So You Want to be a Writer?


I’m re-blogging this invigorating and inspirational post by Hugh Howey – which was drawn to my attention by Ricardo over at Reedsy – simply because it IS so invigorating and inspiring. It looks as if comments are closed on the original post, but feel free to comment and discuss here…

 

So You Want to be a Writer….    

Wasn’t that a great post? Don’t you feel inspired? I know I do – thank you, Hugh!  Here’s how I have – or plan to- follow Hugh’s advice, and my thoughts:

Hugh advises that if you want to be a writer, these are ten rules to follow:

1) Make a long-term plan.   I’ll confess to you now, that I don’t have a long-term plan as such; it’s more like a list of things I’d like to do, but in no particular order. Like:

  • write my first novel – tick.
  • write and publish a short story collection – tick. (I did that first)
  • write something for film or television – I’m working on that.

So I’ll be working on the long-term plan. But mostly it will involve writing, and more writing. And then more writing. Books, short stories, scripts, blogs…

2) Reading.

  • I do this all the time. I devour books, always have done. I go through phases of reading different genres, but mainly: thriller/police procedural/detective mysteries, science-fiction, contemporary romance. Years ago I read a shed-load of Catherine Cookson, and dozens and dozens of natural history  and autobiographical works.  The one thing I have a problem with is ‘How To’ text-books…

3) Practice.

  • I do this all the time, too. Sometimes in my head, or in the form of emails, letters, blog posts, and pages and pages of dialogue, scenes that come to me out of the blue without a story attached… I have thousands of documents on my portable hard-drive, some of which I may not have looked at in years. I came across one the other day that I literally couldn’t remember writing at first…

4) Daydream.

  • I probably shouldn’t admit to this, but driving to or from work is when this happens most. The hard part is remembering it until I get a chance to write it down. If I could set up my Bluetooth so that I could mutter into my mobile as I drive along, that would solve the problem…

5) Learn to fail.

  • I’m working on that!

6) Plot trumps prose.

  • I agree – if the writing is ‘pretty’ but the story doesn’t engage…. I work hard at that, too. I find it helps to study other stories, and ask myself if I would have written it differently, and if so, why?

7) Live fully and cheaply.

  • That’s a WiP!

8) Network.

  • Most of my networking to date has been online – because I can fit more in! It’s fun and you meet the most interesting people. You never know when you might be able to help them, or vice-versa.

9) Write Great Shit.

  • I can’t disagree with this – if you don’t engage your reader quickly, they likely won’t buy your book. Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ feature is the opportunity to hook them. I always read the sample, and often know within the first paragraph or so if I am going to hit that magic ‘BUY’ button. If it’s a great premise, but the hook isn’t there… as Hugh says, pull out the stops to engage your reader, and do it as soon as possible, even if it means starting half-way through the story.  I had several beginnings for ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ – a department store fire, the moment my protagonist realises that he has caused a death… and a scene in which someone very close to him is has maybe days to live… in the end I went with a scene which shows us who he is in his workaday life, showing the reader who he is.  I’m not convinced I chose the right opening, as it happens… (see point 5.)    As Hugh says, just keep writing…

10) Find your voice.

  • Agree 100% with Hugh on this. Have I found my voice? Maybe not yet – sometimes I think I have, then I’ll find myself struggling again. I think it is really important to be telling the story you want to tell, and not what other people think it is -or should be- about. If you find yourself listening to other people’s versions of your WiP, I think it could be a sign that you haven’t nailed the story, or perhaps that you are telling the wrong one. Or perhaps it’s just that you don’t have the confidence yet… but when you do find your fingers struggling to keep up with your thoughts as you write, there is nothing quite like it!

 

 

How I created a book trailer

How I created a book trailer

above: artwork for ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ trailer by Catherine Archer-Wills

by EJ Jackson

The Beginning

First of all, I should make it clear that I’m not claiming that this is the only way to create a book trailer, or that you as an indie author should follow my method. Mainly because, when I began the process, I didn’t really know what I was doing!  I only knew that (a) I wanted a book trailer and (b) I couldn’t afford to hire someone to make it for me.  So, just as I did in 1980 (I wanted to join a fan club for ‘The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ – I couldn’t find one, so I set one up myself) I decided to do it myself.

Grand Designs

My original script for the trailer resembled something you might see on prime-time TV – a cast of twelve, jump cuts from scene to scene, and a specially written score. I very quickly realized that I couldn’t afford live action, so I opted for voice-overs with accompanying artwork.

Format –  captions, narration, live action or animation?

I looked at hundreds of book trailers online prior to creating my own, and as already noted, I realized that live action would probably prove too expensive. I couldn’t afford animation either. A combination of narration, captions and stills seemed to be my best bet.

Casting

I found my first two cast members on Twitter, and the remainder by posting job specs on Casting Call Pro , Voices Pro and Casting Now.  A word of appreciation here for casting directors the world over – finding the right actor/voice artist was an education in itself!  I learned to trust my gut feeling – and the opinion of a fellow writer and friend who shares my vision for the trailer, and had been instrumental in helping me to develop the story.  Eventually I had my cast – and realized that I would need to crowdfund if I was going to be able to create the trailer I wanted!  I had already begun announcing each cast member as they were signed, now I began looking into crowdfunding options.

Crowdfunding – the choices

In hindsight, I rushed into this – and signed up with Patreon, which is primarily a monthly patronage set-up, rather than a one-time campaign. Still, I had two lovely people sign up for the top package, which went a long way, and helped reassure me that other people were interested in what I was trying to do.

The sites I looked at were:

Kickstarter – probably the best-known of all crowdfunding sites, Kickstarter requires you to have a pitch video, and if you don’t reach your target, you don’t collect any of the pledges. I decided not to use Kickstarter at the time, because I didn’t feel ready or able to create a credible video pitch.

Patreon – best for ongoing pledges. Patreon worked well for me up to a point, but I believe the site’s stated ‘monthly commitment’ status put a lot of people off who may have preferred to make a one-time payment.

GoFundMe – campaign specific, and can be ongoing. You receive funds as they are pledged. This worked very well for me too – it doesn’t require a video pitch, and is easy to update and for people to donate.

IndieGoGo – project led, and has a ‘flexible funding’ option which allows you to continue collecting once the campaign has ended. You can add videos (it’s advised but not compulsory) as well as images.  IndieGoGo was a total failure for me – quite possibly because I already had Patreon and GoFundMe up and running. A promotional add-on from the Crowdfunding Center failed to make a difference. As it happened, I reached my target with the other campaigns and some off-line donations, so it didn’t impact too badly, and was a useful lesson.

How Many Campaigns should I have?

At first I made the assumption that you should have just one campaign – any more than one, and people might think I was running a scam! But in fact some creators do run more than one – it helps to spread the word, perhaps to reach different audiences, and some platforms are better suited to smaller goals. So, for instance, had I crowdfunded the music, I could have had one campaign for that on GoFundMe, and have another on a different site to crowdfund the artists or actors’ fees. Or you can put everything in one campaign with different goal stages. At the end of the day, it pays to research each site, check out the other campaigns running on each one, and go with what feels right for you. Kickstarter has an excellent ‘How to…’ manual, free to read/download on their website. The general advice works for any platform.

Crowdfunding – what would I do differently next time?

I would not rush into creating a campaign, as I did with my first. I would take longer over the research and planning stage, and wait until I had as much creative content as possible before launching. If you don’t have any funds without crowdfunding, with which to create any content, then describe what you are hoping to achieve as well as you can – if you know someone who can provide a few pencil sketches, that would be better than nothing. Follow the guidelines to creating an effective pitch and find a friend or family member with a camcorder to record multiple takes. You can edit them in Windows Movie Maker (and if you have Windows 10 and can’t find WMM on your PC, there are ‘know how’ posts all over the web about how to find and download it!) and add music.

Music – isn’t that expensive?

It can be. But if you have an iPad and someone in the family who is at all musical, invest in the GarageBand App – as long as the tune you or your friend create is original, you can use it!  Failing that, there is the brilliant Free Music Archive – but do take care to read the licenses for any track you set your heart on, and contact the creator if you are in any doubt about whether or not you can use it.  I was fortunate enough to have a friend whose son is very gifted, and he wrote and recorded a beautiful track for me at a very reasonable price. I’d use him again, and hopefully will!

 Promotion – where should I share my book trailer?

Set yourself up with a YouTube channel (it’s free). From there, you can embed the video on your website/webpage. If you have an author/book Facebook page, you can display it there – remember to use the relevant tags – mine were sci-fi, book, my name, and so on. If you have a Twitter account (and I believe that every indie author should – Twitter has been beyond helpful to me in terms of making contacts) you can use Google URL shortener to post a link, because YouTube URLs are horrendously long. Don’t forget the #tags – #book, #sci-fi (or #romance, etc.)  About.me, tumblr, Instagram, Google+, Booklaunch.com … if you have a profile on Goodreads, you can add it there, and on Authordb, IMDb…  and if you have an author-specific email address, or website email, you can add a link to it in your signature line… the possibilities are endless.

Team Trailer

As I’ve gone through the process of producing my first ‘proper’ book trailer (I perhaps should but don’t really count my first effort, which was a WMM scrolling caption assemblage of excerpts from my short story collection set to music from the FMA on a black screen – it seems like a very poor relation to my second effort!) I’ve been very fortunate to meet some wonderful people along the way.  It is very difficult to produce something like this on your own – so if you meet people who are as enthusiastic about your creation as you are, and you allow them to have input, it will (usually!) make the finished product better. My advice is to keep your vision in mind at all times, but don’t be afraid to experiment to find out what works best.

Will a book trailer help to sell my book?

This is a difficult one – some people believe not; others are convinced of the opposite. It’s hard to quantify, but it seems logical to assume that something which is eye-catching, doesn’t look amateur, has a memorable score and content, and isn’t too long, should attract people to your page – and hopefully to your buying link. But the truth is, we don’t know for sure. For me, I have to be honest and say that the experience of making the trailer alone made it worth doing – if it helps to sell the book, then that will be a bonus!  If the idea of penning, hiring, and creating a book trailer fills you with horror, then it may not be for you; but for anyone whose creative enthusiasm crosses media types, I’d say ‘go for it’. Good luck, and please do share your story with us!

methusalah paradox portraits 2A final

Has this article been useful? Have I missed anything out? If you have questions, comments, or want to share your own ‘trailer story’, or add to anything I’ve said above, please use the comment box below.  Thank you for reading!

Elaine Jackson, April 2016

 

Connections


It’s always great to meet like-minded folk.  The team at Scannerdrome TV  interviewed me yesterday about my writing process, book trailers, and why we love sci-fi.  The hardest part? Wanting to ask them questions about what they’re doing, how they got started with Scannerdrome, and so on – maybe next time!

In the meantime, do checkout their YouTube channel, website and Twitter feed – there’s a ton of great material there, including interviews with Richard (‘Battlestar Galactica’) Hatch and our very own Richard Oliver (‘Minister of Chance‘, ‘Don’t You Forget About Me‘ – for which he won Best Actor – and ‘The Light of September‘, the new audio series from Radiostatic).

Thanks again guys!

TMP_Cover1withstrapline11.4.15

 

 

Genre – should we pigeonhole our books?


I primarily write science-fiction, but I’m a sucker for a good story with believable and sympathetic characters, whatever the genre.  (As, I’m quite sure, are you.)  The same goes for my TV and film choices. So my recent viewing has included dramas such as ‘War & Peace’, ‘Dickensian’, ‘Humans’, ‘The Bridge’, ‘Detectorists’ (yes, I know it’s comedy, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s still drama), ‘Dad’s Army’ (ditto), ‘River’,  ‘Prey’, ‘True Detective’, ‘Ten Little Soldiers’… and of course, ‘Doctor Who’. Films like  ‘Transcendence’, ‘Big Hero 6’ and ‘Avatar’ rub shoulders in my DVD collection with ‘Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ , ‘The Lone Ranger’, ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ and ‘Gone Girl’. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. A good story is a good story, regardless of genre.

A book is the longest of long form drama…

A book is, ultimately, the longest long form drama of all, isn’t it? The visuals take place in your imagination, rather than on a television or movie screen, but the dramatic principles are the same, only the way in which they are presented changes.  Now we get to the question of genre – the one thing we are taught that we should know about our stories when we write, pitch and market them.  But what if your story appears to cross genres? How do you market it to attract all the readers who might want to read it? And so we find ourselves taking part in the Genre Game. Continue reading “Genre – should we pigeonhole our books?”

What’s In A Name? Novel and Trailer Update


‘The Methuselah Gene’ is now ‘The Methuselah Paradox’

This book has had more titles than I’ve had hot dinners!  Well, not really… but it started life as a short story titled ‘The Journey’, before becoming a full-blown novel called ‘All Our Yesterdays’; then it became ‘All Our Tomorrows’.  Following a massive rewrite during which the secondary plotline took over,  it became ‘The Methuselah Gene’ – however, I hadn’t done my homework properly, and it turns out there were already two books out there with that title! Cue much gnashing of teeth and pulling out of hair… finally we have ‘The Methuselah Paradox’, which I have come to love and which I realise does better represent the story… hurrah!  I’m now at the editing stage (harder than the original writing in many ways!) and still working on the trailer…. talking of which:

Kickstarter

Putting a book trailer together is a fascinating process, and one that I am thoroughly enjoying! However, it has also been a very steep learning curve; an important part of which has been the realisation that quality does of course carry a price tag (in this as in all other things)…  my initial estimate of what it would cost to make my own three-minute trailer was woefully inadequate!  Having got as far as an initial script idea and having found a cast and composer, I quickly realised that if the end result was going to do the artists and  the material justice, I would need some proper funding.

So now I’m working on a Kickstarter treatment,  which will very soon go live.  Please do watch this space! And if you know of anyone who might be interested in learning more about it, please spread the word!

Thank you,

Elaine Jackson

HOW LONG DO YOU WANT TO LIVE_1

Why we should never give up on our dreams… why crowdfunding works


If someone had told my fifteen-year-old self that I would one day create an appreciation society for a favourite science-fiction show (a club which is still going strong thirty-four years later) or that I would be invited to visit the set, go to sci-fi conventions and meet authors, directors and actors, write a novel, and have the opportunity to help create a new science fiction web series, I probably wouldn’t have believed them. I probably didn’t even know that I wanted to do all those things then. But I’ve always loved science-fiction; looking to the future has always been my thing (although I’ve enjoyed looking back into my family’s past – the Family Tree has been an ongoing project for the past twelve years, and now my son has taken up the mantle).

I created an appreciation society for ‘The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’  in 1980 because I wanted to join one and none existed; I never stopped to wonder if I could do it. I coerced my sister into becoming treasurer (she’s always been good with numbers), bought a supply of A4 paper, Letraset, and paper glue, and set to with a typewriter I borrowed from my Uncle. Some years later, I started going to science-fiction conventions, where I heard behind-the-scenes stories and watched out-takes in the days before DVD Extras (even before most of us could afford a video recorder) – all of which made me realise that I was just as interested in what it took to put my favourite shows together, as I was in watching the finished product on the goggle box.

A considerable number of years later, I began writing fiction – I took several creative writing courses to improve my writing after two already published and successful authors said nice things about what I’d written and suggested it might help make my work better. I attended a writer’s conference in York, met some very interesting people and made a wonderful friend, with whom I will one day collaborate on a project. I self-published a small anthology of my stories on Amazon, and began writing a full-length novel. Now I’m contemplating book covers and talking to a talented young musician about creating a promo video for the novel when it is finally published…

I’m a writer, not a movie-maker, but I’m discovering how crowdfunding can help to bring new projects to life, whether its a digital magazine created by a very talented interviewer who has had to reimagine her career in the wake of the digital revolution, or a science fiction web series.  The opportunities for people with dreams to bring them to life have never been better, even as other avenues may be diminishing.  Self-publishing used to be called ‘vanity press’ and wasn’t taken seriously by the literary establishment. Nowadays, even traditionally published authors self-publish! The advent of the Kindle and other digital readers means that you can follow your dream of being a published author.

I’m so glad that I eventually followed my dream to write stories other people want to read, and I’d urge you to follow yours… you may have a full-time job (so do I – I write early mornings and weekends and any other time I can) but I firmly believe that if you want something badly enough, you’ll get there.  Just look at this:  Third Contact – entirely crowd-funded, and what superb quality!

Now Simon Horrock is looking to create another science-fiction drama, this time a web series called Kosmos. Check this out:

Isn’t it a brilliant idea? To give people the opportunity to be a part of something like ‘Third Contact’ or ‘Kosmos’ (or the also fabulous ‘Minister of Chance’, also a crowd-funded project currently in production) will surely bring more talent to the creative world.  Anyone who dares to dream can do the same.  I’m living my dream, I’m quite sure that Simon is too… what about you?

author Elaine J Jackson

Why I’m supporting The Ethical Hedonist


Two reasons – the first reason being that Alison Jane Reid (formerly of ‘The Times’ and ‘The Lady’) did a fabulous online three-part video interview with one of my favourite actors, John Simm, last year (you can view it here) and she is now about to publish a new, in-depth profile interview with John in the re-launched ‘Ethical Hedonist‘ online magazine at 3pm tomorrow – as we all know, truly in-depth interviews with Mr Simm are as rare as … well, imagine one of the rarest things you can think of.  He’s a very private man; so for Alison Jane to have managed that video interview and another in-depth profile piece means that she is something rather special as journalists go.

The second reason is that as a newly-self-published author, I appreciate the effort that goes into promoting your own project – and Alison Jane is working very hard to get backing for her new magazine. She is well-known for her high-profile celebrity interviews (remember the Colin Morgan one?) with interview subjects like Hugh Bonneville, Sam West and of course John Simm – and the promise of more of these to come has to be worth donating at least the price of a cup of coffee!