It’s A Go! May Challenge: Story-A-Day

I’ll be honest. I like blogging but at times have a hard time figuring out what to blog about, as I prefer to keep my private life, um, private. Plus, if I’m on a writing roll, all the wordcount goes to the writing project.

Technically that’s a good thing. More words on writing projects is what this is all about.

“The E-Book Experiment” gave me a nice series to help with subjects for blog articles. I learned a lot about my personal writing methods along the way, because I had to articulate how and why I use the steps and methods I do. Plus all the research that went into making the decisions for the Salmon Run series. I have more posts in that series to finish up and publish, but in the meantime…

Forward Motion has a May month-long short story challenge called “Story-A- Day.” The rules are simple: the short stories must be a complete story and at least 500 words. The inspiration must come from a list of idea prompt generators (links in the post), although every 3rd story can be written without a prompt.

The levels are below:

1. Apprentice Level: 10 stories (AKA ‘I have a life’ level)

2. Journeyman Level: 15 stories (‘I don’t have much of a life’ level)

3. Master Level: 20 stories (‘I have no life’ level)

4. Insane Level: 31 stories — The real story a day! (‘I have a time machine and know how to use it’ level)

I have some short stories I need to write. Some are already plotted out. Some I have a sneaking suspicion might be a novelette (7500-17500 words). Included among them are three sequels to “Glint of a Suncatcher.”

The minimum level in the challenge is 10 short stories. Hmm. I might be able to make that, depending how long each of the stories end up. I think it’s a worthy goal to try, and it will be helpful in completing more product to add to my backlist. And using the generators might inspire some totally new short stories. I’m not adverse to that, either!

So, for the month of May there are two goals: Write everyday on the short story challenges, and to post the resulting daily wordcount to the blog as well as the total short story tally.

Wow, a blog a day for one month.

We’ll see if I survive!

By the way, everyone is welcome to join me in the fun and are welcome to post their wordcount in the comments area. Or, join in the insanity? Yeah, insanity might be a better description.

Cover Design – The Digital Painting

As an artist, I work in several mediums. Pencil, Oils, Genesis Oil Paints, and Digital.

Pencils wouldn’t give me the sharp colors I wanted, much less the translucence of the aurora or the color sharpness for the cover in general. I would need to use a glazing technique and oils would dry too slow to fit in with the limited time-factor. The Genesis Oil Paints were a real possibility, but thanks to my move I no longer had access to my good scanner for scanning in a high quality version of the resulting painting.

That left only one real option for the cover: a digital painting.

I had a mock-up put together in Photoshop (by the way, a mock-up can also be put together in GIMP, which is free.). I didn’t want absolute realistic for the cover, so I chose to use Corel Painter to do the actual digital painting.

Here are a few steps in the process:

Cover Design - The Digital Painting

Cover Design - The Digital Painting

Cover Design - The Digital Painting

Cover Design - The Digital Painting

Once I’m happy with the overall digital painting, I take it back into Photoshop for a few special effects, and the all-important title and author name.

Cover Design - The Digital Painting

I’ll be honest. Using clipart, paid photo stock, or image with a loose creative commons license is a heck of a lot easier and less time-consuming than the above. The digital painting took hours and hours. Doing a digital painting like this is not something most Indie Authors/Publishers would want to do or are capable of doing. For most it wouldn’t be cost effective to hire someone else to do it for them.

But I’m also an artist, and the painting does reflect some of the same qualities I bring into the writing of the stories. So, I’m okay with spending a little extra of my time to put them together. That’s okay. For me, it’s very satisfying.

That said, I’m also fully aware that this cover has its flaws. It might be too busy. The colors might not stand out enough.

But it might also be just right.

As with so many things in the Indie world, I will give it a try. If it doesn’t work, or I’m not happy with the attention the book is getting, I might change the cover. As an Indie, I have that power.

And I can’t take it personally. If the cover art doesn’t work, then so be it. It will be time to change it. I still love the results, though, and I learned a few things painting it. Those skills will then be used on subsequent covers and artwork. The work and time invested will not be for nothing.

After all, this is a business. The cover is a main promotional marketing tool for the sale of the book. And I want the book to sell.

_______________________________

“The E-Book Experiment” chronicles the business and creative side of an experiment with the business opportunities new technology and creative outlets now afford content producers. Will it fail? Will it succeed? The only way to know is to approach it with a solid plan and try. No regrets!

I hope the details of this journey will be a help to other authors. As the process proceeds to selling the final products I will also share hard data that might be useful in the decision making process of other authors who recognize that only they can take charge of their careers. For a listing of all the posts in this series, please click here.

If you find this information useful or interesting, please encourage others to come on by and visit.

Sample Sunday: Into the Forest Shadows

Sample Sunday: Into the Forest ShadowsKate shifted in her chair, shrugging off the harness. Time for her to obey another stupid adult rule. But one she put up with. For Grandma.

She lifted the red cloth from off the top of the basket and shook it out. The deep red cloth unfolded without a fold or crease. She flipped it around so it settled around her shoulders and tied the wide flat strings at the neck to hold it in place.

No, not cloth. She’d watched Grandma make the thread out of red bark and woody filaments in the lab, the robots patiently weaving it into the cape. At the time she’d thought it was an experiment in new cloth-making. She’d never expected to be gifted the thing.

She rubbed the fabric through her fingers. At least it didn’t feel like bark. She wouldn’t have worn it then, a gift from Grandma or not.

Why did Grandma insist she wear it anytime she journeyed away from the human city? She couldn’t find any point in it. The Gatherers never wore anything like it, preferring the muted tones of the forest floor. And it clashed with her purple and red hair.

The shuttle angled towards the forest floor again. It stopped mid-air and began a vertical descent. The limbs of the closest trees brushed against her window.

“We have arrived at the Blackstone Station,” the computer pilot announced.

The conversation didn’t pause for a moment as she worked her way down the aisle towards the door with her basket. Outside the door to the right of the ramp a door opened in the belly of the shuttle. Robot arms lifted several boxes out of the cargo hold and set them away from the body of the shuttle.

Kate looked around the small clearing surrounded by big fat gnarled trunks. A moist earthy scent hung in the air. Furry bunts of brown and white poked their heads over some roots, their large ears swirling around to study her. One of them squealed and all the curious heads disappeared. A few long tails could be seen on the other side of the roots as they scurried for their holes among the tree roots.

And nowhere did she see Grandma.

“Shuttle is launching. Please clear the area,” the computer pilot said.

Kate grabbed one of the boxes and dragged it after her towards the relative safety of the trees. The engines of the shuttle kicked in, causing air to billow the edges of her cape. One of the boxes still in the clearing tipped over, but the cover held.

With the shuttle safely gone Kate peered down the path leading to the cottage. Still no sign of Grandma. Setting the basket on top of the pile, she heaved a box up and started down the short path leading to Grandmother’s house.

She knew what she would find. Grandma would be hunched over an experiment somewhere, completely oblivious to the world despite the trip having been planned for weeks. Despite the noise of the landing shuttle.

And today she really would have appreciated having someone wait for her to arrive. To feel important enough. For someone to be glad to see her.

She shook herself. Grandma didn’t mean it. Grandma was just… Grandma.

The path turned a corner around a large bushy trees. Beyond sat Grandma’s house. Not a cottage, not a house like what would be considered a house on other planets.

The front door and windows nestled in the intertwined roots. The tree itself towered up into the forest canopy, disappearing into the tangle of branches and leaves from the trees around it. Even the porch consisted of the gentle curve of a root, sheltering the front door.

It looked like the home of a giant woodpecker.

***

Novel Description:

A planet-wide conspiracy is waiting at Grandmother’s house…

“Always wear the red hood and cape while you are in the forest,” Grandma admonished.

For a teen with purple and red hair, and an attitude to match, the small claustrophobic city of Oburos grows ever smaller with Uncle Travis’s attempts to take over her and her mother’s life.

An invitation to visit Grandmother’s house, nestled among the giant trees filling the planet, gives Kate a welcome respite. But, there is no time for rest. A conspiracy among the forest inhabitants, moving trees, and other mysteries await her at Grandmother’s house.

Kate learns just how little she knew of the forests, much less its animals. To survive she must learn fast, and that includes trust and teamwork.

And just where was Grandma, anyway?

A Science Fiction novel retelling of the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” by J.A. Marlow.

$2.99 at the following retailers:

AmazonSample Sunday: Into the Forest Shadows

Barnes & Noble

Smashwords

Diesel

Sony

Also available in the iBookstore and other online retailers

Cover Design – Mockups

Oh goodie, art!

The actual designing of the cover started with quick sketches on paper to work through possibilities. This helped me define, eliminate, and refine the various ideas and flashes running through my head. Some worked, some didn’t.

“A cleaer and striking image” caused me problems. There are two main things this cover has to do: scream “ALASKA” and “SCIENCE FICTION” both at the same time. Not an easy thing to do. A pure Alaska scene, even a simple one wasn’t going to do it. I started half a dozen sketches and then didn’t finish them because I knew they were all wrong (and no, I’m not going to post those horrid attempts).

One came across as a definite possibility:

With the above attempt I had to focus and simplify. I ended up focusing on the two really big themes: the aurora and the spaceship. The aurora image ties into the title of the book, and the spaceship ties into the book description. The train tracks  give a hit to another big plot point, but I tried to keep it understated so that it didn’t compete with the other two big design elements.

Sometimes at this point I’ll do rough colors over the sketch to see what works, but the colors in this were pretty straight forward. So, I moved on to the next stage.

The mock-up.

While I know what the Aurora and landscape looks like in Alaska, I didn’t want to go on blind instinct when producing the cover art. I needed more to go on to be efficient in getting it done, and done right.

I knew I was going to be doing a digital painting of this cover, but I needed good reference to help with the process. Not necessarily the colors, but the shapes, form, and composition. This is where I used Photoshop.

Using pictures I put each design element on a separate layer. This way I could manipulate each layer without affecting another.

The aurora was a simple place-holder. Part of the magic of painting, even digital painting, is seeing what happens in the paints themselves. For the mountains I lowered the opacity, so they were a haunting glow. This is a common affect in the night air in Alaska.

The train tracks were scaled to fit the foreground, and a few extra trees placed along the clearing.

The foreground was much more problematic. This wasn’t a story only about Alaska. It was also about aliens and spaceships (which I knew, consciously, from the list of major elements in the book that I made at the beginning of this process). I didn’t want to design an alien to go into the cover. Because of the research on categories and perception, I thought this might have a detrimental affect on the book sales.

The other major element was the spaceship. It’s featured quite prominently in the description, so it was a good choice to echo in the cover design elements.

But not a flying spaceship. That didn’t fit the book at all, and in my mind would have been false advertising. But the spaceship is hidden. I could work with hidden.

The result is the below mock-up.

Cover Design - Mockups

But there was a problem. It did not shrink down well. There was too much happening in it.

So, I tried to cut down on the clutter in the middle, but to be honest, nothing looked right. So I changed around the entire format of the cover so that the verbage was in the middle:

Cover Design - Mockups

Much better, but still a bit busy. Too much couldn’t be seen when shrunk down, so why have it there?

So, I worked on it again, and came up with the following mockup:

Cover Design - Mockups

Definitely better. The mockup is still rough, but I like the general concept.

At this point I let it sit, just like I do with a novel rough draft before revising it. I let my eyes rest. I worked on other things. Worked on other art.

A few days later I came back to it. And tweaked.

Only then did I start the digital painting.

NEXT: The Digital Painting – A Cover

_______________________________

“The E-Book Experiment” chronicles the business and creative side of an experiment with the business opportunities new technology and creative outlets now afford content producers. Will it fail? Will it succeed? The only way to know is to approach it with a solid plan and try. No regrets!

I hope the details of this journey will be a help to other authors. As the process proceeds to selling the final products I will also share hard data that might be useful in the decision making process of other authors who recognize that only they can take charge of their careers. For a listing of all the posts in this series, please click here.

 

If you find this information useful or interesting, please encourage others to come on by and visit.

Start-Out Sales Numbers

The publishing adventure has started!

Did I come shooting out of the gate with big sales? Nope, and I didn’t expect to.

Started out with “Spires” (a short story) February 13, and “Glint of a Suncatcher” (a novelette) on the 26th. They were available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords right from the start.

February sales: 5 (all on Amazon)

In the first two weeks of March I added “Night of the Aurora” (a novella) and “Into the Forest Shadows” (a novel). I’m starting the pricing lower for now until I can get a little traction, and then I’ll raise them to the regular prices. At the very end of the month all 4 titles finally got accepted into Smashword’s Premium Distribution (they were that far backlogged in their approvals), so I think I’ll have to wait another quarter to see any sales from that.

Sales were:

March:  21 (Amazon – 8, Smashwords – 9, B&N – 4)

That’s a 320% increase from one month to the next. A slow start, but still an increase.

I found out about Smashword’s Read an Ebook Week the last day it was going on. I put the short story and novelette up for free and in 9 hours 20 ebooks were downloaded. Not bad for such a small time-frame.

The giveaway had a good result on Smashwords in that it inspired several reviews. No reviews on Amazon and certainly not on B&N. I’m hoping those sites will catch up later.

I haven’t really done any promotion. March has been a very tiring month and I got sick. So, I’ve been concentrating on getting new material up. In fact, this past weekend I published another novelette (Where the Purple Grass Grows). I figure getting a backlist up is as important as anything else.