Aug 30, 2012

Killing My Darlings

We've all heard it. Kill your darlings. When a line you love is standing in the way of making your book better. The solution is always the same. Kill it. It doesn't matter how much you love that line, if you can lose it and the book doesn't suffer, or would even be better for it, you have to lose it.

Well last week I did this on a scale I never imagined.

Talking with the submissions editor at WiDo, we were looking at how my planned sequel to Locked Within fit with the first book. I had planned for Locked Within to be the first of a 6-book series. However after we discussed the new book and what could be done to improve it, I realised that I was hanging on to this idea of 6 books, and it was holding me back.

I suggested that instead, I could make it a trilogy. Combining elements of my plans for books 2 and 3 into one book, then doing the same for books 5 and 6, spreading ideas from book 4 into each, I could completely transform the story. The unnecessary chaff would be cut. Character development would be more focused and center-stage. The stakes and tension could be higher. I could introduce important characters sooner and avoid sub-plots stagnating. Most importantly, I would now be working on a much more marketable series than something as weighty as a 6-parter.

So I've killed three whole books. The funny thing is how quickly I made the decision. Once I thought of doing it, it felt right, like it was the best choice I could make. I can tell you, a month ago, there's no way I would have thought that cutting out so much potential material would be something I could do, let alone something I felt good about!

So I'm now officially working on the re-write of the second part of my trilogy! Once it's ready I'll query it and we'll see where we go from there.

Aug 28, 2012

Tall Ship Festival

We had a great day out on Saturday. My wife and I went to the Tall Ships Festival in Dublin. The weather was mostly good, just some light bouts of rain here and there which were easy to shelter from.

We've both always loved old tall ships. I think we each have the same childhood memory that created our fascination: The end shot of The Goonies where One-Eyed Willie's ship sales across the horizon. It's one of our favourite movies and still fires our imaginations. Since then, we've been fascinated by sail ships.

I was impressed with how well organised the festival was. There were ushers giving information and police keeping everything safe, as well as plenty of loudspeakers in case a child was lost. Despite how many people were there, it didn't feel crowded at all. Perhaps best of all, there were loads of different stalls selling a wide range of food! We gorged ourselves on German sausage and pulled pork.

We also picked up a proper picnic hamper. It came with proper plates, cutlery, and wine glasses. It even has a cooler section. I can't wait to use it, and it's definitely going to see use on trips out with the twins.

After a while we met up with some friends, got some coffee, then brought people back to ours for pizza and a few drinks.

All in all, it was a really good day.

Aug 24, 2012

Locked Within Cover Reveal

I've got a bonus post this morning. Karen over at WiDo e-mailed me last night to let me know my cover was ready! Check this out:

I swear, I have chills just looking at this. That's my name. On my book. I was about 11 or 12 when I first realised I wanted to be a writer. Twenty years on and I'm literally watching my dream come true piece by piece.

I love this cover. The model fits my description of Nathan Shepherd, and he's got such an "I'm going to kick your ass" look on his face! I absolutely love the cityscape along the bottom, too. I've always been a big fan of photo models used on book covers, and the dark, urban landscape sets the scene perfectly, both with Nathan's face sitting over "his city" and the buildings looming threateningly behind him.

Thank you to everyone at WiDo, and to the cover artist. This is the best birthday present I could have received.

Aug 23, 2012

Birthdays and Tall Ships

A few days ago I turned 32. All in all, it's been a much better birthday time than last year, as those who know me or have been reading my blog since then will know. I've got my book launching in about two and a half months, and my wife is pregnant with twins.

It's been a good year. And I figured I'd do something a little different to celebrate my birthday this year.

The Dublin Tall Ships Festival is on this weekend. The Tall Ship Races are held every year and always feature a town along Ireland's coast. It's been a couple of years since they were last in Dublin and after we missed the last one, my wife and I knew we wouldn't want to miss it again.

This Saturday we're heading into the city to check it out, look at the awesome ships and try food from the stalls. We're meeting people there and then heading back home for some chilling out and possibly boardgames in the evening.

I'm really looking forward to it. Just hope the weather holds up! Expect to see pictures next week.

Aug 21, 2012

4 Steps to Publicising a Book Launch

While I've been preparing for my release date, I've spent a lot of time considering various options for building up awareness of my book and publicity for the launch. Below is the general outline I have for publicising my launch, and some advice from what I've learned or realised so far.

1: Book Launch - The big one. This is the thing every aspiring author dreams of when they send off their first manuscript. Or at least, I did, anyway. Mine is being planned for a couple of days after the release date so I can make sure that the book is available and in stock at the venue. This is a lot of work. I've heard a book launch compared to a wedding in terms of its importance to the host and the dedication involved in pulling one off well. I'd believe that. Already I have to consider catering, whether the venue is allowed to play music (in Ireland any business must have a licence to play copyrighted music on its premises, whether it's on the radio or on an mp3 player), how easy will it be for people to get to, etc. And that's not taking into account little touches like free gifts to give away or things like that.

This is probably the most labour-intensive part of my promotion. And I think that's good. This is the night when I get to celebrate a part of my life which has fora very long time been kept very private. Friends and family will see something that means so much to me in a way I've never shown them before. Opening up like that is an intimidating prospect, but this is something I love. This book is the product of love and years of hard work. I want the people I love to be with me when I get to reveal it.

My advice is to start planning this early. As soon as you've got your release date confirmed. If there are things you can get done before then, like getting friends and family together who can help with various tasks, or working out exactly what you want to have at the party in the way of food or what kind of venue to go for, do it as early as you can. Preparation is key for events like this. After that, get in touch with potential venues. Find names of people who deal specifically with this sort of event and contact them directly. If you have friends or family who can out you in contact with the right people, ask them for help. While events like this are part of your venue's business, building a friendly relationship with them can only help you in the long run and make the whole process much more pleasant.

2: Virtual Book Launch -  I've had enormous support from people I've met through my blog, Twitter and Facebook, as well as from friends who live overseas and who I only get to speak with over the internet. I need to show everyone how much that support has meant to me and I'd feel wrong not marking this occassion in a way that people not able to be at the actual launch can join in. So I'm also having a virtual book launch on the Saturday after the launch party. I'll likely come up with a Twitter hashtag for people to use.

This seems like it'll be deceptively easy to organise, which is why I want to make extra certain I'm prepared. Not only do I need to make sure it's publicised enough, but I may want to look into some kind of incentive like a giveaway or different things to talk about related to the book.

3: Blog Tour - Another daunting exercise. Throughout November, I'm going to be doing a blog tour, which means as soon as I know how many people want to host me, I need to pull out the stops and get posts written or answer interview questions.

The best advice I can give with this one is to make sure you don't overdo it. No-one will be impressed if you crash and burn trying to write 30 mediocre blog posts when you could have written 10 really good ones instead. Quality will always trump quantity when it comes to blogging.

Incidentally, I still have plenty of space left if people want to host me for the tour. Just let me know and I'll take note of your details and get in touch closer to November.

4: Local Awareness - The book launch ties into this, since most of us will be doing all this work to boost local sales long before we're worried about international sales. We will always have better odds of increasing exposure in our own local area than any other. Whether it's because you know the right people, the area is smaller, or there's a community sense of supporting local authors. TV and radio stations, newspapers, school or library groups, all can be informed of your launch and invited along, or you can inquire about having them promote your book with a short spot, accouncement, or even an interview.

The advantage of building local awareness is that it's the best way to build a strong word-of-mouth about your book. If one town creates enough of a buzz, nearby towns will pick up on it, and they may pay attention. Then people from that town talk about you as "that new author from X" so word spreads bit by bit. If you can get yourself onto a popular local talk show, or in a well-circulated newspaper, the word spreads even further.

It's not easy, and a lot of it is down to the right combination of knowing people, timing, and chance. But building that professional relationship with local media is still important, even in today's internet-dominated society. You can never know who will mention your name in the right place at the right time.

So there you go, a rough idea of the kinds of things I'm learning and observing as I work towards my launch. If anyone has anything to add, I'm always eager to learn!

Aug 16, 2012

Blog Tour

With my first book out soon, I want to organise a blog tour to celebrate. I'm thinking of the month of November, writing about topics such as mythology, history, modern legends, and reincarnation.

If anyone would be willing to host me, either for a blog post or an interview, I'd be incredibly grateful and would happily return the favour by having you on my blog as well.

If anyone is interested, let me know in a comment here or send me a private Tweet, Facebook message, or e-mail to pashortt (at) gmail (dot) com.

Edited to add: As of now, I can officially reveal that Locked Within's release date is November 6th!

Aug 14, 2012

Book Launch Preparations

The weekend scouting mission went well. I've got a couple of locations that would be perfect if I can get one of them. A lot of factors have come up while making the initial preparations.

1 - Size: I have a lot of friends and family who would like to come, not to mention inviting others who might also be interested. I've been working an estimate of about 50 or so who should be able to make it. Hopefully more. The venue's got to not only fit all the people I want there, with comfortable room to move, and space for a display, somewhere for a possible music act to go, the caterer, and somewhere to speak from.

2 - Location: The place has got to be central and easy to get to. The Dublin area is quite big and not all of it is easy to reach by public transport. I have to take this into account and make sure I get a place that everyone can get to with relative ease, especially given that most are likely to be coming from work.

3 - Catering: Thankfully I've got a great caterer who I'm meeting with on Friday to discuss options. There's got to be a decent spread. People will be coming from work and I don't want them watching the clock waiting for the party to end so they can get something decent to eat. And wine. There will also be wine.

4 - Entertainment: I'd like there to be some music playing, possibly a brief live act to play two or three songs. I could see about getting some people together and writing a song inspired by the book. So some form of PA options will be needed.

5 - Availability: The big one, right? I'm doing a lot of this work very early because regardless of the actual release date, everything from October to about February in Dublin is busy as hell. Venues book out weeks or even months in advance so the more I have prepared now, the easier it'll be to make sure things go smoothly. I'm very hopeful that either of the places I've got in mind can host me.

Aug 9, 2012

Locked Within Update

It's been a while since I had a proper update on my first novel. I'm thrilled to say that the final version of the book is completed and it has moved on to copy edits. Nothing has been confirmed yet, but I'm hoping for a release in about October/November, all going well.

Every day that passes this starts to feel more and more real and I can't decide if that's exciting or terrifying. For the moment I'm going with both. I've got a lot of work to do for promoting Locked Within so expect to see more posts in the coming weeks.

Locked Within will be out at the start of the real Christmas rush here in Ireland. I don't know exactly how it is in other countries, but in Ireland we have our Christmas products on shelves as early as September, with the real rush to get lights up and stocking up on presents and other neccessities starting in November. This is good because it's the perfect time to get the book into people's Christmas lists.

However, it also means that companies are booking out venues for their office Christmas parties. From about late September places will be advertising their deals for Christmas parties and by November the parties will have started. This makes it crunch time for booking a venue for my launch party. My wife and I are going out to scout some bookstores around Dublin, but we're keeping our eyes open for other suitable locations.

I'm all new to this so it's going to be a learning process. I'm taking help wherever I can find it, so if anyone's got any advice I'd love to hear it!

Aug 7, 2012

80s TV

I grew up on 80s television. Ghostbusters, Thundercats, Starcom, MASK, Airwolf, The A-Team. I had the toys. I played the oh-so basic video games. I even took coloured pencils to my copybooks and drew my own action scenes.

From a fairly early age, I came to realise that these shows had a very strong structure, even a predictable one. You had your leader, typically the main character or at least the one most often the centre of attention. Then there was the 2nd in command. This guy was usually focused on fighting or other physical abilities more than the leader, who was always the best all-rounder. Most groups have the Big Guy (the strongest) and the Smart Guy. Most teams would then have a female character to round things out. TV Tropes has a whole page on the 5-Man Band.

More significant, however, was 80s cartoon story structure. And this was something I really latched onto as a child. First you had the set-up. The villains would show up and start hurting people, with their own evil music. They would just waltz in, utterly dominating any resistance.

And then the call goes out to the heroes. Whether it's psychic visions, a telephone call or special watches that beep when you're needed, the heroes know that it's time to suit up and go to work.

But of course, the first time the heroes encounter the villains, they're defeated and have to retreat. They regroup, form a plan, and promptly deliver a can of ass-whooping, with their heroic theme music playing.

I said this was a predictable story structure. But when I was a kid, I didn't care. To this day, I don't care. If anything, I love that I got to be exposed to such clear examples of how to craft a narrative. I learned to love the anticipation of the next step in the story. Instead of wondering whether the good guys would win, I'd wonder when the theme music would start, or exactly when the hero would start to fight back. Knowing the way the story was meant to go actually made me enjoy it all the more.

I think these early lessons in story structure helped me a great deal when I decided I wanted to be an author. I already knew, roughly, the kinds of stories I wanted to tell, and how I wanted to tell them. 80s tv was really my first education in storytelling.

Have any of you learned anything about storytelling from tv, 80s or otherwise?

Aug 2, 2012

RPG Idea Sources - Zombie Survival Guide

While in New York my wife and I couldn't help but stop into Barnes and Noble, where we picked up a few books.

I grabbed The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z, both my Max Brooks.

So far I'm loving The Zombie Survival Guide. I'm a big of of fictional non-fiction books like this. The Guide presents instructions for handling breakouts of the undead as though it were addressing people who live in a world where such things are real, even describing historical outbreaks and detailing the virus that causes the dead to rise.

While I've been reading the Guide, I've been struck by how great a resource this would be as the basis for a roleplaying game. It gives simple and clear information on the zombie threat, including how to classify outbreaks and what zombies are and are not able to do. It gives you everything you need to determine how the existence of zombies affects the world and decide what scale of game you want to run.

As a gamer I'm always on the lookout for things to inspire and improve my games. I love finding resources like this. It's even better that the book itself is an entertaining read. Despite being basically an instruction manual, it is still engaging and gives the impression of a world where this information is of real importance.

For any gamers, I'd definitely suggest checking this out if you're going to run a zombie-themed game.

Has anyone else read a book or watched a movie and thought that it could be used in this way? Obviously I'm specifically talking about personal use for hobbies, not for commercial use.