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

 

 

 

 

 

Is the Singularity already under way?


Eminent scientists – among them Professor Stephen Hawking, who may have a brain the size of a planet – have been warning us for some time now that the advances made by AI could turn out to be the writing on the wall for mankind.  I mean, extinction. Hoist by our own petard, no less.

i, robot
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved.

Now we learn that Facebook decided to shut down its very own AI program after it created its own language.  It wasn’t done with malice aforethought, or because the two Negotiating Bots (apparently named Will and Alice) wanted to take over the planet… they simply found it a more efficient way to communicate than using the English they had been taught.

Will our desperate race to create better and faster ways of doing things using AI (artificial intelligence) really be our undoing, as posited by Professor Hawking and a myriad of movies such as ‘BladeRunner’ (in which a group of artificially engineered and physically superior humans called Replicants returns to Earth to demand a longer lifespan from their creator – before killing him) – or are we all basically just AIs anyway, seeded by aliens who thought it might be interesting to see what happened… Whether we are truly indigenous or not, did the life-forms who were subsumed and/or destroyed by humanity’s rise from the primordial soup have the capacity to worry about it? Or were they blissfully unaware of the ticking time bomb in their midst until it was too late?  And would they have been able to do anything to stop it, even if they had realised what was going on?  You can read the original article here. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’m just going to swim back into the primordial soup and pretend this isn’t happening…

Elaine Jackson, July 2017

P.S. If you’re interested in the topics raised here, you might enjoy my next project, a graphic novel titled ‘Minding Mama’, which my team and I will be crowdfunding very soon.  It’s a dark tale which takes place amidst a ruined eco-system. Humanity has fled underground, leaving the surface to wither and die. Only the FarmBots can survive above ground…

Visit www.mindingmama.org to find out how you can help bring the project to life (if you dare) and earn some unique and very cool rewards!  

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‘Minding Mama’ – the next project!


‘Keep writing!’  Sound advice from creative industry ‘old-timers’ (by that, I don’t mean those authors are older than me, but that they’ve been writing long enough to know how it all works – and sometimes, why it doesn’t). Finish one project, and move onto the next, practice makes perfect (I hope) and all that… luckily I’m never short of ideas!

With ‘The Methuselah Paradox’ published and the last of the rewards about to go out, I’ve found my thoughts turning to my next project. Another book? Well, yes, but not in quite the same format, this time.

mama-logo-2jpg

Do you like it? It’s the lovely and rather intriguing logo created by emerging concept artist Amanda Fullwood (The Flock, Chasing Shadows, Word Bohemia)  for my next project, ‘Minding Mama’ – a science-fiction tale set in a future where mankind is forced to live underground in order to avoid exposure to lethal levels of UV radiation. Why is planet Earth in such dire straits?  You can find out on www.mindingmama.org  – but since it will be a little while before the crowdfunding project goes live, I wanted to get the word out to all my ‘regulars’ – and to ask you all to tell anyone you know who might be interested in an opportunity to be in at the start of a new graphic novel – with some beautiful and unique comic art rewards!

Producing a graphic novel is a new challenge for me – but I have a very experienced hand at the helm, in the form of the talented Oregon-based Dan Schaefer, who will provide the artwork for the graphic novel, and who will also be in charge of the story-boarding for the animated feature (did I mention that yet? Oh, I just did…) which will be my next challenge.  Those of you who know about comic books and story boards will doubtless know Dan’s work as a concept artist (Grimm; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and artist (Peter Parker: Spider-Man). I couldn’t believe my luck when Dan applied to the project; and having already seen his rough drafts of the first few pages and his early concept work for the AI characters in the story, I am really excited to be working with him.

As mentioned earlier, I’m also delighted to be working with Amanda Fullwood  – a graduate of Nottingham Trent University, Amanda’s enthusiasm for the science-fiction and horror genres and her work as a production designer and concept artist were evident at our first meeting in London in March 2016. By the time myself and Sue Turner of video production company  ElephantInScarlet waved goodbye to Amanda and headed for our respective trains, I knew I had to have her on board as lead concept artist. I can’t wait to share Amanda’s visualisations for ‘Minding Mama’  on our crowdfunding site!  That’s still a WiP at the moment, but you can check out more of Amanda’s work on her film and visual art journal .

 

So, if you (or someone you know) would like to own an original piece of Dan Schaefer art, in addition to many other unique goodies, please do visit www.mindingmama.org and sign up for notifications – the rewards are going to be something really special!  You can also contact me direct if you have any queries. We’re not into spamming, so we’ll only email you when we have news.

Thanks for reading!

x Elaine

 

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

 

 

How long should we live?

How long should we live?

With our National Health Service beginning to creak under the weight of increasing numbers of senior members of society as people live longer, Pearl S Buck’s words have never been truer:

Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.

I recently received a letter from my Godmother, who at 102 years old, apologised for not penning a longer letter!  I felt humbled. My husband said, “I’ve never held a letter written by someone who has had a telegram from the Queen.” I could tell that he was impressed, too. Old age need not be a time of helplessness or infirmity … it shouldn’t be.

My parents, who passed on aged 73 and 77 respectively, could probably never have imaged living for a century.  That infamous time-traveler, Doctor Who, has lived (fictionally, of course) for billions of years – he went ‘the long way round’ on more than one occasion!  Yet he has (so far) lost none of his zest for life, as evidenced by his date with River Song in the recent Christmas Special.  For ‘Torchwood’s Captain Jack Harkness, longevity is a somewhat harder cross to bear… they are two characters at opposite ends of the spectrum, giving us some great story-telling along the way.

Old age (or finite life) is a theme beloved of science-fiction writers and film-makers since…. well, since the first piece of speculative fiction appeared (author Brain Aldiss cites Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ as the first example of science-fiction, and I can’t argue with that). In the society of William F Nolan’s classic novel, ‘Logan’s Run’,  ‘old age’ is deemed to be twenty-one. Neolithic men and women were lucky to reach forty.

C.S. Lewis had this to say:

How incessant and great are the ills with which a prolonged old age is replete.

While Aldous Huxley took a different view:

The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.

Personally, I’m with Aldous.  Well, as someone starting my writing career in my fifties , I need all the positivity I can get!

With scientists declaring in the spring of last year that quite soon, we might all be able to live ‘five hundred years or more’, it seems eerily appropriate that my first novel asks the question:  “How long do you want to live?”

‘The Methuselah Paradox’ makes no judgments, however.  It’s a story, primarily about people who have been caught up in the consequences of a discovery…  and there are many ways the story could have gone, many different scenarios that could have played out (and I probably tried them all, before settling on one).  I think it may be a theme I will return to… because really, the answer could be as simple as “as long as I have good health, so that I can live, and not just exist.” … and that’s probably the answer I would give, if I were to be asked the question.  But of course, it’s never quite as simple as that…

So… how about you? How long do you want to live? How do you think living ‘five hundred score or more’ will affect us, and our society – and of course, planet Earth?  I can’t promise to answer all those questions in ‘The Methuselah Paradox’, but I hope it will give you food for thought.

Never one to miss an opportunity, before I go, I’m going to slip in a little plug for my crowdfunding campaign… if you’d like to help me create a trailer for ‘The Methuselah Paradox’, why not pop over to www.ejjackson.org to see what cool, limited editions perks you can pick up in return for a little donation…

Thank you for reading!

EJ Jackson

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?”

Getting There…Slowly!


Almost a year ago, in February 2015, I began work on the promotional trailer for my science-fiction novel, ‘The Methuselah Paradox’.  February and March were spent writing the audition script and looking for voice artists to bring my characters to life.  Once the final cast member had been signed up, then it became about looking for artists and illustrators to add the visuals… a composer was commissioned to create original music… and then came the next challenge – crowdfunding. Working out how much everything else would cost, deciding which crowdfund site to go with, writing the pitch… and trying to get up the courage to go on camera and tell the world all about my novel and the trailer in person… and putting the final touches to the manuscript itself.

And as every writer knows, the more time you have to tinker with something, the more you will tinker, and tweak, and start to doubt yourself… have I really got a good story here? Will people want to read it, will they buy the book, will they believe in the project enough to want to donate money to help me make the trailer?

Well, I have asked myself those questions and many more, and have been deeply moved each time someone takes a leap of faith in me and makes a donation. To everyone who has donated so far (including those who gave so generously but didn’t want to be publicly acknowledged – which is why I now need slightly less than the totals given on the site!) I want to say a HUGE ‘Thank You’.  I can’t wait to start sending out the scripts to my cast and seeing it all come together!

There will be more news soon. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a message from actor Richard Oliver, who is the voice of Tom Morgan in the trailer:  A message from Richard OliverTHE METHUSELAH PARADOX COMPLETE CAST_1 (1024x576)