Oh, *there* you are…

Howdy, folks, it’s your least humble servant here again with an apology for not blogging sooner. In short, I went and repeated the same error as last year: that of letting December happen after a successful NaNoWriMo. In doing so I caught a bad dose of January too.

Writing has gone unwritten. Books read have gone unreviewed. Books unread continue to breed with gay abandon when I’m not looking. Then, of course, there’s The Day Job. (Wields crucifix-fingers.) Sadly my Christmas wish for 48-hour days (or a big lottery win) never came true.

Progress on The Forum of the Dead has stalled as a result, and will likely need a reboot, which is disappointing but, weirdly, kind of appealing at the same time. To console myself I’m writing a much more simple (and shorter) ghost story, which is keeping me amused on these wet, blustery nights.

For this post, however, I’ll wrap up a few remaining thoughts from when I published The Floors last year. I’ll keep them brief(ish), but these are the things I’ll keep in mind for future projects.

Promotion

In a previous post I outlined the costs incurred in advertising The Floors, which had come to a pretty penny. Indeed, once the editing costs were factored in I was looking at a break-even figure akin to those targeted by small presses. “Tall order” didn’t cover the half of it!

So, nearly five months later, have I made back the cost? Good lord, no, but then that was pretty much to be expected. I’m an unknown quantity in a crowded, noisy marketplace, after all. On top of that The Floors is self-published, which nowadays is enough to see a significant number of readers running for cover from the shit-volcano’s pyroclastic cloud.

Okay, so did I attract any readers? Indeed I did, and genuine “saw my ad and thought they’d give it a whirl” readers too. And do you know what? It felt great! Not only did I see sales of the eBook, but also the (nearly five times more expensive) paperback edition, which, given the work it had taken, was really satisfying. Me = 🙂 x 100.

So would I use print advertising again? Yes, I think I would, despite the cost. In part it helps support the magazines I love to read, it also helps reinforce my (assumed) name and, of course, there’s the large ego-massage of seeing my advert in print. Next time, however, I may hold fire on the teaser ads.

Print advertising wasn’t the only avenue explored. I achieved some unexpectedly strong signal boosts via a few Goodreads giveaways, for example, each garnering well over a thousand entrants. Yes, there are many on Goodreads who’ll chuck their hat into the ring for anything that’s free, but I was delighted to receive some really heartening feedback from those who were truly interested in reading The Floors, and the book now rests in over a thousand Goodreaders’ virtual bookshelves. It’s that kind of response and feedback that will most definitely see me use a few giveaways for future projects.

Then there was the super-ego-boost of seeing a couple of copies of The Floors sitting on the bookshelves of a local department store, squeezed alongside Tim Powers and Terry Pratchett. See?
20140203-002348.jpg

What did that cost? A polite enquiry at the till, a brief pitch to their book buyer, a professional-looking delivery note and 40% of the cover price. (Actually, those two copies have since been snapped up so I’d better see if they’d like any more.)

I’m much less inclined to use Twitter and Facebook to promote any future projects, however, partly due to the ill reputation inherent in that approach, and partly because of the fart it represents in the force 10 hurricane of self-promotion. Some Facebook groups have taken a stand against the self-promoting spammers, and I can only see the trend continuing. Not only that, but when Facebook and Twitter apps both contain the means to filter out the noise and focus only on those you want to truly follow, the incessant buy-me-buy-me-buy-me tactic seems all the more futile and desperate.

Moving on, we come to…

Print graphics

Here are a few important lessons for anyone tempted to do their own artwork. (Don’t worry, folks, it’s not the rather tiresome, smug and predictable “Don’t do your own artwork.” We’re better than that, here.)

There are some awesome programs out there to help create on-screen graphics, and, amazingly, they’re free! Seriously, Inkscape and GIMP are astonishingly good. The elevator panel and marble effect wallpaper currently used in this blog only took a few hours to create. That and a lot of processing power.

Sadly, those free programs don’t support print formats such as CMYK (Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black), which is a format used to overlay colours on a white sheet of paper. Instead Inkscape and GIMP only seem to support RGB images (Red-Green-Blue), which is a graphics format designed to illuminate pixels on an otherwise black screen. If you want to produce CMYK images you’re probably looking at commercial software such as Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Publisher.

Okay, all this may sound like a technicality. Image files is image files is eggs is eggs, right? Printers will readily accept RGB files, so what’s the big deal? This is true, but please, please, please take note of this one crucial fact: RGB is murkier in print than it looks on your screen!

The Floors - Cemetery Dance Advert v3 (Scaled down)Here’s an example.

On the right is an advert I created for The Floors. which was placed in the latest issue of the mighty fine Cemetery Dance magazine.

The image was put together using Inkscape and exported to a PNG file. GIMP was then used to convert the file into a PDF.

You can click on the thumbnail for a bigger image. (Even then I’ve scaled it down 75% – 300dpi makes for some big files!)

So let’s take a shufti at how the advert looked in the flesh…

As you can see, a certain degree of vibrancy has been lost between the on-screen image and the printed copy. When you take the magazine away from direct sunlight the advert becomes rather dark indeed!

This wasn’t an isolated incident. My teaser ad for Scream turned out rather murky too, as did the initial proof copy from CreateSpace. (Never underestimate the value of a proof copy!) While these findings were a little disappointing, I’m happy to chalk them up to experience. Needless to say, subsequent artwork has seen the brightness dialled up a little more!

Overall, the discrepancy between on-screen RGB artwork and the results on paper was a valuable lesson learned, particularly for when I reboot The Forum of the Dead, as this story will contain significant graphical content.

Okay, so much for being brief! That’s all for now, folks. I hope you found these wee insights of some use, and that I won’t leave it so long before blathering again!

Laters, taters.

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Publishing via Smashwords – A How-To…

Last year I posted a short series on how to go about publishing something via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform. (You can access these posts, and others you may find useful in my Setting Up page.)

This is a somewhat overdue post that details the process you can expect to complete when publishing something using Smashwords, which is a popular publishing platform that offers exposure to a number of eBook platforms other than Kindle, such as Apple’s iBookstore.

This post assumes you have already set up an account with Smashwords and have two files handy: a correctly-formatted manuscript file and a JPEG or PNG image for your cover. (Seek out and download the Smashwords style guide on their website for guidance on how to format your manuscript. It’s damn near invaluable and the best practices preached within will serve you pretty well for other eBook publishing platforms.) (The cover image needs to be pretty high-res; the suggested minimum size being 1400 pixels wide by 2240 tall.)The Floors - cover

So let’s give this a whirl. I have a .DOC file for my novel, The Floors, and a 1400 x 2240 PNG cover image, a thumbnail of which you can see on the right. Given these I should now be able to get some publishing done.

(NOTE: The following was composed 5th September 2013. If you are reading this while scraping a living on the radiation-blasted wastelands of 23rd Century Washington DC then the process may have moved on a little. But, hey, at least you’ve still got your health, right?)

Once logged into Smashwords you will see in the menu bar an option to ‘Publish’. Clicking on this will initiate the publishing process, comprising of eight fairly straightforward steps that run down the page.

Step 1: Title and Synopsis
There are a number of things to input here.
i) The first is the title of your book – fair enough.
ii) A newish feature of Smashwords allows you to publish a book and make it available as a pre-order. As The Floors was advertised with a release date of Friday 13th September 2013, that was the date I entered. (You can also publish the book straight away if needs be.) When creating a book for pre-order you are encouraged to specify a publishing date 4-6 weeks in advance. This is to allow the necessary time for your book to be approved by the various platforms fed by Smashwords. There is an added benefit to creating a lengthy pre-order period in that your book is persistently retained towards the top of the relevant categories on Smashwords’ site, though I can see this exploit being abused left, right and centre in the not-too-distant future.
iii) Next you need to enter a short synopsis of the book. This is the description browsers of Smashwords will see, so it needs to be short and punchy. No line breaks are allowed and you have only 400 characters to grab the reader’s attention.
iv) You then have an optional text box where you can enter a longer description of your book for those interested to read more.
v) Finally you can select the language of your book. Even though the book is written with a distinct British twang I’ve kept the language to the default: “English (dialect unspecified)”

Step 2: Pricing
Here you get to demand people’s hard-earned cash for the privilege of devouring your words… should you wish. You see, unlike Amazon’s KDP platform, Smashwords allows you to give your story away for free. (This is a popular strategy to help sell a series of books, where the author lets people read the first book for free.) If you decide to charge for the book, however, then it must fetch a minimum price of $0.99.
As mentioned in previous blog posts I decided on a $2.99 cover price for the eBook. (Note you cannot dictate prices in other currencies like you can on Amazon KDP and CreateSpace.)
Finally, you can also dictate the percentage of your book to offer as a sample. The default is 20%, but I scaled this back to 15%, which, if my calculations are correct, leaves the story hanging at a very teasing point!

Step 3: Categorization
Here you can select a primary category and an optional category for your book. Browsers of Smashwords can navigate the sidebar to get to the kind of books they like. This section allows you to specify the location(s) in which your book can be found. Given that The Floors is a sci-fi horror novel, I selected:
Fiction => Horror => General, and
Fiction => Science Fiction => General
You are also asked to declare any adult content within your book. While The Floors is peppered with industrial language and violent scenes, I’m reluctant to declare its adult content as, to me, that’s lumping it in with the frankly staggering amount of sweaty, questionable porn that other Smashwords authors – er – ejaculate on a minute-by-minute basis. That said, I don’t want to find my bollocks in a vice for breaking the rules, so I’ll tick the box and keep my fingers crossed readers can still find me, drowning in a swamp of stepdaddy grot and college girl cream pie action.

Step 4: Tags
Here you can enter a bunch of keywords that all relate to your book. They help browsers search for books that interest them. I’ve kept mine fairly simple, being:
Fiction, Novel, Horror, Sci-fi, Science fiction, The Floors, Thirteen, Thirteenth floor

Step 5: Ebook formats
Here you can select the file formats you would like to offer readers of your book. Your best bet here is to upload a Word document (.doc), as it pretty much opens up every eBook format available. If your book is heavy on the graphics, however, then you may want to explore the options here a little more. A graphic novel in TXT format may not go down too well unless you are some master ASCII artist!

Step 6: Cover image
Here you select the image to upload for your book. As mentioned earlier, a JPG or PNG file of 1400×2240, or larger, is recommended.

Step 7: Select file of book to publish
Here you select your manuscript file. Don’t upload a .docx file (i.e. Word 2007 onwards), as the Smashwords meatgrinder will spew it out. Chuck in a well-formatted .doc file (i.e. Word 97-2003) and you should be okay. Again, read and adhere to the Smashwords’ Style Guide before uploading a file. There are likely some things in there that will improve your overall word processor skills.
You should also make sure your document contains the correct information on the copyright page. See Smashwords’ FAQ page for their current suggested wording: https://www.smashwords.com/about/supportfaq#troubleformatting

Step 8: Publish
Easy peasy. This is basically you hitting the “Publish” button. By doing so you will agree to Smashwords’ terms of service, will allow distribution to partner sites (e.g. Apple’s iBookstore) for the price you have set, and to allow users to sample your work as dictated in the settings you configured earlier.

Once you hit ‘Publish’ you’ll be met with a page displaying the current progress made converting your book into the assorted formats you chose. When this is done you will be informed of any errors in your document. These will all need to be corrected to ensure the widest distribution possible, so it’s worth your while exploring each error thrown your way. Note that you can upload newer, corrected versions of your book via your Smashwords Dashboard. You can also download a free copy of your book in assorted formats to check how they look. Very handy indeed!

Your magnum opus will appear on your dashboard with a Premium Status of “Under Review”, even if it contains errors. I can’t fathom why Smashwords would do this as uploading a corrected document serves only to start the review process afresh, but there you go. Once your book has been cleared, and you have specified an ISBN for it, then it will be deemed fit for Smashwords’ “Premium Catalog”‘ and uploaded to assorted eBook platforms. (After my recent review of ISBNs I opted for a free ISBN from Smashwords.)

So there you have it, folks: a whistlestop tour of Smashwords publishing. (You can see the finished article here.) Now all you need to do is the hard bit: writing something upon which you’d feel proud to slap your name, he says pseudonymously. 😉

Laters, taters!

Welcome to The Floors!

Hello, peeps! It’s your least humble servant, Mr Poll, here again, this time with a rather special blog posting. Well, it’s special from this side of the keyboard, anyway!

Just over a year ago, on July 19th 2012, I had this bizarre story idea about being trapped in a maze of thirteenth floors. As ideas went I knew it was a good one, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. Plot lines, scenes, locations, characters, possible finales – they all flooded out. I couldn’t sit down for pacing the house. My brain wouldn’t stop. Piece after piece of the story fell into place at such speed that I could barely keep up. I was awake ’til five in the morning scribbling notes. I knew I could never sleep properly again until the idea was fully out of my head and onto paper.

Fast forward 60 weeks and I am delighted to say I can finally go to bed! Yes, folks, The Floors has been unleashed upon the world, and all the gory details can be found below.

Cover Design 5HOW WOULD YOU ESCAPE A MAZE OF THIRTEENTH FLOORS?

You work in a skyscraper.
You live in an apartment block.
You stop over at a hotel.

You find a button missing from the elevator’s control panel.

Thirteen.

Over the years superstition has robbed floors from thousands of buildings across the world, and continues to do so.

Dawn McKenzie and Joe Bradley are about to discover where these floors really lie. Chased into an impossible maze split across time and space, their chances of survival narrow by the second.

And in a maze with precious little food, they are not the only ones trying to survive…

THE FLOORS is available for purchase via the following links. I’ll update this post as further links become available. (See also the dedicated page for The Floors, accessible via the menu bar, above.)

EBOOK versions – $2.99 (approx €2.60 / £1.95)
Amazon:
US UK CA DE FR ES IT
(Alternatively search for “Lucian Poll The Floors” in your local Amazon store.)
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/354409
Apple iBookstore: US UK CA
(Alternatively search for “Lucian Poll” in your local Apple iBookstore.)
Kobo: http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/fb/book–IAOUYcJeEyuiWcel_yflg/page1.html
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-floors-lucian-poll/1116875156?ean=2940045252447
Sony: (Link forthcoming.)

PRINT versions – $13.99 (€11.99 / £9.99)
Amazon:
US UK CA DE FR ES IT
CreateSpace: https://www.createspace.com/4091315

Other links
You can also find The Floors on Goodreads via this link: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18463346-the-floors
If you are a Goodreads member be sure to enter the giveaway for a chance to win one of three signed copies. The giveaway ends on Halloween and there are already rather a lot of entrants, so good luck!

If you want to get in touch via Twitter, or if you want to read my occasional witterings from time to time, you can find me via @LucianPoll. You can also use the #fearthefloors hashtag, which I check from time to time. Finally, you can give thumbs to the Facebook widget on the sidebar for news and updates on The Floors as I post them.

So there you have it – Mr Poll’s debut novel is finally out there in all of its gory glory. Do check it out. If you liked The Floors then please recommend it to those you think would also enjoy a read. If you bought the print copy then feel free to lend it on. Word-of-mouth recommendations are the lifeblood of fledgling writers, and every one of them is really appreciated!

I’ll leave this post up for a few weeks while my print adverts are doing the rounds, and then I’ll be back with a How-to guide on Smashwords publishing and a few other odds and sods you may find of interest.

Thanks for reading!

A sneaky preview of The Floors, you say? Oh, go on then!

Well, it’s taken a long, long time, four drafts, five test readers, a professional edit and around a bazillion read-throughs but it’s done! It’s finally done!

The Floors is ready to rock n’ roll.

It’s swallowed up a laptop, condemned my central heating, stolen my sanity, driven one’s better half to despair and has even made my editor ill. (The content of the story may have had a bearing on that.)

Frankly, after all that, I think it’s high time I unleashed it on you all, and on Friday 13th September 2013 that’s exactly what I plan to do. You’re welcome, world! Moo ha-ha-ha-haaaaa!!!!

The Floors - coverIn the meantime, if you’d like to know what you’re letting yourself in for, then you’re in luck! I just so happen to have a sneaky 3-chapter preview of The Floors and it’s all yours. Here you go:

PDF: The Floors – Final Draft (3 chapter sampler)

Note: As should be obvious from the cover, The Floors is a horror novel, so expect violence and big swears from the outset.

If you like the cut of this sampler’s gib then you can buy the whole darned thing a week on Friday in eBook format or as a rather swish paperback.

Give the blog a follow, or give the Facebook page some thumbage, and I’ll keep you abreast of all you’ll need.

In other blatherings, please accept my apologies for being MIA these last few weeks. The findings of the test reads and the professional edit necessitated a few repairs and improvements to the story. The next post will be for the big launch. After that I’ll be back with a few posts on my experiences in getting this far and no doubt a few other odds and sods in the run-up to the World Fantasy Convention and, of course, NaNoWriMo 2013.

Keep it scary, people!

…in which Mr Poll blathers about the importance of test readers

Scream - Teaser ad v1.1How do, horror fans, and welcome once more to my darkened corner of the internet. If you’ve arrived here on the back of my teaser advert in Scream magazine then come on in and make yourself at home. The teaser ad is for a novel of mine called The Floors, which will be released on Friday 13th September 2013. If you have ever wanted to know what it’s like to be trapped in a maze of thirteenth floors then stay tuned! (You can also see my previous post for a gander.)

At the moment, however, you find me at a crucial stage of getting The Floors out there and into your hands – that of obtaining some feedback from test readers.

Skim through the acknowledgements section of a novel and you will often find the author thanking assorted friends, colleagues and peers for having read early drafts of their story. Now, unless you are a staggeringly gifted wordsmith and storyteller, with preternatural powers to shape the literary world with your expertly-crafted prose, then getting some early feedback is going to be a vital part of your writing process too, and doubly so when it comes to self-published work.

Why? Well, in the broadest terms, you wouldn’t want to sully your good name, assumed or otherwise, by peddling a shitty story riddled with errors. You aren’t going to get very far disrespecting readers like that. And if, like me, you are trying to make a name for yourself in the noisy world of self-publishing, then only your best work will do. Anything less and you are shooting all that writerly ambition of yours in the arse.

Hemingway, that hoary old source of a thousand and one tiresome Facebook quotes*, once said “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.” This, of course, is true, but it isn’t a bad idea to also place your masterpiece under the noses of a couple of test readers.

(* For Neil Gaiman Facebook quotes, you can safely up that number to approximately 5.7 bazillion.)

Putting your work out for a test read can be a valuable experience, but you’ve got to go about it the right way. (Asking the opinion of a loved one, for example, really isn’t going to cut it. They will likely spare you the hurt of pointing out where your story stinks, but if they do rip into your story then the chances are they won’t be a loved one for much longer.)

So, some ground rules. First and foremost, take any pride you may have accumulated in creating your masterpiece and swallow it down hard. What you are looking for in a test read is an honest appraisal of your work. You’ll want to know where readers became frustrated with your story. You’ll want to know when a paragraph you rewrote fifty-odd times now reads with all the coherence of a Scrabble board. In short, you want to know where you can improve your story before you put it out there for real, be that for download, or in the hands of an agent/publisher. If you are simply seeking praise for your efforts then there are plenty of parasitic review sites that’ll gush as many superlatives your way as your credit card can handle.

Second, be sure to seek test readers that are sympathetic to the genre in which you are writing. You wouldn’t, for example, ask readers of The People’s Friend to test read American Psycho. (Actually, I probably would. Welcome to my sense of humour, world!) If at all possible seek critiques from fellow writers, the more published the better, and the opinions of those readers who devour novels like they’re going out of fashion. If you find a local writers group then bite your lip, develop a thick skin and jump on in. Otherwise there are plenty of reader’s groups on sites like Goodreads who you could tempt with a test read. Don’t spam forums, though. That only brings the banhammer down on your head, and rightly so. Respect the rules and ask for help politely.

Third, and this is crucial, remember at all times that your test readers are the ones helping you. They could just as easily be reading someone else’s story, but they have taken time out to read yours. Be heartened, because you know at least your story has a decent hook. Be thankful, and at least consider sending your readers a signed copy of the finished book. Give them a high-five in the acknowledgements. After all, it’s a pretty cool feeling to hold something in which you gave a helping hand.

The feedback you receive will vary. You just have to browse through the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads to see how different people like different things. What I’ve looked for in the feedback I have received thus far are patterns. If I see someone praising a part of the story and another criticising it, then that’s largely fine – the tie goes to the writer, as Stephen King would have it. If, however, I see a majority negative opinion forming over part of the story then I know I’ve still got some work left to do. I would reiterate my first point at this juncture and remind you to not get pissy at the criticism. If someone doesn’t understand the story then don’t go tearing a strip from them – it’s a failure of your story to connect. It happens. Move on. Only worry if nobody gets it!

You may have guessed at this point that these words are as much for my own benefit as anyone’s. They’ve stood me well these last four or five weeks as I’ve paced a trench into my carpet and bitten pretty much all the skin from my fingers and thumbs. Whether my composure goes all to shit with the first bad review I receive is another matter! 😉

I hope this diverting little posting has entertained more than it has lectured. I’ll likely post a few more reviews while I slave over the final draft, but will then return with a few words on what a professional edit entails. I hope you can join me.

Laters ‘taters.

The Floors exists! I have proof!

What-ho, world, it’s your least humble servant, Mr Poll, here with another eEpistle for you all, you lucky, lucky people. (I’ll leave it up to you how to pronoune eEpistle.)

You find us all in a state of unburnished excitement here at Poll Towers for we have recently taken receipt of an initial proof of The Floors, and, whaddayaknow, it looks pretty damn fine! Mostly.

Here, take a goosey:

The Floors - Proof Copy - FrontIn my previous post, mention was made of using CreateSpace to produce the printed version of The Floors. If you are tempted to do the same with your pride and joy then this is the kind of result you can expect. Mighty fine, indeed, but then obviously I’d say that. 😀

There are, however, three things I would note:
1) CreateSpace books have glossy covers. If you want your finished book to have a smooth matt effect, like most UK trade paperbacks, then you may want to consider other print-on-demand services. (Same goes if you want to produce hardback versions.)
2) CreateSpace books offer a number of trim sizes, but nothing that seems to tally with UK trade paperbacks. For my 2p this isn’t a biggie, but may be something for you to bear in mind. (I believe CreateSpace have recently opened a UK print shop, however, so this might change in time.)
3) The glossy laminate seems to darken the cover image. Compare the snapshot above with the featured image of my previous post and you’ll see the printed copy loses most of the marble flash beneath the book’s title. It may be due to the large amount of black on my cover, but I suspect it may actually be the laminate. Either way, I’ll see if I can improve this before the release date.

Overall, though, I think you’d be chuffed with the results of print-on-demand. The quality impressed all who held the book in their hands. More than one person asked when they could see it on the shelves.

And there, I’m afraid, the bubble bursts.

If you dream only of seeing your book on the shelves of your local Waterstones, then CreateSpace is not the way to do it. Should Waterstones see CreateSpaces’s name on the ISBN record, they won’t touch the book. (I’ve asked.) The route to retail bookshelves is pretty much the same as it has been for centuries – find a publisher!

You may have better luck with a local independent bookseller, or one more sympathetic to genre fiction, such as Forbidden Planet. Expect your chances to remain slim, however. That said, I’ll fire off a few emails here and there, and will report back if I hear anything, positive or negative.

Anyway, moving on, and if you’ll forgive the insufferably-proud-parent vibe, here are a few more snaps of what you can expect in the printed copy. First, here’s how the book looks from behind:

The Floors - Proof Copy - BackAnd here are a few snaps of the interior, including a few loosely-connected newspaper clippings, like the big tease I am.

The Floors - Proof Copy - Title Page

The Floors - Proof Copy - Initial ClippingThe Floors - Proof Copy - Part OneThe Floors - Proof Copy - Part Two

Here are the newspaper clippings in question:

Crux Cannibal v1.0

Flies v1 (halftoned)Starphone Records v1 (halftoned)

(For those interested in how it was done, each clipping was constructed using Inkscape, then exported to a PNG file and a newsprint filter applied using GIMP. The results, I reckon, look pretty cool, and look good in the proof copy.)

So there you go. A relatively short posting this time, but one that I hope helps those of you who are tempted to try CreateSpace, or, even better, one I hope tempts you into dallying with The Floors! Thanks for tuning in. Do drop by again. I should have in the coming weeks something to report from the test reads. (Gulp!)

Laters, ‘taters.

To ISBN, or not to ISBN?

The Floors - coverHello there, internet! It’s your friendly neighbourhood horror writerly thing here with another wee posting for you.

It’s like the eye of the storm here at Poll Towers at the moment. As mentioned in the previous post, the second draft of The Floors has been completed and now rests in the hands of a small team of test readers. It is also about to undergo surgery beneath John Jarrold’s red pen, which should really help the final draft slide into your eyeballs without touching the sides. Or something.

In the meantime, however, I’m caught in Limbo. I can’t really tinker with the story for another three or four weeks. At the same time I feel I cannot fully immerse myself in the planning and plotting of the next book. Oh, what’s an alter-ego to do?

To pass the time I’ve been trying to make myself useful: prettifying this here blog with a rather swish wallpaper (sorry, mobile browsers); also prettifying my Twitter page with lots of Floors-related goodness (again sorry, mobile browsers); adding a dedicated blog page for The Floors, which you can find via the menu strip above; adding a dedicated page for the book on Facebook… oh, and looking into International Standard Book Numbers, better known as ISBNs.

Yes, it’s rock ‘n roll 24 hours a day at Poll Towers! Pass the Werthers Originals, sonny.

Anyway, why ISBNs? Well, if you are keen to sell paperbacks and hardbacks in major book-buying territories then you probably won’t get terribly far without one. That odd-looking number, when plugged into a central database, tells wholesalers and retailers important information about the book, such as title, author, publisher… even the physical dimensions. (This is commonly and collectively referred to as the book’s “metadata”.) It also gives the publisher all sorts of useful sales info as each ISBN passes through retailers’ tills. In short, ISBNs are the glue that holds together the often haphazard, flaky and wibbly-wobbly world of the printed book trade, and if you want to join the party then you’re going to need one.

As noted in previous posts, I will create both eBook and printed versions of The Floors. The printed copy will be produced through Amazon’s CreateSpace service, and for that I’d need an ISBN.

Now, when choosing your ISBN, CreateSpace do a bang-up job of confusing the hell out of people, at least if their forums are anything to go by. You can opt for a free ISBN that lists CreateSpace as the publisher. If, however, you have a block of your own unused ISBNs then you can use one of them instead. This lets you hide your self-published magnum opus behind a cool-sounding publisher’s name of your own making, such as Shit-yeah! Books or something. (CreateSpace also offers shades of ISBN that lists your own publisher’s name for plenty many dollars, but none of these services are available outside the US.)

So the question I faced was this: “Should I purchase my own block of ISBNs?”

It sounded like a pretty cool thing to do at the time. Having a title page that sported my own publisher’s logo would have given my book an air of respectability. Putting the logo on the spine would help make it look even more like a proper retail copy.

But then, after some thought, I came to the conclusion that that was pretty much the only positive to be had. In fact, putting my book out under Shit-yeah! Books could backfire if readers figure out it’s not actually a proper publishing house.

Then there was the cost of an ISBN. Nielsen will sell you a minimum block of 10 numbers for £126. Ouch! Then there was the information required as part of the ISBN application, namely my contact details. I certainly wasn’t keen on having my home address recorded in a widely-referenced database, so there was the additional expense of setting up a Royal Mail PO Box number – over £300 per year to have mail rerouted to my home address. Triple ouch!

Of course then it dawned on me what having an ISBN would actually entail. Yes, Shit-yeah! Books would be showing on the ISBN database alongside my sparkling new PO Box address, but then guess who would receive the orders? Yup. Me! I’d then have to get them printed through CreateSpace and shipped out to retailers, not to mention handling copes that don’t sell, or are misprinted.

All of a sudden I’d be three-quarters of the way towards becoming a proper publishing house! Now, yes, that sounds cool, but, truthfully, I only set out on this path to write stories, promote them here and there, and, hope upon hope, build a fan base.

So after taking into account all of that, the choice was easy. Going for an ISBN allocated by CreateSpace is by no means the end of the world. (It wouldn’t have taken long for readers to discover The Floors was self-published anyway, as I’ve been quite open about it here.)

Long post short, if you want to simply tell the damn story and hope it sells, I’d choose the free ISBN option from CreateSpace (or Smashwords, etc). If you are starting your own publishing empire and hope to use a service like CreateSpace to print your stock, then by all means apply for a block of your own ISBNs.

Well, that’s my take on the whole matter, anyway! I hope this has been of help, self-pubbers. If you do set up a publishing empire, remember little old Mr Poll, won’t you?

Right. Now to find something else to do! Laters, ‘taters.

So long, second draft! (And let the ads begin!)

Howdy, campers, it’s your favourite Lucian-Poll-named alter-ego here with a final view of The Floors’ second draft. You know, The Floors? Tut, tut, tut. I know I’ve been away a little while but even my memory isn’t that bad. (Actually it is. It’s a wonder I can still walk out of the house fully-clothed these days.)

Anyway, allow me to give you a quick recap of my most recent obsession:

The Floors - Coming Soon

“The one about thirteenth floors.” Yes, that’s the one. 🙂

So in the last post I was having a fine old time ploughing through the middle third of the book and was looking forward to tackling the white-knuckle ride finale. Well, after a further 17 days I’m glad to say not only did I get the final third down but also a full read-through and a polish to boot, finishing two days ahead of schedule.

You know what that means? Yes! I’m free of The Floors for another six weeks! I can go to bed now and not have my mind whirring over plot complexities for three hours before sleep finally takes me! I can read other people’s stories again and forget about my own for a little while!

In short, my brain gets to recharge. I’ll have one final run-though of the manuscript starting 13th July 2013, but until then it’s time to rock n’ roll with the fun stuff again: artwork for this here blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc; supplementary materials for the printed copy, such as fake news stories; a much-delayed look at publishing through SmashWords; and also looking into the more admin-related stuff of being a self-publishing author. (ISBN numbers, anyone? Stay tuned, I may have something for you.)

In the meantime my story won’t be resting on its laurels. I am both thrilled and monumentally nervous to have quickly gathered a team of ardent horror fiction fans to put the story through its paces with a test read. I hope by the next post to have also secured super-agent John Jarrold’s services for a professional edit. Their combined findings will inform the work necessary come 13th July.

Regarding the edit, one of the aims was to get the word count under 100K. I failed, but only just, and that was mainly due to some cool new scenes that really had to go in. Another important aim was to trim away the fat of each sentence to make sure the reader doesn’t nod off before every full stop. If you’d like to know the rules I tried to follow here’s a brief rundown that may help your own projects:

  1. My first draft had umpteen sentences dragged out with things like “could see”, “could feel” and “could sense”, when, really, most of the time, “saw”, “felt” and “sensed” worked just as well, especially in fast-flowing action scenes.
  2. With perhaps one eye on NaNoWriMo word counts at the time, I found sentences in the first draft with entirely unnecessary lead-ins or lead-outs. Stuff such as “No sooner had XXX done YYY than…”. It takes a few reads of a sentence before you realise the thing works just as well when cut in half, but when you spot them it’s a good feeling.
  3. Descriptions of thoughts and feelings. Such things often constituted “telling” and not “showing”, which puts an unnecessary and unwelcome degree of separation between the reader and the character. Many such descriptions of thoughts and feelings were therefore replaced with either lines of dialogue or actual thoughts.
  4. That. There were way too many “thats” in the first draft. Same went for “had”. You’d be amazed how often you can get rid of these and not affect the meaning of a sentence. Most of them are therefore gone from the second draft.
  5. Commas. Now, the grammarians out there are going to hate me for this, but I had the temerity to remove a lot of commas that, technically, ought to be there, particularly when listing things. (As for the Oxford comma, that can just bugger off for a start.) I only did this to help maintain a quick read. If the test reads and professional edit come back with a C- for such gross misconduct then I’ll reinstate them in the final draft. Hey, it’s not like I’m Cormac McCarthy, or anything. (More’s the pity.)

Moving on, I’m delighted to report that my adverts are starting to appear. Here’s the first for you:

The first advert!

The first advert!

The “Exiiit” sign is a theme I’ve used in all the teaser ads to help convey the familiar yet otherworldly delights you’ll find in The Floors. (The lightning also plays a part.) You’ll see a larger version of this ad in Cemetery Dance issue 70, and a lightning-free (but cool full-colour) version in issue 19 of Scream Magazine. I’ll post piccies when I see them.

I must give a massive thank you to Andy Cox at TTA Press for placing the advert. Not only that but you can see quotes from my review of Spin by Nina Allan inside the current issues of both Black Static and Interzone, which is mondo cool, and really helps to establish Lucian Poll as a new name to perhaps look out for. It certainly made for a brilliant end to an otherwise typical Monday! I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it: if you like a particular genre then hunt out and subscribe to dedicated magazines like Black Static, Interzone, Cemetery Dance, Albedo One, etc. You will almost certainly be turned onto new and varied voices in the field as a result and that can only be A Good Thing.

So on that note I’ll hop down from my soap box and will take my leave of you until next time. Many thanks for stopping by. Your continued readership is always appreciated, and I hope to see you in my next wee missive.

Now then, I’ve got approximately 0.998 British Libraries making up my to-be-read pile. Which hefty tome will it be? Hmm…

Another view from the second draft (and, finally, the big reveal!)

What-ho, my good people, it’s your least humble servant Mr Poll here again with a wee update on The Floors.

In my last Floors-related missive I spent a tortuous couple hundred words essentially berating Previous Me, and the shortcuts the lazy sod had taken in getting sufficient words down for NaNoWriMo.

Having now fully repaired all 50-odd thousand words accrued during that time my dim view of Previous Me has not changed. When they start selling Tardises on QVC then Previous Me had better start looking over his shoulder. (Paradoxes be damned!)

Aaaaaaanyway, you find me this post in a much more cheery frame of mind, chiefly because the edit is going a lot smoother now. Those oases of good writing that were once so rare in the first draft are getting bigger and closer together. It’s a sign I was getting nearer to the kind of book I originally wanted to write, but only once the pressure was off.

The starkest illustration of this is in the time taken to get to the 2/3 completed stage. 32 days were spent largely rewriting and repairing the first 1/3 of The Floors, while it has only taken 10 days to sail through the second 1/3. (Indeed, this weekend saw my word count jump by 14,000 thanks in part to a couple of very satisfying chapters.)

That’s not to say NaNoWriMo was a mistake. Far from it. I loved the challenge, the adversity, the community spirit and the immense satisfaction of reaching the 50K mark. Most of all I loved the positive noises I heard as I (invariably badly) explained my story to fellow WriMos. Will I do it again? Almost certainly, but for 2013 I’ll have to invest some extra time fleshing out a more thorough outline before the event. Future Previous Me will have to pull his socks up.

(I think that sentence just about works.)

Before all that, of course, I still have the final 1/3 of The Floors to edit. I’m quite literally saving the best for last! (I say that with fingers crossed, of course.)

In other news:

On the promotional front, all of the adverts mentioned in a previous post have been created, approved and paid for. You’ll see a teaser advert for The Floors in issue 70 of Cemetery Dance and another in issue 19 of Scream, both out in the summer. (Full ads will then appear in the following issue of each.) Andy Cox at TTA Press may also slot a few ads in future issues of their mighty fine magazines Black Static and Interzone, which is jaw-droppingly kind of him and makes for a happy Mr Poll.

See?

I’ll pop the ads on here shortly for your edification – seems daft not to! They each feature a hashtag, #fearthefloors, in case anyone has a compulsion to get in touch over Twitter regarding the story, good or bad, when it’s released in September. How effective the hashtag will be only time will tell.

Going back to the guys at TTA Press, they have most generously offered space on their stand at the upcoming World Fantasy Convention 2013 to fellow attending small presses and self-publishers, which is mucho coolio. Oh, did I say they’re offering to do this without taking a cut? See, I’m telling you, these are the good guys you need to support. Needless to say I held up both hands straight away, saying “yespleasememememememe!!!” So, if you are attending WFC 2013, then not only do you get the chance to laugh at my silly facial hair but you can also buy a real tangible discounted print copy of The Floors and watch as I accidentally sign my real name on the title page. You lucky, lucky people!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In the coming weeks I hope to have the second draft licked, and then out for a professional edit and some test reads. While that’s all going on I’ll work on getting some decals prepared for this here blog and getting the cover right for the print copy. (Thanks to CreateSpace for providing NaNoWriMo 2012 winners with up to 5 free copies of their book – this is an excellent way of creating proofs.)

Cover… cover… cover. Hmm. Why does that ring a bell? Oh, that’s right. I promised you a spot of cover art, didn’t I? Well, never let it be said I’m not a pseudonym of my word. Given that today marks the “4 months to go, holy shit!” mark, here, for your viewing pleasure, is my near-as-dammit final cover for The Floors. (Drum roll.)

The Floors - available Friday, 13th September 2013

The Floors – available Friday, 13th September 2013

You can click on the cover for a humungous blow-up of the image, otherwise here is the blurb.

HOW WOULD YOU ESCAPE A MAZE OF THIRTEENTH FLOORS?

You work in a skyscraper.
You live in an apartment block.
You stop over at a hotel.

You find a particular button missing from the elevator’s control panel.

Thirteen.

Over the years superstition has robbed floors from thousands of buildings across the world, and continues to do so.

Dawn McKenzie and Joe Bradley are about to discover where these floors really lie. Chased into an impossible maze split across time and space, their chances of survival narrow by the second.

And in a maze with precious little food, they are not the only ones trying to survive…

Well, I hope that’s suitably grabbed your interest. Stay tuned, folks, as these coming months are going to be quite a ride! Until then, it’s back to the final 1/3 for me and I’ll see you in the next post!

A View From The Second Draft

PUBLIC HEALTH WARNING
Those with strong to severe analogy allergies are advised to seek medical advice before attempting to read the following blog posting. Those suffering alliteration ailments should perhaps have avoided that first sentence just then. Sorry about that.

– Ministry of Weak Writing, April 2013.

On the outskirts of Norwich there is a pleasant unbroken stretch of road that curves gently downhill in a series of S-bends. It is a tree-lined gem of satisfying inward cambers, so short as to barely last half a minute, and yet it is a stretch of road that can still make one’s long-suffering better half say “wheeeeee!” as she drives down it. (I can’t drive. This, World, is A Good Thing, trust me.)

This unassuming stretch of road is a little oasis of driving pleasure in an otherwise shitty farrago of one-way systems, potholes, traffic lights and altogether terrible drivers that blight the majority of Norwich’s roads.

Why am I telling you this, particularly if I can’t even bloody drive? All in good time, or 400 words, whichever comes first.

Any road, welcome to my view from the second draft of The Floors. Frankly it’s all a bit bleak! I knew I needed to do some repair work following the bugger’s rush that was NaNoWriMo, but sheesh! I never expected to need rewrite virtually every one of the first 20,000 words! If Present Me ever catches up with Previous Me there’ll be hell to pay. Throw a “Beef this bit up in the 2nd draft” into a couple of chapters, would you, Previous Me? Why I oughta…

So, yeah, this second draft has been a tough cookie so far. The readthrough of the first draft was perhaps two-thirds a horror show of writing and one-third horror story, but overall it was an incredibly useful exercise. For example, while I want The Floors to be a quick, white-knuckle read, I found the first half of the book, believe it or not, to be too quick. The action came thick and fast but at the cost of leaving the reader behind.

A lot of the time these last three or so weeks has therefore been spent squeezing more from my characters and getting their essence onto the page. My bad guy has a more believable trigger-point for his actions, for example, making for a much more satisfying opening to the book. My protagonists now have an extra dimension to them after fleshing out their backgrounds, their hopes and their fears. (Thank you Previous Me.) The dialogue has also been improved to reveal more about each character – the infamous “show, don’t tell” maxim in action.

Other weaknesses have also been identified and fixed along the way. For example, I’ve turned a fairly large and annoying plot hole into a new scene that not only fits the story like a glove but also leaves a pretty cool image in the mind. (Two words: Droste effect.) Things that I threw into the mix around 1/3 into the story have been threaded back through the narrative to help it flow better.

In short, it’s been a hell of a lot of work, the beefing-up, the repairs, the rejigging of scenes. It isn’t the kind of thing I’d recommend after long, highly-strung days of non-stop Saving The Company’s Arse. Shit like that takes it out of a guy. As a result I’m way behind schedule so I’ll have to cut this post short soon and crack on.

But what of my tiresome analogy? Well, these last three weeks have not all been me screaming “Oh, my God, what fresh hell is this?!” In my editing travels I have come across the odd page in the first draft where I’ve thought “Yeah, you know what, this is really good!” It’s these little oases of writing that help drive me towards a better draft. I can accept a hefty rewrite of a chapter in exchange for a mighty fine page every now and then. Such things only compel me to make every other damn sentence in the story grab readers by the eyes and refuse them permission to blink. They make doing this whole shebang worthwhile.

Or, in other words, “wheeeeeeee”!

So back I go, my writing toolbox in hand, to make more repairs. I’ll post another review next week while I do further battle, and then I’ll come back with an update and, if you’re good, a spot of cover artwork.

TTFN!