Quick Update

Just want to write a quick note saying that I’ve decided to take the plunge: The Ancestor and Other Stories is now available only through Amazon as part of their KDP Select program!

I’ve been toying with this idea for a while now, and although there are pros and cons on both sides of the board, I’ve decided that the potential for exposure will greatly outweigh the lack of other stores to buy it in. After all, I’ve been making sales on Amazon, but nothing has gone through on Kobo yet.

The biggest challenge I’m facing as a first time self published author is getting my name out there. Sure, I could tweet my books and beg people to buy it all I want–but that’s not going to get me anything but blacklisted. I need honest readers to pick it up, leave reviews, or tell their friends. And KDP Select can help with that.

The most appealing thing, I think, is the five promotional days. Ryan Casey just had a fabulous success over the weekend with his promotion, and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me think twice about trying it myself. Of course, he’s already out there; I’m still testing the waters, so it may not be as effective for me.

But it’s better than just staring at all the folks in the swimming pool, waiting for someone to invite me in. 🙂

Horror Done Right

Credit to Marxchivist via Flikr

Today was a busy day at work, and I had to work through lunch–meaning I haven’t had time to put together a decent post. So I’m going to write up a quickie on a topic I’ve been sitting on for just such an occasion: what makes good horror literature.

First, a story: The Outsider, by H. P. Lovecraft. This is probably my favourite horror story, and it serves as a great example of the point I’m trying to make today. Go ahead, give it a read. I’ll wait.

Back?

Okay. The first thing you note about this story is the way it builds–and Lovecraft is a master at this kind of tension. You’ve got the whole story figured out right from the beginning paragraph–or so you think–and so the description and the action can appear a bit tedious. But the more you read, the more “off” everything feels. He drops hints here and there as to what’s really going on, while at the same time putting more and more of a veil over what you think you’ve figured out.

Then there’s the ending. At this point, you’ve probably understood what’s actually going on, but you can’t stop yourself–it’s like rolling down a hill with the break line cut, going fast and faster until you drive off the pier at the end.

And that is what good horror should be.

And, although I can’t claim to have mastered this myself yet, here’s the secret to writing good horror fiction: don’t work too hard. Let the reader do most of the work for you. Get them all worked up. Give them hints, but not too much; give them direction and plot, but leave just enough open that they have to do some thinking. And I don’t mean you should set up a mystery they should be trying to figure out: literally leave out certain details, don’t explain certain things.

A lot of writers are going to say that’s a cardinal sin, but I’ll stand by it. Think of the movie Alien. The whole reason it was scary was because you didn’t see the alien until it was too late. In the meantime, you see people’s horrified reactions, hear them panting as they run through the halls escaping it. And, most importantly: you’re making up your own alien to fit the stimuli.

Writing horror literature is about trusting the reader. You want them to follow along with your story and fill in the blanks, because–and trust me on this–anything the reader comes up with in their own mind is going to be infinitely more frightening than whatever you could come up with. And that’s not because you’re not a good writer–it’s because they know what scares them most. You don’t know that. You’ve probably never met your readers; how are you supposed to know what scares them? They know they’re reading a scary story, so they’ll fill in details with things they find scary. And half your work is done for you.

Okay, okay. I know it’s not really that simple. But it’s a start. And it’s a load off. I think a lot of writers and move makers try so hard to scare their audience that they fall on tired old tropes and ideas that nobody finds scary anymore. The first Friday the 13th was awesome because you’d never have guessed who the bad guy is; by Jason X (or, affectionately, Jason in Space) there’s nothing left to be scared of, so the director has to fill the movie with special effects and tons of gore.

And this is why Lovecraft is always going to be my favourite horror writer. His stories baffle me, complete and utterly. The things he describes have no meaning in this world–most of his characters literally go insane when they confront these things–but that means I can make them up myself. I follow his lead, of course, and every time I re-read a story I know exactly what’s going to happen.

But because I’m the one filling in the blanks, it happens differently every time. And he always gets me.

 

And hey, you wouldn’t expect me to pass up a golden opportunity like this would you? You can grab my own scary stories at Amazon and Kobo right now! Happy Halloween, everyone!

 

 

Creating Cover Text

Acestor TextSo you’ve written your book, you’ve formatted everything, and have a snazzy cover image. All you have to do now is slap the title on your image and you’re good to go, right?

Well, yes…if you want a quickie cover. But if you take some time, you can make it a lot more appealing. I got some ideas from J.M. Grimm, who has a Cover Design Primer on her blog; check it out, it’s invaluable information.

The image above is what I’m using for the cover of The Ancestor and Other Stories. It took me around six hours in total to mock it up–but most of that time was playing around, trying to get it just right. Now that I know the process, it won’t take as long–and you can benefit from my trial and error! Here’s what I did (all of this was done in Paint.net, a free program):

I created a small canvas, 500X275 pixels. The size doesn’t really matter, but keeping it small meant I had to fit all my text in that area–an area I knew would fit on the canvas for the cover image, which is 600X800.

Next, I added several layers and labelled them. I made the background layer black so my text (which is going to be a light color) showed up well; later we’ll be deleting that layer. I have three layers for text.

Cover Title 1

Making layers for the text

Select your font. Be careful where you get your fonts–many of them are licensed, and will cost you. I went to Font Squirrel, which has tons of fonts for free. Get two fonts, as it will create some tension and contrast in your cover. I decided to use one font (Carousel) for the capital letters, and another (Goblin) for the rest of the text. See J.M. Grimm’s advice on her blog; she talks a lot about the different kinds of typefaces, and some basic design advice as to which works with which. Very important information.

The capital letters went on one layer, and the rest of the text on a separate one. This enables me to move the capitals separately from the rest, so I can position them easily. Otherwise you risk clipping one or the other as you draw select boxes and move stuff around. Make your life easier, and use separate layers.

Cover title 2

I just put the title and subtitle in the middle there, but you can draw a select box and move it wherever you want.

Build your arrangement–again, J.M. Grimm has some good advice. You want it to look dynamic; it’s all well and good to have your title all on one line, but switching it up can make it look more interesting. It depends on the “vibe” you want to give with your cover, and it’ll be different for every book. Play around until you find something you like.

Cover title 3

I changed the font of The to all Goblin. I think it looks better, and draws more attention to the A.

When you’re satisfied, save it under a separate file name–say, titleworking–which will let you go back to the original if you decide you don’t like it.

Finally, go to your title block and merge all your layers except the background (if you keep the background, you’ll end up with a black rectangle on your cover). Use Ctrl+A and Ctrl+C to copy. Then open up your cover image and create a second layer called “Text;” again, this allows you to move it independently of the background image. Move it to where you want it to be to make sure it fits, and that you like the composition.

Cover title 4

As you can see, my subtitle doesn’t fit–I had to go back and change that.

That’s step one. This post is getting longer than anticipated, so I’m going to split it–watch for step two tomorrow, where we’ll talk about making some nice effects for your title.

In the meantime, I’m pleased to announce that The Ancestor and Other Stories is formatted and ready for release! If you’re on our Community List, you’ll receive a free copy soon. If you haven’t signed up, do so here before 12:00 Mountain Time and I’ll send you a copy too. You’ll save a couple bucks.

If you have any tips or tricks with graphic design, let us know in the comments. See you tomorrow!

Last Minute Changes

The Astrologers

Update: It appears that something has gone amiss with either the uploading of the file or the conversion process Kobo puts the book through; when you turn the page all you see is the cover. The file debugged fine, but still isn’t working, so I’m de-listing it until we can fix the issue.

So we’re just over a week away from the release of my first official eBook–save the date on October 23, where you’ll be able to pick it up at the Kobo store and Amazon. I’m working on putting it through Smashwords as well, but that may take a bit longer–they have a different submission process, which we’ll talk about soon.

But! There’s been a slight change in plans.

A friend pointed out that the four stories I intended to put into the collection–one fantasy and three horror/weird fiction–don’t fit together thematically. I’d thought it wouldn’t matter, seeing as The Astrologers (my fantasy tale) would be offered separately anyway as a freebie. But her point was that it muddles the branding, which is a very important thing to consider when making a first impression on a reader.

It reminded me of an article I read recently about JK Rowling, and the release of her most recent book, The Casual Vacancy. The post on MarsDorian.com talked about the unfortunate mistake in branding; people bought it expecting more of the same YA fantasy fun–but got a raunchy book filled with sex, drugs, and profanity. It’s all very well and good for a writer to branch out, says Dorian, but Rowling’s foundation as a YA author was so solid that young people are buying the book without even reading the dust jacket.

Which is all besides the point for me. The point is, selling a fantasy story alongside a few horror stories doesn’t really make sense. So I’m going in another direction.

The Astrologers will be released as early as tomorrow, and will remain a stand-alone short story. Instead of offering the horror stories alongside it, I’ve included a preview of Court of Sand, the first release of my upcoming Tapestry series–which takes place in the same world as The Astrologers, albeit a few centuries earlier. That makes a lot more sense.

(Update: There was apparently a mix-up at the Kobo Store; although I set the release date for October 16, it came out this morning. There’s no sense in taking it down, so you can get it here. Did I mention it’s free?)

But I’m not ditching the other stories!

The Ancestor and Other Stories will be released on October 23, as planned, for $1.99. This is a collection of three stories from the same genre, which makes it more cohesive. I still want to be writing in the horror/weird genre, but separating them from the fantasy books at least allows readers the choice between them, if they don’t like one or the other. Call it diversifying the product.

You’ve heard all about The Astrologers by now, perhaps even read the first draft on this blog. Over the course of this week, we’ll take a look at the stories in The Ancestor in anticipation of the release.

Finally, you may ask: what about the promise of a free copy of The Astrologers and Other Stories if you sign up for my Community List before October 23? You’ll still get them, but they’ll be two separate eBooks. Plus, you’ll receive the complete first draft of Court of Sand as an added bonus within the next couple weeks! But the offer will only last until the official release, so sign up now!

(Since the release of The Astrologers happened a bit earlier than anticipated, those of you who signed up for the list will receive their copy sometime within the next 24 hours).