featured - prezi questions

A few thoughts on young people’s use of library space

At the annual conference of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals Wales (CILIP Cymru), which happened back in May 2016, I delivered a one hour seminar on some findings from my research on young people’s use of library architecture. In order to get a bit of discussion going (see here for the lessons I learnt on seminar organising) I posed a pair of questions and got the room to write down and discuss their thoughts.

  • What qualities of space might young people (16-25) actively seek out in a library?
  • What factors might affect their preferences?

The answers were interesting in a number of ways. There was quite a lot of variance in terms of  semantics, so some people commented on very broad level aspects such as “feeling safe” or “convenience” (in doing so raising the question of what engenders those things), while other people cited more specific needs like “plenty of power sockets” and “enough PCs”.

It’s an interesting question for me because my work lies somewhere between the very general (how you might want a user to feel) and the very specific (what objects a library ought to contain). This is the realm occupied by architecture, which is why I used the particular term “qualities of space”.

When you talk about qualities of space the answers are a little harder to pick out. And I was, let’s not forget, in a room filled mainly with librarians, meaning that although they spend their working lives in library buildings, it’s rare for them to have the opportunity to really engage with architectural possibilities because most libraries aren’t refurbished every day of the week. Librarians’ opinions could reasonably be expected to arise from their dealing with the objects within the library that they can influence (book stock, hardware, furniture etc.) and perhaps also their general sense of what an ideal library ought to be (a safe space, open, free, democratic etc.). It is therefore unsurprising that most of the answers I received were in that general vein. In fact, it was rather pleasing because it reinforced the notion that my work might hold some interest!

Anyway, I will answer the first question in the following ways, in no particular order.

  • Young people (16-25) seek a visual connection with the external or natural environment
  • They seek spaces where they can look out but not be seen by other users or staff
  • They seek spaces that are beautiful (That’s subjective, I know, but most people can tell quality space design when they see it)
  • They seek spaces that have a particular quality or level of noise (not necessarily loud or quiet, but particular nonetheless)
  • They seek proximity to their resources, whether books, PCs or something else

This is only my personal list, generated from conducting walk-along interviews with several dozen young people in three large central public libraries in the UK. Other researchers could no doubt add to or re-frame these points.

And what of the second question? What affects young people’s preferences?

I found two determinants. It is firstly important whether the young person is coming to the library to use it is a second place or a third place social environment, i.e. for work or for informal use. It is secondly important to know whether they are approaching it individually or as a group.

An individual coming to study will want one spatial quality, a group coming to study may want another. An individual intending to use the library to relax will want certain similar to those of the studying individual, but in other aspects their needs will probably differ. Similarly, a socialising group will almost always want an area with a bit of noise in the background, or else they will want total isolation from other library user. This may appear to be a contradiction, but the reason in each case is the same: so the noise of their conversation will not attract attention to them.

Hope that piques your interest, particularly if you’re working in a library, or in architecture. As I mentioned, these are a few thoughts drawn from experience rather than immutable statements of fact, so please add your thoughts.

Have you worked in a public library? How would you answer my questions?


All the fun of indie author website building

If you’ve not done this before (i.e. you’ve not built yourself any online tools for connecting with readers and selling books – and I’m excluding social media from this for the time being) you will need some or all of the following things:

  • A hosting package
  • A platform in which to build your website
  • Tools to add functionality to the platform to build your website
  • A platform to handle mailing lists
  • A service to provide a physical mailbox so you won’t have to put your home address on mass emails (this being a legal requirement)
  • A service to provide you with an inbox and custom email address

After much trial-and-error, reading up and experimentation I have created the following website: www.sammywoodford.com. It’s magnificent. It needs some “optimisation”, admittedly, but when the visitors come pouring in I’ll look mighty professional and they’ll buy all my books.

Let’s now examine the above handily bullet-pointed list.

Hosting package: in my case, Bluehost. It’s a big company, it offers cheap prices and it’s one of three hosting providers approved by WordPress. I wanted to use WordPress as the platform in which I’d build my site because it’s the one everybody uses. Not having done this before I thought that any problems would therefore be well documented, and I seem to have been correct in that assumption.

The hosting package I bought was a space on a shared server. That means I haven’t got masses of room (not a problem at the moment), and for all I know, if it ever got significant traffic it’d fall over (again, not currently a problem). For now it seems perfect. It included a few other things, things like domain registration. I was pleased to find that myname.com was, in my case, available, so went with that. Bluehost also provides me with cloud storage, which I haven’t used yet, and a custom email address, which I also haven’t used (see below) – i.e. it’s hello@mysitename.com rather than sammy@gmail.com, or somesuch. Remember… professional.

Now, WordPress is widely used and as such it has many tools, plugins, themes etc. that work with it. I discovered something called Divi, created by a company called Elegant Themes. Divi is a WordPress Theme, which means it’s the coat of paint you put on the blank site in order to provide stuff to click on, write in and picturefy. Divi is special, however; it’s a real-time front-end builder. You install it as a theme just like any other, but then, when creating new pages for your site, you can open the Divi builder and drop in modules with different types of functionality. It’s easy, powerful, and I highly recommend you check it out if you’re thinking of using WordPress.

Mailing lists. Any cursory research of the indie author ecosystem will flag up the mailing list as the supposed holy grail of self-empowerment. No serious author is complete without one, because if you can directly email people you control the link to your fans! There are, as always, a few options. When doing something difficult, new and potentially laced with a minefield of disappointment, I’ll take the well-trodden path thanks. MailChimp beckoned for the exact same reason as Bluehost, WordPress and Divi – they’ve worked for other folks in this situation. MailChimp pricing scales with list size, meaning that for fewer than 2000 subs you’ll be rolling for free. Go over that and you’ll be paying. That was an eventuality I decided to worry about down the line.

MailChimp allows you to build signup forms for your list, and Divi allows you to place a signup form on your WordPress site. There are about a million other ways of shelling this particular acorn, but as always I can only comment on what actually worked for me. This, incidentally, was the stage that took me longest to work out. If you go to my website and scroll to the bottom of the page you’ll find the signup form so you can see what I’m talking about.

Physical mailboxes. This was a head-scratcher. I’d not realised, until I tried to do it, that it’s a legal requirement if you’re sending out mass emails to attach the physical address of your business premises. Well, I’m not a business, and I’d rather the whole world didn’t have access to my home address. This is where a mailbox comes in. Depending on where in the world you live you can find a PO Box or a mailbox service for something between not much money and some money. Sorry I can’t be more help there. Just don’t sign up with a disreputable company. These are very much in evidence after just a simple Google search.

Finally, I also decided to splash out on the few pounds a month that a Google Apps for Business sub costs in order that I could make use of Gmail with my own customised email address. This is a matter of preference. I normally use Gmail, and wanted to keep with something reliable and familiar. There was a bit of configuration to do with my Bluehost control panel in terms of mail exchange routing, but Google’s setup procedure takes you right through the process, as do several good videos on YouTube.

And that’s it. A couple of weeks of slaving away and bingo! Then you can get back to actually reading and writing for people to see when they get to your site.

Was your first inroad into indie author site building a fun one?  Did you go down the route I did, or differ? I’d love to hear your experiences


Storytelling in a Hypothetical Parallel Universe

Anyone who was hooked by the promise of the E3 demo two years ago will know the story by now: an indie title (No Man’s Sky) somehow gets picked up by Sony, and the leader (Sean Murray) of the studio (Hello Games) winds up on a mainstream US chat show (Colbert), and numerous blogging sites and internet shows. That’s pretty unprecedented for an indie developer, so the result was hype and a shopping list of features that inevitably ended up wide of the mark. I’ve no doubt that if something like Proteus or Dear Esther had been marketed as the new golden-age harbinger of infinity they too would have been less well received.

I admit up front, I’ve not played the game. That’s why this story is filed under “Baseless speculation”, which I think is fair. Yes, my views are therefore irrelevant, but they would be even if I had played it, and as I have only an XBox 360 and a five year old laptop at my disposal that wasn’t going to happen anyway. It’s a little easier, however, to comment on what the game isn’t, rather than on what it is, so I’ll do that.

I think we can all agree that what it isn’t is a story. It’s also not a shooter. Not a space combat game. Not a survival horror. Not a flight simulator. Not a world builder. Not a 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate). That fact that it’s not any of these latter things seems largely irrelevant to me (and it might be best describable as a walking sim anyway, and I don’t mean that pejoratively), so it’s the story (lack thereof) I’d like to focus on. Being something of an author I think that’s an aspect I can dream about, and one that I’ve not seen at all so far in the reams of more-or-less invective-laced rhetoric aimed at the game.

To start with, let me ask a question. What is the main narrative device suggested by the premise of a game set in an essentially infinite universe? To me, it speaks of the journey. The quest. The arc that follows you from knowing nothing, to finding out something that drives you on, to concluding with some realisation (and not a meta one like, “This was all pointless”).

A journey must follow that arc in order to be satisfying. No Man’s Sky (NMS) follows it to a certain extent because the aim is to reach the centre of the galaxy in which you start. This was known well before the game’s release, but due to the vague way in which it was presented, many people assumed that there would be more to it that just that. It was assumed that a story arc would accompany a journey to centre of the galaxy. Now, that turned out not to be true. You reach the centre, you go back to the start, all your kit’s broken and that’s pretty much it.Understandably, the reality made a few people quite disappointed, but let’s focus here on the potential instead.

One of the key appeals of the game, and one in which it’s undoubtedly an impressive technological achievement, is in its creation of an entire procedurally-generated universe. This is also one of its weaknesses. The concept of “procedural oatmeal” is one that’s come up before. It was coined by a developer called Kate Compton and refers to the fact that while the 18 quintillion planets in NMS are technically unique, their uniqueness can end up no more fundamental or meaningful to the player that the differences between oats in a bowl. Now, I’m no expert in the challenges of creating procedural algorithms (it’s safe to assume they’re considerable), but I image that to split planets into classes and arrange those classes such that they correspond to one’s proximity to a galaxy centre would not be so difficult.

Let me put it another way. Imagine a galaxy that is not homogeneous, but rather is banded. Picture three bands: an outer, a median, and an inner. This simple arrangement could be made to underpin virtually everything that the player might expect to find on a planet. To link that to in-game examples, imagine that the three NPC alien species that one finds are not arranged evenly throughout the galaxy (undermining the premise of the sky being no man’s) but instead none were to be found in the outer band, two were to be found in the median, and the third (perhaps more challenging) was to be found in the inner, surrounding the galaxy core. Would that not immediately set up the potential for one’s journey towards the centre to feature stages demanding different approaches, varied gameplay?

Another thought concerning homogeneity: spacestations. They’re dotted throughout space and are essentially identical inside (rather like the buildings inhabited by the alien species). They function as a place to buy a new ship (rather oddly at a price independent of the value of one’s own ship, but anyway…), or to use a terminal that allows you to buy or sell items you’ve accumulated. The fact that they’re basically the same as one another, and their existence is unexplained, seems to me like a shortcoming. How about, instead of dotting the sky with indentikit spacestations, there was only one, but it moves? Make it larger, more spatially complex, provide it as a home base from which the player ventures forth to conduct more structured business as part of some grand story plan. A particular item is needed. Determine what sort of planet this would occur on. Locate a suitable target. Prepare the equipment you’ll need to deal with it. Make the journey. Cope with unexpected events. These are space missions, after all, and little about the introduction of strategy would require much in the way of new assets, beyond the provision of the mechanisms able to filter the game’s in-built categories of planets.

The thing that annoys me a little about this is really nothing to do with what was suggested but left out, and more to do with the fact that existing scientific principles provide everything you need to boost the game’s narrative quality.

Alright, let me summarise my wishlist before this becomes an essay!

  • Make the game about a character. You see that image at the top? The one used to advertise the game for years? Who’s that in the middle, with the rucksack, staring upwards into the universe? I want to know about them.
  • Remove the homogeneity of the planets by arranging them so that planets of certain types form a journey from edge to centre. If the algorithms can be altered to add more topographical variation, so much the better.
  • Remove the scattering of similar spacestations and replace them with one larger spacestation. This is the player’s home, their place within the universe. It has its own job to do, and the characters on it are part of an organisation to which the player belongs. You are part of that, which means you will have to go out on long, dangerous trips that require planning (according to the planet category management system that needs implementing).
  • I’ve heard stories that the game’s at its best when you are fighting against the elements, the unfamiliar conditions of a strange planet. You get a little too far from your ship. Will you make it back before your suit runs out of energy? That’s interesting gameplay, so make that the purpose of the narrative. So the spacestation is an old, rusty thing that belongs to a small organisation whose job is to document the galaxy, create the categories by which planets can be sorted, discover and note down the rules by which certain resources, creatures, artefacts etc. can be discovered.
  • Give the universe a life of its own by giving the spacestation a life of its own. It has a schedule to keep and missions of its own to perform that the player is not initially privy to. That means you might have to go to a planet knowing that the station won’t be around to take care of you. Imagine being on a planet, looking up and seeing the station there in orbit. Imagine getting used to to that and then it being taken away, knowing it’s in another star system, knowing that if anything goes wrong, you’ll have to find high ground, set up a portable antenna, broadcast a distress signal and then wait for them. Imagine if that distress signal could be picked up by others who might get to you first?
  • Work with what the game’s already got. If getting too far from your ship and then getting caught in a storm creates tension, go with that, but how about, rather than storms springing up with almost no warning, you knew the dangers in advance. Well you would, wouldn’t you, being a competent astronaut? You’d take care by setting checkpoints on a planetary map first, packing a series of detectors from the spacestation into your ship, and then deploying them on the planet so you’d have early warning of impending storms. Or asteroid showers. Or radiation plumes. Or hostile ships. Wouldn’t that be way more exciting?
  • Maybe even put a particular character on the spacestation who would function as your controller. Think of Link from The Matrix, micced up and reading for signs of danger. If the programming were really clever, this role could be assumed by another player, who would take a top-down view of each planet, managing dangers and guiding you. Maybe they would be involved in the parallel, closely-related storyline of the spacestation.
  • The devs are talking about releasing new base-building content, but in a game where you’re constantly moving between planets that seems somewhat self-defeating. Wouldn’t a better idea be to make the ship itself a mobile base? You’d land the ship, get out and expand varied parts of the hull into a mobile field laboratory. It would take a few minutes to unpack and put away, meaning you’d have to reccy as soon as you landed to make sure it was safe. Anything happens and you’ll have to race against time time put it all away again and blast off. It would be a great way of making the ships individual and useful in different ways. Image choosing an in-hold or an out-of-hold design – one where the lab is entirely inside the ship (quicker, safer, but smaller) and one where you unpack into into the surroundings. Choices! Strategy! Uniqueness!

Anyway, wishful thinking…

Have you played No Man’s Sky? What do you think of my thoughts on it? Have I made any terrible mistakes and misunderstood what’s actually going on. If so, please correct me, or offer views below!

featured - hive shared study

Moving forwards by embracing what’s uncomfortable

Earlier this year I went along to the annual conference of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) Wales because I’d been asked to run a one hour seminar session on my research.

How on earth, I wondered, was I meant to saunter confidently into a meeting room, hoping that twenty professionals would not only turn up to listen to what I had to say, but also do what I asked them to do?

Pondering this, both then and now, has brought me to a little 1-2-3 of success in such situations that I’m going to share. It’s nothing too earth-shattering, and indeed largely reflects things said by wise folks such as Seth Godin.

  1. Frightening situations can be a source of strength, if approached in the right way. “What doesn’t kill you…” etc. etc.
  2. It’s all about the right group of people. If you’re at a conference, you can pretty much guarantee everyone is there to engage with you. After all, they’ve chosen to interrupt their busy schedules to come along.
  3. Prepare good content. Obvious really. Once you deal with the fear of challenging situations, and once you’re reasonably sure you’ve got a receptive audience to communicate with, you’ve then got to say something worth hearing.

That last point was the worrying one. Given it was a conference, and given that I’d been invited there in the first place, I felt reasonably happy about points 1 and 2, but as for content…? I’d need a little help.

Fortunately, working at a university, I was surrounded by people who are potential fonts of knowledge on this front. I had less experience of running seminars than presentations or student tutorials, and seminars are a little different as they take longer and require some form of discussion. I found a friend and asked for his advice. In essence, the gist of what I learned, both from him and from actually doing the thing, is as follows:

  • Warm up the room. Everyone is a bit nervous to start off. In fact, it may be simplest to assume that your guests are more nervous than you are. They know that seminars are interactive, after all. You might be one of those vindictive seminar leaders who likes to put people on the spot for no good reason. Taking a moment to chat to people as they come in, and doing a short intro speech saying who you are, is a great opportunity for a rapport to be started. Everyone in the room needs to feel comfortable that you aren’t going to do anything disturbing.
  • Splitting the room into groups is a great way of managing people. It allows you to ensure everyone is getting involved, and it also provides a perfect opportunity to play groups off against each other. That’s a great way of stimulating conversations, by the way. Speaking of which…
  • Good conversation is about getting the guests to interact with each other, rather than getting a one-way dialogue going between you and an individual. Finding ways to get them arguing with each other (constructively) is key. Groups come in handy.
  • Keep to time. Start and end promptly, even if there are stragglers. This also applies to tutorials, presentations, and anything similar where you’re managing a room. If you don’t (and I’ve been guilty of this myself) you’re insulting those who have bothered to turn up on time.
  • Structure. Related to timekeeping, I discovered it’s helpful to be really clear about when the activities of the session are, what order they’re in, how long they’re going to take. Some people don’t need too much liturgy, but for most, a clear sense of where they are in the session and how the different parts of it fit together is advantageous.
  • If you’re running an activity and intend to get people to feedback their results to the rest of the room, make this clear in advance. That way you’ll minimise the awkward moment where nobody wants to do it and the glance goes around before a victim is found and coerced into “volunteering”.
  • Assume everything will take slightly longer than it looks like it should on paper.
  • Consider how people are sitting in the room, what directions they’re facing. If you’re going to start out with a presentation to cover some background and introduce an activity, will everyone be able to see easily if they’re arranged in circles around tables? Similarly, if they’re sitting lecture-style, or in a horseshoe, how are they going to put their heads together?
  • Don’t be afraid of starting out with something intellectually provocative. The idea is to stimulate discussion, and that relies on investing people in the topic and making sure it’s a topic people will have different responses to. A hook at the outset can be thought of as a stepping-off point, something familiar to the guests that will serve as a starting point of the thought process you wish to explore.

With the above points in my notebook I was able to get a structure worked out that actually went pretty well, thus fulfilling the third of the three points I outlined at the start! I was really tired beforehand, mentally exhausted, and not sure I could pull it off. The effort hurt, but I met some lovely, interesting people, got Tweeted, got complemented by the great Ian Anstice, and forced myself to organise my thoughts for the benefit of others, which is often productive in its own right.

And that’s about all for now I think! I’m not the world’s most experienced seminar-runner, so I expect quite a lot of you folks are more clued up and could add points to this, so…

Are you a 24-carat seminar-smiting pro? What are your top tips for getting the most out of a room full of people? Does advice on organising a seminar translate well to other areas of life? Comments below…

featured - thesis

PhDs: A dissection featuring bullet points

I’ve been thinking about something that was said to me recently… “PhDs aren’t worth it.”

It would be easy to dismiss such a claim, bearing in mind the claimant was only 21 years old and hasn’t actually done a PhD, but at the same time, to pretend that any PhD student spends their whole four-plus years brimming with assurance would be a lie.

I would say I was one of the more confident people I knew of the dozen or so doing a similar thing, but that’s not just senility talking. Some people brim with confidence when they shouldn’t because their minds are incapable of grasping the enormity of their circumstances, but I’ll give myself slightly more credit than that for two reasons.

  • For one, I love writing. It’s my “thing”, as it were, and has been for many years. In fact, now I’ve finished the PhD I’ve taken up writing full time (for a year or so), but this love isn’t shared by all. Sometimes fellow students would say things to me like “I hate writing”, and my response would be one of blunt astonishment. Well why are you doing a PhD then? You’re basically writing a book!
  • Secondly, I’m very interested in the subject area. I wrote about the architecture of large, modern central public libraries in the UK, which is a topic that fascinates on a number of levels: architectural (obviously), library science (obviously), but also engineering, psychology, sociology, philosophy (there is a Ph in PhD, after all), history, politics… etc. etc.

Having made it through and out the other side, I have some suggestions for anyone wondering whether to take a PhD, little questions you must ask yourself whether you can achieve. Bear in mind that I did a qualitative PhD, meaning the data came from discussions and conversations, rather than from numbers and statics, so the following is relevant to PhDs more commonly found in humanities and social sciences.

  • A PhD is fundamentally three things.
    • There’s the academic study, the reading and writing. You’ll have to do a lot of this.
    • There’s the research, which tends to involve a plan to get data, legwork, resistance to failure, modification of the plan, and then more legwork. It also – crucially – involved analysing the data. Analysis is a big one. Assume it will take months and hurt a lot.
    • Then there’s the construction of the thesis. This isn’t just writing and it isn’t just analysis. It’s working out exactly what to write, planning how long it will take you, hitting writing targets for month after month, and then editing, editing, editing. Then printing. Then viva preparation. Then corrections. Then resubmission. Then, and only then, graduation.

Sounds pretty tiring, huh? Here are some pointers.

  • A good relationship with your supervisor is essential. My supervisor was absolutely brilliant. She understood the subject, she really engaged with what I’d been doing every month, she read stuff promptly and gave detailed feedback. We got on, so the whole things clicked along from start to end.
  • Discover something specific to write about. It doesn’t have to be there at first. It doesn’t even have to be there halfway through. It might not (probably won’t) arrive until you’ve got the data and are halfway through analysing it. I didn’t write about libraries, I wrote about young people’s (1) experiences (2) of the architecture (3) of large (4), modern (5), central public libraries (6) in the UK (7). That’s pretty specific, but it took the data to tell me what I really had.
  • Plan the writing. Even though I like writing I needed a detailed plan of all the sections and their word counts, complete with progress bars (see below).


  • This was used in the final year, when I had to actually turn everything into a thesis. I already had a load of writing, but 80,000 is heck of a lot, so I had about 50,000 to go. I knew editing would take a long time (seriously – the version I handed in was draft #7. It took me six months just to edit and another month to proofread). Working backwards from when I wanted to finish meant to knew I had eight months to write those 50,000. That’s where the following table came in:


  • This does several jobs. “Date” shows the current day. Every day I had to be writing. “Word target” shows the amount of writing I’d need to have by that point in order to hit 80,000 by my self-imposed deadline. “Word count” shows what I’ve actually got. This comes from the first table. “Daily total” shows how much I’ve written on any given day. Negative figures are when I’ve cut stuff out. “Difference” shows me how ahead or behind target I am. When I’m ahead the cell goes green. If I’m behind it’s red. “10 day avg” is how much I’ve averaged over the previous ten days. The idea is to sustain high output. Again, the cell goes green if the average is higher than what I need to finish on time. “Needed to finish” shows how many words I’d have to write each day in order to finish on time. Believe it or not, this is a lifesaver. If you stop when it begins to hurt, you probably won’t be writing enough.


  • Finally, we have a graph generated from the above table. I like visual things, and this graph shows me two important bits of information. I did my “writing up” from Jan to Sept 2015, shown here.
    • The blue line is what I needed to hit to reach 80,000 words at my self-imposed deadline (remember: finished is better than perfect). There’s a kink in it because on the 17th June I had my last internal review and decided to reward myself with a longer deadline. Setting impossible targets is fine if in missing them you still end up better off than you would otherwise have been.
    • The other one is not a line, it’s a scar, a wound on my soul, a slow, agonising ascent in which days of sustained effort could be wiped out in an instant by realising that something I’d written two years earlier was no longer usable and would have to be cut. As you can see though, sometimes, bits got pasted back in again too.

So, are you considering a PhD? Were you, until you read this? If so, what subject area?

featured - book cover

All My Terrible Book Covers, Ranked

As I’m currently getting seriously into self-publishing, I thought I’d talk covers for a bit. Basically, they’re tricky…

I’m lucky enough to have had an education in architecture, so I’m reasonably handy with graphic design. Of course, if you spend a moment on any online advice for new authors they’ll invariably say if you’re anything less than full-on  pro don’t even think about doing your own cover.  Well, I’m obstinate and had the time, so I went ahead anyway.

Before my first effort, there was another book. Which will now be the next book. (Writing and publishing not necessarily in the same order – another thing I’ve learned). It was called Freya, until I realised how played out Freya is as a fantasy heroine name. Current working title is Fray the Sky, but it’s changed quite a lot and will probably change again.

Here are my efforts. Please don’t laugh too hard.

cover concept 4.jpg

Attempt 1: 1/10

I’ve awarded myself half a point here because the grey-brown and blue do sort of work together, even if they hardly stand out.

Plus another half point for putting a fancy shadow effect on the text. When everything else has gone wrong, just throw in a bit of shadowing.





cover concept 7.jpg

Attempt 2: 2/10

There are some elements of this that work. The blue over red is just hideous, but the tree-and-hand motif (the banner of a country within the story) is strong and there’s also the weird eye/roundel thing going on in the background. That’s actually got little scenes painted all the way around it, so it’s a phenomenal amount of work considering the miserable effect overall.

That’s the mark of a true novice – maximum effort, zero result!




mechanical apostles cover 3.jpg

Attempt 3: 7/10

Admission time: I actually rather like this one.

But it’s more the sort of thing I’d stick on my wall rather than the front of a book. It’s a fun picture, but there are a couple of problems.

Firstly, it’s got nothing to do with content of the story.

Secondly, the text would need reformatting. (Although that’s a small problem really).




mechanical apostles cover.jpg

Attempt 4: 5/10

This one actually is up on my wall. If you’re not familiar with printing, dark blues and purples are about the hardest thing you can ask a printer to turn out, so this image is one that’s very difficult to get looking good on paper. Most printers will make half of it pretty much black, although for screen display it’s okay.

Trouble is, it’s just too fiddly and dark an image. Book covers are advertisements – they need to hit hard and fast, and with this one there’s almost no place for the title and author either!



cover concept 8.jpg

Attempt 5: 6/10

So, want bold, do ya? How about this!

Well, it’s one option, I guess… I admit I do rather like it, but I wonder if it really reflects the content of the book. You might almost think it was for some kind of horror story.

Maybe changing the red to blue…?

Maybe not.



cover concept 9.jpg

Attempt 6: 2/10

Better than the first one. Barely.

Bland colours, badly drawn, dull idea, wrong genre, no relation to book content… No. No. No.






cover concept 10.jpg

Attempt 7: 4/10

Going back to the bold, flat graphics thing. Took me ages to draw those wings, and while I quite like the result, it looks more suitable for a political satire than any fantasy novel I’m likely to pick up soon. Totally wrong, tonally.

Back to the drawing board.





cover concept 11.jpg

Attempt 8: 4/10

Extreme perspective is difficult folks. I’m not a graphic artist. I tried, I failed. I accept that.

Also, grainy low contrast pictures don’t grab the attention,  you can barely tell what this image is meant to be of it’s so badly drawn, and the text doesn’t stand out enough.





cover concept 12.jpg

Attempt 9: -7/10

I don’t even know what to say.

Why did I do this? At what point did this seem like a clever idea? It’s bold and illegible, shouty and meaningless, busy and overcrowded…






cover concept 13.jpg

Attempt 10: 6/10 (10/10 for wackiness; 2/10 for effect)

Well, it’s different, I’ll give myself that. Illegible, admittedly, but different.

There are some rather lovely things going on with texture and surface here, but a book cover is first and foremost a functional piece of art, so this won’t wash.





cover concept 15.jpg

Attempt 11: 8/10

Could be a nine, I reckon, but the text isn’t quite right yet. Need to get the framing sorted a bit better.

This one’s actually the culmination of quite a lot of work – and not just the above. It started as a pencil drawing straight onto my bedroom wall, seven feet tall. The outline took two weeks to complete, and then I started painting it. Then we moved house.

It became a piece of graphic art from photos, for obvious reasons, and was completed in full colour using hand rendered photo textures, then that digital painting was turned into the cover you see here. Whew!


What do you reckon then? Favourite? Or should I have paid someone?


Adding paperback to a Kindle ebook

Did you know that in addition to digital publishing, Amazon also provides a print-on-demand service called Createspace? I’d heard good things about adding a paperback version because it integrates with Kindle. This means the product page for my (tense, mysterious) new book Ten Steps to Fray shows two products – one for the ebook and one for the paperback.


This gives the (correct) impression that the book is available in more formats, which helps with the sense of professionalism your page gives off. It can be of genuine use too – One of my friends who doesn’t own a Kindle wanted the paperback version, and with just a click that wasn’t a problem!

embedded-product-types-2The other thing this allows you to do is show to comparative prices next to one another.

The 99p is the UK price for my Kindle version, the £4.55 the price for the paperback version, so when the customer looks at the sales page they see they are saving a whopping 78% by going with the Kindle version. Everyone likes a saving.

Anyway, the other wonderful thing a printed copy allows you to do is hold the actual book in your hand (as shown above!). To a new author that’s a pretty great feeling. The copy is sitting above my desk now.

So, what do you think of printed books? Worth the time to set up?