook cover design” and choose a designer that will suit your budget.
  • If you want to make your own cover but can’t make your own image, buy the digital rights to artwork you would like to have on your cover. There are many stock image resellers online. Once you have the image you want, use the process above to fit it into your cover design.

Does my design compare to one professionally done? No. I don’t think so. It is clean though, with high resolution and it draws the eye with bright colour and a distinct image. I am hoping that it will be different. Perhaps that will help it stand out (in a good way) when compared to book covers with brilliant artwork of glorious warriors, ruthless rogues and arcane magic.

If I go indie with an ebook I would upgrade my cover to a more professional design once my book earns enough to do so. For now though, it will serve.

Creating a platform

In order to make it as a successful author; indie or legacy, it helps to establish a ‘platform’.

Building a platform refers to establishing a presence that connects to your potential readers, enabling them to access your work.

Writing is my priority, though I have no platform of readers interested in my work. If I publish my book into a vacuum of interest, I am leaving my success to luck. Building a platform before publication will give your writing a leg up once it is distributed. If you have written a masterpiece and only your Mum knows about it; be prepared for your book to be lost at sea for a while.

There are many brilliant works out there that are undiscovered by the masses or even their specific niche. Whilst I have no expectation of being discovered by the masses. I would like to give people who are looking for a good fantasy read the chance to find my book when it is available.

So what have I been up to?

I have created this WordPress blog, started a Twitter account, a Goodreads account and rejoined the Facebook fray. This should give any possible readers of my work the chance to connect with me and my work.

There is a factor here to be aware of when first establishing a platform to engage with readers. It is very time consuming. My editing process for Dragon Choir has slowed to establish these connections. Be aware of your time and keep writing your book the priority.

Is a book without a reader really a book? Is a reader without a book really a reader?