Blurb for The Future King: Logres

So! After blood, sweat and tears (not literally) I have finally completed my blurb for the back of my book jacket. Could I have a drumroll, please?

(Courtesy of http://freepercussionlessons.com/how-to-play-legato-drum-rolls-on-timpani/)
(Courtesy of http://freepercussionlessons.com/how-to-play-legato-drum-rolls-on-timpani/)

Here it is, my blurb for The Future King: Logres!

Britain, 2052. In a world of war, disease and hunger the UK stands alone as a beacon of prosperity under an all-powerful ruling party. Life at new school Logres seems promising for fifteen-year-old Gwenhwyfar, and quickly she falls for the school’s handsome catch, Arthur. When Arthur’s rival, Lancelot, returns after a suspension, her heart is immediately divided. Realising that behind the UK’s prosperity lies unspeakable cruelty, Gwenhwyfar sets off on a path to dismantle everything the government stands for. Suspenseful, raw and awash in a dystopian setting, The Future King: Logres is a story of identity and discovery against this backdrop, the second coming of the Arthurian legends.

The main thing is that it fits on my book jacket, right? Less is more, seems to be the resounding advice that I’ve collected from looking at various ‘how to’ sites. If anyone has any thoughts, please do share them. Meanwhile, whilst I’m waiting to hear back from my proof reader, I’m finishing off another project (a children’s book), which I’m hoping to release before Christmas. I won’t give away too many details just yet, but I’ve outlined the approach for the illustrations, and will hopefully be completing them (and posting updates) in the next few weeks. Exciting! (Well, it is for me.)

Progress on self-publishing!

sir-mador-s-spear-brake-all-to-pieces-but-the-other-s-spear-held

So! Yesterday (was it yesterday? Actually, I think it was Friday), I finished my edit/proof read of my novel. That’s right! All five-hundred and something pages checked, double-checked, and tweaked. Surprisingly the new format of the novel made catching things that I’d never noticed before much easier – such as missing speech marks, duplicated words, or words that had clearly hung on despite the rewriting of the sentence. Inevitably, I will have missed one or two things. My three-pronged approach of reading in my head, reading aloud, or getting dictation & speech to read for me can’t have picked up everything. As a result I have sent my final draft off to my proof-readers, and am awaiting their verdict. I shall have to resist the urge to edit again when comments come back – after all this is the start of a story, and there are always so many ways to tell it.

In the meantime I am trying to work my way through the minefield that is writing your own blurb. I should be able to manage it, I’ve written a novel, right? I edited that novel, then after that I did the unthinkable – I trimmed down 120,000 words into a one-page synopsis. That, at the time, seemed impossible – but as it is often shown, the impossible turned out to be possible after all. 200 words or less is a much shorter order to work to, however, and (so far) I’ve found it’s the sort of thing that can only be approached in short bursts.

One draft – a splurge of sentences on the page that make little sense. Break. Another draft, writing an alternative to the above. Research, lots of research – or at least just a little bit – looking at book blurbs in your own library and googling ‘how to write a book blurb’, only to find that there are several ways one can do it. Writing again, with these strict guidelines in mind. Deleting all the above because, surprisingly, the guidelines were actually quite helpful. Break, because what you wrote needs to sink in before you can edit it. But you’re there, you’ve got the tone and the content right. Now it just needs to… pop.

Other than that, my schedule at the moment includes getting other aspects right – in particular things like text for the acknowledgements. As I am destined to a reasonable wait before I can continue with the whole publishing thing (everything is on hold now until the book itself is ready to be uploaded), I will probably return to some of the other points on my to-do list for a while. Scanning my grandfathers’ slides of plants and butterflies is one, illustrating a few projects is another, working on a children’s book is my third (nearly done, I just need a decent ending). Presently I am battling the urge to try restructuring my book completely, just to see if it would be better (or worse). Knowing when to stop tweaking is a good skill, and it’s easier to do when working on a painting or drawing. The result of a drawing is usually completely visible on one page, and is therefore easier to conclude that it is, actually, finished. Perhaps someday I will be able to transfer such understanding to my written work, and the whole process may become a little easier to draw a line under.

10 things I have learned whilst proof reading

  1. Unless you are a professional proof reader, it is inevitable that you will always miss something (but then I wonder, do professional proof readers miss things too?).
  2. It is surprising how one can read a manuscript multiple times, catching double-spaces, incorrectly formatted dashes and dots, missing words, extra words, and yet on the hundredth read discover an entirely overlooked error – in my case missing speech marks at the end of some lines.
  3. Relying on speech & dictation to catch things for you is a very useful method (particularly for spotting typos) – but it is not to be relied upon 100%. Only yesterday my reader Alex decided to add ‘that’ into my sentence. Clearly he thought the sentence was better with an extra demonstrative pronoun.
  4. A formatted manuscript is much easier to spot mistakes in than a non-formatted manuscript. I suppose it’s the increased space between lines, the fewer words per page, or something.
  5. Fewer words per page and a smaller page size means that you’ll have twice as many pages to proof read, yet somehow because of this the whole task seems to go faster (120 pages per day! Woo!).
  6. Knowing when to stop proof reading is a real issue. How many times do you go through it? With each change lies the potential for fresh mistakes. What if you have a blind spot to the difference between her and his? You meant his, but you typed her. You might not see you typed her until your book is already in print.
  7. I suppose the above is why I am asking friends and family to read through my manuscript for me (trusting, of course, in their superior ability to sense typos in a sentence – much like those who sense a formidable, horrible disruption when one digit is off in pi – can you? 3.141592653589793238462643383279
    50288419716939937510582097494459230781640628620899862803482
    534211706798214808651328230664709384460955058223172535940812
    848111745028410270193852110555964462294895492038196442881097
    56659334461284756482337867831652712019091456485).
  8. The fear of releasing one of those books that we’ve all come across – when you’re on page seven, and a word is missing, or wrong, or repeated – is quite possibly irrational, but also very real.
  9. Don’t try to proof read if you’re tired or hungry. Unless you’re in the right frame of mind whilst reading, you will approach the end of the chapter with the feeling you have not done as well as you could have, and then resign yourself to combing through the same pages again later, when you’re feeling a little less useless.
  10. With all the above taken into consideration, a novel can always be amended to fix any overlooked errors. After all, we all know that’s what editions are really for, right?

10 things I have learned whilst formatting a book in MS Word

  1. Apparently, if you’re going to be making changes to your book after formatting, MS Word is your best choice as it’s easier to edit content. That, and InDesign is just scary if you don’t know how to use it at all, really – so what hope would one have when it comes to formatting a whole novel?
  2. You’ll probably start with a font size which will make your book seem shorter. But then you’ll change the page size, line spacing and margins, and suddenly your book will seem longer. Much longer. Not good if you’re self publishing and more pages=less profit.
  3. It is surprising how bookish your book will look with only the things mentioned in (2) formatted. Because yes, surprisingly, there is more. Once you do get to the ‘more’ part, MS Word will start to seem like a living, thinking thing that does illogical things just to annoy you. This sense of working with a living, thinking thing will not deter you from insulting it frequently with all kinds of profanities, however, and you will feel no guilt in doing so.
  4. If you’re a first time self-publisher and have no experience in publishing, well, anything, you’ll inevitably have to refer to other (more traditionally published) novels to figure out what yours should look like. This is useful, and you should do it. Pick one book you like the look of and use it as a point of reference. Preferably something from your genre. After all, you don’t want your crime-thriller looking like erotic fiction (though if it’s all about tension anyway, what’s really the difference?).
  5. Referring back to point (3). You will format, you will think you are done, and then you will notice something that isn’t as it should be. For example, paragraphs breaking on the next page, thus giving you uneven line-to-page frequency. (Tip: if you have this problem, uncheck window/orphan control in format/paragraph for the whole document to fill your pages completely with lots of lovely prose). There will be other things, but at least you will feel accomplished when you fix them.
  6. Even if you do the above and check off window/orphan control, if you have inserted chapter dividers that look fancy, this will knock off your layout on your lovely new-chapter pages. Still trying to figure out how to fix that one without simply changing the font size of the empty line above said fancy chapter dividers (because, somehow, that seems crude).
  7. Headers and footers are important – format them well! Choose ‘different odd/even pages’ and make sure you mirror your margins through format/document. This does something else to make it look more bookish. From looking at various books I have determined that authors usually have their name on the even page and the title of the book on the odd page.
  8. Inserting Section Breaks is an absolute nightmare. Seriously, first you figure out that you’re supposed to inset a Section Break relative to whether it’s an odd page or an even page, then you figure out how to get the page numbers to start at ‘1’ on the fourth actual page, and then you realise through exporting to PDF that each new Section Break has skipped a page number and thus created a ‘phantom page’ with nothing on it before every chapter in your document. Huzzah.
  9. Confident in all the abilities you have learned (as listed above), you calmly go through the document to rectify the problem, only to have one Section Break change reset all the others into a paradoxical chaos of wrong numbers and jumps and gaps where your book is suddenly longer or shorter than it actually is (but not really, hence the number-paradox).
  10. You fix the above (9) without screwing everything else up. But you’re still editing or there’s a few things left to change. You now wish you had finished the final draft before even attempting formatting, because you’re terrified the slightest change might destroy everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve. Who knows? Maybe a paragraph more or less will confuse everything and you’ll be stuck undoing everything you’ve done in order to redo it properly. Let’s hope not.

The Future King: Logres – book cover release!

TFKBookCoverMLMP2015
The Future King: Logres is due to be released in October of this year. Keep checking back for teasers and confirmation of a release date.

So today I am finally ready to post up the above design. This is my novel, this is my my book cover: this is what it looks like. It’s simple, it’s clean, and it’s a great start to the look and feel of the rest of the series.

The name of the series, The Future King, is born from the promise of King Arthur’s messianic return to save the country despite his downfall at the end of the original legends. Logres is the scene in which this second coming is set: the secondary school at which fifteen-year-old Gwenhwyfar Taliesin starts after moving from Swansea with her affluent parents. It is 2052, and the gap between rich and poor has never been wider. Immigrants are persecuted and dubbed ‘illegals’ while day-to-day life is becoming increasingly monitored: just another year under George Milton and his ruling party, New National.

Things are going well for the release of The Future King: Logres – the book has been fully formatted and I am just perfecting my final draft. It will then be sent off to my proof-readers (very kind friends and family who don’t mind checking for errors). I’m greatly looking forward to seeing Logres printed and in final book format – my full book design is waiting patiently in photoshop as a psd file for my confirmed spine width. Then I just need to write a blurb.

Feel free to let me know what you think of the chosen design if you’d like to leave a comment. It’s back to editing, here, but keep checking back for more news, updates and teasers in the weeks to come!

10 things I have learned whilst making a book cover

  1. Pre-existing book covers are your friend. Look at them, examine them and focus on studying books in your genre, but don’t be too disappointed if your self-publishing platform doesn’t support the trim size you inevitably fall in love with as a result (five by seven, five by seven!).
  2. Make sure the cover correlates with the interior feel of the actual novel (and then dance about celebrating your own brilliance when you think of something that looks really cool).
  3. Having twenty layers live at once in Photoshop will destroy your computer. No, really. The fan on mine has just… died, or something.
  4. After spending four hours trying to align font at the bottom of your page to font at the top of your page, your eyes will go funny and everything will look wonky anyway.
  5. The longer you stare at the block colour red, the more it begins to look like some whacky gradient.
  6. Apparently due to variations in book binding the artwork for the cover will sometimes end up on the spine, and spine on the cover. You will be advised to avoid sharp lines and complex patterns, so naturally use them anyway.
  7. You should (and probably will) print out your book cover and wrap it around some other less important novel just to see what it looks like on a bookshelf (mighty good, I tell you).
  8. An actual, real life plastic ruler can be very helpful when determining layout spacing on your screen for the less technically gifted of us.
  9. Asking (non-graphic designery) people their opinion on your artwork can be confusing. Just focus on the things they agree on, and ignore anything they don’t.
  10. Making a book on a template before you have your final page count is just asking for trouble. You think you’re finished, then a last-minute cut adds or subtracts a page or two. New spine thickness, new document! Yeah!

What I’ve been up to

Today has been busy. Impatient to get some idea of what my book might look like once it is finished, I have been fiddling about with formatting in MS Word. With no clue where or what to start with, I found a very helpful website (http://www.diybookformats.com/mswordtemplates/) and have managed to set my margins, my paper size, choose a font, and even make chapter dividers in photoshop which match the feel of my draft design for my book cover. Being an arty person, I am very excited by this small achievement (it looks really cool).

Less encouraging is my page count. Yes, I know my final draft is not yet done, and having carved through about fifty pages today I am fairly certain that it will end up being about 20 A4 pages shorter than it is now. In my new layout however, the book as it is (140,000 words) is close to six-hundred (5.25 x 8) pages. I had assumed that publishing your own book might give you greater freedom concerning word count, but after doing Amazon’s royalty calculator I have discovered that my novel would cost me 50p per book to print in the UK. Not the 30-70% royalties I had in mind!

Before settling on the decision to self-publish I did approach the crowdsourcing website, Unbound. Set up by writers Dan Kieran, Justin Pollard and John Mitchinson, Unbound purports to let the readers decide which books get published through a process in which authors present pitches on Unbound’s website. These pitches then receive pledges (payments) from future readers. Only the pitches that reach their target (of about £15,000 from what I can tell from their FAQs [please do correct me if I am wrong]) get published.

It sounded perfect. But, of course, to avoid being swamped by endless pitches, Unbound do have a submissions process. Great for the works that make it through, but that means those works have (ironically) been chosen by the publisher. There is an eight-week wait to get to the top of the slush pile, so percentage-wise not many submissions seem to make it past the selection process (my pitch was one of them). Basically Unbound seems to be a publisher with the best of both worlds – no upfront costs to publish their chosen author’s works, because the readers (may or may not) cover that for them.

Crowd-funding in publishing still seems to be relatively new, and whilst exploring my options I did come across several other sites that seemed to adopt the same concept as Unbound, with the difference that any pitch is posted. So far however, these websites only seem to publish e-books with a much lower crowd-sourcing target (for one of these sites the target was £500 per book). Others claimed to be free, but with the surprise of pop up adverts in your novel when anyone reads it, and (let’s be honest) no author wants their masterpiece repeatedly interrupted by weight-loss ads.

Unbound was tempting for me, because at 50% royalties as well as a paid-for investment in your book concerning editing, book cover and proof-reading it sounded like the best deal. It’s worth a go if anyone out there hasn’t tried it already, particularly if you have a large social media following – it’s one of the things they ask you when you apply because the more followers you have the more books you’re likely to sell. It is discouraging to find that yet another creative endeavour essentially boils down to a popularity contest (or, you could argue, a large social network), but this is already endemic in many artistic fields and is hardly new. Followers = distribution = wider market = more sales. It is becoming the case in the fashion industry, with models with higher numbers of followers getting booked for bigger jobs. Free advertising makes perfect sense.

Ultimately, the author knows what will be a good fit for them, but unfortunately for us writers we’re not usually the ones who get to choose. I am excited about self-publishing though. It’s a challenge, a test to see if I can do it. Can I be editor, designer, agent and writer all at the same time? We’ll find out when it’s released. I’ve already announced my intention on Facebook, and though my social network is modest I’ve had encouraging feedback (and great encouragement). They’re probably just pleased that I’m finally taking the initiative to get it out there – I have been harassing them all with novel-related updates over the years.

I’m half-way through my revision. I caught a scene that referenced something that had already been resolved earlier in the book, so I think as editor I am doing well. I will post up artwork updates as I create them and closer to the release. In the words of most people everywhere, ‘let’s do this!’

The Knights of the Round Table

“His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;
On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow’d
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down from Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flash’d into the crystal mirror,
‘Tirra lirra, tirra lirra:’
Sang Sir Lancelot.”

– The Lady of Shalott (1832) by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Arthur. Merlin. Camelot. The legends of King Arthur and his knights are known in some form or another to the majority of the population, and have repeatedly been reinvented in television, film, and the written word. Personally I cannot pin-point my first encounter the legends, but assume it must have been through an older text, because when I first saw Jerry Zucker’s First Knight (1995), I thought they had misspelt Sir Lancelot (as far as I was concerned at the time, it should have been Sir Launcelot). It wasn’t until college that I delved deeper into the legends, after reencountering them through my studies of the Pre-Raphaelites (in particular John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott (1888)). First I read Tennyson’s accompanying poem (quoted above), and then I purchased Le Morte d’Arthur from my local Waterstones. After hunting the same store for King Arthur related books, I soon discovered my all-time favourites: Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles, and T. H. White’s The Once and Future King. Each author’s interpretation of the legends is, of course, birthed from the same origins. But each is fundamentally and absolutely different.

What is it about the legends of King Arthur that is so expansive? You could tell a hundred authors or more to retell the legends in their own words, and no two versions would be remotely the same (unless of course they were talking, and intending to be the same). Of course, a writer’s different styles and preferences would affect any such project. But in the case of King Arthur, I think the legend’s richness is compound in the inevitable differences. There are dozens of stories within the framework offered, and hundreds of subplots countable from that. It is just so complex. Who do you focus on? Which stories do you tell? The list of the Knights of the Round Table at its most expansive runs to more than 150. The love stories are ever-changing and entwined. The quests are endless – the Holy Grail, the Questing Beast – authors need only take their pick.

My interpretation of the legends of King Arthur evolved from my own experiences and interests in life, metamorphosing into a hybrid of contemporary concerns and the raw essences of the myths. This modern reflection of the myths is set to span the arc of Arthur’s rise to power in a futuristic depiction of Britain. Book one has been written, and I have read Createspace’s lengthy user agreement and deemed it satisfactory. I am looking into the particulars of self-publishing, such as how to format a book and how to design your own cover. I can’t afford a graphic designer or a proof-reader or editor, so I (like many others) will be taking a risk and doing all of the work myself.

Perhaps it is a good sign that after all these years I am still not bored by my idea. I still believe in the concept, I still love the characters. I can re-read the first and last fifty pages again and again, and still find them interesting. Many stories of King Arthur hint at Arthur and Merlin retiring for the long sleep – destined to reawaken when Britain needs them most. I think this perhaps is one of the most attractive concepts in the legends – the promise of hope in the dark days to come.

The long haul.

When I first started my novel back in 2011, the first draft took me a total of six weeks. I had an idea I’d been chewing over since 2007 with one short attempt to turn it into something physical, but then, at the end of my university semester and with a long summer ahead of me, I dove in head-first and just wrote it.

How long is too long when working over an idea? Us artists are creatures of detail, and such proficiency bestows upon us great patience. Sometimes we get drawn into an idea too much, and find ourselves unwilling (or unable) to comprehend an end. Does such a predicament matter, however, when one is so engaged by an idea that it feels as if every day spent working on it is entirely new? Often it passes without notice; the minutes become hours, the hours whole days. You work, and you forget to eat, drink or sleep. You’re so enthralled by what you are doing that the pang of hunger or stiffness brought about by an uncomfortable chair can do nothing to hinder you.

I have done several drafts of my book up to date, and naturally each revision was packaged with the exclamation, ‘Eureka! This is it!’ and sent off to the most promising literary agents. Of course with each submission came a rejection, and I would soon succumb to the age-old problem of returning to your own work with eyes changed by time. It happened when I painstakingly drew Christopher Columbus’ ship when I was four. Then, it was a masterpiece! Now, not so much.

A novel, unlike a sketch or drawing however can be edited, and so I embarked on making it perfect. Each time shorter or longer, and every time (I would like to think) better, stronger. My very fast draft in 2011 was written with the estimate I would then spend about six months editing. Then it would be ready to publish. Of course.

Four years later I am on my… fourth? real, complete restructure and rewrite. I’ve read the blogs, I’ve seen the news. I know that most people’s first projects get shelved until they are rich or famous enough through other works to get them published retrospectively. Does it change things if I say that this isn’t my first attempt at a novel? My first idea has been shelved without much input, perhaps for another day.

I think, however, we all have some idea of what works and what doesn’t. We all read and we all have things which we can compare our own work to. My latest draft, I have decided, is going to be my last. I will make sure I am happy with it, and then I will move on. These days debut authors’ options are expanded by the possibility of self-publishing. Now our first novels can be released into the market as they are, as we intended.

This project is a series, or it will be when I’m done with it. After researching the available avenues self-publishing is becoming a real consideration. I have had interest for my idea from two reputable agents, including full manuscript requests and even one revise and resubmit. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for them. But I now have a better book as a result, and am less anxious about getting it out there without the traditional route and safety net of an editor or publisher.

I have half my novel left to edit, and then it’s back to proof-reading. Then I think I’ll take the plunge. I’ll let my first novel be one of the ones self-published as it is, and as I intended.

10 things I have learned whilst searching for a literary agent.

  1. The Artists and Writers Yearbook is a must, but with my copy harking from 2013, I have discovered the internet to be just as useful.
  2. At first you apply to three agencies simultaneously, having heard the stories. Then five at once. Then eight at a time. When you start to fear they may all reject you, you begin to wonder how long you should wait until starting from number one again.
  3. Time is slow when you have queries pending, which (assuming you adopt the above) is always.
  4. Checking your emails seven times a day does not make time go faster.
  5. A request for a full manuscript will always fill you with joy.
  6. A rejection after a request for a full manuscript amends your expectations to ‘best case’ and ‘worst case’ scenario. The ‘worst case’ scenario is that you will receive an unaccompanied ‘no’. The ‘best case’ scenario is that you will get some usable feedback.
  7. The gratitude you feel when you finally do get tailored feedback is boundless. Agents are busy, we all know, which makes this feedback all the more valuable when someone does find the time to give it to you (thank you, really).
  8. Rejections pass like unusually-shaped clouds. At first they are something to point out, but soon they go unnoticed.
  9. Silence from an agent after a query is no reflection on you, but on the time they have spare to respond. Don’t take it personally.
  10. Despite the above, finding an agent who loves your work as much as you do is still a viable and possible dream. Worrying about what to do should two agents ask to represent you may be premature, but it is an inevitable fantasy.