Writing inspiration – a Christmas photo

Walking through town tonight after work I realised how much inspiration can be taken from everyday surroundings -particularly in the festive season.

Take this photo I took for example. A 15 foot high illuminated reindeer that conjures ideas of fantasy, magical lands and amazing beasts.

The other day I dragged myself away from my iPhone to notice a statue intricately carved with swords and flowers. I have walked past this every day for 18 months but never noticed.

I spend so much time glued to my laptop or my phone hoping to perfect my latest novel or Tweet help and support to fellow authors that I often forget that the best ideas and inspiration often go unnoticed day in day out.

Take a moment to absorb your surroundings. You’ll be surprised at what jumps out at you. Feel free to comment with links to images of what you notice today. It might help spark someone’s immigration.

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Sneak preview of my promotional goodies

As many of you know my first fantasy fiction novel – Tirfo Thuin – is due to be released before the end of the year. In preparation for this I have been busy finishing my cover and getting some promotional goodies together. I’ll report back on how successful they are once I am a few months into 2012.

However, as the number of sales versus cost on most printed promotions is probably extremely low I decided to look into Vistaprint (other print companies are available). I get daily emails from Vistaprint for free items such as business cards, brochures, pens etc. You simply pay the postage. I gave it a go and the results are great.

I got 250 free premium business cards (which I can pop in Christmas cards or hand out to people I see with a Kindle on the tram). Whilst they are not entirely free I think this is a bargain at just £4.53. This cost covers £0.69 to use my own image as opposed to the templates they provide and the rest is postage. Even if it doesn’t pay of it not a huge risk due to the low cost.

TirfoThuin Business Card

Let me know what you think of the design – it is difficult to get across all the information you want to in such a small area. Also, feel free to share your experiences if you have taken similar approaches and have any good tips on how to promote your books offline.

Check out some of the offers here: http://www.vistaprint.co.uk. If you sign up for newsletters or purchase something you tend to get a lot more offers for free things in email newsletters.

 

Fantasy fiction cover art inspiration

I am looking for some inspiration to make my first fantasy fiction novel cover stand out from the crowd. You can view it here. I would love it if you could comment with links to similar genre artwork, illustrations and illustrators or general sites with examples of interesting book covers.

I have also received some great advice on Twitter such as losing the fancy ‘i’s. Any feedback – good or bad – is appreciated.

Remember, rate the post as well so I know the general verdict on the cover art.

Thanks.

Whose or Who’s

Spelling and grammar checks in software such as Microsoft Word are very useful. However, there are many cases they may not pick up such as when using words like whose and who’s or their and there etc.

Even the most grammatically correct author can make mistakes and typos so it is important to ensure you search for these types of words within your manuscript and check they are used correctly in each context.

Remember:

  • Who’s’ is used in place of ‘who is’ or ‘who has’. For example, ‘Who’s playing football today?’ This would be more likely to appear in dialogue as opposed to formal essays or documentation.
  • ‘Whose’ is actually a possessive term that means ‘belonging to who’ or ‘of whom’. For example, ‘Whose papers are these?’

A good rule of thumb is to see if you could replace the word ‘whose’ with ‘who is’. If you cannot then you are probably right to use ‘whose’.

Hope this helps. Obviously, to those who already know this then this post is probably pretty useless but not everyone knows everything so if this helps one aspiring author it will be worthwhile.

Fiction Authors on Twitter

Introduction

Twitter imageAs a Fantasy Fiction author who is hoping to self publish before the end of the year I have spent just over a month now on Twitter (@tirfothuin) and scouring the Twitterverse for authors like me, people I think I can help or could help me in my quest to become a successful published fiction author. I now follow many authors and many of these follow back. I thought it might be useful for people in the same position I was a month ago to have a ready made list of people they could follow from the off to kick start their Twitter experience.

If you would like me to add you to this list please Like/Tweet this post and then comment below with your Twitter account, a link to your site and whether you are already published or not.

The following list is a mixture of Fantasy, Sci-fi and general authors who I find interesting or useful. Please let me know if you believe you fall under a different category as I expect this list will develop and grow over the coming months.

Published

Unpublished

Other

Please can you Rate/Like/Tweet this post so as many people as possible can benefit from this start list of fiction authors on Twitter.

You can also find an additional list that contains some extra accounts not mentioned here over at Brian Rathbones site – http://BrianRathbone.com

Fantasy Fiction Authors on Twitter

The reason for this post is two-fold. Firstly I wanted to begin generating a list of Fantasy Fiction and Science Fiction author Twitter accounts. I know I have spent some time over the last month looking for, and following, other fiction authors so thought this list might help people.

I currently have quite a large selection but would like to open this up to any fantasy fiction and sci-fi authors who would like to be included. All you need to do to get on the list is follow @tirfothuin and send a DM. I need your Twitter name, fantasy fiction/sci-fi/both, published/not published (as I will create two categories) and a link to a published piece of work if you have one.

In exchange if you have a blog of your own I would appreciate if you could add a link to my blog and I’ll do the same in return.

The second reason for this post was to check out how well my new WordPress iPhone app adds posts to my blog so we will see.

Using ‘Manuscript’ for iPad to write your novel

I have to say I would never normally consider writing a novel on an iPad. It would be my laptop every time. However, recently I have found myself travelling on a packed train for around an hour a day and thought it would be good to be able to continue editing and tweaking my first novel on the move.

For this reason I invested in the iPad app ‘Manuscript’ at £4.99. This app does exactly what I expected it to. The developers, ‘Black Mana Studios’, state the following:

  • ‘Create a manuscript from scratch or import from Dropbox.
  • Outline your manuscript using multiple levels – pitch, synopsis, index cards and individual chapter outline
  • Color coded Index cards that serve as a repository for ideas, character development, reminders and more.
  • Each chapter can be outlined individually. You can create empty chapters, outline them, and then pour content into them in any order you like.
  • Use Wikipedia, Google, Wiktionary from within the app.
  • Backup your work-in-progress or export your finished manuscript to Dropbox as an RTF,TXT or HTML file that can be read by both Mac and PC.’

The issue I have found with this app, however, is formatting. In order to get your book into the app you need to covert your novel to .txt format. What this means is you need to save from Word (if that is your prefered writing software) and have to follow the instructions on how to differentiate between chapters etc. Once in Manuscript I found that there were several sentences that appeared to have a break in them so spent a considerable amount of time going through my novel and hitting delete to remove the gaps and ensure the paragraphs flowed correctly.

After a couple of months of successful editing using this app I came to want an export to send to someone for review. I exported in .txt format and found I had a very large plain text document with line breaks all over the place. Again, I had to work through this document and tidy it up. Once done I expected to be able to simply copy and paste straight to word and save back as a .docx file. However, when pasting back into Word I had to then go through the entire novel again to remove rogue line breaks, reindent certain lines and just generally tidy it up again. Admittedly, it appears some of this may be down to how a basic .txt file can lose formatting but it was a bad experience overall. Also, it appears they have now added a RTF or HTML export option as well which could prove to be more successful but it still would not be a seemless process.

I think if the guys at Black Mana Studios could look at a more seemless integration from Microsoft Word documents to prevent the pain of having to create different formats this would be a big win.

Overall I’d give the app 4/5 for actual content entry and use as a basic writing and editing tool but 2/5 for overall experience and satisfaction. I think if, as a writer, you know you are going to be going back to Word anyway and this is a temporary measure to allow you to edit on the move then this is nowhere near as seemless an experience as it needs to be. I am yet to try any of the alternatives but, for the time being, I think I will just stick to the laptop.

Let me know your experiences using an iPad to write your novels.

Some general writing and editing tips

Being well into the editing stages, and near completion of my first fantasy fiction novel, I thought I would share some nuggets of information. These are collated from several sources – online, in print and advice from other authors.

This advice is not focussed on fantasy and fiction but is general advice to help improve your writing.

  1. Adverbs – try to use these sparingly and definitely avoid using strings of them. Use ‘Andrew hurried across the street’ instead of ‘Andrew went quickly across the street.’ Adverbs often work better at the start or the end of a sentence.
  2. Adjectives – as with adverbs, try to use these sparingly and never a string of them. ‘Very’ should be stripped out as it is known as the weakest adjective.
  3. Delete redundancies – do not write the sky above or he stood up. Write the sky or he stood.
  4. Scrutinise every description and try to reduce long sentences to shorter, snappier sentences to help create pace and tension in a scene. Don’t try to describe what doesn’t need describing. New authors have a tendency to describe absolutely everything in a scene. If it does not add any value get rid of it. In a restaurant scene, the reader doesn’t need to know about every action such as picking up a fork, picking up a knife, cutting the steak, putting down the knife and fork and picking up the glass etc.
  5. Try to give a description in action. Do not say ‘Several flags stood atop the government building say ‘Several flags billowed atop the government building.’
  6. Whose eyes are we looking through? Is it clear the author is intruding and providing information the character could not possibly know?
  7. Do not open your book with a lengthy description of the weather. People will tend to sift through this and lose interest easily. This is a common mistake by newbie writers but everyone knows the variations in the weather. Get to the point and the characters.
  8. Keep exclamations to a minimum. I read a rough guide somewhere of 1-2 per 80,000 words on average.
  9. Avoid unneccessary confusion when describing acts. Do not say ‘His eyes travelled to the cockpit’ as this gives the impression his eyes moved to the cockpit.
  10. Keep going – sometimes it is better to let the words flow out of you and to just keep going regardless of what you are putting down. You are going to heavily edit it at a later stage anyway. In the first instance get your ideas down on paper and keep the writing flowing.
  11. Finishing your book – is this how you want your book to end? Does it leave the reader feeling as though there was a purpose to the time invested in reading your novel? Will they want to read more? Would they buy another of your books?
  12. Another key bit of advice I have received is to try to read your novel aloud. This may seem silly but it actually helps to understand the flow of your sentences and dialogue in a way not possible when reading your story in your head.

I realise I am only just completing my first fantasy fiction novel but I believe I have accumulated several key bits of advice that become crucial in the editing stage. They also appear to be points that are easily overlooked so it is worth reviewing a chapter of your completed book with the above in mind just to see if any of these have crept in without you realising.

Simple steps and resources for cover art design

It appears the dilemma of cover art is one that can really delay an author in their self publishing journey. Having spent 10 years+ in the graphic design and web design field this is the part of the journey I actually find easiest. However, I can imagine this is a real problem for some creatives who favour the actual writing and hide away from the cover design area completely

However, in the fast paced digital world of ebooks it is often the case that your cover will be the reason a buyer clicks to read more or simply skips over your books on to the next one that looks much more appealing. Your cover needs to be eye-catching (but not garish), suit the target market and, often, hint at themes within your book without giving anything away. I always find it nice to look at a cover once I have finished a book and think ‘oh yeah, I see why they put that on or did this a certain way.’

What makes a book stand out on a bookshelf?

There are several supplier and services you can look to do this for you – for a price. occasionally you might find a designer who is willing to do this for free (or very little) whilst they attempt to boost their portfolio.

If you would like to do this yourself, or at least give it a try, there are several free tools and some good resources you need to be aware of.

Number 1 – the software

Without this you aren’t going to get very far. A licence for Photoshop is going to set you back a fair bit and there are alternatives you can use that are free.

  • GIMP is the GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed piece of software for such tasks as photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It works on many operating systems, in many languages
  • Paint.NET is free image and photo editing software for computers that run Windows. It features an intuitive and innovative user interface with support for layers, unlimited undo, special effects, and a wide variety of useful and powerful tools.
  • Pixlr is one of the most popular online photo editors in the world – offering Photoshop like functionality bu through a browser interface.

Number 2 – Imagery

The key factor here is cost. You will easily find free stock imagery if you look close enough (and check the terms and conditions carefully). Sometimes you might find imagery that you do not need to pay for but you must include a credit to the creator – not a bad price if the image is right. The final option is paying for an image. Again you must investigate that the terms and conditions allow you to use the image for this purpose (book print or e-book) but then it is just down to how much you want to pay.

  • stock.xchng – Browse through the categories of our huge gallery containing over 350.000 quality stock photos by more than 30.000 photographers!
  • Istockphoto – iStockphoto is the web’s original source for user-generated, royalty-free stock photos, illustrations, video, audio and Flash.
  • Shutterstock – Shutterstock is the largest subscription-based stock photo agency in the world.
  • Morguefile – The morgueFile free photo archive section. Here you can download a contribute to the free photo image archive.

Doing a simple Google search for Royalty Free images will provide several more sites that may be of help.

Number 3 – Typefaces

I would advise not going overboard with different fonts. Use a strong font for you book title that will be legible when the cover is thumbnail size. As a general rule of thumb make sure the type is legible at 15% of the size of the original book cover.

As with imagery, it is important to only use fonts you are licensed to do so. If you are purchasing fonts you need to buy ones that say ‘licenced for commercial use’ or follow whatever restrictions the owner of the typeface imposes. For example, as with imagery, there may be typefaces you can use by simply crediting the creator.

Number 4 – Inspiration

This is an easy one – search for books. Do searches on major stores such as Amazon and browse the local bookstores to see what jumps out at you and learn from the techniques they have used. If a particular cover stands out from the crowd work out why it caught your eye. Is it colour? Imagery? Placement of type?

Conclusion

The tools and resources are out there for you to create a cover that inspires readers. The main thing is research – research your target market, research other covers in your genre and research licence implications for images and fonts. If it doesn’t work out you always have a starting point to show a designer of the ideas you had to date.

Some useful writing and publishing links

This being a relatively new blog I thought it might be worth sharing some useful links that I have found recently. There is a mixture here so you might only find the odd one or two gems here but always good to see a handful of someone elses’ bookmarks. Feel free to comment with any useful additions that you think the writing community might be interested in. As my collection builds I will look to create a post with a best of the best list of links divided into specific categories.