Accidental-On Purpose Kindle Purchases

Just last night I was thinking about the Oscars ceremony from a few days ago – not for the obvious reason that the best picture was mis-announced (oops!) – but because Denis Villeneuve’s film Arrival, based on the  story by acclaimed sci-fi writer Ted Chiang, picked up the award for best sound editing.

You’ve probably read about Arrival already, as it came out months ago, but of the fairly small number of films I watched in 2016, it was my favourite. Its appeal struck me from several directions, but I’d cite in particular the sympathetic and generally decent, human-like behaviour of its characters, the intelligence of both the science and fiction parts of science fiction, and the general sense of atmosphere that was conjured up on screen. In fact, I’d recommend it just for the first encounter between the main character and the alien creatures – it’s fantastically eerie and, well, alien-feeling, but there’s much more to recommend it. The message of the film is worth mentioning too, as it’s refreshingly positive without being in any way maudlin or cheesy.

Anyway, I didn’t need to buy the book, but ended up doing so completely on a whim, in the space of a few seconds, without having to take a single step in any direction.

My Kindle is by no means the latest thing; in fact it’s a 2010 model, the one with the clunky, awkward keyboard tacked on. And yet, I was able to interrupt my reading of the book I was actually pursuing at that moment (The Wretched of Muirwood, by Jeff Wheeler, which I’m so far enjoying very much), have a little peruse of the Kindle Storefront in strangely laggy, black and white raiment, and with a twitch of my thumb, wire £5-something in the direction of Chiang esq. and his esteemed colleagues.

The actual book is not called Arrival, but rather Stories of Your Life and Others (it being a collection of novellas, of which the source material, Stories of Your Life, is one). I’ve not finished it yet (nor read any of the other novellas the volume contains), but have already noticed some interesting differences between the writing and the film. I won’t say one is better or worse, but the stories are each clearly aware that they are being told through two different media. Perhaps most interestingly (and this is something that strikes you more when you read the book), although based on a very short piece of work I never got the impression of the film story having been stretched out or padded.

I’ll get back to you when I’ve consumed more of the book, as well as Jeff Wheeler’s work, but in the meantime I’m going to keep my Kindle’s wi-fi switched off. I didn’t need another book as it was, but the convenience of the purchase, along with not having to wonder where I’m going to put the thing, how long it’ll take in the post etc. etc. just make it a little too convenient.

Have you  ever lost your wits and succumbed to your Kindle’s convenience? What’s the most you’ve ever spent there without intending to?


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 (now repackaged as Tempus Abbey) 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?

Coming tomorrow!

Like fantasy? Like suspense? Like the idea of Pratchett and Pullman combining to make something not quite as good as either? Then you’ll LOVE Ten Steps to Fray!

On Sat 3rd Sept 2016 this new suspense fantasy novella will be launching FREE on Kindle for a limited time. Subscribe here for the download link, as well as writing on libraries, architecture and academia.