Thursday, 28 February 2013

Out There: eBooks

By JJ Marsh and Liza Perrat

We all made the decision to handle our own eBooks, and not to use a self-publishing service. Why? Between us, we have the expertise as editors, proofers, formatters and entrepreneurs, plus we’d rather stay in control. Not to mention the money-saving aspect. But many people would recommend using a self-publishing organisation.

Here’s what we did, step-by-step.

Make a new WORD document/file and include the following documents:

- Title page

- Copyright verso (we did two: one for Amazon, one for Smashwords, Nook and Kobo)

- The final, edited, proofed manuscript, all in one document

- Dedication

- Acknowledgements

- Contents

- If you enjoyed this book ... page

- Blurb for next in the series

- Blurb & cover for other Triskele releases

The only things at the front are the title and copyright, so readers browsing a sample can get to the story fast. Everything else goes at the back, unlike the order for a paperback.
(Note: all Triskele titles are fiction – with non-fiction books, it might make more sense to have the contents at the front.)


Thankfully, JD Smith is not only a cover design genius, but an extremely capable interior formatter. We sent her a zipfile with all the elements above and she did the rest for a very reasonable fee. Our advice: pay someone professional and forget the stress.

But it is possible to do this stage yourself, if you have the time and patience – have a look at Guido Henkel’s guide:

Now here’s where you need to make a choice. Do you want to sell exclusively via Amazon, or do you want your ebook available on readers such as Kobo, Nook, Sony, Apple and Diesel? If it’s the former, you only need format the book for Kindle.

If the latter, you’ll need to format the book for Smashwords (the easiest way to access all the platforms above). Download the free Style Guide and get to work:

Post-formatting checklist

- Transfer formatted Kindle version to your Kindle/iPad. How does it look?

- Is the ISBN number correct for each version?

- Are chapter indents OK?

- Ensure scene breaks have no chapter indent at beginning of new scenes.

- Italics are where they should be and nowhere else.

- Words don’t look “bunched up”, ie, correct spacing in between.

- Correct chapter chronology and chapter numbers appear in centre of page.

- Correct page number chronology.

- No breaks in narrative from page to page.

- eBook: “Contents” page links work + chronology in book matches “Contents”.

- Paperback: check ‘Drop Caps’ - bigger font for first letter of each chapter

- Are clickable links working properly?

All done? Right, you’re ready to start the upload process. For that you’ll need:

- Formatted interior

- Cover

- Blurb

Blurb is vital

Your blurb, along with your cover, is what will sell your book. Work at it. Study others in the genre. Get feedback. Hone it. Include Keywords (see Metadata section in Wish You Were Here chapter). Every single word counts. End on a punch. Make sure it’s perfect before you even think about uploading.

Advice from Pioneers

When it came to navigating the upload process, all of us at Triskele used the idiot-proof guide Let’s Get Digital, by David Gaughran. He advises on publisher name (we each created a Publisher Name which was different to that of the author), Pricing, DRM (we chose not to enable – see Snapshot 10), Categories and Keywords, and International Rights. Amazon will assign you an ASIN, which you can use alongside or instead of an ISBN.

Now, open your Amazon KDP account and add your book.

If you’re sticking with Amazon only, you might want to enrol in KDP Select. You can do this for three months at a time, with the option to re-enrol automatically. This scheme gives you a variety of advantages such as five days when you can offer your book free and a lending library for enhanced revenue.

If you want the book available to a wider range of ereaders than Kindle, consider Smashwords. The Style Guide above will help you get the formatting right, and opening an account is easy. Once approved, your book is available to all other ereading devices.

At Triskele, we chose to upload our books directly to Amazon, Smashwords and Kobo. Although Smashwords distributes directly to Kobo, it’s an easy and speedy process to join Kobo Writing Life. We are also curious about the Japanese company Rakuten’s takeover of the Canadian company and the mission to promote Kobo in Asia.

eBooks are updateable

If the odd typo comes to light, a research fact changes or you want to shuffle the contents, it’s simple to update the content on all the platforms above, and the new, improved version will be available the next day.

eBooks can also be iterative, which opens all sorts of intriguing possibilities:

The Fundamentals of Good Cover Design #1 - Triskele Toolbox 4

By JD Smith

Poor image choice, bad cropping, stretched imagery, tacky Photoshop manipulation, terrible font choice and typography, hideous colours … pretty much everything.

But are the fundamentals of good cover design? What is a ‘bad’ font choice? How does one know? I was once asked to tell someone what was wrong with their cover design which they’d cobbled together themselves on some awful software which should be relegated to the 80s. The crux was, they didn’t understand what was and wasn’t good design.

The fundamentals of good design are good imagery, good font choice, good composition, good colour choice, good typography. The problem lies in choosing those elements well, bearing in mind a number of aspects including the genre and market, and then making them work for you.

It’s really hard to explain why something is good (or bad) without doing a workshop and showing examples - pointing out how this lines up with that; how putting this image here and adding this specific gradient gives X amount of space in proportion to Y, and thereby giving ample space for the title if you a have it like this, how boosting the contrast here and muting it there makes the whole ensemble punch  ... etc.

You can be born with a talent and a passion for design, but you don’t just go on a course and become a good designer, you have to learn through experience. I spent years presenting work to senior designers to be signed off before it was put in front of a client.  And I spent years having it sent back to me telling me it wasn’t good enough, and having to learn why and how to improve it.  Moulding a cover together with so many factors being taken into consideration is something that eventually becomes second nature. Bit like writing really. It's easy to point out spelling errors and 'the rules' of writing to someone, but when a piece of writing is 'okay' it's difficult to pinpoint and explain and demonstrate exactly how and why it hasn't got that X-Factor: change this one element of the plot and it will sell in the millions – it just doesn’t work like that.

Another thing to bear in mind is that design, like everything else, follows trends. This doesn’t affect generally whether a design is good or bad in terms of layout, but it can mean that even a good design, rather than ‘standing out,’ can be perceived as dated. The same applies to genre. A good cover placed on the ‘wrong’ book can really affect sales.  A romance style cover on a sci-fi book, for example, will cause the book to be overlooked by sci-fi readers, regardless of the content.

The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland


 Review by Liza Perrat
Having loved Company of Liars, I was excited to read Karen Maitland’s next novel, The Owl Killers, set in Ulewic, a 14th century village near Norfolk.

For centuries, Ulewic has been ruled by both the lord of the manor and by the Owl Masters - a predatory, pagan group empowered by fear, blackmail and superstition to dispense a harsh form of law and order.
A group of religious women settles in a beguinage outside the village and when their crops succeed and their animals survive diseases, jealousy and conflict are brought to a head in Ulewic.
The author uses a multiple narrative voice flawlessly, each voice distinct and compelling. I engaged with every one of the characters, whose lives are drawn out smoothly and interwoven into the main story in an unobtrusive and enjoyable way.
Pagan and Christian ways intermingle and clash, the story steeped in witchcraft, heresy, mystery, suspense and tragedy. At times very dark and bleak, it also evokes human nature at its best, and explores the power of faith.
The author has vividly brought to life a medieval community where the mind was ruled by religion and superstition. Through simple, lyrical prose, she builds the plot to a conclusion that provides both resolution and the expectation of what might have happened next.
Karen Maitland truly knows how to write about what interests her, and I would highly recommend The Owl Killers to fans of historical fiction and the supernatural.

Review by Liza Perrat - first published in Words with JAM

Sir Richard Taylor of Weta Workshop - Triskele Toolbox 3.

….. on the need for good storytelling and the importance of cross media in the future of  publishing.

The man who brought you Narnia, Middle Earth, Skull Island among many, many others is probably one of the best placed people to discuss the issue of cross-media and multi-media storytelling. From his involvement in huge budget Hollywood movies to his passion for cartoon creations to his inspirations for up-to-the-minute computer games … everything he develops now has one eye to the future, and the constantly moving target of taking established stories to new readers in as many formats as available.

Sir Richard Taylor is a man who has his finger well and truly on the button of the future.

He is passionate and totally committed to his craft – and equally as enthusiastic about embracing the challenges and changes facing every writer in the future. He believes the need to diversify is crucial. And that as writers, we have fundamental questions we should be asking ourselves.

Once the book is complete, how can we attract as many new readers as possible? How can we address the huge array of formats available to today’s consumer? How can we attract and keep their attention in a world that seems determined to do its very best to offer as many distractions as possible?

And he is determined that even if we find these opportunities daunting – they are opportunities that we must take.

Even so, he is first to recognise the importance of good, old-fashioned storytelling and the crucial role the author plays in creating the acorn that can develop, with love, patience and endurance, in to a huge, sprawling oak.

Gillian Hamer met him at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2012. 

It has been said that Hollywood is more interested in merchandising rather than telling a good story. What do you do that’s different and what do you attribute your success to?

No film-maker ever sets out to do a bad job. And Hollywood certainly is only focussed on success. And film-making is almost a black art. If you actually stopped to think about what it takes to make a movie, you probably wouldn’t make a movie. Because it’s such an intangible and complex process.

Having said that, writing a novel, it’s incomprehensible to me how difficult that must be for an individual to go on that journey alone. But it is an individual pursuit, and it’s almost exclusively the challenge of one person. A film on the scale of a blockbuster feature film, is the collaboration, the rallying, of thousands of people. A human endeavour. Almost unprecedented in any other part of the world’s industries, to bring that content to the screen.

And the Hollywood film-maker has the best possible intention of making content that is going to add gravitas and longevity and celebration in the industry and in the popular culture of the world. Sometimes it doesn’t quite work out that way, but in respect to your question, it all cumulates around Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, because they are great storytellers. Regardless of their film-making prowess, they make beautiful stories.

In the epic, Peter always finds the intimate. That’s the heart of every great story and great film, and something that is sometimes missed in the great blockbusters. The spectacle films that are made these days, is that in the epic, they continue to show the epic. But of course you go to a movie to form a relationship, you read a book to form a relationship, with a set of characters that you can otherwise not get in your normal life. And that will only happen in the intimate. It will never happen in the epic.

So it doesn’t matter if it’s King Kong or if it’s Frodo, as long as you connect?

Yes, you have to offer a unique character, that we want to go on a journey with. A book, arguably, is even more difficult, because you’ve got to go on a multiple week journey, or however long it takes someone to read a book. Or in my case a very long time! And I need to love and even love to hate that character, because that character has to be that engaging. You know, why did we all love Harry Potter? It’s because we grew to have those people as family members in our lives.

You mentioned earlier cross-media in the Storydrive Conference. Does Weta deal with games and other mediums? And how do you think they enhance the storytelling?

We aspire to be involved in as many of the mediums as possible. We haven’t yet made our own game, although we’ve designed for gamemakers, and we are right now in the infancy of developing our first game around the world of Doctor Grordbort.

In answer to your question, it can only enhance, because any piece of popular culture that keeps you immersed in the universe is critical. The way I visualise it, the fan is a lighthouse and the fan sends a beam out across the ocean. When we were kids – I’m 47 now – when you and I were kids, the number of boats in the ocean was tiny. You know, there was Andy Pandy and Sooty and Sweep, there was Basil Brush and Thunderbirds.

Today the ocean is crowded with boats, and that light beam scans across the ocean and you want the fan to lock on to your boat and stick with it. But of course today you have create a flotilla of boats. You have the main battleship, but then there’s all the other smaller crafts around it, which is the game, the e-book, the graphic novel, augmented reality possibilities, the presentation and so on. All of it trying to capture that tiny beam of interest, and of course once you grab them you’ve got to feed them, because there is a ravenous desire for more content.

Because they can access it anywhere.

And they can access any amount of it. Billions of opportunities, and everyone competing.

Do you think about that when you’re designing or plotting Gollum or a WotWot? Do you think how it’s going to work in the next generation, media, or whatever the new release might be?

Yes. It is critical to. For me, at 47, I get it, and I like to think that I can think that broadly, but I have to turn to the young people and our design team for inspirational advice because popular culture sprouts as weeds through the pavements of the world. You can’t just go out and decide to squeeze popular culture out of your brain; it’s got to evolve through a morphic, complex process of it rising up. And then it reaches somewhere where it engages across the world. And it’s youth culture.

Which is maybe a little bit alien to our generation?

To some degree it is. Although, the day that I don’t get it, is the day that I need to pack it in because it’s as critical that you’re tapped into that as much as possible. Going to ComicCon is a critical thing for someone like me. In those three days you can absorb such an unbelievable richness of popular culture, that otherwise you may travel the world for months and never get it. So you have to be very aware and savvy to what’s happening, and it’s incredibly time-consuming. But it’s a crucial exercise and worth it, very, very worth it.

© Gillian E Hamer – excerpts from Words with Jam magazine Dec 2012.

Hearing Voices From the Past - Triskele Toolbox 2.

History, they say, is written by the victorious.  It is also, by and large, written by those who are well educated, articulate and comparatively well-off.  Even when writers like Dickens and Defoe write about people from the poorest sections of society, the voices are filtered through the lens of the authors’ understanding and the stories they want to tell.  But long before the advent of audio tapes, there was one place where the voices of ordinary men, women and children were recorded raw and verbatim.  And that was in court.

The Old Bailey, London’s Central Criminal Court provides an archive of court proceedings from 1674-1913 – a total of 197,745 criminal trials.  Available as a fully searchable, free, on-line resource, it’s an incredible gift for historical novelists in particular.
Unlike the court records today, these Proceedings were not kept as a legal requirement, but were done for popular publication.  As such, they are not comprehensive transcripts of everything that was said in court.  However, as the introduction on the website explains, authenticity was one of their strongest selling points and the reputation of the Proceedings would have quickly suffered had the accounts been unreliable.  But for writers, what makes this a particularly exciting source is witness testimony – the most fully reported element of the trials.

A sister publication, also available on the Old Bailey site, is the “Ordinary of Newgate’s Account”, 1676-1772.  The Ordinary was the chaplain of Newgate prison, charged with providing spiritual care to prisoners condemned to death. One of the questionable perks of the job was the right to publish an account of the prisoners’ last dying speeches and behaviour on the scaffold, together with stories of their lives and crimes. The online archive thus contains biographies of some 2,500 executed criminals.

The Proceedings reveal fascinating details of daily lives. For example, there was clearly a regular scam, worthy of The Real Hustle, being perpetrated in London through the eighteenth century.  I discovered a series of cases where a woman comes to your house and offers to tell your fortunes.  She tells you there is a great treasure buried under the house, and that if you are able to give her a little gold and silver (coins, spoons, buttons and buckles) she will be able to help you find it.  Then by a variety of sleights of hands, these goods are then swapped or whisked away, and of course no treasure is found. Look at the wonderfully vivid language with which this scam is described by Elizabeth Ferrand, the wife of a cabinet maker.
She said, ‘Young woman I have been home and examined my books, and find there is a great deal of money hid in your house’; said I, ‘I do not believe there is’; said she, ‘I am no jew, nor no gypsey; I am the 7th daughter of a West India woman, and I wish the d—l may take me alive, and that God may never receive my soul into heaven, if I am not telling you the truth.’

Don’t think this is only of interest if you are writing about London.  The jurisdiction of the court has always extended out into the countryside surrounding London (in the early days, rural Middlesex and then, as London grew, parts of Essex, Kent and Surrey).  Thus the Proceedings reflect small communities and rural life as much as the hurly-burly of the capital.

The Proceedings can be eye-openers to attitudes of the time.  One case, highlighted in the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Voices from the Old Bailey’, was of Katharine Hays who, in 1772, conspired to murder her violent and abusive husband. Not only was no leniency shown her as a result of the abuse she had suffered, but she was convicted of ‘petty treason’.  This crime, considered particularly heinous, applied to those who murdered someone held to be in authority over them, such as a servant murdering a master – or a wife murdering her husband.  As a result, rather than being hanged as a common murderer, Katharine Hays was burnt at the stake.
On the other hand, the principal of feme covert, although not often applied, meant that a woman could not be convicted of a crime committed in the presence of (or along with) her husband, since it was assumed that she must be acting under his orders.  This was the basis on which Martha Rogers was cleared in 1702 of receiving stolen goods.

As well as the transcripts, the Old Bailey site also contains a wealth of summary reports.  For example, there are reports on black communities, gypsies and travellers, the Irish, the Chinese, Jewish and Huguenot communities and on homosexuality.  These reports also give advice on the best search terms to use to find proceedings from trials involving these communities.  There are reports, too, on how London changed over the period of the Proceedings, and plenty of information about crime and punishment.

The advertisements printed with the accounts can be as intriguing as the main content.  Take this one for : Dr.Richard Rock's never failing TINCTURE for curing the TEETH (price, one shilling, with directions):
Which by once or twice using, cleanses the blackest or foulest Teeth, beyond Expression, by eradicating those scorbutick scurvy Humours, which are the Occasion thereof; and gives immediate Ease to those who are afflicted with the Tooth ach, and prevents the Return of that most violent Pain.
This article by Catriona Troth first appeared in Words with JAM magazine

Books About Writing - Triskele Toolbox 1.

A Personal Overview by JJ Marsh

The Art of Fiction – David Lodge
Ideal as an introduction to terms and examples in situ. The book is a collation of articles written for The Independent, so each chapter is succinct and to the point. Lodge uses examples from a wide range of literature to explore such concepts as Stream of Consciousness, Aporia and Metafiction. Focused on British and American literature, but warm and accessible. A likeable tutor.

13 Ways of Looking at the Novel
 Amanda Hodgkinson recommended this. I often describe a book as a ‘gem’, but this is an entire treasure chest of sparkly riches. Jane Smiley takes us on a personal journey around the literary world, asking hard questions, positing theories and offering advice. Her range is astounding and inspirational. My copy is bristling with Post-Its. What I love about this book is that it addresses the writer AND the reader. And hopefully, it makes me better at both.

Negotiating with the Dead – Margaret Atwood
In the same way as David Lodge’s book began as articles, Atwood’s work first found an audience as a series of lectures for Cambridge University. With the same witty, intelligent and thoughtful tones used in her novels, she talks about writing, writers and her own experiences. It’s unpretentious, generous and honest about being a woman and a writer. Less of a ‘how to’ and more of a ‘why’.

On Writing – Stephen King
Subtitled ‘A Memoir of the Craft’ and as always, he nails it. A personal take on how his work developed; he never claims genius, but champions hard work. Writing is a craft and he treats it as such. One can learn a lot from a skilled craftsman with his feet on the ground. A very human approach and rammed to the rooftops with quotable quotes. This is a pleasure to read.

Techniques of the Selling Writer - Dwight V. Swain
From the man with a name like a court case, one of the most practical books on my shelf. From Swain I learnt scene and sequel, a template I always use on first rewrite. His story elements technique is also a great way to find the basis of a blurb:
Write two sentences – one statement which establishes character, situation and objective. One closed question which nails opponent and disaster.
            When humans start growing to twelve-foot high, John Storm wants to find out why.
            But can he defeat traitors in high places who would kill him and fake an extra-terrestrial plot?

The Art of Dramatic Writing - Lajos Egri
Egri is a playwright but his principles hold for any kind of narrative. Premise – character – conflict. Egri’s reduction of premise if the best I’ve read.
Every good premise is composed of three parts: the first suggests character, ‘Ruthless ambition’; the second suggests conflict, ‘leads to’ and the third suggests the end, ‘destruction’.
Best advice: Prove the premise through the character’s choices in conflict. Egri showed up my amateurism in making the hero fully rounded and the baddie just plain bad. I should return to this book more often.

Story - Robert McKee
This one is my favourite. McKee is a screenwriter, but like Egri, the principles of storytelling are universal. The most useful element for me was the Value change – each section starts at one point on the scale and must have changed by the end. I mark every chapter accordingly. He’s precise and clear on set-ups and payoffs, exposition and storyworld, with smart references to cinematic examples. I will never lend my copy of Story to anyone. But thanks to Libby O for lending me hers.