Saturday, July 26, 2014

Nice image, shame about the marketing

It is generally agreed that the covers to the three books in my Maliha Anderson series are very nice indeed, and get steadily better. I agree too, I think they're great.

See. You can see the consistency of design, the common elements which communicate that this is a series (not just the silhouette but the cloud shapes), and there's the Art Deco styling which tends to place the period. Apart from that the stories are something about a boat, a city and an airplane.

All good stuff. Well, no, not really.

There is an excellent article that has passed through my stream a couple of times about book cover clichés - and why you should have them.

Yes, you read right (and I wrote right): Why you should have a clichéd cover.

What's the genre of these books? Well, okay the title is a bit of a giveaway on the first one. There's a murder, the second says something about blood and the third ... ? Who knows.

There's probably a woman in the stories as well, and it's a reasonable guess it's the same woman in each.

But what we actually have are murder-mystery/steampunk mash-ups. Do these covers say "murder mystery"? No. Do they steampunk? Again, no. A cover is part of the sales tools of a book. These covers, no matter how pretty they are, are not pulling their weight when it comes to telling the potential reader what sort of book it is.

Of course if the series was selling well I wouldn't be bothered. But sales are a bit flimsy, though the reviews are generally good, so I'm looking at ways to improve the sales. And one way is to change the cover to something that will work for a certain type of reader.

In order to do this I have decide which genre I'm going to target. The steampunk in the stories is pretty lightweight and the murder mystery market is much bigger so has better potential for sales. So I'll target that group with just one cover as a test.

The cover is going to need to communicate several things: The period, have the usual "murder weapon and blood" elements, plus put across the steampunkness in some fashion, even just some metalwork would be sufficient. Oh, and they are usually photographic rather than drawn.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, results I get from that.

You can read the original article about covers here.

What's on the turntable? "Rubycon, Part One" by Tangerine Dream, from "Rubycon"

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Good news, bad news.

One of my favourite writers on the subject of screenwriting is Bill Martell, he's a dedicated writer of action scripts and is the go-to guy if you want to learn how to make your action sequences worthwhile and memorable.

The following is all gleaned from his daily script tips and the applied to some prose writing I've been doing recently (in fact I've been writing stories almost exclusively for the past year - it's all part of a cunning plan).

So, I've been serialising a Steampunk story, set in 1874, on Google Plus (my social medium of choice), and it's been getting good feedback. The writing itself is a bit rough in places because I'm essentially publishing a first draft. I write it on a train on Friday afternoon, it gets read over by me and my alpha reader and published within 12 hours (usually less). Luckily, my first drafts aren't totally appalling.

The episode I wrote yesterday was an explosion of action after weeks of building the tension as the first three men in space, discover they aren't and board an apparently derelict spaceship, only to find evidence of fighting and finally someone alive who pulls a gun on them.

What happens next is the good news-bad news approach to action sequences, as delineated by Bill Martell. You can read what he has to say here: Reversals in Action Of course this uses movies as examples because, well, Bill is a screenwriter.

But this works perfectly in prose writing as well, it should it's about suspense and engagement.

The following is a description of the action good news-bad news. If you haven't read it then this will completely spoil it. You can read it here first.

Our protagonist has just thrown his helmet at the man who has his gun trained on the three crew, exploring the apparently derelict ship, to distract him.

Good news: He's distracted! And fires off a random shot.

Bad news: There's an explosion in the hull and the air starts rushing out into space.

Good news: The bad guy retreats, presumably to get his own spacesuit on.

Bad news: Protagonist's helmet is being pulled towards the ruptured hull.

Worse news: He's hanging in the air weightless, with no way of moving.

Good news (phew): The Captain deliberately bumps into him to push him to the wall.

Bad news: It's going to be a close thing but

Good news: He launches himself to get his helmet.

Bad news: He misses and comes up against the window.

Worse news: Our protagonist looks through the window and sees three men in spacesuits, and guns.

Good news: The Engineer grabs his helmet and blocks the escaping air with his body.

Better news: Protagonist gets his helmet.

Awful news: It's got a hole in it from the random gunshot!

Good-ish news: The engineer starts to remove his own helmet to give it to him.

Bad news: The engineer is shot by the men outside.

And that's it. This also illustrates the importance of stakes. We've been with the protagonist for a few weeks and, though he's a bit of a wimp, he's a decent guy in a strange situation. I knew this scene was coming so I spent the previous two episodes building up the engineer, because until he'd been something of a non-entity. And we needed to care more about him so that this scene had more impact.

I hope that's valuable.

What's on the turntable? "Second sitting for the Last Supper" by 10cc from "The Original Soundtrack"