Lessons Learned: My Journey as an Indie Author


In the Beginning…

In August, 2014, I published my first science-fiction book on Amazon, ‘The Journey & Other Short Stories‘. As the title suggests, it is a collection of short stories, and the act of publication was a very exciting moment for me. It represented decades of wanting to be a published author but not having a clue how to go about it; two years of independent study with both Faber Academy and The Writer’s Workshop whilst holding down a stressful, full-time job; and two years (at least) developing and writing a full-length novel (working title ‘All Our Tomorrows‘) which would then only see the light of day in a much-reduced form, as the titular tale in ‘The Journey & Other Short Stories‘.

Keep Only What Serves the Story!

It was a very steep learning curve, and probably one of  the most important things I learned during that period was not to be afraid to cut out what doesn’t work. Ditching the best part of sixty thousand words (representing months of writing) and stripping the story down to the core to produce ‘The Journey’ was not an easy decision at all. As it happens, I believe  some of that material will probably be used somewhere else, one day… but it just wasn’t right for that particular story arc. And that’s all I’m going to tell you about that… for now.

Keep it Up!

As soon as I finished the anthology, I began writing my first full-length novel, ‘The Methuselah Paradox‘, which funnily enough, was also inspired by  ‘The Journey‘. And again, I had to make a major decision during the writing. I didn’t have to lose so many words this time, though!  I had been so invested in Tom and Eva’s story (which began in ‘The Journey’ and continues in ‘The Methuselah Paradox’) that I made the mistake of making them the main characters in ‘Methuselah’. I soon realised that it just wasn’t working, and that the main character needed to be the time-traveller, James Moran. Once I accepted that, everything fell into place. So never be afraid to ask yourself – “Is my main character the right one?” Be honest, even if it feels rather like a betrayal to those characters. If you must, tell them that you are saving them for better things…!

Is Your Protagonist The Right Character for the Job?

Tom and Eva’s story had pretty much been told in ‘The Journey’ –  and ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ takes place almost a quarter of a decade later, when Tom and Eva’s daughter is abducted. Who has taken her – and why? It seems obvious in hindsight, but being emotionally invested in your characters, whilst it is a good thing, can also blind you to their place in the Grand Scheme of Things. So common sense prevailed, Tom and Eva took a back seat, and James and (to a lesser degree) Emma stepped forward. Hurrah!

Another Learning Curve… or two! 

‘The Methuselah Paradox’ was published two years (not quite to the day, but the same month!) after ‘The Journey…’, and I was already thinking about the next project. But hold on a minute – that’s not all I did during that time…

Almost a year before ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ was published (and whilst I was still working on it) I decided that I wanted to make a book trailer to promote it. Having taken a short course in screen-writing with The Writer’s Workshop , and because I love TV/Film drama, I wanted to try to bring my characters to the screen.

Incidentally… if someone out there would like to bring ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ to the screen, please do get in touch via admin@neonskybooks.com.

Crowdfunding – the Indie Creator’s Gateway

But how was I ever going to find the money to pay voice-artists/actors, graphic artists, a camera operator and a composer to realise my vision?  Crowdfunding worked wonderfully for me, and again that was another steep learning curve, with a whole other level of responsibility. If people are sending you money to help you create something, you had better get your sums right!  I used an awesome networking site for the film industry, Stage 32, to find a concept artist, Cat Archer-Wills, and using Patreon and GoFundMe -and some off-line funding from family members – I manage to raise enough, which was a huge relief because I had been working on the script since January 2015… We finally recorded material for several versions of the trailer in March, 2016, and completed several versions of the trailer just in time for the book launch in August 2016. Here’s one of them.  Kudos to everyone who helped make the trailer a reality – the teamwork of creative collaboration is just the best thing ever!

What’s Next?

One of my writing buddies (yes, you, MW!) described me as an ‘ideas machine’, and it is certainly true that I have more ideas and notes for new stories than I currently have time to write. I don’t have a full-time day job anymore (or as fellow author Nick Stephenson calls it, the DDJ – ‘dreaded day job’)  having graduated to a four-day week, but there are still never enough hours in the day!

Currently I have two novels on the back-burner (one of which is a follow-up to ‘The Methuselah Paradox’), a stage adaption of the same book, another short-story collection, and a Graphic Novel. I do like a challenge! First an anthology, then a novel and a trailer, now a comic book – whatever next?

‘Minding Mama’ – a Tale of Future Earth

Minding Mama‘, the Graphic Novel – or comic book, if you prefer – almost became one of the short stories in my next anthology (and still might). Originally written as a competition entry, I didn’t get to the required word-count before deciding that it was fine just as it was. I put it aside. Then I went back to it, and realised that it would work very well in a more visual medium… so back I went to Stage 32, and advertised for a concept artist, then later a storyboard artist/illustrator. Amanda Fullwood (who in addition to being a first class concept artist, is also a talented costumier/production designer) was first to join the ‘Minding Mama’ team, followed by Dan Schaefer . (Dan has worked for Marvel, DC and Dark Horse Comics and the film industry, creates documentaries, does graphic design for the advertising industry and was storyboard artist on NBC’s ‘Grimm’). My long-time friend Sue Turner agreed to do the camera/editing work, and Matthew Thomason is on board to provide a theme. We have cast one of the two performer roles – David Learner (science-fiction readers will recognise David as Marvin the Paranoid Android in Television and stage versions of the late Douglas Adam’s best-selling novel, ‘The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘)

As of August 2017, we have concept art and sample pages (fully coloured, but without text) and are well on the way to creating a trailer/pitch video for the crowdfunding campaign – you can find out more about that here!

I love the process of research, writing, then creating a team to take it all further. Geography is no limiter – our current team uses Skype to link participants in Camberley, Southsea, Norwich and Oregon. Isn’t technology great?

So You Want to Self-Publish?

If you are just starting out on your self-publishing journey, and have doubts about whether you can do it, my advice to you is to keep at it! I’ve learned so much since I started on this journey, and have met some wonderful, very talented people. There’s a commonly-held misconception that writing is a lonely calling, and perhaps some of the time, it is. But I don’t see it that way. When I’m writing, my characters keep me company, and when I’m working with a team of fellow creatives, be it my cover designer (waves to Rachel Lawston and Harry Saxon) illustrators, actors/voice artists (hello to Simon Bugg, Richard Oliver , Amelia Sefton and David Learner), composer (here’s to you, Matthew Thomason) camera operator/video editor (waves to Sue Turner of www.elephantinscarlet.co.uk), stills photographer (thanks to Sue Thomason) and last but not least, all the lovely people whose crowdfunding support made the trailer for TMP a reality, it feels anything but lonely!  There is a wealth of online advice  to be had (some of it free, but some well worth paying for if you can afford it)  and you’ll find that most people are more than willing to share their experience and to help you however they can.  Go for it!

Elaine Jackson

Camberley, August 2017

 

 

 

 

 

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