Forcing Yourself to Write: Results

In March I set out a challenge for myself – to produce a short story 1000 words at a time, and upload the sections each day as a way of forcing myself to produce something consistently. And it sort of worked!

Alright, so I didn’t finish the story, but I got far enough through that the general shape of it was visible. In fact, apart from the ending, it was basically done, so that’s a success of sorts. I’ve now decided to enlarge the story into a proper novella, which I’ll be giving away for free when it’s done

There was another benefit too! Not only does publishing each day’s writing keep me somewhat more productive than I would otherwise have been, it also last month gave the readers of this blog a little story to read along with. Take a look!

blog views

Admittedly my blog is hardly setting the world on fire even at its most “popular”, but equally I know I won’t have to point out to you where it was I stopped uploading each day. The fact remains that while I was uploading this blog enjoyed its greatest popularity so far. Since then, um, not so much…

Having looked back over what I wrote last month, I’ve think the story needs to be a little longer in order to iron out some pacing issues, so I’m going to resume uploading one chapter at a time for your enjoyment, and hopefully see some more progress!

Are you a deadline writer? How do you approach the mechanical task of sitting down and producing something?

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Making an Audiobook version of an indie Novel

I recently decided that as a useful way of proofing my new novel manuscript, I would do a reading of it. Let me expound my reasons for you.

It’s a 160,000 word novel, and after reading it through several times, over what feels like many, many months I just can’t face the idea of reading it in my head again.

I’ve purchased a shiny new microphone. After some research I settled on a RODE NT-USB, which, as its name suggests, has the advantage of connecting to one’s computer using a USB port, which makes things simpler. In addition to that it comes with a built-in pop screen and offers a very impressive level of quality. Yeti microphones are another popular option, but the RODE was my personal choice.

I’ve got a YouTube channel. So far I’ve only really got one video of note up there, a Wind in the Willows complete illustrated audiobook that I put up in 2013. As of now, it’s got about 78,000 views, which I’m pretty pleased with. The reasons for that solid number (I suspect) are the fact that there is a fairly large and stable base of people using You Tube to look for audiobook, and a fairly large proportion of those looking for Wind in the Willows, which means that a video that can distinguish itself (mine offers completeness – it’s the whole book, unique illustrations for each chapter, and is read in an English accent that works better than it might for, say, Huckleberry Finn) will attract a certain, stable number of clicks. Mine gets about 100 views per day, give or take 20. So that’s good and dandy, but I’m also trying to promote my new novel, and you have to use the tools you’ve got, after all. So I’ve decided to put out a preview on my channel, and hopefully a small number of people will come by and decide to give mine a look.

But, you cry, how do you make your new audiobook?

Well, having had some experience before, might I first refer you to the point above about the choice of microphone. The Wind in the Willows audiobook was recorded using a small voice recorder with a kitchen sponge stuck on the end to act as a pop screen. It worked… adequately, for what it was. I guess. Not great, anyway. I don’t know for sure, but I’ve got a feeling that some of the dislikes my first effort received (fortunately a small number compared to the likes) were due to sound quality, which is perfectly listenable-to, but not exactly studio.

So you’ve got a microphone. Good start. You will also need: some writing; a computer; some software to record audio; some software to edit audio; some software to turn audio into a video; some software to make imagery to go with the audio on the video, and; somewhere to put up the video when you’ve made it. Got all that? Smashing.

My setup is somewhere between hobbyist and rank amateur, so I’m rolling with the following:

  • A RODE NT-USB microphone
  • My novel
  • A six year old Dell laptop with dodgy screen hinges
  • Audacity (which is free) for the recording and editing
  • Windows Movie Maker (also free; stop laughing at the back there) for making a video
  • GIMP (free – you see a pattern) for creating video imagery
  • The aforementioned YouTube channel for uploading the gourmet AV experience these ingredients serve up

Other than that, the main thing is to be aware than recording in a dynamic and listenable way is quite tiring, physically, and going from laying out your equipment to clicking the “Publish” button on your platform of choice typically takes many, many times longer than the actual run-time of the video.

This is what I’ve come up with: https://youtu.be/xbOMAEsCHMg

Please take a look and let me know what you think. This is very much still a learning experience, so any advice you can offer is well appreciated. And if you’re wondering, the novel will be available very soon!

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

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.

Next!

 

 

 

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?